Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hugh Nibley Weighs In On Preemptive War

This month I'm turning the time over to the late, great, Hugh Nibley for a guest editorial on the topic that has been occupying us here for the past little while.

Brother Nibley offers some lessons from the Book of Mormon as a parallel to that which we are beginning to witness all around us today: the fall of our republic.

First published in the mid-1980's, Nibley's warning to the Saints couldn't have been more prescient, as we see many within our own church membership insisting that our nation continue on the path that brought the ancient Nephites to destruction.

Some two and a half decades after Nibley first wrote these words, the parallels are now unmistakable; expansion of empire abroad combines with loss of wealth and substance at home.

God won't interfere with a people hell-bent on destroying themselves. He never has.

If you would prefer to listen to an audio version of this essay, it's available here on YouTube.

Is Preemptive War A Christian Principle?

By Hugh Nibley

There is no possibility of confrontation here between Good and Bad. This is best shown in Alma's duel with Amlici. The Amlicites are described as coming on in all the hideous and hellish trappings of one of our more colorful rock groups, glorying in the fiendish horror of their appearance (see Alma 3: 4-6). Alma on the other hand is the "man of God" (Alma 2: 30) who meets the monster Amlici "with the sword, face to face" (Alma 2: 29), and of course wins.

Yet the Nephites consider that debacle to be "the judgments of God sent upon them because of their wickedness and their abominations; therefore they were awakened to a remembrance of their duty" (Alma 4: 3). The moral is that whenever there is a battle both sides are guilty.

Nobody knows that better than Captain Moroni, whose efforts to avoid conflict far exceed his labors in battle. When he sees trouble ahead, he gets ready for it by "preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God" (Alma 48: 7). His military preparations are strictly defensive, and he is careful to do nothing that will seem to threaten the Lamanites; all of his battles are fought on Nephite soil (see Alma 48: 8-10).

We are repeatedly reminded that Moroni is "a man that did not delight in bloodshed" (Alma 48: 11). By him "the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives" (Alma 48: 14).

Any thought of preemptive strike is out of the question; Moroni even apologizes for espionage, for if they only have sufficient faith God will "warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger; And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves. "This is a great load off their minds"and his [Moroni's] heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity" (Alma 48: 15-16). Resisting iniquity where? In the only place it can be resisted, in their own hearts.

Not only is a preemptive strike out of the question but Moroni's people have to let the enemy attack at least twice before responding, to guarantee that their own action is purely defensive (see Alma 43: 46). The highest compliment that Alma can pay Moroni is "Behold, he was a man like unto Ammon" (Alma 48: 18), who, as we have seen, renounced all military solutions to the Lamanite problem.

Later it is the decision of the Nephites, after a series of brilliant victories, to take the initiative against the Lamanites and "cut them off from the face of the land" that makes a conscientious objector of Mormon, their great leader, who "did utterly refuse from this time forth to be a commander and a leader of this people" (Morm. 3: 10-11).

And when they had sworn by all that had been forbidden them by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that they would go up unto their enemies to battle, and avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren [a perfect John Wayne situation], behold the voice of the Lord came [to Mormon] saying: Vengeance is mine, and I will repay" (Morm. 3: 14-15).

So Mormon, from being top brass, becomes a detached observer and reporter for our express benefit, "I did stand as an idle witness. . . . Therefore I write unto you, Gentiles, and also unto you, house of Israel" (Morm. 3: 16-17). He explains that the fatal mistake of the Nephites was to take the offensive: "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" (Morm. 4: 4).

Then comes the bottom line: "But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed" (Morm. 4: 5). The battle is not between Good and Bad--the wicked shall destroy the wicked.

Mormon places the Nephites and the Lamanites side by side for our benefit. As the war between them continues, each sinks deeper and deeper into depravity. First, after a Nephite victory, are four years of peace devoted not to repentance but to warlike preparations as the Lord removes his beloved disciples from among the Nephites because of the wickedness and unbelief. The Lord even forbids Mormon to preach repentance, which preaching will now do no good "because of the hardness of their hearts the land was cursed for their sakes" (Morm. 1: 17).

They have passed the point of no return. The people have begun to worry and seek safe investments, to "hide up their treasures in the earth." But the Dow Jones keeps going down as their riches "became slippery, because the Lord had cursed the land, that they could not hold them, nor retain them again" (Morm. 1: 18).

It is interesting that amid all this military fury riches still hold the number one position in their minds. Then, as at the end of the Antique World, total lack of security forces people to turn in desperation to "sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics" (Morm. 1: 19)--they feel haunted, helpless, surrounded by demons. "The land was filled with robbers"; insecurity is total but "notwithstanding the great destruction which hung over my people, they did not repent . . . and it was one complete revolution throughout all the face of the land" (Morm. 2: 8).

Then come those awful words, "and I saw that the day of grace was passed with them" (Morm. 2: 15).

Though Mormon relents under extreme pressure and leads the army to more victories (see Morm. 5: 1), "nevertheless the strength of the Lord was not with us; yea, we were left to ourselves" (Morm. 2: 26).

After all the Lord has done for them, the poor fools "did not realize that it was the Lord that had spared them, and granted unto them a chance for repentance"--his arm is still stretched out (Morm. 3: 3).

Meanwhile, what are the bad guys up to? The Lamanites have been sacrificing Nephite women and children (see Morm. 4: 15), yet "notwithstanding this great abomination of the Lamanites, it doth not exceed that of our people," who practice cannibalism "for a token of bravery" (Morm. 9: 9-10).

When things reach this state, Mormon says: "I pray unto God that he will spare thy life, to witness the return of his people unto him, or their utter destruction; for I know that they must perish except they repent" (Morm. 9: 22; emphasis added). "O the depravity of my people! They are without order and without mercy" (Morm. 9: 18).

Mormon prays for the people he had loved and led, though he knows his prayer cannot be answered (see Morm. 3: 12). "And if they perish it will be like unto the Jaredites, because of the willfulness of their hearts, seeking for blood and revenge" (Morm. 9: 23).

And all this is meant for us: "These things must surely be made known. . . . A knowledge of these things must come unto a remnant of these people, and also unto the Gentiles," by being "hid up unto the Lord that they may come forth in his own due time" (Morm. 5: 8-9, 12).

As to Mormon's own people, the Lord has reserved their blessings, which they might have received in the land, for the Gentiles who shall possess the land (see Morm. 5: 19). But they will have another chance, for "after they have been driven and scattered by the Gentiles, behold, then will the Lord remember the covenant" (Morm. 5: 20).

Then it will be our turn to be concerned: "And then, O ye Gentiles, how can ye stand before the power of God, except ye shall repent and turn from your evil ways?" (Morm. 5: 22).

That hardly describes us as good guys; there is only one hope for us: "I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace," says Moroni, "that they might have charity"--that is the only thing that can save us, unilateral generosity; if I expect anything in return for charity except the happiness of the recipient, then it is not charity.

The Lord's answer to Moroni is chilling: "The Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee" (Ether 12: 36-37). Mormon was shown our generation, which) he describes with photographic accuracy: "Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing" (Morm. 8: 35).

He then proceeds to describe a people immensely pleased with themselves: "There are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities"--the high-living fiercely competitive crime-ridden world of the 1980s.

And then to the heart of the matter: "For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches [Communists do not adorn churches], more than ye love the poor and the needy, the underprivileged to "pass by you, and notice them not," while placing high value on "that which hath no life" (Morm. 8: 36-37, 39).

All the meanness and smugness of our day speaks in that phrase; and these very self-satisfied, church-conscious, and wicked people are about to be destroyed by war: "Behold, the sword of vengeance hangeth over you; and the time soon cometh that he avengeth the blood of the saints upon you, for he will not suffer their cries any longer" (Morm. 8: 41).

We have not mentioned the case of the Jaredites; it should hardly be necessary to tell the story of Shiz and Coriantumr, each obsessed with the necessity of ridding the world of his evil adversary. Both sides were exterminated.

Not many years ago all of this Book of Mormon extravaganza belonged even for Latter-day Saints to the world of pure fantasy, of things that could never happen in the modern civilized world--total extermination of a nation was utterly unthinkable in those days. But suddenly even within the past few years a very ancient order of things has emerged at the forefront of world affairs; who would have thought it--the Holy War! the ultimate showdown of the Good Guys with God on their side versus the Godless Enemy.

It is the creed of the Ayatollah, the Jihad, Dar-al-Islam versus Dar-al-Harb, the Roman ager pacatus versus the ager hosticus. On the one side Deus vult, on the other Bi'smi-llah; it is a replay of the twelfth century, the only way the "good people" can be free, that is, safe, is to exterminate the "bad people" or, as Mr. Lee counsels, to lock them up before they do any mischief--that alone will preserve the freedom of "us good people."

And now there is even talk of Armageddon with Gog and Magog, the two giants of the North, ending in extermination. There are those who insist that we are the good guys fighting the bad guys at Armageddon, but there is no such affair in the scriptures, where the only actual fighting mentioned is when "every man's sword shall be against his brother"--the wicked against the wicked.

Then God intervenes with pestilence, "hailstones, fire, and brimstone" (Ezek. 38: 21-22), with much slaughter, but no mortal army has a hand in it. In the New Testament version it all happens after the Millennium, when fire comes out of heaven and destroys the army besieging the Saints, but there is no mention of a battle anywhere (see Rev. 20: 7-10). We have seen that for us there is only one way to prepare for the great events ahead, and that is to be found doing good when the Lord comes, with no one taking advantage of temporary prosperity "to his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken" (JS-M 1: 52).

Mormon's message to us is not without a word of hope and advice: "Behold, I speak unto you as though I spake from the dead; for I know that ye shall have my words..."

“Give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been" (Morm. 9: 30-31). His address is expressly to the inhabitants of "this land" into whose hands "this book" shall come-- specifically, it is meant for us.



Dave P. said...

The quotation of "But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed" reminded me of the event wherein Nephi the son of Helaman prophesied the death of the chief judge at the time. This was when the Gadiantons had infiltrated the judgement seat and one of their own was upon it, yet he was murdered by his own brother who wanted that same seat, despite the two of them having sworn the Gadianton oath. For people with imperial mindsets, they can never have enough.

This article clearly rebuts one person's claim a while ago stating that quoting Dr. Vance had no merit because he's not LDS. However, I'm willing to throw out a strong guess that there are members of the church out there who don't want to give Hugh Nibley any credit because he was never a general authority. You've already quoted Joseph Smith's statement on not counting those people among intelligent men numerous times, so there's no need to repeat it further.

152 said...

I thought it would bring you some joy to know that my friend, who has a wife and two kids, had been thinking of joining the National Guard over the course of the last couple months because of much needed money.

Because of the thoughts that you had helped me to consider with your recent posts I brought up some points for him to consider, and all my friends discussed it to some degree. He has decided that he doesn't want to be faced with the situations he most definitely would be faced with, and doesn't want to have to consider the possible consequences. He won't be joining the National Guard.

I look forward to your post on polygamy you teased over a month ago . . .

Alan Rock Waterman said...

152, this does indeed bring me joy!

As times get tougher economically, increasingly the only jobs available will be government jobs whose purpose is to strengthen and support the emerging police state in America. Good for your friend for resisting, and good for YOU for contributing to his education.

Thanks so much for letting me know that my work has had some little effect.

Dave P. said...

152, all it takes is a reading of Tom Wood's "Meltdown" to earn a basic understanding that government "jobs" are worthless because they don't contribute to the economy by producing goods for the people to consume. I highly recommend that you and anyone else who reads this comment read that book and get as many others to read it as possible.

Dave P. said...

I'm actually surprised that this hasn't generated as many comments as the other essays on the same topic. Maybe people just don't want to try and mess with Hugh Nibley? Either that or because brother Nibley is unable to defend or clarify his own statements at this point.

kelly miller said...

I just happened to be pondering Moroni 4 and fell upon your blog... I would appreciate a comment... By the way, I lost a son-in-law in Iraq and I believe our hearts were in the right place and troubling times as they are there is no easy solution.

Saturday, February 27, 2010
Even As Moistening Dews Before the Sun
Even as moistening dews before the sun
Nephites were being swept off the earth
In preempting a battle, God was shunned
Claiming justice, vengeance came to birth

Soon carnage was the worst ever known
In a battle for annihilation
Each becoming dark, filthy, and loathsome
Raging nation against nation

Led about by Satan as chaff before the wind
The Nephites grew in sorcery and unbelief
The grace of being God’s people did end
As unrepentant…they were driven beyond belief

Continually, their hearts grew in coldness
Without mercy…cannibalism was their token,
Their badge of courage, and path of boldness
While to their wives and children hell did open

To their God’s, Lamanites slew them for sacrifice
And greatly horrendous was the slaughter
As the ugliness of it …no words can suffice….
The slaying of Nephite wives, sons, and daughters

Covering the land…there was but blood
All the while…. a prophet stepped aside
As wickedness came to a full flood
And the last of the Nephites fell to the sword and died

With only one knowing the promise to set forth
The prophet, Moroni, walked the earth all alone
With visions of our day…his heart in writings out poured-
“Repent oft with charity through Him who atoned”

comments are welcome...

After having pondered Mormon 4
and reading Hugh Nibley's
Is Preemptive War A Christian Principle?
found at

Insana D said...

Well Rock, you've done it this time. I was really going to start going back to church, quit my sinning ways, stop drinking coffee and watching indy films and curb my blatant g-d effing cussing and then I read how uninspired the leadership is and how boring General Conference still is.

You've ruined me for life. I attribute my apostacy to YOU. You and the thirty seven years of drudgery and more drudgery and dull drudgery that was Mormonism. Well, that and the fact that it was boring, lame, pointless, dull, and really pointless. Did I mention that it was dull?

I've had a better time getting a root canal by a crusty fisted halitosis infected tobacco chewing greasy old dentist than I've had watching conference. (I'm kidding. He didn't chew tobacco).

In my lifetime the only amazing epiphanies to come from the LDS leaders was FHE from David O.Mckay, Spencer W. Kimball's non revelation where he prayed that if God didn't want him to give blacks the priesthood he should come and say something, and so God didn't say anything and viola', blacks get the priesthood. Then there was the mandate to not double pierce the ears and wear more modest clothing, no flip flops, less masturbating, and maybe the one about be kind to one another. Yep, cutting edge stuff.

Here's a prophecy, church was boring in the past, church is boring now, and church will be boring in the future.

Oh yeah, your blog is way more interesting than going to a crusty fisted dentist with halitosis and double way more interesting than going to church.

You may find me (Dahli-mama) at: http://insanadfindingthepony.blogspot.com/2010/02/mormon-triathalon-part-i.html

JulianneMcAllister said...

Church is boring and will always be boring... WHY because we can't discuss the Deep cool stuff because someone won't be ready for it. I think we lose more people to dull and boredom maybe than to those who would leave because we are speaking a deep Gospel Language. The Fact of the Matter is that things are the way they are for a reason. Get used to it, just bring good stuff to read while you are there. And ask the questions no one else would ask.


Anonymous said...

You would really like the blog by Denver Snuffer.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Denver's blog is indeed a treasure trove. I don't spend nearly as much time there as I would like to. I have yet to read his books, however.

Dale B said...

War is always sold to the people as a righteous endeavor, even if deceit is used to bring it about.

You don't really need to use deceit to sell a defensive effort. People know when strangers have come to conquer the neighborhood.

When I talk about the preoccupation with offensive war that we have with my conservative LDS friend, he just can't understand my point of view. 'Surely the world is better off because we stopped Hitler'. Maybe, maybe not.

But solving other people's problems will destroy us as a nation. Our leaders have committed us to be the world's policeman, which sounds nice, until you realize that the reason they do it is to enslave other nations economically.

We are the world's corrupt policeman, for hire to any thug that will allow us to take our cut at the expense of their own people. Preferably, but not necessarily, with democratic window dressing.

Mahershalalhashbaz said...

Goring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

Goring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Unknown said...

I don't believe "Preemptive War" is defined in the article? A definition would be useful to know exactly what kind of war-behavior is NOT compatible with Christian principles. But a definition IS implied by this statement:

"Captain Moroni's military preparations are strictly defensive; he is careful to do nothing that will threaten the Lamanites; all of his battles are fought on Nephite soil" (see Alma 48: 8-10)."

In 2016 in light of Nuclear Weapons, if a peaceful Christian country waits for an nuclear-armed enemy to attack first (to keep war-actions purely "defensive")—clearly there may be no opportunity to "defend" Faith, Family, and Freedom. Why? Because the nuclear-armed enemy, if they attack first, might simply annihilate the Peaceful "Defense-Only" Country.

Now consider the "preemptive" actions taken by Captain Moroni, as he assertively and offensively took the fight directly to the "king-men." Moroni killed (or imprisoned) all the king-men who would not take up arms in defense of their country (Alma 51:13-20).

So the "defensive" motive, that Nibley describes, is applied when it came to War with the Lamanites, but an "offensive" and "preemptive" motive was taken in regard to the rebellious king-men — where "four thousand of those dissenters … were hewn down by the sword" (Alma 51:19) in preparation for the Peaceful Nephites to take a "Defensive" stance against the Lamanites.

I may be wrong, but killing king-men, without first allowing the king-men to take up arms and attack first, is a scenario that doesn't fit Nibley's contentions about "Preemptive War"?

Further, scenarios where a peaceful country has been repeatedly threatened by a nuclear-armed country, may also be a wise exception to Nibley's No-Preemptive-War Doctrine?