In honor of TR’s birthday.

For many human beings, there are boundaries of behavior, thought and speech not usually crossed. We may perceive them as sheer underwater cliffs where dangers lurk, or simply as self-drawn chalk lines on the infield of life. We may draw those lines in response to instruction from respected sources or perhaps some reasoned/seasoned or intuitive understanding. We may draw them based on painful experience. We draw them in society and fill prisons with those who feel it is necessary or worthwhile to violate the contract. Our helplessness as infants and caution as elders draw them for us. Birth and Death paint red boundaries which we have crossed or do cross at our peril. They’re not visible from the field. They’re in the access tunnels, just out of the light.

The Gospel, in addition to being that good news of Christ, carries with it a standard of conduct and a set of boundaries. “Blessed are . . .” may suggest a route to travel as much as “thou shalt . . . .” Moving along our life trajectories, we follow patterns of force. Some believe those patterns or fields are self-generated, others do not. (The real truth may steer a course between them (grin available here).) When those patterns of force together with the small directional acts we ourselves generate either in space-time or mental-time become orthogonal to behavioral boundaries, it may be nearly inevitable that we will cross those boundaries and that there the current of consequence may be swift and strong. (Things become more perplexing when the boundaries appear to be in motion.)

All this is described in a wonderfully terse way here:

The foregoing is of course, reformed English script. It is very compact, and may express a multitude of different trains of thought. Being able to read it, just won’t do. And you cannot supply the “correct” interpretation without sufficient indoctrination/initiation. You may recognize each separate character as English (perhaps from different eras). Meaning is trickier and this is particularly true with religion. And that is my moral for today. You just never know what you might be reading – even in this post.

The social flow of war, the internal flow, can be a force that grabs a man and pushes him to the brink of moral destruction. The flow at the edge of moral chasm is matched by the sum of all those smaller acts and thoughts in the internal regions of morality in addition to what may be terrible external pressures. I think this realization is what drove Mormon’s clear admiration of Captain Moroni. Moroni was a war chief who resisted the temptation of depravity. While his editors tend to let their appreciation for that restraint paint a monochrome image of the hero (I think) it seems clear that a variety of emotion, perhaps hatred, disgust and even sin, played its role in Moroni’s personal journey.

Mormon sees a contrast in the way Moroni skirted the edge of the chasm and what happened to his (Mormon’s) own people, the large majority of whom apparently cashiered Christian principle for hate, bigotry and its entrained revenge. Their acts were startlingly similar to the acts of some modern warriors. War can breed hardness in the men who fight it. When your friend with whom you shared fear, elation, hardship and deadly earnest, suddenly becomes a pile of goo lying next to you, it is easy to learn what it means to hate. To want to kill the bas**rds who did it. To see them as monolithic Evil in the calculus of war. Americans were taught this lesson slowly but inexorably in the opening events of World War II -especially in North Africa. It was a tide that Moroni dealt with (on a much smaller yet perhaps a more frightening scale).

A few of my friends have shared with me some of their experiences in war. Not the kinds you have probably read about. Though these men would be seen by their neighbors and acquaintances as good, faithful Latter-day Saints (which they are), the tides of war helped bring about actions and behaviors that they now keep carefully to themselves. Even those who fought the “Good War” could fall prey to purgatorial down-drafts into moral twilight.

On this anniversay of D-day we should remember acts of nearly unbelievably stunning heroism and bravery and those who performed them. But perhaps also the lesson that war matches those moments with other occasions of morally ambiguous, even devilish, feelings and acts.

I don’t offer judgment for the latter, but applause for the former. And I do thank God for a merciful Christ. We all need Him, desperately, heroes and otherwise.


  1. WVS, I really liked this post. I too am grateful for our heroes, and I thank God I’ve never experienced the depravity of war. But I don’t think it takes something as tumultuous as war to make us realize how close to the boundaries we are and how powerful the forces that would push us over can be.

    When my first child was born, a friend with older children joked at me that God makes children cute so we don’t kill them. I was shocked at the joke, but even more taken aback that she kind of seemed to mean it. I never understood her message until a couple years later when my twins were born and they’d screamed incessantly at me for two straight months. My shift was 10pm-2am and my wife’s was 2-6, and we heroically did what we could to comfort their colic. But I’d never experienced exhaustion and frustration like that, and I had no idea what they could do a person. I think about that dark night fifteen years ago and I look at my beautiful, healthy twin daughters today, and I thank God for His mercy. And I can’t help but ask new parents if they’re getting adequate rest and taking care of themselves.

  2. Amen, Bill.

    An interesting compliment to this post is Emmeline B. Wells’ “War! War! And Why War?” Relief Society Bulletin 1 (September, 1914): 3-5. She describes a similar wartime dynamic.

  3. John Mansfield says:

    I happened to read the above with a copy of Lamb’s Hydrodynamics lying on the desk open at Section 107 (Motion of a Planetary Ellipsoid), so the equation above is one I’m on close terms with. Never thought about it like this, though, so thanks.

  4. Amen, brother. Amen.

    Unfortunately, we honor the “heroes” far more often and visibly than those who are the common fodder – especially the fodder who return and have to deal with “normal life” that simply isn’t normal anymore.

  5. Thank you for this post. We must be grateful for and honor those who put their lives and morals on the line for our liberties. If you look at war briefly without looking beyond the surface it may seem that those who have given their lives have provided the ultimate sacrifice, but we should not overlook the sacrifice of those who have escaped death, but are left to live with the aftermath of being pushed “to the brink of moral destruction.”

  6. I don’t know how people survive the mental horrors of war. I know many do go on to live productive lives. I wish I could quiet their inner savage voice if it is bringing things back.

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