Exactly 100 years ago this day, November 11, at 11:11 a.m., World War I came to an end. The war had devastated much of Europe and resulted in the deaths of millions. Moreover, the war led to the collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian Empires, and weakened the British Empire, while bolstering the status of the United States as a major power. Yet while the war undoubtedly had a global impact, it also had a significant impact on a personal level. This impact can be seen in how the war affected the beliefs and attitudes of two well-known Britons who served in the "Great War"--the poet Wilfred Owen and the author C.S. Lewis.
Owen, who would be killed, tragically, just before the war ended, came from an evangelical Christian background. Thus, it is not surprising that, according to crossref-it.info (see here): "Christian imagery infuses much of his work." However, even before the war Owen's religious convictions had begun to be shaken as the result of his serving as an assistant to a clergyman in the Church of England. Owen's experiences at that time had caused him to doubt the Church's commitment to the needy. The horrors of war itself caused Owen to depict God in the poetry he wrote during the war as "all-powerful, but not always loving"--although he portrayed Jesus as "gentle and peace-loving." Moreover, for Owen, "in the face of devastating carnage, conventional platitudes about God's love and control no longer sufficed." The experience of war, perhaps not surprisingly, turned Owen into an ardent pacifist, despite, ironically, having earned a medal for valor in combat.
In contrast with Owen, C.S. Lewis entered the war as "a committed atheist who believed that the Jesus portrayed in the Bible was similar to stories from classical myths," according to Paul Huard at medium.com/war-is-boring (see here). Like Owen, Lewis also wrote poetry during his military service. According to George Musacchio, author of C.S. Lewis, Man and Writer: Essays and Reviews (as quoted by Huard), "some of [Lewis's] lyrics reveal his atheism, while others suggest his anger about the nature of the God that might exist." However, Lewis, who, unlike Owen, would survive the war, would eventually abandon his atheism. In fact, as Huard tells us: "By 1931, he was an avowed Christian, a faith who would spend the rest of his life defending with his considerable intellectual gifts." Moreover, while Lewis was "changed by the horror [of the war]," he became "convinced later that warfare could be a battle of good vs. evil," as evidenced by his depictions of war in his fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia.
In short, while the experience of war shook Owen's faith and made him a determined opponent of war, the same experience led, in Lewis' case, to an eventual embrace of faith and made him an advocate of "just war." Thus, we can see how the "Great War" that ended a century ago today had a highly disparate impact on those who experienced it.
Image of World War I soldiers from Wikimedia Commons