I have been reading the Book of Mormon every morning to my young boys (ages 3 and 5). We just read about the Amlicites and the Lamanites attacking the Nephites. I was struck with how the people responded to their great victory over the Amlicites and Lamanites (Alma 4:2–4):
But the people were afflicted, yea, greatly afflicted for the loss of their brethren, and also for the loss of their flocks and herds, and also for the loss of their fields of grain…and so great were their afflictions that every soul had cause to mourn; and they believed that it was the judgments of God sent upon them because of their wickedness and their abominations; therefore they were awakened to a remembrance of their duty..and they began to establish the church more fully.
Now, contrast this to the evil Nephites at the end of the Book of Mormon after winning a battle against the Lamanites (Mormon 3:9):
And now, because of this great thing which my people, the Nephites, had done, they began to boast of their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies.
The contrast could not be more clear.
The righteous response to victory in war is sadness. It is reflection. It is turning to God. It is a time to mourn the good people who were slain. But most especially it is a time to spread the message of peace, the peace of Jesus Christ, throughout the world.
Remember Alma the Younger? I consider him one of the great heroes of the Book of Mormon. He killed Amlici and the king of the Lamanites and led his people to victory in battle. What does he do after that? He strengthens the church. He baptizes thousands. And then he goes on a mission to proclaim peace!
The death of an evil enemy is a time for celebration, but only if we learn the right lessons from his death. It is righteous to kill an enemy like Osama bin Laden. But we need to remember why he became an enemy. He became an enemy because we helped create him by funding him in Afghanistan and then staying in the Middle East, occupying Muslim land. We did not proclaim peace, we proclaimed conquest and war. We became involved in entangling alliances, a fate that the Founders continually warned us against.
Our initial attack on Afghanistan was justified by the doctrines of just war. We had been attacked. But what did we do after that? We invaded another country, Iraq, based on false information. Then we decided to increase our presence in Afghanistan. And now we have invaded another country, Libya, fighting on the same side as the people who fought against us in Iraq!!
Note it was a small group of Navy SEALS who killed our enemy. How different history would be if we had left our troops at home and used intelligence to track down Osama bin Laden and kill him. The message to our enemies would be clear: we will not be goaded into an overreaction if you attack us. But we will find you and kill you, no matter how long it takes.
We have spent more than $1 trillion fighting wars in the Middle East. How many innocents have been killed?
How would Alma respond now that the enemy has been killed? He would mourn the dead. He would ask us to send up our prayers to heaven. He would build up the Church. He would ask us to go on a mission to our brothers and sisters, speaking of Christ and the peace that comes from accepting Him into your heart. This is what I plan to do.
Note the readers: I was a big supporter of the Iraq war from 2003 until 2007. I was wrong. One of the reasons I am speaking about this issue is to make up for being so wrong. There is nothing cynical about this. I am declaring peace, not war. Please join me in this effort.