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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