Skip to main content

A Reader's Journey


by J. Lee Simons

From the history of the world to the current terrorist threat, the campus community is invited on a reader’s journey to explore issues, principles, and conditions facing mankind in the twenty-first century through the Kennedy Center’s Book of the Semester. Faculty and administrators seek input to determine which book addresses a timely topic in a provocative way, and the author is invited to present their viewpoint in an open forum. Prior to each forum, a panel of faculty—each with significant knowledge and research interest in the topic—is selected to discuss the book’s theme(s). We invite you to join the exploration.

The Book of the Semester, inspired by an honors program at BYU, began in winter 2003 with the first selection, the Paradox of American Power, by Joseph S. Nye, Jr., dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. “A timely warning that it is perilous to disregard the deeply held concerns of the rest of the world,” said Henry A. Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State. Excerpts from the preface offer a flavor of the contents:

Americans are still wrestling with how best to combine our power and our values while reducing our vulnerabilities. As the largest power in the world, we excite both longing and hatred among some, particularly in the Muslim world.

American popular culture has a global reach regardless of what we do. There is no escaping the influence of Hollywood, CNN, and the Internet.

The real challenges to our power are coming on cat’s feet in the night, and ironically, our desire to go it alone may ultimately weaken us.

On many of the key issues today, such as international financial stability, drug smuggling, or global climate change, military power simply cannot produce success, and its use can sometimes be counterproductive.

Author Nye was chairman of the National Intelligence Council and assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration. He has been a frequent contributor to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, and he has authored several books, including Governance in a Globalizing World and Bound to Lead: the Changing Nature of American Power. In fall 2003, a standing-room-only audience listened as author Jared Diamond discussed his Pulitzer Prize‑winning book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies. “Diamond has written a book of remarkable scope . . . one of the most important and readable works on the human past published in recent years,” said Colin Renfrew in Nature. In his book, Diamond attempts to answer “Why did history take such different evolutionary courses for peoples of different continents?” with a 13,000‑year synthesis of history guided by modern advances in molecular biology, plant and animal genetics and biogeography, archaeology, and linguistics. His lecture was presented in conjunction with International Education Week 2003. Diamond, who received a PhD from the University of Cambridge, is a professor of geography at the University of California—Los Angeles, and he was previously a professor of physiology at UCLA’s School of Medicine. In addition to the Pulitzer, his book garnered the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science and the Commonwealth Club of California’s Gold Medal; it was also a featured selection of the Book‑ of‑the‑Month Club, Quality Paperback Book Club, and History Book Club. Then last winter, we encouraged consideration of the question When is war justified? by reading a scholar’s argument for war in Just War Against Terror: the Burden of American Power in a Violent World. Author Jean Bethke Elshtain is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago. “[Elshtain] has addressed what is probably America’s most important—and difficult—moral and ethical debate . . . [She] raises questions we cannot, as a nation, afford to ignore,” said Henry A. Kissinger. Excerpts from the introduction provide a sample of Elshtain’s ideas:

Why . . . in the context of America’s war against terrorism, do so many tick off a list of American “failures” or even insist that America brought the horrors of September 11, 2001, on herself?

We could do everything demanded of us by those who are critical of America, both inside and outside our boundaries, but Islamist fundamentalism and the threat it poses would not be deterred.

We can change, through the political process, what we do and how we do it in the realm of domestic and foreign politics, but we cannot repeal our commitment to personal freedom.

As I watched and wept, I recalled something I had said many times in my classes on war: Americans don’t have living memories of what it means to flee a city in flames. Americans have not been horrified by refugees fleeing burning cities. No more. Now we know.

Elshtain has authored many books, including the Jane Addams Reader, Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy, and Who Are We? Critical Reflections and Hopeful Possibilities. She has also authored over four hundred articles and essays in scholarly journals and journals of civic opinion. In 1996, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is the recipient of seven honorary degrees. And she is co‑chair of the recently established Pew Forum on Religion and American Public Life. Both the faculty panel discussion and Elshtain’s lecture are archived online at The faculty panel consisted of Sally H. Barlow, professor of psychology; Brian M. Hauglid, assistant professor of ancient scripture; Valerie M. Hudson, professor of political science; and John Tanner, professor of English. We have extracted selected statements from these faculty concerning Just War Against Terror: the Burden of American Power in a Violent World and include them here to stimulate thought on this topic as well to generate anticipation for those yet to come.

Sally H. Barlow professor of psychology

I have three over‑arching weltanschauung. The first is my belief in Christ, and that I am admonished to seek the peaceable things of the kingdom. The second is Constitutional. I am enormously proud to be from the United States, and I believe in division of church and state, the Bill of Rights, Article 1. Finally, I am much influenced by my profession: psychology. The research on individual and societal influences suggests that peace comes from within the individual—though I realize societies and cultures greatly influence the context within which the individual operates. Still, we have to tame our own midbrains. Everyone has an amygdala.1

Over the years, I have learned to tolerate the tension of these three worldviews as they continually move in relationship to each other in a dynamic dialectic.

[Elshtain’s] treatise is that September 11 was an act of terror, our freedom is at stake, and we are “justified” to preserve our freedom, not enact revenge. But as I read Elshtain’s book, I was struck by our similar taste in authors, e.g., Camus, Niebuhr, and Tillich, whose works have influenced me a great deal. I was persuaded by her argument more than I wanted to be, and I was tugged into her worldview almost against my will. Nevertheless, my bedrock position is to resist war.

I am hopelessly constrained by my anti-Vietnam war college days; I have a visceral response to the word “war.” Thus, politically I would do just about anything to avoid war.

I am only persuaded to consider some instances of “legitimate or justified” war by my religion.Pahoran says to Moroni in Alma 61:14, 15:

Therefore my beloved brother, Moroni, let us resist evil, and whatsoever evil we cannot resist with our words, yea, such as rebellions and dissensions, let us resist them with our swords, that we may retain our freedom, that we may rejoice in the great privilege of our church, and in the cause of our Redeemer and our God.

Therefore, come unto me speedily with a few of your men, and leave the remainder in the charge of Lehi and Teancum; give unto them power to conduct the war in that part of the land, according to the Spirit of God, which is also the spirit of freedom which is in them.

And the only leader of a war that I would support must have these characteristics found in Alma 60:36:

Behold, I am Moroni, your chief captain. I seek not for power, but to pull it down. I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country.

NOTE 1. The amygdala is an almond shaped mass of nuclei located deep within the temporal lobes, medial to the hypothalamus and adjacent to the hippocampus. Functions: arousal; controls autonomic responses associated with fear; emotional responses; hormonal secretions. See online at

Brian M. Hauglid assistant professor of ancient scripture

Well written, intelligent, thoughtful, and, at times, a provocative foray into the justification for war. It is an emotional book as well.

Elshtain does a good job of showing contrasts between terrorists and soldiers, collateral damage and gratuitous death, justice and revenge, the rules of a just limited war and indiscriminate killing.

One concern I have with the general definition of terrorism put forth in this book is that it fails to discriminate differences in terrorist activity. In the Middle East, for example, are the motivations to do terrorist activities different from one region to another? I believe so. It is my view that the rationale of a suicide bomber in the Palestinian–Israeli conflict differs considerably from that of an al‑Qaeda adherent. The former perceives his situation from the point of despair of living in occupation under an oppressive government backed by the USA, while the latter is more likely to be an educated Islamist ideologue, who views the U.S. as another colonial empire pushing its corrupted culture, politics, and religion upon Islam. Would a careful analysis of terrorist motivations help to refine foreign policy? Should the U.S. deal with terrorism in Israel in precisely the same way as it does terrorism in Ethiopia or London?

We may have the biggest hammer in the world, but without careful analysis of the finer points in this conflict, we may end up using the hammer with no peripheral vision, or at worst, blindfolded.

Elshtain shows some signs of being outside her field when it comes to her understanding the Islamist, Muslim, and especially Arab mind set. Most Arab Muslims really do remember the Crusades like it was yesterday. It really does play into their religious views.

How should Latter‑day Saints view this war on terror? I think President Hinckley’s statement in general conference just one month after the September 11 attacks are still timely today:

Those of us who are American citizens stand solidly with the president of our nation. The terrible forces of evil must be confronted and held accountable for their actions. This is not a matter of Christian against Muslim. . . . We value our Muslim neighbors across the world and hope that those who live by the tenets of their faith will not suffer. I ask particularly that our own people do not become a party in any way to the persecution of the innocent. Rather, let us be friendly and helpful, protective and supportive. It is the terrorist organizations that must be ferreted out and brought down (General Conference, Oct. 2001).

This statement was given after President Hinckley was handed a note saying the bombing of Afghanistan had just begun. The scriptures, too, are very specific that a just war be a smart, defensive war (Alma 43:63; 3 Nephi 3:20-21).

Valerie M. Hudson professor of political science

First, LDS persons would agree that evil is not reasonable. At its core, evil despises both life and freedom, which in our community we call agency. Elshtain points out several phenomena that accompany evil, which list is quite perceptive:

Lies: It is hard to have evil when the ground is truth.

Equivalences and twisting of words, including refusing to judge and judging wrongly: Isaiah (5:20) prophesies there will come a time when good will be calld evil, and black will be called white. That time has come.

Complacence and inertia: We are to beware those who tell us everything is fine, and that “all is well in Zion” (2 Nephi 28:21, 25), for this is how Satan lulls men into carnal security.

Complicity: With evil in refusing to see, refusing to judge, refusing to act.

Elshtain’s observation that “A willingness to sacrifice children is one sign of a culture of death” (p. 104). We believe that is true, and that the one sin for which God has consistently destroyed peoples throughout the scriptures is the crime of killing one’s own children.

Second, Elshtain is completely on-target when she quotes Bernard Lewis concerning the centrality of the gender question to issues of security. She is absolutely right in saying that “we underestimate the centrality of the gender question at our peril.” The Family Proclamation of the Church, published in 1995, echoes these sentiments, to wit, that failure on the part of men to respect, honor, and treat women as equal partners will bring about the promised plagues and destructions foreseen for the last days. My own work on the linkage between sex ratios and security in Asia, is an example of how important, yet how overlooked, that relationship is.

Third, Elshtain contrasts Islamic principles concerning the state and security with a robust Christian realist approach. Interestingly, in some aspects, LDS theology would point us more in the direction of Islamic values, while in other aspects, LDS theology would point firmly in the direction of robust Christian realism.

Fourth, there is an LDS tradition of just war theory, based on the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and statements by modern prophets. These are explained thoroughly in the new volume, Wielding the Sword While Proclaiming Peace: Reconciling the Demands of National Security with the Imperatives of Revealed Truth.

Fifth, it is true that LDS persons would probably not agree with Elshtain’s characterization of Jesus Christ on p. 99 of her book. We believe that Christ wants us to marry and have children. We also believe that God very much wants us to be engaged in temporal pursuits, to be anxiously engaged in good causes and not to bury our talents. LDS persons do not believe that discipleship is a call to withdraw from the world, only a call to withdraw from the sins of the world and then to be a righteous leaven and salt in that world.

Sixth, there are several miscellaneous points in which LDS theology would find resonance with Elshtain’s work. The issue of “dirty hands” is one such. Since LDS persons believe we are to engage the world, then, with Elshtain, we must also believe that God will help us find a way through our dilemmas, and not deliver us from our dilemmas.

Last, there is an argument propounded by Elshtain that might be difficult for LDS persons. This is Elshtain’s “equal regard doctrine,” meaning to intervene in failed states and against tyrants wherever found due to our equal regard for the lives of our brothers and sisters. This is problematic from an LDS point of view because of our respect for agency.

We also believe that transformation at the level of individuals and families through grassroots missionary activity can be a more powerful force than transformation from above.

But we can certainly be thinking about how our foreign policy can be made more moral. In addition to just war, can we not also speak of “just economics” and “just diplomacy”?

John Tanner professor of English

When is war not justified? Just War often used to restrain state violence: aggression, aggrandizement, vengeance, national honor. When is it justifiable?

  • legal authority, open
  • response to aggression against one’s people or innocent third party.
  • done with right intentions (without hatred)
  • last resort
  • maybe: prudential, chance of success

[In her book] the context is 9/11 and the decision to fight in Aghanistan (pre‑Iraq).

Limitations: needs more discussion of unique problem of new evil: terrorism; wish it had dealt with Bush doctrine of preemption; wish it had dealt with Iraq.

Strengths: Augustinian tough‑mindedness: “Politics not the nursery”; attention to language (definition: murder v. martyr; terrorism v. unintentional civilian casualties; justice v. revenge; punishment v. revenge; etc.) And to facts (numbers of casualties, etc.); challenge to pulpit and academy to respond to evil; like the question: responsibility of power.

Weaknesses or concerns: like what she opposes better than proposes; especially not sure about “return to imperialism” (p. 166); pacificism dissed as idealistic, but does it function as moral conscience? This has value. Also, has nonviolence sometimes worked, even in fallen world? (e.g., Gandhi, MLK, Anti‑Nehi‑Lehies)

My ethics are grounded in the theology of eternal identity: brothers and sisters. All war civil war. All murder fratricide. Tragic. Grievous. God weeps (as Pres. Hinckley says and Enoch saw). Just War theory is helpful, useful in common cause to restrain as well as to prosecute war. I agree that love of neighbor requires force: police, court, military. I’m not a pacifist. But in personal life, committed to ideas that better to suffer harm or evil that respond in kind.

I believe that LDS teachings add important caveats: forbearance: willingness to “bear patiently”; primacy of third parties, not self defense; standard of peace: instead of last resort; positive obligation to seek political solution; obligation to engage in repentance.

As we noted at the beginning of this article, we invite you to join the reader’s journey of exploration into issues, principles, and conditions we are currently facing. Let us hear your views on the Book of the Semester—past and future. Or if you have suggestions for future book selections, please send them to