Saturday, September 23, 2023

Defending the Book of Mormon Conference

 I was all ready to do a big build up and advertisement for this. And I thought about doing a nice follow up similar to the other conferences I went to. But I've been working so hard I forgot to do the first and probably won't do the second. So it might just be best to give the link here and you can watch it live for yourself. Its the anniversary of Moroni first visiting Joseph Smith and there are lots of good presentations today (and mine too.) 

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Moral Clarity on the Anniversary of the Atomic Bombings


    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 State 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.


Thursday, July 6, 2023

From Laban to the Lafferty Brothers: Nephi, Mormon, and Utilitarianism in the Book of Mormon


        Since I first wrote my manuscript on just warfare in the Book of Mormon, I've been intrigued by the apparent difference between the use of a utilitarian argument that the Lord made to Nephi, and the apparent rejection of the concept by Mormon. The following is the introduction and thesis statement to a draft of a journal article on which I'm working: 

        Nephi’s murder of Laban in the Book of Mormon is one of the most uncomfortable of the text as the event seemingly sets a precedent for murder, most famously exercised by the Ron and Dan Lafferty in their murder of Brenda Lafferty and her child. This was made famous by the book, Under the Banner of Heaven. While there are numerous implied justifications that one can find in the text, such as Laban’s attempts to murder Nephi, or the appeals to Biblical law, the primary defense comes from the spirit of the Lord to Nephi which said: Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief (1 Nephi 4:13).

        The command of God adds as many difficulties as it solves because Nephi’s holy inspiration sounds like a classic case of utilitarianism, and its related use in war, military necessity. The Lord’s explanation of the murder seemingly contrasts with Mormon’s rejection of the concept in his treatment of war time supply and starving widows. And relying on the word of God seems like a classic case of deontological ethics, or decision making that is based on a set of rules (like divine commandments written in stone.) But closely examining Nephi and Mormon’s decisions using utilitarianism strengthens Nephi’s decision, illuminates Mormon’s decision while harmonizing it with Nephi’s, provides guardrails for the invocation of God’s utilitarianism, and resolves some of the tension between utilitarian and deontological belief systems.

        Its an exciting project to add to a list of many chapters of the book that have been repackaged a bit and published elsewhere. Thanks for reading! 

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Monday, June 5, 2023

Debunking the Debunking of Rough Stone Rolling


The Stoddards trying to read Rough Stone Rolling

    The last time I discussed Rough Stone Rolling on social media I received many thoughtless drive by posts. I ignored them at the time because I don’t want to reward lazy thinking. But I suspected at the time that their link contained very poor reasoning and after a bit of examination I was correct. This post show the many flaws in the debunking site devoted to Rough Stone Rolling. The Stoddards, writing for the Joseph Smith Foundation misrepresent Bushman’s work by relying on sloppy and sometimes malicious editing to the point that we lose a true picture of Joseph Smith as a flawed but still impressive prophet. (All quotes from the debunking website unless otherwise noted.) 

    The first two complaints about RSR had no citations:

    They object that Bushman supposedly said Joseph was involved in ritual magic who used peep stones to find treasure.

    If they want to debunk a book and can’t do better than a social media post I see no need to respond. The next items had footnotes:

    They contend RSR says Joseph Smith suffered from “treasure-seeking greed,” “anger,” and “easily-bruised pride,”

    Greed is simply the implication of Moroni’s warning to Joseph, which is canonized in church history. Bushman cited Moroni’s words along with Oliver Cowdery and Lucy Mack Smith saying Joseph immediately thought of financial concerns when seeing the plates: [Moroni told] me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom; otherwise I could not get them. Js History 1:40, 53.

    Joseph’s anger is seen in his own letters such as the one Bushman quoted on page 187 of RSR and cited in fn 44. The Stoddards seem to be under the impression that Joseph never had any emotion. But we don’t feel Moroni is any less of a man that could shake the foundations of hell because he showed anger, and we shouldn’t be offended over Joseph’s.

    Bushman isn’t insulting Joseph by describing his personality. This is a common complaint in just about every criticism of Bushman, and I will give same answer. Studying everything about Joseph, and not the whitewashed sanitized version of him will lead to stronger testimonies that can withstand new and unexpected information, because it already fits in the paradigm of the awesome and imperfect prophet.

    Getting back to Smith’s anger, we have many accounts of Joseph’s anger because his admirers shared these stories to show how great he was despite his flaws. In the example the Stoddards cite on page 249 and 250 of RSR they make it seem like Bushman simply denigrates the prophet. But when you put the statement in context, Bushman discusses Josephs anger, but also his leadership skills, and how the high council sided with Joseph because “they sensed that their prophet had a right to rebuke his followers, fiercely if necessary. Their dismay at his anger was balanced by their love of his good nature.”

    There is an irony here, as quoting outrageous information out of context is an anti-Mormon method. I find it very sad and saying that the Stoddards have to do the same shady tactic to try and slam Bushman. That should tell you how much to trust their quotes and videos, and why you should read Bushman, and pour through his citations for yourself.

    “Easily bruised pride” is also taken out of context. It is even worse this time because they ignore, literally, half the sentence that describes Joseph’s desire for peace. To start with, it isn’t insulting Joseph to admit he struggled with the man he is, with the man he wants to be. Elder Uctdorf said that a hypocrite is someone who falls short of the person they want to be, and we are all hypocrites. As a former marine that came from a home with an angry and abusive father, I know how hard it is to break out of patterns and respond in a more Christlike fashion. The supposed insult from Bushman, when put back into context on page 295, actually endears us to Joseph:

Unfortunately for his peace of mind, Joseph’s angry responses conflicted with the harmony and brotherhood he prized…The culture of honor moved him to contend with the offending parties to protect his easily bruised pride, even though all the while he wanted peace. He hated contention and tried to make peace by mutual confessions and brotherly arbitration….By 1836, when he made peace with his antagonists, the meaning of Zion to a man of his temperament was clear. To live in harmony with his brothers and sisters, as the revelations required, was reason to rejoice.

Harmony was valued in all the church’s councils. The Kirtland High Council’s hearings examined the attitudes of offending parties as well as their actions. The minutes refer to “the spirit of meekness,” or “feelings of the heart,” or the “spirit of justification and pride.”

    Not only is the above based in primary sources, so Bushman is not simply making up insults to Joseph’s character, but in context, Joseph appears much like the rest of us. He is trying to rise above his nature to live in harmony. I find my testimony and even love for Joseph strengthened after reading this.

    Joseph possessed “outrageous confidence.” 

    I take that as a compliment to Joseph. The world and the restored church needed a prophet with unbounded confidence in his mission to restore the gospel, bring forth new scripture, and translate previously untouchable ones like the Bible all while gathering his people, building zion and temples and withstanding endless defections, legal attacks, persecution and dislocation. I argue that anyone without “outrageous confidence” wouldn’t have been as successful as Joseph.

    Joseph “[f]rom time to time drank too much,” 

    The footnotes for this source show a variety of conflicting sources. It’s about a paragraph long and I highly recommend you read it on page 43. But without getting off into the weeds, it can easily be among the sins Joseph himself alluded to in his history when he said: I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. JS History 1:28.

    Of course, even if he did drink, so what? The prophet Noah in the Bible was found drunk and naked! The Word of Wisdom wasn’t given until a decade later and wasn’t enforced strictly until about a century after that. Prophets aren’t perfect, especially when Joseph himself says, canonized in scripture, that he fell into various misdemeanor sins in his youth.

    Joseph grew up with an “oft-defeated, unmoored father”—a father who “partially abdicated family leadership.”

    It is pretty common knowledge that Joseph Sr. had a great deal of hardships during his life. Joseph. Sr. wasn’t the prophet and he admitted he made many mistakes in life. The second statement misquotes Bushman who says Joseph Sr. may have abdicated leadership. And Bushman says that after quoting Joseph Sr. himself: I have not always set the example before my family that I ought (pg. 42).

    As a parent I can appreciate the humble admission. Joseph Sr. did what most parents do, and he wondered if he was doing a good job and felt badly that he couldn’t be more for his children.

    This is another out of context misquote from the Joseph Smith Foundation and this one might be the worst. They took something that was equivocal, (“may have”) made it a definitive statement, and then failed to quote the primary source, straight from Joseph Sr’s mouth where he admitted his failings when it was literally quoted right next to the supposedly insulting sentence. That is so deliberately edited to give an impression the author didn’t intend it seems deceptive to me. They deliberately want you to hate RSR (so they can hawk their books a second later) and have to mangle their quotes of Bushman to do it.

    There are more quotes from various discussions of RSR from Bushman and anti-Mormons but I don’t feel the need to make this post any longer by quoting them. Probably because those quotes are selectively edited like their other quotes. But more importantly, they don’t change any of the points I made above. The common complaint from the Stoddards and the JSF is that a Joseph with flaws is damaging to testimonies and insulting to Joseph. As I demonstrated above, studying Joseph carefully, including his flaws, makes him more relatable and appealing. I felt this as I read RSR and compiled this post.

    More importantly, I’ve said many times the only testimonies damaged by a more realistic picture of Joseph are those who believe in a perfect Joseph Smith of their imagination. Some are so ensconced in their imaginations about Joseph Smith they can’t even read books like RSR. That is so astoundingly small minded, and refusing to learn is far more damaging attitude than anything Bushman can say or write. If your brittle testimony can’t handle new information, you’ll still get the new information eventually, but you’ll have no mechanisms for how to faithfully incorporate that new knowledge into a faithful view of the prophet. That’s why so many people are overthrown by a reddit complied, dumb big list of stale criticisms. (The CES letter.) If you’ve always studied the real (and still awesome) Joseph, you’ll have a much greater ability to accept new information. The mention of a peep stone or treasure digging won’t send you into a faithless spiral, or hyper aggressive defensive response that is built upon sand.

    Rough Stone Rolling is far superior to the “debunking RSR” website. The answer is obviously provided by Bushman’s superior primary source analysis, as the Joseph Smith Foundation has to do the opposite, rip quotes out of context with highly suspicious editing to strengthen the animosity against Bushman and support an inferior fantasy about Joseph.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Square Two Publication: Kishkumen's Dagger


    I'm very proud to present my new journal article published at Square Two. It uses the story of Kishkumen's attempted attack on the chief judge to discuss preemptive war. 

    The Iraq war started while I was in college. So I've been thinking about this topic for a long time. Even though its been 20 years, whenever the subject arises we still don't rise about what one theorist called partisan talking points or the emergencies of battle. 

    I've read various accounts of preemptive war throughout the years like the Theban general Epaminondas. But my research really took off when I read seminal thinkers that relied on natural rights. 

    The most important was the concept that no one has to accept an attack from a "charging assailant with sword in hand" because of some mistaken idea that they have to receive the attack (or three of them) first. 

    The idea of a sword in hand highlighted a phrase in Alma 48:14 that no one had ever noticed before. It says the Nephites were taught "never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives."  

    The text instead says, “raise the sword,” not smite, strike, slay, or any other word to denote that the sword had been swung and met flesh. That isn’t simply an evocative phrase but illustrates a fundamental truth. Mormon didn’t have to explain the distinction between a raised sword and a sword strike because the two concepts are so closely related that they are the same.

    Thus, while not explicitly stated in the Book of Mormon, if a Nephite attack is called “raising the sword,” Alma 48:14 seems to suggest the idea that righteous defense applies when a Lamanite soldier simply “raised his sword” to attack, and not after the first (or third) actualized attack. That means the Nephite standard for defense only requires an incipient attack, or someone that “raise[s] the sword.” The basic premise is that an individual who sees an attack in progress doesn’t have to wait for the first blow to assert their God-given right to defend themselves.

    I've got the above and so many other good ideas in this piece I hope you get a chance to read it! It is adapted from my manuscript on Just War. So if you like this, you should like my manuscript as well! 

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Friday, April 14, 2023

Research Results

A short time ago I mentioned a bunch of cool projects on which I was working. Most of them have very good updates to report. 

To Stop a Slaughter: The Book of Mormon and Just War- I'm still looking for a publisher. But a by product of all the success below means that I've received a large amount of good feedback that has strengthened the manuscript and will produce buzz. 

Am I My Brothers Keeper:  I wrote this piece about the dangerous rise of isolationism and how that ideology is disguising a lack of compassion. It was for Public Square magazine where I've published before, so I thought this would be the easiest success. I suppose I just had beginners luck with my first piece but not this one. 

Kiskkumen's DaggerThis examined the concept of preemptive war in the Book of Mormon using Helaman 2. They wanted some revisions and it should be published in the spring issue of Square Two. 

LDS National Security Professionals Conference: Technically this was a presentation and not a publication, though in the past the organizers have collected and published the presentations. My paper on the interpretation of section 98 was well received as far as I could tell. Because it was based on a chapter of my book it is improved by another round of edits and more feedback. 

Maxwell Institute Theology Seminar: I wasn't selected as a seminar participant. I believe I'm producing some of the best theology out there in matters of war and ethics. Some day the seminar will ask for a close and creative reading of a scripture that lets me show it. 

Moroni's Letter: After a somewhat strange editorial process where the reviewers mostly hated it, but the editors really liked it and wanted it published anyway, I submitted my edits. Their process always takes a long time (but still quicker than my book!) so this is something you'll probably see early next year at the Interpreter.  

I'm grateful for the publications that let me publish with them, and the feedback I've received in the process. I hope everyone reading them as much as I've enjoyed and worked producing them. 

My daughter is a smarty pants stem student and she is using her graphic design skills to make a book cover using a painting called Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction Jerusalem. The impressive work of art looks good on its own. Topically its about about the destruction that can come from warfare and the need to follow the Lord's word to avoid those disasters, and both ideas summarize the essence of my book very well. 

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Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Notes from the National Security Conference



    I just returned from the 2023 LDS National Security Professionals Conference last weekend. I came down with a non covid illness the week before which made it all the more impressive that I could drive to Provo and interact with everyone like it was fine.  

    My presentation went well. I discussed two applications of section 98 in scripture. Abraham largely ignored our understanding section 98, but was blessed. The Nephites more fully followed it, but because of their extreme wickedness they were cursed. The truth is that we must have the spirit of section 98, a peaceful heart, but also be willing to wield the sword when necessary. A rote invocation of the scripture against force is not what it was intended for.  

    What follows are some of my brief notes on the presentations mostly covering their interaction with my research, as well as an update on that research. 

Mark Henshaw: An LDS Jus Post Bellum Framework  

    This is an important topic that has not been developed all that much. Henshaw offered some ideas that I found extremely flawed. He started by saying we are not beholden to ideas from the past. This is severely misguided and borderline chauvinistic. We have authoritative scriptures that can weigh in on things, but the competing invocations of section 98 and Alma 48 among Latter Day Saints are the same debates between turn the other cheek and Jesus' numerous uses of force. Latter Day Saints could benefit from great thinkers of the past wrestling with the great questions of today but they completely ignore those answers because, as Mark Henshaw implied, they are just small minded medieval Catholics. That is the entire reason I wrote my book trying to show the numerous interactions between restoration texts and those seminal thinkers and they can bring further light and knowledge. 

    Substantively I had two major problems with Henshaw's just peace. He claimed that it was required of the winning power offer honorable terms of surrender similar to the terms found Lee received at Appomattox. But a nation doesn't always know it is defeated. Moreover, a winning power offering terms could be seen as a sign of weakness by the losing power, and encourage them to continue the war. If they can't win, offering terms would encourage the losing power to fight on and seek better conditions. This was the case with the militant officers in the Japanese army during World War II. This would result in attempts at peace leading to longer war. I would remind Henshaw that the greatest kindest is ending the war. And if the attempts at just peace lengthen the war, they aren't just. 

    The second problem was again, his reliance on Moroni's actions in Alma 44. While his actions seemed to end the battle in a just manner, it didn't end the war. This hardly makes Moroni's actions an example of a just and lasting peace. Keeping the big picture in mind, this battle was only the beginning of the war chapters. Plus, as I've discussed before, the battle pause is unnatural and could be a literary creation. At the very least, pausing a victorious battle seems like a rare luxury that wasn't followed anywhere else in the Book of Mormon including other battles that Moroni fought like that in Alma 51. (Moroni did offer generous terms in other places but not in the middle of the battle.)  

    Finally, Moroni defended or even bragged about the strategems he used to win (Alma 43:30). But Thomas Aquinas argued that stratagems prevented a just peace because it convinced the opponent that the one using the ambush was dishonorable. Unsurprisingly, Zerahemnah attributed the Nephite victory to their "cunning" and refused a peace (Alma 44:9). (Aquinas and Christians got around that injunction by pointing to Jesus' use of concealment and the overall just purpose of the war.) But Henshaw dismissed pivotal concepts from just war theorists that directly applied to his argument. If he read Aquinas then Henshaw could have seen a Nephite barrier to just peace in Moroni's tactics and perhaps been less reliant on Alma 43 and 44 for his concepts.

Megan Alder: LDS Responsibilities in a Shifting Balance of Power 

    Megan talked about the church's responses to Russian aggression in Ukraine and its application elsewhere. Her talk was very appreciated as she directly rebutted the many people that thought the church provided a weak, milquetoast statement. It was fairly generic, but she argued convincingly that church leaders do this because they value providing ordinances and materials to its members in the aggressing country, than scoring points with an in your face activist statement. She pointed out that they still provide massive materials to Ukraine and help the suffering people there, while also being good shepherds to their members in Russia.  

    I'm probably not supposed to say this, in addition to being really smart and articulate, she was also totally freaking gorgeous. She seemed single so I thought for a bit that I could end up having a good professional and personal day. But being sick I felt like total garbage by the end of the day and went back to the hotel and collapsed, (and had to start my drive home the next day.) Maybe I'll get lucky and bump into her again somewhere. Regardless of her looks and my crushing on her, her ideas were excellent and very needed. There is much more to helping people than making a strident political statement. 

Fred Axelgard: In Praise of 4th Nephi

    He was particularly nice to meet. He is one of the few from the pacifist crowd I've met that actually acted like he had love in his heart. I've lost track of the number of pacifists that say all the right words, and then seem so phony, fake, and even angry when you disagree with them. He said some nice words about my research and after looking at my blog he said he can tell I have a deep passion for the Book of Mormon. Those were very kind words that will be nice fuel when it feels like I'm wasting my time on all this stuff. 

    His presentation was extremely thoughtful as he talked about the importance of morally hard and even contradictory passages. He suggested that Mormon summarized the war chapters, refused to fight, then changed his mind to fight even though the Nephites hadn't repented, and wrote about the Anti Nephi Lehis, so his life and contradictions are particularly important to consider. He mentioned the ninth article of faith to argue there are many important things yet to reveal about matters of war and peace. 

David Palkki: On Love and Hate in Section 98

    I was worried this would overlap with mine but our presentations were complementary. We agree that this is more about principles than military doctrine. I particularly enjoyed his quotes about quotes. He had one from President Nelson that divine doctrine is confirmed by more than one witness. Boyd Packer said that often or obscure doctrines must be measured against other scriptures. And Dallin Oaks said that it is dangerous to rest a firm conclusion on one verse. I liked these because they underscore with what I've tried to do in applying multiple, interlocking scriptures and contrasts with so many that rely on one verse to rest far reaching arguments (that just happen to damn everyone else.)

    Palkki was particularly good at showing the inconsistencies of policy based on this verse. The Book of Mormon in Alma 48:14 gives a different number. There are metaphorical numbers in the same section, such as 98:40 that says the saints should forgive 70 times 7. He made the good point that it is ridiculous to start counting 490 times, but we think forbearing three trespasses is literal. Finally, it hasn't been mentioned by any leader since 1948. (And I would add, that reference was from the isolationist J Reuben Clark.

Medlir Mena: LDS Perspectives on Standing Firm in an Era of Domestic Upheaval 

    From a mechanical standpoint this was, unfortunately, one of the worst. He rambled a good deal and his slides didn't follow his presentation. I don't like to be a robot reading from my script, but I know how nervous I can get so I type my presentation word for word, and practice it hard. I think my presentation is much better as a result. (I was super sick so I'm probably nasally on the tape.) 

    Substantively he seemed really focused on intra state conflict (gang violence, cartel killings against their own people, low level insurgencies etc.) instead of interstate competition. He tried to cast Laman and Lemuel as the same family, but they seemed like two distinct polities fighting inter state warfare. The Nephites did fight an insurgency, which is a chapter in my next book but he hasn't. He seemed to dislike "grand theories" derived from verses like section 98. I would need to see some examples so I could judge for myself. Ironically, he seemed to literally hand wave and make lots of "grand" assumptions.  


    This conference was good. I follow the same pattern every time. I apply, get accepted, become way too nervous to the point I can't eat or sleep, I do really well, feel great, and wonder what I worried about in the first place. I have some good material to add to my book, and have a great deal to think about. 

    This presentation was based on a chapter of my upcoming book on just warfare. I have another chapter, based on Helaman 2, that is coming out in Square Two. My views on the Ukrainian war are based on chapter four of the book. And I have a journal article about Moroni's letter that is still working its way through the Interpreter. In short, I have 4 publications or presentations based on my book (and there are only about 10 substantive chapters in it). Its a bit frustrating publishers don't seem to like all those ideas in one place, but it is good validation that I have ideas worth sharing. I will continue to pursue publication of the book, and modified, stand alone chapters from it. Thanks for reading. 

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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Mormon Theology Seminar: The Law and the Lord in Alma 34:7


What follows is my 750 word application to this year's Mormon Theology seminar. My job was to provide a creative theological reading of Alma 34:7. It is Amulek beginning his sermon to the Zoramites by saying: 

 My brother has called upon the words of Zenos, that redemption cometh through the Son of God, and also upon the words of Zenock; and also he has appealed unto Moses, to prove that these things are true.

    Alma 34:7 provides an interesting case of using witnesses to establish a precedent under the law. Amulek’s focus on fulfilling the law in his preaching is merely the beginning of a complex argument that adheres to ancient law, explains Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and tries to meld both temporal law and spiritual theology into a case for his listeners to return to Nephite political rule. Finally, this teaching contains important socio-political implications for traces of discontent among Nephite society. 

    The potential for the Zoramites to align with the Lamanites inspired Alma’s mission in the first place (Alma 31:4.) Alma thought that “as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just” (Alma 31:5) his preaching would have the desired effect. But exactly how preaching would serve an explicit end was never detailed. Upon first glance Alma’s belief could be similar to Augustine who hoped that the word might be able to slay war (Alma 31:5).  But the key word in Alma’s intent is that his preaching would convince them to “do [what] was just,” which implies the focus of Alma’s preaching would intersect law and religion. 

    Once Alma and Amulek start preaching to the Zoramites Alma 34 becomes a clever twist on obedience to the law. As Amulek emphasized how Christ’s atoning sacrifice fulfills eternal law, he explained that a key point of temporal law involves sacrifice. “Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for another” and “the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered” (Alma 34:11-12) both suggest a temporal death penalty that is still insufficient. 

    To the contemporary Zoramite listening to this, already suffering from unjust laws (Alma 32:3), could have been seen as a blessed relief from bloody revenge justice they likely saw every day and was common in the ancient world, including ancient Israel and the Book of Mormon. (Ammon was miraculously saved from a revenge killing in Alma 19:21-22.)  The bloody revenge killings demanded by law, and not just animal sacrifice likely undergird the Amulek’s statement that “it is expedient there should be, a stop to the shedding of blood” (Alma 34:13) and likely enhanced the appeal of their message to indigent people that likely had less access to the courts and fewer resources with which to carry out their own self-help justice. 

    And the clinching part of Amulek’s preaching taught that the Son of God’s death is enough to stop the shedding of blood and satisfies humanity’s collective sins. Amulek began by honoring the law of witnesses in Nephite law, discussed the penalty for murders under  Nephite or Zoramite law, and then says that Christ’s atonement is “is the whole meaning of the law” and “intent of the last sacrifice” (Alma 34:14-15.) 

    That key argument is why Alma thought the word could make people do what was just. Their law was designed around the concept of sacrificing blood for blood. Christ was the center of both the temporal law and Nephite religion. Believing that religion would naturally make them more amenable to Nephite law, and presumably less so to Lamanite laws. 

    However, this becomes one more example of how those that weren’t Christians were outside of Nephite cultural and religious power and likely chafed at that idea. Alma 4:16 described how the elders of the church selected the chief judge to replace Alma. Outside of Morianton, (who was quickly subdued because of personal defects), the new lands in Alma 51 went to prominent military and political families and not outsiders. Possible discontent among ethic others can be seen in Ammonihah (where Amulek introduced himself as a Nephite) and the cities destruction was viewed as God’s wrath, and not a failure of the leaders to protect all of its people. And when Nephi was forced to give up the judgement seat, he blamed it on wickedness (Helaman 5:4), when the government seemed relatively lawful when Nephi preached, prophesied of, and was seized over the chief judges death (Helaman 8 and 9). In the case of Alma 34 then, the melding of Nephite law into Christian religion as a tool to regain political power among the Nephite could have further alienated Zoramite elites like Zerahemnah, who made sure to deny Nephite religion while admitting defeat (Alma 44:9). 

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Monday, January 2, 2023

The Nazi's Veto


    Murray Rothbard was the father of modern libertarianism and in turn inspires many Latter Day Saint views of war, including this horrendous reading of the Book of Mormon. But the libertarian’s elevation of the individual at the expense of the state ends up creating what I call the “Nazi’s veto” that disallows any state war, and as a result, leaves the state and individuals with no real power to stop abuses.

    Rothbard’s fundamental axiom of libertarian theory “is that no one may threaten or commit violence (‘aggress’) against another man’s person or property.”[1] He explains this by using a private example that person A has no right to aggress against B because C is threatening. Rothbard claims that “give me liberty or give them death is a far less noble battle cry” and that simplistic theory sounds convincing.

    Those are nice ideas that falls apart upon even a cursory examination. Let’s go back to the fictional examples of people A, B, and C. There are moral differences that immediately make this far more complicated, and unworkable in practice. For example, lets say that person A is a police officer or sheriff, and he is responding to a bank robbery. The robber is doing what libertarians complain about the state, robbing the people of their money. But in stopping the robber, person C, maybe the police officer, person A, causes the robber to crash into another car, killing an innocent lady, person B. In this case, A was stopping C from violating rights, but did so at the expense of person B. That proves the libertarian case, right?

    The libertarian fear of an innocent third person having their rights aggressed would mean that almost no force could be used ever. But the bank robber, rapist, murder (or genocidal dictator below) must be stopped. Sometimes force is required and yet innocent people, (hypothetical person B) could still be hurt, or “aggressed” against. Instead of disallowing force, most people would still consider the actions of the police in this case just, if extremely tragic and regrettable. They might carefully monitor the use of force and ask if other tactics might have been more appropriate, but their use of force would still be just. (Before we continue, notice how this is the distinction between just cause and just conduct regarding warfare. The police can have every right to stop a robber, but not by any means necessary.)

    Now think of the same example, a bank robbery, but maybe the robber intentionally puts someone else in danger. They take a hostage. This would largely shift the immorality of the third person being hurt to the robber (though we would always hope that the robbery can be stopped without the loss of innocent life.) That still requires force, with even more risk to innocents, but if the innocents are hurt, that means the criminal and not the police are at fault.

    There are many different permutations we could do in this situation to assess morality and rights in stopping the criminal. But the point is clear, while the ideal is that no innocent third party should die in defense of your rights. If practiced to the libertarian extreme, it restricts the use of force to such a point that no force can be used. In this fictional example, the police would be so restricted by the danger of aggressing against other’s rights (and since he is government funded official, according to libertarians he is already aggressing against the citizen by living off of taxpayer money),[2] he couldn’t stop the robber.

    The difficulties in morality only get more complicated in war. The state, like the police, is empowered by the people it represents to protect the rights of its citizens under its care by using force. This is the basic contract in the constitution that promises to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, and in return they have the power to tax, print money, make laws, jail citizens, and conscript and fight wars.

    Once that right is recognized, it becomes necessary to determine which strategies are employed so that they don’t create new victims. That is the fundamental reason because justice in war. Because even if the cause of the war is just, it can’t be fought in a way that creates more victims of injustice. Libertarians would deny the state’s power and morality to send soldiers into war. But their ideas would leave much of the world impotent in the face, as the Book of Mormon would say, the “barbarous cruelty” of terrorists (Alma 48:24).

    Libertarians would argue for a limited right to self-defense, and if living under a tyrannical government that they should encourage rebellion in those unjust states. But the oppressed minorities often don’t have the means to resist. Forgot about possessing firearms or having the freedom to organize a rebellion, simply existing as a Bosnian Muslim, Volga German, or a Tutsi in Rwanda would be enough to warrant arrest and execution for many regimes. Much like the actual Warsaw uprising in 1944, Rothbard’s fictional example of Waldavia (225) would say good luck, and then like the Soviets, but because libertarians dislike the state, would stand by and watch them get slaughtered. That isn’t a good moral position to take.

    The idea of rebellion from citizens denied their rights also contradicts the Book of Mormon which taught that if people are oppressed it is because of their wickedness and the Lord will deliver them in his own time. Mosiah 21:15 explains:

15 And now the Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities; nevertheless the Lord did hear their cries, and began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites that they began to ease their burdens; yet the Lord did not see fit to deliver them out of bondage.

    This is in part because the people would only be slaughtered. (Think of the three failed attacks from the people of Limhi [Mosiah 21:6-12], or the Melian Dialogue.) Philosophers were also wary of rebellion because the chaos and slaughter from a rebellion had a good chance of being worse than the injustice that caused the rebellion!! (It is no surprise that the person who witnessed these blood drenched revolts, Martin Luther, didn’t give any right for the people to revolt. See his text, The Murderous Thieving Hordes of Peasants.) The Salamanca school scholar Francisco Suarez wrote, revolt is just “if essential for liberty…always provided that there is no danger of the same or worse evils falling on community as result of the tyrants death.”[3]  Hugo Grotius, often called the founder of international law, wrote about the same right to revolt if the king alienates his people, but also placed limits on potential usurpers because it would lead to fighting among various factions.[4] From a libertarian standpoint then, the advice for citizens to revolt, not only caused their own deaths in futile revolts, but could result in even more bloodshed, and aggressing against rights, than the always condemned “state war.” 

    Even saying that, America rains death from above which is still horrible right? Let us go back to the A, B, Cs from earlier. Killing a civilian by accident is different than deliberately targeting him or her. If they happen in the course of legitimate acts of war (similar to legitimate police functions designed to save people from our earlier example) and the direct intention is a morally acceptable military target, then unintentionally killing civilians is within the realm of just war. That probably sounds like lame justifications to many libertarians. Those deaths are still tragic and a horrible loss of life and unless you’re okay with genocide and mass murder it doesn’t forbid war.[5] Like the police stopping the robber, the public should reasonably ask if the military should have been more cautious and use better judgement (not to mention aim) during the situation. But disallowing any state use of force is a poor strategy against groups that have far more power than individuals and is often state sponsored themselves.

    To conclude, let us get even more specific about the damning consequences of the fundamental libertarian axion. The ideas that “it is impermissible to violate the rights of other innocent people and war “only proper…when the exercise of violence is rigorously limited to the individual criminals,” lead to the conclusion, “State wars are always to be condemned (220, 222).” (Notice how libertarian ideology elevates personal rights but excludes the collective rights of people represented and expressed by their government.)  Libertarian theory then would have the rights of the most ardent Nazi sympathizer staffing the German war machine veto any moral, humane, just, and even righteous impulse to stop massive slaughter and genocide of innocents. 

    J. Reuben Clark, often quoted by libertarians because of his staunch isolationism displayed the Nazi's veto during World War II. He was so isolationist that he repeatedly advocated for a negotiated peace with Germany that would have left them in control of much of Europe.[6] He did so after multiple reports from death camps such as Auschwitz. According to libertarian philosophy, the United States could not wage war because it might aggress against the rights of innocent third parties, and those third parties should sponsor their own revolt. But it is ridiculous to think that German libertarians would have any collective power against the Gestapo, let alone European Jews already in concentration camps.  It was only state power that could stop the genocide of a totalitarian government. Libertarians, so concerned about being violated by taxes, would ensure that so many others get slaughtered by disallowing any intervention by another state.

    That isn’t a moral or workable philosophy for the evil in the world. In fact, their philosophy only marginal works for individuals in relatively isolated areas like the American mountain west, long ago tamed by agents of the state, such as sheriffs, and protected actions of the state such as defeating Nazi Germany. I kind of wish libertarians would take the same passion they have for hating the government and taxes and spare at least some dislike for the massive slaughter of Ukrainians. If they did, then maybe they would have some Christlike compassion for their brothers and try to stop their slaughter, instead of an ideological zealotry against the state that gives Nazis a veto against that impulse.  

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[1] Murray Rothbard, “War, Peace and the State,” We Who Dared Say No To War: American Anti War Writing from 1812 to Now, Murray Polner, Thomas Woods Eds., (Basic Books, 2009,) 217-226.

[2] 222 “Any war against another State, therefore, involves the increase and extension of taxation-aggression over its own people.”

[3] Andre Azevedo Alves, Jose Moreira, John Meadowcroft, The Salamanca School, (Bloomsbury Academic Pro, 2013), 53. Suarez.

[4] Grotius said on page, 73 “if king alienates the people, he invites retributions.” But places limits on usurpers, 76. Stephen Neff trans., Grotius on the Laws of War and Peace, (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

[5] Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, A Moral Argument with Historical Examples, (Basic Books, 2015,) 153-155.

[6]  D. Michael Quinn, “Pacifist Counselor in the First Presidency: J Reuben Clark Jr., 1933-196” in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives, Patrick Mason, J. David Pulsipher, Richard Bushman eds. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), 153-154.