Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Philosophies of Man, Mangled With Scripture

Connor Boyack is a web programmer and pugnacious advocate for his political views. Unfortunately he is a horrible military historian. His post “Preventive War in the Book of Mormon” is riddled with imprecise terms, wrenched quotes, and an inappropriate understanding of the prophet’s words and scriptures.[1]

He defined preventative war as seeking to “fight the enemy on your own terms,” as an extension of the belief that the best defense is a good offense. Boyack contended that this is supported through an extensive network of spies in an effort to prevent a future attack.

Boyack’s definition is rather poor. In the first place many nations can shape their defense so they can “fight the enemy on your own terms”. The Northern Song Dynasty faced repeated invasions from their nomadic neighbors and instituted a system of forts, walls, trenches, and ditches that negated the potency of an invasion. He also failed to identify specific military action that meets these criteria. Boyack and other radical libertarians most often cite the Iraq War as the worst example of preventative war. Since the Iraq War had ample justification he seems to be tilting at windmills. He also failed to specify the difference between possible and imminent attacks, and preventative versus pre-emptive attacks. His definitions are so vague it seems as though he can twist those descriptions to fit any war he doesn’t like or support.

His definition meets further resistance when he tried to use Eisenhower to support his case. Eisenhower’s New Look military relied upon “nukes and spooks” to keep the military budget low. His two most famous cases of these are the CIA inspired coup in Iran and his threats to use nuclear weapons against the Chinese in the 1954 and 58 Taiwan Crisis. Thus Boyack supported his attack on preventive war with an out of context quote from an individual which used tactics included in the definition of it. In short, the man who prepared planes for a nuclear first strike is used to oppose first strikes. The man who leaned heavily on the CIA is used to condemn the use of spies. This speaks to the ignorance of Boyack and his tendency to dogmatically assert quotes which sound as though they agree with his political leaning. Moreover, with all due respect to Eisenhower, he never served during a time of rogue states seeking weapons of mass destruction with extensive ties and support for terrorists, and thus his opinion on how to deal with them is not reliable.

Boyack also prophet bashed with an unverified letter from the WWII era First Presidency.[2] Assuming it is even real, he incorrectly weighed their words. I’ve discussed in other places, how official and binding church doctrine is found in the standard works and statements signed by the top 15 leaders of the church, and not in the isolated words of the individual leaders. The reason for this becomes apparent as Boyack cites Hinckley to support his cherry picked verses from The Book of Mormon but failed to describe how Hinckley endorsed the Iraq War. (Of course, Boyack twists his words into saying something else, which only proves my point about the duplicity of the anti war critic.) Again, Boyack selectively quoted an individual who would likely contradict his arguments.

Finally, Boyack turned to verses in The Book of Mormon. Conveniently he side stepped the war chapters. But he failed to account for Moroni’s, preventative expulsion of Lamanite settlers from the East wilderness.[3] For the remainder of the verses cited by Boyack, I will reply with quotes from my upcoming chapter in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives.

The thoughtful reader may recall several supposedly clear-cut verses that forbid “preemptive war.” The eleventh chapter of Mosiah, for example, describes how the soldiers of King Noah boasted and delighted in bloodshed. Yet there is no clear condemnation of all warfare, only of lusting after blood and boasting in one’s own strength. In Third Nephi, Gidgiddoni says the Lord forbade them from going into their opponents lands. Yet even in that same campaign, Gidgiddoni maneuvered his army to cut off the robbers. His “offensive defensive” operations suggest, at least, a more flexible approach than an overly simplistic notion that offensive war is inherently “bad”.

Mormon 3:15 is also cited as forbidding preemptive war. But the real sin recorded by Mormon was not the offensive tactics but rather the blood lust and vengeance that dictated Nephite strategy. The seemingly unequivocal anti-war sentiment expressed in Mormon 4:4 does not record any saying of the Lord, but can just as easily represent a strategic description. If this is a command against offensive action it is also contradicted by the other writings of Mormon. This is most clearly seen in a reevaluation of Alma 48:14. The traditional application of the verse is interpreted as a prohibition against offensive warfare. But a slightly different reading suggests the Nephites are commanded to never “give an offense” except “against an enemy” and “to preserve their lives.”(Alma 48:14)
Independent of one’s position on preventative war, (you can see my position here), Boyack failed to define his terms properly, wrenched quotes out of context from people who did or said things which specifically contradicted Boyack’s position, incorrectly asserted the primacy of unsupported quotes, failed to understand the meaning of supposedly supportive verses, left out at least one verse which directly contradicts his case, and tried to disqualify the very clear verses that justify armed actions. Simply being wrong is one thing. I witness stupid screeds every day. But Boyack and many fanatic Ron Paul supporters then follow up with laments about the ignorance of others, and their need to go back to school. They have many philosophies, but even mangling them with scripture won’t make them correct or a viable foreign policy.

Update 7/24/12: This is an abortive post that I didn't think rated its own entry.  Since all the trolls liked this post I will simply post it here: The title to my post, The Household of God, comes from  the Book of Ephesians. It exemplifies the basic respect that I feel every Latter Day Saint should have for another. It also represents the respect a person should have for their opponents. I've previously discussed what bugs me about certain political groups. For radical libertarians their opponents are not only wrong, but also wicked and evil. As though he is trying to prove me correct, Connor Boyack labelled his opponents Gadianton Robbers.

There are many problems with the government, and I think wrong and dangerous ideas exist. But Boyack's post typically casts a wide net filled with vague parrallels, undefined terms, dogmatic use of past LDS leaders, lousy analysis of the scriptures, and rabid denunciations of his political opponents.  I certainly wouldn't label people with whom I disagree as Gadianites.  I wish radical libertarians would spend a little more time in the library and a little less time hurling insults in their online echo chambers.    

1. You can also find it here.
2. See the first comment from Boyack's original post.
3. Alma 50:6-11.


Jared Halgren said...

Besides the numerous spelling errors, this is perhaps my favorite: "Mormon 4:4 does not record any saying of the Lord." You're right. Some verses in the BofM are scripture, others not.

SP Devereaux said...

Comments here and the topic at large are dizzying, to say the least. I agree in principle to the article about positions being supported with specific citations out of context. The first comment posted here demonstrates one problem. The fact that the Lord forbade the Gidgiddoni from going up to battle is not necessarily indicative of an anti-war stand by the Lord. It is indicative only that THIS PARTICULAR action is not sanctioned by the Lord; and the reasons are not overtly listed.

There are many many places throughout all of scripture that could easily demonstrate, if one was inclined to argue it, that God is a war-god. If you will remember, the Old Testiment is repleat with battle successses followed by taking the spoils along with the triumphs. (No need for citation--the honest researcher--especially LDS ones, will already be nodding in agreement or be searching the Bible Dictionary. But I'll give a hint: Aaron was often the leader.)

The war argument is one that is a conundrum to most Christians and non-Christians alike. The vast majority of wars through the history of mortality have been in the name, and claiming the cause of religion and God. It has left many of the faithful feeling confused and lost in a struggle between a righteous war and one in the name (only) of righteousness. Who is doing God's bidding and who is not? Not everyone on all sides can be right if they are all claiming God's endorsement of their actions, be it defensive or offensive.

The key points in any discussion on war, is that in most cases, we can only learn how to prevent catastrophes from repeating upon copius study of the advents to most wars. Secondly, in most cases, we simply do not know what God means by one war action v. another, unless He has specifically spelled it out. Any definative commentary (by anyone other than a prophet) claiming to speak the mind of God in relation to His intentions about war is not only dangerous thinking (spriitually) but likely to cause another one.

Morgan Deane said...

Thank you for your reasoned comment SP. The scriptures are full of citations that can support both sides. That is why I wish we could discuss them in a better way. Not in a dogmatic way which twists isolated scriptures. This post is referring to one egregious example of that trend. I have an article coming out that explains my position in much greater detail.

Thanks again for stopping by. I think you offered wise words about the need to be careful about interpreting scriptures. This site is evidence of my continued attempts to dive into scripture and understand them.

Jared: I can always tell a true scholar by the way he deals with subsantive typos. Your trolling is everything I expect from your corner of the political world, which is the only reason I didn't delete it.

Newcomers: It is nice of you to visit. Judging from my stats somebody posted a link on facebook. My little corner of the blogging world is relaxed but academic in tone. I will delete flaming trolls that attack my character, make drive by or flippant comments, and posts that lack substance. I look forward to meaningful replies.

Shane said...

Hey Morgan,
You seem like a sincere person, and I wish you well in your continued study of the Book of Mormon. I confess that as soon as I read your bio I knew that you'd be heavily biased, pro-war. Then I read your article, and even though I've never read Boyack's piece your subjectivity is obvious.

But think about this: all specific BofM/scriptural analysis aside, at least when the Nephites were righteous their leaders were men of God. Those men may or may not have been justified, but I submit that in the US military today there are few (if any) of the leadership that are sincerely seeking God's will.

Also, no sane person could argue that US foreign policy is based on principles of righteousness - in fact our current actions reek of Korihor, ie godless self-interest and survival of the fittest.

It just add another dimension to the whole discussion of whether US entanglements are justified that I thought you might want to consider.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks for stopping by Shane. I appreciate your attempt to be civil. You are better than the previous dozen trolls that inspired me to moderate my comments. But even then, you imply that I'm an insane, rabidly pro war, anti Christ. So yours wasn't the most condusive comment for discussion. One of the baselines for productive conversation is a belief that the other side can honestly disagree with you without being an agent of Satan, traitor, or other using other aspersions on their character. There needs to be room for honest disagreement. You don't show that in your post. In fact, one of my major problems with anti war libertarians is how easily they cast their opponents into Hell and claim to speak for God. I might have posted a rather vigorous rebuttal to Boyack, and in other places, a rather robust defense of the Iraq war, but I don't portray my opponents as Godless wicked men, just wrong.

To a certain extent I am pro-war. But that is only in relation to the extent that I am against genocide, mass rape, crimes against humanity and homicidal dictators seeking WMD's and using terrorism as an arm of foreign policy. And to the extent that I am for protecting liberty, the weak, and down trodden.

I wrote a lenghty article using the BoM to argue why the Iraq War is justified. I hope you read it when it comes out (and I linked to a basic version in my post). I hope even more that you can learn basic principles that will lead to honest and fruitful discussion. -The Insane Anti Christ

Shane said...

Hey Mogan,

Certainly didn't mean to imply that you are "insane, rabidly pro war, anti Christ." I just said that you're arguments are very clearly subjective - and that one can clearly deduce your bias by reading your bio.

My one use of the word "insane" was reserved for people who think that current "US foreign policy is based on principles of righteousness." If you put yourself in that group then so be it, but I didn't assume you were arguing such. I was just making a point about US foreign policy.