Wednesday, September 1, 2021

When Renouncing War is a Sin: Section 98, Mormon 4, and the Heart of Just War


    Section 98 is most famous for its command to renounce war and proclaim peace. Yet at the same we have righteous Latter-Day Saints that participate in war. This makes it important to consider how one can be peaceful, or renounce war, while wielding a sword. Then this post shows then shows a rote recitation of the standard of peace, can bury important ideas in the scriptures and ideas concerning when we can and should use force.[1] The Nephites in Mormon 3 were the most justified to wage war, on paper, but their wicked hearts meant that any justification from scripture remained hollow and it provides a warning for modern members when discussing the use of force. 

    The apparent contradiction between peace and wielding the sword erases when one considers the heart. We should be peaceful and renounce war. But with a heart filled with love we take the Good Samaritan as our example. We consider how if we came upon the beaten traveler in the middle of the robbery, we would not lift his cheek so the other cheek could be beaten.[2] We would fight to protect him. This is a common thought about Christian fathers, clearly described in the Book of Mormon (Alma 43:47), and discussed extensively by Christian thinkers as I summarized here.

    Similarly, while the period is difficult to study because of its wickedness, the Book of Mormon and the Nephites in the terminal period had many just reasons for fighting.  Nephites were fighting for their home and families. At one point that motivation led them to a victory in battle (Mormon 2:3). By Mormon 3 the people had lost the Land of Zarahemla. A loss of a territory that had been theirs for hundreds of years must have been shocking to the Nephites and constituted a historically recognized justification for war.[3]  The predations of the Lamanites were well known (Alma 48:24; Mormon 9), and the suffering people would constitute the poor and the needy cited in Psalms, and subsequently quoted by the medieval Thomas Aquinas as a reason for force.[4] In short, the Nephite rights of life, home and family were threatened which seems like a classic justification for warfare seen through exemplars like Captain Moroni.

    On top of that, the Nephites were attacked twice in this incident (Mormon 3:7-8) which apparently fulfilled the Lord Law of War given to the Nephites described in Alma 48:14!! When you read all of Mormon the Nephites were attacked 25 times!!!! In fact, Mormon lists these instances in 1:8(12), 2:1, 2:4, 2:5, 2:6, 2:9, 2:20, 2:21, 2:22, 2:25, 2:26, 3:7, 3:8, 4:2, 4:7, 4:14, 4:16, 4:17, 4:19, 4:20, 4:21, 5:3, 5:4, 5:6, 6:8. Of course they were justified.

    As tough as it is to believe because of Nephite wickedness, this was one of their most justified military actions, on paper. It fulfilled several strong criteria for just war given by the Lord. But Mormon condemned the Nephites, correctly, because of their wickedness hears and most assume, incorrectly, because it was an offensive strike.  

    Most readers of the Book of Mormon take Mormon’s refusal to lead the Nephites in their offensive as a blanket probation against offensive warfare (Mormon 3:11).[5] What is left out is the Nephite wickedness and gross spiritual behavior in verses 9 and 10 that were the actual and overlooked causes for Mormon’s refusal and this causes modern readers to over rely on rote recitation of chapters like D&C 98.

    Mormon 3 record the sins of the soldiers as boasting, swearing, and avenging themselves in the blood of their enemy (Mormon 3:9-10).  Mormon 3:15 also seems to prohibit preemptive war. However, the real sin recorded by Mormon was not the offensive tactics but rather the bloodlust and vengeance that dictated Nephite strategy (v. 14). One might also say it was their false oath (to a false god?) in Mormon 3:10 that finally forced Mormon into his utter refusal. The Nephites were a people whose day of grace had passed (Mormon 2:15), and though they struggled on they were lost because of their hearts.

    We might consider the juxtaposition of two scriptures to show the difference a heart makes in determining strategy. The Nephites soldiers in this period cursed God, wished to die, but struggled on. This compared to the righteous People of Ammon, who praised God, wished to live, but allowed themselves to be killed (Mormon 2:14; Alma 24:21). The spiritual state of the Nephites that made Mormon refuse to lead them were tormented, conflicted, and unwilling to cede control of their lives. The proper attitudes were shown by the People of Ammon who praised God, wanted to do what was just, but found peace in knowing they could only do their best and might die anyway.[6]

    The key to the denunciation wasn’t the strategy or citing favorite scriptures like renouncing war but the hearts of the people making that strategy. In that spiritual state of the tormented and fallen Nephites they were doomed no matter which strategy they pursued. (They lost on the defensive too.) Yet many people use those verses not to condemn the Nephite wickedness but instead to condemn the strategy.

    This often means that many people proclaim Section 98 as their standard but can still never arrive at a just strategy. They renounce war and proclaim peace, they cite verses about the first and second offense, but don’t consider the command to “forsake their sins, and their wicked ways, [and] the pride of their hearts” just a few verses before that (v.20). Most importantly, they might see misfortune in the news and underreact by quoting section 98. Raped Yadizi women, genocide, active terrorists, Afghans so terrified they hang onto planes, and instead of supporting the use of force to stop it they quote scriptures about love.

    But without a loving heart they don’t consider the little girls suffering tremendous abuse, the millions suffering around the world, and the millions that could die in a terrorist attack, and feel that the love of God, and love for neighbor shown by the Good Samaritan should compel them to use force to stop that injustice. They have their standard, and they need no other. The verses in section 98 becomes an excuse to ignore suffering around the world when we have the power and duty to use force in the protection of the weak, abused, and suffering.  Without the key principle those who cite section 98 don’t realize that if we have the love of God in our hearts, we shouldn’t be afraid or unwilling to act around the world to deliver the poor and needy (Psalms 82:4).

    After looking at the callous refusal to help compared to the heart felt love we should have, God might tell many of these people: “If a ruler sheaths their sword and keep their hands unsullied by blood, while the wicked roam about massacring and slaughtering, then so far from reaping praise for their goodness and justice, they make themselves guilty of the greatest possible injustice.”[7] Or to paraphrase Alma 34:28: “if ye do not any of these [actions to help those suffering], behold, your [love] is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.”

    Section 98 is important, but it’s more important that we not lose sight of having a peaceful and loving heart. And that love should compel us to action when we witness suffering and have the power to stop it, not be used as an excuse to witness more suffering. We have an example of Nephites that waged sinful war despite fulfilling scripture because of their wicked hearts, and we must be careful not to be so devoted to our favorite scripture bumper stickers, that we ignore the love for our neighbor that should inspire just war. 


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[1] Adapted from, The Book of Mormon and the Historical Just War Tradition, forthcoming.

[2] Paul Ramsey, The Just War: Force and Political Responsibility, (New York: Rowan and Littlefield, 2004), 223.

[3] Michal Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations, (New York: Basic Books, 2015),  53, 56.

[4] Gerhard Beestmoller, “Thomas Aquinas and Humanitarian Intervention,” From Just War to Modern Peace Ethics, Heinz-Gerhard Justenhoven and Jr. William A. Barbieri eds., (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2012), 71-75.

[5] Kyle McKay Brown, “'Whatsoever Evil We Cannot Resist with Our Words': An Exploration of Mormon Just War Theory” (master's thesis, University of Edinburgh,) 2012, 15. Duane Boyce, “Captain Moroni and the sermon on the Mount: Resolving a Scriptural Tension,” BYU Studies, 60:2 (2021), 127-162.

[6] Some might consider this an example of the primacy of pacifism, but this was a special case due to the wickedness of the people avoiding the sword. Duane Boyce, “The Ammonites were not Pacifists,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 20 (2016): 293-313.

[7] David Corey, J Caryl Charles, Just War Tradition: An Introduction, (Princeton, Princeton University Press: 2014), 110.

Friday, August 6, 2021

The Atomic Bombing Was Necessary and Justified


    August 6th marks the dubious day in 1945 when America became the only power to use a nuclear bomb. This continues to spark controversy. There was a great deal of racial animus during the war with both sides holding disdainful views of the other.[1] 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 revealing 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] Plus, there were supposedly peace feelers from the Japanese that made this completely unnecessary. These are all extremely flawed arguments that don’t accurately reflect the historical context, and seem like excuses to blame instead of understand.  

    The strongest attacks seem to be the peace overtures. This theory argues that the Japanese were ready for peace and only block headed generals kept the war going.  These were detailed by a revisionist historian, Gar Alperowitz and thus come long after the fact when it became more fashionable to search and promulgate these theories.[5] More importantly, they cherry pick some information and leave out much more important events that shows these peace feelers were completely impotent and the U.S. was 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 the military 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 couldn’t. Let me stress, even AFTER the atomic bomb 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 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. One example comes from Eisenhower who said: [I believe] that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary…[6]

    But 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] 

    Other critics were more vocal against nuclear weapons because they 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 and wanted the air corps assets divided between them.[8] Their opposition had little to do with the qualms of modern pacifists and posting quotes from them ignores the historical context from which they were produced.

    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. An estimated two hundred thousand Chinese a month were dying at this point in the war. 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] An invasion by American forces on the Japanese homeland would have skyrocketed those figures.

    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. You also have to wonder how long they 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. Scholars argue that the U.S. had already destroyed much of Japanese shipping and merchant marine by August 1945,[10] 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. It also would have given the Japanese time to kill more Chinese soldiers and civilians. So between deaths from famine and deaths from the Greater East Asian War that option would have killed millions more. Even then, any peace offering from the Emperor would have likely faced a coup just like the surrender after the atomic bombings.

    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 a day after the second bombing. We saw how well Eastern Europeans were treated show trials, mass deportations to the gulags, the Soviet army’s refusal to help the free Poles in the Battle of Warsaw etc., so that wasn’t a good option. 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 at about 170,000 deaths compared to the abject blood bath that awaited all sides is the reason why the allied leaders considered this weapon a godsend. The same prominent ethicist that condemned the bomb also said that ending the war swiftly with a minimum of causalities is the greatest kindness a leader could offer.[11]  Secretary of State Henry Stimson exemplified this 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.[12]

    Thus, every other alternative was far worse, but you have your pacifist, blame America, soldiers are barbaric Nazis storyline. THAT is the made up history. Again, considering every option and the context of their war the dropping of atomic weapons was justified and necessary. I hope you can use this as a resource the next time someone attacks America for this eminently defensible action.

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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.  Though it should be noted that Nagasaki was home to one of the most important military garrisons and was a foremost military shipping depot, and thus remained a valid military target. 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] Strategic Bombing Survey: Summary Report, 11.  

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

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


Sunday, July 4, 2021

New Scriptures, Old Debate


[A recent post from a Facebook group. The group, Latter Day Lobsters and Sorted Saints, is awful. But it led me to produce this good summary. I particularly liked this post because it explained how Mormon debates about war and peace follow the contours of Christian thought which means we can benefit from reading those Christian thinkers.]

It's time prohibitive to comment on everything posted thus far but reading through the posts has been very enlightening.

It's ironically appropriate that the only significant response, until Slaughter started throwing Moroni under the bus and splitting hairs from section 98 was from the person that agreed with me about the lack of substance from most of the anarchist, libertarian, pacifists that dominant this group but show little of the Peterson ultra-competence. (Even though Slaughter is the only one that approached a substantive response it had serious flaws. See below.)

What strikes me the most is how much the research in my book applies to this discussion. The scriptures Mormons use might be unique, but the debates about them are extremely old. And yet, outside of a brief mention of Augustine by Tyler, there is no indication that anybody knows of that rich history of discussion by scholars like Grotius, Suarez, Vitoria, Walzer, Ramsey, Kant, and even John Locke. The shallow pacifist crowd on this page has indicated some knowledge of 20th century pacifism, and their favorite proof texts in the scriptures, but little else.

A knowledge of this rich body (explained in my book) would affect the debate in multiple ways. For example, in their book on the just war tradition out of Princeton press Charley and Cooke describe many examples of how modern pacifists wrongly elevate the Sermon on the Mount and diminish many others. They provide excellent analysis that shows why the Sermon on the Mount is a personal code and that and other scriptures clearly allow the use of force and warfare.

With knowledge of that intellectual trend and a strong debunking of that method in mind (even if they disagree), the shallow crowd here would be much more cautious about diminishing Moroni's comments on warfare in favor of their Sermon on the Mount pacifism. I guffaw every time I see it because it's like they volunteer to be the basic bitches of the pacifist movement AND they do it while having a condescending and mocking attitude towards their opponents.

Studying the rich intellectual tradition behind just war would also show there are many scriptures that suggest the Sermon on the Mount is not a silver bullet that supersedes all else. John the Baptist didn't tell the soldier that came to him to retire because it disagreed with Christ's gospel (Luke 3:14). Jesus didn't tell the soldier that came to him to retire, but praised his faith (Matthew 8:8-10). Jesus himself didn't turn the other cheek when struck (John 18:23). And of course, Romans 13:1-4 receives heavy treatment because it grants the state permission to use power and calls them God's servants. Those are just a few of the scriptures.

Of course these justifications on paper can be abused in practice, which leads to even more thought and strong guard rails in the form of caution and caveats from the theorists. Very smart people for thousands of years have covered this subject in every way, and applied it to rather sticky questions while also coming up with ideas like international law and human rights. (See Grotius and Vitoria respectively.) The failure of pacifists to recognize that when they cast their sophomoric emojis it's simply one more example of their dilettantish approach to the subject.

Getting back to the Bible, Paul Ramsey made the strong case that the love a Christian has for their neighbor explained in the parable of the Good Samaritan not only justifies, but REQUIRES the use of force. (Which is a major reason why I don't really buy the whole justified but not righteous interpretation of section 98.)

Ramsey asks the simple question, if the good Samaritan happened upon the beaten traveler, in the middle of the being beaten and robbed, would he not intervene to protect him? It would be ridiculous to assume he would hold up the other cheek of the beaten traveler and doing nothing would breach the love of neighbor that Christ was trying to teach.

Even more widely, there is a false dichotomy between the Sermon on the Mount and the just use of force that few on this site recognize. It has to do with the hearts. Christians can be peace loving in their hearts, fulfilling the commands in the Sermon on the Mount, while also using the love for God and their neighbor to protect their neighbors by participating in warfare, as shown by the thought experiment with the good Samaritan.

This wasn't something I invented to have my cake and eat it too as I try to squirm out of Mormon pacifist’s proof texting section 98 about renouncing war and proclaiming peace. (Which is an attack that has been levelled at me. At least those critics used words so they have you beat.) But it is something that goes back to Augustine and has been expounded upon since then. My favorite quote comes from Martin Luther about how physicians can saw off a leg, with all the associating screaming, squirting blood, and horrible sound of grinding through bone. But they are praised for it because they are trying to save the patient's life.

In short, the scriptures are different, but the contours of the debate and even the tactics used are extremely familiar as people would know if they studied more than a handful of pacifists.

If you liked any of my posts I encourage you to read some of my chapter drafts on my next book and offer feedback. Thanks!

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Jeremy Runnells is a Total Poser

    I commented over on Hanna Seariac's facebook page about what she labels as men unfairly flexing their power against a less powerful female. 

    So I think Runnells schtick is hilarious and read his response for kicks and giggles. [It is long, but hit control f and type Hanna.] 

    What's ironic to me is that Runnells ignores the implication in your post that you should do better research and then claims that your post is a thought stop technique. Then two paragraphs later he calls the CES a "head jack" and links to a picture of some robot with a hole for downloading information. The article says its the port that connects you to the matrix. That screams cultish programming to me so apparently Runnells has as little grasp of irony as he does scholarship.

    But then in his own post he says it's "simply a letter," "not a thesis for a Phd," not a "textbook" or "dry scientific paper," and not "rigorous" which sure sounds like he agrees with you.

    Yet in the same breath he claims his CES letter leads into his line by line debunking, which he implies, is the pinnacle of in depth research because it is thousands of pages of rebuttals. I've looked at the rebuttals that intersect with my research and he is laughable. For example, here he simply invokes "science" while being factual incorrect, ignorant of history, and not having a good grasp of the research and analysis that makes strong conclusions. 

    The truth is that Runnells is a total poser. He takes the mantle of scholarship and all the associating benefits and prestige when it suits him, and runs away from the burden of creating and defending scholarship when used to critique him.

    This explains why he can take offense at your criticism of the letter not being serious research at the same time that he says it's not a rigorous piece of scholarship, and right before he invokes his debunking articles as the final word of serious scholarship. He's the best scholar in the world, except when he has to defend his "research," and then he isn't.

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