Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Identifying the Heart of a Just Warrior


    I’ve written a great deal about the primacy of the heart. While the concept has ample scripture and philosophical support the problem then becomes, how can one know if some action in war is really a heartfelt policy? We have some clues in the movie Witness, where an Amish grandfather tells a young boy who wants to use a gun against bad men that the young child can’t see into people’s hearts. But the child, who witnessed a murder, responds that he recognizes bad men by their actions. While that is a good line, it is insufficient because a just war like World War II can kill as many people in as many ways as unjust wars. When warfare is so gruesome that even its defenders say it is similar to a surgeon that has to saw off a limb, how can we tell if the heart of the person waging war is righteous? Here are several of the ideas I have:

    When President Nelson gave his talk about being a peacemaker, the Facebook groups in which I participated immediately weaponized it. They would immediately cite his talk against the actions of someone they didn’t link. But being a peace maker in your heart has to derive from one’s own self reflection and conviction within their hears. This is dangerous because of the tendency of people to self-justify. So Boyd Packer’s insight remains important. He said that the apostles of Jesus didn’t suggest Judas as the betrayer, but asked, “Lord, is it I?” This is a powerful reminder that we use scriptures to scrutinize and change our behavior, not self-justify. And in this case, towards more peaceful resolutions in our personal lives and foreign policy.

    The next solution is context. As I mentioned, a righteous war and unrighteous war look fairly similar in the sense that the government sends its bombers, ships, and soldiers to shoot at people. But it is important to consider context. Imagine a scenario where a grandmother is crossing the road and the brakes on a bus fail. That bus is certainly about to kill her, so a bystander runs and pushes the grandmother out of the way. That individual just pushed a grandmother and broke her hip, but because of the context he is considered a hero.

    But let us take the same scenario, only this time the grandmother is on the curb, waiting patiently to cross the street. The bus is coming, and the bystander takes the same action. He pushes the grandmother. She breaks her hip and then bus hits her. That is the dastardliest action that one can think of.

    Yet the central action, pushing the grandmother, is exactly the same as the heroic action from the previous version of this scenario. What turns the same action from a crime into a heroic action is the context. In this case, the question is if the person is throwing grandma into or out of the way of the oncoming bus.

    Clearly, killing to defend life is a clear expression of Christlike love, while killing to gain power or freedom is not. Alma 43-45 clearly described the dichotomy between the Christlike defense of home verses seeking for money and power, even though both use almost indistinguishable tactics. It is important for us to gather as much information as we can to put actions into context.

    The next item to consider is related to context, and we should look at outcomes. Fighting for more territory and power is far different than fighting to protect an ethnic minority from extermination. There are very clear goals that can show the nature of the person’s heart. The danger in this is that no country ever proclaims its evil motives. Even Hitler planted some bodies in disputed territory to claim a righteous reason to invade. But thoughtful individuals can see the difference between spin and substance, or as Chinese theorist said, the punishments and prohibitions must accord.[1]

    The ability to detect spin, especially in an age of echo chambers and fake news will likely receive its own post in the future. As an academic with access to large amounts of information and what people tell me is a good head, I might overestimate the ability of most people to see through talking points. And yet making sure you can see the difference in context and desired outcomes remains important. While history is often used and abused, knowing history can bring additional information and examples that lets a person judge.

    That leads to the final and most important point. The decision to go to war is often overwhelming. It is the numb, crying, can’t concentrate feeling when you watch the twin towers fall, or the video of Israeli’s being harmed. Your heart, the loving heart of just war, feels incredible pain at the injustice you are watching. And that heart knows that there must be a response that seeks justice. While God holds eternal judgement, that justice is in the state’s hands. So you know and support the use of the military to achieve justice. That’s why Thomas Aquinas cited scriptures like Psalms 82:3-4 as the key of just war: “Defend the lowly and fatherless; render justice to the afflicted and needy. Rescue the lowly and poor; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Your heart knows, decisively, when the blood of the [innocent] shall cry from the ground against them (2 Nephi 28:5-10).

    So these are some important considerations that help modern Latter-Day Saints see if they have the peaceful, loving hearts required to wield the sword. We must have a “Lord is it I” attitude towards peace making, consider context and outcomes, and remember how we felt on 9/11. We intuitively know when we see a massive injustice that needs correction and justice in the form of a nation state declaring war.

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[1] Robin Yates trans., Five Lost Classics, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1997), 57.

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