In a private discussion with Jesus, some of his disciples asked him about events preceding his Second Coming. In addition to warnings of false Christs and widespread deception, Jesus notes that the calamities occurring before his arrival would begin in an atmosphere of “wars and rumors of war.”
Many other scriptures make reference to this same concept. For example, in his vision of his posterity Nephi “beheld wars, and rumors of wars.” In a later vision of the latter days, Nephi likewise “beheld… that there were wars and rumors of wars among all the nations and kindreds of the earth.” His use of the term, as a descriptor of his visionary experience, provides the context it so often lacks. One cannot really behold, or see, what today is considered a rumor—false information verbally conveyed by one person to another.
Noah Webster’s wonderful 1828 dictionary offers insight into the meaning of the term as used in the vernacular of the time when the Book of Mormon and other books of scripture were published. It defines ‘rumor’ as:
- Flying or popular report; a current story passing from one person to another without any known authority for the truth of it.
- Report of a fact; a story well authorized.
What ‘rumors’ relating to warfare are a “story passing from one person to another” that are considered a “report of a fact” and claimed to “well authorized”? These definitions help clarify that the scriptural use of the term “rumors of wars” does not simply mean reports that wars may soon occur. In fact, the term is synonymous with what today is known as “war propaganda”—more specifically, fabricated lies creatively designed to appear truthful, encourage feelings of anger and vengeance, and justify retaliation in the minds of those who hear the rumor.
The Book of Mormon is saturated with examples of these “rumors of wars”—institutionalized efforts to whip up the citizenry to war by amplifying an imaginary or perceived threat, instilling fear in the populace, and encouraging the masses to take up arms. The most evident one, of countless others to choose from, is when the power-lusting Amalickiah, newly crowned as king of the Lamanites as a result of his deceitful tactics, “began to inspire the hearts of the Lamanites against the people of Nephi; yea, he did appoint men to speak unto the Lamanites from their towers, against the Nephites.” In a very literal sense, Amalickiah erected a war propaganda apparatus to spread lies and incite anger among the civilian population. It had its intended effect, as did most other instances in the book of scripture. We read that “he had hardened the hearts of the Lamanites and blinded their minds, and stirred them up to anger, insomuch that he had gathered together a numerous host to go to battle against the Nephites.” War propaganda (rumors of war) inevitably leads to actual conflict.
Hugh Nibley’s insight on the topic confirms the connection between propaganda and war. Nibley references a book Vom Kriege (On War) by Karl von Clausewitz, calling it “the Bible of the military for 150 years.” He then quotes from the book: “In the great combats which we call wars… there is usually no historical feeling of individual against individual… National hatred… becomes a more or less powerful substitute for personal hostility of individuals. Where this is also absent, …a hostile feeling is kindled by the combat itself; an act of violence… will excite in us the desire to retaliate and be avenged.”
“This is the circle,” Nibley says. “Amalickiah has to get the Lamanites to hate so they can go to war, so he has his people preach from towers—gets the propaganda machine going. Such hatred is artificial. It has to be stirred up, but once the killing starts, there follows the idea of vengeance… The good guy sees his friends bullied; so he seeks vengeance—the theme of almost all TV shows, so many on World War I and II… Revenge is the whole thing.”
War propaganda can be “beheld,” as it saturates nearly every form of media—print, digital, verbal, etc. It permeates pop culture, finds its way into religious observance, and those in power have their like-minded allies promote deceptions from a variety of modern-day towers. In this way, the state’s pro-war “story pass[es] from one person to another” after the media’s “report of a fact” provided by government officials which is therefore automatically perceived as “well authorized.”
War propaganda is a cause, the effect of which is what the Book of Mormon calls being “stirred up to anger.” Rumors of war are employed by their originators to encourage contention where none previously existed. While Gadiantons and other malevolent bad actors in the Book of Mormon are the mortal instigators, they were (and their counterparts are today) inspired by Satan who “go[es] about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which [is] good and against that which should come.”
After arriving in the new world, Jesus Christ clarified the source and evil nature of these rumors and contentions:
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, Nazi founder of the Gestapo, said from his jail cell after capture that “of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war…” He continued, “voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
These are tried and true tactics by which war propaganda is implemented and made effective. They are used today, they were used millennia ago as recounted in scripture, and they were likewise in play during the colonial era, as noted by Thomas Paine: “That there are men in all countries who get their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrels of nations is as shocking as it is true.” In other words, these tactics have always been used; Satan’s strategy has been in play since the beginning.
After all, as noted H.L. Mencken, “Wars are seldom caused by spontaneous hatreds between people, for peoples in general are too ignorant of one another to have grievances and too indifferent to what goes on beyond their borders to plan conquests. They must be urged to the slaughter by politicians who know how to alarm them.”
Christ’s latter-day disciples have been commanded to renounce war and proclaim peace. Similarly, however, we must recognize and beware the rumors, or propaganda, that almost always precede such wars. The stakes are high; as David O. McKay once said, propaganda leads people to “find themselves victims of a pollution that has robbed them of their individual liberty and enslaved them to a group of political gangsters.” Let’s try, for once, to prevent history from repeating itself.