In This World but Not of It : Conflicting Vietnam War Perspectives Within the Mormon Hierarchy
Journal of Mormon History
University of Illinois Press; Mormon History Association
War has long presented complicated ethical and pragmatic challenges for religious authorities. Institutional Latter-day Saint responses to war have been among the most revealing markers for how Mormons see their place in the world. Even as the Vietnam War divided the American public, LDS leaders seemed publicly more united than they were during any other American conflict before it. For example, universities around the nation exploded with demonstrations against the war, but an astonishing 90 percent of students at LDS-sponsored Brigham Young University (BYU) supported American policy in Vietnam in 1968. However, a closer inspection reveals that LDS apostles and prophets were more divided in their views on the meaning and cause of the Vietnam War, how it should be resolved, and what role Latter-day Saints should play in this solution. Although the Vietnam War marked the next major chapter in the evolution of LDS perspectives on war, historians have not comprehensively studied the response of the leadership.
This article will explore the three primary viewpoints that LDS leaders expressed on the Vietnam War and the important disagreements and differences among them. These three different responses are the ideological warfare of Ezra Taft Benson, the spiritual counterrevolution of Harold B. Lee, and the pragmatism of Gordon B. Hinckley. It will also investigate why the LDS Church shifted so decisively away from the strong pacifism of J. Reuben Clark and why Hugh B. Brown, perhaps Clark's most natural successor, did not extend his legacy. Finally, this article will briefly discuss how these ideological shifts that occurred during the Vietnam War affected Spencer W. Kimball's response to war in the post-Vietnam era and Gordon B. Hinckley's views during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.