Friday, November 20, 2009

Don't Shoot! I'm Just The Messenger!

When I was a teenager living in Anaheim, I was watching the 5 o’clock news one day and considering whether or not I should go down the street to Disneyland and stab a hippie in the stomach.

It was August 1970, and a throng of long-haired hippie scum had declared a day of war on Disneyland, which as we all know is the living embodiment of all things American. It made my youthful blood boil. Disney Security had things under control until late in the afternoon when a couple of rafts full of riff-raff took over Tom Sawyer Island and reportedly tried to lower the American flag at Fort Wilderness.

Well, that was too much for me. I couldn't take any more. I imagined myself going down there with my scout knife and taking some of these guys out. Surely the police would support me because they shared my revulsion for the anti-American hippies and yippies. I would be a hero to decent folks everywhere.

What stopped me from carrying out my plan of vengeance was the announcement on the news that because of the ruckus, Disneyland was closing early for the first time in its history. And anyway, Disneyland’s admission fee would have used up all of my lawn-mowing money.

I've never told anyone about that insane juvenile revenge fantasy. I do so now to demonstrate that I, more than most people, understand misguided patriotic zeal.

My recent post declaring that no latter-day saint should enthusiastically participate in our military’s overseas adventures (or support those who do) has generated an avalanche of objections that spilled over onto at least two other Mormon-themed blogs. Although there were plenty who agreed with my position (which was essentially the official position of the church), many more were appalled at my refusal to bow down to Baal and acknowledge that America's military is a global force for good.

From the tone of those letters, you would have thought that I had committed some horrible crime, such as expressing an opinion.

Well, I was expressing an opinion, but it was not my own. I had borrowed that opinion from the scriptures and general authorities of the church. The gist of my thesis was that war should only be engaged in for reasons of national defense, and that soldiers, like anybody else, are accountable for their actions.

That last part is where I really caught hell. Apparently the holiness of the man in uniform is not to be questioned.

What particularly intrigued me about my attackers was how readily so many of these fellow saints were willing to misrepresent my position. I had said the soldier would be some day held accountable for all of his actions in war time, but you would have thought I had convicted him of murder and condemned him to hell.

To my critics I say: I understand your hero worship of the man in uniform, for I was once an idolater like you.

Growing up on Marine bases as a child, I attended church with servicemen who were also my teachers and scout leaders. This was the late fifties and early sixties, when it was pretty much a rite of passage for young men to do a stint in the service. It was that time represented in those flashbacks on the Dick Van Dyke Show when Rob Petrie met Laura working for the USO. It was the military culture affectionately portrayed by Gomer Pyle and Beetle Bailey and in Jerry Lewis Movies. It was the best time to be a soldier because we weren't in any fights.

It was also a great time and place to be the child of a soldier. Growing up on base was better than being in Norman Rockwell's America. I went to school with kids who were also the children of marines, and after school I had a paper route and spent my money at the PX on Sad Sack, BlackHawk, and Sgt. Fury comic books. We kids had the run of this miniature city on our bikes, and our parents never worried about where we were because it was always safe there.

The men in our lives were instilled with a sense of honor and discipline. Their sole motivation for being in the service was to be ready in the event of an attack against our country. This was before anyone had ever heard of Viet Nam, and the idea of a marine ever being the aggressor or occupier of a sovereign country that had done us no harm would have been inconceivable to any of us.

My father instilled in me a deep loyalty to God and country. But growing up with the military and Mormonism intertwined as it was did result in one big blind spot on my psyche. Somehow I was unable to tell who it was I actually owed my allegiance to. God, Church, and Government were all the same deity to me.

Thus my later distaste for anyone I deemed an enemy of the state, such as those treasonous long-hairs defiling my beloved Disneyland. They were the ones criticizing President Nixon over what I then believed was a just war, and this to me was high treason. As far as I was concerned, the president of the United States was as righteous and infallible as the president of the church. And of course I believed that the president of the church was as pure and perfect as God himself.

Speaking evil of the Lord's anointed was not permitted in my worldview, and the way I understood it, Richard Nixon was the Lord's anointed.

Yeah, I know. I told you I was insane.

Over the years as I came to my senses I learned that God expects us to question all authority. But today I find around me a contingent of fellow Saints who wouldn't think of questioning their government.

It's been my sad observation that some Latter-day Saints seem conditioned to be unquestioningly obedient to authority. Any authority.

They seem to hold the belief that because this land was ordained by God, its government is somehow incapable of being compromised or corrupted. As most of us know, this proposition is heavily refuted by scripture.

Since I’ve become an adult, I’ve tended to give more weight to the tenets of my religion than I have to the lies of politicians, and I just assumed most latter-day saints felt pretty much the same way. In a proclamation of the First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith, the church reminded the membership that “dogmatic assertions do not take the place of revelation.”

Such a declaration seems to me to be self-evident. So imagine my surprise to hear from so many saints who have never thought to question the propaganda of their government, particularly in regard to that government's habitual misuse of its military. Rather than decry this misuse, they ignore it, preferring instead to idealize the soldier caught within it.

A friend has provided a cogent description of what’s wrong with such illusions. He has the gift of expressing my own thoughts better than I ever could, so I offer here an abbreviated version of his comments:

“Vets certainly deserve respect, but there are some frightening unintended consequences of such fervent vet worship. This is especially true when you consider that our military has largely been used as an instrument for sustaining and compounding inequality in the world since WWII.

“It is laughable to think that any potential force is capable of threatening our sovereignty... All those lives sacrificed in Vietnam proved to be of little geopolitical consequence. Our greatest risk is to piss off people around the world so badly that they are compelled to carry out suicide missions.

“Consider our actions in the Middle East since WWII, supporting (even installing, in the case of Iran) vicious regimes in exchange for favorable access to crude oil resources. Not to mention our role in forcing Palestinians into overcrowded and unproductive patches of land to ensure a dominant Jewish state in the region (and to prevent an uncomfortably large inflow of Jewish refugees into the U.S.). Our actions have led to the oppression and starvation of perhaps millions. The hatred we engender has compelled us to deploy our military in order to keep the order.

“With all the damage that we created in the Muslim world even before the War on Terror, it is no wonder that radical movements have materialized. It is also no wonder that "fanatical" nations have felt a need to have nukes of their own. Would I feel better if only the U.S. possessed them? Of course. But what moral justification can we impose upon other nations? Was it not us that opened Pandora's box? Do we not remain the only nation to deploy against living targets?

“In Iraq, the nuke argument proved to be falsified, but here we are, almost 7 years later. Obama is not pulling out because it will be a political nightmare when the nation falls apart shortly upon our departure. Saddam was a villain, but hundreds of thousands have now been killed as part of collateral damage and an inevitable civil war. We probably wish we could resurrect Saddam Hussein and push the reset button.

"Maybe if the west had not been interfering with Iraqi affairs since WWI, we would have enjoyed a much more stable and "soft" authoritarian regime, a la Jordan, or even Syria for that matter. Not exactly a threat to our borders.

"Afghanistan - we crippled Al Q'aida long ago, and there is no hope of stabilizing the country in our lifetime outside of turning it back over to the Taliban.

“Vets absolutely deserve our respect and attention. We should show empathy for their plight, especially those that are repeatedly shuffled back and forth, to and from Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps more importantly, they deserve our advocacy. If they are wrongfully being subjected to harm's way due to unvirtuous leadership, then we should raise a fuss.

"But it seems that by glorifying those who are serving in current wars as though our involvement in these conflicts is the thing that separates us from living carefree to living under Sharia Law, only serves as propaganda that raises just enough war-mongering support to keep the war machine rolling onward.

"I would revere our military just as much if they bravely elected to serve as the first and last line of defense, manning bases throughout our country, venturing out into the Atlantic and Pacific around our own shores. I wouldn't feel as bad for them as I do right now.

“Let's put respect in its proper perspective. No living vet (WWI/II being questionable in this regard) has had to shed blood to preserve our sovereignty and freedom. Our military has been shamelessly misused as a veritable mercenary army to carry out political agendas and economic imperatives by paranoid administrations (I probably would not use such strong condemnation for WWI/II, since it is still a matter of debate how crucial our involvement was).

“Soldiers have often exhibited incredible courage, and suffered unimaginable trauma, and for that, I believe they deserve respect and sympathy.

"If China inexplicably crossed the Pacific to invade our shores, I would probably break down into fervent celebration of those that stepped up to risk and sacrifice their lives to protect our nation. But then, China dares not even cross the Strait of Taiwan to reclaim their traditional island territory of Taiwan, due to a few U.S. battleships.

"I don't believe it is reasonable to expect the military to defy orders. It is incumbent upon the constituency and leadership at home to painstakingly ensure they are not misused and abused.”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

Those of you at home cheering on the military establishment in its unconstitutional wars are not doing your sons and daughters any favors. You’re helping to keep them in harm’s way and increasing the likelihood that they could lose their lives for nothing.

That's what I said... Nothing.



ImBusyLiving said...

And a good message it is. I feel a deep love and sympathy for all that struggle to do good in the face of such adversity. That goes for military personel and civilian, LDS and non-LDS alike.

Cap'n Moroni said...

You hit it right on the head as usual, Rock. I've read those negative comments that were posted on your last article, and all I could think of was that as in the days of the Pharisees, those who are most sure of the rightness of their positions seem to be the ones closest to the abyss.

Anonymous said...

"The Church as a Church does not believe in war and yet since its organization whenever war has come we have done our part … we do thoroughly believe in building up our home defenses to the maximum extent necessary, but we do not believe that aggression should be carried on in the name and under the false cloak of defense. We therefore look with sorrowing eyes at the present use to which a great part of the funds being raised by taxes and by borrowing is being put … We believe that our real threat comes from within and not from without, and it comes from the underlying spirit common to Naziism, Fascism, and Communism, namely, the spirit which would array class against class, which would set up a socialistic state of some sort, which would rob the people of the liberties which we possess under the Constitution, and would set up such a reign of terror as exists now in many parts of Europe." First Presidency, 1941


Gordzilla said...

Hey, Rock. Sorry I couldn't find anything to argue with you about here. While it's true that we shouldn't worship those in uniform, they do deserve our respect - which is something they will NOT get from their govt. that needlessly places them in harm's way for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with national security.

Rock Waterman said...

Those in uniform do deserve my respect. Just as every other person on the planet deserves my respect.

When we as a church start putting pictures of our barbers, plumbers, and truck drivers on the bulletin boards right next to the pictures of our soldiers in the foyer, I'll know we finally have things in perspective.

The man in the UPS uniform who came to my door yesterday rendered me a more direct and valuable service than the uniformed man overseas who has been led to believe he is in the service of the entire country.

Anonymous said...

Dear Brother:

Since I am a veteran, having served in two branches of the military, here is my view. We as a Nation are idiots! A true veteran in my view is put in harms way, how can a military person that sits in an office somewhere in the middle of The USA garner the same "adoration" as a grunt under fire? Yet, anyone who ever wore the uniform is a "vet." As far as respect, yes give unto all proper child of God respect. Blind hero worship sets up a falsehood of giant proportions. I, as you, grew up surrounded by God, Family, and Country instilled in me. I used to be a flag waver, now it's similar to standing ovations for any live show, theater, comedy act, etc., whether it was extraordinary or not. Aggression begets aggression. Live by the sword, die by the sword. In addition we have a volunteer military. They choose a job for either pay or college later on. If because of that choice, I somehow now must give them extra honors, I THINK NOT! I view the police, oops sorry, Law Enforcement the same way. I took POST courses, have a police science degree. Spent sometime in the Ventura Sheriffs academy and Santa Barbara reserves. You represent Me, not the other way around. So do me proud by not lying, cheating, killing, tasing-children for big brother. Wear any uniform with pride as it's your Job, you picked it.
I now turn the soapbox back to my brother.

Gordzilla said...

Yo, Rock -
If our nation were to be attacked - if, let's say, China decided to launch an invasion (a scenario they actually prepare for, and consider an option) or a preemptive strike, it wouldn't be your UPS guy putting his life on the line to protect you (he'd run screaming for the hills) it would be those who are trained for that possibility. While it's true a lot of young men and women are choosing military service as a way to pay for college, many join because they actually wish to serve our country out of a sincere desire within their hearts. Again it's true that the govt' has misused and abused the righteous intent of these people to levels that are absolutely criminal. However, it seems to me that in trying to illustrate your point, you have actually swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction to the point you express contempt for those in uniform.
I work as a behavioral health/substance abuse counselor in a Veteran's residential treatment facility and I see every day the results of of our govt's abuse of these people who were taken advantage of and sold a bill of goods by those in washington claiming to love our nation as they do. I see people that wake up screaming every night from horrible nightmares having seen women and children strapped with explosives and used as weapons against them, I see people with post-traumatic stress disorder that are so desperate to have normal lives, etc., I could go on. I spend my time struggling to help these people because their hearts were/are in the right place.
This forum speaks of Christ-consciousness and unconditional love, but it appears to me that sometimes "that which we all claim to prize, no one can truly
To judge these people in this manner is like saying the person who gets scammed should go to prison along with the swindler.

I'm positive the Savior would only want to heal them. Aren't we supposed to emulate him?

Gordzilla said...

Hey, Rock - I think you'll find in my previous post that I actually agree with your basic core idea. I just think you're villifying precisely the wrong people.

Rock Waterman said...


Nice rant, and well said. You are indeed my brother.


My intent is not to demonize the soldier but to warn the potential recruit that the military today, AS PRESENTLY CONSTITUTED, is not the force for good that it once was. I'm merely saying that a young Christian idealist hoping to advance the cause of Christ cannot justify serving a government bent on empire.

The well-intended people you administer to are victims of Leviathan.

In a future post I hope to clarify what I mean by "Accountability". I sense some of my readers are thinking I'm confusing accountability with condemnation. I'm not condemning anyone, with the possible exception of certain politicians. Make that MOST politicians.

P.S. Gordo, you are my brother too.

Dave P. said...

Obama doesn't have to do a thing in regards to ordering the troops to pull out or not. The troops themselves just have to remember their oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution. If they did that, and utterly refused to obey any orders related to the unconstitutional wars and actions in the middle east, our esteemed "leaders" (which I put in quotes because they dare not venture into any dangerous area) would have no choice but to call off all overseas actions. Those are the soldiers who I would definitely admire. I remain neutral about the Oathkeepers right now because they haven't proven themselves. Yet.

The book "We Who Dared Say No to War," compiled by Tom Woods, has numerous examples of soldiers deployed to Iraq who realized the idiocy of the whole situation and did everything they could to avoid engaging the "enemy."

Alma 62 talks about how the king-men were tried and executed for treason, but makes a point that it was all done according to the established law. A righteous government doesn't make "exceptions" for wartime.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Dave P., as usual your comments are right on the mark. I'm glad you recommended Tom Wood's recent book. I second that recommendation.

Good point on Alma 62. The Nephites had a republican form of government that protected the individual's rights "according to our laws".

Gordzilla said...

Hey, Rock!
Thanks for responding.I agree with you. I think "accountability" is definitely the operative word. Unfortunately,"Leviathan/Mammon" will never apply that word unto itself. (I also agree with the MOST politicians statement)
-Peace, Brother

Also, to Dave P. - Great points! If only....

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem is that very few who "serve" us take their oaths seriously. I dare say that most of them don't have a clue what they are taking an oath to do. My guess is that Obama, 95% of our congress, and 98% of the military would fail a basic test on constitutional principles. Who is to blame if a person joins the military, then agrees to deploy to "defend" our country in a war that is illegal to start out with? When I make a contract to purchase a house for instance, I'm bound by the contract, whether I understood it or not. The same should apply to the military. If they don't know what the Consittution that they are defending says about war, they are still responsible for participating in something illegal and should be held accountable for it. Nobody forced them to join. I respect the military as I do anyone. Respect doesn't have to be earned, contrary to popular belief. It is required of all of God's children. But respect for someone doesn't mean I have to agree with what they are doing. I actually resent what most of the military is doing. Can they plead ignorance?

TruthSeeker said...

I really feel that I get to give Rock, and all of you who comment here a compliment and TRUE respect!

If people, who may not completely agree on everything-especially when it comes to war, soldiers, politics and religion; hot buttons all- could speak this civilized to one another and find common ground- as you all do here; we wouldn't have war to begin with! This is what I call love and respect! I feel the spirit here.

I have found that on many blogs the tone is set by the Blogger him or her-self.

1st- I would like to tell you that as I have "lurked" and then finally made a few comments here, I have noticed that Rock is completely open to everything said by his readers- and even quite often either agrees with or patiently, and I would say respectfully, explains his position. That takes a very strong person! You have a lot more patience than I've ever had!

2nd- I am most impressed with the knowledge and humility of almost ALL of the comments here! This is a fantastic site, to not only get your point across- but to be respectfully reminded of the truths that each one of us; as Americans and as members of the church of Jesus Christ get to learn and know! The truth is (obviously!) very important to matter how hard it may be to swallow. And, CAN be one of the hardest "pills" to swallow, especially when it goes against everything you "thought" was the truth!

I have grown weary of the name calling and hurtful, disrespectful in-fighting and name calling on most blogs, you tube, etc. It doesn't get us ANY where to treat our fellow Brothers and Sisters with such a complete disregard because we disagree with their opinion.

I just wanted to say thanks to Rock for this great, informative and clearly well thought out blog. You set the tone. Almost everyone who has commented here, has done so with more respect and honor than I have ever seen- especially with such "delicate" topics.I personally, have learned a lot here.

Keep up the GREAT work!

Anonymous said...

I read this far and stopped: "Our greatest risk is to piss off people around the world so badly that they are compelled to carry out suicide missions." Whomever wrote that knows NOTHING about history. Don't believe much of what they say, son, they're naive. Please read for yourself the history of that religion and learn something; their suicide missions have nothing to do with what our country has done....

Rock Waterman said...


you may have misunderstood the writer of that comment. He was saying that our government continues to risk our safety by antagonizing those who are so powerless that the only way they have of striking back is the extreme one of dying in the effort.

I take it you assume the writer approves of this tactic. He doesn't. But he is realistic enough to see that actions have consequences.

No one straps a bomb on himself and goes out without motivation. Suicide bombers are always motivated by the desire to retaliate.

Retaliation implies that ones' enemy has committed the original offense.

The Book of Mormon tells us how to tell the good guys from the bad guys. The good guys are the people who live on the land. The Bad guys are the people who invade the other guy's land.

This is also the doctrine the movies such as "Red Dawn" and "Avatar". When you watched those movies, whose side did you root for?

Anonymous said...

Dear Bro. Rock,

Thanks for your your insights on war. I don't know of any other LDS who thinks of war in the same breath as you do. So, it is quite refreshing to hear an alternate view. As you know, I'm antiwar too but I'm not an active LDS anymore. I used to be though. And it disturbs me that almost every active LDS I know is pro-war.

Why do you think this is so? If the First Presidency in ancient times said that church should be against war, how did many of its members end up developing the exact opposite ideas?


Alan Rock Waterman said...

I think the problem, Rico, is that since the presidents of the Church(TM) no longer receive direct revelation from God, they are flying blind when addressing the subject. President Hinckley's conference talk in April of 2003, just after the bombing of Iraq had begun, was a collection of platitudes about how Jesus proclaimed peace, but, well, I dunno, I guess we should support this invasion (I'm paraphrasing). Although Hinckley quoted a verse from D&C 98 where we are called to proclaim peace, he neglected to mention verse 33 which prohibits incursions into other countries.

In case you didn't see them, I posted what I think were my best pieces on war in two parts starting here:

Pretty much everything an Mormon needs to know to combat the crap spewing from the mouths of the active LDS warmongers. Enjoy!

Alan Rock Waterman said...

One of these days I plan to do an analysis of that conference talk, by the way. It was shameful, and it left many members with the impression that it was all okay, since the prophet seemed to be giving the war his stamp of approval. He didn't really, of course, but it was so full of doublespeak that it seemed that way.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bro. Rock,

I'm looking forward to that article on Hinckley's talk. For me the talk wasn't shameful. It was a complete failure if one was looking for guidance on the subject of war. Members that day expected clarity, and what they got was confusion. Hence, anyone who read the talk can read into it whatever he wanted to read into it.

This talk is a clear example of a prophet who should have spoken like a prophet but settled for something way less. The real shame of course is that when Saddam's WMDs turned out to be fiction, Hinckley never touched the subject until he died. And yet the war dragged on and on, and continues to devour innocent lives to this very day. It's as if the orgy of killing and destruction ceased already and wasn't worth talking about anymore.

In fact, wasn't Dick Cheney the torturer invited to speak in one BYU commencemnt exercise, and shared the stage with Hinckley? How do you exactly say Mormons are a people of peace with friends like Cheney?


Alan Rock Waterman said...

Perfectly said, Rico. I may quote you when I write that thing.

Dave P. said...


I was part of the graduating class during that commencement ceremony and there were several BYU students who were absolutely PISSED that Cheney was coming to speak; until they saw President Hinckley walk in and until Cheney spoke about his "Mormon ancestry." To this day I feel disgusted that I actually applauded for him.

Steven Lester said...

Isn't this what happens to every religion (or Church)? Within the first 200 years they lose their way, events cloud their judgements, mammon invades their guts and needs and suddenly, poof goes the purity.

I have often thought that the best thing for the Church would be for It to lose everything It owns in the way of worldly goods and the World's admiration. Only then could It return to the purity It had at the beginning. As if that could ever happen.

Although I can't bring myself to remove my name from the membership records, I'll never return to my ward or stake. For 32 years I was treated as literally nothing of worth, because the body I got turned out to be gay and autistic. I don't hate the Church, but I surely do pity It. Whenever I see the glorified missionaries on the street I feel so sorry for them, that what they are teaching will lead to more misery in the life of somebody else and yet they don't know it. They think they are doing people a favor. There is a reason that they send out missionaries who are around 19, really the most gullible age of all, and no others who might be more mature and less programmable. It is also why the best soldier is the about the same age as well.

What a waste those 32 years were.

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