Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Doctrine of Preemption

I wrote this article in March of 2006 just after the current National Security Strategy was released. I originally submitted it to a new LDS-related Web-based "magazine" but it was never published and, besides, the "magazine" eventually went under. It is published here for the first time:

The Doctrine of Preemption

This month President Bush released his National Security Strategy (NSS), the first one since 2002. As in his first NSS released on September 20, 2002, one of the main doctrines of this document is the Doctrine of Preemption. Preemption is the anticipatory use of force in the face of imminent attack. According to a December 2002 Brookings Institution policy brief, “Preemption … has long been accepted as legitimate and appropriate under international law. In the new NSS, however, the administration is broadening the meaning to encompass preventive war as well, in which force may be used even without evidence of an imminent attack to ensure that a serious threat to the United States does not "gather" or grow over time. The strategy also elevates preemption in importance, and visibility, within the tool kit of U.S. foreign policy.” Since the time President Bush first espoused this doctrine in June of 2002, I have wondered about the spiritual effect it would have on us as a nation, but now that he has reiterated it in the new NSS, I have become distressed by the doctrine of preemption.

Preemption itself does not distress me; I believe there are valid uses of preemption. The June 1981 Israeli attack on the Osirak nuclear facility near Baghdad is an excellent example. However, preemption as a standard doctrine in our national security strategy torments me.

September 11, 2001 changed the way we, as a nation, view the world. It changed the way we feel we must to react to the world. It made us aware that we are vulnerable, that the oceans that separate us from the rest of the world no longer provide a safe barrier. It presents us with an apparent dilemma: do we wait for another attack and retaliate against that in an effort to thwart further attacks, or do we seek out the apparent dangers and attack them before they have a chance to develop? We feel we have only these two choices.

It is more than just a political dilemma; it is a moral one as well. The moral question can work both ways: the moral obligation to protect (a parental obligation) versus the ethical/social concept that violence begets violence. I believe that President Bush feels a strong (parental) responsibility
to protect his people and looks at preemption as a defensive move. I
do not believe he considers it for any other reason. I do not believe he is interested in taking control of the land or its oil or its people. The President’s desire to protect his nation and its people is a righteous desire, but I believe he is looking to the wrong source for our defense.

My distress at this doctrine and my concern for the spiritual well-being of our nation comes from my study of the scriptures. I have a deep love for the Book of Mormon. To me the Book of Mormon is more than “the keystone of our religion;” it is more than another testament of Jesus Christ; it is a pattern for our day.[1] Mormon and Moroni both saw our day[2] and included only those things which we would need to survive the last days.

The Book of Mormon tells us repeatedly the Lord’s view of preemption and its consequences.

In Alma chapter 43, the Lamanites come against the Nephites and we read:

And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies.[3]

Alma chapter 48 Amalickiah comes against the Nephites. We see that Moroni has been preparing the Nephite armies and cities for defenses and that he “had been preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God.”[4] Then we read:

Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives.[5]

When Giddianhi, the Gadianton leader, demanded the Nephite surrender, we read:

Now the people said unto Gidgiddoni: Pray unto the Lord, and let us go up upon the mountains and into the wilderness, that we may fall upon the robbers and destroy them in their own lands.
But Gidgiddoni saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands

In the final days of the Nephite civilization, Mormon tells us:

And they did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land.
And it came to pass that I, Mormon, did utterly refuse from this time forth to be a commander and a leader of this people, because of their wickedness and abomination

As long as the Nephites defended their own lands, the Lord defended them. As soon as they decided to eliminate the ‘Lamanite problem,’ the spirit of the Lord departed from them and their civilization was destroyed.[8] We see similar teachings and warnings throughout all the standard works.[9]

Another disturbing warning about preemption is found in Mormon 4:5. The Lord uses the wicked to punish the wicked:

But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.

The supposed dilemma we face, to wait passively to be attacked or to attack, is a part of my distress. It looks a lot like the doctrine of the two ways. Satan is great at offering us two alternatives and making us feel they are our only choice. It is an easy game for him. Usually the two choices he offers are both 1) wrong, 2) really the same thing, or 3) both wrong and the same: Catholicism or Protestantism; Democrat or Republican; Capitalism or Communism; coffee or tea. I could go on and I am sure you can think of several.

This “dilemma” is addressed in the scriptures as well. The best example I can think of is in Isaiah chapter 37. The Assyrian army is invading the land of Judah. Their army so far outnumbers the Israelites; there is no defense against them. They surround and lay siege to Jerusalem. The Assyrians tell the people of Jerusalem not to trust in Egypt for protection, nor to let Hezekiah talk them into trusting in the Lord, for He will not be able to deliver them. The people are left with two choices: surrender and become slaves or be destroyed. However, Hezekiah calls Isaiah to give counsel and direction. Verse 36 gives us the outcome:

Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.[10]

My distress all boils down to the realization that we as a nation have come to rely too much upon the arm of flesh (our doctrine of preemption) and not the guidance of our Lord. The answer to my distress is inherent in all of these stories. When the people follow the advice of the prophet, they are protected.

This places a great responsibility on us as a people (Latter-day Saints) and as individuals. We need to be in tune with the spirit so that we can receive personal revelation for our families and ourselves. We also need to listen to our Prophet and follow his counsel with exactness. In our last General Conference, October 2005, he (President Gordon B. Hinckley) counseled us in his address titled If Ye Are Prepared Ye Shall Not Fear. In that address, he reminded us:

We can so live that we can call upon the Lord for His protection and guidance. This is a first priority. We cannot expect His help if we are unwilling to keep His commandments. We in this Church have evidence enough of the penalties of disobedience in the examples of both the Jaredite and the Nephite nations. Each went from glory to utter destruction because of wickedness.[11]

In that same conference, he counseled us to be a forgiving people.[12] We need to pray for our nation and its leaders, as well as the leaders of all nations. Samuel the Lamanite said the city of
Zarahemla was spared for the righteous’ sake, but that it would not always be so.[13] In the April 2003 General Conference, President Hinckley urged us to be a prayerful people; to pray for peace, among other things. He said, “I am satisfied that if enough prayers ascend to heaven …, the Lord will answer those prayers for the sake of the righteous.”[14]

The responsibility lies with us. We as a people need to foster forgiveness and good will. We need to share the gospel with everyone we meet.[15] We need to realize that our salvation is not in the arm of flesh, but in the Lord. We need to be aware that the world is going to go in one direction, but we must withdraw from that and stay focused on Zion and becoming truly a Zion people. We must thank God for prophets, the priesthood, and personal revelation. We must use them. They are the only things on which we can rely.

In closing, I quote a Prophet of the Lord who summarizes my concerns and conclusions better than anything that I could write. Let us remember the counsel of President Spencer W. Kimball:

We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)

We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us—and this is the special promise to the inhabitants of the land of the Americas (see 2 Ne. 1:7)—or he will fight our battles for us (Ex. 14:14; D&C 98:37, to name only two references of many). This he is able to do, for as he said at the time of his betrayal, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53.) We can imagine what fearsome soldiers they would be. King Jehoshaphat and his people were delivered by such a troop (see 2 Chr. 20), and when Elisha’s life was threatened, he comforted his servant by saying, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kgs. 6:16). The Lord then opened the eyes of the servant, “And he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2 Kgs. 6:17.)

We believe that the way for each person and each family to prepare as the Lord has directed is to begin to exercise greater faith, to repent, and to enter into the work of his kingdom on earth, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It may seem a little difficult at first, but when a person begins to catch a vision of the true work, when he begins to see something of eternity in its true perspective, the blessings begin to far outweigh the cost of leaving “the world” behind.

Herein lies the only true happiness, and therefore we invite and welcome all men, everywhere, to join in this work. For those who are determined to serve the Lord at all costs, this is the way to eternal life. All else is but a means to that end.[16]


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