War and Foreign Policy

Lesson 7

Topics: War, Foreign Policy, Patriotism, Nationalism, Independence.

War and foreign policy are complex and often controversial topics. Even among liberty-minded individuals, it is not uncommon to come across disputes about the various wars the United States has been involved in and whether those wars were justified. Some would argue that very few of the wars the U.S. has been involved in were justified.

In modern scriptures the Lord tells us what is required for a war to be considered justified:

Renounce war and proclaim peace… And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them. And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue; and if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord; then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people. And I, the Lord, would fight their battles, and their children’s battles, and their children’s children’s, until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies, to the third and fourth generation. Behold, this is an ensample unto all people, saith the Lord your God, for justification before me.

And again, verily I say unto you, if after thine enemy has come upon thee the first time, he repent and come unto thee praying thy forgiveness, thou shalt forgive him, and shalt hold it no more as a testimony against thine enemy.. (D&C 98)

The Book of Mormon also gives examples of what constitutes an unjust war (showing justification for defensive war and forbidding offensive war):

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; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands. (3 Nephi 3: 18–21)

And it was because the armies of the Nephites went up unto the Lamanites that they began to be smitten; for were it not for that, the Lamanites could have had no power over them. 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. (Mormon 4: 4-5)

Spencer W. Kimball, in a 1976 First Presidency Message titled “The False Gods We Worship“, said the following:

In spite of our delight in defining ourselves as modern, and our tendency to think we possess a sophistication that no people in the past ever had—in spite of these things, we are, on the whole, an idolatrous people—a condition most repugnant to the Lord.

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 anti-enemy 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).

W. Cleon Skousen wrote about the War Powers and the Remaining Enumerated Powers:

One of the most important reasons the states united together was to promote their mutual defense. Spelling out the war powers was therefore a highly significant segment of the Constitution.

It will be noted that the entire depository of power in connection with the military was vested in the Congress, not the President. This meant that Congress had to declare war before the President could take action. An exception, of course, was allowed in the case of an unexpected invasion, authorizing the President to take emergency action as commander in chief of the armed services.

In the Constitutional Convention there was strong opposition to a standing army. The entire army was demobilized just as soon as the Revolutionary War was finished. The Founders did not want the President to have the power to raise an army as the British kings had repeatedly done. Furthermore, they did not want the Congress to vest the President with permanent funds to support the military. Their object was to prevent both the President and the Congress from setting up a structure which might become a military dictatorship.

Thomas Jefferson said the following about war:

We love and we value peace; we know its blessings from experience. We abhor the follies of war, and are not untried in its distresses and calamities. Unmeddling with the affairs of other nations, we had hoped that our distance and our dispositions would have left us free in the example and indulgence of peace with all the world… We confide in our strength without boasting of it; we respect that of others without fearing it.

Benjamin Franklin felt that war was a terrible waste:

In my opinion, there never was a good war or a bad peace. What vast additions to the conveniences and comforts of living might mankind have acquired if the money spent in wars had been employed in works of public utility! What an extension of agriculture, even to the tops of our mountains; what rivers rendered navigable, or joined by canals; what bridges, aqueducts, new roads, and other public works, edifices, and improvements, rendering a … complete paradise, might have been obtained by spending those millions in doing good which in the last war have been spent in doing mischief; in bringing misery into thousands of families, and destroying the lives of so many thousands of working people, who might have performed the useful labor!

James Madison believed that a standing army is a dangerous but necessary provision:

A standing force … is a dangerous … necessary, provision. On the smallest scale it has its inconveniences. On an extensive scale its consequences may be fatal…

The Union itself … destroys every pretext for a military establishment which could be dangerous. America united, with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat… A dangerous establishment can never be necessary or plausible, so long as they continue a united people. But let it never for a moment be forgotten that they are indebted for this advantage to the Union alone. The moment of its dissolution will be the date of a new order of things…

Next to the effectual establishment of the Union, the best possible precaution against danger from standing armies is a limitation of the term for which revenue may be appropriated to their support. This precaution the Constitution has prudently added.

George Washington made the following statement in his Farewell Address:

Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be,that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt, that, in the course of time and things,the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages, which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its Virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

Ezra Taft Benson spoke the following words of wisdom regarding United States Foreign Policy:

Ever since World War I, when we sent American boys to Europe supposedly to “make the world safe for democracy”, our leaders in Washington have been acting as though the American people elected them to office for the primary purpose of leading the entire planet toward international peace, prosperity and one-world government.

…We mistake the object of our government… Conquest or superiority among other powers is not or ought not ever to be the object of republican systems. If they are sufficiently active and energetic to rescue us from contempt and preserve our domestic happiness and security, it is all we can expect from them…

There is one and only one legitimate goal of United States foreign policy. It is a narrow goal, a nationalistic goal: the preservation of our national independence. Nothing in the Constitution grants that the President shall have the privilege of offering himself as a world leader.

Nothing in the Constitution nor in logic grants to the President of the United States or to Congress the power to influence the political life of other countries, to “uplift” their cultures, to bolster their economies, to feed their peoples or even to defend them against their enemies.

The preservation of America’s political, economic and military independence–the three cornerstones of sovereignty–is the sum and total prerogative of our government in dealing with the affairs of the world. Beyond that point, any humanitarian or charitable activities are the responsibility of individual citizens voluntarily without coercion of others to participate.

The proper function of government must be limited to a defensive role–the defense of individual citizens against bodily harm, theft and involuntary servitude at the hands of either domestic or foreign criminals. But to protect our people from bodily harm at the hands of foreign aggressors, we must maintain a military force which is not only capable of crushing an invasion, but of striking a sufficiently powerful counter-blow as to make in unattractive for would-be conquerors to try their luck with us.

Should we enter into treaties such as the U.N. Covenants which would obligate our citizens to conform their social behavior, their educational practices to rules and regulations set down by international agencies? Such treaty obligations amount to the voluntary and piece-meal surrender of our political independence.

We must put off our rose-colored glasses, quit repeating those soothing but entirely false statements about world unity and brotherhood, and look to the world as it is, not as we would like it to become. Such an objective, and perhaps painful, survey leads to but one conclusion. We would be committing national suicide to surrender any of our independence, and chain ourselves to other nations in such a sick and turbulent world.

Senator Robert A. Taft clearly explained our traditional foreign policy:

Our traditional policy of neutrality and non-interference with other nations was based on the principle that this policy was the best way to avoid disputes with other nations and to maintain the liberty of this country without war. From the days of George Washington that has been the policy of the United States. It has never been isolationism; but it has always avoided alliances and interference in foreign quarrels as a preventive against possible war, and it has always opposed any commitment by the United States, in advance, to take any military action outside of our territory. It would leave us free to interfere or not according to whether we consider the case of sufficiently vital interest to the liberty of this country. It was the policy of the free hand.

Many well-intentioned people are now convinced that we are living in a period of history which makes it both possible and necessary to abandon our national sovereignty, to merge our nation militarily, economically, and politically with other nations, and to form, at last a world government which, supposedly, would put an end to war… But such an evaluation is a shallow one.

There are two kinds of peace. If we define peace as merely the absence of war, then we could be talking about the peace that reigns in a communist slave labor camp. The wretched souls in prison there are not at war, but do you think they would call it peace?

The only real peace–the one most of us think about when we use the term–is a peace with freedom. A Nation that is not willing, if necessary, to face the rigors of war to defend its real peace-in-freedom is doomed to lose both its freedom and its peace! These are the hard facts of life. We may not like them, but until we live in a far better world than exists today, we must face up to them squarely and courageously.

Until all nations follow the concept of limited government, it is unlikely that universal peace will ever be realized on this planet. Unlimited, power-grasping governments will always resort to force if they think they can get away with it.

In that same talk, Benson also shared the following general principles regarding war and foreign policy:

  • Establish and maintain a position of independence with regard to other countries
  • Avoid political connection, involvement or intervention in the affairs of other countries
  • Make no permanent or entangling alliances
  • Treat all nations impartially, neither granting nor accepting special privileges from any
  • Promote commerce with all free peoples and countries
  • Cooperate with other countries to develop civilized rules of intercourse
  • Act always in accordance with the “laws of Nations”
  • Remedy all just claims of injury to other nations and require just treatment from other nations, standing ready, if necessary to punish offenders
  • Maintain a defensive force of sufficient magnitude to deter aggressors.

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Lessons on Liberty – Table of Contents