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.