Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Impact of WWII and the Korean War on Missionary Work

Missionaries Serving in War and Peace: 1960-2011War and Missionaries

In “War and the Missionary Force,” I suggested that war in Iraq and Afghanistan affected the number of missionaries serving as well as the more frequently identified events such as raising worthiness standards for missionaries and demographic trends of falling birth rates and secularization.  I used the graph “Missionaries Serving in War and Peace: 1960-2011” as evidence.  The horizontal axis measures time beginning in 1960 and continuing until 2011, and the vertical axes, the number of missionaries serving at year end.  The blue segments of the line are years of peace and the red segments, years of war in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  The graph is suggests that these wars may have drawn young men from missionary service into the military service, but in the case of the War in Iraq, the timing of the war coincides almost perfectly with raising the worthiness standards.  Did the war cause missionary numbers to fall or was it the increase in standards or both? 

Missionaries Serving in War and Peace: 1938-1960WWIIKOREA

Examining periods of war without concurrent changes in missionary standards helps separate the impact of the two events.  The second graph covers the period surrounding World War II and the Korean War when worthiness standards were constant.  The horizontal axis measures time beginning in 1938 and continuing through 1960 and the vertical axis, the number of missionaries set apart, a slightly different variable than the number serving used in the first graph.  Clearly, the number of missionaries set apart declined in response to World War II and the Korean War.  The student manual, “Church History in the Fulness of Times,” describes how these wars impacted missionary and members in Europe beginning with the Nazi’s political triumph in 1933, the evacuation of missionaries from Europe starting in 1938, to the drafting potential missionaries.  The impact of WWII is summarized in the following paragraph

These developments prompted the First Presidency to withdraw all Latter-day Saint missionaries from the South Pacific and South Africa the following month. Communications between these areas and Church headquarters in America were not cut off as they had been in Europe, and mission presidents were permitted to remain in their areas. Missionaries were not evacuated from South America, but after 1941 no new missionaries were sent to that continent, and by 1943 none remained there. By that time proselyting by the regular full-time missionaries was limited to North America and Hawaii. Even in these areas the number of missionaries was drastically reduced as more and more young men were drafted into military service.

The Korean War also took a toll on the number of missionaries set apart, but because of the more limited size of the conflict, it was not as pronounced as the impact of WWII.  The student manual, “Church History in the Fulness of Times,” describes the impact on missionary numbers. 

The impact of the Korean War was not limited to the Far East, however. As the United States assumed a major role in the United Nations peacekeeping force, young men were again being drafted. This meant that fewer elders were available for missionary service. In contrast to the 3,015 missionaries called by the First Presidency in 1950, only 872 received mission calls two years later.

The causal link is clear between the draft and missionary service is clear.  If you draft a young man, he cannot serve a mission.  The more that are drafted, the fewer that can serve as missionaries.  It provides one reason why missionary numbers fell during WWII and the Korean War but because the draft ended in 1973, it does not explain why war would cause a reduction of missionary numbers during Desert Storm and the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Patriotism might offer a second explanation.  Checking for increases in inductions from states with high concentrations of Latter-day Saints might offer insights into the impact of war on missionary service in the absence of a draft, better yet would be a breakdown of inductees by religion.  Finally, I am not satisfied with my hypothesis that war reduces missionaries serving as an explanation for missionary service during the Vietnam War era.  Missionary numbers grew, but at a slower rate than before and after the war.  Was another factor contributing to the growth in the missionary force?


  1. That is why I salute every missionaries in the field. I its not an easy task to do so and God Bless! Guy!

  2. You are welcome. I am grateful for readers.

  3. That was proven that no matter what happen a missionary always be a missionary.


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