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The Liberal Mormon: “Your Attitude Toward War”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 31, 2013

With the end of World War II only weeks in the past, and before yet knowing much of the consequences of the war to Church members who had been cut off from contact from Church leadership for years, this was the lesson for discussion by older teens in Sunday School.

Your Attitude Toward War

Problem: What Should Be the Attitude of Latter-day Saint Youth Toward War?

At the time this lesson was written World War II was raging. The Latter-day Saints in all the world were either directly or indirectly involved; many were wearing the uniforms of their respective countries and all were subject to intense nationalistic programs. In the dilemma, it is fitting that all recall the twelfth article of faith: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”Even though circumstances compel us to assert the rule of “force,” as Christians we should carry the spirit of”love”; never should we forget the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God. If we must fight, let us fight for principles and not against men – let our heads dictate but not overrule our hearts. In the midst of conflict, let us look forward to the days of peace.

What is War?

In modern civilization war is a final method of settling disputes when all other methods have failed. In the earlier stages of history, physical combat was the common means of settling arguments. “Might” made “right.” Duels, family feuds, and tribal wars darken the pages of history. However, with social progress these have been outlawed by enlightened society. All are crimes against the state, punishable by law. Nevertheless, the equivalent, war still maintains in disputes between nations, and oftentimes between factions within nations. Because of this absurdity, someone has declared, “One murder makes a villain, millions make a hero.”

Brigham Young attacked this lethargy in thinking, when he declared: “Our tradition has been such that we are not apt to look upon war between two nations as murder; but suppose that one family should rise up against another and begin to stay them, would they not be taken up and tried for murder? Then why not nations that rise up and slay each other in a scientific way be equally guilty of murder? ‘But observe the martial array, how splendid! See the furious war horses, with their glittering trappings. Then the honor and glory and pride of the reigning king must be sustained, and the strength and power and wealth of the nation must be displayed in some way; and what better way than to make war upon neighboring nations, under some slight pretext?’ Does it justify the slaying of men, women, and children that otherwise would have remained at home in peace, because a great army is doing the work? No; the guilty will be damned for it.”

Having recognized the futility and immorality of the use of force in the settlement of differences between individuals, families, cities and states, must we continue its use between nations? Must the members of the organized society stand in constant horror of outbreak with some neighbor, which will result in wholesale slaughter and misery?

What is the Cause of War?

In 1914, the year of the outbreak of World War I President Joseph F. Smith answered this question in a Conference address: “Would it be possible, could it be possible, for this condition to exist if the people of the world possessed really the true knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ? And if they really possessed the Spirit of the living God – could this condition exist? No; it could not exist, but war would cease, and contention and strife would be at an end. And not only the spirit of war would not exist, but the spirit of contention and strife that now exists among the nations of the earth, which is the primal element of war, would cease to be. We know that the spirit of strife and contention exists to an alarming extent among all the people of the world. Why does it exist? Because they are not one with God, nor with Christ. They have not entered into the true fold, and the result is they do not possess the spirit of the true Shepherd sufficiently to govern and control their acts in the ways of peace and righteousness. Thus, they contend and strive one against another, and at last nation rises up against nation in fulfillment of the predictions of the prophets of God that war should be poured out upon all nations. I don’t want you to think I believe that God has designed or willed that war should come among the people of the world, that the nations … should be divided against one another in war, and engaged in the destruction of each! God did not design or cause this. It is deplorable to the heavens that such a condition should exist among men, but the conditions do exist, and men precipitate war and destruction upon themselves because of their wickedness and that because they will not abide in God’s truth, walk in his love, and seek to establish and maintain peace instead of strife and contention in the world.”

Does God Cause Wars?

Brigham Young is in complete accord with President Smith’s viewpoint: “Of one thing I am sure: God never institutes war; God is not the author of confusion or of war; they are the results of the acts of the children of men. Confusion and war necessarily come as the results of foolish acts and policy of men, but they do not come because God desires them to come. If the people, generally, would turn to the Lord, there would never be any war. Let men turn from their iniquities and sins, and, instead of being covetous and wicked, turn to God and seek to promote peace and happiness throughout the land, and wars would cease. We expect to see the day when swords shall be turned into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, and when men shall learn war no more.”

What is Accomplished Through War?

An editorial in the Salt Lake Telegram (May 9, 1936) appraised the World War as follows:

“A war to save democracy, which left democracy on the verge of death; a war to end militarism, which left militarism stronger than ever before; a war to crush despotism, which succeeded only in replacing the despotism of divine right with that of brute strength. We have had other post-war generations, but none of them looked back at any such thing as that.”

What is the Cost of War?

Let us examine the statistics on the World War which accomplished the results so vividly portrayed above – “the war to end wars.”

10,000,000 soldiers killed.

$340,000,000,000 expended and lost.

Interesting to note, of the 9,998,771 soldiers killed, 6,938,519 were fighting for the allies, who “won” the war, and 3,060,252 for the central powers, who “lost” the war.

Query: Who won the war?

Again, the direct expenditures of the allies was $125,590,476,467, who “won,” and the central powers $60,643,160,600, who “lost.” Query: Who won the war?

The indirect costs in capital value and the lives lost (imagine estimating lives in dollars and cents), in property losses, in losses of production, in losses to neutrals and war relief, was $151,612,552,560. Added to the figures above the total is $337,846,189,657.

Incidentally, the bill of the United States for “making the world safe for democracy” was 107,284 soldiers killed and $22,625,252,843 of direct war costs, plus $10,338,058,351 in loans, now called “war debts,” some $67,000,000,000 of which may never be paid.

Furthermore, lives lost and direct expenditures and loans do not represent the full bill. Col. Leonard P. Myers, renowned business statistician, believes that Wars Make Depressions. A careful study of the war of 1812, the Civil War, and the World War convinces him that depressions fall in the wake of wars. In each case “there seems to have been the same sequence of (1) price inflation, (2) farm prosperity and farm land speculation, (3) price deflation and depression, (4) city prosperity and speculation, (5) secondary price deflation and secondary depression.” This accounts for the panic of 1825, the post-war depression of 1874, and the Wall Street furor of 1929. Colonel Ayers concludes, “Our troubles are not the result of some mysterious and hither to unsuspected weakness in our social system, nor can they be cured by adopting a five-year, a ten-year, or twenty-year plan of reorganization of our industries, our banks and our commerce. The true lesson of the depression is that we cannot afford any more great wars!” (Literary Digest, September 26, 1931).

Professor Bowers (Religion and the Good Life) is right, “But the most devastating indictment of wars occurs when it is held up to criticism in the light of our moral values. Measured by almost every ethical criterion, War is immoral. It tends to violate every spiritual and human quality of personality. It feeds for the most part upon bestial passions. … War is a regression to the primitive, the animal, the brute in us. Its aftermath is lawlessness, the breakdown of moral standards, the eclipse of spiritual ideals, and the collapse of social morale. Those who looked for the revival of idealism after the World War were innocent of history. Itself for the most part immoral, war tends to breed immorality.”

What is Accomplished Through War?

However, in 1940 it is clear that World War did save democracy in some nations for at least a score of years, unfortunately, the peace treaty was executed unwisely; with the result that the vanquished were left vindictive. The intensity of the struggle left the victorious exhausted and in no spirit to check the militarism which inevitably overcomes conquered peoples. Now, war must needs be repeated. Even so, all of the combatants see principles involved for which they are willing to risk their lives.

A War Against War.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ should be our standard in the war against war! War extols force; Jesus taught love. It is true that Jesus preached no sermon against war, as far as we know. Yet his attitude of non-resistance shows plainly his approach to this and other problems of aggression. The solution to this problem involves a return to religion, recognition of the universal Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. When war is recognized as an immoral institution, contrary in every respect to the spirit of Christianity, the Christian nations have it within their power to outlaw war as a method of settling international disputes, just as they have outlawed displays of brute force within their own boundaries. True Christianity and war cannot survive together; one or the other must be crushed out of the world.

“Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9.)

“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” (Romans 14:17-19.)

Personal Problems.

1. Under what conditions would I fight for my country?

2. What personal problems, if any, can be solved by war?

3. How can I assist in outlawing war?

4. In which do I truly believe, force or love?

5. How can I prove it?



  1. And yet, “better red than dead” was roundly condemned by orthodox mormonism just a few years later.

    Comment by The Other Clark — July 31, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

  2. Maybe we need an “Especially for Youth” to establish standards to protect us from falling into the sin of immoral war. Instead of how many earrings, we could determine how many terrorist attacks it takes before we invade other countries.

    “How can I assist in outlawing war?” Wow! just wow!

    Comment by Grant — July 31, 2013 @ 8:09 pm

  3. Was the author unaware that war had already been outlawed?

    Comment by Last Lemming — August 1, 2013 @ 7:57 am

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