Perspectives on Pre-Emptive War in The Book of Mormon

The following article represents my opinion alone and in no way represents the official doctrine or position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Book of Mormon is full of armed conflict. There are a few accounts that pertain particularly to our modern-day “doctrine” of pre-emptive war.

Regarding the Bush Doctrine, I find it incongruous and somewhat sacrilegous to accredit a secular politician with the idea of a “doctrine,” which connotes some sort of binding theological idea. This is at least misleading, and possibly hints at an unholy alliance between Church and state. Of course, many would also find it uncomfortable to speak against the Monroe Doctrine, which I also oppose. Politicians shouldn’t be in the doctrinal proclamation business: that’s for churches and theologians.

One Book of Mormon account which loosely correlates with the idea of “pre-emptive war” is as follows (Helaman 11:24-38): a group of dissenters form a band of robbers, which plunder and murder from the people. They retreated to mountainous hideouts and “secret places,” and “could not be discovered.” We are told they made “havoc, yea, even great destruction.”

The response? “It was expedient that there should be a stop put to this work of destruction.” Some are blessed with the gift of understatement. The solution was “an army of strong men” sent to contend with this murderous band in an act of aggression. They were sent to destroy the robbers. In that year, “They were driven back even into their own lands.” Oops. Didn’t work. Maybe a strategic review and re-do would make the situation smoother. So in the next year, they gave it another shot, attacking this “band of robbers.” They killed “many, and they were also visited with much destruction.”

Notice they could have kept this cycle up indefinitely, to their detriment. But they wisened up: “They were again obliged to return out of the…mountains unto their own lands.”

The robbers kept increasing and growing in numbers. The best that could be done against them was to defend oneself and one’s property. Peacefully persuading an idelogical shift (preaching the word of God) also worked to shrink the army of robbers.

Now, there are significant differences between this example and our current political situation. One difference is that the enemies in The Book of Mormon were dissenters, not foreign freedom fighters. Another is the targets: “Islamofascist” terrorists, so-called, aim for largely political targets: embassies, naval ships, etc. Even on 9-11, while the WTC was attacked, the Pentagon was as well. These terrorists aim for largely political targets, not fast food restaurants or movie theaters or hair salons. Is there a message here? Who are the terrorists really attacking? What is their target? The “robbers” mentioned in The Book of Mormon murdered and plundered from the common man, and lived relatively closed to those they aggressed. They essentially leached off those that farmed or did some other legitimate form of labor. Another difference is that the army of strong men were sent to attack land that the robbers were actually possessing, and which was inhabited by no one else. What fraction of the population of Afghanistan or Iraq were engaged in terrorist activities against the American government, much less ordinary American citizens, before we arrived? Additionally, the text gives no hint of civilian casualties or “collateral damage” in these aggressive invasions into the robber’s territory.

The Book of Mormon has examples of “pre-emptive war,” but in no case is it championed or supported, religiously or otherwise (except from the war propaganda standpoint), especially after the fact. None of these aggressive attacks achieve their stated ends; most end in tragic disaster, followed by a humble withdrawal of forces. Pride and humility are frequently associated with aggression and withdrawal in these accounts. Even in a scenario such as this one, when pre-emptive conflict would seem justified and even encouraged by some, it failed miserably, even after a re-do.

Let us hope and pray that we can soon learn the hard historical lessons to avoid making further, unnecessary mistakes, blunders which we could have easily avoided with a few short history lessons.

A start would be to nominate Ron Paul. Dr. Ron Paul is the strongest, most consistent opponent of the legitimacy of this “doctrine.”

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Filed under Book of Mormon, Libertarian, Mormonism

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