Monday, July 19, 2004

Pacifism and Anti-War

One of the most dramatic and touching stories in the Book of Mormon is the story of the People of Ammon (also known as the Anti-Nephi-Lehies). For those not familiar with the story or who don't have time to read it in Alma chapters 24 through 29, here's the Cliff Notes version:

The People of Ammon were a group of Lamanites who underwent a religious conversion which put them at odds with the other Lamanites, who had formerly been their neighbors and allies. Disgusted with all the blood they'd shed prior to their conversion, the People of Ammon took a vow never to fight again, and buried all their weapons (the really stirring part of the king's speech to this effect is in Chapter 24, verses 12 through 16). The Lamanites were not impressed with this religious conversion, and came to fight the now-defenseless People of Ammon. The People of Ammon said their prayers and laid down to die. Over a thousand of them were killed before the Lamanites sickened of the bloodshed, but they had a profound effect on the attacking Lamanites. These Lamanites went off to make war elsewhere, but later came back and joined in the People of Ammon's vow of pacifism.

The People of Ammon then faced annihilation at the hands of some unconverted former allies of the Lamanites, who for many reasons (including cultural and historical reasons) repudiated the message of the People of Ammon and refused to be swayed by their pacifism. The Nephites, historical enemies of the Lamanites, took in the People of Ammon and agreed to provide for their defense. The Nephites gave the People of Ammon the land of Jershon to live in, and defended them there at great cost in lives (the text describes bodies rotting in heaps and the cries of mourning widows). The People of Ammon expressed great appreciation for this sacrifice, without which they would all have been killed.

The key to understanding the People of Ammon and their relationship to people today who oppose war is to understand that the People of Ammon were pacifists, but were not against war. They realized that war was necessary to defend the lives of people; they just personally preferred death to fighting a war. They were delighted when others joined them in their vow of pacifism, but did not self-righteously try to impose pacifism on others. They realized that as long as people had free will, there would always be people who would attack them, and they accepted the natural consequences of their choice not to defend themselves. But when the Nephites came to their defense and generously gave them part of their land and sacrificed many lives so that they could keep their ideological/religious purity, they were grateful-- so grateful, in fact, that they offered to live as slaves to the Nephites (the offer was refused).

Contrast this with today's anti-war crowd, which seems to believe that war is never necessary, seeks to destroy the free will of anyone who would choose war, and refuses to be grateful for the sacrifices others have made in defense of their personal pacifism.

I can respect anyone who says "I could never fight in the armed services and kill people, even in defense of myself or my family." I have no respect, however, for anyone who believes that no one should ever fight in defense of their family, and wants to castigate me for being willing to sacrifice in defense of my country and theirs. It would be a wonderful world indeed if no one would fight each other. However, I don't believe that we can hope for that sort of perfection, given that we cannot abrogate the free will of others to decide that we are the enemy.