Wednesday, November 25, 2009
What Is The Age Of Accountability For A Latter-Day Saint Serviceman?
All those in favor of clarification, please make manifest; all those opposed, by the same sign.
I seem to have engendered some controversy in my entry here of November 12th regarding what I meant when I warned potential military recruits that God would hold them accountable for every last person they killed, regardless of whether they were wearing a government issued uniform at the time or not.
A handful of readers accused me of judging all soldiers to be murderers and condemning them all to hell.
Which I did not do. They might want to read that piece again. And it's companion piece.
It may also be helpful to review what I meant by my use of the word “Accountable”. But first let me remind those readers that my words were given as a warning to any young person today who might have been contemplating signing up with a branch of the military in hopes of jumping into the fray over in Afghanistan or Iraq. My warning was that the military as presently constituted could not be trusted to respect the moral imperatives of Christ or of His followers.
The qualifier was "as presently constituted”. Surely anyone with eyes to see or ears to hear is aware that for at least the past six years our government has made a serious departure from its founding principles. Leaders of both major parties have shifted their focus from a Constitutional Republic to a global empire. I don’t see how any young follower of Christ would want to consciously participate in that palpable derailment.
So I maintain my position that anyone foolish enough to ignore reality when the truth of the fraud perpetrated on his country is so readily available will most likely find himself without excuse at the bar of judgment.
Nevertheless, there are certainly those prior to this time who, whether through misguided patriotic fervor or merely a desire to obtain a free college education, have found themselves at the butt end of a rifle and forced to kill someone he was taught was his mortal enemy.
Is not such a person still accountable? That is, is he never to be required to face up to his actions and “account” for whether what he did was right or wrong, avoidable or not avoidable, accidental or deliberate?
I would suggest that even an American engaged in our long ago secession from England, a war that was unquestionably justified as defensive, would still be held to account for his actions, if only to himself. Because to “account” for one’s actions means to be answerable for them. Accountability means facing up to yourself. It does not necessarily imply guilt. It means to explain, to justify, to take stock of the thing from every angle.
All of us will have the opportunity -and I do mean opportunity- to face up to the things we did here on earth. Were our actions defensible? Were they avoidable? Did we have a choice? Could we have known better? Did we have the opportunity to educate ourselves into knowing better?
We Latter-day Saints declare an eight year old child capable of knowing right from wrong, but many in the church would hold our soldiers somehow excused from introspection.
The Mechanics of Accountability
I don’t claim to understand precisely the process God uses in bringing us to account, or if he even involves himself in it. It would appear from many of the accounts I've read of near death experiences that perhaps God leaves this confrontation to the individuals involved.
Some who have experienced death and returned report coming face to face with the very people they had killed in war on earth, and being forced to account for the harm they had done, whether justly or unjustly.
Invariably they recall it to be a remarkably cathartic experience which afforded an opportunity for reconciliation in an atmosphere of perfect love.
As a teenager I read a science fiction novella by Damon Knight entitled Rule Golden wherein suddenly everyone on earth at the same time immediately experienced the consequences of their actions. If you punched someone hard in the face, you would instantly feel as if someone had punched you hard in the face. If you stabbed someone in the stomach, you yourself would double up in excruciating pain and even possibly bleed to death on the spot. That story illustrated immediate accountability, which of course rarely occurs during our lifetime.
I’ve seen countless videos on YouTube featuring veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq who have faced accountability already in this life. They acknowledge they had been duped and had caused needless harm to people they later learned were no threat to America.
It seems to me that facing accountability like that during this lifetime may be the better way to go. Although painful to endure in the short term, one can get through the anguish and then move on, finding peace and knowing the joy God wants us to experience while here.
I have followed these links for hours at a time and been brought to tears by the stories of these good men. But it is the beginning of a future life of joy for them, so their accountability is certainly worth it. You can see some of these confessions and admissions by clicking here, here, here, and here.
And Please. Don't embarrass yourself by writing in insisting that God honors the modern soldier until you've watched at least some of these honorable testimonies. There are thousands of them out there, and they are heartbreaking.
Although we don’t know the particulars, my personal feeling is that accountability is reached by not only confronting one’s self, but also by confronting those we have sinned against.
By way of illustration, I’ve spun a little tale about a soldier brought to the reality of his actions. It’s a bit derivative of Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet In Heaven, but it expresses my feelings and presents our theology in a way that I might have failed to convey previously. Here it is:
The time is some sixty years in the future.
After a long and happy life, an old man, a former sergeant in the marine corps, finally died and went to heaven.
To his surprise and delight, he found his body completely restored to the way it had been when he was in his twenties, fit and strong. And he was wearing, of all things, his dress blue uniform, the one from his days in the corps. It was sharply creased and starched with a perfection he had never seen before. He had never before given those shoes a spit-shine that glistened the way they did now. As he looked down at the hard-earned bars and medals pinned to his chest, he felt again that glow he once knew when he proudly wore that uniform those many years ago.
To the soldier’s further surprise, he wasn’t immediately met by the Lord or even greeted by any long lost relatives as he had expected.
In fact, the first person he came across was a girl with straight black hair and pure brown eyes sitting alone in a large, palatial room. She was on the floor on what looked to be a large round pillow or cushion of some kind. It appeared to the soldier that she sat with her legs tucked under her, as they weren’t visible beneath the long white robe that settled around her and draped over the sides of the cushion.
When the soldier came near, the girl smiled a friendly greeting. The soldier sensed there was something familiar about her, and suddenly it came to him.
“Hey, I know you! I remember you from the pre-existence!”
“That’s right,” she replied., “You and I were friends back then. We fought together during the war in heaven.”
“Yeah, now I remember! How’s it going?”
The girl smiled, just a little. “Did you have a nice life?” she asked.
“Amazing life. 87 years! Wonderful wife, five kids, so many grandkids and great-grandkids I couldn’t remember who belonged to who. Take it all around, I’d have to say it was a great time.”
He looked at the girl, this old friend of his. “How about you?”
“Me?” She shook her head. “I never married. I do kind of wish I could have known what it was like, though, waking up in the morning next to a loving husband, stuff like that. I don’t mind admitting I would have liked to have known what it felt like to make love. Wish I knew what it was like to have a baby, too.” She shrugged. “But I missed all that”.
“Gee, that’s too bad. What happened?”
“You died? How?”
“You were in Iraq? I was in Iraq! When were you deployed?”
“I wasn’t deployed. I lived there with my family. They all died too.”
“Oh, I get it, you were an Iraqi! I helped liberate you guys!”
“She smiled sweetly. “Can’t tell you how much we appreciated that.”
“No sweat. Just glad I could be a part of the mission. So, how old are you, anyway?”
“I was fifteen when I died.”
“Gee, that’s tough. Anything I can do?”
“Well, you could apologize.”
“Apologize? For what?”
“You killed me.”
She said it so simply and in such a matter-of-fact way that it took him aback.
“Get outta here! I never killed any girl! I can promise you I’d remember that.”
“Well, you did. You killed my whole family. You and your friends opened fire on our car.”
“I would remember that,” he shook his head. “Wait a minute, were you in that car at the checkpoint in Baghdad that tried to plow past us?”
“We weren’t trying to plow past you,” she explained quietly. “It was noisy and chaotic at that checkpoint. My father couldn’t understand what you people wanted. He got flustered and thought he was putting his foot on the brake when he accidentally hit the accelerator instead. The car lurched forward for an instant. Just an instant, but that was all it took. You guys panicked and tore the car apart with your automatic gunfire”.
“Yeah, I remember. A guy, his wife, and a couple of kids in the backseat. A real mess. I felt terrible about that.”
“Well anyway, it was an accident. Those things happen in war. Your family was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“My family was in the right place. Baghdad was where we lived. We drove down that street all the time before you came and put your roadblocks up. You were the ones who didn’t belong there. You were the one in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
She spoke calmly, without any anger in her voice. Still, something about her words made the soldier feel uneasy.
“Geez, back off a little, will ya? Sometimes stuff like that can’t be helped. It’s called collateral damage.”
“I never heard God saying he justifies collateral damage.”
“Look, I’m sorry you got in the way, okay?”
The girl smiled politely and changed the subject. “I see they let you bring your medals. What’s that, a Purple Heart?”
“Yeah, weird, huh? I guess some things you can take with you.”
“A Purple Heart. That’s what they give soldiers when they’ve been injured in the line of duty, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I lost a foot when an I.E.D. went off while I was on patrol.”
“I feel for you. That was a long life you lived with only one foot.”
“Well, I got by. They gave me a Prosthetic.”
“I lost both my legs in that accident you caused”, the girl said simply. "You and your friends just kept shooting through the car door until my legs were sheared off at the hips”
“I said I was sorry.”
“You said you were sorry I got in the way”, she reminded him gently, “I see you have your missing foot back now, though.”
“Yeah. I feel great!” He was hoping to change the subject. “Everything’s completely restored and back the way it was. Like they say, ‘every hair of the head’, and all that.”
The girl reached down and pulled her gown up part way, to show him her own resurrected legs, he thought. But he was surprised. Where her legs should have been there was... well, there was nothing.
“I still haven’t got my own legs back,” she said a bit wistfully, “I’ll get them eventually, but I had to wait until you got here first.”
“What are you talking about? That makes no sense. Why would you have to wait for me?”
“Because you deserve the chance to account for your actions during the war. I’m here to assist you so that you can be at peace.”
The soldier was beginning to feel annoyed. “I am at peace!” he insisted, almost angrily. “Whatever it was that happened to you, also happened to a lot of other people. That’s just war. It shouldn’t matter now. What about the atonement? The blood of Christ? What about forgiveness?”
“Relax, you’re going to be fine. God forgave you decades ago. The atonement of Christ has complete application. And you’re right, what happened to me happened to a lot of people. My death was not unique."
“So what are you pushing my buttons for?”
“Because in addition to the forgiveness you automatically receive through Christ, you deserve the chance to obtain forgiveness from me personally.”
“Really.” He shifted his weight awkwardly. “Okay, fine. What do I need to do?”
“Well, during your time on earth you didn’t fully accept responsibility for your part in the war. I’m here to help you claim accountability.”
“What are you talking about? I hated that war! I got out of the marine corps just as soon as I could. And I hated being in Iraq; that place was a garbage dump and a hell hole.”
“That ‘hell hole’ was my home. And it wasn’t a garbage dump until your people bombed our water and sewage systems and turned it into one.”
“Geez, why do you keep going on about something I can’t do anything about? That was a lifetime ago.”
“Not for me.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I want you to understand. You’ve read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, haven’t you?”
“I’ve seen the movies.”
“Those ghosts didn’t appear to Scrooge just to torment him, they were there to teach him. Do you believe in eternal progression?”
“So tell me, how do we progress?”
“Through learning, right?”
“Then let me help you learn about consequences. Do you want to see my purple heart?”
The girl pulled down the center of her robe a little, exposing a huge hole in the middle of her chest. The soldier could see right through her body and out her back. The sight of it caught him up short.
“There’s no heart there!”
“That’s right. You shot my heart clean out of me. I still don’t know where it went, but wherever it is, I’m sure it’s purple like yours,” she smiled.
“I don’t know why you’re doing this.”
“Then pay attention, please. You deserve to face something that you avoided facing during your life on earth. This hole in my chest was put there by you. You did this to me. It was caused by a fifty caliber bullet that you fired from your gun from atop your armored vehicle.”
Her words were making him uncomfortable, but she didn’t appear to be angry at all. There was absolutely no malice in her words; she was simply and calmly relating the truth. “Because of something you did to me, I experienced none of the sweetness of a full life as you did.”
She may not have been angry, but she was getting him upset. “I don’t have to take this from you!” he found himself shouting, “Where’s Jesus? Where’s Jesus Christ? I should have been met here by my Lord and Savior!”
“You will meet him shortly, and it will be the most sweet embrace. He loves you more than you have ever loved yourself.”
“Then what’s the hold up?” He tried to calm himself down.
“You first get to admit what you were afraid to admit to during your entire time on earth -something many people told you that you didn’t have to worry about. You get to acknowledge that right or wrong, you took innocent people off the earth before their time. No matter how it was rationalized - your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault- your actions resulted in the taking of human life. That is the truth, and it can’t be forgotten, dismissed, or wished away.”
“What are you getting at, that I did it on purpose? I didn’t start that stinking war. I was only in Iraq because it was my duty.”
“Yes, duty. I made sacrifices. I was a soldier in the service of my country.
“Sacrifice," she mused, “Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that you forced me to make a sacrifice? But never mind that. Tell me, did they pay you to be a Marine?”
“Then what did you sacrifice?”
“My time. Six years of my life.”
“But you got paid for all that time, didn’t you?”
“I said I did.”
“And you also got paid for your service? And you had a lifetime of benefits, didn't you?”
“Why are you even asking me this?”
“So essentially you had a job.”
“It’s not that simple. The job I had was dangerous.”
“It certainly was dangerous to me”.
“What I did was not just any stupid little job! I wore the uniform of a United States Marine!”
“So you had a job and you got to wear a costume. Good for you.”
“Gee whiz, are you ever going to let up?”
“Just trying to help you see reality. This is heaven. We don’t deal in illusion here. I’ll tell you what you were. You were an unwitting pawn of a governmental entity that had lost sight of its true mission.”
“Then why blame me? Doesn’t the fault lie with those who sent me to war?”
“They are being held to answer, don’t worry about that. Believe me, you wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. Now, do you remember the Marine Corps Code of Conduct?”
“I know it by heart.”
“Then recite article six for me, please.”
“Easy. ‘I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.’”
“ ‘Responsible for my actions,’” the girl repeated, “Do you really feel that you were responsible for your actions?”
“To the extent I could be, yes. I had no choice about where I was ordered to fight.”
“But you didn’t object to the fighting. You swore dedication to the principles which made your country free, did you not?”
“That’s what it says.”
“Where would you say those principles are embodied?”
“In the Constitution, I suppose.”
“And in fact, didn’t you also swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution? Did you not take that oath seriously?”
“I took it very seriously.”
“What does the Constitution say about war?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Not sure? Why not?”
“Look, I didn’t memorize the Constitution, okay?”
“Have you ever even read it?”
“I might have once or twice.”
“Remember, you’re in heaven now. No fudging.”
“Okay, so I never read the entire Constitution.”
“Did you ever read any of it?”
“So I never read any of it. So sue me.”
“I don’t wish to sue you, but I would like to understand how you can defend a document when you don’t even know what’s in it.”
“I’m sure the president read it and knew what he was doing when he ordered America into war.”
“Well that’s just it. Under your Constitution, the president does not have authority to order America into war. He can only direct the war after the people have made known to congress their desire for war, and the congress has officially declared war. The decision is not the president’s to make.
“ Well, none of that really matters. The reality is, somebody else sent me to Iraq and I had to go to war whether I agreed with it or not.”
“That’s why I’ve met you here today. Throughout your long life you never held yourself accountable for being where you were that day.”
“The day you took my life.”
“I had no say in the matter!”
“Did you not swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic?”
“Do you agree that the founders of your country placed that limitation on the president because they didn’t want any one person in government acting like a king, deciding to send the nation to war at whim?”
“I guess so.”
“And wouldn’t you say that when the president defies the Constitution and behaves like a king, that he has become a domestic enemy?”
“That’s putting it pretty harshly.”
Well, let me put it this way: did you not have an obligation, under your oath of office and under the Marine Corps Code, to defend the Constitution from usurpation?”
“I guess you could look at it that way.”
“Then why didn’t you?”
“Because I didn’t know that was in the Constitution.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I told you, I hadn’t read it.”
“Then why did you swear to defend it?”
“Alright! I should have read it, and I should have objected to unconstitutional orders. Is that what you want me to say?”
“See? Now you’re beginning to take accountability.”
“Good. Are we done here?”
“Not quite. You’ve admitted you were lax in your duty to your country, now let’s see how accountable you were to God. You were, what on earth they called a “Mormon,” am I right?”
“A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”
“All my life”
“The true church.”
“‘The only true church on the face of the earth.’”
“And what makes that church unique is its claim to latter-day revelation, am I right?”
“Yes it does. I can bear you my testimony right now if you want.”
“I have no doubt as to your sincerity. What I want to know is why, during your time on earth, did you take so lightly those revelations?”
“I didn’t take anything lightly! I was active in the church all my life; I was a temple goer, Gospel Doctrine teacher, Elder’s Quorum President -I was even in the bishopric and stake presidencies. I’m sure you’ll find my name in the Book of Life, so why don’t you just look it up and let’s get this over with. I was completely obedient to my priesthood leaders.”
“I’m not interested in your obedience to your leaders. I’m concerned with your fealty to God.”
“Okay, test me. I followed all of the commandments.”
“Did you take seriously the Lord’s charge in Doctrine and Covenants chapter 98?”
“Jog my memory.”
“I’ll just quote a portion of verse 33: ‘This is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them.’ A few verses down the Lord makes clear that this law applies to your day, and particularly to America.”
“Well, how do you know God didn’t command the president to send us to war against Iraq?”
“Well, first of all, God doesn’t reveal his will to rulers, he reveals it to prophets. And second, do you think the same God who, in verse 7, declared that anything more or less than the Constitution is evil, would then command the president to violate his oath and usurp the warmaking powers from Congress?”
“I guess it depends on the urgency of the situation.”
“Then let’s suppose God actually had commanded your country to go to war against mine. Wouldn’t you have heard about this new commandment?”
“Not if the command was classified.”
“So you were willing to violate your oath of office and your duty to God without even knowing whether or not the Lord had ordered war in accordance with D&C 98:33?
“Look, I didn’t know about that scripture, okay?”
“I thought you said you followed all of God’s commandments.”
“That one must have gotten past me.”
“Let’s move on. You lived 87 years on the earth. You must have read the Book of Mormon many times during your lifetime.”
“Many times. I love the Book of Mormon.”
“How many times did you actually read it all the way through?”
“I don’t know, maybe two or three times.”
“This is heaven, remember.”
“Okay, okay! I’m sure we read it in seminary. I know we studied it every four years in Sunday school.”
“You studied parts of it in Sunday school. Those Sunday school lessons were abridged. They skipped entire sections that would have been important for you as a soldier to know about. Some of those tedious war chapters, for instance.
“There were a lot of wars in the Book of Mormon, that’s for sure.”
“What do you think was the reason the prophet Mormon saw fit to include all those chapters on war?”
“I don’t know. Filler?”
“Have you ever heard the statement that the Book of Mormon is both a witness and a warning?”
“Sure I have.”
“So what is the witness?’
“It witnesses of Jesus Christ.”
“And what do you think is the warning?”
“I get the feeling you’re going to tell me it’s something about war.”
“War and deception in the last days, yes. Mormon wanted you to understand that there are sometimes legitimate reasons for going to war, and at those times the people have a sacred duty to take up arms and defend their lands and freedoms even unto the shedding of blood.”
“That’s what I’m saying! That’s why we were in Iraq and Afghanistan; we were defending America from the terrorists!”
“The Book of Mormon also demonstrates that people can be deceived into believing they are under threat when they really are not. They can even be tricked into retaliating against the wrong enemy. God used the Book of Mormon to warn you that corrupt leaders would come among your people willing to exploit their fears, and to convince you that you were engaged in a great battle for righteousness. In reality, the opposite was true.”
“Well, I didn’t know about any of that.”
“I know you didn’t. And that’s a shame because Mormon’s son Moroni was adamant in his warnings that the record his father passed to him was of the utmost importance to the people in your day, and to your country in particular. He foresaw the danger Americans would put themselves in by making war in defiance of God’s commandments. Saddest of all, he prophesied that many members of your church, those same people who would receive the record, would reject the warnings. Your own actions have assisted in bringing some of those prophecies to pass.”
“You’re killing me here. Okay, maybe I wasn’t being fully accountable. Listen, I'll admit something. In the beginning I did have some doubts about what we were doing in Iraq. But then everybody back home just kept telling us that our sacrifices were noble and necessary. We got care packages from school children and letters from strangers thanking us for being their heroes. They had us believing the whole country depended upon us for its very survival.”
“Flattery is one of the most effective tools of the Evil One, isn’t it?”
“Well, I sure I bought into all of it. I tried to think of myself as a simple soldier just doing my duty, but all that encouragement was pretty heady stuff. It got me believing I was engaged in some great battle between good and evil.”
“Those citizens who allowed the Evil One to use them in cheering you on will be held individually accountable for their part, but you yourself are accountable for not seeing through it.
“You know, I have to admit that I think I may be almost ready to accept that accountability.”
“That makes me very happy. Do you remember what the war in heaven was about?”
“Of course, that’s where you and I met. I always figured that the war I was fighting on earth was a continuation of the war in heaven; you know, fighting for freedom and all. We just couldn’t get over the fact that you people didn’t appreciate that we were there to help you get your freedom back. I lost a foot from a bomb set by some of the very people I was there to liberate.”
“And still you didn’t take the hint. Did you not learn anything from our victory in the war in heaven? The issue was self-determination. Nations as well as individuals deserve to be left to themselves to sort out their problems. We did not ask for your help. You imposed your will on us, just as Lucifer tried to impose his will on all the denizens of heaven.”
“You’re wrong about that. We liberated you from a dictator."
“And who asked you to do so? Your leaders were successful in convincing you that first we were an imminent threat to you. Then you were told that we needed rescuing from our own government. Then you were told we couldn’t manage without your help. Then you were told that you were needed against the terrorists. It was always some new excuse so you wouldn’t leave. Your government always had a reason to deny us our free agency. You helped me fight a war of liberty in heaven, then went to earth and became my oppressor.”
He didn’t know how to respond to that. “But our intentions were noble.”
“What’s that proverb about the road to hell? Why didn’t you turn your noble intentions on yourselves? Your country had its own problems. When America was hit with floods and fires, your people learned to their dismay that most of your National Guard were stuck in my country and unavailable. God commands all nations to respect the sovereignty of each other. You should have been home where you were needed.”
“Well, some of us in the church hoped that by fighting to free the middle east, we could open up the area some day for the spreading of the gospel.”
“And who would listen to you then?”
“Everybody. We’d flood the area with missionaries.”
“Did you ever know anyone who served a mission in Germany?” She asked.
“Yeah, I heard that lots of guys would spend their whole two years there and never get one baptism.”
“And that was half a century after the United States defeated those people for a second time. How is the missionary work going in Vietnam and Cambodia? How about Thailand? Laos? You can’t spread the gospel of the Prince of Peace using a flamethrower. If you wanted to convert us, why did you think sending your armies in first was the way to do it? We weren’t infidels, you know. Before the Americans came to Iraq there were two million Christians openly living there unmolested by Saddam Hussein’s government, and free of persecution. There was mutual respect between the Christians and their Muslim neighbors. Within four years of your occupation we were all displaced or dead. It was a most unproductive method of proselyting.”
“Well, the war might have been wrong, but I know God was with me while I was in Iraq.”
“God did not abandon you, but that didn’t mean he approved what you were doing. All that praying you did, and not once did you ask the right questions or listen for answers. God wanted you to simply live your religion. He stood at the door and knocked, but his knocking was drowned out by the sound of your machine gun fire.”
The soldier could not think of anything more to say to the girl. He was suddenly overcome by sadness and regret. He had been standing the entire time; now his newfound strength went out of him and he simply sank to his knees before her.
“I’m sorry”, he cried, “I really am! I’m sorry I deprived you of a full life. I should not have been in your home, and I’m sorry. You tell me I have the Lord’s forgiveness, but I’m asking you now for yours. Please. I take accountability for what I did to you and your family. I am accountable for it. Can you ever forgive me?”
The girl grasped her robe near the neck and folded it closed as she slowly raised herself up. The soldier looked up in astonishment to see that she was now standing on two perfect, beautiful legs where a moment before there had been nothing.
A look of peace crossed her face. She closed her eyes in a moment of sweet contentment as she brought her right hand up and held it against her breast. It was as if she hadn’t felt the sensation of a heartbeat in a long, long time, and now it was there again. The girl looked down at the now sobbing soldier and smiled tenderly. She gently touched her hand to his head. Finally she spoke.
“I forgave you before you got here.”