In the years just before his death, President Joseph F. Smith often lamented the sorrows associated with World War I. Many Church members were drawn into the war on opposite sides, and hundreds lost their lives. Several of President Smith’s own sons served in the armed forces, and one was twice wounded in action.
In a Christmas message to the Saints during this time, the First Presidency said: “While rejoicing over the birth of the Incomparable One, the light of our gladness is overshadowed with the warclouds that have darkened the skies of Europe, and our songs and salutations of joy and good will are rendered sadly discordant by the thunders of artillery and the groans of the wounded and dying, echoing from afar, but harrowing to our souls as the awful tidings come sounding o’er the sea. Nations rising against nations, brothers against brothers, ‘Christians’ against ‘Christians,’ each invoking the aid of the God of love in their gory strife and claiming fellowship with the Prince of peace! What an awful spectacle is thus presented before the angelic host, a band of whom sang the immortal song of ‘good will toward men’ at the birth of the babe of Bethlehem!”1
President Smith lived to hear the news of the signing of the armistice that brought an end to hostilities and the destruction of life and property. The armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, just eight days before his death.
He taught the Saints during this period that true peace comes only through accepting and living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Joseph Fielding Smith, who would later become President of the Church, said of his father: “His spirit was gentle and kind. A more sympathetic soul, one who suffered with the sufferer, who was more willing to help the helpless to carry his burden, and the downtrodden to regain his feet, could not be found in all the borders of Israel. He was a peace-maker, a lover of peace.”2
There is only one thing that can bring peace into the world. It is the adoption of the gospel of Jesus Christ, rightly understood, obeyed and practiced by rulers and people alike. It is being preached in power to all nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples of the world, by the Latter-day Saints, and the day is not far distant when its message of salvation shall sink deep into the hearts of the common people, who, in sincerity and earnestness, when the time comes, will not only surely register their judgment against a false Christianity, but against war and the makers of war as crimes against the human race. For years it has been held that peace comes only by preparation for war; the present conflict [World War I] should prove that peace comes only by preparing for peace, through training the people in righteousness and justice, and selecting rulers who respect the righteous will of the people.3
We want peace in the world. We want love and good will to exist throughout the earth, and among all the people of the world; but there never can come to the world that spirit of peace and love that should exist, until mankind will receive God’s truth and God’s message unto them, and acknowledge his power and authority which is divine, and never found in the wisdom only of men.4
The Lord loveth peace. The doctrine of the Savior of men was “Peace on earth, good will to men,” love, love unfeigned. The greatest of all the commandments that was ever given to the children of men is: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” [Matthew 22:37–40.] If in the central nations of the earth this spirit of love had existed, this principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ; if this glorious admonition had been taken to heart by the rulers of those nations, there never would have been any war, there never would have been any bloodshed, there never would have been the devastation and ruin and evil conditions that exist today. It is because the people of the world have not the gospel. It is because they do not obey the truth. It is because they have not Christ, and therefore they are left to themselves, and the results that we see are the consequences of their own misbehavior and of their own wicked deeds.5
There is just one power, and one only, that can prevent war among the nations of the earth, and that is true religion and undefiled before God, the Father. Nothing else will accomplish it. … There is but one remedy that can prevent men from going to war, when they feel disposed to do it, and that is the Spirit of God, which inspires to love, and not to hatred, which leads unto all truth, and not unto error, which inclines the children of God to pay deference to him and to his laws and to esteem them as above all other things in the world.
The Lord has told us that … wars would come. We have not been ignorant that they were pending, and that they were likely to burst out upon the nations of the earth at any time. We have been looking for the fulfilment of the words of the Lord that they would come. Why? Because the Lord wanted it? No; not by any means. Was it because the Lord predestined it, or designed it, in any degree? No, not at all. Why? It was for the reason that men did not hearken unto the Lord God, and he foreknew the results that would follow, because of men, and because of the nations of the earth; and therefore he was able to predict what would befall them, and came upon them in consequence of their own acts, and not because he has willed it upon them, for they are but suffering and reaping the results of their own actions.
… “Peace on earth, and good will to men,” is our slogan. That is our principle. That is the principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And while I think it is wrong, wickedly wrong, to force war upon any nation, or upon any people, I believe it is righteous and just for every people to defend their own lives and their own liberties, and their own homes, with the last drop of their blood. I believe it is right, and I believe that the Lord will sustain any people in defending their own liberty to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience, any people trying to preserve their wives and their children from the ravages of the war. But we do not want to be brought into the necessity of having to defend ourselves.6
I exhort my friends … to maintain above all other things the spirit of humanity, of love, and of peace-making, that even though they may be called into action they will not demolish, override and destroy the principles which we believe in, which we have tried to inculcate, and which we are exhorted to maintain: peace and good will toward all mankind, though we may be brought into action with the enemy. I want to say to the Latter-day Saints who may enlist, and whose services the country may require, that when they become soldiers of the State and of the Nation that they will not forget that they are also soldiers of the Cross, that they are ministers of life and not of death; and when they go forth, they may go in the spirit of defending the liberties of mankind rather than for the purpose of destroying the enemy.7
When our boys … are called into the army … , I hope and pray that they will carry with them the Spirit of God, not the spirit of bloodshed, of adultery, of wickedness, but the spirit of righteousness, the spirit which leads to do good, to build up, to benefit the world, and not to destroy and shed blood.
Remember the passage of scripture … in the Book of Mormon, concerning the pure young men that abjured war and the shedding of blood, lived pure and innocent, free from contaminating thought of strife, of anger, or wickedness in their hearts; but when necessity required, and they were called to go out to defend their lives, and the lives of their fathers and mothers, and their homes, they went—not to destroy but to defend, not to shed blood but rather to save the blood of the innocent and of the unoffending, and the peace-lovers of mankind [see Alma 56:45–48].
Will those men who go out from … the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints forget their prayers? Will they forget God? Will they forget the teachings that they have received from their parents at home? Will they forget the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the covenants that they have made in the waters of baptism, and in sacred places? Or will they go out as men, in every sense—pure men, high-minded men, honest men, virtuous men, men of God? That is what I am anxious about.
I want to see the hand of God made manifest in the acts of the men that go out from the ranks of the Church of Jesus Christ … to help to defend the principles of liberty and sound government for the human family. I want to see them so live that they can be in communion with the Lord, in their camps, and in their secret places, and that in the midst of battle they can say: “Father, my life and my spirit are in thine hand!”
I want to see the boys that go away from here in this cause, go feeling just as our missionaries do when sent out into the world, carrying with them the spirit a good mother feels when she parts with her boy, on the morning of his departure for his mission. She embraces him with all the mother’s love in her soul!
… If our boys will only go out into the world this way, carrying with them the spirit of the gospel and the behavior of true Latter-day Saints, no matter what may befall them in life, they will endure with the best. They will be able to endure as much as anybody else can possibly endure of fatigue or of suffering, if necessary, and when they are brought to the test they will stand it! Because they have no fear of death! They will be free from fear of the consequences of their own lives. They will have no need to dread death, for they have done their work; they have kept the faith, they are pure in heart, and they are worthy to see God!8
There are many evils that usually follow in the wake of marshaled armies equipped for and engaged in war, far worse than honorable death which may come in the conflict of battle. It matters not so much when our young men are called, or where they may go, but it does matter much to their parents, friends and associates in the truth, and above all to themselves, how they go. They have been trained all their lives as members of the Church to keep themselves pure and unspotted from the sins of the world, to respect the rights of others, to be obedient to righteous principles, to remember that virtue is one of the greatest gifts from God. Moreover, that they should respect the virtue of others and rather die a thousand times than defile themselves by committing deadly sin. We want them to go forth clean, both in thought and action, with faith in the principles of the gospel and the redeeming grace of our Lord and Savior. We would have them remember that only by living clean and faithful lives can they hope to attain the salvation promised through the shedding of the blood of our Redeemer.9
We admonish the Latter-day Saints to live their religion; to remember their covenants made at the waters of baptism; to honor the Lord and keep His commandments; not to be overcome by the follies of the world, but to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, [and] live at peace with all men.10
The new year and future years invite the inhabitants of all lands to unite in the establishment of peace and the realization of universal brotherhood. Strife, enmity, selfishness, immorality are evils to be eradicated from the individual life. No one is too lowly or insignificant to help. Let each man love his neighbor as himself and the present tragedies will pass away, future terrors will be averted, and “every man in every place will meet a brother and a friend.”
An illustrious model of right living and noble fellowship was given to the world twenty centuries ago in Jesus Christ. His message was peace and good will. His law was founded on justice wisely exercised and righteousness intelligently applied. Light was His standard and truth His creed.11
In spite of “man’s inhumanity to man,” so awfully manifested in the dreadful struggle between nations now impending, we rationally take cognizance of present causes for gladness and thanksgiving, and look through the clouds of direful war to the sure and certain fulfilment of the promises of permanent peace in the approaching advent of our Lord and King.12
I … stand upon this principle, that the truth is in the gospel of Jesus Christ, that the power of redemption, the power of peace, the power for good will, love, charity and forgiveness, and the power for fellowship with God, abides in the gospel of Jesus Christ and in obedience to it on the part of the people. I therefore admit, and not only admit but claim, that there is nothing greater on earth, nor in heaven, than the truth of God’s gospel which he has devised and restored for the salvation and the redemption of the world. And it is through that that peace will come to the children of men, and it will not come to the world in any other way.13
Why is the gospel of Jesus Christ the only thing that can bring peace to the world? What can we do to help bring about peace in the world?
Where does peace begin? How does observing the two great commandments lead to peace at home and abroad?
How can those who go into military service be “ministers of life and not of death”?
How can members carry with them into military service “the spirit of the gospel and the behavior of true Latter-day Saints”?
When members are called into military service, what beliefs and attitudes will help them not to fear death?
What can we each do to more fully “live at peace with all men”?
What does the example of the Savior teach us about living with peace and goodwill?