Assault on Berlin

April 16, 2005

Sixty years ago today the Red Army began its assault on Berlin while the Western Allies waited not far from the city, allowing the Russians to advance as per a prior agreement. The German civilians, for their part, prayed fervently that the Western Allies would take Berlin. But the Russians advanced, ragged Belorussians and Mongolian conscripts. Tens of thousands of women were raped repeatedly and brutally. It is a sickening tale. I have spoken with victims and survivors of the horror.

As a boy, I was fascinated by Leon Uris’s Armageddon. This compelling work of fiction that deals in part with this situation raised my interest in this historical episode. But that is all it remained to me until I myself went to Berlin and labored among that city’s inhabitants as a missionary. Now this episode is much more than a history of a fallen city; I can see the wives and mothers, the cramped and desperate cellars where they hid in refuge from the raping army. It was a tragedy. Their misery and suffering is added to the unmeasurable horror perpetrated by Hitler’s aggression in condemning Hitler and his war machine. He himself made Berlin a front-line city and swore that the innocent civilians would pay with their blood for his defeat. His defeat was indeed necessary; the war against him was just. If only the Western Allies could have assaulted Berlin that day sixty years ago.

If Men Were Angels

April 16, 2005

Are people fundamentally good (cf. Gen. 1:27; Psalms 82:6; 2 Ne. 2:25) or fundamentally evil (cf. Mosiah 3:19; Alma 42:9-14; Ether 3:2; D&C 29:40-44), and what effect does the answer to this question have on the prospects of a Mormon jurisprudence?

Naturally, this might be a false dichotomy, an inquiry with little real value. Still, it seems that, if such characterizations are possible, the answer could affect views of agency, justice, and law.

Latter-day Saint doctrine certainly breaks from much of the bleakness of Protestantism, dark Calvinism, and any other form of debilitating pre-determinationalism. Is the LDS approach to human nature, however, more positive than these worn-out worldviews? If it is, can it offer alternative or better constitutive principles for the genesis of jurisprudence and laws than have the former determinative principles?

The political and legal system of the United States is the beneficiary of political and legal institutions of England. These were built into the new Constitution of the United States, a document that was the first of its kind and that has offered guidance to many. The Constitution, interestingly, arises from premises based in the dark view of human nature. Thus, explains Madison in Federalist 10,

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.

This is indeed a keen observation on Madison’s part, but is it too negative and untrusting of human nature? Is this a premise informed by centuries of dark Protestantism? Do belief in the evil nature of man and such resulting observations turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy? Madison famously notes further in Federalist 51:

It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

This perspective is really disparaging on human nature. Still, proceeding from this negative view of human nature, the Founders created an ingenious way to channel such evil so as to check itself and to net it in a way, to harness it, that it works for the greater good. Reading the rest of Federalist 51 reveals some of this genius and reasoning. The question is merely whether the evil of human nature is really a necessary starting point for considerations of constitutional and common law. Does LDS doctrine offer an alternative?


April 16, 2005

Why is it that when we see a group of orthodox Jews walking down 1300 E. on a Friday evening to synagogue, all dressed up in orthodox attire (thus very distinctive and conspicuous), we don’t really give it a second thought, but when we see a group of FLDS walking down Main Street all dressed in their homespun cloth and plain dresses, etc., we stare and dwell on their oddity?

I suppose the answer is relatively easy: Jews in their traditional religious attire are, although different and distinctive, a fixture or mainstay in our Western civilization. True, they have a long history of persecution based on the perceived differences in their lives and religion. And perhaps the random guy in Berlin might have the same impression of Jews proceeding to synagogue that I have of FLDS people proceeding to court in downtown SLC. Somehow, though, seeing the orthodox Jews, for me, is completely normal. The FLDS, however, really stand out. The scene I see every Friday evening on 1300 E. in SLC could be repeated on Friday evening anywhere that Jews live. On the other hand, FLDS are truly quite local and marginalized on even this local level.

Interesting Day

April 16, 2005

Today is interesting for two reasons:

(1) Disney is filming a movie on my street (Logan Ave.), just a few houses up (to the east). There are five or six huge trucks sitting on either side of the street and crew walking all around.

(2) A church group came and mowed my front lawn as a service project. For all the flack that the Church gets in the Bloggernacle for not being friendly enough etc., I must admit that I have never seen members of another church besides the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints go around the neighborhood doing random service projects for neighbors. I never saw it happen in Dallas, Connecticut, or here in Salt Lake City–it certainly has never happened to my own family during my life. But today, people from the K2 church here in SLC–a new capuccino-serving church in the area–showed up on our street and after mowing across the street from us, came over and offered to mow ours too. That was very nice of them.