Thursday, September 1, 2022

Kishkumen’s Dagger: Helaman 2 and Preemptive Warfare in the Book of Mormon


    This is part of an ongoing series about preemptive war in the Book of Mormon. See part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven, and now part eight.

    We read in the second chapter of Helaman:

6 And it came to pass as [Kiskumen] went forth towards the judgment-seat to destroy Helaman, behold one of the servants of Helaman, having been out by night, and having obtained, through disguise, a knowledge of those plans which had been laid by this band to destroy Helaman—

7 And it came to pass that he met Kishkumen, and he gave unto him a sign; therefore Kishkumen made known unto him the object of his desire, desiring that he would conduct him to the judgment-seat that he might murder Helaman.

8 And when the servant of Helaman had known all the heart of Kishkumen, and how that it was his object to murder, and also that it was the object of all those who belonged to his band to murder, and to rob, and to gain power, (and this was their secret plan, and their combination) the servant of Helaman said unto Kishkumen: Let us go forth unto the judgment-seat.

9 Now this did please Kishkumen exceedingly, for he did suppose that he should accomplish his design; but behold, the servant of Helaman, as they were going forth unto the judgment-seat, did stab Kishkumen even to the heart, that he fell dead without a groan.

    When Helaman’s servant killed Kishkumen this seemed like a divinely ordained protection of Helaman(2).[1] Kishkumen’s guilt is established by the narration in verse 8. Curiously, the Book of Mormon says that Nephite law didn’t punish a person’s belief Alma 30:7,9; a person was only punished after committing murder or robbery (Alma 30:10). Kishkumen did murder the preceding chief judge (Helaman 1:9) but hadn’t yet committed this crime. Yet there is no record of the servant’s punishment over his preemptive murder or taking justice into his own hands over Kishkumen’s previous murder, and no editorial critique from Mormon, except a warning that the Gadianton Robbers would overthrow the people of Nephi (Helaman 2:13-14). The text simply shows that Helaman was a prophet and good leader whose servant righteously defended him.

    Various thoughtful theorists from hundreds of years in the past have explained why that can remain a just action. Except none of that thought has been applied to LDS scripture. Patrick Mason summarizes many Latter Day Saints when he calls just war theory “neither broad nor comprehensive enough.”[2] Even National Security professionals feel the need to defend the use of just war for members of Christ’s church to resolve modern problems.[3]

    But there is rich material that applies. The theorist, Samuel Pufendorf, writing around the time of the 30 Years War compared the right of preemptive or even preventive action to a person that sees a “charging assailant with sword in hand.”[4] The modern theorist Michael Walzer suggests that someone being hunted has a right to ambush his attacker.[5] In both instances the basic premise is than an individual who sees an attack in progress doesn’t have to wait for the first blow to defend themselves.

    The early modern theorist Hugo Grotius explained those underlying principles when he wrote that if the state faced a danger that was facing “immediate and certain” danger or an attack that “commenced but not carried through” the state could take preemptive action. Commenced but not carried through might sound odd, but you’ve already read several examples like that in this post. It would be like the individual has drawn the sword, sworn an oath to kill you, but has only raised and not swung the sword yet. Or maybe it would be like a would-be assassin that has sworn an oath to kill the chief judge and has arrived on the scene with a dagger to do the deed, and that assassin killed a previous judge (Helaman2:3). A modern example would be that a nation has launched its bombers in a nuclear strike, but they haven’t hit their target yet. Even though President Eisenhower is often quoted as an opponent of preemptive war,[6] he admitted during the Berlin crisis that if placed in that situation he would launch a preemptive nuclear first strike.[7]

    The modern conception of just preemptive war is referred to as the Caroline standard. In stopping an arms shipment to Canadian separatists the US navy took preemptive action to destroy the Caroline. Daniel Webster argued that the “instant and overwhelming need for self-defense, leaving no choice and no moment for deliberation” justified the attack.

    In short, the main criteria summarized from theorists as far back as the 16th century suggests that preemptive warfare is justified when a threat must have intent, means, and imminence. Applied to the case of Helaman’s servant, the servant knew they had intent. A previous chief judge had been killed, and the servant attended the meeting of conspirators planning the murder of Helaman. Kishkumen had the weapon we would use to perform the killing and thought he had been granted access to the chief judge. An assassination would happen within moments. This seems to meet all of the requirements but there are still questions about the theory itself and its modern application.

    The major problem with this standard is the rather subjective nature of “imminent.” Grotius for example, used the example of a plot formed by robbers to argue for a more restrained and patient approached led by law enforcement approach instead of a preemptive strike. He wrote, if they “formed a plot, prepar[ed] an ambuscade, poisoning, or readied a false accusation [the planner] cannot lawfully be killed either if danger can in any other way be avoided, or if [the ruler] thought delays could afford remedies.”

    Justified self-defense within the criminal law is founded upon the principle of defending yourself against an immediate attack. Not a preemptive attack because the two parties have been threatening each other, or a long-awaited revenge killing in retaliation. Going back to Webster and the Caroline case again, the preemptive attack must be in the moment when the threat of deadly force creates and “overwhelming need” for force and the attack must be made when there is “no moment for deliberation.”[8]

    But other theorists took a rather expansive view. A contemporary theorist of Grotius named Alberico Gentili argued that “at the first signs trouble are perceived, it is easy to find a solution, but if one lets trouble develop medicine will be too late.”[9] This is the exact same argument that the classical Chinese theorist Shizi made. Even a tree so big that it shields the sky was, at its beginning, only as thick as the base of a tree sprout: easy to get rid of. But once it has fully manifested itself, a hundred people using hatchets and axes are unable to fell it![10]

    The enlightenment writer Emil Vattel wrote that a state can attack “as soon as [its neighbors] has been given evidence of injustice, greed, pride, ambition, or desire of dominating over its neighbors.”[11]

    The problem with the reasoning of the above theorists is that just about any change or perceived change can justify those conditions, and anything can be spun by a ruler seeking expansive war to justify those requirements.

    In short, there is significant debate over how immediate something must be and how important that qualification is with answers ranging from very to none. To better understand the differences we might return to the preemptive attack from Helaman’s servant. At first glance it seems like Helaman’s servant was justified, but he many not have been. The text says that he received this information the night before. Thus, the servant of Helaman didn’t have to resort to killing. He could have notified Helaman so the latter wasn’t on the judgement seat when Kishkumen came. The servant could have called for additional guards to arrest Kishkumen when the latter arrived on the scene. The key point is that unlike the Webster’s reasoning in the Caroline case, the servant had time to deliberate. But the servant resorted to killing, when he had been out by night (Helaman 2:6) and had thus had time to arrange a non-lethal way to end the approaching attack.

    But the problem of judging immediacy is even tougher in the modern era. For example, if the US waited until the 9/11 attacks were “commenced but not carried out” as Grotius said, “left no moment for deliberation” from the Caroline case, or were clearly imminent as the standard demands, then the planes would have already been on their way to the twin towers. America would have been forced to kill several hundred innocent passengers to stop the terrorist attacks.

    The answer to the problem of immediacy then, is to examine the danger and its magnitude combined with the other two criteria, intent and means. Terrorists have been attacking America for years, so like the Gadianton Robbers, they have shown intent. But unlike Kishkumen’s dagger, terrorists armed with nuclear weapons have much stronger means. With a nuclear weapon they could kill millions in a single attack. Sounding very similar to my writings:

John F. Kennedy wrote said, “We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nations security to constitute maximum peril. Nuclear weapons are so destructive and ballistic missiles are so swift, that any substantially increased possibility of their use or any sudden change in deployment may well be regarded as a threat to peace.[12]

    Or as I wrote using my good instincts about the dangers of nuclear weapons:[13]

During the Cold War the United States could nominally count on the international order to restrain the actions of the enemy.[14] Now, the United States faces regimes that explicitly reject that world order…But unlike ancient times, strategic surprise in the modern age may not simply represent the destruction of a small ancient city, but could take the form of a nuclear attack in a highly populated metropolis. The power of nuclear weapons increases the ability of an opponent to end the war at a stroke.[15]    

    Thus, if a terrorist group fulfilled the first two criteria, means and intent, but the timing of the attack remained unclear, it would be incredibly dangerous to wait and accept a single blow (let alone three,) or wait until the attack was commenced but not carried out. Instead, as a justified self-defense America would launch a preemptive and even preventive strike.

    Many Latter-Day Saints wrongly presume that scriptures like section 98 are a strict guide to foreign policy and argue the neighbor should receive three attacks. (As Duane Boyce pointed out,[16] even that is confusing. Do you count three bullets, three magazines, or three battles?) But a person has a basic right to life, and a right to defend it. Reason, natural law as theorists would say, or some common sense regarding nuclear weapons suggests waiting to receive even a single attack is foolish and even wicked because it will be fatal.

    That doesn’t mean a person or nation should go to the extreme and launch an attack at the mere hint of attack. (Though there are some theorists that go that far.)  Instead, there are many options in between a destructive strike at the first provocation and waiting to receive the likely fatal first blow. A besieged neighbor might intercept the weapons shipments, which means the neighboring enemy would have far less ability, or means, to attack you at all. (Think of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Having nuclear weapons 90 miles from America was a grave threat and justified a military response to remove them, but part of the concern of the Kennedy administration was a proportional response, hence the blockade.) Though the principle is clear, modern crises aren’t quit as simple.

    Thus, Americans should be aware of terrorist ideology (intent.) They must continue to take steps to prevent them from obtaining means like weapons, and especially any WMDs. But they don’t have to for imminent attacks before striking, as that would often be too late. Instead, to protect lives they should launch devastating strikes against terrorists before the threats materialize.

    Helaman chapter two is not simply a short cloak and dagger tale, or introduction to the Gadianton Robbers that eventually dominate the text. But become an important case study about the just and righteous principles behind first strikes. If an enemy shows intent, means, and imminency (however sometimes vague the last might be), like Helaman’s servant, they have a right to strike first with preemptive and even preventive war. They might thoughtfully consider other options less of force, but the right remains and often there is no time for those other options.

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[1] Hereafter all references refer to Helaman the younger.

[2] Patrick Mason, David Pulsipher, Proclaim Peace: The Restoration Answers to the Age of Conflict, (Deseret Book, Maxwell Institute, 2021), 135. See also Connor Boyack who dismisses the applicability of all the war chapters: Connor Boyack, “Preventive War and the Book of Mormon,” Connors Conundrums, September 13th, 2009 (Accessed, August 26, 2022.)

[3] John Maddox, “The Book of Mormon as a Touchstone for Evaluating the Theory of Just War,” in Wielding the Sword While Proclaiming Peace: Views from the LDS Community on Reconciling the Demands of National Security with the Imperatives of Revelated Truth, Kerry Kartchner and Valerie Hudson eds., (Brigham Young University, 2004,) 57.

[4] Totten, Mark, First Strike: America, Terrorism, and Moral Tradition, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 129-146. 

[5] Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, (Basic Books, New York: 2006,) 88.

[6] See Connor Boyacks piece, for example, in fn 2.

[7] Totten, First Strike, 2.

[8] Webster, Daniel. 'Letter to Henry Stephen Fox', in K.E Shewmaker (ed.). The Papers of Daniel Webster: Diplomatic Papers, vol. 1. 1841-1843 (1983) 62. Dartmouth College Press.

[9] Hugo Grotius, On the Law of War and Peace, Stephen Neff trans., (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 83-84.

[10] Shizi: China’s First Syncretist, Paul Fischer trans., (Columbia University Press, 2012,) 67-68.

[11] Totten, First Strike, 136.

[12] Totten, First strike, 71.

[13] Morgan Deane, “The Lord Forbid? Offensive Warfare in the Book of Mormon and a Defense of the Bush Doctrine,” in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives, Richard Bushman, Patrick Mason, David Pulsipher eds., (Greg Kofford books, 2012), 9-19.

[14] But even this balance of power produced the Cuban Missile Crisis, with Krushchev threatening to “swat [America's] ass” with the nuclear weapons he inserted there. See Ernest May and Philip Zelikow, eds., The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: W.W. Norton, 2002), 428.

[15] Clausewitz, On War, 363.

[16] Duane Boyce, Even Unto Bloodshed (West Jordan UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2015), 156-157: The matter of definition is especially important when we consider the trespass of one state against another. … When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the assault occurred in two waves and involved six aircraft carriers and more than three hundred fifty planes. During the attack the Japanese damaged or sank sixteen U.S. ships, destroyed some one hundred ninety planes, killed twenty-four hundred Americans, and wounded twelve hundred more. Now, which of these numbers is most pertinent to the commandment that an aggressed party (the United States in this case) must suffer “trespass” three times [as explained in section 98] before responding? Would this assault on Pearl Harbor fall short of that threshold altogether since it was only a single attack and occurred in only two waves? If we saw the matter this way, then it would seem that the United States was obligated to suffer two more attacks from the Japanese before being justified in declaring war in response.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Moral Clarity on the Anniversary of the Atomic Bombings


[Originally posted at Real Clear Defense]

    August 6th marks the dubious day in 1945 where America became the only power to use a nuclear bomb. This continues to spark controversy. From 1945 to 2005 American approval of the bombings has dropped from 85 to 57 percent. And a record low number of Americans are proud of their country. This is somewhat understandable as societal attitudes change and there is a great deal to critique over the decision. But it might also be what the editors at the National Review recently pointed out is part of the crisis of self-doubt gaining traction in America and what Wilfred McClay called a deeply unserious country that doesn’t believe in itself. Yet a proper study of the history surrounding the decision to drop the bombs and an examination of ethics finds the bombing was both justified and necessary.

    During the war both sides held a great deal of racial animus towards one another, which suggests the bomb might have been more willingly used because of racism.[1] Though, the bomb wasn’t ready in time to end the war against Germany so that is hard to gauge. Using an area effect weapon that didn’t distinguish between civilians and military targets invites condemnation.[2] The lack of military targets in Hiroshima and the dubious effectiveness of the bomb makes some people say this was terrorism.[3] After all, the Strategic Bombing survey revealed that the trains ran normally a mere two days later and this was often considered a way to stun the Japanese into surrendering and impress the Russians with the viability of the program.[4] (Though it should be noted that both cities had important military components. Nagasaki for example, was home to one of the most important military garrisons and was a foremost military shipping depot, and thus remained a valid military target.) Plus, there were supposedly peace feelers from the Japanese that made this completely unnecessary.

    As I will show below, these are all extremely flawed arguments that don’t accurately reflect the historical context and seem like excuses to blame American and undermine moral confidence today, instead of understanding the tragic but justified decisions of the past.

    The strongest criticism seems to be the peace overtures. Who doesn’t want the war to end early? This theory argues that the Japanese were ready for peace and only block headed, blood thirsty, and maybe even racist generals kept the war going. These were detailed by a revisionist historian, Gar Alperovitz and thus come long after the fact when it became more fashionable to search and promulgate these theories.[5] More importantly, this theory cherry picks some information and leave out much more important events that shows these peace feelers were completely impotent and U.S. officials were correct when they disregarded them.

    The best evidence against this theory comes after the Japanese emperor’s decision to surrender. After the bombs dropped and the emperor wanted peace army leaders challenged and almost reversed the decision through a military coup. It’s incredibly unlikely that minor officials would have produced peace when the atomically convinced emperor almost didn’t. Let me stress, even AFTER the atomic bombs were dropped there were significant factions in Japan that wanted to keep fighting. Peace was not possible before the bombs were dropped. Plus, American willingness to negotiate before the bombs dropped would have emboldened the Japanese and aggressive army generals to think that more fighting would have gotten them more concessions.

    Other critics quote leaders who sound authoritative but really aren’t. Many of these quotes also ignore historical context. One example comes from Eisenhower who said: [I believe] that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary…[6]

    With all due respect to Eisenhower and other generals cherry picked for opposing nuclear weapons, he was thousands of miles and away and was not privy to the intelligence and decision-making councils that led to it. It would be like Admiral Nimitz second guessing Eisenhower’s decision to stop at the Elbe. Eisenhower is a particularly odd choice for opposing nuclear weapons since his New Look military relied so heavily on nukes and spooks.[7] Those that blanche at the use of nuclear weapons and hate the national security state should probably avoid quoting a general that as president, threatened to use nuclear weapons in the Taiwan Strait crises, and unleashed CIA sponsored coups on democratically elected governments in Iran and Guatemala that still reverberate today.

    Other military critics were vocal against nuclear weapons not because of moral principles, but because of parochial rivalries. The bombs were delivered by bombers, and this helped Curtis LeMay argue for the creation of an independent Airforce. In turn, this would take resources and prestige away from the Navy and Army chiefs, who were incredibly territorial, had differing strategies and demands, and wanted the air corps assets divided between them.[8] Thus it isn’t surprising to find that admirals would elevate the role of commerce raiding in the defeat of Japan and minimize the “barbaric” “toy” dropped by the budding air corps. Their opposition had little to do with the moral concerns of the time and are especially dissimilar from modern antiwar sentiments. In fact, the admirals preferred a blockade of the Japan that would have slowly killed millions, and the army preferred an invasion that would have also killed millions (see below.)

    The sad truth is that the Japanese would not surrender without the atomic bomb dropping or millions (of Americans, Japanese, and Chinese) dying from an invasion. The East Asian victims of Japanese aggression are often forgotten in Western centric debates over the war. But the Japanese launched the Ichigo offensive in late 1944 which was comparable in size and scope to the German invasion of the Soviet Union.[9] Nationalist Chinese leader Kiang Chai Shek had seen a great deal of bloodshed, but called this period the worst of his entire life. An estimated two hundred thousand Chinese a month were dying at this point in the war. An invasion by American forces on the Japanese homeland would have skyrocketed those figures. Secretary of War Stimson estimated that 400,000 to 800,000 Americans would have died, (including 100,000 prisoners of war that were set to be executed upon invasion), and 5 to 10 million Japanese would have died from an invasion.[10]

    There was the option not to fight which would have left China and much of Asia in the hands of a regime as bad as Hitler’s. Yet one has to wonder how long the imperial Japanese would have felt comfortable with the U.S. in Hawaii so they would probably have attacked America again anyway. The U.S. could have continued to bomb them. The firebombing of Tokyo and conventional attacks actually caused more deaths than the nuclear bombs so that couldn’t have been a better option.

    The U.S. could have blockaded the country. The admirals at the time and later scholars argued that the U.S. had already destroyed much of Japanese shipping and merchant marine by August 1945,[11] and this may have been what Eisenhower meant by already defeating Japan, but then America would have to wait for the country to starve to death. That would have caused more deaths and in a slow manner arguably worse than two nuclear bombings. Its effects would have been unevenly felt across the population. With the elites that caused the war suffering far less than the population that fought it. It also would have given the Japanese army in China more time in their genocidal war against China. So between deaths from famine and deaths from the Greater East Asian War that option would have killed millions more than the bombings. Even then, any peace offering from the emperor would have likely faced a coup just like the surrender after the atomic bombings. Keep in mind that the admirals who argued for this possibly unjust and criminal course are the same admirals being quoted out of context today for entirely different reasons than the military leaders originally intended.  

    Dropping the atomic bomb quickly ended the war which prevented the Soviets from invading as well. The first atomic bomb was dropped literally the day after Stalin finalized plans to invade Japan and he invaded a day after the second bombing. The Soviets treated Eastern Europeans to show trials, mass deportations to the gulags, the Soviet army’s refusal to help the free Poles in the Battle of Warsaw etc., so it was a good option to end the war quickly and prevent the negative effects of Communist rule seen in East Germany and Eastern Europe even today. You can easily argue that the Japanese Constitution and rebuilding under MacArthur was far preferable to Soviet occupation.

    After looking at the other options and strategic context in late 1945, the decision to drop the bomb was moral and justified. In fact, ending the war for mere hundreds of thousands compared to the abject blood bath and millions of deaths that awaited all sides is the reason why the allied leaders considered this weapon a godsend. Even though Michael Walzer opposed nuclear weapons, he also said that ending a war swiftly with a minimum of causalities is the greatest kindness a leader could offer.[12]  Secretary of War Henry Stimson exemplified the latter idea when he said: My chief purpose was to end the war in victory with the least possible cost in the lives of the men in the armies which I had helped to raise. In the light of the alternatives which, on a fair estimate, were open to us I believe that no man, in our position and subject to our responsibilities, holding in his hands a weapon of such possibilities for accomplishing this purpose and saving those lives, could have failed to use it and afterwards looked his countrymen in the face.[13]

    In short, every other option than using nuclear weapons was worse. Taken in vacuum nuclear weapons are horrific, but that weapon wasn’t used in a vacuum and its incredibly unfair to blame America for being barbarians while ignoring the context that justified and compelled their use. This is probably because few have studied military ethics in depth, they simply think that some things are “bad.” But again, considering every option and the context of their war the dropping of atomic weapons was justified and necessary. The war was ended more quickly, saving lives, including millions of Asian lives.

    Americans and members of the church must rightly hope to avoid the tragedy of any having any conflict. But Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine sadly reminds us that the specter of war can never be vanquished with hopeful thoughts. Americans can recognize that war, particularly defending life against the most genocidal regimes of the 20th century, was necessary, and the atomic bombings were a necessary and justified choice in World War II.  And every American should strive to have the knowledge and tools to properly judge the morality of the past, which in turn provides the moral confidence to justly proceed in the present.

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[1] For a good overview, see John Lynn, Battle: A History of Combat and Culture, (New York: Basic Books, 2009), chapter 7.

[2] Micheal Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, (New York, Basic Books, 2015), 250-260.

[3] Howard Zinn, “Breaking the Silence.” ND. ( Accessed August 6th, 2021.)

[4] The United States Strategic Bombing Survey: Summary Report: 24.  The United States Strategic Bombing Survey: The Effect of the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 6.

[5] Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, (Vintage Books: 2010).

[6] Julian Borger, “Hiroshima at 75: Bitter Row Persists Over US Decision to Drop the Bomb, The Guardian, August 5th, 2020, ( (Accessed August 6th 2021.)

[7] Gordon H. Change, He Di, “Eisenhower’s Reckless Nuclear Gamble over the Taiwan Strait,” American Historical Review 98 (December 1993), 1502-1523.

[8] Keith McFarland, "The 1949 Revolt of the Admirals" Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College Quarterly. XI (2): 53–63.

[9] Morgan Deane, Decisive Battles in Chinese History, (Westholme Press, 2017), chapter 12.  

[10] Frank, Richard B. (1999). Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. New York: Random House, 340.

[11] Strategic Bombing Survey: Summary Report, 11.  

[12] Michael Walzer, Just Wars, quoting Moltke the Elder, 47.  

[13] Henry L. Stimson, as quoted in The Great Decision: The Secret History of the Atomic Bomb (1959) by Michael Amrine, p. 197


Friday, July 1, 2022

Outrage and Fighting for Life: Insights from Brad Wilcox to Abortion, via Ukraine


    When the war in the Ukraine started it was mere weeks after Brad Wilcox gave a controversial speech. I noted with irony and anger that many commentors wrote more often and more passionately about the supposed racism and sexism of Brad Wilcox than the actual deaths in Ukraine. Here you see at least five articles, from February 8th to the 15th, attacking Wilcox in strong terms. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, and you see two tepid articles about the war in Ukraine. Both are rather generic that talk about food storage and the impact on missionaries, and another that reposted the church’s statement on peace followed by some grousing about the church’s position. Eventually, they talked about refugees, and the church in a time of troubles. Even over a longer time frame they produced fewer articles with none of the emotion that Wilcox inspired.

    I sardonically noted at the time, maybe if Putin gave a speech about "the blacks" and "the gays" then American liberals and isolationists will start to give a damn about his slaughtering innocents. In a moment of dark humor, after I noticed the inconsistent pattern to Wheat and Tare bloggers they posted a three part series about the dangers faced by homosexuals in Eastern Europe!!!!!

    Fast forward a few months and no one really cares about Ukraine anymore. Even though this week the Russians targeted a shopping mall filled with innocent people we already read many that question the need for continued aid.  The controversy of the day is the abortion ruling, but I have a long memory and can compare different reactions. With the tepid fight for Ukrainian life in my mind I read with interest this person's thoughts who seems ready to join the defend abortion.

    The author of the article tried to summon their inner Churchill and used the word "fight" a zillion times in addition to rather vivid imagery about battle wounds. The use of the word “fight” is odd coming from the same crowd that calls excommunication spiritual violence and barbaric. Putting aside the hypocritical use of violent rhetoric when it suits them, we should consider the ends that rhetoric is used for.

    Looking at their history on the blog, the author of fighting for abortion had nothing to say about the slaughter of innocents in Ukraine. Just a couple weeks after the war started, she did a three-part post on domestic violence. That is important, but I think the wide scale violence of war might be worth mentioning too. The author did say that "silence is violence" regarding LGBT issues. Overall, they have lots of passion and "fight" for the right to slaughter babies but very little fight against the wide scale suffering in Ukraine.

    To summarize from what I’ve learned in the Brad Wilcox fiasco through the Russian invasion of Ukraine and overturning of Roe v. Wade: gay people, “the blacks,” domestic violence, and the right to kill babies: Those are fighting words, except when fighting words are used to excommunicate liberals. The actual slaughter of innocent men, women, and children, including babies in the womb: shrug. Lets talk about the impact on missionaries in Eastern Europe or my pet passion for gay people.

    Lives are important. (You might even say all lives matter if that hadn’t been cancelled.) And when people being slaughtered through war or slaughtered as a means of convenience to a better life and back up birth control, it is wrong. (You’ll notice I left out cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother. As a military ethicist I recognize that while killing is wrong, sometimes, while still regrettable[Alma 48:23], it is necessary and just.)  

    The outrage that people show reveals their true intentions. Brad Wilcox inspired outrage because he touched upon items that are vitally important to some groups. Even though Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was the most aggressive military action I’ve seen since World War II, very few felt passionate about it, and fewer had those feelings long term. Though as I pointed out at the time, the problems that led to war don't vanish in a just a few weeks because there is something new and shiny to argue about. The potential conflict requires more than your standard talking points but thoughtful and sustained study that challenges your assumptions and demands your time even if it’s not click bait in your news feed. The recent supreme court decision has become the new shiny thing. But we must maintain moral perspective for all life and recognize that some people have skewed priorities that make them care about a poor speech from a church and killing babies more than truly Hitler like invasion and slaughter.

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Monday, June 20, 2022

Case Closed? On President Nelson's Peace Talk


    Last April President Nelson commented on matters of war and peace during his addresses. His words seem authoritative. But if we examine longstanding issues the church has seen before this is not the case.  This post explains his words, the competing ethics in the scriptures, and the way church leaders apply the gospel during times of war using historical examples. They show that President Nelson’s words about bringing peace, are only one part of the story and his words in general were more narrow than past church leaders during times of war.

    He commented on the war during his Saturday and Sunday talks. On Saturday he said:

[Christ’s] gospel is the only enduring solution for peace. His gospel is a gospel of peace. His gospel is the only answer when many in the world are stunned with fear. This underscores the urgent need for us to follow the Lord’s instruction to His disciples to “go … into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” We have the sacred responsibility to share the power and peace of Jesus Christ with all who will listen and who will let God prevail in their lives.

    On Sunday morning he said:

Any war is a horrifying violation of everything the Lord Jesus Christ stands for and teaches. The Savior commanded us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies and to pray for those who despitefully use us. It can be painfully difficult to let go of anger that feels so justified. It can seem impossible to forgive those whose destructive actions have hurt the innocent. And yet, the Savior admonished us to ‘forgive all men.

My call today, my dear brothers and sisters, is to end the conflicts that are raging in your heart, your home, and your life. Bury any and all inclinations to hurt others — whether those inclinations be a temper, a sharp tongue, or resentment for someone who has hurt you. … We are followers of the Prince of Peace. Now more than ever, we need the peace only He can bring. How can we expect peace to exist in the world when we are not individually seeking peace and harmony?

    Case closed right? We should seek peace and stay out of conflict. Unfortunately, President Nelson makes the same mistakes that past church leaders and theologians have. He only presents one ethic when there are actually competing ethics in scriptures. In fact, when compared with past president his words are more narrow and one sided.  

    In my  forthcoming book on just war I describe what happened during World War II:[1]

McKay acknowledges some of the competing ethics found in the New Testament but takes great pains to minimize those that support the use of force. He says those instances of Jesus using force, or using the sword, do not refer to a foreign policy. But ironically, he does so by narrowing the scope of Jesus’ words and deeds, even as McKay [and now President Nelson] take the opposite approach and maximize the Saviors teachings about peace in the Sermon on the Mount to directly apply to foreign policy. If one assumes that Jesus’ teaching that he brings the sword is not “any justification for one Christian nation's declaring war upon another,” then in the same vein, the command of Jesus to turn the other cheek should be considered a personal standard and not a guide to foreign policy.

    President Hinckley also spoke about war and peace and offered different insights. He started, unlike President Nelson, by acknowledging the “contradictions of the peace of the gospel and the tides of war.” He recognized the duty for citizens to obey their sovereign authority, and for soldiers to obey the oaths they made. He acknowledged the right to protest as part of renouncing war and proclaiming peace in section 98.

    But the majority of his talk offered scriptures in support of just warfare:

When war raged between the Nephites and the Lamanites, the record states that “the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for … 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” (Alma 43:45–46).

The Lord counseled them, “Defend your families even unto bloodshed” (Alma 43:47).

And Moroni “rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.

“And he fastened on his headplate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren” (Alma 46:12–13).

It is clear from these and other writings that there are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat, and oppression.

    It can be seen here that President Nelson was hardly the final word on the subject. In fact, compared to the scriptures, and previous statements from Presidents McKay and Hinckley, his was one sided and borderline superficial. He is the current leader, and quoted Jesus, so most many members will declare the debate over and use this a cudgel against those who believe differently.

    Mormon doctrine is not found in single statements from church leaders. The scriptures and modern-day leaders have competing ethics regarding war and peace. And the strongest ones, like those from Presidents Mckay and Hinckley, account for all the scriptures. Weaker ethics instead latch onto some and ignore others and they don’t maximize their own while simultaneously minimizing others (something that Mason and Pulsipher do in their book as well). Those that believe in peace don’t take a prophet’s words about peace, and then unironically use them to start rhetorically violent fights against their fellow saints. But that is what happens often.  (But don’t worry, “they don’t wish to offend.”)

    President Nelson offered some good words on peace. I share the same wish for peace on Earth. Unfortunately, the desire for peace in the face of unchecked slaughter is what Thomas Aquinas called an evil peace.[2] And I can’t support a peace that allows slaughter, regardless of some superficial remarks in conference from the current leader of the church.

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[1] “Message of the First Presidency,” One Hundred twelfth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, [1942], (Salt Lake City; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 90-94.)

[2] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 40, article two, answer to objection 4. (Accessed September 5th, 2021.)