The Question of Pacifism

July 17, 2009 | 55 comments
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I’m not, by nature, a pacifist. I remember as a young child wishing my dad was an air force pilot and bombed people out of those fantastic jets with shark faces painted on them.  I played violent games and got into my fair share of fist fights at school (I even once fought with a weapon).  Perhaps more relevant, my gut reactions when I or my family have been threatened have not been those of a pacifist.  When faced with real or imagined danger, I’ve felt myself almost possessed with a visceral, aggressive passion, and I fully believe that in the right circumstance I would be capable of killing another. I grew up in a culture that is very accepting of violence and killing, within certain constraints.  I’ve always known, loved and respected persons who made careers in the military—one of my closest friends is currently a Green Beret, literally on the front lines in Afghanistan. So it’s very, very difficult for me to candidly discuss my feelings, especially publicly.  And it’s with a tremendous amount of inner dissonance that I admit that I find myself more and more a convicted, though undeniably imperfect pacifist.

To be clear, I’m not preaching here.  I find condescending, self-righteous moralizing repugnant (though I’ve certainly been guilty of this myself on occasion), and on this particular issue I find both “woe is me” and “I have been blessedly enlightened” attitudes as distasteful as jingoism.  Nevertheless, I’m writing a very personal, sort of motivated confessional, attempting to present a few of my thoughts on the matter and why I think pacifism is the right, if perhaps idealized commitment and response to what is inevitably a tragic mortality.  It’s a question that I seem less and less able to avoid or place on the backburner.

It seems like it would be somehow better—more righteous, more genuinely pacifistic, less selfish—if my convictions came purely or even mostly from the scriptures or personal revelation.  These things have certainly played a role (I’ll get to that in a minute), but the reality is, the most motivating force has been my gradually becoming conscious of how truly horrific this life experience has been for so many of God’s children—horrific to the degree that I personally can’t reconcile some of the destroyed lives with the plan of salvation as I understand it.  History provides us with no shortage of harrowing, unfathomable cruelty—too numerous to catalogue.  Our own history won’t let us forget Haun’s Mill, Mountain Meadows, or the two genocides recorded in the Book of Mormon.  We don’t need to turn to history, however, with the atrocities being perpetrated in our own society (the war in Congo and the U.S. sex slave industry are as graphic and nauseating as anything could be, and are eerily similar to Moroni 9).

I, and most people I know, live in privilege and luxury.  I have not, nor do I believe that it is any longer even possible that I could experience atrocities on the level that millions of God’s children have been sent to this earth to suffer.  Instead of being horribly, physically and spiritually marred, I find myself sobbing in confused, guilt-ridden despair as I sit in all my comfort and am confronted by the magnitude and wretchedness of human suffering. I often wonder if pacifism is—at least for me and other pampered persons like myself—a response or luxury of the privileged. And I wonder if my tears and compassion are naively patronizing.  The reality is, I don’t know exactly how I ought to feel or react in the face of these atrocities.  But I know that violence-induced suffering (in all its forms) is as deeply wrong as anything I can imagine and more wrong than anything else I’ve witnessed.

In The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevsky’s character Ivan gives a graphic litany of torture perpetrated against innocent children.  Unable to justify this suffering or a God who permits it, and completely unwilling to remain implicated by remaining on the scene (just as he’d be unwilling to remain sitting in a theater where real atrocities were performed on stage), Ivan tells his brother that his solution is to “give back the ticket”—that is, commit suicide.  I think Ivan gets it wrong (and I think Dostoevsky thought so too), because we’re not in an audience watching atrocities on stage; we’re part of the cast.  Nevertheless, there’s something to what Ivan says.  Pacifism in the face of violent suffering is for me a way of “giving back my ticket,” of utterly and with my whole soul rejecting any connection to the violence that has destroyed so many lives.  (I also think that in addition to rejecting violence I have a positive obligation toward those who suffer, but that’s not the point of this particular post.)  This is the main reason why I am (or at least want to be) a pacifist.

My personal despair and confusion are not the only reasons why the question of pacifism seems so urgent to me.  Perhaps the next most important reason is the teachings of Jesus Christ.  One of my best friends often quips that we’re much more happy teaching or believing about Christ than we are teaching or believing the things that Christ actually said.  Christ’s teachings, if we take them seriously, are enough to make both conservatives’ and liberals’ skins crawl. I think that one of the most overlooked or glibly dismissed of his teachings is that we are required to turn the other cheek, offer our cloak to the offender, love our enemy (something difficult to do while trying to take their life), forgive all.   One of the most moving ways in which Christ taught this is in his actions.  I recently watched my son’s complete confusion when we were watching a video about Christ and he saw Christ heal the man’s ear just before being arrested.  At first my son, like many of us in Sunday School class, flatly ignored the profound implications of that act; instead he started excitedly talking about how if he were there he would have performed all sorts of superhuman kung fu moves in order to beat off the bad guys and save Christ.  So I had a discussion with him, rehearsing Christ’s line about the legions of angels at his command (if anyone has ever had a monopoly on violence, I suppose he did), and then made him watch the scene again.  I don’t know how much he got that second time through, but I know he was perplexed.

Then there’s the Book of Mormon. It’s filled with stories and themes that fuel pacifists.  My two favorites are, first the sons of Mosiah’s response to the threat of hostile Lamanites.  At least a portion of Nephite society advocated preemptive violence, while Ammon and his brothers advocated missionary service (Ammon’s obviously a complicated example; I like to think that, like many of us experienced on our missions, his investigators taught him the full meaning and implications of his teachings).  Then there’s that whole big, messy war or series of wars that extend from mid-Alma through mid-Helaman.  To begin, while the Lamanites are clearly the provokers, the Book of Mormon makes clear that one of the largest contributing factors to the war is the wickedness of the Nephites (reminds me of Missouri).  Luckily they had Captain Moroni to put the fear of God into both the Nephites and the Lamanites and eventually win the day.  Or not quite.  Immediately after Moroni’s hard fought victory, the Nephites ultimately lose and are entirely unable to violently retake a full half of their lands.  They do eventually get these lands back, “winning” the war, but not through violence.  Instead it’s through the preaching of the gospel by Nephi and Lehi (and undoubtedly others).  As to the highly praised Stripling Warriors who forsook the pacifism of their parents, we rarely finish telling their story—it appears that after the war they went up North and resolutely rejected the preaching of the prophets Nephi and Lehi.

Giving my own pacifist telling of the story, I know that there will be readers absolutely itching to object and tell the story differently.  I recognize that one can read these sections of the Book of Mormon differently.  But I assure you, from my perspective, my telling appears to be exactly what the message is, without any bending or subverting of the text.  And while I’m willing to concede the legitimate possibility of others genuinely seeing these stories differently, I think there’s much less wiggle room when it comes to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Next, there’s the teachings of modern day prophets like President Kimball:

We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44-45.)

We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us—and this is the special promise to the inhabitants of the land of the Americas (see 2 Ne. 1:7)—or he will fight our battles for us (Ex. 14:14; D&C 98:37, to name only two references of many). This he is able to do, for as he said at the time of his betrayal, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now

pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53.) We can imagine what fearsome soldiers they would be. King Jehoshaphat and his people were delivered by such a troop (see 2 Chr. 20), and when Elisha’s life was threatened, he comforted his servant by saying, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be

with them” (2 Kgs. 6:16). The Lord then opened the eyes of the servant, “And he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2 Kgs. 6:17.)

Enoch, too, was a man of great faith who would not be distracted from his duties by the enemy: “And so great was the faith of Enoch, that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch.” (Moses 7:13.)

What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him? Our assignment is affirmative: to forsake the things of the world as ends in themselves; to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.” (The False Gods We Worship)

Again, I know about the obvious objection that not all prophets are like President Kimball.  Many of them, including our late President Hinckley, appear to explicitly justify war. Some rather credible sources have even gone so far as to claim divine sanction for their involvement in war.  None of the statements I’ve seen by these prophets, however, places a willingness to kill one’s enemies above the option of pacifism.  Nor would it be surprising if God granted sanction to his people to pursue options that he did not prefer—he’s certainly done this in the past (e.g., divorce, word of wisdom breaking, the whole corpus of Mosaic Law).  The scriptures are clear that God grants us knowledge and wisdom and “commandments not a few” as we are righteous and willing to receive.  Rather than claiming a conflict between the statements and actions of Christ and those of his prophets, it’s easy to see that there may be a spectrum of acceptable to ideal behavior (we’re comfortable with the idea of telestial, terrestial, and celestial laws or of “good, better, and best” options).  Nor can we infer from individual exception commandments from God (e.g., Abraham’s instructions to kill Isaac) that God doesn’t ultimately endorse pacifism.

But the reality is, while I genuinely believe there’s a divine endorsement, I don’t need one.  We can all see the nobility of forsaking violence and forgiving rather than answering violence with violence, the nobility of Christ’s over the Mosaic injunction.  I don’t think anyone faithfully reads the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis without being profoundly moved by their response to violence.  Nor do we hear President Hinckley’s story about the woman forgiving the juvenile delinquent who nearly took her life with a frozen turkey or President Faust’s telling of the Amish response to a brutal murderer without knowing that there is something divine in these pacifistic acts of forgiveness.  I think we’re moved because we see a connection between these acts and the acts of our Savior Jesus Christ who forgave his murders to the point of pleading for God to also forgive them, the act of atonement and passive suffering for all of us.  Regardless of it’s not being collectively required, each of us can see that pacifistic forgiveness is one potential way of standing as saviors on Mt. Zion.

But again, perhaps I’m wrong in my theological speculations and motivations for pacifism.  Perhaps those of you itching to argue with my theological claims are right.  Returning to the mess I began with, I’m absolutely convinced of the evil and diabolical nature of violence.  I don’t think Ivan’s solution is justified.  We’re already implicated, we’re already thrown into the miasma of mortality, and I’m quite skeptical as to whether, given the absence of an explicit, pointed revelation on the matter generally (and perhaps in each individual case), we can ever really know for certain how best to respond in the face of violence.  But I’m more comfortable erring on the side of pacifism than anywhere else.

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55 Responses to The Question of Pacifism

  1. Marjorie Conder on July 17, 2009 at 11:38 am

    My pacifism is not absolute, but is based on the following–. The scriptures both ancient (Book of Mormon) and modern (D&C) powerfully and specifically warn against offensive warfare and/or taking the war to the enemy.
    About a year ago I read a newspaper article about a general commenting on the present war in Iraq. He said that to wait and conduct a defensive war was “absurd” and a sure recipe for defeat. However, in both the Book of Mormon and the D&C, defensive warfare is the only warfare justified by God unless He specifically commands otherwise, even in the face of great provocation. [See Alma 48:14-16; Helaman 11:27-30, 3 Nephi 3:19-21; 4:8-10, Moroni 4:4, D&C 98:33 for example] To conduct offensive warfare is to do it after the manner of the world and leaves us to the “strength of men”. A friend who used to be pro Bush and pro Iraq war offered that perhaps it was only because the Latter-day Saints went on the offensive that created so much grief over the Mountain Meadows Massacre—in direct contradiction to our own Latter-day scriptures. It is the only time in our history we have done so. It has been a very hard lesson for us—which it appears we still haven’t learned.

    It also seems to me that by every scriptural example I can think of, a “righteous” war is quickly over and done with. The fact of a protracted war may in and of itself signify that the war is not righteous. (And remember that every people think “God is on their side.”)

  2. Bookslinger on July 17, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Marjorie: I don’t think defensive warfare requires waiting for the enemy to invade one’s own territory. One can wage a defensive or responsive war and still conduct the battle on the enemy’s territory.

    The war against terrorism is more along the lines of the example of the Gadianton robbers. Both the “good” Lamanites and the Nephites sought out the Gadianton robbers in their places of resort, and didn’t just wait for the incursions. Otherwise, the Gadianton robbers would have continued in their raids.

  3. Marc Bohn on July 17, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Instead of being horribly, physically and spiritually marred, I find myself sobbing in confused, guilt-ridden despair as I sit in all my comfort and am confronted by the magnitude and wretchedness of human suffering.

    While in college, I spent hundreds of hours helping a group of Sudanese refugees called the “Lost Boys of Sudan” who had been allowed to immigrate by Congress transition to life in the United States. These boys had been orphaned in the late 1980s by the tragic civil war in Sudan mainly because they were Christians and lived in the oil rich south. Their villages were burned, parents killed, sisters sold into slavery, and older brothers engaged in the resistance efforts. So these thousands and thousands of boys walked thousands of miles, first to Ethiopia, then back to Sudan, then on to Kenya, surviving unimaginable horrors along the way, until they finally found some measure of peace in a Kenyan refugee camp.

    What struck me most in my interactions with these wonderful young men was the fact that they weren’t bitter or consumed with hate, malice or despair. Instead they were some of the most hopeful, hard-working, god-fearing men I’ve ever come across. Willing to drop anything to help another. Working three jobs to have enough money to send some back to their friends and family back in the refuge camp who had not been lucky enough to immigrate.

    I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to endure the horrors that these young men endured, but I do know that, through the mercies of God, thousands of them were able to escape the conflict consuming their country and, despite the atrocities they endured, are now inspiring members of our community today who truly seek to emulate Christ in their lives. While I’m not quite sure what one can say about pacificism as a general matter when talking about the Lost Boys’ experience, I’m confident that the lives of these young men would have been completely torn apart (even more than they already were) had they stayed in Sudan and been sucked into the civil war rather than taking refuge in Kenya or the United States.

  4. Adam on July 17, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    The problem with using the Book of Mormon to justify the current war on terror, or any other defensive war is that the justified wars in the Book of Mormon were led by Prophet-Generals like Mormon and Moroni. That’s hardly the case these days.

  5. Dan on July 17, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    James,

    Beautifully written and well thought out.

    My views on the use of violence to solve problems are fairly well known by some. I appreciate what you wrote here because our scriptures and our Lord have been fairly consistent and fairly stern that violence is not an answer. For example, Joseph Smith. A month or so ago, in Priesthood, we read from the Joseph Smith manual of an incident that had occurred. Some guys from a mob had come to find Joseph and kill him. They arrived at the house he was staying at, and when Joseph opened the door, he chose one of three options.

    1. He could have preempted their attempt to kill him by striking at them first (the usual, natural response). Of course, the problem with this path is that it tends to escalate the use of violence beyond the one incident (as we see so painfully bad in the Middle East).

    2. He could have run away and saved his life. But he chose

    3. to confound his would be attackers with a joyous temperament. He showed them a side of him they did not expect. He was nice to them. The straw men others caricatured of Joseph was that he was evil, dastardly and bad. But here he was, a nice guy. Not only did this defuse the situation, but these men ended up escorting Joseph back to his home, because they knew others were out there who were willing to harm Joseph.

    There are times to use violence in defense of one’s family and one’s home. But this loophole has been abused terribly by this generation. This loophole has been used for offensive actions against far weaker opponents who can barely hit us once. It has been used for offensive actions against weaker opponents who weren’t even a threat to us! That is just reprehensible and contrary to what Jesus teaches us.

  6. Dan on July 17, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Bookslinger,

    The war against terrorism is more along the lines of the example of the Gadianton robbers. Both the “good” Lamanites and the Nephites sought out the Gadianton robbers in their places of resort, and didn’t just wait for the incursions. Otherwise, the Gadianton robbers would have continued in their raids.

    Do you have scriptural evidence of that? Because I’ve got 3 Nephi 3:20-21 to counter that line of thinking:

    20 Now the people said unto Gidgiddoni: Pray unto the Lord, and let us go up upon the mountains and into the wilderness, that we may fall upon the robbers and destroy them in their own lands.
    21 But Gidgiddoni saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands.

    This is quite clear. The people wanted to go to the Robbers and attack them in their lands. Gidgiddoni refused saying the Lord forbad it, and that the Lord would give the Nephites over to the Robbers if the Nephites went on the offensive. Instead, the Lord commanded Gidgiddoni to defend in the center of their lands and wait for the Robbers to come to them.

    Now, this is not to say each situation that confronts us is going to be similar in nature, and we must not always wait at the center of our lands for our enemies. But don’t use the Robbers’ war as justification for offensive warfare when it just doesn’t have any scriptural backing.

  7. Rick on July 17, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Bookslinger, I think you’re missing the point of the Gadianton robbers. How were they finally beaten? We’re specifically told that the generals refused to take the fight to them (3 Ne. 3:21). When they were finally beaten, it was because the Nephites and Lamanites (united) set up something of an “anti-siege.” Basically, everyone took their food storage into the cities and burned all the crops. Since the Gadiantons couldn’t survive without pillaging, and since there was nothing to pillage, they were forced to directly attack the Nephites and Lamanites (3 Ne. 4).

    I honestly can’t think of a single instance in modern scripture where pre-emptive wars turned out well. And in fact, in the Doctrine & Covenants, the Lord specifically says we must wait until we are attacked three times, and THEN we’re supposed to warn our enemy not to do it again, before we attack. And even then, the Lord makes it clear that we will be rewarded for sparing our enemies (D&C 98:23-31).

  8. Rick on July 17, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    “There are times to use violence in defense of one’s family and one’s home. But this loophole has been abused terribly by this generation.”

    Dan, this loophole has been abused terribly since the dawn of time. When God explains to Enoch that his weeping is because

    “And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;”

    I think the people in question could give some very good reasons for that hate, the first probably being “self-defense.”

  9. Dan on July 17, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Rick,

    I’m sure that loophole has been abused from the dawn of time. I’m stating that it is badly abused today, by this generation. Since World War II, in how many conflicts has the United States participated?

  10. Rick on July 17, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Dan, you’re right of course. As a veteran, I like to think that our cause is always just, but the truth is that the only people to attack us on our own soil (even counting embassies) are Al-Qaeda and their ilk. I suppose I was just trying to excuse this generation by saying “but everyone else is doing it…”

  11. Kaimi Wenger on July 17, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Very nicely stated, James.

    Now try telling it to your ward members. :)

  12. Jayme Blakesley on July 17, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    James, wow! Great post. Frankly, if you wrote it out longhand and asked me to sign the bottom like a Declaration of Independence, I would ask for the large, central space taken by Hancock. Amen.

  13. Carol on July 17, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    One of the best blog posts I’ve read! I wish more people would read and ponder the principles you presented. The concepts you discuss apply not only to military conflict but to interpersonal relationships as well. When Jesus challenged us to be peacemakers, I believe he really meant it!

    Certainly, there are times when we must defend ourselves, our families, and our country, but wars of aggression are not championed in Scripture or by latter-day prophets. How sad that more members of the Church–and of all churches–do not consider the global ramifications of a militaristic national and world view.

  14. kevinf on July 17, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    James, very well said. I’ve looked at Pres. Kimball’s talk that you quoted, along with some of the First Presidency Easter Messages of years gone by, and come to similar conclusions. I especially have read D&C 98 (“renounce war and proclaim peace”) with growing interest in light of what was going on in Missouri at the time of this revelation.

    To put it more directly, there is less risk in choosing pacifism than in trying to choose a “just war” before it’s over, and history has had time to render judgment. And it seems to be more in character with the way Christ lived his life during his mortal ministry.

  15. Juan Non Hancock on July 17, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Interesting post.

    I see you linked to Pres. Hinckley’s May 2003 conference address. It’s interesting that you say that the post appears to “explicitly justify” the war — I actually only remembered two passages from that address:

    1. “We sometimes are prone to glorify the great empires of the past, such as the Ottoman Empire, the Roman and Byzantine Empires, and in more recent times, the vast British Empire. But there is a darker side to every one of them. There is a grim and tragic overlay of brutal conquest, of subjugation, of repression, and an astronomical cost in life and treasure.”

    2. “Many of our own Church members have been involved in this conflict. We have seen on television and in the press tearful children clinging to their fathers in uniform, going to the battlefront…. There are other mothers, innocent civilians, who cling to their children with fear and look heavenward with desperate pleadings as the earth shakes beneath their feet and deadly rockets scream through the dark sky.”

    The first quote, explicitly critical of empires, seemed reminiscent of critiques of American imperialism (which would not normally find a place in a justification for the American invasion of Iraq).

    In the second quote, the image of the “tearful children clinging to their fathers in uniform” might well find its way into typical pro-American defenses of the war. But the second image makes one picture an Iraqi mother whose children and neighbors have been killed by deadly American rockets. Those are the images I’d expect to see from a Human Rights Watch or Amnesty Int’l pamphlet condemning the American-led invasion.

  16. Juan Non Hancock on July 17, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Also, check out Eugene Englund’s Cold War-era essay on the subject, which includes several passages of note from the BoM/D&C/and from various prophets.

    Eugene Englund, “Can Nations Love Their Enemies?”

    http://www.signaturebookslibrary.org/dialogues/chapter13.htm#war5

  17. Reeder on July 17, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    This is looking like a very interesting discussion.

    While scripture does seem pretty clear on the evils of an offensive war. Mormon 3:9-4:5 seems to describe Mormon’s feelings on the matter pretty well [quote](“And it was because the armies of the Nephites went up unto the Lamanites that they began to be smitten; for were it not for that, the Lamanites could have had no power over them” (Mormon 4:4)).[/quote]

    However, I think a scripturally justified case could be made for the current conflicts on the grounds of D&C 98:23-31 (the three-attacks-and-a-warning rule already referenced), or Alma 43:45-47, which President Hinckley referenced in a talk that James referred to:

    [quote]45 Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church.
    46 And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: 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.
    47 And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. Therefore for this cause were the Nephites contending with the Lamanites, to defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion.[/quote]

    I don’t think I’m naive in saying that we haven’t been seeking for monarchy or power in the current conflicts. The idea has always been that as the Iraqis (or whoever) stand up, we’ll stand down. Nobody, liberal or conservative, wants the US to take control of their country and maintain it indefinitely; we only seek to protect our interests at home and abroad from forces that seek their destruction.

    As far as the three strikes rule goes, we really didn’t respond in force with the 1993 WTC bombing, the 1998 embassy attacks, or the 2000 Cole bombing. Then there were the 9/11 attacks. That’s four times before we did anything. Not surprisingly, mistakes may have been made in the management of the war since then. But scripturally, I think we may have been justified in responding to the attacks.

    Of course, peace is preferable. Section 98 also declares “renounce war and proclaim peace” and “first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation or tongue” that should proclaim war against us. But, as President Hinckley said in that same talk, “there are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat, and oppression. . . . It may even be that He will hold us responsible if we try to impede or hedge up the way of those who are involved in a contest with forces of evil and repression.”

  18. Juan Non Hancock on July 17, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    @17: “As far as the three strikes rule goes, we really didn’t respond in force with the 1993 WTC bombing, the 1998 embassy attacks, or the 2000 Cole bombing. Then there were the 9/11 attacks. That’s four times before we did anything.”

    I am pretty certain that President Clinton would take umbrage at the charge that the US didn’t do anything in response to the 93, 98 and 2000 attacks.

    See, e.g. http://www.cnn.com/US/9808/20/us.strikes.01/

  19. Marc Bohn on July 17, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    I just realized that no one has yet brought up Russell M. Nelson’s splendid talk Blessed are the Peacemakers given in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq. He raised many of the points highlighted by James here and ended his address by saying:

    Now, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what does the Lord expect of us? As a Church, we must “renounce war and proclaim peace.” As individuals, we should “follow after the things which make for peace.” We should be personal peacemakers. We should live peacefully—as couples, families, and neighbors. We should live by the Golden Rule. We have writings of the descendants of Judah as now merged with writings of the descendants of Ephraim. We should employ them and expand our circle of love to embrace the whole human family. We should bring divine love and revealed doctrines of restored religion to our neighbors and friends. We should serve them according to our abilities and opportunities. We should keep our principles on a high level and stand for the right. We should continue to gather scattered Israel from the four corners of the earth and offer the ordinances and covenants that seal families together forever. These blessings we are to bring to people of all nations.

  20. Marc Bohn on July 17, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    @17: “As far as the three strikes rule goes, we really didn’t respond in force with the 1993 WTC bombing, the 1998 embassy attacks, or the 2000 Cole bombing. Then there were the 9/11 attacks. That’s four times before we did anything.”

    We prosecuted and convicted those directly responsible for the 1993 attacks and did take some level of action in both 1998 and 2000. Are you seriously arguing that we should have launched full-scale war over any of these events?

  21. DavidH on July 17, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    “As far as the three strikes rule goes, we really didn’t respond in force with the 1993 WTC bombing, the 1998 embassy attacks, or the 2000 Cole bombing. Then there were the 9/11 attacks. That’s four times before we did anything.”

    I do not believe Iraq was behind those attacks.

    I remember a seminary teacher once using those verses to explain why the U.S. would be justified in invading the Soviet Union, without any more provocations–and she listed some of the negative things that she thought the Soviets were responsible for, probably going back to the Bolshevik Revolution (I cannot recall her list of many more than three or four things).

  22. Juan Non Hancock on July 17, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    At the conclusion to the post, James says, “I’m more comfortable erring on the side of pacifism than anywhere else.” As far as a Mormon approach to war, that’s probably the best we can hope for, given the very contradictory sources on the topic.

    Perhaps pacifism is best viewed as a PRESUMPTION rather than as an ABSOLUTE.

  23. DavidH on July 17, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    James,

    Wonderful post. I have been essentially a pacifist since midway through my mission. I would not qualify as a conscientious objector, though, because I can conceive of situations in which I would support a war (I think the invasion of Afghanistan might meet the test).

  24. Reeder on July 17, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    #20 (and #18 and #21): “Are you seriously arguing that we should have launched full-scale war over any of these events?”

    No, I’m just saying that we didn’t. But they might count as the “three testimonies” in D&C 98:27.

    And whether an invasion of Iraq was morally justified given the circumstances and conditions presented is another discussion altogether.

  25. Eric Russell on July 17, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    James, I don’t particularly disagree with anything you say here, but while it’s fun to bask in the seeming warmth of pacifistic sentimentality, I caution that applying it to real life is another thing entirely. Note the recent post by John C. on
    Halakhah and Aggadah. With regards to warfare, the scriptures are Aggadah. Deriving from them specific do’s and do not’s is difficult, and aligning them with the particular complexities of modern situations is nearly impossible. In warfare, changing a single variable changes the game. Changing thousands of variables, as we must do to get from there to here, puts us in a whole different solar system.

    The one thing that does remain constant – and this, I believe, is the intended message of our scriptural stories – is our ability to harden or soften our hearts. Again, softened hearts don’t align directly with particular choices (as we often seem to think it must), it means that we approach situations with selflessness and love at the forefront of our minds as we make decisions that will be of the most benefit to God’s children. The Lord isn’t asking us to take this or that position with regards to foreign policy, he’s asking us to soften our hearts and then make our best judgments. Because we all see things differently and have varying amounts of information, our individual judgments with regards to a given situation will be different, but I don’t think it’s those judgments that the Lord is really concerned about – it’s our hearts.

  26. James Olsen on July 17, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Marjorie (#1) – You’ve listed some great references. I would add Elder Nelson’s GC talk “Blessed are the Peacemakers”—one of my favorites. I certainly agree that there is a huge disparity between significant parts of Mormon scripture and many of the military activities of the U.S. government in the past several decades. I also agree with your notion of MMM as an extremely difficult lesson for us, one that we’re still learning.

    Bookslinger (#2) – There’s a real slipperiness in our terms (defensive war, violence-induced suffering, pacifism), and I think you’re right to challenge what is meant by defensive war. I’m obviously advocating, or confessing my serious-if-conflicted-leaning-toward, a rejection of both kinds of defensive war mentioned. I would add to your tale, however, Gidgidonni’s response to those seeking to continue the “defensive” war by carrying it into the territory of the enemy—oops! Dan below beat me to it.

    Marc (#3) – Pacifism certainly doesn’t require that one submit without seeking refuge. The Anti-Nephi-Lehis didn’t forego their form of pacifism when they moved to the land of Jershon. This get’s back to the slippery nature of the term: what exactly does pacifism entail, particularly in the face of the sorts of atrocities we’re describing? I acknowledge that I’ve been fantastically vague; largely because I’m wrestling more with my emotions than rigorously working through all of the ethical implications here.

    Thank you for bringing up your personal connection to the Lost Boys. I’ve heard some of them lecture and agree at with you—it’s hard not to have a stunned wonder and profound respect when we witness what some people go through and their positive responses. I highly recommend the book The Other Side of War: Women’s Stories of Survival and Hope.

    Adam (#4) – It’s interesting that within Mormonism there are certain acts of violence that are doctrinally condoned under theocratic circumstances (e.g., blood-atonement, polygamy). Perhaps war is one of them, or ought to be.

    Dan (#5) – Joseph Smith is an interesting example. He’s certainly one of those prophets who at times advocated the use of violence in defense. The very last public speech he gave before his martyrdom was given to the Nauvoo Legion and certainly contained fiery rhetoric. Bushman’s treatment of this in RSR is worth reading; he concludes that Joseph’s rhetoric was always much more fiery than his action; that in fact when it came to blows Joseph consistently submitted to his enemies and/or fled.

    Rick (#7&8) – great references.

    Kaimi (#11) – I’ve no problem being forthright on this one. The jingoists in my ward are never quiet or tactful, which makes it even more difficult to remain quiet. But I fully believe that we ought to make these sorts of discussions—war, violence, humanitarian disaster, and our responses—a much bigger part of our ward discussions. As your note, alludes, however, there’s a real difficulty. Not only is there often significant opposition to the views I’m espousing, but it can very easily descend into contentious debate. This is exacerbated when it’s the instructor that one is having to take issue with.

    Juan (#15) – Thank you for the challenge. And you’re right, these are great quotes from the talk. I was specifically referring to the following passage:

    as citizens we are all under the direction of our respective national leaders. They have access to greater political and military intelligence than do the people generally. Those in the armed services are under obligation to their respective governments to execute the will of the sovereign. When they joined the military service, they entered into a contract by which they are presently bound and to which they have dutifully responded.

    One of our Articles of Faith, which represent an expression of our doctrine, states, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (A of F 1:12). But modern revelation states that we are to “renounce war and proclaim peace” (D&C 98:16).

    In a democracy we can renounce war and proclaim peace. There is opportunity for dissent. Many have been speaking out and doing so emphatically. That is their privilege. That is their right, so long as they do so legally. However, we all must also be mindful of another overriding responsibility, which I may add, governs my personal feelings and dictates my personal loyalties in the present situation.

    When war raged between the Nephites and the Lamanites, the record states that “the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for … power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church. . . . It is clear from these and other writings that there are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat, and oppression. . . . I believe that God will not hold men and women in uniform responsible as agents of their government in carrying forward that which they are legally obligated to do. It may even be that He will hold us responsible if we try to impede or hedge up the way of those who are involved in a contest with forces of evil and repression.

    And I love Eugene England.

    Reeder (#17) – The current conflicts in which the U.S. is involved in the Middle East are very complicated. I’ll certainly grant that there are differences in the manner and motivation by which wars are conducted. I do, however, think it’s naïve to claim that it’s not about power; I’m not even sure how one would go about arguing that an armed conflict (of any type or scale) is not about power. I also think your claim about our “four strikes” before attacking is a bit naïve. The U.S. made assassination attempts more than once, and in general mobilized massive, at times violent reactions in the wake of each one of the conflicts you mentioned.

  27. Bob on July 17, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I really don’t know when someone becomes a pacifist.
    I believe in self-defense. But as has been pointed out, there are a lot of questions as to who is on the defense. Certainly most Germans in WWII felt they were “defending” their homeland against a bad WWI treaty.
    I read President Kimball’s address to say Mormons are a warlike people. Did I read it wrong? Should the Church to know as pacifist group, (like Quakers)?

  28. James Olsen on July 17, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Eric (#25) – it’s a great point to bring up the hardening and softening of hearts. I agree in some senses. God well knew the impossible ethical mess that this world would be, even if we didn’t. I do think that it’s our reactions that he cares most about, our character, or how we “become” as Pres. Eyring keeps reminding us. I certainly think, however, that this includes our judgments. I would flatly deny that there’s a hard and fast separation between the sorts of “rational” judgments we come to and our “character.”

    As to the complexities of situations and scriptural interpretation, I tried to acknowledge that explicitly in the text; I was even self-critical about the possibility of my “basking in the seeming warmth of pacifist sentimentality” as you put it. I’m not sure what more you were hoping for. In the end (and in the beginning) I very candidly acknowledged that it was not about scriptural conviction or rigorously reasoned ethics, but about my own, conflicted but passionate response to violent atrocity. I do believe that it can’t end here, however, that along with the positive obligations I alluded to, I also must continue to struggle to reflectively work through these issues.

  29. James Olsen on July 17, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Bob – Good question. I would certainly prefer Mormons be known as Quaker-style pacifists instead of the trigger-happy “patriots” that we (and our massive civilian gun collections) often proclaim ourselves as.

  30. Juan Non Hancock on July 17, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    @29: James, you know better than to set up silly straw man caricatures — trigger happy, gun totin patriots? Gun ownership and pacificism are not mutually exclusive, nor are patriotism and pacifism.

  31. James Olsen on July 17, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Ha! Thanks for taking me to task there Juan. I certainly didn’t mean to say that Mormon’s are that caricature. But we certainly present ourselves that way. I was talking about public image, which usually is a caricature. If we were going to have one or the other, I’d certainly prefer the former. In fact, even if we have a host of caricature public images to choose from, I think this would be a worthy one.

  32. Jim Donaldson on July 17, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    I’ve noticed that I’ve fallen off the deep end into pacifism—what was once a practical measured view now is, at age 56, absolutist. I cheerfully admit it. What did it was teaching the New Testament to seminary kids. What a subversive book that is! I note that most here are plying the ambiguities of the Book of Mormon—in the NT, they are much harder to find. Jesus is pretty near an absolutist, whatever his behavior may be described in the Old Testament. I guess he can take the position that there are much worse things than dying, while we are stuck with letting everybody live, just like he can forgive whom he will, but we are stuck with forgiving everybody.

    These things don’t come up much in our ward anymore because everybody knows I’m out there joyfully lurking in the weeds with absolute pacifism. So we leave the politics to the car ride home, as it should be.

  33. Matt A. on July 17, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    Your post has really struck a chord with me, James. It was deeply moving to read. Thank you for writing it and linking the articles you did.

    Like you, I struggle with the knowledge that I live in relative luxury while hundreds of millions of people suffer terribly. I often wonder if some of my good will towards others is simply a result of a full belly and a warm house. What would I be like if I experienced the full brunt of man’s inhumanity to man? How much more difficult would it be to remain a disciple of Christ, and to embrace the principle of forgiveness?

  34. sscenter on July 17, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    My personal difficulty with pacifism is that it really has to be all or nothing. If the idea is that God is protecting us and we will rely on him than we have to do as the Anti-Nephite-Lehites did and kneel before our enemies. Not once, but over and over until the Lord chooses to rescue us. I love the ideal but don’t know if I could ever live up to that.

  35. Rob on July 17, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Thanks for the post James, and glad for the responses you are getting so far–more sympathetic than many of the responses I got to similar ideas I expressed on here five years ago :-)

  36. Raymond Takashi Swenson on July 17, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    I was wondering, does the kind of pacifism we are talking about here extend to criminal predators in our cities? Do we not seek them out, restrain them, try and punish them? Do we, in the name of not doing harm, allow them to harm not just us, but also our spouses, our parents, our sons and daughters?

    The armed forces is more than willing for people to identify themselves as “conscientious objectors”, even after they have enlisted in the military. Unfortunately, there are all too many mercenary people who claim to have converted to pacifism after the military has paid for their graduate education. I once reviewed the case of a nuclear missile launch officer who claimed to have been told by an angel that he should get out of the Air Force (before completing his 4 year comitment of service) and go to work for his father-in-law’s car dealership. I wonder how pacifist he would be if someone were stealing one of his cars?

    If you are a sincere pacifist, that is fine. What troubles me is when pacifists seek to stop the rest of us from acting to protect ourselves against criminals (domesticallY) and aggressors (internationally). If you are opposed to violence, why doesn’t that opposition extend most of all to those who actively pursue violence, as opposed to those, like police and the US military, who only act out of necessity? As Germany and Japan know, and the Duchy of Grand Fenwick explained (see “The Mouse that Roared”), one of the best things that can happen to a country is to lose a war to the United States. If you are concerned about the violence perpetrated “in your name” by the armed forces, why aren’t you concerned about the direct causal link between your behavior and the violent acts of criminals, terrorists and tyrannical nations who are enabled to act unopposed?

    Let me posit a real world hypothetical: A terrorist gang hijacks a 767, planning to ram it into the Conference Center during General Conference. You are an Air National Guard pilot flying your armed F-16 alongside the hijacked plane. You have a choice between shooting down the plane over the Salt Flats, and killing 100 innocent passengers along with the terrorists, or allowing it to complete its mission, potentially killing 10,000 Mormons. Does the Pacifist ethic tell us that violence is OK, as long as we are not active participants? That the world is better off, and God and everyone else is happier, if we allow 10,000 innocents to be killed rather than take an active hand to kill only 100 innocents?

    My guess is that if a dedicated Amish guy was making the choice, he would be incapable of active violence no matter what the cost to others. That is why I don’t rely on him to protect me from the bad guys. Maybe Mahatma Ghandi would have chosen the same response. But imagine if instead of Winston Churchill, Ghandi had been in charge of Britain during World War II. Who can doubt that Nazi Germany would have controlled western Europe for a long time? The notion that God would intervene to protect those who did not defend themselves is belied by the Holocaust. Few of the Jews actively fought back against the Nazi’s and their surrogates. They cooperated without active violence. Yet those who survived the Holocaust did so because Allied forces occupied the death camps before everyone was gone. In light of all our other imperfections, I sincerely doubt that most people are entitled to have God literally fight their enemies for them, even if we decline to defend ourselves. Let us not justify pacifism by saying there are no negative consequences. An honest pacifist–like the Amish–admit that they and their families could die because they are unwilling to act violently in defense.

    When the repentant Lamanites laid down their weapons and refused to fight in defense of their families, they were slaughtered. Only the weariness of their attacking brothers was enough to stop it. If they had been more heartless, like many modern terrorists, the wives and children would also have died. When the 2000 stripling warriors said “We do not doubt our mothers knew it,” they were recalling that vivid memory of their mothers putting their and their families’ lives on the line in order to keep a covenant, not to risk returning to murder as a way of life.

    You are welcome to be a pacifist, but don’t claim that you have a higher regard for human life than those of us who served in defense of our families and nighbors. You are welcome to be a pacifist, but don’t claim that you are free from responsibility for the violent acts committed by those you could have stopped, but refused to.

    The luxury of bing a pacifict is most available to those who are defended by police and soldiers, such that they are never personally faced with the awful choice of allowing their families to die for their principles.

  37. Dan on July 17, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    sscenter,

    Who says pacifism has to be all or nothing?

  38. Dan on July 17, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Raymond,

    I was wondering, does the kind of pacifism we are talking about here extend to criminal predators in our cities? Do we not seek them out, restrain them, try and punish them? Do we, in the name of not doing harm, allow them to harm not just us, but also our spouses, our parents, our sons and daughters?

    I don’t know where you get this perverted conception of pacifism. Pacifism means you don’t use violence on someone else. But pacifism believes in the rule of law. Criminals need to be brought to justice through the law. So I don’t know what straw man you’ve got here, but it’s not real.

    And as usual, you go for a completely unrealistic hypothetical. In your unrealistic hypothetical, a pacifist is flying an Air Force fighter jet. Are you kidding me? A pacifist is flying a fighter jet? The pacifist made the decision you are asking about when he decided not to become a fighter pilot for the air force. He won’t be faced with the decision of whether or not to kill 100 innocent civilians in order to save 10,000 innocent civilians.

    The pacifist will be on the ground doing his best to get everyone out of the building before the 767 crashes into it. He will leave the decision to blow up the plane to someone else. In the meantime, the pacifist will do what he can on the ground to save innocent lives without having to kill anyone.

    Again, I don’t know where you get the idea, or the notion, that pacifism means anti-Lehi-Nephi. That’s an extreme example, an aberration. Pacifists believe in defending themselves and protecting life, but just not with violence.

    Maybe Mahatma Ghandi would have chosen the same response. But imagine if instead of Winston Churchill, Ghandi had been in charge of Britain during World War II. Who can doubt that Nazi Germany would have controlled western Europe for a long time?

    Wow, what insults you hurl at Gandhi. You don’t know at all what Gandhi would have done in World War II. What Gandhi did, however, during World War II took some real guts. He told the British that he would not allow India to participate on the side of the British during World War II unless the British “Quit India.” Interestingly, immediately after the conclusion of the European war, India was let go by Britain.

    By the way, what is it about World War II that has so many conservatives stuck? Why are so many conservatives stuck in 1939? It’s like you can’t see the world around you except through that year. Seriously dude. There’s more to the world than 1939.

  39. James Olsen on July 18, 2009 at 12:10 am

    Jim (#32) – I absolutely agree, Christ is about as straightforward as he can be. Hence my comment:

    And while I’m willing to concede the legitimate possibility of others genuinely seeing these stories differently, I think there’s much less wiggle room when it comes to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

    Nevertheless, scripture doesn’t interpret itself, and I think there are still complexities in making the case.

    Sscenter (#34) – Hmmm…I’m not sure. We’ve mentioned a few times now, that the ANL’s didn’t have to simply kneel down and die in order to remain pacifists—they eventually fled to Jershon. This is partly my fault because, as I’ve noted, I’m being very vague here about what all pacifism entails. We can easily come up with gradually intensifying thought experiments to explore at what point we’ve crossed over from non-violent resistance (locking the door, shoving the offender out the door, throwing something at the defender to deflect their attack, attempting to physically bind the offender…etc.). I’ve also been vague about what counts as violence. I think that once one has settled on pacifism, there’s a fantastic amount to work out still.

    Raymond (#36) – Wow, appears I struck a cord there. Your response manifests a great deal of baggage that you’re bringing to my post; you’re clearly responding to a great deal more than what I wrote, without distinguishing the two. That’s alright; let me say a few things:
    1. It’s absolutely true that a pacifist has to take stalk of the fact that, as society exists now, many in society are going to experience them as a significant physical and moral burden (which is how you appear to perceive them). It seems that this was the element that was hardest for the ANL’s (much harder than allowing themselves to be slaughtered).
    2. I’m unfamiliar with the “pacifist” exploitation in the military you talk of—I’ll take your word on it. Exploitation and free-riding are among the biggest obstacles to any politically liberal society, especially when, like in ours, there isn’t a serious participation demanded on the populace. As just mentioned, lot’s of people are going to see pacifism of any kind as just that—exploitation and free-riding. I tried to be honest about my own worries that it’s a reflective luxury of mine.
    3. On your hypothetical: First, I don’t think it’s real world. The chances of myself or anyone I know, or even any of air force pilots currently flying patrols around our country being in a situation like that is infinitesimal. But I’ll certainly admit (and happily defend) the fact that I’m absolutely not a consequentialist, which is what your hypothetical plays on. In fact, I find consequentialism (and especially it’s most common form utilitarianism) to be utterly repugnant—but of course I don’t tell my students that when I teach on it ?. I’m not saying that, if I took your hypothetical seriously it wouldn’t be a very difficult moral scenario. I’m just saying that your consequentialist case doesn’t appeal to or even begin to persuade me.
    4. Yes, any of us who want to be or proclaim pacifism have to be absolutely willing to allow ourselves, or even worse, those we love to be violently killed/maimed/violated when it might be otherwise if we were willing to take violent action to stop it. My entire intro was about the fact that in reflection, this is precisely what I want to claim for myself, but I’m not at all delusionally confident concerning how I would react were my pacifism put to the test in one of the grim scenarios we might consider. However, I’m certainly not convinced that how I would act in the heat of the morbid-moment would be very persuasive evidence for how I ought to act.
    5. Your comments definitely seem to connote that you feel violent resistance to be the most effective form of resistance to “bad guys.” If this were true, it is part of what would make a pacifist a burden (and I’m sure it’s taken to be true be persons who feel this way—perhaps yourself included). My post lends itself to this since I didn’t argue the point or do anything more than allude to positive obligations that I feel as well. I’m still not going to go into it (my response to you is imprudently long enough as it is), but let me say that I would certainly deny the claim that violent resistance is the most effective form of resistance. Particularly since it isn’t survival or an absence of pain that is my highest moral aspiration (as noted, I’m not a utilitarian).

  40. Peter LLC on July 18, 2009 at 3:47 am

    As Germany and Japan know … one of the best things that can happen to a country is to lose a war to the United States.

    Right, that must be what those monuments in Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki are commemorating–welcome relief at defeat served cold.

    Let me assure you that any policy decisions to dole out aid to the Germans and Japanese was done in perceived self interest and not altruism. They weren’t allowed to prosper for prosperity’s sake, but because prosperity happened to serve calculated US interests in the post-war order.

    Even the Berlin airlift was implemented as a last resort stalling measure to delay the onset of war with the Soviet Union, not a warm and fuzzy feel-good campaign to help the needy. As a matter of fact, it was a controversial move for many reasons, and one of them was that a lot of Americans didn’t like the idea of helping “Nazis.” Sure, Gail Halvorsen put a human face on the airlift, but even he was afraid of being prosecuted for unauthorized fraternity with the enemy in the beginning.

    You are welcome to be a pacifist, but don’t claim that you have a higher regard for human life than those of us who served in defense of our families and nighbors…. The luxury of bing a pacifict is most available to those who are defended by police and soldiers…

    This sounds good, but glosses over the fact that the police and military are merely instruments the state uses to defend and exercise its (near) monopoly on violence.

    So what is it about volunteering to function as an extension of the state, accepting payment for services rendered (I believe “mercenary” is the term you used) and ceding personal responsibility for your actions to the commander in chief that qualifies someone for lifelong holier-than-thou status?

    Sure, soldiers play a vital role in the modern state, but so do babysitters, yeoman farmers and truck drivers. I would turn around your claim and suggest that the luxury of being a proponent of violence is most available to those who are supported by kindergarten teachers and autoworkers.

  41. Eric Russell on July 18, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    “the most motivating force has been my gradually becoming conscious of how truly horrific this life experience has been for so many of God’s children”

    It’s a bit ironic, James, but it just happens that this is, in fact, the exact thing that seals the deal for me against pacifism. Someone has to put a stop to it all, and sometimes there’s no other way.

  42. James Olsen on July 18, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Eric (#41) – Yes, this is indeed ironic. It’s amazing at how what appear to be the very same facts can lead people to opposite conclusions. Joseph Smith as a fallible human has led people out of the church and strengthened people within it. A famous historical example of this sort of thing (my personal favorite) is Dostoevsky’s conversion to (or gaining a testimony of) Christ when he viewed a painting of Christ’s burial–he claims it was how utterly and non-negotiably dead Christ was in the painting, the nihilism that it portrayed, that convinced him.

    One thing I confess I don’t understand is how “putting a stop to it all” is possible through a continuation of what one is trying to put a stop to. It’s not that I don’t understand what you’re saying, but I don’t understand this as a plausible strategy and I’m not aware of a conscionable example in history of this taking place.

  43. Eric Russell on July 18, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    James, from the madman who very nearly eliminated the entire Jewish people to the madman on a shooting spree in a shopping mall, the world is filled with madmen who seek evil and destruction. Physically stopping these men in their intended course has never been unconscionable, while a failure to do so would indeed be.

  44. James Olsen on July 18, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Eric, you’re making the same the same assumptions that Raymond made above: that violent resistance is always the most effective (and probably the only means of) resistance. I clearly disagree. I’m not aware of any form of pacifism that suggests non-resistance. And I absolutely disagree with you that “stopping these men…has never been unconscionable” (Quinton Tarantino’s upcoming movie, which I don’t plan to see and am not endorsing, appears to be taking some of these themes on directly, using your example–albeit in typical, exaggerated Tarantino fashion). The way we generally go about making a given historical example of violent resistance conscionable is by prescinding away most of the details of the event, and isolating it from all of the pre- and post-event history.

  45. Eric Russell on July 18, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    I’m not at all assuming that violence is the always the most effective form of resistance, rather I’m simply countering the notion that violence is never the most effective form of resistance.

    The Tarantino example is a strawman. Just because one endorses the violent overthrow of Hitler’s regime does not mean he endorses every single action taken by every single soldier throughout the war.

  46. Dan on July 18, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Eric,

    I’m simply countering the notion that violence is never the most effective form of resistance.

    But it really is never the most effective form of resistance. Violence is usually the resistance of last resort. Violence has usually been categorized as the failure of diplomacy, as the failure of all other methods. To claim it is on occasion the “most effective” form of resistance is just inaccurate. When someone resorts to the use of violence it is because that person, group, nation came to the conclusion that all other means failed. It is never the most effective form.

  47. Eric Russell on July 18, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Whatever you say, Dan.

  48. Bob on July 18, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    I think Atticus Finch Is my kind of pacifist.
    But even he had to bring his rifle out to shot the mad dog. But he took no pleasure in his action.

  49. Wesley Warren on July 19, 2009 at 1:05 am

    re: Dan #46
    Violence is, in fact, the most effective form when all other forms of diplomacy fail. And not because the diplomatic, defensive party was in error in how they tried to pacify the volatile situation, but because some violent offenders do not and will never respond to diplomacy.

    (If a drugged-up low-life breaks into my home, and I pull out my CZ gloc and explain to him that he can either have a seat and stay seated while I call the police and have him taken away, or he can continue his advancement into my home as a sign of intent to do harm to my family, that is all the diplomacy needed before I resort to violence is he chooses the later option.)

    When all diplomatic options have been exhausted, is the morally correct thing simply saying, “Well, we tried – continue in your violent disregard for law and human life. Nothing else is to be done.”
    Don’t get me wrong – I disagree with very little that James has had to say. I’m a very, very strict “self-defense” kind of guy. I’ve even changed some of my opinions on the matter because of the thoughts and discussions on this board (and because of James’s incredible post). But to claim that “violence is never the most effective form” can in no way – in this fallen existence full of “natural men” – be a correct statement. Ever.

  50. Dan on July 19, 2009 at 4:51 am

    Wesley,

    I’m not a pacifist. I believe there are times for the use of violence. I only took exception with Eric’s belief that it is not true that violence is never the most effective form of resistance. My issue is with “most effective.” I honestly believe it is NEVER the most effective form, even when it is the last resort. It is still not the most effective form, because violence tends to beget more violence, causing more problems for society to have to deal with.

  51. TV Free on July 19, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    I was talking with my atheist neighbor the other day about this topic. When I mentioned that I am a pacifist, he commented something to the effect of, “How can you believe in the Bible, yet be a pacifist?” Although for the most part Christ taught peaceful principles, He also taught that “I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34). Along with the multiple examples of Jehovah-sanctioned violence in the Old Testament (over something as temporal as land ownership), I had a hard time rebutting my neighbor’s comments.

  52. J. Madson on July 20, 2009 at 4:41 am

    James,

    just came across your post since I dont read Times and Seasons much these days. Great post and very thoughtful. You wouldn’t happen to be the James Olsen from Highland would you? If so, its good to see you sharing some of your insights in the bloggernacle.

    As to your post, I myself decided a few years ago that I had to renounce violence as part of my understanding of the gospel. While I understand the difficulty many having in embracing pacifism, I see no other way out of the mess we are in individually and collectively.

    TV Free #51,
    Matt 10:34 is not an endorsement of violence but an observation that his message and teachings would divide people even families leading to potential violence. It is a pretty weak example to prove Jesus endorses violence given the sheer weight of his life’s example, teachings, and ultimate manifestation of those non-violence teachings in his death

  53. Dan on July 20, 2009 at 6:29 am

    TV Free,

    It’s not that hard to rebut your neighbor’s comments. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to do good to them that wish to hurt us. The Sword must be taken in light of what Paul taught, when we wield the sword of righteousness, not the sword of bloodshed. We put on the armor of God, not the armor of Man. Jesus most certainly did not intend for us to become a religion that forces others into it through the use of a sword. It is sad that this was the way Christianity flourished under corrupted leaders (Constantine), which made them no different than early Islam. It is corrupted thinking for anyone who thinks Jesus taught that the use of the sword was righteousness.

  54. James Olsen on July 20, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    TV Free (#51) – I think your experience with your neighbor highlights the need for to follow Peter’s injunction and “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” Most of the principles of the NT require some sort of reconciliation with those of the OT. Much of Christianity has either ignored the OT as anything more than moral allegory or taken a Pauline approach and relegated it to the place of a very tough schoolmaster, preparing the world for truths that entirely transcend it. We can’t do that since, as Bushman very insightfully notes (in Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction, pg 62-63), Joseph Smith took Christianity and returned it to its Hebraic roots. Above, I alluded to one way we can reconcile the pacifist prophets with the non-pacifists. I think both Dan and J. Madsen have also given you a much more plausible interpretation to Matt 10:34 than your comments seem to give.

    J. Madsen (#52) – My parents live in Highland–I assume you’re the pacifist J. Madsen in their ward who is always giving them such good food for thought! If the blogging format were different, or if I knew how to cite you (or maybe if I just had more integrity), I would have somehow referenced you in my thoughts about the Strippling Warriors. I had never made the connection with Nephi’s unsuccessful preaching in the lands of the north until hearing your Sunday School comment.

  55. J. Madson on July 20, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    And I’d have to give credit to rob who commented earlier for that insight.

    And yes I’m the same one in your parents ward.