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G.I. MessiahsSoldiering, War, and American Civil Religion$
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Jonathan H Ebel

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780300176704

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300176704.001.0001

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Saint Francis the Fallen

Saint Francis the Fallen

(p.100) Chapter 4 Saint Francis the Fallen
G.I. Messiahs

Jonathan H. Ebel

Yale University Press

America’s expectations of its soldiers were lofty coming out of the Second World War. Men in uniform would struggle against global evils, defeat them, and return strengthened by the struggle. If necessary, they would give their lives for the survival of a greater good. These expectations, conveyed powerfully in films of the era, affected Francis Gary Powers, who entered the Air Force in 1950 and became a fighter pilot. This chapter describes Powers’ involvement in one of the most troubling civil religious dramas of the Cold War. Shot down while flying a U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union, Powers survived, stood trial, and apologized to the Soviets for what he had done. For this, numerous commentators in the U.S. lambasted him. This episode and its aftermath illuminate the power of civil religious rituals, the importance of proper soldierly performances in those rituals, and the consequences American soldiers have faced for improper ritual performances.

Keywords:   U-2 incident, Francis Gary Powers, Mythology, Film, Cold War, Ritual, Reintegration

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