Today is the 10th anniversary of the horrific events that began with the deaths of over 3000 people here in the United States and that continues to this day with a total human death toll that has climbed well over one million dead, 4.5 Million Displaced, 1-2 Million Widows, 5 Million Orphans and almost 5000 dead U.S. soldiers. [source]
Are we any closer to justice or peace? Where is the end to all of this? How does one win a war that is not declared on any nation but on individuals we arbitrarily identify as “terrorists”.
As a Latter-day Saint, I refer often to the Book of Mormon which has much to say on the situation of war. I have learned that is it just to fight to defend certain things:
Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church. And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies. And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed… – Alma 43:45-47
Innocent people were killed on 9/11 and we declared ourselves as a nation under attack. If we look to the Book of Mormon for perspective, we will find recorded in 3 Nephi an account of a band of “terrorists” living out in the wilderness who threaten the Nephite civilization. The people conclude that the best decision is to fall upon them in the wilderness and destroy them in their own lands:
Now the people said unto Gidgiddoni: Pray unto the Lord, and let us go up upon the mountains and into the wilderness, that we may fall upon the robbers and destroy them in their own lands.
Compare these words with those of former USAF Captain Scott O’Grady that I find representative of the attitudes of most that were for a preemptive strike against those that we saw as our enemy:
President Bush has shown through his decisive leadership that we will take a stand against terrorism. Because of his leadership, we have made major changes in our government to help us against this war such as the Homeland Security Department, the PATRIOT Act, and a proactive policy of fighting terrorists on their own soil before they come and kill us in our country. Source
We know the course of action that we pursued against those that we deemed our enemies, but let’s look back and see how the leader of the Nephite armies, Gidgiddoni, responded to the cry for a preemptive attack:
But Gidgiddoni saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands. – 3 Nephi 3:20,21
However, we do not seem to think much of God as our protector in these days, we trust more in the strength of our own arm, favoring “shock and awe” and bestowing “freedom” and “democracy” upon other nations at the point of a gun.
I wish George W. Bush would have followed his own advice in the 2000 presidential debates when he said:
“If we don’t stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, we’re going to have a serious problem coming down the road.”
I often wonder how things would have been different if 9/11 was more of a wake up call to humility instead of aggression. Is the best answer to a violent, deadly attack an escalation in violence to a greater measure than what was originally inflicted? I wonder what would have happened if we would have taken Alma’s approach:
“And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” – Alma 31:55
I wonder what would happen if we tried the virtue of the word of God among ourselves and then our own government before seeking to try it elsewhere.
Towards the end of the Nephite nation upon this continent a little over 1,500 years ago, the captain of the Nephite armies, Mormon had assembled his people to defend their lands against an imminent threat. They were driven from city to city and land to land and fled continually from their enemies with thousands being hewn down (Mormon 2:15). As wicked as they were, however, they were not yet beyond redemption; the vast majority of them were still escaping the hands of their enemies.
Even in the face of a terrible, merciless enemy, the Nephites showed remarkable restraint by only seeking to defend themselves. They were not being cowards but were obeying a law that God had given them, a law against offensive attacks, even against a ruthless enemy.
The turning point
But in the next battle, something changed. The Nephites put up such a strong defense before their enemies that they forced them to flee, but instead of letting them go they pursued them and beat them. This decision they made to go out to their enemies had a horrible consequence as Mormon recorded:
“nevertheless the strength of the Lord was not with us; yea, we were left to ourselves, that the Spirit of the Lord did not abide in us; therefore we had become weak like unto our brethren.” – Mormon 2:26
After a time, their enemies send word that they are preparing to come to battle against them once again. Mormon prepares his armies to defend themselves and when their enemies come against them, they are victorious. Next year, their enemies were on the attack once again; the Nephites beat them again and began to boast in their strength.
Understandably, they are tired and weary of continually defending themselves against an enemy. They must have witnessed the deaths of family, friends and loved ones. However, this entire time Mormon has been trying to get them to repent and maybe if they did, they would be righteous enough to preach the gospel to their enemies like Alma and the sons of Mosiah once did and bring peace to the land.
But they chose a different path, one that would ultimately seal their fate; Mormon records:
And now, because of this great thing which my people, the Nephites, had done, they began to boast in their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies. And they did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land. – Mormon 3:9,10
It was the decision to wage an offensive war that caused Mormon to “utterly refuse from this time forth to be a commander and a leader of this people…” He had delivered them three times from the hands of their enemies but Mormon could no longer in good faith lead them when “they had sworn by all that had been forbidden them by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that they would go up unto their enemies to battle, and avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren…”
Mormon then records that the voice of the Lord came unto him saying:
Vengeance is mine, and I will repay; and because this people repented not after I had delivered them, behold, they shall be cut off from the face of the earth. – Mormon 3:15
Mormon goes on to say “And it came to pass that I utterly refused to go up against mine enemies; and I did even as the Lord had commanded me; and I did stand as an idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard,” (Mormon 3:16)
After these words, Mormon turns his attention to our generation, the one he is writing to, and says:
“Therefore I write unto you, Gentiles, and also unto you, house of Israel…Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; …And these things doth the Spirit manifest unto me; therefore I write unto you all. And for this cause I write unto you, that ye may know that ye must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, yea, every soul who belongs to the whole human family of Adam; and ye must stand to be judged of your works, whether they be good or evil;” – Mormon 3:17,20
After these words, Mormon continues to narrate the fall of his people. The Nephites go out to battle once more against their enemies, but they were beaten back and many were killed.
Mormon records the reason for their defeat:
“And it was because the armies of the Nephites went up unto the Lamanites that they began to be smitten; for were it not for that, the Lamanites could have had no power over them. But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.” – Mormon 4:4,5
More war ensued with thousands slain on both sides along with Nephite women and children being sacrificed to idols; verse 11 describes their state:
“And it is impossible for the tongue to describe, or for man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites; and every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually.” – Mormon 4:11
Seeing his people in this sad state, Mormon “repents” of his oath to lead the people, however, the people are at this point weak and desperate and are only looking for deliverance. The Nephites never lead an offensive attack against the Lamanites again. In the next few verses, Mormon states repeatedly:
- …the Lamanites did come against us as we had fled… (Mormon 5:3)
- …they came against us again… (Mormon 5:4)
- …the Lamanites did come again against us to battle… (Mormon 5:6)
Those of us who are familiar with the Book of Mormon know the rest of the story. Mormon writes a letter to the King of the Lamanites and requests the opportunity for his people to gather together in one place, Cumorah, to do battle, but even in this most desperate situation, they do not come out in an attack:
And it came to pass that my people, with their wives and their children, did now behold the armies of the Lamanites marching towards them; and with that awful fear of death which fills the breasts of all the wicked, did they await to receive them. And it came to pass that they came to battle against us, and every soul was filled with terror because of the greatness of their numbers. (Mormon 6:7-8)
Despite his best efforts to fight, Mormon falls injured in battle and lives to witness the fall of his nation and his people. They betrayed God’s covenants, they betrayed the laws of war and went on the offense against their enemies and because of these things, the Lord could not protect them.
I cannot help but be significantly impacted by these words and consider the implications of the Book of Mormon’s strong stance on offensive war and compare it with today’s “doctrine” of preemptive war.
The first of the ten commandments is: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”. You may even say to yourself, “I don’t worship any other gods, I only worship the one true God and Jesus Christ”. But what if this confident self-affirmation was betrayed by your very actions?
Consider the words of Spencer W. Kimball in his landmark address “The False Gods We Worship”
Few men have ever knowingly and deliberately chosen to reject God and his blessings. Rather, we learn from the scriptures that because the exercise of faith has always appeared to be more difficult than relying on things more immediately at hand, carnal man has tended to transfer his trust in God to material things. Therefore, in all ages when men have fallen under the power of Satan and lost the faith, they have put in its place a hope in the “arm of flesh” and in “gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know” (Dan. 5:23)—that is, in idols. This I find to be a dominant theme in the Old Testament. Whatever thing a man sets his heart and his trust in most is his god; and if his god doesn’t also happen to be the true and living God of Israel, that man is laboring in idolatry.
So how is it that we are repeating the same pattern? Sure, anything that you lend your devotion, trust and reliance on could be a false ‘god’ like media, entertainment, addictions, etc. But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that in this case this is not you; that you are generally good person, you serve in your church and civic duties, you help the poor, your neighbors and for the most part, practice your religion as it comes to those immediately around you.
Where else could this idolatry creep up in our lives? Let’s refer back to President Kimball’s assessment of us:
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.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)
Consider with a new perspective these words Ammon, revealed to us in our day:
For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning? Now my brethren, ye remember that this was their language. And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us. But behold, my beloved brethren, we came into the wilderness not with the intent to destroy our brethren, but with the intent that perhaps we might save some few of their souls. – Alma 26:24-26
Again, we see that the Nephites, who at this time were friendly among themselves, held a deep distrust and desire for the destruction of their enemies. They suggested that their enemies were permanently wicked and evil, that they were a bloodthirsty people and even suggested a preemptive attack to wipe them off the face of the earth. The general attitude of the Nephite people seems to eerily coincide with the attitude of most American’s today in how we perceive our Muslim neighbors.
Should we learn from this and apply correct principles, or do we simply proclaim “Ah yes, but today it’s different, it’s just not the same and the Book of Mormon, a book specifically written for our day, is not relevant in our present conflict. We must go out and destroy our enemies before they kill us all; they hate our freedom and our religion and would delight in the beheading of every American – bomb them.”
Remember though, the success of these five missionaries who went out to their enemies in service and love? Remember their success because of their love and humility toward those that were before labeled their enemies?
For they became a righteous people; they did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more, neither against any of their brethren. Now, these are they who were converted unto the Lord: The people of the Lamanites who were in the land of Ishmael; And also of the people of the Lamanites who were in the land of Middoni; And also of the people of the Lamanites who were in the city of Nephi; And also of the people of the Lamanites who were in the land of Shilom, and who were in the land of Shemlon, and in the city of Lemuel, and in the city of Shimnilom. – Alma 23:1-12
Ponder for a moment what could happen if we adopted the faith of Alma and the sons of Mosiah instead of the general attitudes of the idolatrous Nephite and American people – what would happen? Could we see a repeat of this verse in our day that could read like this:
For they became a righteous people; they did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more, neither against any of their brethren. Now, these are they who were converted unto the Lord: The people of the Middle East who were in the land of Iraq; And also of the people of the Middle East who were in the land of Iran; And also of the people of the Middle East who were in the city of Tehran; And also of the people of the Middle East who were in the land of Syria, and who were in the land of Saudi Arabia, and in the city of Tripoli, and in the city of Beirut.
Do you condemn the attitudes of those ancient Nephites that mocked and laughed to scorn the strategy of Alma and the sons of Mosiah? Would you today, like the Nephites of old, laugh to scorn any that would suggest approaching our enemies with love and service instead of the “shock and awe” of war?
Do we possess within ourselves a greater faith in God and humanity, or in the power of empire, bombs, bullets and force? Who is your god? Remember that when you enter the voting booth to appoint people to represent you in the way we deal with those we currently esteem to be our “enemies”.
During a time of great desperation for the Nephites, when a vast, powerful army was coming against them, notice what they were taught and their attitudes toward war:
Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives. And this was their faith, that by so doing God would prosper them in the land, or in other words, if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger; And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them; and this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity. Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men. (Alma 48:14-17)
They were taught only to defend themselves and to never give offense, or rather, never wage an offensive attack against an enemy. Their faith was that GOD was their defense and that he would lead them and warn them as to what they needed to do to preserve their lives. They did not glory in bloodshed and the deaths of their enemies. Are we following this same counsel? Are we like Moroni?
In our day, the Lord has spoken yet again on this subject:
“Now, I speak unto you concerning your families—if men will smite you, or your families, once, and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded;…And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them. And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue; and if that peole did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord; Then I, the Lord would fight their battles, and their children’s battles and their children’s children’s, until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies, to the third and fourth generation. Behold, this is an ensample unto all people, saith the Lord your God, for justification before me.” (D&C 98:23,33-38)
Other quotes concerning Preemptive war
Dwight D. Eisenhower: “All of us have heard this term “preventive war” since the earliest days of Hitler. I recall that is about the first time I heard it. In this day and time, if we believe for one second that nuclear fission and fusion, that type of weapon, would be used in such a war–what is a preventive war? I would say a preventive war, if the words mean anything, is to wage some sort of quick police action in order that you might avoid a terrific cataclysm of destruction later. A preventive war, to my mind, is an impossibility today. How could you have one if one of its features would be several cities lying in ruins, several cities where many, many thousands of people would be dead and injured and mangled, the transportation systems destroyed, sanitation implements and systems all gone? That isn’t preventive war; that is war. I don’t believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing.”(Presidential news conference, 11 August 1954)
John Bassett Moore: “There can hardly be room for doubt that the framers of the Constitution, when they vested in Congress the power to declare war, never imagined that they were leaving it to the executive to use the military and naval forces of the United States all over the world for the purpose of actually coercing other nations, occupying their territory, and killing their soldiers and citizens, all according to his own notions of the fitness of things, as long as he refrained from calling his action war or persisted in calling it peace.” (Quoted in “Congressional abdication on war and spending” By Louis Fisher)
A. Brent Merrill: “…it was imprudent for the Nephites to initiate hostilities and to rely much on offensive operations. Instead, the Nephites became more adept at using fortifications to achieve local economy of forces and maintained a grand strategy of protecting the land north (of the narrow neck of land). Fortifications, which needed relatively few men to man, became force “multipliers,” by means of which the Nephites could extend a combat front, and served as a base of maneuver for mobile field forces. This was an effective use of one principle of war, the economy of forces. Even in situations where the Nephites may have faced an enemy of more equal numbers, they were counseled not to strike first.” (“Nephite Captains and Armies” Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute)
Hugh Nibley on Preemptive war
BYU Scholar Hugh Nibley discusses much of what was mentioned in this article and condemns the doctrine of preemptive war. [full text]
Nibley notes in his research:
“Any thought of preemptive strike is out of the question; Moroni even apologizes for espionage, for if they only have sufficient faith God will “warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger; And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves. “This is a great load off their minds “and his [Moroni’s] heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity” (Alma 48: 15-16). Resisting iniquity where? In the only place it can be resisted, in their own hearts. Not only is a preemptive strike out of the question but Moroni’s people have to let the enemy attack at least twice before responding, to guarantee that their own action is purely defensive”.
Nibley mentions the genocidal acts of the Jaredites and how it resulted in the destruction of both sides.
“We have not mentioned the case of the Jaredites; it should hardly be necessary to tell the story of Shiz and Coriantumr, each obsessed with the necessity of ridding the world of his evil adversary. Both sides were exterminated. Not many years ago all of this Book of Mormon extravaganza belonged even for Latter-day Saints to the world of pure fantasy, of things that could never happen in the modern civilized world–total extermination of a nation was utterly unthinkable in those days. But suddenly even within the past few years a very ancient order of things has emerged at the forefront of world affairs; who would have thought it–the Holy War! the ultimate showdown of the Good Guys with God on their side versus the Godless Enemy. It is the creed of the Ayatollah, the Jihad, Dar-al-Islam versus Dar-al-Harb, the Roman ager pacatus versus the ager hosticus. On the one side Deus vult, on the Bi’smi-llah; it is a replay of the twelfth century, the only way the “good people” can be free, that is, safe, is to exterminate the “bad people” or, as Mr. Lee counsels, to lock them up before they do any mischief–that alone will preserve the freedom of “us good people.”
This is a good time for some reflection. If we look in the mirror, who do we see? Is it just to invade nations offensively even if they have done us harm? Moreover, is it just to attack nations with war and death when they have NOT done us any direct harm? We know God’s stance: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”.
President Kimball concluded:
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.
- October 14, 2011: Added some verses and commentary from Mormon 5.
- October 4, 2011: Added verses and commentary from Alma 48 just before the conclusion.
- Sept. 19, 2011: Added section “Latter-day Idolatry” and modified conclusion. (Special thanks to Mark for his input)
- February 8, 2012: Added quote from D&C 98, and the “Other quotes about preemptive war” section, added the subtitle to the article: “A Call to Reject Preemptive War” and the Hugh Nibley videos on preemptive war.