Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

News from Mount Ebal: An Ancient Hebraic Inscription on Metal, a Chiasmus, Possibly Dating to the 13th Century BC or Earlier

An ancient Hebraic text dating to the 13th to 14th century BC has been discovered by sifting through the detritus of an archaeological dig at Mount Ebal in Israel. The text, apparently "the oldest proto-Hebrew text ever found in Israel" per the Jerusalem Post, is inside a small amulet, a tablet of lead, and was revealed with painstaking high-tech scanning known as tomography (this involves computational analysis of numerous x-rays at various angles to create a 3D model of an object) that showed the writing inside. The finding may result in revision to theories about the origins of written Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible. 

Latter-day Saints may be intrigued that metal was the medium for one of the most ancient Hebraic inscriptions. They may also be interested to learn that the inscription bears the divine name YWH (similar to YHWH), giving potential evidence that Jehovah was worshiped by the Israelites at least as early as 1300 BC. The inscription is also clearly in the form of a chiasmus, a classic form of Hebrew poetry that also appears to be characteristic of many passages in the Book of Mormon, another ancient text with connections to writing on metal. (Chiasmus is inverted parallelism in which a series or words or concepts are presented and then repeated in reverse order, such as ABCD followed by DCBA. Some resources on chiasmus are provided as an appendix below.) The find of the amulet at an altar site is also consistent with information in Deuteronomy 27 about building an altar on Mt. Ebal and associating divine curses with that site.

One account of the news comes from RNS (Religion News Service) Press Release Distribution Service, ReligionNews.com, "Ancient curse inscription deciphered from tablet discovered during archaeological wet sift on Mt. Ebal," March 24, 2022, at https://religionnews.com/2022/03/24/ancient-curse-inscription-deciphered-from-tablet-discovered-during-archaeological-wet-sift-on-mt-ebal/. An excerpt follows:

High-tech scans reveal ancient Hebrew script, centuries older than any
other known tablets.

HOUSTON — Today, the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) announced the discovery of a formulaic curse recovered on a small, folded lead tablet. The defixio [formulaic curse] came to light in December 2019 when archaeologist Scott Stripling, Director of the Archaeological Studies Institute at The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas, led an ABR team to wet sift the discarded material from Adam Zertal’s excavations (1982–1989) on Mt. Ebal. 

The ancient Hebrew inscription consists of 40 letters and is centuries older than any known Hebrew inscription from ancient Israel. Stripling formed a collaboration with four scientists from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and two epigraphers (specialists in deciphering ancient texts): Pieter Gert van der Veen of Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz and Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa. The scientists employed advanced tomographic scans to recover the hidden text. In collaboration with Stripling, Galil and van der Veen deciphered the proto-alphabetic inscription, which reads as follows:

Cursed, cursed, cursed – cursed by the God YHW.

You will die cursed.

Cursed you will surely die.

Cursed by YHW – cursed, cursed, cursed.

According to Stripling, “These types of amulets are well known in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but Zertal’s excavated pottery dated to the Iron Age I and Late Bronze Age, so logically the tablet derived from one of these earlier periods. Even so, our discovery of a Late Bronze Age inscription stunned me.” 

Almost immediately Galil recognized the formulaic literary structure of the inscription: “From the symmetry, I could tell that it was written as a chiastic parallelism.” Reading the concealed letters proved tedious, according to van der Veen, “but each day we recovered new letters and words written in a very ancient script.” 

Another good report comes from Ruth Schuster, "Early Israelite Curse Inscription Found on Mt. Ebal," Haaretz, March 24, 2022, at https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium-early-israelite-curse-inscription-found-on-mt-ebal-1.10696926. Here is an excerpt:

“Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse... thou shalt set the blessing upon Mount Gerizim, and the curse upon Mount Ebal.” (Deuteronomy 11:26, 29)

Now an official curse has been found, engraved on a lead tablet that dates to the biblical age and had sat in the detritus of an excavation of Mt. Ebal for decades, the Associates for Biblical Research of Houston, Texas announced on Thursday.

If the dating of the tablet to the Late Bronze Age – the 14th to 13th century B.C.E. – is accurate, it is the earliest such tablet by a century or two. Inscribed in proto-alphabetic writing also known as Sinaitic script or proto-Canaanite script, which dates to the Late Bronze Age, the hex text is early Israelite, the team claims.

Consisting of 40 ancient proto-Sinaitic letters on a lead sheet that was subsequently folded, and could only to be read by tomographic scanning, the inscription reads:

“Cursed, cursed, cursed - cursed by the God YHW.
You will die cursed.
Cursed you will surely die.
Cursed by YHW – cursed, cursed, cursed.”

The inscription does not leave much room for doubt that it was a curse. What it might mean for the interpretation of the finds at Mt. Ebal is another matter.

According to the biblical narrative, six tribes, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naftali were sent to the rocky, barren hill that is Mount Ebal, where the Lord commanded that an altar be built of unhewn stones, and attend to the cursing. The erection of the altar is attributed to Joshua, after his forces destroyed the city of Ai, sparing only the cattle, and hanged its king: “Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord, the God of Israel, in mount Ebal” (Joshua 8:30).

The lead tablet containing the formulaic curse, or defixio, was discovered in December 2019, while wet-sifting discarded material from an earlier excavation of Mt. Ebal (today near Nablus in the West Bank)  by Adam Zertal from 1982 to 1986. Zertal believed he had found two altars at the site, one of which may have been the actual altar of Joshua.

The Jerusalem Post also discusses several aspects of this story. See Judith Sudilovsky, "Researchers decipher oldest known Hebrew inscription on 'cursed' tablet: Mt. Ebal discovery aligns with biblical texts in Deuteronomy, Joshua," Jerusalem Post, March 24, 2022, updated March 26, 2022, at https://www.jpost.com/archaeology/article-702271.

A peer-reviewed publication based on this work is expected to follow later this year. There is the possibility of error in the dating and other aspects of the find, but at the moment this looks like a highly interesting find that may be of interest in studies of the Bible and perhaps even have relevance to studies of the Book of Mormon. 

Many thanks to Noel B. Reynolds for kindly alerting me and others to this exciting news. I look forward to his thoughts and the thoughts of other scholars on the matter as they explore the details of this find and examine its implications. 

Resources on Chiasmus

I've discussed chiasmus on Mormanity many times, and I also offer a page on chiasmus and the Book of Mormon at JeffLindsay.com. Some excellent resources on the topic include:

  •  John Welch and Donald Parry, editors, Chiasmus: The State of the Art (Provo, UT: BYU Studies and Book of Mormon Central, 2020), provided via BYU Studies Quarterly 59, no. 2 supplement (2020). This special edition includes many outstanding essays such as Neal Rappleye, “Chiasmus Criteria in Review,” pp. 289-309, and Boyd F. Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards, “Truth or Cherry Picking: A Statistical Approach to Chiastic Intentionality,” pp. 311-317. Most of the essays deal with biblical examples of chiasmus.
  • John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 10, no. 3 (1969): 69–83.
  • John W. Welch, “Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4, no. 2 (1995): 1–14; republished for a mainstream audience as John W. Welch, “Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus,” in Chiasmus Bibliography, ed. John W. Welch and Daniel B. McKinley (Provo, UT: Research Press, 1999), 157–174.
  • Boyd F. Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards, "Does Chiasmus Appear in the Book of Mormon by Chance?," BYU Studies 43, no. 2 (2004): 103-130.
  • "How Much Could Joseph Smith Have Known about Chiasmus in 1829?," Book of Mormon Central, 2017, https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/how-much-could-joseph-smith-have-known-about-chiasmus-in-1829.
  • Carl J. Cranney, "The Deliberate Use of Hebrew Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 23 (2014): 140-65.
  • Dennis Newton, "Nephi's Use of Inverted Parallels," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 22 (2016): 79-106
  • Donald Parry, Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2007). This book highlights many forms of apparent Hebraic parallelism in the text of the Book of Mormon, including many proposed chiastic structures in the Book of Mormon. 
  • John Welch, "What Does Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon Prove?" in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, pp. 199-224.
  • Noel B. Reynolds, "Nephi's Outline," in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1982), 53-74.

 

Dinner with One of Africa's Richest Women

My wife and I are friends with one of Africa's richest women, at least by her accounting. We were honored to have her over for dinner at our home recently, and to our surprise she reciprocated by inviting us to her home for a lovely dinner with some traditional African specialties. This intelligent and eloquent woman a few years ago was an orphan seemingly destined for poverty when another family, about to emigrate to the US as refugees, was able to bring her along. She told us why she is ow one of the wealthiest African people she knows: it's because she eats more than just one meal a day, and in fact often has three meals, a rare luxury in her homeland of Burundi. She has a job in the Fox Valley of Wisconsin that pays enough to let her always have food on hand so she is never forced to go hungry and doesn't have to wander from house to house offering to do housework for food. Even more amazing, she has her own car, a true rarity outside the politician class, making her truly one of the richest people anyone in her African community might know.

She's ambitious and diligent, holding down two jobs to not only have plenty to eat and maintain a car, but to also save for the future and to help support people from her community in Africa that don't have the great blessings she enjoys. As we learned about her regular efforts to send money back to Africa, we were really touched and recognized a great opportunity to chip in without the high overhead or corruption risk that some charities bring. We chipped in a small amount, and a couple of weeks later when she had us over for dinner, we learned how that money was transferred to her aunt in Africa and that it fed a group of people for two weeks. She showed us photos of the group and played a beautiful message of thanks from one of them acting as a spokesman, speaking in the national language of Burundi which, while a Bantu language supposedly having many similarities to Swahili, did not seem to have any obvious similarity to the Swahili we have been learning to support our calling something we are experiencing with quite a few people from East Africa. (We're striving to learn Swahili to support our calling. We have been called in our stake as "ministering specialists" for the local African community, which seems like the best calling ever.) Fortunately, our friend translated. 

It's painful to recognize that in spite of relative peace in many nations and the theoretical chance for prosperity, so many people still struggle with such basics as getting more than one simple meal a day. Many in Africa still go hungry regularly. There is a need for more to be done to overcome corruption (this seems to be the #1 problem that destroys so much for so many) and allow economies to grow. There is a need for more support for education to help young people learn how to prepare for productive jobs. There is a need for charitable efforts to help ensure that more people get basic nutrition and health care. 

Reading statistics about poverty is one thing, but it's quite another to meet people who grew up in that poverty and can testify of its lingering impact on their community, and to see the faces and hear the voices of those who are now or recently have been going hungry.

I feel we may face similar challenges in the US as our own economy has become so fragile due to supply chain issues and the growing ravages of inflation and massive debt. We must never think our comfort is secure, or that three meals a day is something to take for granted because a grocery store is just down the street and we have a stack of credit cards and a nice job. This is a time to both prepare for harder times ahead, and yet to increase our efforts to help those around us, and around the world. From Ukraine to Burundi, there are those facing terrible poverty and gnawing hunger. May we find more ways to help, bypassing failed and corrupted channels, finding ways that actually work and lift others. The Church is doing much in terms of humanitarian aid and service in many nations, but there's unending need for creativity and inspiration in finding ways we as individuals can do more to help. 

I'd appreciate you suggestions on ways you've encountered to help, such as trustworthy charities with low overhead. Two that we support are Days for Girls and Empower Playgrounds. Days for Girls provides innovative, low-cost feminine care products to help girls keep going to school instead of missing several days every month, a widespread problem in Africa that greatly limits the ability of women to get the education they need for success. Empower Playgrounds, a charity created by a BYU engineering professor, began as a clever way to provide rechargeable electrical lamps to students in Africa so they could study at night after they complete their after-school chores at home. The power comes from innovative playground equipment such as merry-go-rounds that turn the play of children into electricity for recharging lamps. Empower Playgrounds has expanded and is now also helping to provide computers to schools so students taking courses on computer programs can finally experience how those programs actually work. 

Our friend wishes to return to Burundi when the time is right and to make a bigger difference in her community there. She was an orphan, seemingly destined for poverty, until a kind family there brought her with them as they obtained refuge in the United States. She can hardly believe her good fortune in coming to the United States, where she is laying a foundation now that she hopes will help her later do much in Africa. I pray that this very rich woman from Africa will have increased success in making many others rich as well.  

I hope that all of us won't take any meal for granted and will wisely prepare to be able to help our own families and many others in troubled times ahead. Out-of-control debt and rapid printing of currency has been tried in many places, and it never turns out well.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

"O Captain, My Captain": Walt Whitman's Surprising Role in the Ultimate Refutation of All Book of Mormon Evidence

Fond Memories from Before the Blast

Back before a massive nuclear logic bomb wiped out Latter-day Saint apologetics a few days ago,  the story behind the map below once counted as some kind of comforting "evidence" for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon, or more specifically, evidence that important "facts" used for decades against the Book of Mormon had been completely "refuted," turning pitiful weakness into apparent strength.

Proposed route of Lehi's Trail through the Arabian Peninsula, from Warren Aston,
 "Nephi's 'Shazer': The Fourth Arabian Pillar of the Book of Mormon," (Click to enlarge.)

Before all hope for Book of Mormon apologetics was extinguished with a massive WMD (Weapon of Mass Disbelief) launched from an underground silo by an elite team of anti-Book of Mormon scholars, we used to talk about how cool this map was. We talked about "testable hypotheses" that had long been used by critics to mock the Book of Mormon's account of Lehi's Trail, which once seemed to describe impossible, illogical places like the River Laman and the fertile place Bountiful. Then people like George Potter and Warren Aston went there and did field work to see if such places possibly could exist, only to find impressive evidence that good candidates existed. Against all odds, there was a stunning candidate for the River Laman and the Valley of Lemuel in just the right place, about three days south of the northern "borders" of the Red Sea, per Nephi's account. And south-southeast of that, a four-days' journey away as Nephi describes, is an impressive candidate for Shazer, nicely matching details of the Book of Mormon account, as Warren Aston describes in "Nephi's 'Shazer': The Fourth Arabian Pillar of the Book of Mormon," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 39 (2020): 53-72. (Field work continues to be the key to unlocking many insights of the trek into and through Arabia.) And there were two good candidates for Bountiful, both nearby in southern Oman,  Khor Kharfot with Wadi Sayq and Khor Rori with Wadi Darbat. I've generally preferred Khor Kharfot, but both have their merits.

For a place like Bountiful that so many claimed was ridiculous, the surprising discovery of such candidates is noteworthy (some of the most important information about Khor Rori, namely, the very fertile nature of Wadi Darbat, is not well known but will be published shortly). The finds of Warren Aston at Khor Kharfot and Wadi Sayq, for example, were not based upon looking for any scattered random parallel that could be proclaimed a victory for the Book of Mormon, but used a rigorous methodology of identifying 12 characteristics for Bountiful from Nephi's text that would need to be physically present in a plausible candidate. These criteria are explain in his 2015 book, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia, and in his video that you can see at LehiinArabia.com. With that challenging set of 12 criteria, he considered each of several sites in Oman that had been proposed by others and showed that each were deficient in one or more significant ways. He visited many sites, ruling them out, and finally, late in the afternoon on his last day of a trip of exploration by boat along the coast of Oman, he yielded to the request of his daughter to go on shore and look at one particular region that she felt might be promising. He was reluctant and tired, ready to go home, but yielded. As they got past the sandbar that obstructed their view, they encountered Arabia's largest freshwater lagoon and an abundance of life and greenery. His daughter was jubilant, feeling they had found Bountiful, but he insisted that they had to study this further and check all of the criteria. But it would turn out that all 12 criteria were fulfilled, and the site remains to this day to be a prime candidate for Bountiful, with further research only strengthening the case. This is not the stuff of random parallels, but discoveries based on sound methodology and thorough field work that add explanatory power to the Book of Mormon.

But are the candidates for Bountiful in the right place? That depends on Nahom, which determines the location, for Bountiful must be "nearly eastward" of Nahom. The problem, one of the biggest problems the Book of Mormon has faced for so long, is that you can't just travel on foot or by camel from the west side of Arabia to the east side and have any hope of reaching the east coast alive, for most of the peninsula is dominated by the great Empty Quarter with impassible sand dunes and hopeless aridity. So the whole idea of crossing nearly eastward from pretty much anywhere seemed rather hopeless and was often ridiculed.

So what of Nahom? Or perhaps we should say NHM, as an important Yemeni tribal name was written anciently on three stone altars from Lehi's day that a German team of archaeologists found at a temple site in Marib, Yemen, testifying to the regional prominence of the ancient NHM tribe whose lands today (the name is now transliterated Nihm) and anciently were just to the north of modern Sana'a. If any crossing to the east did occur, it began near the site Nahom where Ishmael was buried. Nahom was not named by Nephi but obviously by the locals there since it "was called Nahom" (1 Nephi 16:34). It needs to have been populated anciently and needs to be approximately south-southeast of the River Laman and Shazer, and nearly due west of Bountiful, with Bountiful being accessible by simply traveling nearly eastward (there's no hint of any major barriers they had to bypass). That's a pretty tall order and seemed rather hopeless, until a couple of decades ago. Incredibly, as Warren Aston demonstrates in his book, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia, this actually all works out. 

NHM tribal lands happen to be in or bordering just about the only region where one can turn nearly due east from the generally south-southeast direction of the Incense Trails and continue all the way to the coast, bypassing the great Empty Quarter just to the north and also another equally impassible dessert just to the south. There's a very narrow widow of just a few miles where one actually can turn nearly due east and not only survive, but without any major barriers, and with the availability of some water, not only reach the coast, but reach a place that very nicely fits the requirements for Bountiful. Here's a close-up of Nihm tribal lands showing the Wadi Jawf where an eastward turn can be made, taken from "Book of Mormon Evidence: Travel Eastward from Nahom," Evidence Central, https://evidencecentral.org/recency/evidence/eastward-turn:

Nihm tribal lands northeast of Sana'a.

The two "impossible" places, the River Laman and Bountiful, are linked by the directions in Nephi's account where the south-southeast journey along the western side of Arabia suddenly turns nearly due east and reaches Bountiful. The intersection of the south-south leg and the eastward leg are at Nahom, and amazingly, there is now hard archaeological evidence for such a name in the right time (Lehi's day) and the right place, with Nihm tribal lands today and anciently comprising or being very near to the ONLY place where a sudden eastward turn is not only possible without certain death, but can lead you to another impossible place that now seems to be verified with at least one solid candidate. 

Warren Aston put it this way in Lehi and Saiah in Arabia, pp. 177-78:

Nephi’s simple statement that they traveled “nearly eastward” from Nahom becomes a stunning vindication of the Book of Mormon’s historicity. None of the classical or contemporary references to the incense trade mention this major change in direction, so it follows that Joseph Smith could not have known from them that there was such a turn, nor where it occurred.

And there is a further dimension to the matter of direction after Nahom. It comes from the specification, written well after the fact, that they traveled nearly eastward from that time forth. This seems to stipulate that this direction continued to be followed all the way to the coast. Indeed, the account mentions no detours, breaks in the travel, or any reason requiring a change of direction. Exploration and satellite imagery has shown that maintaining an easterly course was actually the only feasible way to reach the coast where Bountiful awaited.

Had Lehi’s group traveled even east-northeast or east-southeast from Nahom, they would have encountered the shifting sand dune deserts of the feared “Empty Quarter” to the north, or the equally-difficult Ramlat Saba’tayn desert to the south. Many of the constantly shifting dunes tower hundreds of feet high; they are simply too steep to be crossed by loaded camels. Instead, surely led by the Liahona, traveling almost true east from Nahom placed them on a narrow band of stony plateaus and valleys leading between the two deserts to the coast. A sequence of arid plateaus and valleys averaging 3,000 feet/900 meters altitude leads from the Wadi Jauf or Nahom area to low ranges north of the Hadhramaut Valley. From here, the Mahra plateau leads into the Qamar ranges on the coast of southern Oman.

Thus, not only is travel from Nahom in a direct easterly direction possible, but it is actually the most direct and only accessible route that one would take to reach the tiny area of fertile coast. No physical obstacles, whether sand dunes, mountains, steep ravines, or lava fields, prevent travel between the Nahom area and Dhofar. That a completely accessible and feasible “nearly eastward” pathway, with no intervening obstacles, from Nahom to the only fertile coast in Arabia can now be shown is one of the most significant findings in recent years concerning the Lehite journey. Surprisingly, the implications of this fact have yet to be fully assimilated by many writers on the subject. [emphasis original]

Nahom is not just a random name with 3 consonants that can be explained by finding any NHM-related name anywhere in the world, like Anaheim, California. It involves a specific location and a specific time, and we have solid "evidence" (or so we used to think!) that Nahom in the Book of Mormon is plausible both in terms of a precise location and a rare name prominent in the right era. Nahom involves a time, a precise location, a relationship to other places, and even involves a subtle Hebrew word play. The evidence around Nahom, including archaeological finds, coupled with evidence related to Bountiful, Shazer, and the River Laman in the Valley of Lemuel collectively overturned what once looked like strong evidence against the Book of Mormon, becoming instead apparent "evidence" for its authenticity and plausibility, making the theories of critics about its origins seem implausible. But again, that was before we got nuked.

And Now, the Extinction of All Book of Mormon Evidence

When long-standing arguments and evidence against the Book of Mormon are overturned by surprising new discoveries, what do you call the new evidence? Why, it's the same word you use when once failed testable hypotheses from the Book of Mormon suddenly and strangely test positive. The power word to handle all this is COINCIDENCE. This word, when used with the proper nuance and sophistication, pretty much trumps any so-called evidence from the defeated Latter-day Saint side. 

OK, you may be skeptical since this looks a little too easy at first, but this cool logical tactic is much more impressive than it seems at first glance. I must now reveal the irresistible power of the nuclear logic assault on the Book of Mormon, though I'm afraid whatever testimony you may have of the Book of Mormon is about to be obliterated. Reader discretion advised.

First, my apology to my fellow apologists for the Book of Mormon. Our cause is over. It's time to just abandon hope and forget about all the evidences in support of the Book of Mormon, evidences that only recently seemed to be growing steadily and adding increasing depth to the intellectual aspects of our faith. The recent discovery of evidence-rich, plausible, unexpected candidates for places long ridiculed by our critics such the River Laman, the Valley Lemuel, the place Bountiful, and the intersection point that joins those evidences from two opposing coasts in truly surprising ways, Nahom -- none of that matters now.

A nuclear-grade argument has finally been devised after decades of research, pulling together the most powerful anonymous thinkers of the world who proudly display their anonymous thinking skills at MormonThink, where I link to an archived but still lethal version of their page for security reasons. This new Ultimate Argument against the Book of Mormon, offered specifically in response to my Book of Mormon Evidences page at JeffLindsay.com (the existence of my page was vaguely mentioned but no link was given to protect vulnerable readers), is vaporizing faith as I write. The argument about eerie coincidences was totally convincing to some of the leading Ph.D.-level minds who have been trying to lead me back to rationality on my blog. It's been weaponized against all Book of Mormon evidences in general, but its most recent known detonation was against my discussion of evidences related to the Arabian Peninsula (see the discussion of the unanswerable "coincidences" argument in comments on my Feb. 19 blog post, "An Update on Maps of the Arabian Peninsula Showing Nahom-related Names"). While I was far from the epicenter of the blast when it occurred on my Mormanity blog, I've still been hit by what may be a lethal dose of anti-matter radiation. My passing is only a matter of time now -- the doc says I may only have a few decades left. But before I go, I need to warn others. Nothing you have learned in your self-defense from anti-Mormons workshops will have prepared you for this deadly new tactical logical weapon. 

The Ultimate Argument goes sort of like this: President John F. Kennedy has SEVEN LETTERS in his last name. See where this is going? Neither did I. Hold on. So did President Abraham Lincoln. SEVEN! And they  both were assassinated by people with THREE NAMES (Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth). Now are you catching on? But it gets much more powerful, because BOTH killers had exactly FIFTEEN LETTERS in their name. After I regained consciousness, I counted the letters five times in disbelief. Yep, FIFTEEN! But it keeps getting more impressive: Both assassins were shot to death before they could be put on trial. Both Kennedy and Lincoln were shot in the back of the head while seated with their wives. Both Kennedy and Lincoln were shot on a Friday. And if you've still got a whimper of a testimony left, consider this: Lincoln was shot while at FORD'S theater. Kennedy was shot while riding in a FORD automobile. (There may be an parallel universe of bizarre coincidences where Kennedy was shot while riding in a YUGO, and Lincoln was shot shortly after saying, "YOU GO, GIRL!")

My testimony was pretty much annihilated at this point. After all, if such bizarre coincidences can happen, then surely mere coincidence can account for all Book of Mormon evidence, right? And maybe all evidence of any kind! How can there be such a thing as truth or facts or evidence at all in such a weird world of endless, random coincidence? 

But there were still more detonations to come -- but somehow, the next blast gave me just a touch of hope. "Both Kennedy and Lincoln had been ship's captains." And then, somehow, the assault seemed to let up for a moment. I'm no historian, but have read some history and never heard about Lincoln pursuing sailing or going into the Navy. In fact, one of the less impressive parallels offered by MormonThink is that both Kennedy and Lincoln studied law (not sailing) -- but didn't most Presidents? Well over half of our presidents worked in law, so that's not so bizarre. But being a captain of a ship, even of a PT boat like President Kennedy, is something quite unusual. Why hadn't I head about this important aspect of Lincoln's career? Historians, help me out. Was Lincoln quietly involved in the secret Indiana Marine Brigade or, say, the Springfield Naval Reserves, Landlocked Division, perhaps bravely serving as a Canoe Commander in a local swamp? As far as I can tell, the answer is no. Whence, then, this most interesting parallel that makes Lincoln a captain of a ship?

Ah, yes, here's where Walt Whitman comes to the rescue, at least that's my theory. Whitman has already played an important role in anti-Mormon theory by serving as the most impressive source of parallels to the Book of Mormon, for his Leaves of Grass serves as the state of the art for Book of Mormon plagiarism evidence, giving us a text with far more relevance and explanatory power for the Book of Mormon than any other modern text so far that critics have touted as sources that explain anything about Book of Mormon origins. Whitman's Leaves of Grass is the now the Gold Standard against the Gold Plates when it comes to plagiarism arguments, in spite of the minor weakness of having been written 25 years after the Book of Mormon was published. That little factoid can be overlooked in light of the mountain of impressive evidence showing Joseph simply must have had access to Whitman's work, perhaps as boyhood friends, long before Whitman published it. Compare for yourself and see if any other argument for plagiarism makes more sense. Whitman account for so much of the Book of Mormon, including unusual specific terms like the Lamanites (derived from "lemonade") and so much more.

But now, in yet another strange coincidence, Whitman provides us with yet another powerful parallel to buttress anti-Mormon arguments, and once again from the Leaves of Grass, but starting with the 1867 edition. Shortly after Lincoln's death, Whitman wrote a moving poem about his beloved President Lincoln, "O Captain! My Captain!" (Of course, this could well have been inspiration for the whole Captain Moroni story, but that's for another post.) You can read about the poem on the Library of Congress website. As far as I can tell, that poem is the apparent source of MormonThink's claim about Lincoln serving as the captain of a boat. Whitman sees Lincoln as the figurative captain of the ship of our the nation. So the parallel is still completely solid, but to be more precise MormonThink might wish to say that Kennedy was the captain of a real boat and Lincoln was a figurative captain of a figurative boat in somebody's poem since he was a President of the United States. Or you could reduce confusion here and simply say that the coincidence is that both Presidents served as Presidents (and at least one of them had been in a boat). Still completely eerie, though it does seem to reduce the momentum of the argument. But it was definitely cool at first. 

The ship's captain coincidence on MormonThink's list isn't on other versions of this list I've seen elsewhere such as at Wikipedia, so it may have been part of a special extra-mile research effort from MormonThink's Deep Think Tank. If so, kudos for the anonymous creative work, which ironically may have been inspired by my own work calling attention to Whitman's preeminent role in anti-Book of Mormon theory. That would be a very cool coincidence as well, eh?

I also got a touch of relief when I read what might be the coolest single parallel in MormonThink's assault: "Kennedy had a secretary named 'Lincoln.' Lincoln had a secretary named 'Kennedy.'" Feel that shiver? I sure did. This one is really impressive because it seems so unlikely, not rather mundane like having 7 letters in a surname (hey, me too!) or 3 names (me too, again!) or coming from the south (I used to live in Atlanta!) or studying law (patent law for me!) or being elected president (yes, I was Deacon's President!) in one of the elections that occur only every four years. It's unusual because the name Kennedy was not a big name in the US in Lincoln's day. The mass migration of impoverished Irish families was underway, and the famous Kennedy family that would eventually give us a Kennedy in the White House had just landed in the US in 1854. Immigrants new to the US aren't likely to be serving as trusted staff to the President just a few years later, so that would be remarkable -- if it were true. Unfortunately, there's no record of any Kennedy serving President Lincoln as a secretary. (Snopes.com takes on this claim and several others on the list.) Somebody slipped here, but that's OK -- it still seems truthy, even if not exactly accurate. Only a slight loss of momentum. But never mind. There are still MANY stunning coincidences. Even if some are fake and some are stretches and some are pretty mundane, what are the odds of finding so many coincidences like FORD's theater and a car named FORD?? In my opinion, you just don't expect coincidences like that (unless you look really hard and apply some serious creativity).

And now can you see what that means for the Book of Mormon and why all our evidences, especially our previous Arabian Peninsula evidences, don't mean anything and aren't actually evidence at all, just as MormonThink claims?

Not yet? Wow, you're so hesitant. Let me help. 

First, I may know what you're thinking.  You may be thinking something like this:

Hey, the whole issue of the Arabian Peninsula began as anti-Mormon evidence AGAINST the Book of Mormon. For years, the elite critics laughed and said there could be no such place as the River Laman because there are no rivers in the entire peninsula, and there could be no such place as Bountiful because it's a big dessert without the lush green described for Bountiful, and if it did exist, it would be a major population center because water is the big attraction there, but the Book of Mormon implies there was nobody there but Lehi's family. All impossible. And the whole idea of crossing the Peninsula is impossible. All ridiculous.

But then came evidence from Warren Aston, George Potter, and others, that completely overturned the "evidence" against the Book of Mormon. We now have remarkable and plausible candidates for each of the specific places mentioned in Lehi's journey through Arabia, refuting what were one some of the most powerful arguments against the Book of Mormon. Surely that counts for something, right?

Here's the painful answer, my friend: it counts for nothing. It all means nothing. The original evidence against the Book of Mormon meant a lot, but now that it's apparently all "refuted" and "overturned" by new "evidence," we need to realize that all this evidence -- archaeological, geographical, whatever -- isn't evidence at all. It's just coincidence, and because it's coincidence, it doesn't count. Evidence only counts when it supports the consensus of the majority, namely, that the Book of Mormon is a fraud. All other "evidence" is COINCIDENCE, or maybe better, COINCIDEVIDENCE, no matter how cool you think it is.

Remember, evidence from anti-Mormons is very serious. No rivers in Arabia, no unpopulated freshwater lagoons with abundant fruit, no place Shazer, no place Nahom, no eastward path to reach Bountiful from the nonexistent Nahom, it's all impossible and ridiculous, and so we should abandon the Book of Mormon as a fraud and quit paying tithing to the wrong church. But when that old evidence is completely overturned with unexpected new "evidence," it's really nothing at all -- because FORD was a car and a theater, and Lincoln and Kennedy were both captains or at least Presidents that might remind poets of a captain, and on and on .... because wild coincidences can be found when you look for them, even if you have to make a few up every now and then. So all Book of Mormon evidence, usually found by people looking for it, can be disregarded, meaning the old evidence against the Book of Mormon still stands! The logic is powerful, irresistible, and so easy!

Now the slower to disbelieve among you may be saying, "Hold on! In Arabia, none of the evidence is related to random parallels like those dug up between Lincoln and Kennedy. The evidence comes from taking up the challenge of critics who said there was no such place as Bountiful or the River Laman, and then doing field work based in specific criteria or looking at discoveries of archaeologists, etc., to see if there was something plausible in the right place. The Lincoln-Kennedy parallels don't answer any questions or give us any predictive theory to test. There's no reason to consider counting letters or scanning the hundreds or thousands of factoids that someone to come up with the purported parallels. For the Book of Mormon, we have meaningful methodology and much more specific issues...." Cognitive dissonance, eh?

Please, you're only making things worse. Let go. If you deny the irresistible logical force from MormonThink, you're denying science and truth itself. The ultimate weapon has been unleashed and the end of everything we once held dear has come. All because someone finally figured out the truth: Kennedy's name has seven letters, and so did Lincoln's, and so does mine, etc. It's all over. O Captain Moroni, my Captain, farewell! 

 

Update, March 30, 2022:  Also see "Debunking the 'Lincoln — Kennedy Similarities Myth," History of Yesterday, April 7, 2021, https://historyofyesterday.com/debunking-the-lincoln-kennedy-similarities-myth-68d515e4fa54.







Sunday, March 06, 2022

Preparing for War: The Folly of Trust

The Folly of Trust: A Medical Perspective

Some of my more painful experiences in life have come from trusting people in authority, ranging from the promises of a business to the assurances of a medical authority or other persons I respected. While I continue to be an optimistic and trusting person, I increasingly recognize the reality that people often cannot be trusted, especially when there is an opportunity for personal gain at the expense of their personal integrity. I've also learned that there are red flags  I should have heeded more in my life, such as the words "you'll just have to trust me" when claiming that an agreement could not yet be put in writing. Other red flags of misguided trust I've encountered include the existence of obvious conflicts of interest,  an unwillingness to answer questions openly, or signs of concealing or covering up information that ought to be available, asking others to rely on someone's authority rather than evidence and objective information.

The consequences of my misplaced trust sometimes have affected me for decades. Misplaced trust in medical authority, for example, can lead to lifelong issues. Though my experiences have been minor compared to what many have suffered, they are still instructive. As a teenager, for example, I had severe acne. At about age 15 my mother took me to a dermatologist. I asked if I should change my diet. I ate a lot of dairy products in those days and wondered if milkfat might contribute to acne. "Absolutely not," said the dermatologist. He explained there's no evidence that milkfat or diet in general plays any role. It was all about bacteria in my skin, and thus I needed antibiotics. Lots of antibiotics for several years. And so I began a long-lasting routine of taking tetracylcine. One doctor told me that today, this would be the basis for a malpractice suit. Today it is well known that tetracycline can cause permanent staining of teeth, and thus it is rarely prescribed for young people. But that recognition began in 1956, before I was born. The dermatologist probably should have known better. Nobody warned me about the impact on teeth until it was too late, years later. 

Today it is also known that the bovine growth hormones that used to be common in the milk I drank can contribute to acne. Further, even without the growth hormones, the American Academy of Dermatology Association notes that cow's milk can lead to acne breakouts, But I didn't need studies to show the correlation. For me personally, I gradually observed a connection between what I ate and acne breakouts. In fact, to this day, if I eat too much fat over a couple of days, I will often break out somewhere on my face. I've learned to be more careful about my diet, and have also learned that the dermatologist I trusted was wrong on multiple counts. I'd have better skin and better teeth today if I had not trusted him and instead worried more about the risks of antibiotics and prolonged medication as well as the importance of diet. In many conversations I've had with medical authorities over the years, it seems that they have very little training on the impact of diet and rarely say anything on diet apart from discouraging high cholesterol and sodium. 

Around the same time I was starting to figure out that my dermatologist had not been reliable, I had another experience with misplaced trust in a medical professional. Shortly after I was married, I went to a new dentist in Provo for a checkup. I had just had a checkup in Salt Lake City a few months after my mission and was told my teeth were in good shape (apart from some tetracycline stains). No cavities after two years in Switzerland -- wonderful. But in that next checkup in Provo, about six months after the previous one, the dentist had shocking news. He explained that typically after a two-year mission, missionaries come back with a lot of cavities, and I had a mouthful. Twenty-one! I asked how that could be because just a few months ago I had no sign of cavities. The dentist explained that other dentists sometimes miss the early signs of cavities, but now I definitely had 21. Ouch! I was a young married student without a lot of cash, and this was a real setback financially, but quite a boon for the dentist, I'm sure. Here I made the terrible mistakes of not getting a second opinion and of simply trusting a likeable authority, and over several expensive sessions, had 21 fillings installed. Today all those likely nonexistent cavities continue to cause problems as the fillings need to be replaced from time to time or lead to cracks or new decay and require expensive crowns. A minor problem, really, but annoying and costly, with many thousands of dollars having been squandered on the aftermath of those 21 fillings. 

The need to doubt medical authorities finally kicked in and rescued me while I was in China. After a very positive experience with minor surgery that I needed after getting banged up on a wet, slippery Shanghai crosswalk, I had developed high respect for a the Shanghai East International Medical Center in Pudong near the heart of Shanghai. It was a public hospital, not one of the overly expensive foreign hospitals that most Americans favor (especially those with the luxury of high-end insurance from Western employers), but their relatively inexpensive VIP clinic was extremely good and much more affordable than the private international hospitals. With that respect in place, I went there again when I had some severe knee pain after twisting my leg. A surgeon took an MRI of my knee (costing only about $80!) and showed me that I had a damaged meniscus, and explained that it needed surgery to repair it. I looked forward to getting that meniscus repaired and signed up for surgery, even though it was still costly and much of it would come out of my pocket with my poor insurance at the time. 

When I came in and was admitted and being prepared for surgery, a medical crew came in to look me over. They explained that they would put me under and then go in and remove the meniscus. Wait, remove? Remove? The surgeon said he would repair it! "Don't worry, it will be OK. It's actually much easier to just remove it." I asked to speak to the surgeon but he was not available. I finally realized that this was no time to trust. I got off the bed and walked out, with my MRI in hand. I needed a second opinion and needed to understand if repair was possible and if removal of the meniscus would be a problem (yes, it would be: serious arthritis and limited mobility). 

I got in a taxi and I immediately called a physical therapist I had met at some event, Dr. Jae from Korea, and asked him what he thought. He explained that surgeons in China can have a conflict of interest since, of course, they make more money the more surgery they do, so they often recommend surgery even when it's not needed (this helps explain why so many births in China are through C-section -- as high as 70% in some regions and maybe around 50% overall). He said that the best way to get an honest recommendation is to remove the conflict of interest by taking my MRI to another surgeon in another hospital and stating that if surgery is needed, I would only do it back in the United States. Under those conditions, there is no profit motive to sway the judgement of the surgeon. I had the taxi turb around and head to another local hospital, and soon found another surgeon who could meet with me and did as Dr. Jae recommended. He pointed to my meniscus on the MRI and explained that it was just torn a little and did not need to be removed. Rather, he suggested that I should try physical therapy. Bingo! 

A few minutes later I was scheduled for physical therapy with Dr. Jae at St. Michael's, a private but quite affordable hospital near where I lived. He was terrific. After one session, my leg was dramatically better, and after several more sessions, the problem was largely eliminated, meaning that I could walk normally and had no pain. Today I still have that meniscus and am so grateful to not have the painful arthritis that I would likely face today if the surgeon had "repaired" my meniscus by removing it. 

In the past two years, I fear that millions have suffered unnecessarily by misplaced or blind trust in medical authorities. Schools have been closed unnecessarily, causing massive harm to millions of school children from delayed education as well as other harms we see from serious increases in obesity and mental health challenges, including dramatic spikes in suicide. Millions of jobs have been lost as local leaders turn into mini-tyrants decreeing which businesses can stay open and which must close. We have been told to trust and to stop asking questions, and those who have asked questions have in many cases been censored or deplatformed. The essence of science is questioning the status quo, while the essence of tyranny is demanding unquestioning compliance. It is the latter that seems to have adopted the slogan, "Follow the science!" 

The red flags for misguided trust need to be kept in mind. Is there a potential for conflict of interest? Is there evidence of something fishy going on? Are reasonable questions attacked or silenced rather than answered? There can be many situations where our desires to trust and respect authority figures need to be suppressed in favor of healthy doubt and vigorous questions. Health care and public health policy is certainly  one such area, but there's another field in particular where we need to be on guard lest we face a lifetime of grief, or greatly shortened lives for many, where the potential for corruption, deceit, conflicts of interest, and havoc of all kinds is at a maximum. I speak of war. 

Preparing for War: Are We Ready to Trust Again?

Modern war represents the ideal vehicle for corruption and greed. Trillions of dollars can flow with little scrutiny or transparency. Nations go into debt for war, enriching the coffers of those who fund the war effort. Numerous corporations are eager to swallow up the largess of war. Vast fortunes can be made as the fate of nations hang in the balance. Political fortunes are made as well, as history shows that war can distract from crises and scandals and turn a failing leader into a powerful, popular figure, propped up with a controlled media extolling his success and bloated with new emergency powers to pursue his interests. During war propaganda becomes hard to distinguish from news, just as freedom of speech can be hard for the government to distinguish from treason. Even if war could be waged without bloodshed, it is an ugly monster, the prized pet of megalomaniacs and the most successful tool of the greedy. 

War is one of the most persistent and extensively treated topics of the Book of Mormon, not because God is a fan of war but because we need the Book of Mormon's lessons on war in our day. The Book of Mormon teaches us of the corruption that is often behind war, where power-hungry maniacs like Amalickiah will stop at nothing to expand their power, manipulating information to stir up war and promote the quest for power (this occurred among the Lamanites to provoke war against the Nephites -- Alma 47:1). We learn of the dangers of elites in society who use their influence to stir up others in anger and to corrupt or overthrow legitimate government. In some cases those elites, like Amlici or the king-men of the Book of Mormon, conspire with enemies to weaken a nation and encourage enemies. The Book of Mormon also reminds us just how insane and horrific war can become, leading to the complete destruction of nations. In the modern era, war is often sold to the people as something that can be waged and won quickly, when in fact it tends to drag on endlessly, especially when there never was an intention to prevent or win the war in the first place. For those with conflicted interests that are benefited by war, how could they ever be content with a swift victory when there could be decades of profit or many years of expended power to cope with a never-ending emergency?

A Red Flag from Korea: My Father's Story

I first gained a sense of the questionable nature of war from my father, who told his family much about what he experienced and learned while serving in the US Army in the Korean War. In addition to numerous stories of close calls with death and the trauma of war, there were also strange, "fishy" things that kept occurring that indicated something wasn't right. Secret marches in the middle of the night to take a position in a new location were greeted by the enemy, who were prepared in detail for their operations as if they knew well in advance what was being planned. How could this be?

My father, William Dean Lindsay, was part of the first war that was fought under the direction of the United Nations, and he eventually became convinced that the goal of this war clearly was not to free Korea, which could have been done easily. Rather, the United Nations ensured that half of Korea would be left in the hands of brutal Communist dictators. American soldiers were betrayed by the United Nations. My father testified about this on Feb. 10, 2003 in Salt Lake City, Utah, before the Government Operations Committee of the Utah House in favor of H.R. 7, entitled, "Resolution to Urge Congress to Withdraw the United States from the United Nations." He spoke as a decorated combat veteran of the Korean War (Army Commendation Ribbon with Medal Pendant and a Bronze Star) and as a resident of Utah concerned about the current and future wars we will fight under the direction of the United Nations. Here is his testimony:

After I had been in combat with my outfit for four months, we were relieved by another division and moved to the rear to rest, regroup, and to receive and train some new soldiers to bring us back up to strength. After a couple of weeks, we were notified that it was time to return to action.

We were told that this was a "Top Secret" move and we were required to remove all insignia from our uniforms, and all identification from trucks, vehicles, and weapons. It was so secret that all movement in our convoy was done at night with Korean runners leading the way. No lights, no cigarettes or even matches were allowed.

We moved to our new position and were ready to occupy it at the appointed time. Up until then, we had no idea where we were or who we were replacing. At 10 o'clock, we began the exchange and suddenly searchlights illuminated our new position and American music blared over loud speakers. Then a voice called out a special "welcome" in English. The speaker identified our division, regiments, and battalions by number and all of our leaders by name.

When the "welcoming party" ended, the enemy opened fire and pounded our position with mortar and artillery fire. The shelling continued most of the night. We sustained some casualties, both dead and wounded.

This horrifying experience only added to the questions that were coming into my mind. How could our enemy know things about us that we did not even know ourselves? And why were we only permitted to play deadly war games with the enemy? We were a vastly superior fighting force, and could have swept them off the land in a short time, but we were not permitted to do so.

After I had been home a number of years, I learned the answer to these questions. The problem was that for the first time in American history, the United States Congress copped out and abdicated their responsibility to declare war, and then compounded the problem by turning control over to the United Nations who orchestrated the war, which, by plan, was to become America's first no-win war.

We were required to notify the UN in advance of every action we planned so that the enemy always knew what we were going to do, thus the special "welcoming party" at our "Top Secret" destination.

Since learning the truth, I have always despised the United Nations, who conned and deceived and exploited me, and hundreds of thousands of other loyal and patriotic Americans. And I have always felt betrayed by the leaders of the land that I love, who placed the precious lives of so many Americans in the hands of a godless organization that had no regard for human life.

In 1952, my father, a green 19-year-old in the 40th Infantry Division, 223rd Regiment, 3rd Battalion, Company M, a heavy weapons support company, was thrown into the fierce fighting of the Korean "Punchbowl" where many good men would die. This unconstitutional war, fought under the direction of foreign powers not seeking the interests of the United States or the cause of liberty, strengthened the United Nations and set up the grim scenario we have today, with the threat of nuclear war emanating from the brutal dictatorship of North Korea, a terrorist-supporting state that has became a threat to the United States. 

My father had basic respect for the President under whom all this happened, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and believes that he was pressured to do what he did.  President Ezra Taft Benson, one of the few Church leaders with profound high-level experience in government, served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Eisenhower and also had high respect for him, but also saw and said much about how corrupt government can become. As a testimony to at least a desire on Eisenhower's part to resist the powers that may benefit from war and corruption, consider his famous farewell speech where he warned against the rising powers of what her termed "the military industrial complex":

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction...

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together. [From "Military–industrial complex," Wikipedia, emphasis original.]

I believe Eisenhower knew what he was speaking about, though the "complex" or "combination" of his day was just getting started compared to the behemoth that we have now. With so much money and so much power involved, with so little transparency and accountability, and with one man now able to declare and wage war without the Constitution's requirement for Congress to declare it, how can we assume that there is nothing to worry about, no risk for corruption or conflicts of interest or betrayal of American interests? Eisenhower called for us as citizens to be cautious, to be informed, and to stand guard against threats to our liberty that might come from the very powerful forces that are supposed to protecting our liberty. This is not a time to trust, nor a time to stifle questions, no matter how ugly our enemy is or is portrayed to be.

As my father experienced, there is great danger when our military actions become subject to outside influences. However, today our military actions are increasingly subject to what George Washington warned against in his farewell speech, "entangling alliances" with other nations, whether it is through  the United Nations, NATO or other treaties or arrangements. Washington knew the lessons of history, especially those from Europe where "entangling alliances" dragged nation after nation into prolonged war.

A Red Flag from Vietnam

My nine years in China suddenly ended with the outbreak of COVID in China while my wife and I were on a trip to tropical Vietnam during the Chinese New Year holiday season in 2019. I would not set foot in China again (there's another long story there). While in Vietnam for diving at Nha Trang, a visit to Haolong Bay, and a tour of Hanoi, I was surprised at the progress Vietnam had made. It seems that Vietnam learned quickly from the economic revolution of China led by Deng Xiaoping, inspired at least in part by the heroism of heroic farmers in the village of Xiaogang, Anhui Proviince, that showed how deadly collectivism is and how much good can come from economic liberty. If you're not familiar with this crucial story from China, see my recent article, "Desperate Heroism and the Thunder of a Quiet Revolution: The Rise of China’s Economy and IP System," where I share lessons from my pilgrimage  to the tiny Chinese village where the most vital revolution of modern China occurred, one that we still need to remember and understand.  

Vietnam was vibrant and seemed remarkably free in many ways, with, for example, religious freedom beyond that of China. There was a Latter-day Saint Church in Hanoi that we could attend, and we met missionaries (real proselyting missionaries!) serving in the Hanoi area (we cannot have missionaries in China). We were touched by the faith and kindness of the local members we met. But we also saw reminders of the painful past. There was a large celebration organized by the government on the street in Nha Trang near our hotel where I saw a dramatic reenactment of the war, with American soldiers naturally portrayed as the villains invading their country. Understandable from their perspective, of course. But everyone we met there in the south and in Hanoi in the north treated us well. 

I loved my time in that beautiful country. But what happened there in the Vietnam War was a tragic disaster in many ways. So many Americans and so many Vietnamese would die in another no-win war. I would become increasingly familiar with the sweeping effects of that war when I began working with Hmong refugees in Wisconsin when we moved back to Appleton from Atlanta in 1994. My entire family would become part of a new Hmong branch, and as I worked with members and investigators, I would learn story after story of the trauma that the war brought to them, including genocide against them for their role in supporting the United States in a secret war that went on in Laos to support the Vietnam effort. We got them involved in our war and promised to always be there for them and suddenly we left them on their own, unprepared for the brutal retribution to come. 

As with the Korean War, our involvement in Vietnam was questionable, but once there, there were obvious things that could have been done to win the war without having to let our young men fight and die in hostile jungles. The key to war is often the supply chain. Haiphong Harbor near Hanoi was where shipments of weapons and supplies were received from the Soviet Union. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was the essential route for delivery of war supplies to the North Vietnamese troops. But due to secret "rules of engagement" that we would not learn about until later, our own government abandoned proven principles of warfare that seek to disrupt the enemy's supply chain. We refused to mine Haiphong Harbor. We could not take out anti-aircraft installations until they were functional, and were greatly limited in what could be done on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The entire scenario looks like it was set up to fail.

Major Matthew J. Dorschel of the United States Air Force described some of these ridiculous rules in "The Effects of Restrictive ROEs on the Rolling Thunder Air Campaign," Globalsecurity.org, 1995:

The ROEs in place for the air campaign over North Vietnam included restrictions on where aircraft could fly, what conditions aircraft could attack enemy forces (when they were considered hostile), and what degree of force could be used both in self-defense and attack. Another part of the ROEs restricted pilots from attacking certain types of target that were off limits; some of these were: enemy airfields, SAM [surface-to-air missile] sites, power plants, naval craft in some areas, a 30 mile area around Hanoi, and a 10 mile area around Haiphong.... Until early 1967, in many instances U.S. pilots were not allowed to engage enemy fighters unless they themselves had been attacked first....

Several incidents of ROE violations led to court-martial charges; one that led to charges against the commander and the aircrew was the strafing of the Soviet ship Turkestan in 1967 near Haiphong.14 Fear of ROE violations and the consequences of them led to a dilemma; many aircrews felt as if they could not accomplish their mission without either getting killed by the enemy or brought up on court-martial charges by their own government....

The most significant restricted areas that provided sanctuary were the 30 mile area around Hanoi, the 10 mile area around Haiphong, and a 25 to 30 mile "buffer zone" along the Chinese border. These sanctuaries prevented attacks against key targets in the north without prior approval from Washington. The North Vietnamese took advantage of this by offsetting the damage done by our aircraft in non-protected areas. Because Haiphong Harbor was a safe port, they were able to ship up to 85% of their war goods by sea and download them with impunity 24 hours a day at that location. These safe havens allowed the enemy to stockpile war materials until they could be moved to the south. The "buffer zone" along the Chinese border was thousands of square miles where the North Vietnamese could store and transport materials with no fear of U.S. attack. This made any attempts at reducing the ability of the enemy to sustain their combat operations almost futile.

One of the most ridiculous rules prohibited damaging a rubber plantation owned by an influential company, Michelin, the famous tire producer. To protect their precious rubber trees, we weren't allowed to use bombs in the area and thus had to risk American lives to clear out the enemy by hand. The enemy, of course, seemed to learn or figure out what what the rules were and constantly exploited those rules for their gain. See Jesse Beckett, "The Absurd Rules-of-Engagement GIs Had to Follow During the Vietnam War," War History Online, Nov. 17, 2021.  There's also a military thesis on the impact of the rules of engagement by Major Ricky J. Drake, "The Rules of Defeat: The Impact of Aerial Rules of Engagement on USAF Operations in North Vietnam, 1965-1968," The School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Air University, US Air Force, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, May 1992. These rules are still excused by many today as somehow being necessary to prevent World War III, but in light of the massive deceptions to American citizens about this war as revealed in the Pentagon Papers, it's reasonable to wonder if the entire effort was conducted in bad faith as another deliberate no-win war. In any case, it resulted in a major PR victory for Communism and loss of trust in America by many, especially by its own citizens, if they paid attention.

When the Pentagon Papers were published in 1971, we would learn that our government had lied to us at almost every turn. We had been betrayed. A touch of the shameful abyss of deceit revealed by the Pentagon Papers is covered in the New York Times' nicely written summary by Elizabeth Becker, "The Secrets and Lies of the Vietnam War, Exposed in One Epic Document," June 9, 2021. The subtitle is "With the Pentagon Papers revelations, the U.S. public’s trust in the government was forever diminished" -- and rightly so.  

Though only briefly hinted at in Becker's article, an important part of the perfidy of the Vietnam War is the justification to start the war in the first place. I was taught in school that the war began because of an unprovoked attack of the North Vietnamese on US forces in the Gulf of Tonkin. Even young people today may still be hearing that tale (let me know if your history courses have been more accurate). A clear and incisive article exposing the shady origins of that war comes from a US Navy officer, Lieutenant Commander Pat Paterson, "The Truth About Tonkin," Naval History Magazine, vol. 22, no. 1, Feb. 2008, https://www.usni.org/magazines/naval-history-magazine/2008/february/truth-about-tonkin. Here is the abstract:

Questions about the Gulf of Tonkin incidents have persisted for more than 40 years. But once-classified documents and tapes released in the past several years, combined with previously uncovered facts, make clear that high government officials distorted facts and deceived the American public about events that led to full U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

For many years it seemed that the United States' questionable declaration of an alleged Aug. 4, 1964 attack on the USS Maddox might have been due to a good-faith misinterpretation of various reports. Only recently did declassified documents reveal that something much more shady was at play. There was a minor incident early on Aug. 2, when the North Vietnamese very likely thought the Maddoxx was involved with attacks underway by the South Vietnamese in the region (attacks that we were promoting and helping to plan, playing a dangerous and unnecessary game in the first place). The response of the North Vietnamese on Aug. 2 was understandable and no excuse for war. But the Aug. 4 events, as conveyed by the White House to the American people and Congress, provided a much stronger story of a significant unprovoked attack, leading to a swift resolution of war and handing President Lydon B, Johnson full power to carry out the war without Congressional oversight, exactly what he wanted. 

However, based on documents declassified in 2005 to 2006, now we know that the government's description of the Aug. 4 event involved intentional deception. There was no attack. We were deceived into support a long-lasting, no-win war that would be a boon to many, but not to our soldiers, not to their families, not to our security, nor to our global goodwill or our own economy (apart from the military-industrial complex). Why the deception was done and how it was orchestrated is not known for sure and must be the domain of "conspiracy theorists," but the existence of corruption of some kind to  dishonestly get us into war is now beyond question. Here is an excerpt from Lieutenant Commander Paterson's article:

Commander [James] Stockdale was again in the action, this time alone. When his wingman's aircraft developed trouble, Stockdale got permission to launch solo from the Ticonderoga. He arrived overhead at 2135. For more than 90 minutes, he made runs parallel to the ships' course and at low altitude (below 2,000 feet) looking for the enemy vessels. He reported later, "I had the best seat in the house to watch that event and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets—there were no PT boats there . . . there was nothing there but black water and American firepower."

Captain [john J.] Herrick [of the Maddox] also began to have doubts about the attack. As the battle continued, he realized the "attacks" were actually the results of "overeager sonar operators" and poor equipment performance. The Turner Joy had not detected any torpedoes during the entire encounter, and Herrick determined that the Maddox's operators were probably hearing the ship's propellers reflecting off her rudder during sharp turns. The destroyer's main gun director was never able to lock onto any targets because, as the operator surmised, the radar was detecting the stormy sea's wave tops.

By 0127 on 5 August, hours after the "attacks" had occurred, Herrick had queried his crew and reviewed the preceding hours' events. He sent a flash (highest priority) message to Honolulu, which was received in Washington at 1327 on 4 August, declaring his doubts: "Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonarmen may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by MADDOX. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken."...

Analysis of intercepted communications that were shared with the Pentagon shows deletion  the vast body of information that would undermine the story of the Aug. 4, along with some unexplained changes in the translation or the pasting together of two messages into one. Faulty intelligence played a major role in the launching of the war. Was this all an accident? The evidence doesn't support such optimism.

Subsequently, Secretary McNamara intentionally misled Congress and the public about his knowledge of and the nature of the 34A operations [the military operations of the South Vietnamese near the Gulf of Tonkin that we were supporting with the assistance of the Maddox], which surely would have been perceived as the actual cause for the 2 August attack on the Maddox and the apparent attack on the 4th. On 6 August, when called before a joint session of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees to testify about the incident, McNamara eluded the questioning of Senator Wayne Morse (D-OR) when he asked specifically whether the 34A operations may have provoked the North Vietnamese response. McNamara instead declared that "our Navy played absolutely no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any."

Later that day, Secretary McNamara lied when he denied knowledge of the provocative 34A patrols at a Pentagon news conference. When asked by a reporter if he knew of any confrontations between the South and North Vietnamese navies, he responded: "No, none that I know of. . . . [T]hey operate on their own. They are part of the South Vietnamese Navy . . . operating in the coastal waters, inspecting suspicious incoming junks, seeking to deter and prevent the infiltration of both men and material." Another reporter pressed the issue, "Do these [patrol boats] go north, into North Vietnamese waters?" McNamara again eluded the question, "They have advanced closer and closer to the 17th parallel, and in some cases, I think they have moved beyond that in an effort to stop the infiltration closer to the point of origin."

In reality, McNamara knew full well that the 34A attacks had probably provoked the 2 August attacks on the Maddox. On an audio tape from the Johnson Library declassified in December 2005, he admitted to the President the morning after the attacks that the two events were almost certainly connected....

When Johnson ordered a counterattack on Aug. 5, Commander Stockdale and others knew that we were the ones initiating action, not the North Vietnamese. He would later state, "We were about to launch a war under false pretenses, in the face of the on-scene military commander's advice to the contrary."

Deception at a very high level led us to engage in a no-win war that would claim over 60,000 American lives and hurt hundreds of thousands of other peoples as well, including the Vietnamese and the Hmong. The deception from the US government over the Gulf of Tonkin Incident may still be called a "conspiracy theory" by those who would have us always trust government, but the evidence of wrongdoing is crystal clear. That's not to say that we should have done nothing, nor is it to say that Communism is better than freedom (I am for freedom). But if a war is justified, let the case for it be advanced based on truth and open debate, and let it be declared by the voice of the people, following the principles in the Constitution. When extreme deception and other red flags abound regarding the need for war, something fishy is going on and bold questions are needed. Further, if a war is to be fought, let it be won swiftly and with as little bloodshed as possible.

Red Flags Everywhere? What Should We Do?

Our history of war abound with red flags and suspicious circumstances. The Persian Gulf War, for example, began under questionable pretenses. First, we essentially gave a green flag to Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait after he inquired about our position on the dispute with Kuwait, and then once he attacked, we acted like it was necessary for us to rush in and rescue the world due to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction that actually never existed. The war could have been prevented. Once started, there was no need for us to be involved. The dictator of Iraq deposes the dictator of Kuwait -- was putting the rightful dictator back on his throne really a noble cause that would require spilling the blood of our young people? The government floated many different arguments in an attempt to stir us up in support of the war, including telling us that it was "about jobs" that would come from the improved access to oil, which was a complete lie. From beginning to end, the war was infused with red flags.

The war in Afghanistan is another classic example of suspicious justification for a clearly no-win war. We were attacked by a handful of terrorists from Saudi Arabia. For this, we needed decades of fighting? And invading a country that was not responsible for the attack? For this, we needed the "Patriot Act" to turn our government into a massive spying operation to monitor American citizens and their global finances as if we are all terrorist suspects? The Afghanistan war effort would conclude in shame as we broke promises again and not only abandoned our allies, but many of our own citizens, and left $84 billion of advanced weaponry in the hands of the Taliban who are closely linked to China. Very good for China, but not for us. Was this a good faith effort where someone just accidentally forget a few steps, like evacuate your friend and fellow citizens before you leave, and remove or destroy advanced military equipment on the way out, and keep your airbase functional until everyone is out? Or was the fiasco due to something other than incompetence? It's the kind of question that needs to be asked, not silenced. 

Similar questions can be asked about our involvement in many other regions such as Serbia, where we supported NATO's bombing of Serbia (illustrating, of course, that NATO is not simply a defensive organization), Sudan, Syria, etc. That's not to say all such actions were wrong or did not at least seem to have noble purposes, but there are fair questions that can be asked.

The specter of war these days, as in days of old, is linked to corruption and villainy of all kinds. War is now the ultimate playground for the greedy and power hungry. We must approach war with the caution and alertness that Eisenhower calls for. It's not a time for trust and blind faith in humans who tend to be wicked and easily corrupted. We want America to be the good guy, the knight on a rainbow-colored horse that brings happiness to the masses of the world, but as the Book of Mormon sort of says, constant warfare never was happiness.

As we begin a new round of "rumors of war" and the "patriotic" stirring up of the masses to prepare us to engage in another major war far from our borders,  this might be a good time to ponder the red flags of war and of misguided trust before we blindly trust what we are told and asked to do. With the numerous and increasingly popular calls for the US and NATO to enforce a "no-fly zone" over Russie, we need to understand that such intrusion marks the beginning of a real war. Wars are often promoted as something simple -- "we'll just use a few airplanes and missiles, no boots on the ground" -- but once engaged, things always get more complicated especially when we learn, sometimes year later, that the goal was not victory after all.

If the cause for war is just, we don't need to rely on propaganda and censorship and must utterly shun deceit and lies. Let it be debated based on facts and let Congress declare it. But the cause for war is appropriate under the Constitution of this land, explain why it is necessary. Their are bad guys causing war and invading countries all the time. Can we really be expected to join every battle? We seem to trust in bullets and bombs as the way to right every wrong, almost to the point of idolatry, as President Spencer W. Kimball once pointed out in one of the most neglected and most important messages from a modern prophet. In his June 1976 message in the Ensign, "The False Gods We Worship," President Kimball made some strong comments that challenged many in the Church:

In spite of our delight in defining ourselves as modern, and our tendency to think we possess a sophistication that no people in the past ever had—in spite of these things, we are, on the whole, an idolatrous people—a condition most repugnant to the Lord.

We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 
“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)...

What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him? Our assignment is affirmative: to forsake the things of the world as ends in themselves; to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.

We must leave off the worship of modern-day idols and a reliance on the “arm of flesh,” for the Lord has said to all the world in our day, “I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.” (D&C 64:24.) ...

As we near the year 2,000, our message is the same as that which Peter gave. And further, that which the Lord himself gave “unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear:

“Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh.” (D&C 1:11–12.)

Look, I know we still need to defend ourselves, just as the people of Ukraine need to now. I know armor, weapons, and fortifications can be vital just as they sometimes were for the Nephites. But I like President Kimball's approach. Indeed, if we could abandon our tendency to trust first in military force, I believe that many crises could be averted with wisdom rather than weapons. I don't know the answers, but there are questions that need to be asked, and preferably early rather than after a foreseeable crisis emerges. 

Ukraine has been in our prayers in the Lindsay household every day recently. I've turned to some friends from Ukraine and or who live much of the time in Ukraine for their thoughts, and recognize that the situation is far more complex that portrayed in the media, with problems going back many years. What's happening there is painful for people on both sides of the war. A friend from the region told me that most of the Russians and Ukrainians she knows have family on both sides of the conflict, some actively fighting. This factor, she said, may explain the obvious slowness and in her view restraint of Russian forces in advancing into Ukraine, for they could obliterate entire cities if they wished, but appear to be seeking to reduce civilian casualties. I don't know, though -- it's hard to judge and hard to now which news sources to trust, but I am troubled that Russian sources are being censored in the West. Yes, there will be propaganda, as there is from every country, but how can we even begin to understand other perspectives when differing views are censored?

Many Ukrainians in the east are pro-Russian, not necessarily because they speak Russian or like Putin but often because they've seen the practical trouble that has come for nations like Poland joining the EU (EU regulations, for one thing, make it terribly difficult for some Eastern European nations to do business in the EU), and prefer to keep their connections with Russia. Some, even in western Ukraine, question the legitimacy of their government and the US role since 2014 in the government of Ukraine. Some of them feel that Ukraine is being played in a proxy war for the US with Russia. These are views from Ukraine that we aren't going to hear with the one-sided reported that seems to be aimed at stirring us up for conflict with Russia.

One of my friends (a US citizen whose wife is from Kyiv) has pointed out our need to consider the unfortunate role the US has played in Ukraine in the last decade. He encouraged me to consider a 2016 presentation by Dr. John Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor in Political Science at the University of Chicago. It was an eye-opening presentation, and if he is right, there may have been some relatively painless and simple things we could have done to prevent the catastrophe happening there. Perhaps. I don't now, but want to know more. Have we provoked Russia? Did our weak sanctions and speaking of "minor incursions" being no big deal encourage the invasion? What was our involvement in the 2014 coup and in the selection of Ukrainian officials since then? Who will profit from war and who has been profiting improperly from events in Russia and Ukraine? And shouldn't we be a little more worried about the risk of nuclear disaster if Russia feels desperate? (Disclaimer: I am somewhat biased on this issue because I have grandchildren. Sorry about that.)

Meanwhile, I see signals from both of our parties that we all need to stop asking questions (questions = "disinformation," a lesson we should have learned already from the COVID era, and now an unwelcome question about our conflict with Russia can quickly be branded as "Russian disinformation") and be prepared to do whatever is needed to stop Russia. This includes, of course, as much virtue signaling as possible -- dumping vodka (no matter what country made it), closing accounts of ordinary Russian people, shaming Russian cats, and perhaps burning a few Russian Books of Mormon on Tik Tok for good measure.  But it's much more serious than that. Many are calling for enforcing a no-fly zone through NATO, an action that would initiate war between the West and Russia. I don't like Putin nor any other authoritarian leader and want every nation and every people to be free. But when it comes to being silent and blindly trusting our government to lead us into a costly and deadly war, I'm not sure we should do that. It sure hasn't worked well in the past.  

Addendum, March 7, 2022

So what should we do? I'm not sure, but I can tentatively suggest a few things. First, let's return to a high level of energy independence by opening up our production again and our pipelines that have been vigorously opposed by whoever is calling the shots in the current administration. The massive spike in oil prices is not only enriching Putin and now Maduro in Venezuela, but will cause poverty and suffering for tens of millions around the world. Why are we importing fossil fuels from Putin and turning to the vile and failed dictator of Venezuela, Russia's closest ally in South America, and giving him a huge PR win and massive credibility by having a secret meeting with him to make a deal to buy his oil? Why are we buying oil from dictators at all when we have enough for our needs in the US and for others in need? I feel we must call out the crime of making us so dependent on dictators again. Meanwhile, I'm stunned at the Administration's proposal to just ramp up electric vehicles. Guess where the electricity for electric cars comes from? Largely from dirty coal.  In no way do we have enough nuclear power or other green energy sources to supply the grid right now without fossil fuels, and certainly not if everybody starts draining the grid to charge an electric vehicle. Fossil fuels are essential for our economy for years to come. We need fossil fuels and that means we need to stop blocking their production to make is independent again, rather than adding war money to the coffers of dictators. Of course, at the same time we may wish to ramp up mostly carbon-free nuclear power and certainly other forms of power when they can make economic sense, but that will take years to expand while we have the infrastructure in place now to largely return to independence from foreign oil.

Second, follow President Eisenhower's advice and stay informed. Listening only to official propaganda won't do the trick. Most of us need more diverse news sources. If all your sources are quoting the official narrative of the State Department and the CIA, as is happening now, something's wrong and you're missing at least a part of the truth. I was surprised when two of my Ukraine-connected friends I turned to both sent me material from sources directly challenging the mainstream narrative. One is the YouTube link I discussed above (perhaps a matter of time before it is censored?), and the other is from Substack.com, the refuge of many writers who have been deplatformed or punished by the giants of Social Media. The article my friend recommended is one I had already seen by a writer I respect, Glenn Greenwald. See his "War Propaganda About Ukraine Becoming More Militaristic, Authoritarian, and Reckless," Greenwald.Substack.com, Feb. 27, 2022. There are many warnings there. 

While expanding your news horizons, understand how corrupt the mainstream media can be. On the issue of Ukraine and Russia, for example, the story of the New York Times and their beloved Pulitzer Prize winner "our man in Moscow," Walter Duranty, needs to be recalled. In the early 1930s as ten million were starving in Ukraine as their grain was taken away by Stalin for his benefit and millions more elsewhere in Russia were starving from the failure of Communism and the brutality of Stalin, Duranty, a corrupt and vile man who was being paid by Stalin to deceive the West, gave glowing reports of Stalin's success. The cover-up of the terrible truth was exposed, to a slight degree anyway, by Gareth Jones, a Welsh journalist who had been the Foreign Affairs Advisor to the British MP and former prime minister David Lloyd George. In 1933 Jones, who spoke Russian, went to the Ukraine during the man-made famine, escaping from the official deceitful tour that was planned for him and illegally venturing off on his own.  When Jones reported the tragedy he saw first-hand, Duranty and the Times denied it vigorously, and their political clout was used to denounce Jones. Jones was essentially "canceled" and after that could only get work in a local Welsh paper covering arts and crafts. He was murdered in 1935 while in Mongolia. The misinformation from the Times continued to prop up Stalin and enabled him to gain recognition from the US and access to Western capital. Roughly 5 decades later when the truth had become clear to those willing to look, there was a movement to ask the Pulitzer Prize Committee to revoke the prize they had given Duranty for his deceitful coverage of Russia. They refused to budge. 

We could not trust the nation's leading establishment media organ when it covered Stalin. We couldn't trust it when it told us that Fidel Castro was just an "agrarian reformer," not a Communist. We couldn't trust it's coverage of the Korean War or the Vietnam War (kudos, though, for their 2021 article discussing the lies of the Vietnam War, just a little too late to save any lives during that war, I'm afraid). How can we trust them now? Maybe what they are saying is 100% accurate, but we can't assume that. They don't deserve our trust. Ask questions, compare sources, and resist the emotions of war propaganda. 

Speaking of Gareth Jones, perhaps you've seen the movie about his life, "Mr. Jones"? The movie warns us of the deadly impact that fake news can have, but at the same time it adds a number of fake elements to the account. Gareth Jones's family objected to those distortions. If you've seen or will see the movie, it's good to know what's "truthy fiction" and what Gareth actually reported. An archived article from a family member is at https://web.archive.org/web/20201219203327/https://www.garethjones.org/mr_jones/true_story.htm. (The website GarethJones.org has an expired certificate, so for security purposes I'm linking to an archived version, but I think that site still appears to be safe -- used it without harm, but be cautious.)

Third, pray for Ukraine, pray for all the people there, whether they are on the side of Russia or not, and  it might also be good to pray that freedom and in Russia might persist and that people might soon be able to get back to their lives and might be able to have the freedom needed to rebuild, to thrive, and to live and share the Gospel. In praying, we might be inspired to take other steps to help. Personally, I wish to renounce war and don't think that this problem will be solved by dropping more bombs and killing more young men and women from Russia or anywhere else. 

None of us have all the answers, of course, and I certainly don't, but all of us need to be seeking answers, and that begins by seeking information (viva freedom of speech, and viva revelation, or at least the quest for it) and then asking questions boldly and, when appropriate, taking wise steps. Those steps may not comply with whatever the war propaganda is telling us to do.