Letter to the Editor: Defending preemptive war using ‘The Book of Mormon’

LETTER TO THE EDITOR – Mormonism is still a rather young religion that doesn’t have a fully developed theology of war comparable.  Yet the recent attention towards Mormonism and the relatively importance the religion plays calls for a more in-depth look into the The Book of Mormon. This article is a brief version of a recent essay published in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives and serves as a direct response to those that espouse an isolationist foreign policy using The Book of Mormon as support. This is not only a dangerous position to take in the modern world, but incorrectly applies strategic lessons from The Book of Mormon. The Nephites faced clear strategic choices based on technological and geographic considerations which justifies America’s use of preemptive war.

The Nephites were commanded to never go on the offensive against their enemies. (Alma 48:18) In the several instances where the Nephites disobeyed this command they were soundly defeated: Helaman 11:28-29, Mormon 3:10-11; 4:18. So case closed, the Bush doctrine is evil and America must repent of its imperial ways right? Not so fast.

Once Nephite lands were invaded, they felt it was “no sin” to resort to offensive maneuvers and stratagems to defeat their enemies (Alma 43:30). Thus the Nephite strategy could be better described as the “offensive-defensive”, where they don’t seek offensive maneuvers until a clear and present danger presents itself. Moroni’s action against the King Men, where he presumptively “cut off” Amalickiah before he could join the Lamanites (Alma 46:30) is one example.

Now Moroni’s preemption operated on a much smaller scale. Pre-modern battle consisted of face to face encounters. The armies that travelled to these battles were limited by the primitive logistics of the age.  Their logistical limits are compound by the apparent lack of wheeled transport in pre Colombian Mesoamerica. But even with an army’s damage limited to what they can personally smash or kill, and a nation’s limitations in supplying them, the Lamanites could quickly desolate some cities before the Nephites “could raise a sufficient army”(Alma 16:2-3). In Helaman 1:19 the Lamanites marched “with such great speed” that they captured the capital city. And ultimately they completed their genocide with their primitive means.

Today battlefields stretch over many miles. The personal weapon of an infantry riflemen, the M-16, has an effective range of roughly a third of a mile. Jet fighters, stealth bombers, and cruise missiles can launch from one location and strike 6,000 miles away. And Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles can truly live up to their name and strike from continents away.

World wide airline and naval travel easily transport dangerous people and material. The Nephites must have been surprised at how narrow their strip of wilderness could be at times, our protection is just as thin if we do not set proper guards (Hel 1:18) or be “up and doing” in defense of our liberty(Alma 60:24).

During the Cold War we could nominally count on the international order to restrain the actions of our enemy. But even this existence led to the Cuban Missile Crisis and Krushchev threatening to “swat America’s ass” with the weapons he inserted there. Now we face regimes that explicitly reject that world order, support terrorism as an arm of foreign policy, and seek the most devastating weapons known to man.

The threat is just as real and apparent as the Lamanites marching on Zarahemla. Yet if we wait for the launch of nuclear missiles, or a terrorist attack using the same, we will be lamenting the desolation of Ammonihah instead. Arguing for a neo isolationist foreign policy based on The Book of Mormon ignores the strategic realities that both nations faced as a result of geography and technology. The nature of modern technology, the connection of rogue regimes with terrorist organizations, the precedent re enforced by 9/11, and the shrinking world of globalization demand that pursue an “offensive defensive” like the Nephites of old.

Submitted by:
Morgan Deane
Adjunct Instructor of History, Brigham Young University Idaho.
Saint George, Utah

Deane maintains the blog Warfare and the Book of Mormon.

Letters to the Editor are published “as is” without any editing. Opinions stated are those of the writer and not representative of St. George News.

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4 Comments

  • Bull! September 28, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Where did these fascinating battles occur? How come there is no written account or evidence in any country that they occurred? I think these tales, much like the claim of a papyrus being the book of abraham, was fabricated.

    • Dghws September 28, 2012 at 8:03 pm

      Bull!, right here on the American continent would be the answer to your first question and the Book of Mormon is one written account of some of those battles. You are right, there aren’t many written accounts of battles that occurred on this continent from 600 B.C to 400 A.D. and the Book of Mormon is a religious document who’s primary purpose isn’t to recount history but to document the people’s dealings with God and the Savior, Jesus Christ. Most people read it to help them live a better life and not to learn ancient history.

  • Murat September 28, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Is this satire or is this guy actually treating the Book of Mormon as if it’s a legitimate document?

    • Dghws September 28, 2012 at 7:54 pm

      Murat, documents are considered legitimate if what is recorded there is valid to those who read it. They are also legitimate by definition if they are based on correct, sensible, valid, or acceptable principles of reasoning. In this case it can also be considered legitimate by definition as it relates to a body of famous long-established writings.

      Based on your posts and opinions, and you have a lot of them that you continue to spew on the rest of us, I would question the legitimacy of most of what you post. Using your same argument, the legitimacy of your own posted opinions can be called into question since some (I for one) would think that they are not correct, sensible, valid, or founded on acceptable principles of reasoning.

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