Category Archives: World Hellhole Report

The Postwar Period in Alma

The major conflict between the Nephites and the Lamanites led by Nephite dissenters – an opportunistic foreign intervention into an ongoing Nephite civil war, one could say – ended in the 31st year of the judges, as noted in Alma 62:39. “And thus they had had wars, and bloodsheds, and famine, and affliction, for the space of many years. And there had been murders, and contentions, and dissensions, and all manner of iniquity among the people of Nephi.” While Mormon is quick to cite the righteous prayers and deeds immediately after that summary, he is equally quick to note that many Nephites and Lamanites had become hardened because of the length and intensity of the conflict.

Looking back at the summary I quoted, the narrative already explained the wars and bloodsheds to some extent. The famine had been mentioned in passing, but no details on how many people were impacted and when and how deep it went. Given that Mormon stated that he did not want to dwell on such things, it may well have been a significant, extended famine, and the suffering from it likely impacting the faith of the survivors. The next sentence mentions murders and contentions, which one could attribute solely to the Lamanite armies until one considers how, in times of war, the disruption in normal law and order opens up opportunities for people to commit murders and other crimes out of a desire to settle an old grudge. The Nephite polity had many cities that did not always respect each others’ borders: what happens when an overarching authority that prevents such tribal disputes is removed? Murders and contentions are what happens, and they can continue well after the resumption of civil authority, until such a time as the civil authority is able to exert itself to end the ongoing violence.

Then there is the word “dissensions.” In today’s term, we would call such people “collaborators.” Both people who were willing to switch sides as well as those forced into serving the conquerors could be seen as collaborators, and as such, would be hated by the survivors once the conquerors departed. Add in the element of famine, and there opens up a possible reference to “all manner of iniquity” – women either volunteering or being forced by their families into prostitution in exchange for food. During and following the Allied liberation of Axis-conquered territories in World War Two, there was famine and there were many women who were willing to exchange sex for food – such an arrangement is not novel to that conflict, but is as old as armies themselves.

Given the generally secondary position women have had historically, it becomes very easy to demonize and dehumanize women who slept with the enemy. They become the scapegoats that the nation can heap its emasculated shame upon and, in their punishment, forget the less obvious collaborations done by the men. And while the text is not explicit in mentioning such things, I believe it would be fair to assume that, as in other conflicts, such things did happen and that the Nephites found them to be damnable, justified in that damning or not.

The war itself saw a second wave of Nephite civil violence, with its perpetrators forced to take oaths to support the Nephite state or be killed. I’d imagine that the families of the slain along with those who were forced into supporting the rule of the judges would be in the number of those who had become hardened. Conversions made as an alternative to being put to death are not long-lasting.

Also among the hardened would be any Nephites who saw the brutality of the occupation through murdered relatives, mass graves, rapes, forced servitude, and unjust imprisonments and determined that God wasn’t there because of the sufferings endured. They were targeted in part because of their faith: so why didn’t their faith save everyone? Why didn’t it at least save a bigger fraction than it did? Why did the Sons of Helaman get chosen to survive all battles without loss of life and not the rest of the Nephite armies? There are deep philosophical and spiritual discussions to go with such questions, but the askers could also be asking rhetorically because they’ve already concluded from their doubts that God isn’t listening, doesn’t care, or doesn’t exist. And if they’re done with God, they’re likely to be done being a people who are targeted because they are lumped in with those who still believe as they once did.

I’ve cataloged a few groups of people who would be uncomfortable under a resumed rule of the judges, as it begins to be re-established in the 31st year. There are likely more nuances to the historical situation, which would produce additional groups of dissatisfied people. I’m sure the numbers grew when Moroni refortified the land after the conflict ended – people who expected the depredations of war to be over would not be happy about the mandatory labor duty in preparing for the next war.

On the ecclesiastical side, the religious leader Helaman undertakes an effort to repair the damage of war done to the faith communities of his fellow-believers. This would be no easy thing, to rebuild churches – including those that may have been used as scenes of atrocities by the invaders. In any war, but especially one targeting a religious group, there are always stories of people being forced into a house of worship which is then set on fire or collapsed. Like Mormon, I will not dwell on them here, but I will mention them as a matter for the religious leaders to consider. Does one rebuild such a building, or does one instead create a memorial? Or does one wipe the evidence out, so that future generations will not be troubled by the history? These are not easy questions.

In 62:47, the text notes that laws were made and judges were chosen. Seeing as how the judges were initially elected and then handed down their judgeship father to son, the only reason to choose new judges would be because something happened to the previous judges. Either they were killed by the attackers, they fled and failed to submit to their duties, or they voluntarily collaborated with the attackers and became tainted in the eyes of the rest of the government. But even if they fled or collaborated, they still knew the law and still likely came from aristocratic families, so they would have some claim on returning to their positions. The worst would be punished, the rest forgiven.

That kind of forgiveness would be part of an overall fatigue regarding the war. The people want it all to just end. After World War Two, such men of position were easily integrated into the postwar governments and a myth of national unity during the war developed to cloak their collaborations and crimes. Ironically, those who resisted the invaders found themselves more likely to be arrested and imprisoned after the war than those who collaborated – could that be something also happening among the Nephites?

Considering that there had been many murders and bloodsheds, consider the case of a group of Nephites that heads to the wilderness, rather than remain in a city under Lamanite rule. Such a group would survive not on sedentary farming, but on mobile banditry. They would have to learn, early on, that they cannot afford the luxury of prisoners and were compelled to strike at collaborationists and their families to destabilize the occupying authority enough to permit their survival in the bush. They justify their acts in the name of resistance and carry on with them. When the war ends, how can they be properly reintegrated into urban society? How do the victims of their attacks feel about that? What if an absent/collaborationist judge is restored to authority, do the bandits/freedom fighters decide that the war isn’t over until they’ve killed off the collaborators that the government is too ineffectual to punish on its own? And now we have another group of potential dissenters in a postwar world.

The rest of Alma 62 speaks to the urge to see everyone coming together after the conflict. Mormon speaks at length of the Nephites collectively as a more righteous people and perhaps that did happen. But I don’t think that it was universal, especially with details that come out in the last chapter of Alma, Alma 63.

Alma 63 starts in the 36th year of the judges, so the Nephites have been rebuilding and recovering for five years. The shock of the conflict would largely have worn off and people are likely beginning to think about building new instead of repairing past damage.

In Alma 63:4, Mormon describes “a large company of men… with their wives and their children” that leaves the Nephite lands and heads northward in the 37th year. They do not go South, to the Lamanites, but head out in a third way. While they do not see a future among the Lamanites as did earlier groups of Nephite dissenters, they also do not see a future with the Nephites. The number of men cited, 5400, is a fairly large group, not just a single family structure. For them to depart with their families, maybe a group of 20,000 people or so, notes that this movement is not a whimsical thing, but the result of some determined planning.

Such a move would not likely be because of a lack of available land. If anything, the depopulation of the war would open up more land and place an overall higher value on human labor. So, unless the land existed under some kind of feudal structure that kept large parts off-hands to the general peasantry, there is a different reason for their departure. Because Mormon is quick to point out economic disparities as wickedness and is not doing so here, that is another indication that this migration is not likely due to economic pressures.

So who goes north in this group, 6 years after the war ends? Are they people who simply want nothing more to do with a land and a faith that did not live up to their expectation? Are they former resisters or collaborators or king-men who can’t stand living in a land that has become something they now find foreign to them? Are they families whose women were raped and they no longer want to face a society that constantly shames them collectively?

As I ask those questions, we have room for all those possibilities as Mormon describes other migrations northward by sea routes. All through the 37th year, “there were many of the Nephites who… took their course northward.” The movements continued in the 38th year, with mentions of ships not returning and people who took provisions northward not returning indicating that the Nephites have lost contact with those migrants. While it’s possible disasters befell a number of migrant groups, overall it speaks to the idea of a people unable to abide postwar Nephite society, for whatever reasons. With a group of Nephites going over to the Lamanites in the 39th year and inciting a war against a single city, the postwar period is looking increasingly troubled.

While there were many Nephites who came together and rebuilt their lands and cities with a positive, forward-looking attitude, the migrations and outright dissension mentioned in Alma 63 point to a more complicated picture, one in which the Nephites are left questioning the system that they have and making choices to opt out of that system and to try their chances elsewhere. Given the length and severity of the conflict described in Alma, it’s quite likely that the war with the Lamanites opened up a wide range of potential inner conflicts between Nephite factions and allowed them to be expressed violently. The end of the war with the Lamanites did *not* end the Nephite inner conflicts. Those inner conflicts are the likely drivers behind the migrations and dissensions and come to a greater crisis point in the book of Helaman.

War in the Book of Alma

The discussion of the war in the Book of Alma towards its end covers several periods. The first is a Lamanite attack on the Nephites that is readily repulsed by the Nephites and the Lamanites do not follow up with additional action. The second is when Amalickiah stirs up the Lamanites to attack the Nephites: the Nephites remain in their strength and again, they repel the attack and enjoy several years of peace following that attack. The third is a second offensive led by Amalickiah that leads to a protracted conflict covering a roughly six-year period from the 25th year of the judges to the 31st.

Amalickiah is killed off quickly at the start of the conflict, but his brother Ammoron continues the war. In the war, the Lamanites gain a number of Nephite cities and territories early on and hold them for nearly the duration of the conflict. The Nephites liberate a few at a time, but do not regain all their lands until the last year of the war. On a military map with arrows and armies moving about, one can follow the Nephite campaigns as outlined in the narrative. But I wish to look at the civilian experience in those years of war and attempt to surmise what may have been going on that was mentioned in passing or left unsaid, but hinted at.

First, the experience of the Nephites conquered by the Lamanites: who suffered? Who collaborated? Who joined enthusiastically? The Nephite polity itself had recently fractured, with the Zoramites dissenting and joining with the Lamanites, constructing a revisited history in the process to cast themselves as descendants of a victim and, thus, made victims themselves. What of the Mulekites, who were glossed over soon after encountering them in the narrative? Not being descendants of Lehi’s group, they have a secondary position in Nephite society, which would lead to tension. Moreover, the Mulekites themselves included descendants of Jewish nobility. I surmise that the agitation among the Nephites to have a king would come from that quarter and/or other descendants of Nephi’s line. The point of this would be that these pro-king groups were ideologically allied with Amalickiah’s cause and would step forward to administer the cities taken by the Lamanites.

How can we assume that the cities held by the Lamanites were being run by dissenters? Because there’s no mention of a revolt in any of those cities. With other details of valiant efforts being included in the narrative, the silence about resistance indicates a likelihood of pro-king collaborationist governments. Joining with them would be people who surmised that resistance would be futile and would result in needless bloodshed. Carrying out the Lamanite will saved lives in their view, so they would cooperate with those in charge over them.

Famine is mentioned more than once in describing the years towards the end of the war, so it’s likely that disease came along with the famine. Such is natural in any war. The people of the conquered cities would likely be pressed most for supplying the armies in their midst, so famine would hit them particularly hard. Those outside of government would probably face seizure of their crops and those doing the governing would have slightly more to eat each day than the people they took from.

At the end of the war, the Lamanite armies are in general retreat. In their retreat, they send back to their lands “many women and children” – permanent captives, to serve as slaves or sacrifices. This would add to the depopulation of the region. Losses due to famine and disease were then compounded by forced population transfer. Top collaborators would likely also withdraw with the Lamanites, as they knew what would await them in the hands of the Nephites.

Were any people left behind in the cities the Lamanites drove captives out of? That is an interesting consideration. One could assume that those too old to move would be left behind. The question then would be if the Lamanites would leave them alive or kill them off on their way out. Knowing from Mormon’s comments later in his narrative that he did not want to dwell on gore could be a reason as to why the full impact of the Lamanite occupation is not described in much detail. Mormon is writing about people who stood as heroes in his view – he is writing to encourage his readers to persevere through hardships, not to describe a hellscape of war. Moroni gives us a peek into the hellscape, but just a peek. So while we don’t know the full impact of the war on the conquered population, enough is said of the Lamanite ferocity and cruelty to assume the worst.

Within the Nephite lands, the years of war absolutely take their toll. Towards the end, the loss of population that can work a harvest is evident in the growing famine in the land. Disease, of course, goes along with the malnutrition. Now, a question arises about how the food is collected and distributed among the Nephites during this time of protracted, constant war.

In other actions, the wars happened in short spaces of time, leaving the soldiers a chance to return to their lands for harvesting. In this war, that is not possible. A reduced population is working the home front, and the harvest necessarily suffers. From that limited harvest, a substantial amount has to be stripped away to service the soldiers at the front. What might be a noble sacrifice in earlier years of war likely becomes a seemingly never-ending burden in the later years. Again, famine is mentioned – a crop failure in a critical time such as this could leave entire regions depopulated through starvation.

And if the meagre food available is itself reduced to supply the soldiers? That is a breaking point for the humanity in this tale. With their entire population effectively under siege, a faction arises to overthrow the judges and to declare a kingship. That kingship then seeks to ally with the Lamanites in order to bring the war to an end. Those who are kings and aristocrats among the Nephites would enjoy a position of privilege among the Nephites in that they themselves would not necessarily have to pay the tribute to the Lamanites of their own wealth, but would exact that tribute from the people over which they ruled.

I can see the appeal of a tributary peace to a people wracked with a free hunger. The victims of the famine are not dying proudly on their feet instead of living on their knees: they’re dying of malnutrition, collapsed in the dust. Those not dying are facing reduced health as a result of improper nutrition, with life-long consequences. Faced with a choice of grim life as an alternative to a grimmer death, people at the end of their patience will choose food – and life. After all, what is the difference between paying tribute to the Lamanites or paying tribute to the Nephite armies except in the amount being diverted?

The answer there is that there are spiritual implications beyond just the matter of worldly survival. But that answer means nothing to those among the Nephites who themselves are not very religious. People could have lost their faith or never had it to begin with, except as an external, communal-social expression. They could have chosen to redefine their faith, so as not to be in conflict with what they see as the eventual victor, the Lamanite polity. For the faithless, there is no benefit in prolonging the conflict. Any way to end it is preferable to them, and the proposed tributary arrangement leaves the leaders in a rather nice position, overall.

While the kingship group does take power in the capitol, the outlying provinces remain true to the cause of the Nephite armies. They suffer, but they do not lose faith. This could be because, as rural rather than urban people, they have more access to foodstuffs in times of famine. The urban civilian population, after the demands of the farmers and the soldiers, comes last in the distribution of food. That could explain why the revolt described in the later years of the war is an urban activity, not a rural one. From the strength in the rural areas and with reinforcements from the front, the Nephites restore their judges and put to death any of those who supported the kingship who are not willing to serve the state.

That area is an uncomfortable one to read about. To the casual reader, it would seem that bad guys got what they had coming from good guys, nothing more. But in reading about the aftermath of the Second World War, we read of how vigorous purges of collaborators tended to spill over to include personal conflicts, oppression of minority populations, and death for those who may not have been involved in the collaboration, but who others denounced as merely being in sympathy with the collaborators, regardless of there being any proof of the matter.

As such, given the urgency of the moment and the desperation of the Nephite polity, I can’t assume that the justice meted out was anything other than a rough and brutal one, that likely took in a number of people innocent of any actual crime. The narrative reads, “whosoever would not take up arms in the defence of their country, but would fight against it, were put to death.” This does not necessarily mean that the accused were given a choice. In the next passage, we read, “And this it became expedient that this law should be strictly observed for the safety of their country; yea, and whosoever was found denying their freedom was speedily executed according to the law.” And in the passage after is the comment that the loyal Nephites “… inflicted death upon all those who were not true to the cause of freedom.”

How far-reaching were those executions? How brutal were the executions themselves? How many were carried out by people looking to settle old scores, unrelated to the recent revolt? We simply don’t know. But, given how other episodes of wartime mass reprisals went, one can reasonably assume that some percentage of the reprisals went too far.

Readers of the Book of Mormon have to resist the urge to put a halo around every major Nephite character. These are all men with flaws, with some of those flaws being illustrated more vividly than others. By extension, we the readers cannot assume that “Nephite” automatically equates to a righteous, stalwart superman. Even the narrative constantly points out, over and over, that the Nephites always have a substantial number of wicked people in their midst, and that those wicked are easily a majority of the population most of the time. If wicked men subvert a righteous cause for their own purposes, that is on them.

Ultimately, in and around Mormon’s retelling of a hero cycle involving Captain Moroni, Teancum, Helaman, Pahoran, and the Sons of Helaman, we have marginal details that hint at true horrors. Those details are there to remind us that Mormon’s heroes are not one-dimensional avatars. They are men with flaws and failings who nevertheless strive to do good as they understand it. They strive to avoid shedding blood and they strive to keep their rage in check – and there are a few episodes where we see Captain Moroni fall victim to his demons, along with Teancum’s mental exhaustion leading to his demise. The story is not that “anyone can do it” but that “everyone *must* do it” in order to survive spiritually. The violence, starvation, disease, mayhem, and misery are all real in this history even if they are not dwelt upon.

The Nephite polity comes very close to utter destruction in this narrative, and that destruction’s chief cause was from the dissension among the Nephites themselves, not from the external, Lamanite threat. Left on their own, the Lamanites seem to have settled into a state of arm’s-length coexistence with the Nephites. The major attacks upon the Nephites described in Alma are all a result of Nephite dissenters going over to the Lamanites to stir them up against the Nephites. The Lamanites themselves are not an ultimate evil the Nephites have to face in a fight for their survival. The ultimate evil the Nephites must face is within: the factions and social forces that drive towards inequality and social stratification are the greatest threat and eventual undoing of the Nephite polity.

What Are the Requirements?

As I read about collaborationists and resistance members of World War 2, and how the Allies relied more on fascist collaborationists than antifascist resistance members in forming postwar governments, I have to ask if entry into Heaven is justified as long as one isn’t as evil as the worst of humanity or if the requirements are much more stringent than we imagine and have much less to do with how other people view us and value us and more with how we view and value humanity in general, in particular those who are different from us. And yes, if those differences include deep and profound evils we still have to ask if we value those lives as much as those who are less evil.

What Bothers Me About History

Not everyone in power or seeking power is doing so out of greed or mania. There are those sincere and oppressed ones who fight for rights, who struggle for justice, who plead for peace. I have no quarrel with their place in the narrative of human civilization, that thing which we call “history.” But, almost exclusively, the history we have preached to us in our schools is written by those who seek to clothe themselves as the oppressed for their own greed and aggrandizement – or by those who simply need a good story to justify their lofty perch and keep the rest of humanity in its place. History then becomes a justification for inequality, injustice, and wars in the hands of that lot.

We become comfortable in our national myths and, in that comfort, fail to question the inequality around us. True history should never reassure us, except when it advances the standards of the nation towards true equality. For the record, true equality has nothing to do with a group or class that is in power or which enjoys social and economic privileges making demands to preserve those powers and privileges. History shows us that, in fact, we are most at risk of inequality, injustice, and war when groups holding powers and privileges cast themselves as victims in their mythology. They cast themselves as victims so that they might justify murder to get gain.

The true history of World War Two has more in common with Catch-22, with all its insanity and brutality than it does with the high school history book. The American Army did not move as a band of green-clad angels across the face of Europe, cleansing it of evil. It moved as any army would, with increasingly frequent incidents of discipline breaches as the war deepened. American bombs fell on babies, American soldiers raped children, American interests excused Nazis from their crimes. As a nation, we have to own that. We have to own that our armies were racially segregated – an extension of the brutality in our home country – and that many of the richest men in America made themselves richer by trading with the enemy regimes.

American politicians refused to disrupt the flow of victims to the Nazi murder camps, claiming that they didn’t want to be accused of making the war all about the Jews. Well, why not make the war for such a purpose, unless one was himself somehow prejudiced against Jews? And those same politicians, as a body, made it all but impossible to truly go after their rich supporters who profited from sending American resources to Nazi Germany, by way of loopholes in neutral nations. As a body, they also stood against the moves to end racial segregation and discrimination for many years before, during, and after that war. Yet, we call them “The Greatest Generation” in a fit of nauseating myth-making.

Don’t misunderstand me – the Germans, Russians, French, Japanese, Chinese, British, Polish, Czech, Romanian, Yugoslavian, Greek, Ukrainian – the list of nations too long to enumerate fully – they have their national crimes to atone for, as well. The truest victims of wars are the civilians. And even in their numbers are those who collaborated with evil, making them into criminals. It’s easier to think of a human as a victim, so we can lazily accept any excuse that comes to us so that we don’t have to comprehend the enormity of our collective wretchedness.

A statement such as “World War Two in Europe ended on VE Day” is ludicrous. The fighting between men wearing uniforms came quickly to an end, it is true, but the violence directed towards prisoners of war and civilian populations did not suddenly abate. Jews who survived an attempt to return to Poland spoke of how it was safer for them in the chaos of Germany than in their former homelands. The Slovak government forcefully and violently ejected hundreds of thousands of Hungarians from their lands, somehow managing to claim victimhood when their nation had joined with the German cause even before the formal war started. Many of the millions of Germans being driven from Eastern Europe cursed the Poles for starting the war, clinging to an idea of victimhood that allowed them to ignore the complicated, gory reality. The Poles themselves were exterminating Ukrainians in their nation – but lest we pity Ukrainians too much, let us remember that during the war, pro-Nazi Ukrainian groups were exterminating Poles.

But, ah! Am I not myself guilty of a historical felony? Did I not just now assign collective guilt to entire nations? Am I not perpetrating lies by my over-generous labels?

Not all American soldiers were rapists or sadists, but the number of incidents that we know about shows that a disturbingly significant percentage of the American soldiery was, in fact, engaged in horrors visited upon non-combatants.

Not all Germans supported Hitler or were antisemitic. But enough were of that description to empower the Nazi regime to execute its horrors.

Not all Poles were bent upon killing or driving out Jews, Ukrainians, and Germans, but enough were to empower their postwar regime to do just that. And so on.

… and so on. Were I to catalog everything, I would exhaust myself before drawing to completion. And that is just from the Second World War, with no consideration for the organized murders before and since.

It is in the national mythos that we find the illusion of justification for inequality, injustice, and war. When we accept the details that deconstruct our myths, we place ourselves on a path towards accepting the changes necessary to bring about true equality, justice, and peace.

Paracelsus, Galen, and COVID-19

There is a long history of popular opposition to public health measures. Given the old-timey Latin-sounding names in the title, you shouldn’t be surprised that I will reach back 350 years to start this story. During the time surrounding the English Civil War, there was a medical debate between the schools of Paracelsus and the older tradition of Galen. Followers of Paracelsus put forward notions that excrement of various types could heal a range of diseases: followers of Galen were much more restricted in their application of excrement. The conservatives who held to Galen found common cause with the conservatives that supported the king, the Royalists while those who wanted to upend the medical establishment found their allies in those who wanted to upend the monarchy, the Parliamentarians.

After the Parliamentarian victory, Paracelsus was required learning for all English doctors and pharmacists. This included the recipe for “Sheep Nanny Tea”, also known as just “Nanny Tea.” The two key ingredients were fresh sheep manure and wine. Nanny Tea was identified as a cure for smallpox. That’s important, remember that. When the monarchy was restored, however, the Galen school of medicine came back to the fore and the Paracelsians were relegated to the country healers who still resisted royal authority over their beliefs.

Let’s remember that the English Civil War included a religious element – the Puritan faction of the Parliamentarians wanted to remove Catholic influences in The Church of England. The Independent faction of the Parliamentarians wanted permission to practice their faith as they saw fit, even outside The Church of England, which put them in conflict with the Puritans. The Puritans also had a radical sect among their numbers, the Fifth Monarchists, who were preparing England for the return of Christ as King on or about the year 1666. All of these groups were in conflict with the established, traditional Church of England that held itself to be the one and only church for all of England. Even though the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 returned the Church of England to authority in religious matters, disgruntled Puritans and Independents still clung to views that the government should not be so intrusive in people’s lives as to dictate a person’s creed or belief.

This resentment of government influence probably strikes a chord with nearly every American, in one way or another. But, running deeper, is the association of what were disparagingly referred to as “folk remedies” with that anti-establishment view of government, with the rural people being at odds with the urban, royalist establishment.

And before anyone jumps up and shouts, “Oh my gosh! That’s so much like what we’re facing in 2021!”, I will say that we’re not yet ready for 2021. We first need to go to around 1900 in the US state of Utah.

I picked Utah because I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and want to better understand how there’s a current split between members of my church along a number of fault lines. Other denominations may also be experiencing similar breaks – maybe the lessons learned from history can help us all. Onward.

In 1900, a smallpox outbreak had occurred in Utah, likely caused by a person who fled a quarantine in Butte, Montana who arrived in Sanpete County. As the smallpox spread, it brought out sharp divisions in Church membership over how best to respond to it.

The smallpox outbreak was not variola major, with a 20-40% fatality rate, but a strain that had emerged in the USA after the Civil War, variola minor, with a 1-2% fatality rate. It was still a rough disease to deal with, but the lower fatality rate had made many people question if quarantine measures that were developed to address the higher-fatality strain were really appropriate for the lower-fatality strain.

Cue concerned debate about the role of government in public health: it should not be surprising that predominantly rural Utahns took up opposition to government involvement and the urban Utahns mostly favored intervention for the sake of public health. It should also not be surprising that the rural groups took government involvement as an affront to their faith and folk remedies and that urban groups took resistance to government involvement as people clinging to unenlightened thinking.

With the Mormon population, there was an added dynamic surrounding declarations of current and former leaders of the Church. The official title of the head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And even though members are now advised to avoid the short-hand notation of “Mormon” when denoting the church or its members, we sill all engage in a short-hand reference to our leader as “the Prophet.” Just as calling church members “Mormons” causes people to forget or not realize that the faith is centered around Jesus Christ, calling the leader “the Prophet” causes people to forget or not realize that he serves primarily in an administrative capacity and that prophetic revelation is not part of his day-to-day duties.

I say that because whenever there is a split in the Church, it’s up to The President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to work to end the contention and to keep the membership unified as an ecclesiastical body. If there’s revelation for the Prophet, so be it. But most of church history is full of discussion, compromise, changing views, outside pressures, internal rifts, and long, sleepless nights for those at the top as they juggle all these influences as they do their level best to keep things going forward.

It seems as though Presidents of the Church make decisions that either cause a small number of members to leave the faith, or they make decisions that cause a large bloc of members to leave the faith. So it was from the beginning, with Joseph Smith himself constantly faced with attrition of membership over his choices and statements. In a movement striving to bring in all people as one, any loss has a pain associated with it, and the Presidents have striven to bring back anyone who has left or chosen not to associate with the general membership.

So, in 1900, the Church is faced with a smallpox outbreak and one group of members insisting that the state must be vaccinating one and all and the other group insisting that they will reach for their shotguns before some intrusive statist “injects Babylon into their arms.” The pro-state, pro-vaccine group pointed to current leadership statements in favor of vaccinations. The anti-state, anti-vaccine group in turn pointed to statements by Brigham Young that were hostile to the medical profession and insisted that folk cures and faith-based cures were superior to vaccines. Enter a steamin’ hot cup of Nanny Tea at this point, because that was one of the folk cures being touted to help deal with smallpox instead of a vaccination.

This is not to say that the anti-vaccine faction was a bunch of bumpkin throwbacks to the 17th Century: the editor of The Deseret News was one of the leaders of the anti-vaccine faction, along with other prominent Church leaders, physicians, and educators. There were also those who were very much in favor of vaccinations, just not mandatory ones at the hands of the state. Here, a Libertarian argument for personal freedom joins with those who generally distrust vaccines. Utah had only recently come out from under Federal control that had disenfranchised Mormons wholesale and had disincorporated the Church and seized its assets – is this the same government to be trusted with public health measures? Would it use a vaccination campaign as the thin end of a wedge to reassert itself in persecuting Mormons?

In the cities, Catholics, Episcopalians, and Jews mostly supported state-mandated vaccinations with an option for those who did not want to be vaccinated to ride things out at home. When schools opened in Salt Lake City in January 1900, about 62% of the student population – mostly Mormons – stayed home, their parents in staunch opposition to either vaccinations or to the school forcing their children to be vaccinated in order to attend.

When the President of the Church spoke publicly in favor of vaccinations, members of the anti-vaccine faction responded with an outcry and pled with him to seriously reconsider what he was saying and how that was an affront to their faith.

At the same time, the Church was also going through a gradual strengthening of The Word of Wisdom from a set of recommendations to actual commandment-level requirements. Part of this gradual strengthening was from influence of the larger Prohibition movement in the USA. If we look at the Mormons of the day, we would find those who generally felt that the state should be totally uninvolved both in vaccination and in prohibition, those who wanted state-run vaccinations but no prohibition, those who refused state-run vaccination programs but insisted upon state intervention in prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol, and those who felt that a comprehensive state public health system meant both vaccination and prohibition programs. And the President had to do his level best to keep them all united in faith.

And though each group would want to call out the other as having a stance that was inconsistent with the core beliefs of the Church, the fact of the matter was that those who cited a current prophet’s support for their views would find themselves in contention with those who either brought up the views of a former prophet or who questioned if the prophet was himself articulating a formal policy or merely speaking ex cathedra.

As for the non-Mormon faiths that predominantly supported vaccination, it was only the Evangelical Protestants that found common cause with Mormon efforts to tighten up the Word of Wisdom – Episcopalians, Catholics, and Jews did not have strong prohibitionist support in their memberships. On a side note, the state of Utah was considered “one of the wettest states in the nation” in 1907 and was also the state that provided the final ratification needed of the amendment to repeal Prohibition in the USA.

Getting back on track, and I know that this has been a big ramble, and there is more ramble ahead, the same dynamics that colored the factions in the English Civil War provided near-equivalent coloration to the vaccination debate in the smallpox outbreak of 1900. Paracelsians and Libertarians in the country; Galens and Statists in the city, more or less. Out in the mission fields, there were mission presidents who required all missionaries to have smallpox vaccines and those who refused them. Where Mormon missionaries were unvaccinated, local governments often enforced quarantines – vaccination came to be seen as a requirement for sharing the gospel. Even so, there was an Apostle serving as a mission president in Mexico who refused to be vaccinated on principle that it went against the idea of faith healing who then later died of smallpox. Vaccination in the mission field was by no means a uniform decision.

The vaccination debate also broke along political faction lines in Utah. Rather than go into details, let it suffice to say that one party was mostly in favor of requiring vaccinations and another was mostly against that sort of thing. Imagine the tension resulting from a debate that involves both hardline political AND religious stances.

By the early 1920s, however, the man who was a strongly anti-vaccine editor of The Deseret News in 1900 was now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who officially signed off on a declaration from the President of the Church in support of vaccines. In case we forgot and need reminding, people are capable of change over time. I’m sure the loss of an Apostle to smallpox helped to color that decision. However, the Church statement did not go into areas of public health – that debate remained.

Even in recent official Church statements supporting vaccination programs and the idea of vaccination itself, the statements stop shy of advocating government involvement in such program. In fact, strongly pro-vaccination statements from 1978 and 1985 and 2000 have been watered down with the inclusion of a personal judgment option in the March 2021 update to the General Handbook. That’s not to say that one prophet was better or worse than another: that is to say that one President of the Church faced different pressures and concerns than another had to deal with.

When I look at the decisions made around The Word of Wisdom over time, I see more of the concerns in the top leadership regarding taking something from a strong recommendation or sincere urging to the level of an out-and-out commandment. More often than not, this is a matter of debate in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It is a gradual move in one direction or another, frequently because of outside pressures manifesting themselves in factions among the membership. A too-sudden move risks a major rift in the membership. Even a change accompanied with revelation, such as the 1978 Official Declaration on the Priesthood, is an example of work in progress, not a sudden direction change.

So now I come to the promise of the title: the current COVID-19 pandemic. The divisions of old have been preserved through the centuries. We saw them again in the smallpox epidemic, we will see them again in the next epidemic. So it shall be. I may side with one or the other, but it does not mean that I have a right to force my view on anyone else. I can strongly encourage, I can urge, but if I become combative with another, am I able to encourage or urge? No, I am not. Nonviolent principles, in my view, have to extend to language as much as they do for physical actions. I am going to be in church services with people who disagree or agree with me, but not in a binary sense. There will be degrees of agreement and disagreement, and when we add another issue, we add another dimension to the tracking of said agreements and disagreements. Rather than complicate things and track all the issues I have a strong view on, maybe it is better for me to look instead for a way to sit next to my brothers and sisters in faith and allow time and positive spiritual influences to improve us all in the long run. It is a difficult choice to accept, but it is the one chosen by The President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

For further reading, I strongly recommend “The Religious Politics of Smallpox Vaccination, 1899-1901” from the Utah Historical Quarterly. https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/uhq_volume84_2016_number1/s/166487

I also recommend “Mormons and Compulsory Vaccination” from MormonPress. https://www.mormonpress.com/mormon_vaccination

Both of these articles were written pre-COVID-19 and, as such, exist outside the charged atmosphere that emerged as a consequence of the latest pandemic.

If you are interested in the history of the Word of Wisdom, “The Word of Wisdom from Principle to Requirement” offers an interesting read. https://www.jstor.org/stable/45224999?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

A Bargain with Hatred

If the Republican Party is unable to impeach Trump and to sever its connections with the mob violence he and his supporters encourage, then it is only sealing its bond with white supremacists, antisemites, and misogynists. It is a political movement that has made common cause with hatred, intolerance, and lawlessness.

There is no “whataboutism” that will work here – the Democratic Party condemns violent protests, sends sexual abusers to the political exits, and has made known its stance on supporting diversity to the point that the racists that once made up the Southern Democrats’ faction are now all registered Republicans.

The Republican Party is home to hatred. When I hear protests originating from its leadership, they are muted and refuse to go so far as to bring consequences to bear against party members who engage in insurrection, violence, and who make openly racist or sexist statements. I see Republicans either as people who actively support hatred or who lack the moral fortitude to do the right thing and cut their ties with evil. I am no perfect man, myself. I have my flaws. But I do not allow my flaws to extend into the places where the Republican Party finds its strongest base of supporters. I have my flaws, but I do not make a bargain with hatred in order to gain power.

1860 and 2020

In 1860, something in the USA had broken. When a contentious, 4-way election produced Abraham Lincoln as the president, states began to make good on their threats to leave the nation. Even more ominously, the states that had once done everything possible to cater to the whims of those departing states were now resolved to wage war, if needed, to re-establish the Union, no longer on the terms demanded by those departing states. What led to that situation and are those conditions leading to a similar situation in 2020?

In her work, The Field of Blood, Joanne B. Freeman explores that very topic. I strongly recommend it as a book for any historian or person interested in current events. And I equally strongly recommend close attention to the story of miscalculation on the part of the Southern Congressmen who trusted in threats of violence and secession to get their way while still preserving the benefits of the political union.

Is 2020 the same as 1860? No. We are not again at that most final of crossroads in history. But we are close. While the divisions are not truly regional in this current period of tension, we are nevertheless watching as resistance to threats of violence stiffens and attitudes towards a domineering minority change from attempted accommodation to exhausted, active animosity.

Before 1860, supporters of slavery would threaten beatings, duels, and street fights against their opponents. Their opponents would refuse to engage, which played well to both sides of the slavery conflict. Anti-slavery supporters applauded how their champions refused to stoop to the level of the slavery supporters. Slavery supporters mocked the lack of manhood and dignity among the anti-slavery faction, seen as too weak-willed to stand up and fight for what they believed in.

In 1838, Congressman Cilley of New Hampshire finally accepted a duel challenge from Congressman Graves of Kentucky. Graves killed Cilley in that duel. After that, things changed. Anti-slavery attitudes hardened against that act of violence: Cilley was seen as a martyr for the cause. Slavery supporters could not claim anymore that their opponents lacked valor, which had the result of forcing their own position to take an even harder line on the issue.

When Brooks of South Carolina nearly killed Sumner of Massachusetts in an attack in the Senate in 1856, it pretty much killed off any hope of reconciliation between the two sides of the slavery debate. The slavery proponents claimed that they had no recourse but to defend their honor with violence. The slavery opponents no longer called for the preservation of the Union at any cost as a slogan of appeasement, but of eventual military conflict. Those who wanted a peaceful resolution no longer saw a path of resolution together, but as a matter of “our side is better off without the other side.” Slave state politicians threatened secession: their counterparts were ready to let them go and be done with it.

Starting with the election of Ronald Reagan, the Republican position publicly hardened around the issues of a strong anti-abortion position and an equally unyielding, highly permissive interpretation of the Second Amendment. Other issues were associated with the Republican Party, but those were the most salient. Less well-pronounced was the full meaning of their “law and order” platform, which didn’t directly state a hostility towards minorities, but which did serve to further policies that had race-negative outcomes in terms of higher rates of arrest, conviction, and incarceration of minorities vs whites for similar offenses. In time, the conflation of racist imagery with Republican Party political ads became more and more overt, leading up to the events during the Trump presidency in which party leadership failed to offer up meaningful criticism of racially-motivated violence, even as perpetrators of that violence evoked Republican leaders and talking points as justification for their violent acts.

Meanwhile, Republican Party opposition to Democratic policy initiatives and appointments hardened to the point of refusal to cooperate at all. This was perhaps most starkly illustrated in their refusal to entertain the nomination of a Supreme Court justice in 2016, claiming that such a nomination must be made to wait until after the election and then turning fully around in 2020 to rush through a Supreme Court nomination in the days just prior to the election that year.

Domestically, this inability of Republicans to offer up meaningful compromises with the Democratic Party itself led to questions within the Democratic Party on whether or not they should continue to attempt to compromise. Progressives within the Democratic Party drew more political support, particularly in the wake of the MeToo movement and a string of cases involving police brutality or other abuses in the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Monterrosa, Rayshard Brooks, Andres Guardado, Dijon Kizzee, Daniel Prude, Deon Kay, Ricardo Munoz, Deja Stallings, Jonathan Price, Alvin Cole, Marcellis Stinnette, Walter Wallace Jr, and Kevin Peterson Jr, among others. As Republican leadership rallied around defending its own members involved in sexual harassment cases or who had made racist statements, questions of compromise evaporated further.

At the same time, hardening attitudes in Democratic Party were also accompanied by a rise in anti-fascist violence. While such antifa violence was only a fraction of fascist and racist violence, Republicans seized upon the very fact of antifa violence as a sign of the existential nature of the conflict they now found themselves in. Democratic Party leaders did condemn antifa violence, but Republican leadership rejected such condemnations or denied that they had happened outright. Ironically, voices within the Republican Party that called for a second civil war to “cleanse” the nation were not condemned within the party.

While 2016 still saw most of the Democratic Party leadership calling for unity and compromise, the events of the 2020 election in which Trump refused to acknowledge the election of Biden left the Democratic president-elect in the uncomfortable position of finding Republican leadership unwilling to participate in the normal bipartisan cooperation that follows a change of party in an election.

Such refusal from the Republican Party has left many Democratic commentators asking openly if the nation would simply be better off without the Republicans. While not advocating openly for civil war as radicals within the Republican Party advocate, they are also not refusing to consider such a scenario. While not yet a scenario like in 1860, or even 1856, current tensions do lie on a path that leads to a similar situation.

In this, the Republicans are exercising a similar miscalculation as did the pro-slavery faction. They have spoken loudly and bullied their way around the political landscape, but are outnumbered. Now that their opposition has itself hardened its position, they are at a point in their existence that demands reconciliation and backing down from their hardline position before they are destroyed in a violent conflict that they have no hope of winning.

The Republic of South Africa faced a similar watershed in its history, when the whites-only apartheid government came to a realization that it could not maintain its control. Faced with the options of peacefully coming to terms with the African National Congress or the possibility of war in which they would detonate the nuclear weapons within their cities and key economic areas as part of a Samson act to deny their opponents what they could not themselves keep, the National Party chose to take the peaceful path, resulting in massive constitutional and organizational reform. Humanity has an example of stepping away from the brink: is the Republican Party leadership able to make the same moves as its right-wing counterpart in South Africa, or will it choose to maintain its hard line and autogolpe methods to subvert democratic institutions in America and take the nation down a path of bloodshed?

Freeman’s book shows us the parallels between the antebellum period and our own day. Our nation needs a Republican Party leadership to come to terms with reality and to come back to the table of compromise before they go too far and find that they have placed the nation into a period that parallels the years from 1860-1865.

Ohio 2012, 2016, and Today

Fun Voting Fact: in 2012, Karl Rove had a meltdown during election coverage on Fox News when Ohio was called for Obama. Rove demanded that Fox revisit the results of the early voting. He knew that current Republican Lt. Governor, then Ohio Sec’y of State Husted had ordered a ballot switch for early voters, which were predominantly Democratic and Black. They were not going to vote on machines, but *absentee* ballots.

This was done because Black voters had started a “souls to the polls” movement after Kerry narrowly lost Ohio in 2004. Why did Kerry lose? Because most of the Black community was voting on the day of the election, and had to stand upwards of 7 hours in the rain, with the polling place doors shut in their faces at 7:30 PM, even though they were still in line to vote.

In 2012, the Black voters on “souls to the polls” day, the Sunday before Election Day, were greeted with a five-hour line in Dayton. In Cleveland, the wait was seven hours. The White voters in their neighborhoods, the next county over, had no lines. When the Black voters finally got their turn to vote, they were handed absentee ballots. The machines in those locations were under wraps.

Husted was a moving force behind the deliberately long lines in Black neighborhoods in 2004, and was responsible for cutting early voting hours in Ohio. A court order prevented him from shutting down voting on the Sunday before Election Day. Husted also made sure that there was only one polling place per county, so that rural voters could be in and out in a jiffy and urban voters faced nightmare lines.

But those absentee ballots – those were NOT the same as machine ballots. Once cast on a machine, the vote is automatically tallied and recorded. Absentee ballots can be rejected for all kinds of ticky-tack reasons. So even if the person has correct ID and a valid address for the voting location, that absentee ballot can still be rejected because of a lack of initials here or the signature going outside the box there. If about 20% of the absentee ballots issued to Black voters were disqualified, the Republicans would have won Ohio in 2012. What prevented it? A revelation in the media of the absentee ballots situation, most likely.

Because in 2016, the absentee ballots returned for the Black voters and there was too much of a media circus going on around Trump to notice the reporters crying foul over those ballots.

Did that happen in 2020? I don’t yet have the data to tell me, but Husted is still in Ohio. I know that in my own state of Texas, early voting was halted the weekend prior to election day and the Republican government here cut county ballot drop-off locations to a single site… thanks, Republicans, but thanks especially to John Husted, one of the Republicans bringing Jim Crow 2.0 to the USA.

Confronting the Racism That Comes to Me

We don’t get rid of racism unless we confront it. And we don’t confront it successfully unless we confront it within ourselves. It’s an ongoing, life-long process, unburdening ourselves of the constant flow of racist ideas that cross our consciences. But it’s also worth doing.

Step one is being able to notice racism for what it is – for that, I turn to Ibram X. Kendi’s definintions:

Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities.

Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing.

“A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people.

“A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior to or superior to another racial group in any way. Racist ideas argue that the inferiorities and superiorities of racial groups explain racial inequities in society.”

— Ibram X. Kendi, pp. 17-23 of his book, How to Be an Antiracist.

For example, in many Republican Party political ads, I saw images of Whites being threatened or standing defiantly as Blacks, Hispanics, and Women were shown to be shouting and protesting. That’s racial inequity – the different groups were not on approximately equal footing. If one does not see a problem with that, then one has normalized that inequity – racism.

It’s as simple as that, and racism on that level alone is easy to work on, once one is aware that it needs to be worked on. Racism on that level is also the most pervasive in the USA, so it is a good thing to be aware of and a good thing to work on.

What about racist policy? Well, a law that requires one of a particular set of photo IDs in order to vote looks like it is fair and even. But when that law disallows Native American Tribal IDs – and Native Americans in that state have a lower rate of acquiring other, accepted IDs – that law sustains racial inequality. Even if the motivation for the law was simply to keep the Republican Party in power (the laws against Native American IDs are unique to Republican-ruled states), and not to target Native Americans in particular, the result of that policy leads to much more than the Native Americans not voting – because they don’t vote, they get ignored for other governmental considerations, ranging from law enforcement to access to government programs.

And what about racist ideas? We see that in the Trump Administration’s impact on immigration and refugee policy. Muslims and Latinx persons face substantially more hurdles and rates of rejection than immigrants from Western Europe, for example. Why? Look to Trump’s policy advisor on immigration, Stephen Miller. We have writings of his that spell out explicitly racist ideas regarding his view that White Europeans are much more desirable immigrants and refugees than other persons who are non-White and/or non-European. Those ideas drive racist policies, which leads to racial inequity… racism, this time of a deeper and harsher nature than racism done in passing.

So why do I fixate on the Republican Party for this discussion? It is because I can find multiple examples in that party’s advertisements, policies, and supporters. The Democratic Party has been active and effective at purging the racism out of their ranks – it’s why the Alabama Democratic Party went through such a major transformation in the last 15 years. The Republican Party, however, has not been uniform, let alone effective, in disavowing racism… especially when it actively embraces it as part of its national platform and in its plans to control voting access in order to retain its grip on power.

Why I Fear for the USA

To be honest, I was hoping for a massive repudiation of the racism, antisemitism, religious intolerance, and ideological blindness to both science and justice in the election results of 2020. Instead, we are dealing with a nation that has more people committed to those ways than in 2016, and a close electoral college result. In other words, there are now no negative repercussions for politicians that openly espouse racism, antisemitism, religious intolerance, and ideological blindness to both science and justice – the Republican Party will run you as a candidate and get you elected.

Because whoever wins will barely win, that means that the racially-skewed voting rights laws promulgated by Republicans will remain entrenched where they control the state houses. That means that the antisemitic lies told by Republican candidates and their media backers will intensify, because those messages resonate with an increasingly intolerant and insecure White population. That means the messages of intolerance directed against Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus will spread to other faiths that are not part of a Republican-approved grouping. That means that when their political leaders display gross foolishness in ignoring science and murderous cruelty in ignoring justice, the Republicans will fall into line and support that foolishness and cruelty.

This is not about any other group – this is specifically about the political party that is dragging the USA over a cliff of racism, antisemitism, religious intolerance, and ideological blindness to both science and justice, the Republican Party.

Healers cannot let themselves become enraged when yet another person walks up to them with a bleeding wound. The healers must heal. But if the same things, time and again, are injuring others, then the healers seek to find a way to control, curtail, or eliminate those things so as to reduce the constant injuries. In the USA, much of the woes in terms of poverty, schools, the justice system, and economic opportunities can be connected to a common thread – a lack of equitable and just voting rights for all citizens. If we want to solve those issues to the benefit of all Americans, then we must first make sure that all Americans vote, and that all votes are counted, and that all people are heard. Time and again, a Republican will lie about needing to clean up voter roles or tighten up voting rules in order to combat fraud – those lies mask a brutal effort to strip fellow Americans of their franchise.

And, in this recent election, there were no negative political consequences for those actions.

Those actions will continue, and that will be the ruin of this nation.