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Humanities Planning Group Matthew Sutton


Department of History

FDR’s Army of Faith: Religion and Espionage in World War II

Franklin Delano Roosevelt drafted ten million men to serve in World War II. And he drafted God. Or at least some of God’s most valuable earthly agents. During the war the U.S. government employed a small but influential group of missionaries and religious activists in espionage and covert operations. Their stories have not been told. Until now. While FDR pledged to secure freedom of religion for all men and women around the globe, Office of Strategic Services director William “Wild Bill” Donovan was invoking religion in a different, less public, and less traditional way. He was secretly recruiting an army of religious activists for intelligence analysis, espionage work, and covert operations. Donovan’s tactics, supported by the president, helped to create the modern American security state and shape the future of the nation’s intelligence and clandestine network. He and FDR, in their explicit use of religion and religious activists, laid the foundations for the rise of the CIA, the Cold War-era crusade against “godless communism,” and, more recently, George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” To tell this story, I draw on never-before-seen archival materials that reveal the significant roles these missionaries played. They include a German priest who aspired to be a secret agent, a future CIA director who aggressively recruited religious activists for covert operations, and a fundamentalist Christian missionary-turned spy. Their work, with its ironic twists and violent turns ensured that faith was always close to the fight.