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War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

April 16, 2007

by Carrie Ann

Recently, while at dinner with a friend, the topic wandered to politics where I made a benign comment about our current state of affairs Iraq with the assumption that my friend held the same leanings as I. My comment was returned with a blank stare. Oops. You know what they say about those who assume…

We didn’t have a fight or anything interesting. I just thought we were more like-minded on the subject. So I probed a little further and she pulled out that famous Book of Mormon story where Captain Moroni rips his coats and makes a banner and calls his people to arms. She said that the Book of Mormon proves that we are responsible for making sure other people have the same freedoms that we enjoy. Whoa.

I begged to disagree, and she was very nice about it. Allow me to share a small partion of how I arrived at my conclusion.

The Book of Mormon preaches peace. Period. Full-stop. End of story. At least that’s what I get out of it. I know, I know there are all those gruesome chapters about wars and scalpings and fortifications and bows and cimeters… Why, then, were they included? As a major warning against aggression and provocation.

One of the most interesting sources that helped solidify my opinion is the biography of Hugh Nibley by Boyd J. Peterson. I LOVED what he had to say and think about war particularly in the Book of Mormon. But first, did you know that Hugh Nibley was assigned to the 101st airborne division? How cool is that! He was in the thick of the action during WWII.

As a student of ancient history, Nibley had a cynical view that wars through the ages never solved anything. Keep in mind this wasn’t the 60’s were pacifism was tres chic. This was a time when justified patriotism was at its zenith. He firmly believed that the Devil himself delighted in war like nothing else. Hugh recounts that over the course of the war in Europe he witnessed a vast change in even the most decent of people. He saw murder, confusion, depravity, cunning, and deception, and he witnessed that these traits displayed on both sides of the enemy lines. As a former missionary to Germany Hugh had an unusual love and empathy for the German people, but his heart broke when he saw Dachau.

On war in the Book of Mormon Nibley wrote:

“The whole point of Alma’s (or rather Mormon’s) studies in ‘the work of death’ as he calls it, is that they are supposed to be revolting, they are meant to be painful. It is Mormon and Moroni, the tragic survivors of a nation destroyed in a senseless war, who are editing this book, and they put into it whatever they think might be useful as a warning to us. It is not their purpose to tell an entertaining or reassuring tale.”

Nibley rightly concludes that the Book of Mormon wars were a vehicle for the wicked destroying the wicked. He sees no “good guys vs. bad guys”. (Nibley’s book Since Cumorah details further his thoughts on these wars.)

In March of 1971 in a letter to BYU’s Daily Universe supporting a student protest against the showing of a pro-Vietnam propaganda film featuring John Wayne and then apostle Ezra Taft Benson (in his role as former Secretary of Agriculture) Nibley cited Doctrine and Covenants 98:16-17 which commands the Saints to “renounce war and proclaim peace.” “Renounce is a strong word,” Nibley wrote.

“We are not to try to win peace by war, or merely call a truce, but to renounce war itself, to disclaim it as a policy while proclaiming (that means not just announcing but preaching) peace without reservation…If we do not take this course ‘the whole earth’ will be cursed, and all flesh consumed…either renounce war or [be] totally destroyed—there is no third choice…If we persist in reversing the words of the Savior, ‘Who takes up the sword shall die by the sword’ (Rev. 13:10) to read perversely, ‘who does not take up the sword shall perish by the sword,’ we shall deserve what happens to us.”

Captain Moroni did not make his banner as an act of aggression. He did so in defense of his God, his religion, his freedom, his peace, his wife, and his children. In defense. Amalickiah was knocking at the door with specific intentions to enslave the Nephites.

The Lord has covenanted with us that as long as we are a righteous people, this land will be preserved for us. In no part of that covenant does it mention our duty to spread our particular form of democracy or “freedom” to other lands.

I get that our religion is seen in political views as largely, if not wholly, Republican. This bothers me a lot. A LOT. I have not quite reconciled our Church’s role, or “non-role”, in politics. But I do know that I have agency to study the problem out in my mind, and to come to my own conclusion. Does this mean that if I come to the conclusion that Mormons should be Democrats President Hinkley is wrong? No. Does it mean I’m wrong? I respect that the Prophets may see the larger picture, but I have to stand on the bit of ground where my current studies and testimony have taken me. And I say no to war.

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7 comments

  1. well said Carrie Ann. I would add to your great words the words of Spencer W. Kimball who said:

    We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel — ships, planes, missiles, fortifications — and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:

    “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
    “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).

    We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us — and this is the special promise to the inhabitants of the land of the Americas (see 2 Nephi 1:7) — or he will fight our battles for us (Exodus 14:14; D&C 98:37, to name only two references of many). This he is able to do, for as he said at the time of his betrayal, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). We can imagine what fearsome soldiers they would be. King Jehoshaphat and his people were delivered by such a troop (see 2 Chronicles 20), and when Elish’s life was threatened, he comforted his servant by saying, “Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16). The Lord then opened the eyes of the servant, “And he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (vs 17).

    What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him? Our assignment is affirmative: to forsake the things of the world as ends in themselves; to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.

    We must leave off the worship of modern-day idols and a reliance on the “arm of flesh,” for the Lord has said to all the world in our day, “I will not spare any that remain in Babylon” (D&C 64:24).

    This most certainly was not what Captain Moroni had in mind in defending his people. And certainly not the way of righteousness and peace.


  2. Most of the wars in the Book of Mormon that were fought with any success at all on the part of the Nephites occurred prior to the arrival of the Resurrected Savior. Once they had built a Zion society and had received the words of the Lord that announced that the old policy of “eye for an eye” had been done away with, the Nephites were never successful in war for very long at all.

    We have been given a higher law, just as it was given to the Nephites, and for us to city pre-New Testament wars as justification for our own is sheer folly, in my opinion. We are now supposed to know better. If we persist in acting as if we don’t, then, as Nibley puts it, we deserve what happens to us.


  3. I wish I’d been at this dinner. I’m sure this was an interesting and enlightening conversation.

    I really like what you have written, and the quotes you’ve found.


  4. I appreciate Nibley’s ideas. It is instructive that when he drove the vehicle onto the beach on D-day, he spent all that day thinking about the wondrous truth of the Book of Mormon. If anything, aggressive war is never encouraged in the Book of Mormon.

    That said, I think that for God the tragedy of war is that all those people die before they can repent. I am not sure that he values human life in the same way that we do. Therefore, the holy wars of the Old Testament, for example, may somehow reflect his will.


  5. War is such charged issue between so many people…and this is so thought provoking.

    Excellent post.


  6. Carrie Anne… I love you. I love that you can say what I would say if I had any brain left in my head at all. Sadly, my baby likes to feast on it in the middle of the night thus leaving us with… well… you can see my post. 🙂

    Beautifully written, and so spot on.


  7. I think that the tragedy of war is a generational phenomenon where the preceding generation fails to communicate the lessons it had learned to the up and coming progeny. Every generation seems to have this fatal tendency to learn for itself by “experiencing and experimenting.” Perhaps it’s another sign of an adulterous generation. I think that every generation has its adulterors that require signs rather than faith in order to believe and learn. I think that the Book of Mormon is very realistic about war and the turmoil that it brings. There is nothing glorifying about Book of Mormon warfare.



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