This is a guest post from my friend, Scott Stover. I really appreciate his message about how wrongly we romanticize war.
I’ve written on the topic of war before, but I’ve never felt like this before. My rebellion was triggered by a simple program at our ward Christmas party, which reprised the 2001 Walter Cronkite presentation with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of the famous Christmas truce that occurred in 1914during World War I. I’ve heard the story several times before, but this time was different. This time I was struck at a gut level by the sheer evil that is war. I think my reaction was prompted by the detail that a particular politician in England had the brainstorm to allow classmates and friends to all sign up together, in the same unit. Enlistments shot up – the army quickly doubled in size, but the end result was that when a particular unit was wiped out, so was an entire generation of young men from that town. I don’t know why it hit me like it did, but I suddenly felt revulsion at a deep spiritual level, as tears welled up inside me for the promised hope that flickered and then died with each individual death.
You see, every soul is precious in the sight of God, and every life is infinite in its potential for greatness. Yet, in the interest of religion, borders and coveted resources; to protect the sovereignty of emperors and kings, popes and bankers; man repeatedly engages in blood baths that serve no long-term purpose except to rob children and wives of their fathers and husbands, to destroy property, to promote perpetual enmity between nations and cultures and to assuage the pride and preserve the power and riches of an elite cadre of evil men or women. The very thought of even one life – perhaps that of a young father with dreams of growing old with his childhood sweetheart and of hours spent in the loving adoration of his grandchildren – being snuffed out violently for the satisfaction of a prideful and power-hungry despot is enough to trigger a tragic indignation in the heart of any good man; yet war brings the deaths of thousands of thousands, with the result that the waste and sorrow of individual tragedy is diluted by the sheer mass of numbers until the concept of murder, with its very personal implications, becomes lost in words like “victory” or “defeat” or “genocide” or “war”. An act – with a result – that would be atrocious in the eyes of any of us becomes somehow more acceptable because it is done under the auspices of national interest and is labeled a casualty of war.
I must admit that I am as charmed as any man by the spirit of gallantry and courage that accompanies accounts of wars past. I recently spent the better part of 3 years devouring every book and movie I could find about the American Civil War. I was fascinated by the sacrifice, the camaraderie, and the commitment to one’s cause (or to one’s brethren). I could easily have found myself at age 20 galloping off to war, caught up in the fever of God and country, unwilling to be left behind and be thought a coward. I have spent hours in museums dedicated to the world wars, and one of my dream vacations would be to spend a month touring the battlefields of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. I don’t really understand why this is, but it is, and I’m not alone.
But there’s an ugly reality that underlies the romance of war. In the story of the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve have eaten of the forbidden fruit, and “discovered” their nakedness, there is a great confrontation between Elohim and Satan. In Genesis 3:15, the Lord says to Satan:
I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
I do not wish to profane the sacred by revealing details about the LDS temple endowment, but anyone who has participated in this ordinance is familiar with the clash between Satan and Elohim that immediately follows this exchange in which Satan menacingly threatens to use the treasures of the earth to bring death and destruction on the posterity of Adam and Eve. The voice of Satan is largely implied throughout the scriptures with few direct quotes, but in this case his threat is loud, ominous and specific. It doesn’t take a student of history to realize that he has made good on his threat.
The cunning evil behind Satan’s promise becomes stunningly clear when one read’s General Smedley Butler’s pamphlet, “War is a Racket”. This piece, written in the period between the two world wars, brilliantly illustrates that war is a power game, solely intended to enrich the rich and subjugate the masses by inducing them in the interest of patriotism to finance the very wars for which they send their sons to die.
This post is not only an expression of my own screaming disgust at the enduring propensity of men and nations to resort to violence and force at the least affront to one’s perceived dignity or need for security. It is also a plea with my readers to realize that war and the gospel of Jesus Christ are incompatible with each other; we cannot love God and love our neighbor by killing them.
It is a plea to question how readily we dismiss Christ’s teachings from the sermon on the mount:
But I say unto you, That you resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5: 39)
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43)
It is a plea to remember that the example of the Anti-Lehi-Nephis, whom I’ve written about before, is included in the Book of Mormon for a reason. It’s not just a nice story, it’s a type for us to honor in these latter days. These people loved the Lord so much that they buried their swords lest they give in to their natural instincts and kill again; and they did this in the face of impending attack from their estranged brethren. Many of us, on the other hand, clamor for pre-emptive wars against peoples that have never attacked anyone in the last 500 years, in the interest of maintaining our standard of living and security.
This post is a plea to heed the warning that we all have received concerning the philosophies of men – philosophies that would teach us we are justified in killing when our property, or even our freedom, is in jeopardy. Christ did not teach this, the scriptures do not teach this. It is a plea to love our Savior by trusting in His promises of protection and in his commandments as stated in D&C 98:22–38:
And again I say unto you, if ye observe to do whatsoever I command you, I, the Lord, will turn away all wrath and indignation from you, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. Now, I speak unto you concerning your families—if men will smite you, or your families, once, and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded;
But if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be accounted unto you as being meted out as a just measure unto you.
And again, if your enemy shall smite you the second time, and you revile not against your enemy, and bear it patiently, your reward shall be an hundred fold.
And again, if he shall smite you the third time, and ye bear it patiently, your reward shall be doubled unto you four-fold; And these three testimonies shall stand against your enemy if he repent not, and shall not be blotted out.
And now, verily I say unto you, if that enemy shall escape my vengeance, that he be not brought into judgment before me, then ye shall see to it that ye warn him in my name, that he come no more upon you, neither upon your family, even your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.
And then, if he shall come upon you or your children, or your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation, I have delivered thine enemy into thine hands; And then if thou wilt spare him, thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness; and also thy children and thy children’s children unto the third and fourth generation. Nevertheless, thine enemy is in thine hands; and if thou rewardest him according to his works thou art justified; if he has sought thy life, and thy life is endangered by him, thine enemy is in thine hands and thou art justified.
Behold, this is the law I gave unto my servant Nephi, and thy fathers, Joseph, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, and all mine ancient prophets and apostles. And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them.
And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue; And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord; Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people.
And I, the Lord, would fight their battles, and their children’s battles, and their children’s children’s, until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies, to the third and fourth generation. Behold, this is an ensample unto all people, saith the Lord your God, for justification before me.
This scripture is not cryptic, it is not equivocal , and it is not ancient; but it is consistent with Christ’s other teachings, and it does fly in the face of those justifications that are based on the wars of the Israelites against the Canaanites and Philistines as described in the Old Testament books of Samuel, Chronicles and Kings. Which message is the Lord’s intended message to us? I know the answer…….do you?
This post is finally an emotional and heart-felt plea to recognize that we have been and are being lied to – by our neighbors who are deceived by the philosophies of men; by politicians who are ignorant of the promise that lies over this land for those who honor the Lord; by world leaders who are ignorantly doing the bidding of their leaders, who themselves are doing the bidding of Satan himself. Satan promised, and he has delivered.
Can we change the corruption of truth that is so pervasive in the literature and attitudes of the world? Probably not. Can we dissolve the great socio-political lie that Satan has so successfully established throughout this world? Not by ourselves. No, this change must take place in the hearts of individuals, and it must begin with those of us who have been given the light of truth more clearly than any people since the post-resurrection Nephites. This change must come because we know the Lord, because we trust Him, and because we choose to obey him at all costs, even at the cost of our lives if necessary. It is up to us to decide whether we will build up the Kingdom of God, or remain in de facto covenant with those who would tear it down. Those who accept this great task will be rewarded beyond their ability to comprehend.