As I’m writing this, the metaphorical drums of war are beating once again in America. In response to the widespread unrest and government violence in Syria, Senator John McCain has made it clear that he would like to see the United States leading an international air assault on strategic targets in the region. Israel – with the American government’s blessing – continues to prod a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran. Economic turmoil around the world has exacerbated existing contentions.
The majority of Americans say that they have tired of war and fighting. In early February, Rasmussen reported that 67% of Americans favored President Obama’s plan to wrap up military action in Afghanistan by mid-2013. But in an equally telling poll, on 17% of survey respondents believed that diplomacy could lead to peace in the region.
Perhaps it is a generalization, but it seems that the majority of Americans don’t want to go to war but don’t see diplomacy as a viable option. What other alternative is there? This may explain why we settle for limited-intervention, in-and-out missions and “peacekeeping” tasks…they’re not full-blown war in the sense of extended operations and wide-scale destruction. Blowing up some hand-picked targets or killing specific individuals is the best political option to keep the majority apathetic.
Those who have read the scriptures – the Book of Mormon, specifically – should be familiar with the many prophesies regarding war in the last days. The good folks here at LDSLiberty have written at length about the wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites and how they can be applied to our own time – or perhaps I should say how they were meant to be applied to our own time, for the accounts of the Book of Mormon prophets were indeed directed specifically to those of us alive in this dispensation. In a September 1988 article for the Ensign, H. Dean Garrett made it clear why the Book of Mormon was so intertwined with our temporal wellbeing:
Mormon used an inordinate amount of space—46 percent of the pages—to cover a diminutive amount of history—13 percent—from Alma 1 to 3 Nephi 10. Why? What is so significant about that period of Nephite history, and what message is Mormon presenting to us, his readers?
One answer may be that the historical pattern found in Alma 1 to 3 Nephi 10 applies to us today. Certain themes and conditions of the Nephite society highlighted in those chapters parallel conditions in our own day.
In Alma 1 to 42, Mormon emphasizes the social problems of priestcraft, materialism, socio-economic inequality, and abuse of freedom. In Alma 43 to 63, he focuses on the wars and civil disruption that led to conspiracy, secret combinations, materialism, sensualism, and corruption in government, as found in the book of Helaman. A record of anarchy and the collapse of government is found in 3 Nephi 1 to 10, preceding the coming of the Lord. This pattern, which can also be seen in many prophecies of the last days, seems to foreshadow a similar pattern of events in our time. (See Rev. 17–19; D&C 45:22–44; D&C 88:87–95; JS-M 1:23–37.)
Another answer may be that, by focusing on war, Mormon gave our generation a chance to see how an ancient people met the challenges and disruption of war.
I would challenge anyone living today to deny that the same problems do exist now and are causing the exact same effects. Mankind’s wickedness has slowly turned brothers against brothers, sisters against sisters, children against parents, and neighbors against neighbors. I find it very interesting to see the struggling and oppressed pointing the finger of blame at everyone but themselves; how easy is it to cast the burden of “fixing” our problems onto someone else? So it is with war – we may speak against it to our friends and mourn for those whose lives are lost or turned upside down by conflict, but for some reason it is a common belief that only a president or body of legislators will ever be able to “fix” the problem. Many people I associate with are of the opinion that a vocal and principled candidate such as Dr. Ron Paul would be able to pull us back from our foreign entanglements. To those who put their hope in a politician, I suggest you read what Elder Marion G. Romney said in 1967:
“Informed Latter-day Saints know that this earth will never again, during its telestial existence, be free from civil disturbance and war.”
How true! It does not take a degree in history to know that contention and violence has been the status quo for decades, and based on Romney’s words we can only expect things to get worse. Now before you go getting all depressed, remember that we are not doomed to destruction. While there will be struggles and toils and plenty of reason to despair amongst the wicked, the righteous can always maintain their hope and faith that the Lord will protect his people. The gospel will never again be taken from the world, nor will His priesthood. We will have the guidance of living prophets and apostles to help us when times are tough. There is plenty to hope for. We have unique knowledge of the Lord’s rules of warfare that will help us to defend ourselves against those who would seek to harm us.
As David O. McKay stated in a 1942 Conference Report:
“there are conditions when entrance into war is justifiable, and when a Christian nation may, without violation of principles, take up arms against an opposing force. Such a condition, however, is not a real or fancied insult given by one nation to another. When this occurs proper reparation may be made by mutual understanding, apology, or by arbitration. Neither is there justifiable cause found in a desire or even a need for territorial expansion. The taking of territory implies the subjugation of the weak by the strong—the application of the jungle law. Nor is war justified in an attempt to enforce a new order of government, or even to impel others to a particular form of worship, however better the government or eternally true the principles of the enforced religion may be.”
The message is clear: we are to be patient. This defies several decades (at least) of foreign policy in which mutual understanding, apology, and arbitration have been seemingly non-existant. The Nephites learned this lesson several times in the Book of Mormon. In the Book of Alma the Lord provides us with a clear standard by which to judge our interventions, stating, “Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies.” Latter-day revelation has expanded upon this idea. In Doctrine and Covenants 98 the Lord told Joseph Smith, “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.” Imagine how the world would look if all of God’s children lived by such a high standard! The United States has felt the negative consequences of militarism and hate as we have become a target for those who seek to do evil.
Given the fact that we will not see an end to wars and contentions until the Savior’s return, the lessons from the Book of Mormon and latter-day prophets are crucial if we wish to experience peace – not necessarily the absence of violence, but inner peace. Instead of saddling a man like Dr. Paul with the task of “fixing” our warlike ways, I hope that each individual can practice that patience and forgiveness that the Nephites and Lamanites could not. Their nations fell, and I believe that there is still some semblance of hope for our own. So how is it that we should live our lives? If we wish to end conflicts between nations, we should strive to end conflicts between individuals. In the same way that nations should seek peaceful resolutions and act with patience, so should we. It does us no good to carry on against war when we treat others with disrespect, dishonesty, or ignore their divine heritage. Alma 48 provides us with a fantastic example – “The Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives. And this was their faith, that … God would prosper them in the land, … if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God … ; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger. And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them.”
I’ll end with another quote from Garrett’s 1988 Ensign article that wraps our duty up quite nicely:
“The duty of all Latter-day Saints is to seek peace and to live righteously so that their peaceful influence can be felt. As we do so, it may be that, as often happened in the Book of Mormon, a small minority of disciples, through faith, righteous example, and effort, can be a significant influence on a larger body of people among whom they live, wherever that may be.”
So too can we live as examples of peace in a world filled with strife. Remember that while we may not see peace again until the Second Coming, you can have peace within your heart and share it with those around you.