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Collections Cameo, February 2015

"The Warfare of Peace," Convocation Address by LFC President John S. Nollen, 1913

By Amber Craghead, Leslie T. Chapman Museum Intern

This is the first in a series of three blog posts by Amber focusing on objects in our collection related to World War I.

John Scholte Nollen, Ph.D, became president of Lake Forest College in 1907 at the age of 38. Nollen was a specialist in modern languages, especially German, and during his time as president of the college, the curriculum underwent incredible changes in which students were encouraged to take a wide range of courses and heavy emphasis was placed on the humanities. As the 1914 Forester yearbook states, “constant hard work has been his principle and through an executive ability combined with a scholarly mind he has done much to systematize and simplify the working principles of the school.”

From the college’s inception and during the early 1900s, attending chapel was compulsory for all students of the college. However, this changed after World War II when attending chapel slowly became optional. President Nollen was an active speaker at chapel events and gave several Convocation Addresses to the students of the college during his presidency.

This speech, titled “The Warfare of Peace,” was given by President Nollen on September 28th, 1913 at the First Presbyterian Church in Lake Forest. During this time, the president of Lake Forest College spoke 1-2 times a year to the public in addition to speaking to the students daily at chapel. Nollen begins with a religious tone, stating that one must constantly uphold the morals of Jesus and of Christianity when making difficult decisions, including those involving war. In 1913, World War I had not yet started, but the Balkan Wars were tearing apart Eastern Europe in what are now Montenegro, Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria. The Balkan Wars that Nollen references in his speech are considered to be the prelude to the First World War.

Nollen claims that the acts occurring in Europe are violating the ideals of Christianity and he is actively speaking out against warfare; “We have seen a struggle bearing the fair semblance of a ‘holy war,’ pretending to be instinct with the generous spirit of the Crusades, turned into a bloody travesty, and ending in a greedy and murderous quarrel over the spoils.”

He continues by stating that “the devil of war is an arrogant and self-satisfied devil.” He says, “We are living in a time when the world is learning, slowly indeed, but effectively, that the philosophy of Jesus’ life is not only of private and personal, but also of public and universal application. The lingering, but surely dying, cruelty of war is but one illustration of this.”

Nollen’s speech then focuses back to the students of the college. Education, he says, is the one true way to make informed decisions that can avoid the travesties of war. “Education is, indeed, the modern, the civilized, the Christian method, supplanting with its constructive and conserving power the destructive and wasteful methods of the past… In order that it may be modern and civilized and Christian, education may not be the exclusive prerogative of the few, fitting them to prey upon the many, but it must be open and democratic, giving fitness to the many, that they may all together learn to serve effectively… the purpose of education is not power for conquest and authority, but power for investment, for service, for sacrifice.” As students of a Presbyterian institution, Nollen encourages his students to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them at the college so that in the future, they can become informed, well-educated leaders.

He ends his speech by warning the students that accomplishing the curriculum will not be easy, but it is vital that everyone completes their studies because society needs to have educated men and women in order to run effectively. “Education is really not intended to make life easy, but rather to prepare people to do the hard things that otherwise would be impossible….We have no desire to make things easy for you.” The educated, he states, have a responsibility to their society to make informed decisions and as students of a Christian college, they are the most qualified to do this. “Graduates of Christian colleges ought to be the best of all our citizens, the most fit and ready to show in their own lives and establish through their influence the power and the beauty of the kingdom of God among men.”

Following “The Warfare of Peace,” Nollen continued as president of the college for another four years before taking a position as the head of the YMCA chapter in Italy during WWI in 1918. He frequently wrote to the students of Lake Forest College describing his experiences in Europe and his letters from Italy were often published in The Stentor, the college’s student newspaper. Upon his arrival back to the US following the end of WWI, Nollen went on to become the dean, and eventually the president, of Grinnell College where he, again, greatly expanded the curriculum of the college.

The booklet containing this speech was donated to the Historical Society in 2013 by Mike Rush. Image of John S. Nollen is courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Donelley and Lee Library, Lake Forest College.