Category Archives: Military

Mormons, Vietnam, Romney and the Draft, revisited

Five years ago, the Boston Globe ran an article suggesting collusion between the LDS Church and the US Selective Services regarding deferments for missionaries in general, and Mitt Romney in particular. The simple truth was, yes, young men could get a ministerial deferment (one of many different deferments available) for the duration of their mission, but the deferment vanished as soon as the mission ended — and the mission was fixed in duration. I should know: my own draft number was 4, and the only reason I didn’t end up enlisting in the US Navy was that the draft was suspended before I returned home from my mission.

More significant, though, is that during an era in which anti-war protests were common on many college campuses, they were almost non-existent at Brigham Young University. What’s more, BYU had large, active Army and Air Force ROTC programs all through the war, even though many other colleges and universities were criticizing, curtailing, or even shutting down their own ROTC programs.

Well, the issue has come up again, triggered in part by Ann Romney’s appearance on The View, where Whoopi Goldberg inexplicably thought that Mormons weren’t allowed to fight. (Seriously? Did someone feed her this question, or did she come up with it on her own?) But that brought up the fact that Mitt Romney didn’t serve in the military and has resurrected the same themes of collusion and draft dodging. I made the statement in my post five years ago that Latter-day Saints if anything were probably over-represented in the US military during the Vietnam War; now I have evidence of that.

Let’s look at the figures. During the period of the Vietnam War — say, 1965-1974 — the total US population was around 200 million. During that same period of time, LDS Church membership grew from roughly 2.4 million to 3.4 million. That membership is men, women, and children of all ages, both inside and outside of the United States. I have not yet been able to find the actual United States LDS membership for that period, but I will assume that it was on the order of 75% of the total LDS membership, or about 2 to 2.5 million — just a bit over 1% of the US population.

Furthermore, probably only about 50% (if that much) of that membership within the United States represented actively practicing and attending members. So the ratio of active LDS members living in the US to the US population at large during that period was probably on the order of 0.5%, perhaps less.

So, how many self-identified Mormons were killed in Vietnam? 589 out of 58,193, or just over 1% of all US military deaths. In other words, Mormons were at least proportionately represented by population among US military deaths in Vietnam and were likely over-represented. 

How many Mormons served in uniform for the US military in Vietnam? Assuming they died at the same rate as everyone else, it would be about 27,000 (1% of 2.7 million).

So, yes, Mormons did fight — and die –in Vietnam in numbers at least proportional to their percentage of the US population and likely higher.

As for Mitt Romney, my understanding was that he had a ministerial deferment for his mission and one or more student deferments (which didn’t end until 1971) while attending college. Millions of other students had legitimate student deferments, too, usually in multiples (since you had to reaffirm each year that you were still enrolled in college) — that wasn’t draft dodging, that was the norm, and it actually increased college enrollment during the period in question. ..bruce..

 

Mormons, the Mossad, and 9/11

Courtesy of Article VI Blog comes a link to this, ah, fascinating article that not only repeats the tired and ridiculous trope that Israel was behind the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001, but that the Mormons were involved as well. A few excerpts (all errors and typos are in the original article):

The establishment of a branch of Brigham Young University in Israel created a legitimate front for covert activities of the secret/CIA element of the church. It is from there that Mormon world political interests are promoted and pursued lobbying the Israeli government to pursue its unenlightened, inhuman activities under Mosaic Law of an eye for an eye philosophy against Arab states and the deprived Palestinian people. . . .

The first public awareness of the nexus between Mossad and Mormon secret agents was published by Norman Mailer in A Harlot High and Low in the 60’s when a reconditioned WWII Liberty ship was “hijacked” on the Thames River in London by Mossad. The ship had a cargo of uranium ore that had been originally mined in southern Utah. The details of that intrigue were published in an earlier article on OpedNews http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_doug_wal_071212_romneys_selective_ig.ht

It involved the Utah Corporation which mines the surface of Australia as well as Chile.I mentioned that Secret elements of the church conspired with the CIA to overthrow democratically elected president Allende of Chile so that the business interests of the church could continue uninterrupted by the then recent action of Allende in nationalizing the mines in Chile.

The most recent exposure of that nexus came within the framework of the 9-11 event.Being pre-informed if not directly involved in the plans for destroying the Twin Towers as well as Building 7 on September 11, 2001 is demonstrated by official advice given toMormons working in the World Trade Center to not show up for work that day. . . .

The nexus between the church and the Bush Administration has been documented by the pressure placed on the church from a personal visit by Bush to church headquarters in Salt Lake City prior to the forced retirement of BYU physics professor Steven Jones in late 2006.  Jones was/is in the forefront of scientifically establishing a conspiracy to destroy the World trade Center by pre planted explosives. He is just doing what church founder Smith predicted elders of the church would do in saving the Constitution.

If this weren’t so amusing, I’d be offended. I was living and working in Washington DC on 9/11/2001; in fact, the house that Sandra and I had just moved into was about 4 miles due north of the Pentagon. While I didn’t personally know anyone who was killed on that day, there were plenty of people in our ward who did. And I can assure Wallace that none of us were warned about anything. (Note to Wallace: we had been living in DC proper for nearly two years at that point; the house we had just moved into was 2 miles closer to the Mall and the Pentagon.)

What makes this article even more amusing is that there are anti-Mormon evangelicals who claim that the LDS Church is supporting Arab terrorism. (The Church sent hygiene kits and blankets to the Gaza strip, just as they have sent relief to North Korea. All God’s chilluns need warmth and first aid.) And in all this, I wonder what Douglas Wallace, who authored this article, thinks of the terrorists who keep claiming credit for the 9/11 attacks.

For what it’s worth, Wallace (as he alludes to in his credits at the end of the article) is the LDS lawyer who was excommunicated in 1976 for ordaining a black to the priesthood. The incoherence, paranoia, and anti-Semitism of this article renders him a less understandable and sympathetic character than he might otherwise be.  ..bruce..

Book of Mormon origins (cont.)

For those who did not read my previous posting (“New light on Book of Mormon origins!“) closely enough, let me state plainly: it was a satire. It was, however, satire with a point, and (IMHO) a very sharp one at that. (Sadly, I predict that this information may show up — as a serious argument — on some anti-Mormon websites, as has happened elsewhere on the net with other satirical efforts.)

That post came about because I happen to be re-reading Arrian’s The Campaigns of Alexander at the same time that my wife and I — in our nightly joint reading of the Book of Mormon — are working our way through the ‘war’ chapters in Alma (Alma 45-63). In fact, the pattern for the past few weeks has been that I come to bed, read a chapter out of Alma out loud to my wife, and then (as she turns over to go to sleep) I read quietly out of Arrian for a while before going to sleep myself. Night after night, I was struck at the points of similarities between the two accounts — not the overall narrative, obviously, but much of the details and incidental points.

And while my previous post is written satirically, make no mistake: all of the similarities I list between Arrian’s Anabasis Alexandri and the Book of Mormon are real, and there’s quite a few more, to boot (which I will continue to add to the original post).

For me, the question is: how could a 19th Century farm boy with little education — and with no access whatsoever to the century-plus of movies and TV shows that we take for granted — so accurately describe various aspects of pre-Christian era warfare as they would appear and be chronicled in an ancient historical document? It really is quite striking how much Arrian’s account of Alexander’s campaigns sounds like Mormon’s account of Moroni’s and Helaman’s campaigns.

I have read both the Spaulding manuscript and Views of the Hebrews, and have seen the attempts (profoundly unconvincing, in my opinion) to draw parallels between them and the Book of Mormon. Jeff Lindsay just wrote about an even more laughable attempt to draw general (categorical, not detailed) parallels between the Book of Mormon and works of fiction, such as The Lord of the Rings. The Book of Mormon reads like none of these.

I have also seen the rather contorted efforts to show that Joseph Smith somehow could get access in upstate New York to various obscure, rare, or even not-yet-extant works (atlases, translated documents, etc.), often available only in Europe at the time of the Book of Mormon’s translation, in order to put passing references (e.g., “Nahom”) into the Book of Mormon. I don’t remember whether it was Wilfred Griggs or Kent Brown who — in reference to such efforts — joked about wanting to write an article, “Joseph Smith in the British Museum: The Lost Years”, so I gave both of them credit in my footnote.

And, of course, there are the efforts to explain the Book of Mormon as somehow being a natural production of Joseph Smith’s background, 19th Century Northeast America. Others have done a far better and more scholarly refutation of such claims than I can; my point is that, again, Mormon sounds far more like Arrian than like anything coming out of the early 1800s in upstate New York.

I appreciate the dilemma of those seeking a purely naturalistic explanation for the Book of Mormon, but it’s a dilemma of their own choosing. It reminds me very much of pre-Corpernican efforts to account for movements of the planets — with the unnegotiable foundational premise that the whole universe revolved around the Earth. This model ended up going through tremendous contortions, epicycles upon epicycles, but with this difference: the pre-Corpernican epicycles actually predicted planetary motion with great accuracy. In my opinion, the various naturalistic ‘models’ of the Book of Mormon fall apart once you move outside of their careful set of special pleadings. The simplest, most consistent, and most effective explanation of the Book of Mormon is the one Joseph Smith — and the book itself — gives.

So, no, I don’t think Joseph Smith somehow got hold of Rooke’s 1812 translation of Anabasis Alexandri and drew upon it in writing the Book of Mormon. I think that Joseph Smith translated a genuine ancient document, and that the Book of Mormon and Anabasis Alexandri sound a lot alike because they share a common focus, milieu and era. ..bruce..

Live free or die

I posted the following editorial cartoon over at one of my other blogs:

While some will I’m sure object to the quote in the cartoon above, I will argue that the quote itself is reflected in much of the Book of Mormon, as well as in LDS history, though not always in the way one would think.

FIrst, the easy part. The message that “death is not the worst of evils” pervades the Book of Mormon. A long series of prophets, starting with Lehi, risk their lives in order to deliver God’s word; some, such as Abinadi, die unpleasant deaths as a result. Likewise, believers risk — and in some cases lose — their lives for their beliefs. The women and children converted by Alma2 and Amulek in Ammonihah are thrown alive into a pit of fire; Alma2 notes that “the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory.” (Alma 14:8-14). The people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi allows themselves to be killed rather than take up weapons or renounce their faith; “and we know that they are blessed, for they have gone to dwell with their God. . . . Therefore, we have no reason to doubt but they were saved.” (Alma 24:20-26). The Book of Mormon also notes the tragedy of those who die unprepared to meet God (Alma 48:23), and several of the prophetic discourses in the Book of Mormon (notably Jacob and Alma2 ) stress the importance of being prepared to meet God (via death) at all times.

Likewise, LDS history and doctrine — particularly up through the end of the 19th century — strongly emphasizes that what matters is not death but our state at death: “And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them; and they that die not in me, wo unto them, for their death is bitter.” (D&C 42:46-47) We honor our pioneers, particularly those who died during persecutions and the long trek out to the Salt Lake Valley, and we seek to express our own willingness for such sacrifice when we sing

And should we die before our journey’s through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!

— “Come, Come Ye Saints” by William Clayton

Second, I would argue that the sentiment “Live free or die” is reflected through much of the Book of Mormon as well, as well as in LDS history, though with perhaps at times with a different meaning than usually suggested by that phrase.

The classic interpretation in and of itself is quite clear in the Book of Mormon. The attempt by Amalickiah to reinstate a kingship by force (with support of the lower judges — so much for ‘democracy‘) over the Nephites leads Moroni1 to raise his famous title of liberty (cf. Alma 46). Amalickiah flees over to the land of Nephi, where his coup in turn against the Lamanite king is successful, and he stirs up the Lamanite nation against the Nephites, leading to this observation by Mormon (who also brings up the ‘unprepared for death’ theme again):

But, as I have said, in the latter end of the nineteenth year, yea, notwithstanding their peace amongst themselves, they were compelled reluctantly to contend with their brethren, the Lamanites. Yea, and in fine, their wars never did cease for the space of many years with the Lamanites, notwithstanding their much reluctance. Now, they were sorry to take up arms against the Lamanites, because they did not delight in the shedding of blood; yea, and this was not all—they were sorry to be the means of sending so many of their brethren out of this world into an eternal world, unprepared to meet their God.

Nevertheless, they could not suffer to lay down their lives, that their wives and their children should be massacred by the barbarous cruelty of those who were once their brethren, yea, and had dissented from their church, and had left them and had gone to destroy them by joining the Lamanites. Yea, they could not bear that their brethren should rejoice over the blood of the Nephites, so long as there were any who should keep the commandments of God, for the promise of the Lord was, if they should keep his commandments they should prosper in the land. (Alma 48:21-25)

Still, this same book of Alma tells of the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, who were perhaps the most righteous people in all of Book of Mormon history — who willingly died rather than take up their swords against their fellow Lamanites. This they did rather than violate their covenant with God that they would never take up weapons of war again, because of their previous “sins and many murders”, swearing that “rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives” and that they “would suffer unto death rather than commit sin.” (Alma 24:6-19).

Likewise, with rare (and usually unproductive) exceptions, the Latter-day Saints chose to move along — from New York to Ohio to Missouri to Illinois to the Rocky Mountains, with resultant hardship and death — so that they might live free to practice their religion. While the Doctrine & Covenants does contain the “Lord’s law of battle” — which justifies battle only after three efforts at peaceful settlement have been rejected (cf. D&C 98:34-38) — the few instances of armed resistance by Latter-day Saints usually just made things worse.

Still, it is the children of the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi — those who become Helaman’s two thousand “stripling warriors” — who turn out to be the most effective fighters in all the Book of Mormon. And their motivation? Here’s what Helaman1 writes to Moroni1 about leading them into battle for the first time:

Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go against them to battle?

And now I say unto you, my beloved brother Moroni, that never had I seen so great courage, nay, not amongst all the Nephites.

For as I had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me: Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus.

Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it. (Alma 56:44-48)

Still, the Book of Mormon’s major theme hearkens more back to the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi: spiritual freedom (even if it leads to death) is better than life (if it leads to spiritual death). “Live free or die” gets a new meaning in the light of passages such as these:

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. (2 Nephi 2:27)

“Live free or die” is literally the choice before us, while “Death is not the worst of evils” is a reminder of what really matters in our mortal — and eternal — lives. There are causes worth dying for, and there are outcomes to our choices that are worse than death. Both things worth keeping in mind.  ..bruce..

Veterans Day

I’m not a veteran, though my good friend (and co-blogger over at And Still I Persist) Bruce Henderson is. But my mother (the genealogist) sent me a list of veterans in our family. Here’s the list (with a few additions of my own) in rough reverse chronological order:

  • Jon A. Webster, USMC (active) — currently at Camp Pendleton, awaiting deployment to Iraq [son]
  • Heather Harris, US Army National Guard (former) — [daughter]
  • Greg Barsic, USMC (former), USCG (active) — currently serving in the US Coast Guard [son-in-law]
  • Frank Wallace, USMC (former) — [married to my niece]
  • Brad Poeltler, USN (ret.) — Navy pilot who served as an instructor at ‘Top Gun’ [brother-in-law]
  • Robert Wendt, USN (ret.) — also former Navy pilot [former brother-in-law]
  • Bill Lowell, US Army (former) — [former brother-in-law]
  • John A. Webster, USN (ret., dec.) — served in both WW II and Vietnam [my father]
  • James Francis Webster, USN (dec.) — served in WW II [my paternal grandfather]
  • John Silas Fickes, CSM, USN (dec.) — served in WW I, Mexican Revolution, and WW II [my maternal grandfather]
  • John William Fickes, 1st Sgt., Co. A, PA Militia, 8th Reg. Infantry — served in Spanish-American War [great-grandfather]
  • James Edward Taylor, Pvt. Co. D, II PA Volunteer Infantry — served in Civil War [great-great grandfather]

God bless them all, and God bless America. ..bruce..

Lest we forget

Gerard Vanderleun — who was just across the river from Manhattan, in Brooklyn Heights, when the WTC was hit — has posted his own memories of that day:

I’ll simply link to my posts from last year, as well as Bruce Henderson’s:

This was an act of war — a simultaneous attack on our financial, military and political centers that cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Pity we have lost sight of that:

..bruce..

Mormons and the Vietnam-Era Draft

I see that the Boston Globe, as part of their campaign against Mitt Romney, is trying to paint a sinister portrait of the LDS Church working “hand-in-hand” with the Selective Service Board on draft deferments for LDS young men serving full-time missions during the Vietnam era.

What a load of hooey.

Not that the deferments didn’t happen; they did. I should know: I had one. My draft number (in the 1972 spring draft) was 4, an absolute guarantee that I would be drafted after my 2-year (fixed-term) mission was over. The only person on my dorm floor with a draft number under 100 was Glade Roper (now a judge in Texas), who spent the next few weeks calling me “Sarge”. I made my plans to enlist in the Navy when I came back, since I would no longer have a ministerial deferment at that point. As it turned out, I didn’t have to; the draft ended several months before I returned from Central America.

But this is why the Boston Globe story is a load of hooey: during the Vietnam Era, Mormons were almost certainly over-represented in the US Armed Forces. At a time when many universities were banning or discouraging military recruiters and eliminating their ROTC programs, BYU welcomed all such recruiters and had large and active Army and Air Force ROTC programs. Likewise, anti-war protests during the Vietnam Era were relatively rare and small at BYU. US-based Mormons as a rule were at this time fiercely patriotic, pro-military, and generally anti-Communist; they probably questioned the Vietnam War less than any other major religious group in the US, even when the LDS leaders themselves had long-standing concerns and issues.

By and large, Mormons were not draft-dodgers; instead they were volunteers. Yes, ministerial deferments were available for the standard two-year period of serving a mission, but many LDS young men turned around after those two years and either enlisted or were drafted. In fact, the only person I personally knew of who died in Vietnam was Paul Rose, the older brother of an LDS acquaintance in a neighboring ward (LDS congregation) in La Mesa, California.

I know nothing of Mitt Romney’s personal history with the draft and military service; as I’ve noted before, he’s not my choice for President, and I feel no particular need to defend him. But the Boston Globe’s insinuation that Latter-day Saints were collectively a bunch of draft dodgers is just silly.  ..bruce..