A Seagoing Cowboy meditation on war

I recently came across this September 13, 1947, Gospel Messenger editorial by Desmond W. Bittinger in my research and asked for permission to reprint it here. The image was not a part of the original editorial.

Why Do You Hate Us So?

The seagoing cowboy walked sadly through the rubble of a devastated European city. A child with dwarfed body and twisted limbs and with the lined features of an old man followed afar off. Every time the cowboy waited for him he hid behind the walls of debris which lined the street.

The ruins of Gdansk, Poland, April 1946. Photo courtesy of Paul M. Martin

Finally the cowboy sat down in the rubble and looked about him. Near by were the forsaken ruins of a church. Across the street from it were the foundations of homes, but they were fire-scarred and heaped full of fallen bricks and timber. Here and there appeared broken fire hydrants and the evidences of exploded gas mains. As he rested the child sidled up nearer. It was evident that he was examining the American with unusual curiosity.

Finally, very much to the surprise of the American, he asked in English, “Why do you hate us so?”

“We don’t hate you,” the American replied quickly. “I just came over from America to bring cattle to you so that you could have milk to drink. On other ships we have sent you shoes and clothing. Little children in America save their pennies to send them to you. You are mistaken,” he said almost pleadingly. “We don’t hate you. We want you to grow up to be big and strong.”

The lad listened carefully as if trying to understand every word. Then waving his hand inclusively over the broken city he said, “I used to live here. This is my home. Didn’t you do this?”

And the cowboy hung his head. In imagination he saw this boy’s family. Half a dozen of them were here then. This was their church; over there was their home. Around the corner was their school. These streets were clean then. The walks leading up to the houses were always scrubbed; flowers bloomed in their yard. And inside the house there was always sunlight.

But all of that was changed now. Sunlight could not reach even the basement, for it was filled with rubble. Father was dead; mother was gone; perhaps she was a slave somewhere. Where were the other children? Some were dead; some were D.P.’s whom even America would not receive. The choir no longer sang in the church; there would be no more midnight Christmas celebrations. The American concluded his meditation, “This is worse than a graveyard; it is the inside of a tomb. Death is still here.”

Bombs from overhead had done this. They had done it to free a people, the cowboy had been told. When he looked up the lad had disappeared in the shadows. The little wizened face and the dwarfed body were gone.

To free a people? Can war ever free a people? he wondered. Though the lad was gone his questions filled all the crevices which had been homes. “Why do you hate us so? Didn’t you do this?”

We must share and give, praying God to help us live so unselfishly both now and hereafter that no little children ever again need ask, “Why do you hate us so?”

Love can cast out fear; it is the only thing which can. D.W.B.

Used by permission of Messenger magazine, Church of the Brethren.


9 thoughts on “A Seagoing Cowboy meditation on war

  1. Thanks Peggy for your enduring search of these stories and bringing perspective to this time. It resonates to the pain and stories my great uncle told me through his Alzheimers toward the end of his life. What he saw and experienced in Poland at that time haunted him. This helps shed more light of what was haunting him. with gratitude, Stephanie


    • Thanks for your comment, Stephanie. I’m glad this helps you to understand what has haunted your uncle all these years. It’s interesting that he could talk about it through his Alzheimers. Many of the cowboys never did not talk about their experience, and I’m sure this is why.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dr Bittinger was president at McPherson College when I was a student there. He had a way with words that challenged one to live better and be of service to others.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for this memory, Lyle. How fortunate to have known Dr. Bittinger. I’ve appreciated reading his editorials. You’ve captured exactly the tenor of his writing: “words that challenge one to live better and be of service to others.”


  3. This is really moving and heartbreaking. But I myself never would have had the idea of hating the US or US soldiers. For me, in the rubble of what was the city of Bremen (Germany) in those days, the GIs represented a new kind of hope, generosity and casualness…And Hershey’s chocolate and coffee in tin cans…To this day I am thankful to the US, their help to bring down a murderous dictatorship in Germany, and often by suffering the highest sacrifice….and for the generous assistance of the people of the US to get Germany back on it’s feet again after WW II….

    Liked by 2 people

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