I have come to love this period of history. During those years, the faith of the world was tested. People of many nationalities and beliefs were united against a common enemy. There are hundreds of stories about the prayers that were offered, the love and compassion that was felt, the sacrifices that were made for the good of freedom. That war brought tremendous suffering to millions of people. There were also horrors committed that are unspeakable. There are many lessons to be learned from this conflict.
I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Our nation is now involved in another conflict against the foes of freedom. Yet the passion that seems to have motivated our grandfathers does not seem to motivate us. Why? Do we fail to recognize the threat? Do we love freedom less? Maybe we do.
As a family, we have been reading the Book of Mormon. For those of you who have not read it, there is a portion that describes the wars among the people in detail. Some are turned off by this, questioning what purpose such information has on our spiritual progress. Each time I read or hear these stories of war and its consequences, I learn more about why they were included in the Book of Mormon.
Just as it was during World War II, the Book of Mormon describes innocent people being killed for no other reason than hatred. This still happens today. Some may ask why God would allow the innocent and devoted to be treated so badly. Alma 14:11 explains
"But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day."
Does that mean it is okay for innocent people to be killed. Of course not. But those who commit these atrocities... well, let's just say I don't want to be in their shoes at the judgment bar of God.
Some make the argument that we don't need to get involved in the problems of others. I have heard Americans described as arrogant for trying to stop the conflicts that don't directly involve us. We are criticized, even by our own people, for attempting to bring peace to countries that don't want it and "making them more like us". I can't imagine anyone who loves freedom saying anything like this.
A particular incident in the Book of Mormon stands out to me as one of the greatest episodes in history. It is the account of the Army of Helaman, a band of 2000 young men. Their parents had been Lamanites, savage and bloodthirsty enemies of the Nephites. After they were taught the true gospel of Christ, they buried their weapons in the earth and vowed to never take up arms against another, even in defense of their lives. Many were killed as a result. These Lamanite converts eventually became refugees among the Nephites.
As the wars between the Nephites and Lamanites became more severe, the former Lamanites considered joining the Nephite army to help defend their freedom. Instead their sons volunteered. They had not made that covenant with God to never take up weapons of war. They are described as "very young", but old enough to fight. I imagine they may have been as young as 10 years old.
These young men, lead by Helaman, went to the aid of a Nephite army lead by Antipus. Alma 56:45-57 describe the character of these young men and what they were able to accomplish.
"...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... The army of Antipus being weary,... were about to fall into the hands of the Lamanites; and had I not returned with my two thousand they would have obtained their purpose... And now it came to pass that when they had surrendered themselves up unto us, behold, I numbered those young men who had fought with me, fearing lest there were many of them slain. But behold, to my great joy, there had not one soul of them fallen to the earth; yea, and they had fought as if with the stregnth of God; yea, never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength; and with such mighty power did they fall upon the Lamanites, that they did frighten them; and for this cause did the Lamanites deliver themselves up as prisoners of war."I can not read that without becoming emotional. There are so many lessons in those short verses. Those young men cared more about the freedom of others than their own lives. That sentiment is still present among our military today. I know from experience that not everyone feels that way but the majority do. They love their country. They love their fellow citizens. They love freedom. They are willing to leave their homes and families to fight for it. They are willing to die defending it.
Another lesson of these verses is that the battle between good and evil is not won by chance. God supports those who exercise faith in him, giving them the strength and courage they need to overcome their enemies. Just as important is the lesson that faith is not gained in the moment of battle, it is nurtured and cultivated so that when the time comes, there is no doubt. That "greenhouse of faith" is not in communities or public schools or even churches but in the home.
The longer I am associated with the US military and their families, the more my confidence is restored in the people of our nation. I have met so many wonderful people who are guided by faith, virtue, and love. When I hear comments that the military is full of "blood-thirsty warmongers" I know that the person speaking does not know many members of the military. I believe there was a time when people understood that peace doesn't come by doing nothing.
In the past 70 years our world has changed with dizzying speed. I am sure that there is a certain nostalgia that influences our perceptions of the past. Still, you can not argue with facts. World War II was not just a series of military battles. It was a national effort. People were gladly willing to enduring the hassles and deprivation of rationing. They did everything they could to support the war efforts. The British sent their children to live in the safety of the countrysides so that they might survive the war. The leaders of the nations involved encouraged their people to pray (without fear of offending anyone). There was a humility that seems conspicuously absent in today's world.
I know there are physical wars in the world today. I also know that there are battles being fought everyday, on every street, in every home, all over the world. We are living in a time when the differences between good and evil are growing more and more striking. During World War II people didn't have to worry about hearing profanity and vulgarity blasted over the PA system when they went shopping. Children were not bombarded with offensive images and violence from TV, billboards, and junk mail flyers. People were not condemned for being honest, moral, or chaste. I know life was not perfect then. Is it really better now?
During this time of memorial, I hope that we can all defend freedom wherever we are and support those who defend it elsewhere.