What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: R_SH
Over 1,600 years ago, the prophet Mormon painstakingly chiseled away at his plates of ore to tell the tale of his people for future generations. From a young age, he had been set apart to prophesy to his people, the Nephites, and guard the sacred records that recounted their prosperity and their iniquity. At age 15, he was appointed general over all the Nephite armies—a daunting task for anybody, let alone a young teenager, since their persistent enemy, the Lamanites, were waging war against them.
Mormon’s instructions, given by his prophetic predecessor, were to “engrave on the plates of Nephi all the things that ye have observed concerning this people.” From the start, Mormon lamented the wickedness of his fellow Nephites—their rebellion against God, their hard hearts, and their embracing “sorceries, witchcrafts, and magic”. In short, they had rejected God, and been left to themselves. The consequence, writes Mormon, was “blood and carnage spread throughout all the face of the land”. “It was one complete revolution,” he said.
A short time later, Mormon documented “a full account of all the wickedness and abominations” he had witnessed, one which “ha[d] been before [his] eyes ever since [he was] sufficient to behold the ways of man.” He had plenty of material to report, including the implementation of pre-emptive warfare, people enjoying and thirsting after bloodshed, twice sacrificing women and children to idol gods, entire cities razed to the ground, forced cannibalism, rape, torture, and murder, and the destruction of over two hundred thousand of his men.
In writing about such depravity, Mormon was sensitive to what future readers would think. “I, Mormon, do not desire to harrow up the souls of men in casting before them such an awful scene of blood and carnage as was laid before mine eyes,” he wrote. Still, he recognized the importance of informing others of what had happened, so they could learn from others’ mistakes and prevent a recurrence of such atrocities. He therefore proceeded with his work, “…[k]nowing that these things must surely be made known,” he wrote, “and that all things which are hid must be revealed upon the house-tops.” That was something Christ himself had mentioned during his ministry, saying that “whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”
While the primary purpose of the abridged record was “to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God,” a secondary and important purpose was noted when Nephi wrote that “the nations who shall possess [the records] shall be judged of them according to the words which are written.” Jesus Christ, in his visit to the Nephite people a few centuries earlier, stated that “out of the books which have been written, and which shall be written, shall this people be judged, for by them shall their works be known unto men.” Judgment requires accountability, and to be accountable we must be informed—thus the importance of documenting experiences, prophecies, mistakes, and miracles.
After Mormon’s death, his son continued to document what he observed, writing that one day it would “be brought out of darkness unto light, and that it “shall shine forth out of darkness, and come unto the knowledge of the people.” Referring to the secrecy his father and Jesus had mentioned would one day be widely declared, Moroni prophesied that their record would see the light in a time when “secret combinations and the works of darkness” raged.
Mormon and his son Moroni, analyzing the records of the Jaredite and Nephite people, had intimate and explicit knowledge about why these societies imploded, and what factors played an important part. The information they chose to pass on—the good news of the gospel along with all the war stories, corruption, conspiracies, and wickedness—was not intended merely for casual reading and historical analysis. Moroni knew that what they were documenting had deeper intent:
Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.
Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up.
For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people, for it is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies; even that same liar who beguiled our first parents, yea, even that same liar who hath caused man to commit murder from the beginning; who hath hardened the hearts of men that they have murdered the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out from the beginning.
Wherefore, I, Moroni, am commanded to write these things that evil may be done away, and that the time may come that Satan may have no power upon the hearts of the children of men, but that they may be persuaded to do good continually, that they may come unto the fountain of all righteousness and be saved. (Ether 8:23-26)
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about WikiLeaks—an organization which, though it and its leaders certainly have their faults, is similar in many ways to the work in which Mormon was engaged. This group of hackers and activists has been extremely effective in relaying to the world a small sample of what surely is a staggering amount of corruption and conspiracy—or, as Mormon would say, “wickedness and abominations”.
Just a few days after I wrote that post, WikiLeaks released a segment of classified U.S. military footage showing a series of attacks by an Apache helicopter on unarmed Iraqi citizens, killing 12, including two Reuters employees. This video highlighted in the U.S. military an element which Mormon noticed in his own: a thirst after bloodshed. The soldiers are overheard chuckling about shooting individuals and running one over with a tank; they shoot people who arrive to collect their wounded friends (in direct violation of the Rules of Engagement); they begged and were very eager to shoot a person already wounded and disabled by their helicopter-mounted guns; and they showed absolutely no remorse for having fired upon children riding in the van that was intended to transport the wounded.
In July, WikiLeaks released over 75,000 documents it had been delivered relating to the war in Afghanistan, spanning six years. The reports consist of reports made by soldiers on the battlefield observing and reporting on the circumstances in which they had been engaged. They relate things, some of which were already known from other sources: that the Taliban was growing in strength and being assisted by Pakistan, a country to which the Untied States is supplying billions of dollars; that the Afghanistan government is corrupt; and that the United States has killed Afghanistan civilians, many of which they had not previously reported. On one occasion, a group of soldiers gunned down a bus with their machine gun, wounding or killing 15 of the passengers. On another, marines shot down civilians after witnessing a suicide bombing and allegedly coming under small arms fire. According to The Guardian, the soldiers “open[ed] fire with automatic weapons as they tore down a six-mile stretch of highway, hitting almost anyone in their way — teenage girls in the fields, motorists in their cars, old men as they walked along the road. Nineteen unarmed civilians were killed and 50 wounded.” On yet another occasion, as documented in the logs, U.S. special forces dropped six one-ton bombs on a compound hoping to kill a “high-value individual”. The government reported that 150 Taliban died as a result; locals reported differently, namely, that up to 300 civilians had died.
Last Friday, WikiLeaks released their most recent—and most important—set of documents they had been leaked. These reports, also spanning six years, are a collection of almost 400,000 field reports from the war in Iraq. The files record over 66,000 civilian deaths out of a total recorded death toll of 109,000—over 15,000 more than were previously admitted by the U.S. government. They contain reports of torture by Iraqi police on their fellow countrymen, and the institutionalized indifference of the U.S. government which knew of its occurrence and frequency, yet did nothing; summary executions by Iraqis with the coalition forces noting that “no investigation is necessary”; and, as with Afghanistan, a propensity for being all too trigger happy. In one case, two suspected “insurgents” had tried to surrender to the soldiers in an overhead Apache helicopter, but a lawyer at the military base told the pilots “You cannot surrender to an aircraft.” The soldiers engaged their targets, gunning down the unarmed men hiding in a shack. The reports also mention U.S. troops killing almost 700 civilians for coming too close to checkpoints, including pregnant women and the mentally handicapped. Also highlighted are examples where mercenaries-for-hire killed civilians, such as a Blackwater employee shooting up a vehicle, killing a father and wounding his wife and daughter.
Mormon’s inclusion of “the war chapters” in the Book of Mormon, and the mentions of conspiracy, crime, and violence that permeate the entire scriptural record, surely was included to help us modern readers see the need to "renounce war and proclaim peace"—a fundamental step in coming to Christ, the Prince of Peace. Though we can do nothing for the Nephites whose history we read in the Book of Mormon‘s pages, we can yet learn from their mistakes and make changes in our behavior—and influence that of others—in our own day.
What WikiLeaks has provided us, however, is the opportunity to not merely learn from history, but to help change it. God only knows why he will have all secrets shouted upon the housetops, but he once made clear our duty in relation to uncovering the truth and exposing evil:
Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—
These should then be attended to with great earnestness.
Let no man count them as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon these things. (Doctrine and Covenants 123:13-15)
The Iraqi documents reveal that an average of 31 civilians died every single day during the six-year period they cover. They and the other documents describe conspiracy to suppress information, ignore torture and murder, and delight in violence. If we are to be judged by God according to our actions and the information we had access to, it is imperative that we have access to correct information. That the U.S. government has repeatedly and brazenly lied to each of us—those in whose name they wage these offensive wars—is not under debate. It is, therefore, a net positive when an organization helps expose this corruption, and demonstrates how bad our “awful situation” really is. In our effort to bring to light “all the hidden things of darkness,” we should applaud others who help us in that endeavor.
If we are to “suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above [us],” we need to know the truth. If the government is unwilling to provide the truth regarding issues about which it has detailed knowledge, or intentionally works to hide it, as is undeniably demonstrated in these military reports, then it must be obtained in other, more unconventional methods, including leaks. Critics nevertheless scoff at these leaks, regurgitating any of several knee-jerk reactions they’ve memorized from their favorite political pundit. One such response argues that these published reports will endanger the lives of our troops, and that they therefore should be kept confidential—and that anybody who publishes them should be either imprisoned, or as some have argued, executed. A person embracing this position would likewise take issue with my comparison to Mormon, probably suggesting that the time-delayed nature of Mormon’s writings means that no harm could be done to the Nephite armies. Perhaps they would suggest, by extension, that these documents could (and perhaps should) be revealed decades later.
But let’s not forget the purpose of Mormon’s writings. As already mentioned, his effort was not one of historical preservation for its own sake. Rather, he sought to change behavior, and bring people to God. He wanted to help people improve their lives, embrace the gospel, and shun wickedness. He knew that every soul is precious to God, and that he is no respecter of persons. As such, the lives of 31 slaughtered Iraqis each day are just as important to be preserved and improved as are the lives of people who might read the military’s reports decades from now. If the goal is to save and benefit lives, and change behavior, then there is literally no better time than the present to expose evil, highlight corruption, and apply needed pressure to produce legitimate change.
In the end, it’s up to each of us to determine how (or if) this information will get used. We can let the Book of Mormon gather dust on our bookshelf, or we can mechanically read a few verses a day, or we can study, internalize, and abide by its teachings. Similarly, we can ignore the reports WikiLeaks has helped bring to light and consider all involved to be traitors, or we can learn from the documented mistakes, root out the evident corruption within the government, hold the relevant people accountable, and immediately work to alter our actions and demand change.
I’m left to wonder: does it really matter that secrets are “revealed upon the house-tops,” if nobody cares nor truly listens?