I was until very recently interviewing for a position with the CIA. (Pauses. Looks over right shoulder. Looks over left shoulder. Waits. Braces for a bullet to the temple.)
Now, there were a variety of reasons behind my decision not to continue interviewing with them — a decision I regret whenever I watch “24” and contemplate the fact that I will most likely never use a shoulder-fired missile — but chief among them was my concern that I would either be asked to do things I found morally objectionable or, perhaps more likely, that I would be unwittingly contributing to an end that I would find morally objectionable (if you’ve seen Good Will Hunting, there’s a great scene that summarizes this concern).
Now, I know a lot of Mormons work for the defense and intelligence agencies, and I’m not condemning them or anyone else. I was faced with a decision and chose the course I felt was right and in my best interest (and I’d be lying if I said money didn’t play a huge part in my decision). But the process of making this choice gave me cause to reflect in a personal way on our duties as citizens and Mormons with regard to the way our government and its representatives conduct themselves as they craft and pursue foreign policy and practice espionage. I refer to the men and women of the military, the intelligence services, the diplomatic corps, and our elected and appointed leaders — in short, those who stand watch on the walls of Fortress America, hereafter referred to as the Watchmen.
This is how I percieve the reality of the relationship between the average American and the Watchmen: The vast majority of Americans are wrapped up in the details of daily life — work, family, church, etc. They are accustomed to a high level of wealth and consumption, and they are at best vaguely aware that the rest of the world doesn’t enjoy the same lifestyle. Although Americans are not without problems, they do not generally worry about being ethnically cleansed, having their country invaded by a foreign power, being blown up by a suicide bomber, starving to death, being taken in the night by secret police, or any of the other isses confronted by citizens of other nations.
The absence of these problems is in large part due to the Watchmen; they are charged with ensuring that Americans are able to lead quiet, productive, prosperous lives, sheltered from the storms that whirl about in the rest of the world. They are brave, self-sacrificing, and underappreciated.
They have also on many occasions done things that I believe are gravely immoral. They use violence, deception, blackmail, and all manner of secret combinations against the percieved enemies of America, often harming innocent bystanders. They entrap and use people as assets and then discard them, often ruining their lives. They have propped up atrocious dictatorships and overthrown democratically elected leaders. And so on. I do not believe that America is the root of all evil in the world; far from it. But you’re kidding yourself if you believe our history is free from stain, particularly in the way we have conducted ourselves abroad. The fact of the matter is that The Watchmen have used awful means to obtain ends they percieved to be in the best interest of America and its citizens.
Now, it’s a rough and tumble world. I know this. Those who seek to harm the US and its citizens aren’t abiding by the rules set forth by the Marquess of Queensberry. If your ultimate duty is to your country and fellow citizens, then you are justified in using all available means necessary to counter your enemies. Of course, as Mormons, our ultimate duty is to God, not country. Yes, we believe, as the 12th Article of Faith asserts, in obeying the law and being subject to our rulers. I firmly believe, though, that in the event that the laws of God and the laws of man are mutually exclusive that, as Mormons, our duty is to the laws of God.
I also believe that such an event is likely when one is working for the CIA. So, I took a pass. Which exposes me to the criticism that I’m willing to enjoy the benefits provided by the CIA, the military, and the diplomats while disdaining their methods of bringing about those benefits. I think this criticism is legitimate (and is justifiably leveled at those universities that refuse to allow the ROTC on their campuses). I’m not sure how to resolve this paradox, and I’m interested in what your thoughts are. A few points for discussion:
1. Do you agree/disagree with my contention that it’s possible for the laws of man and the laws of God to be mutually exclusive?
2. If you agreed in #1, do you agree/disagree with my assertion that in such an event that, as Mormons, our duty is to obey the laws of God?
3. Do you believe it’s possible and/or probable that by working in the military, the intelligence agencies, or the foreign policy establishment you would confront a situation where the laws of God and those of man are mutually exclusive? How would you react?
4. If the possibility of those situations keeps you out of those lines of work, how do you justify enjoying the benefits brought about by others in those professions?
5. What general principles would you follow for remaining true to the laws of God while pursuing the interests of your country in a nasty, brutish world?
6. To what extent are we responsible for the actions of the Watchmen, including those carried out in secret?
Any other related thoughts are welcome.