Saturday, September 8, 2012

Military Service & Mormons

While honoring those who do, I never served in the military. I was born in that three-year window (1957-1960) that I didn't even have to file with Selective Service. I was happy about that too. And I kind of understand where Mitt Romney is coming from that neither he nor his sons have served. Regardless of the obvious challenges of war and death, the military can also be a challenge to young men in keeping up their standards of religious practice.

This is reflected in a Letter of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Concerning Military Training. I found this while looking for something else (such is serendipity) in an old college file from Ray C. Hillam's BYU Poli-Sci class on War (1980). This is not the current policy of the Church with regard to military service - nor mine [but there's a lot of good in it]. It merely reflects an interesting historical insight into the time, place and people. George Albert Smith, the subject of our Priesthood and Relief Society lessons this year, was President of the church:

From the Deseret News of January 4, 1946 (also published at the Millennial Star blog):
We print below a letter dated December 14, 1945, addressed by the First Presidency of the Church to each member of the Utah Congressional Delegation-Senators Thomas and Murdock and Congressmen Granger and Robinson. Word has now been received by the First Presidency from both Senators and both Congressmen expressing their approval of and belief in the sentiments, reasons, and conclusions set forth in the letter. The letter follows:
Press reports have for some months indicated that a determined effort is in the making to establish in this country a compulsory universal military training designed to draw into military training and service the entire youth of the nation. We had hoped that mature reflection might lead the proponents of such a policy to abandon it. We have felt and still feel that such a policy would carry with it the gravest dangers to our Republic.
It now appears that the proponents of the policy have persuaded the Administration to adopt it, in what on its face is a modified form. We deeply regret this, because we dislike to find ourselves under the necessity of opposing any policy so sponsored. However, we are so persuaded of the rightfulness of our position, and we regard the policy so threatening to the true purposes for which this Government was set up, as set forth in the great Preamble to the Constitution, that we are constrained respectfully to invite your attention to the following considerations:
1. By taking our sons at the most impressionable age of their adolescence and putting them into army camps under rigorous military discipline, we shall seriously endanger their initiative thereby impairing one of the essential elements of American citizenship. While on its face the suggested plan might not seem to visualize the army camp training, yet there seems little doubt that our military leaders contemplate such a period, with similar recurring periods after the boys are placed in the reserves.
2. By taking our boys from their homes, we shall deprive them of parental guidance and control at this important period of their youth, and there is no substitute for the care and love of a mother for a young son.
3. We shall take them out of school and suffer their minds to be directed in other channels, so that very many of them after leaving the army, will never return to finish their schooling, thus over a few years materially reducing the literacy of the whole nation.
4. We shall give opportunity to teach our sons not only the way to kill but also, in too many cases, the desire to kill, thereby increasing lawlessness and disorder to the consequent upsetting of the stability of our national society. God said at Sinai, “Thou shalt not kill.”
5. We shall take them from the refining, ennobling, character-building atmosphere of the home, and place them under a drastic discipline in an environment that is hostile to most of the finer and nobler things of home and of life.
6. We shall make our sons the victims of systematized allurements to gamble, to drink, to smoke, to swear, to associate with lewd women, to be selfish, idle, irresponsible save under restraint of force, to be common, coarse, and vulgar, all contrary to and destructive of the American home.
7. We shall deprive our sons of any adequate religious training and activity during their training years, for the religious element of army life is both inadequate and ineffective.
8. We shall put them where they may be indoctrinated with a wholly un-American view of the aims and purposes of their individual lives, and of the life of the whole people and nation, which are founded on the ways of peace, whereas they will be taught to believe in the ways of war.
9. We shall take them away from all participation in the means and measures of production to the economic loss of the whole nation.
10. We shall lay them open to wholly erroneous ideas of their duties to themselves, to their family, and to society in the matter of independence, self-sufficiency, individual initiative, and what we have come to call American manhood.
11. We shall subject them to encouragement in a belief that they can always live off the labors of others through the government or otherwise.
12. We shall make possible their building into a military caste which from all human experience bodes ill for that equality and unity which must always characterize the citizenry of a republic.
13. By creating an immense standing army, we shall create to our liberties and free institutions a threat foreseen and condemned by the founders of the Republic, and by the people of this country from that time till now. Great standing armies have always been the tools of ambitious dictators to the destruction of freedom.
14. By the creation of a great war machine, we shall invite and tempt the waging of war against foreign countries, upon little or no provocation; for the possession of great military power always breeds thirst for domination, for empire, and for a rule by might not right.
15. By building a huge armed establishment, we shall belie our protestations of peace and peaceful intent and force other nations to a like course of militarism, so placing upon the peoples of the earth crushing burdens of taxation that with their present tax load will hardly be bearable, and that will gravely threaten our social, economic, and governmental systems.
16. We shall make of the whole earth one great military camp whose separate armies, headed by war-minded officers, will never rest till they are at one another’s throats in what will be the most terrible contest the world has ever seen.
17. All the advantages for the protection of the country offered by a standing army may be obtained by the National Guard system which has proved so effective in the past and which is unattended by the evils of entire mobilization.
Responsive to the ancient wisdom, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,’ obedient to the divine message that heralded the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world, ‘. . . on earth peace, good will toward men,’ and knowing that our Constitution and the Government set up under it were inspired of God and should be preserved to the blessing not only of our own citizenry but, as an example, to the blessing of all the world, we have the honor respectfully to urge that you do your utmost to defeat any plan designed to bring about the compulsory military service of our citizenry. Should it be urged that our complete armament is necessary for our safety, it may be confidently replied that a proper foreign policy, implemented by an effective diplomacy, can avert the dangers that are feared. What this country needs and what the world needs, is a will for peace, not war. God will help our efforts to bring this about.
Respectfully submitted, GEO. ALBERT SMITH, J. REUBEN CLARK, JR., DAVID O. MCKAY, First Presidency.”
This is interesting on so many levels: the views on compulsory, universal military service or military service in general; the way it was directed to the Utah Congressional Delegation and then publicly shared; and the expansive statement of the then First Presidency's opinion on this subject. I don't see it on the level as scripture, and it is not binding on us today [IMHO] just like a lot of other things said in past years by church leaders.

I did a search of the Church's website including the public Handbook 2 at and could not find a definitive modern statement. Maybe there's something in Handbook 1. My understanding is, and I in no way speak for the Church, that the Church today supports and honors our members in military service (there are LDS Chaplains) but doesn't actively encourage enlistment. I think church leaders would prefer to see young men and women serve missions, get educated, and get married and have families, rather than have them go into the military. That would be my preference. Some of that sentiment is apparent in the statement above and possibly carries on to the present even though we still have many in the presiding quorums of the church, including the entire First Presidency who have served (Pres. Monson at the tail-end of WWII, Pres. Eyring during a non-combat period of the Cold War, and President Uchtdorf in the Luftwaffe (post-WWII)).

What I was looking for and failed to find in that old college file was some source for my understanding that the BYU trimester and block system was put in place in the late 1960s to allow return missionaries to enroll in school at six points through the year in order to obtain student status to help them with their chances in the draft. If any one has any information on this, I would love to have it.

My personal view is that I would support a system of universal national service - either a year in the military and subsequent reserve duty or a two-year commitment to the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps with generous exceptions for other forms of service that would include things like an LDS Mission. [Our current, all-volunteer military seems to be able to recruit, yet enlistment seems to fall more heavily on the disadvantaged in finances and education. And we have far too many wars. With a renewed draft more universally applied, our voting public and representatives might be more hesitant to send their youth to war. Also, I have no problem with "nation building" as long as we don't invade first. And military can be used for the public good in disaster relief, fire-fighting, levee building, etc. - not just war. Maybe we have to get around "involuntary servitude" somehow, but I do believe citizenship requires some sense of responsibility and obligation.]

While I was blessed to be born in that window exempt from Selective Service, the demographics seem to have favored my dad and grandfathers as well. My grandfathers were both too young for WWI and mature enough with other war-support responsibilities to avoid military service in WWII - one grandfather farming and the other building bombs at the Ogden Arsenal.

I have a letter from my father to his parents announcing that my mom was expecting (me) to be born just after dad graduated from BYU. The way he announced it was to ask them to let the draft board know. Maybe my birth was lucky twice.

September 24, 2012
I did finally find this link at

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome. Feel free to disagree as many do. You can even be passionate (in moderation). Comments that contain offensive language, too many caps, conspiracy theories, gratuitous Mormon bashing, personal attacks on others who comment, or commercial solicitations- I send to spam. This is a troll-free zone. Charity always!