Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The Righteousness of Pre-Emption

Those who know me well (are there really any strangers who read this blog??) know that I struggled mightily with the question of whether I thought we should go to war with Iraq. It would be easy to assume, given my strong position now, that I was always thus; but I was not. War is not a pretty thing, and it damages the hearts of those who engage in it. Nevertheless, it is sometimes necessary to inflict such damage to save the larger part of something more important. The question at hand, then as now, was: is it worth the price?

My first thoughts, as I turned to the scriptures for the answers life fails to give us, were of the noble pacifism of the people of Ammon. But as I read more, it occurred to me that what made their pacifism noble, even while their nation was being destroyed, was their previous covenant with the Lord. I had made no such covenant, nor had my nation, so we were not in the same position as the people of Ammon. And, I noted, the sons of the people of Ammon were under no such covenant; therefore the covenant applied only to those who had individually made it. They did not claim the right of extending their pacifism to others. The Lord, honoring His end of the deal, protected them through the military efforts of others. And the people of Ammon were grateful to those who fought and died defending their pacifism, a key element missing from today's anti-war crowd.

For a few years I have had a picture of Captain Moroni up in my kitchen (there was nowhere else to put it), but on September 12, 2001 I took it down and I wrote, in illuminated letters on the mat, the immortal words of the Title of Liberty: "In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children" (Alma 46:12). And when our soldiers left for Afghanistan, I put a yellow ribbon bow on top of it, because I felt strongly that whether we agree with our leaders or not, we should support their decisions as our duly elected leaders, so long as they are not being completely derelict in their duties.

Now, Moroni was one of the greatest military men in existence, and certainly the greatest in the Book of Mormon. If there were any person whose advice I would take on matters of war, this would be the guy, because he was not only a great tactician, but also a righteous man who took his faith seriously and refused to make any life-or-death decision without first consulting the Lord. When he fought, he dealt death to his enemies, but stopped at the point after which dealing them death would have been gratuitous. And he never went into battle and risked the lives of his men without really good cause. So I thought it would be worthwhile to analyze what causes Moroni thought were good.

One of my biggest issues was whether it was right to wage pre-emptive war on a country like Iraq. Machiavelli might have approved, but I was more concerned with whether the Lord would approve. But I found that Captain Moroni had led his forces in a pre-emptive attack, against Amalickiah, the traitor who would be king. The salient features here are: (a) Amalickiah is a sworn enemy of their state; (b) Amalickiah has made it abundantly clear that he will not be compromised with, nor accept the will of the people when it turns against him; (c) Amalickiah is on his way to join forces with their state's main enemy, the Lamanites, although he has not yet actually done so.

Alma 46:29-32
29 And it came to pass that when Amalickiah saw that the people of Moroni were more numerous than the Amalickiahites—and he also saw that his people were doubtful concerning the justice of the cause in which they had undertaken—therefore, fearing that he should not gain the point, he took those of his people who would and departed into the land of Nephi.
30 Now Moroni thought it was not expedient that the Lamanites should have any more strength; therefore he thought to cut off the people of Amalickiah, or to take them and bring them back, and put Amalickiah to death; yea, for he knew that he would stir up the Lamanites to anger against them, and cause them to come to battle against them; and this he knew that Amalickiah would do that he might obtain his purposes.
31 Therefore Moroni thought it was expedient that he should take his armies, who had gathered themselves together, and armed themselves, and entered into a covenant to keep the peace—and it came to pass that he took his army and marched out with his tents into the wilderness, to cut off the course of Amalickiah in the wilderness.
32 And it came to pass that he did according to his desires, and marched forth into the wilderness, and headed the armies of Amalickiah.

I thought to myself then, Saddam Hussein has a lot in common with Amalickiah. Once an ally, his desire for power had led him to declare solidarity with the enemies of our state. He had a stated intention of using what force is at his disposal against us and our allies. And he was about to join forces with some of our most hideous enemies. If he had not stated this intention clearly and unequivocally, pre-emption would not have been justified.

Moroni engaged in pre-emption to keep the evil of war from spreading to involve larger quantities of people. I believe that President Bush did too. He's no Captain Moroni, of course; if Captain Moroni really had even half the muscles Arnold Friberg painted him with, he'd make Bush look like a girly-man. ;) But the fact that Bush prays daily and at least tries to do the will of the Lord is better than the alternative of not praying or not trying to do the will of the Lord.