Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why I am a pacificst (well almost)

This is from an e-mail I sent around November 2004 shortly after we invaded Iraq. I was torn about Iraq for a long time. It's easy to want to go out and get the bad guy, especially when you don't have to do it yourself and you don't have much first hand experience with war.

But war is a terrible, awful thing. Not one time in the Book of Mormon, for example, is war ever justified except for self defense. And even then, it happened when the Nephite lost their moral footing and let themselves slide.

This e-mail largely quotes from a person who wrote a book about Hugh Nibley. My father in law sent me an excerpt at the time that described Nibley's views on war. It is pretty powerful stuff.

His pacificism came from his experiences, truly awful experiences in WWII. Here are two:

1) High Nibley witnessed a friend of his shoot himself in the head after his friend was ordered to gun down an enemy officer in the back of the head while that officer was driving away.

2) Also, a Jewish soldier was ordered to shoot a German prisoner. When the soldier met the prisoner, he discovered the German was an old friend who had helped him escape Germany earlier.

Messy, messy.

And I read statistics even now about those who are serving are country, the post tramatic stress, the suicide rates.

Or in Iraq, the millions of people who are still refugees. And all of the murder and mayhem and chaos that ensued.

It's utterly sickening how eager our current president sent troops into Iraq. War is ugly, messy, and can and should be avoided.

Here are some direct quotes:

"And the result of that very expertise is an unshakable cynicism about war. At the time of World War II, Hugh's knowledge of ancient history made him skeptical about the effectiveness of war as a solution to the world's problems, but his involvement in World War II left him convinced that war in general is a 'nasty and immoral business.' In the men who fought on both sides in the conflict, Hugh discovered both heroism and unspeakable cruelty. While affirming that 'the heroism and sacrifice were real,' Hugh has unsparingly denounced the situation of war as 'utterly satanic and shameful'.
The historical perspective would not allow Hugh ever to view war as a sane answer to the world's problems. War had never worked in the past, and it could not work in the present...."

Third, Hugh learned that, in the military, careers are built chiefly on the battlefield. As a result, ambitious men longed for the continuation of war. Hugh remembers the gloom that pervaded the upper echelons as the war was drawing to a close: 'The war was ending too fast, recalls Hugh. 'It meant the end of quick promotions. It meant the slowing down of careers.' He later drew on this situation to illustrate the 'Mahan Principle' - by which he meant Cain's 'great secret' from the Book of Moses of converting...your life [into] my promotion." Just before the Battle of the Bulge, Hugh wrote Lucien Goldschmidt: 'The whole world today is paying the price of a few careers. I have never objected to being the simple-minded implement of other men's greatness, but one can hardly submit to that wit hout becoming the foil of their spite; for when the mighty fight, the mighty clash by proxy. We are the humble abrasive that polishes their armor."

Fourth, Hugh discovered an even more frightening example of the Mahan Principle, that of 'converting life into property-your life for my property.' Some businesses were profiting from the war by maintaining interests on both sides of the conflict. 'I had to snoop into everything,' remembers Hugh. 'And I found out all sorts of things I shouldn't have found out. The whole thing was being run as a game for profits.' In particular, Hugh discovered incriminating evidence while 'mopping up' in Heidelberg at the end of the war that Standard Oil and I. G. Farben 'had an equal part on both sides in the war.'":

Finally, the most important lesson Hugh learned from his war years was that war is wasteful and wrong. 'I remember General Bradley said, 'War is a waste! And that's what it is, you see. The utter wastefulness of the thing. But the wrongness of what we were doing was so strong that everybody would cry. People would cry; they would weep! It was so utterly, unspeakably sad! It was so sad you could hardly stand it. That people would do such things to each other."

"Hugh concludes that for the Book of Mormon's authors, war is 'nasty, brutalizing, wasteful, dirty, degrading, fatiguing, foolish, immoral, and above all unnecessary.' Furthermore, he argues that the Book of Mormon shows war as the inevitable fruit of true wickedness on both sides. Contrary to conventional thinking, Hugh argues that war is 'never a case of 'good guys verses bad guys.' Rather it is always a case of the wicked destroying the wicked, exactly as Mormon 4:5 puts it 'It is by the wicked that the wicked are punished... Whenever Nephites and Lamanites fight it is because both have rebelled against God. Righteousness for its part invariably brings peace. 'Whenever the Nephites were truly righteous... the old polarizations broke down or vanished completely.'"

"Hugh noted how the noble emotion of patriotism can be abused by conspiring politicians to create conflict", argued Hugh. He termed patriotism of this type, 'the 'principal weapon used against the Prophet [Joseph Smith] and the Saints' as they were driven from their homes in Ohio, Missouri, and Nauvoo. This patriotic zeal occurs on both sides of a conflict, and 'all we can be sure of is that there will be waste and destruction, and the greater the victory, the greater the destruction on both sides."

"In a 1979 talk at BYU, 'Gifts', Hugh described Satan's plan of presenting us with two equally bad choices and making us believe that we must choose one. 'So we have always been told we must join the action to fight against communism, or must accept the leadership of Moscow to fight fascism, or must join Persia against Rome (or Rome against Persia-that's the fourth century),' wrote Hugh. But 'there is only one real choice between accepting the gifts of God for what they are on his terms and going directly to him and asking for whatever you need, or seeking the unclean gift, as it is called, of power and gain.' He concluded, 'The Saints took no sides in that most passionately partisan of wars, the Civil War, and they never regretted it.'"

"Kimball (former President of the Mormon church) decried our becoming too concerned with wealth, our lack of respect for the environment, and our reliance on 'gods of stone and steel, ships, planes, missiles, fortifications' to defend ourselves. He stated that when threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God.'"

"War creates false polarizations, persuading people that 'everything evil [is] on one side and everything good on the other. No problem remains for anybody on either side but to kill people on the other side. 'The Book of Mormon pattern begins when the people become first privatized, having nothing in common; then becoming ethnicized, learning to hate other nations; then becoming nationalized, serving ambitious men's careers; then becoming militarized, storing up weapons; then becoming terrorized, developing organized crime; then becoming regionalized, forming organizations for protection and profit; then becoming tribalized, abolishing the central government; then becoming fragmentized, forming wandering groups, paramilitary organizations, and family shelters; then becoming polarized, creating great armies; finally becoming pulverized, wiping each other out as the great armies clashed. 'It is left for a future generations to take the final step and b ecome vaporized.'"

"... and called for a more balanced view of war which acknowledged such 'adverse consequences of military life as post-traumatic stress syndrome, alcoholism, immorality, crime, and depression. 'Contrary to the Orwellian title of the article,' the letter continues, 'the military's primary mission is to kill and destroy. Those who have served have not forgotten basic training.'"

"'Whoever chooses war must break most of the Ten Commandments,' Hugh argued. Since the object of war is to win, 'warriors justify any means necessary.' He further took the position that war is absolute; one cannot condone part of it without condoning everything that it entails. He also stated that military leaders puposely lie to the public. 'To ask a military man not to lie is like asking a lumberjack not to cut trees.' Revenge is what sustains the public in a war; therefore, stories about atrocities committed by the other side will constantly be recounted, but stories about atrocities committed by our side will be suppressed. In sum, Hugh stated, 'The great lesson of the Book of Mormon is not to seek a military solution.'"

"Incidents like this convinced Hugh that war diabolically forces us to create divisions, rupturing the essential unity that should bind us to each other as sons and daughters of God. Hugh's knowledge of ancient history, his careful reading and understanding of the scriptures, and his first-hand experience in World War II left him convinced that war is an unnecessary evil. This has led him to raise a warning voice. And while he decries war, he always reminds us that there is hope. Hugh has pointed out that the Book of Mormon sets up the Ammonites as being the perfect example of what to do when faced with a conflict: refuse to take up arms. 'In the end the most desperate military situation imaginable is still to be met with the spirit of peace and love.'"

"Is there a point at which war is justified? A point at which evil caused by war would be less than the evil war would remedy? The Hugh Nibley of today doesn't seem to think so. When I asked Hugh recently if he would join the army if he had it to do over again, Hugh responded with a firm and definite, 'No'."... "It is also interesting that Hugh still does not discuss his visit to Dachau. Perhaps this is because it represents the one piece of data he has not been able to process in his anti-war philosophy. Perhaps genocide is the one crime Hugh would be willing to go to war to prevent. Certainly, events and age have shaped Hugh's attitudes He was not immune from the widespread cynicism about war as a solution that was part of the legacy of the Vietnam conflict. However as he noted during his 1984 visit to Utah Beach, every conflict must sooner or later be settled by discussion, so 'why not have the discussion now' and avoid the senseless conflict."


H said...

I know this has nothing to do with Iraq, but the following statement is exactly why I can't be against war in general, "It is also interesting that Hugh still does not discuss his visit to Dachau. Perhaps this is because it represents the one piece of data he has not been able to process in his anti-war philosophy. Perhaps genocide is the one crime Hugh would be willing to go to war to prevent." There are always innocent people being hurt and I feel you have to weigh bad against the worst. War should never be the answer, especially for many of the reasons that you quoted, but I think there comes a point when you just can't sit around anymore. Whether the US entered WWII for the right reasons or not I can't tell you, but I am grateful that they did.

tempe turley said...


I'm going to post this next, but WWII was, in my very unknowedgeable opinion, completely avoidable.

I'm going to post why.

I jut think there are always other solutions.

But in general, I agree, that I'm an almost pacifist. Because I agree that there are always much better alternatives to war, our country and others are usually not with it enough to pursue them.

So, often we're forced by our own faults into making the better of two bad decisions because we are just not even considering the good ones.

But perhaps expecting our country, or any other, to consider good alternatives may be a bit unrealistic.

Rachel said...

Wow, that was sobering and just dang thought provoking. I appreciate your blog so much Scott. I've often thought while reading your essays about a part from the introduction to a book called, "Arm the Children, Faith's response to a violent world" by Arthur Henry King. Terry Warner writes,

"It would be wrong to suppose Arthur to be saying, when he comments about a subject, "This is the way things are." It does not matter whether we agree with what he says (certainly it would be of no concern to him); what matters is that in this text we observe this educated individual devoting his thinking to the Lord. What matters is that we see a man using his mind reverently and that as a consequence we will want to go and do likewise."

I know this happens to be a post where you didn't write much, but I had time and wanted to share that quote with you and thank you for inspiring me by using your mind reverently, I do want to go and do likewise because of your writing.

Anonymous said...

I happened to come across your blog tonight and read your article about Hugh W. Nibley. You may be interested in seeing my post on the subject of IG Farben and Hugh Nibley.

After reading almost all of Nibley's writings over the years - published and unpublished - I have come to appreciate this great man who some called an "observer". I can't help but think he became a Latter-day witness to the atrocities of conflict as well as many other things.

Great post!

The Turley Times said...

Thanks Greg. I'll be sure to check your blog out. I appreciate our visit of mine.