[Note from Admin: Recently, while under the influence of some (allegedly) fermented root beer, a rogue BCC perma suggested that permas from M* and BCC switch places in the name of building bridges or increasing dialogue between two groups who often don't seem to play nicely with each other. Although no one was sure if anything would come of this proposal, Geoff B. has made good on his end of the agreement.]
Geoff B is a convert to the Church who writes for Millennial Star. http://www.millennialstar.org
For a relatively recent convert like myself, President Hinckley’s April 2003 talk right before the U.S. entered the Iraq war was very confusing. On the one hand, it was clear to me after reading the Book of Mormon two or three times by then that the Church’s message is one of peace, non-aggression and avoiding offensive wars. On the other, President Hinckley seemed to be justifying the Iraq invasion.
In a democracy we can renounce war and proclaim peace. There is opportunity for dissent. Many have been speaking out and doing so emphatically. That is their privilege. That is their right, so long as they do so legally. However, we all must also be mindful of another overriding responsibility, which I may add, governs my personal feelings and dictates my personal loyalties in the present situation.
When war raged between the Nephites and the Lamanites, the record states that “the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for … power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church…It is clear from these and other writings that there are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat, and oppression.
Sitting in a Church pew in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I felt it was obvious that President Hinckley was expressing his personal opinion that the coming war was just. I speak only of my personal response: all of the Brazilians I knew didn’t see the talk that way. They continued to see the Iraq invasion as a massive mistake by the United States and to see the Church as proclaiming peace, not war. One Brazilian I knew said that President Hinckley was saying that countries like Iraq that fought against U.S. forces were justified to fight for their own liberty and against U.S. tyranny.
It turns out my Brazilian friends were right, and I was wrong, at least in the overall message they took away from the Church’s efforts.
I spent most of 2003 through 2007 proclaiming on Mormon blogs and in personal conversations that the war was justified. What can I say? I thought the prophet supported the war, and, frankly, I thought the criticism of President Bush was rude and over-the-top. I thought it was my duty to support what I considered to be the Church’s position, and I thought it was necessary to add a voice of support to a beleaguered president during war time.
How do I feel about our wars in the Middle East now? Let’s just say I have done a complete reversal. And let me get this out of the way right now: my change of position has nothing to do with supporting President Bush and not supporting President Obama. In retrospect, Bush was a horrendous president for a myriad of reasons. I have no problem with those lambasting him. And President Obama cannot be fairly blamed for wars that he inherited. Once Bush made the mistake of extending our involvement in Afghanistan and invading Iraq, he left Obama with few good choices. This is one of the horrors of war: once it starts, your possibility of making a good choice diminishes.
So, conservatives who join the anti-war movement as an excuse to bash Obama do not get my sympathy. But those who have had a true conversion – and I include myself in this group – deserve a chance to explain themselves and hopefully bring new people to the cause. To those on the anti-war left (and those great, principled libertarians), my message is: I support you. You were right about the Iraq war, and I was wrong. To those conservatives who still champion our interventionist policy in the Middle East, my message is: there is nothing conservative about big-government warmongering. To those in between, my message is: I hope I can convince you to join me in the anti-war movement.
Here are the reasons I am an anti-war conservative.
1) The Book of Mormon clearly is a warning that bad decisions lead to all-out, devastating war. The book brings this message home with Mormon’s description of not one but two societies (the Jaredites and the Nephites) who went from happy, peace-loving people devoted to the Prince of Peace to genocide in the space of a few generations. The clear takeaway is: turn to God, love Jesus and serve him, give generously to your fellow man, and you will have joy and peace. In contrast, if you love materialism, are filled with pride, refuse to serve your fellow man and allow yourself to concentrate on contention, you will create the conditions leading to all-out war. The Book of Mormon is clearly a warning for our day.
I am continually struck by how the Book of Mormon makes it clear that war forces otherwise good people into situations where they can only choose between bad decisions. Mormon’s choice to gather the Nephites in one place against the Lamanites probably appeared at the time to be the best decision, but it made it easier for the Lamanites to kill nearly all of the Nephites. Defenders of President Truman say dropping the A bomb was the best choice compared to an invasion of Japan that might have killed millions, but the truth is that all decisions at that point were bad.
It seems to me the over-arching message for our day is: let’s make the correct choice now on war. Let’s oppose unjust, aggressive, interventionist wars. Let’s only support defensive wars, as the most righteous Nephites did.
2) We have a huge debt problem, and no money to spend on war. Estimates of the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan run from $1.2 trillion to $3 trillion. Our debt is $14.5 trillion. Isn’t it obvious that our debt would be substantially lower without our interventionist foreign policy? You could perhaps morally justify the first six months of the Afghanistan invasion, but why are we still there? Yes, our costs will go down over time, but even at the most optimistic estimate we will spend hundreds of billions in the coming years maintaining bases in uncomfortable and inhospitable places. We simply can’t afford it.
3) Is there an example of another world power that has a strong, growing economy and a noninterventionist foreign policy? Yes, there is. That country would be China. China has a beleaguered Muslim minority, yet al Qaeda has not declared war on China. No Chinese embassies have been bombed, and no Chinese ships attacked. China is the largest investor in Brazil and dozens of other countries, and everybody loves the Chinese. Why? Because the Chinese are interested in mutually satisfactory trade. They could care less about a country’s internal politics. They only want to do business and to spend and earn money. What’s not to love? (I speak only of China’s foreign policy here when I use the word “love.” Domestic Chinese policy, not so much).
4) War has domestic effects in the U.S. that liberty-loving people simply cannot accept. In World War 1, we had Socialist Eugene Debs arrested for speaking out against the war. In World War II, we had 100,000 Japanese interned in concentration camps because of their race. During Vietnam, we had Kent State and constant riots. Now we have the Patriot Act, TSA goons molesting six-year-old girls and Guantanamo. War causes panic, and panic brings a loss of civil liberties. Isn’t there another way?
5) There has always been an anti-war conservative movement. In the late 19th century, it was centered in the Democrat party of Grover Cleveland, which opposed US imperialism. In the 20th century, there was Albert J Nock, HL Mencken, Ludwig von Mises, Frederick Hayek, Murray Rothbard and a long list of conservative/libertarian intellectuals. Robert Taft was known as “Mr. Republican” – he was an ardent noninterventionist who opposed both US involvement in World War II and the Korean war. The best Republican presidents – Coolidge, Eisenhower and Reagan – resisted getting entangled in wars. The worst – Nixon and both Bushes – were anxious to go to war. Ron Paul and Gary Johnson are leading anti-war Republicans, but there are others: Justin Amash, Walter Jones and Rand Paul. Nobody is going to make any money betting on Ron Paul to be the Republican candidate in 2012, but I would be willing to bet he and Gary Johnson will get 15-20 percent of the vote. Anti-war Republicans are a not insignificant force.
6) If you are a conservative, you are in favor of small government and are suspicious of state power. War brings big government and more state power. Can’t you see the contradiction?
What do I make of President Hinckley’s talk now? I think there are many things you can take away from it. I wanted to support the Iraq war, so I found the parts of it that did. The Brazilians wanted to oppose the Iraq war and found the parts of it that supported their position. It is worth pointing out that the prophet said he was speaking personally, not for the Church. There are literally hundreds of quotations from prophets over time decrying war. Apostles and prophets spoke out against World War II, against dropping the Atomic bomb, against the Korean war and against Vietnam. But at the end of the day it is simply undeniable that the Book of Mormon is a warning against aggression, against materialism, against pride and against war, which is the horrible result of our worst attributes.
It appears there are some general guidelines for anti-war conservatives:
A) Be suspicious of all use of state power. Our current Libyan adventure is a good example. Yes, it is good Qaddafi is on his way out. But will we get someone better? And who will be responsible for ensuring stability in Libya in the coming months and years? You will. Your taxes will pay for new roads, buildings and schools in Libya so another thug can set up Swiss bank accounts filled with money from the US Treasury. Isn’t that great?
B) Support nonaggression and nonintervention. Conservatives shouldn’t support the government telling Americans what to do. This is why we opposed Obamacare, which involves the government telling Americans they must buy a specific product or face a fine. Why do we support telling people in other countries what they must do?
C) Be cheap. Support voluntary giving overseas to good causes – not massive government operations that always cost much more than originally planned.
D) Support friendly relations with all nations. Support free trade and voluntary exchange of goods. Non-intervention does not mean isolation. We must be part of the world economy and thrive. We should do business wherever we can. But we cannot afford to be involved in the internal politics of our trading partners.
There you have it. A conservative anti-war platform. Let’s “renounce war and proclaim peace” (D&C 98:16).