But Watchman, What of the Night?

Vaughn J. Featherstone


I would like to bear a solemn and a sacred witness today to America and to the world that he to whom you have just listened, President Spencer W. Kimball, is a modern prophet of the only true living God. I know that, as I know that I am here before you this day.

There has been an increased concern about our country, about patriotism, and about integrity of national leaders by the youth of the Church. These concerns have led me to address this subject. Someone has said, “Though argument does not change belief, the lack of it destroys belief.”

Dr. Kenneth MacFarland, a great, nonpartisan, national patriot, gave a speech entitled “Selling America to Americans.” He told about a young soldier who returned from Vietnam. In a very serious talk with his parents, the young soldier asked if they loved America. He asked how they felt about this great and glorious nation. Both mother and father got a little teary-eyed and said that they loved this country dearly, that it was more precious to them than their own life. “Why didn’t you tell me that when I was growing up?” he said. “I never heard you once say that you loved America. You never taught me to love it. I can’t tell you what an ungrateful pup I have been. I had to go to Vietnam to find out what the United States of America is all about. I would gladly lay down my life for it. I would have given anything to know how you felt about it when I was growing up.”

Dr. MacFarland also told about a World War II veteran who had heard him speak. This veteran sat down at his kitchen table and wrote a longhand letter to Dr. MacFarland. He wrote, “My wife and I don’t have much. I doubt we will ever have enough money to travel outside of Arizona. I was a soldier in World War II and was taken prisoner. For two years we didn’t hear one bit of news as to how the war was going. In all those months I never lost faith,” he said, “and then one morning I saw the American flag and a band of soldiers coming over the hill. I don’t know if anyone can understand the love I felt for my country that day, and have all of my life. I felt the same way the other night when I heard you talk.” Then he wrote, “Dr. MacFarland, you’re quite a guy. You just stay in there laying them on the landing deck.”

All through Church history we have had a few who “lay them on the landing deck.” Moroni, the chief captain of all the Nephites, was such a man.

“And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.

“And he fastened on his headplate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land.” (Alma 46:12–13.)

What a contrast to the attitude of some of our liberals! Someone asked me once how I felt about amnesty for the draft card burner and the deserter. I told him that I thought every one of them should be taken before General Moroni to be judged. We need to feel again what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America. We need to feel the thrill and sensation and have the swellings within our bosom about this country. The priesthood of God should be an example of patriotism and loyalty to our country. As I talk about the United States of America, each one should consider his homeland, his flag, and his country. The scriptures give us a description of a great, great soul when they describe Moroni.

“And Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery;

“Yea, a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people.

“Yea, and he was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ, and he had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion, even to the loss of his blood.

“Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” (Alma 48:11–13, 17.)

In a letter to Ammoron, a warmongering chief of the Lamanites, we catch more of the spirit of this great man. As President Lee would have said, he wasn’t a shrinking violet. There was no misunderstanding his message. It wasn’t watered down or diluted. He said to Ammoron:

“Behold, I would tell you somewhat concerning the justice of God, and the sword of his almighty wrath, which doth hang over you except ye repent and withdraw your armies into your own lands.

“Yea, I would tell you these things if ye were capable of hearkening unto them; yea, I would tell you concerning that awful hell that awaits to receive such murderers as thou.

“But as ye have rejected these things, and have fought against the people of the Lord, even so I may expect you will do it again.

“And now behold, we are prepared to receive you; yea, …

“As the Lord liveth, our armies shall come upon you except ye withdraw, and ye shall soon be visited with death, for we will retain our cities and our lands; yea, and we will maintain our religion and the cause of our God.

“I will come against you with my armies; yea, even I will arm my women and my children, and I will come against you, and I will follow you even into your own land, which is the land of our first inheritance; yea, and it shall be blood for blood, yea, life for life; and I will give you battle even until you are destroyed from off the face of the earth.

“Behold, I am in my anger, and also my people; ye have sought to murder us, and we have only sought to defend ourselves. But behold, if ye seek to destroy us more we will seek to destroy you.

“Now I close my epistle. I am Moroni, I am a leader of … the Nephites.” (Alma 54:6–10, 12–14.)

Behold, there was a leader!

Not too long ago I saw a movie entitled Tora! Tora! Tora! This film is about the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. In one place in the movie the scene is a Japanese admiral standing on the captain’s deck of an aircraft carrier. The planes have already taken off for their sneak attack. The radio message is transmitted back to the bridge of the carrier that the bombing had commenced and that the United States was caught sleeping and flat-footed. The admiral turns and looks out to the ocean and then with a faraway look in his eyes, he says, “I fear lest we have awakened a sleeping giant with a terrible resolve.”

I think it is time we should all awaken. Our concern isn’t about the flames of freedom which burn so brightly in our generation; the concern is that in the upcoming generation the fire has never been kindled. Our youth have never known anything but criticism of the United States of America. We need some faithful, free-loving patriots who will issue forth a clear, loud trumpet call. Remember Paul’s counsel: “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare … to the battle?” (1 Cor. 14:8.) Freedom ought to ring in the heart of every Latter-day Saint regardless of his country.

Conrad Hilton in 1951 gave the following in an address; I quote from a talk delivered at Brigham Young University by President Harold B. Lee. “Speaking of liberty, he said, ‘Man possesses human dignity because he is made in the image and likeness of God; it is this image that makes man different, that makes man a son of God. Without this image, man has no free will and frequently neither liberty nor the capacity for liberty.’ He further said, ‘In this struggle for freedom, at home and abroad, our greatest weapon, both a sword and a shield will be our love of and faith in God.’”

Mrs. C. Girard Davidson, a Portland, Oregon, housewife, stated the following before a Congressional committee: “The world may long remember … our generation as the last of the educated mind and the educated heart, so sensitive in understanding, so wretched over failures, so modest about our triumphs, so permissive with everyone who wanted to do his own thing that we let civilization go to hell without any curiosity about what would replace it.”

Rebecca West, the noted British author, who attributes current assaults on patriotism to a certain “sloppiness among intellectuals in mistaking patriotism for imperialism,” states: “I think the majority of your people are outside the argument and are behaving quite sanely. There are thousands in your universities, millions in your country who … love their country. This civilized way of behaving hardly rates a headline.”

This is true. Consider: “In the small, hard-to-read type of a Congressional committee report are listed men and women who chose to leave their estates to the United States with comments saying they were doing so in tribute to ‘this beloved country’ or ‘in appreciation of the freedom and liberty afforded to all citizens.’

“Sales of the flag are rising.

“The first American Negro general to command American infantry in combat returns from Viet Nam with unself-conscious tribute to the American dream: ‘This has been my one big chance to make it come true. I did my best.’

“The feelings that made a small handful create a nation that is the envy of the world have been nourished for nearly two centuries. They still exist.”

In Ether we read about this choice land:

“Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ.” (Ether 2:12.)

What a wonderful heritage we could leave to our youth if we could just kindle in them the fires of freedom that our fathers kindled in us. I love this great land; I honor the great founding fathers; I’m proud to be an American. I cannot sing “America” without tears coming to my eyes and without chills running up and down my back. When I stand with my hand over my heart and sing our national anthem, I’m so proud I can hardly stand it. When I think of all the noble men who gave their lives for this land, then I feel a sacred resolve well up within me and I know that we must stand fast.

We are the nation’s watchmen—no other people collectively love the Constitution and honor it and hold it as a divinely inspired document as do the Latter-day Saints. The duty of the watchman is to watch over and safeguard his people. And remember the thought-provoking question by President Harold B. Lee, “But watchman, what of the night?” As a generation of those who love this glorious country, we must ask ourselves, “But watchman, what of the night?” Have our youth enough of the fires of freedom kindled in them to withstand the darkness? Wemust teach them in our homes, churches, and schools. The sound must go across this land from one end to the other.

Now one final word about this great land. Emma Lazarus in these appropriate lines concerning the Statue of Liberty describes the migration from all lands to America:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The United States of America is the golden door. I bear my solemn and sacred witness that the United States of America is the greatest nation on the face of the earth. We ought to love it and we ought to talk about it. We need to be true, we need to have faith. If we do this, God will give us strength to brace against the winds. He will make this country like a giant pillar of granite. He will make us a mighty people, a pure people, a Christlike people, a worthy people, a free people. The Latter-day Saints bear witness and we know the witness is true that we have a modern prophet, that the Book of Mormon is a record of God’s dealings with people who had problems similar to the problems we have in this day. And they were a great people who loved this land and thus we find the course we must take in following in their footsteps. These things are true, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.