Note: This article was first published in the symposium proceedings for the second decennial conference of the LDS National Security Society, held in Washington, DC in 2003, and is reprinted here with the permission of the publisher. [1] The call for papers for the third decennial conference of the Society is discussed by John Mark Mattox in his article for this issue of SquareTwo, which article can be found here. The purpose of this republishing is to give interested readers a flavor of the type of discussion engendered by the conferences.


Most of the 100 or so students in my national security class each year at Brigham Young University are graduating seniors, and most majored in political science or international relations.  On the last day of class, I ask them if they got their money’s worth.  I present them with the following list of insights concerning national security from those fields, and inquire as to whether they had studied these over the course of their undergraduate education.

The Reality of Power

1.  Power is finite.  There is a finite pie of power, so if you have more power, I have less (zero sum).

2.  Power balances.  For every power action by one group or individual, another group or individual will react with an equal and opposite action designed to equalize or “balance” power.  Thus the balance of power is constantly shifting.

3.  My enemy’s enemy is my friend.  The world is divided into friends and enemies, and others who share my same enemy are my allies.  After I vanquish my enemy, however, my former “ally” will likely become my new enemy.

4.  A free rider problem will always exist.  Within a social group, the person with the most power usually does most of the work.  Free riders ally themselves with this power center and accept any benefits the powerful entity produces but typically repay the center of power with criticism and lack of meaningful support.

5.  Relative power gains are more important than absolute power gains.  Thus if a policy decision will result in benefits to us both, but if you will gain more than I, I will oppose that decision.

6.  The “security dilemma” is inescapable.  As a powerful entity seeks to become more secure, it will become less secure over time for two reasons: (a) since power balances, every move the entity makes to ensure its security will be countered by those opposed to it; and (b) in its efforts to make itself more secure, the entity will overextend the limits of its power, drawing counterforces and eventually collapsing.

7.  The Center cannot hold forever.  Centers of power always become less efficient over time, and eventually the center gives way to others forces.

8.  Situational ethics are required to maintain power.  Even if a powerful entity started our with principles, the principles are eventually subordinated to power needs.  Power is the end goal, and moral considerations only get in the way.

9.  Fight fire with fire.  To overcome an enemy, one must do what the enemy is doing to you, only more of it.

I am sure all of you are very familiar with these maxims, which seem quite descriptive of the world we live in, and my students usually nod and tell me that they have learned these things by heart in the classes they have taken in international relations and political science.

I then tell them they were cheated.  I tell my students they did not get their money’s worth.  They did not learn the truth about power’s reality.  They were taught illusion in the place of that reality; they were taught the reality of fallen power -- and fallen power is not true power.

  The logic of true power is vastly different from the logic of fallen power -- so different that it is virtually incomprehensible to the fallen minds.  As Paul wrote, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are not spiritually discerned.  [And] the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness” (1 Cor. 2:14; 3:19; see also 1 Cor. 1:17-31).

The rules of true power include:

The True Reality of Power

1.  True power is infinite.  Everyone can have infinite power and thus equal power.  The only time you have less power is if you reject power.

2.  Power doesn’t balance.  It grows until the perfect day.

3.  Nobody in the business of being enemies can be my friend.  There is no true power in allying myself with people who define themselves by hatreds and exclusions.

4.  There are no free riders.  All are responsible and equal.

5.  There are no relative power gains.  All can possess infinite power, according only to the the speed with which as individuals they are capable of attaining it.

6.  Exercise of true power leads to more security, not less.  Overextending true power is not possible.  The ultimate source of security is righteousness, and the ultimate source of power is Christlike love in the service of life.

7.  The Center can and will hold forever.  Death, suffering, and sin have been conquered for all and for all time by Jesus Christ, our Savior.  The forces of good will always triumph over the forces of evil.

8.  There are no situational ethics; there are only ethics.  There is always a better choice, even if a “best” choice is not possible.

9.  Fight fire with water.  Fight fire with love, for those who live by the sword will perish by the sword.  Note that true power actively and forcefully defends the boundary between light and dark and their respective adherents.  But this is done out of love, not out of hatred.  And it is done out of necessity, not as an avocation.

10.  True power is always more powerful than “real” power.

At this point, many of my students exclaim that they really do know these things, but that this doesn’t work in the “real” world.  I remind them of a profound statement by Elder Hugh W. Pinnock, who recently passed away.  Speaking at a Christmas devotional at BYU on 13 December 1997, Elder Pinnock said,

“ Seek the world of “reality.” Are you seeking the world of reality?  Periodically I will hear some less-than-thoughtful person criticize or demean that which we may be doing by saying, “Hey, get real.  Join the real world.” May I communicate with each of you that the real world is that which our prophet, Church leaders, and scriptures define.  It is President Gordon B. Hinckley who is walking in the real world.” (“Christmas Gifts -- BYU Style”)

And I am also reminded of King David’s finest hour.  Now you know that David had many less-than-fine hours, but he did have one that shone like the sun.  This is what the ruddy youth said in the valley of Elah that day:

And [Goliath] said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves?  And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.  And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.  Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.  This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the hosts of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.  And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands.  (1 Sam. 17:43-47)

The wisdom and cunning and strength of this world, which is ruled by the devil who styles himself as “the god of this world,” is no match for the Spirit of God.  As Paul wrote, “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent . . . Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:19, 25)

If you accept the rules of fallen power, you may find yourself doing unsavory things in the quest to gain power and control.  For example, “we must destroy this village to save it,” or “offense is moral, defense is immoral,” are part of that twisted straitjacket of fallen power.  If we go down this road of fallen power, we might even commit evil in the name of good causes, such as “I must accept this bribe so that my party, which is the good party, can stay in power,” or “We will hate you unless you stop hating others.” Students going into law, business, or government are especially vulnerable to the idea that we have no choice but to “play the game.” But that game has an ignominious end, as Brigham Young commented:

Without the power of the Holy Ghost, a person is liable to go to the right or the left, from the straight path of deity.  They are liable to do things they are sorry for; they are liable to make mistakes; and when they try to do their best, behold they do that which they dislike. (Discourses of Brigham Youn, 31)

Even the most cunning and wise possessor of fallen power will eventually stumble and fall, while the most unlearned man with true power will, in the end, succeed and endure.

Now, my students are right to feel frustration when I present this material to them.  Until Christ comes again, we must live in fallen nations.  We do not have the privilege of living in Zion, where the very streams and animals protect its inhabitants from the schemes and invasions of the wicked.  We live in nations that are vulnerable, in great measure because our people are not righteous.  We do not have the promise of safety extended to peoples of old who obeyed God’s commandments.  But we and our families and our loved ones live in these fallen nations, and it is our sacred duty to protect them and other innocents unto death if need be.  Many of you assembled here work for the government for that very reason, while simultaneously being very cognizant of the fallen nature of many of our governmental institutions and leaders.

In a sense, then, we reside at the intersection of two kingdoms: the kingdom of God on earth, and the kingdom of this fallen world.  We know both sheets backwards and forwards.  And we struggle to see how we can act in this fallen world in a way that does justice to the real world in which we have faith.  How can we, who aspire to live in that real world, interact with those in the world of illusion and not get sucked into that world with them?

We have not been left without guidance.  We have many scriptures and many examples: for instance,

• Be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

• Be in the world, but not of it.

• Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.

• We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

• The works of honorable men of war in the Book of Mormon, such as Captain Moroni

• Many scriptures in the D&C that advise the Saints in dealing with evil and corrupt persons who seek to harm them.

As I have pondered these and other scriptures, including recent conference addresses by Elder Russell M. Nelson and President Gordon B. Hinckley about war and conflict, I have tried to distill some insights into what types of policy and actions allow one to navigate that treacherous intersection of the Two Kingdoms.  Here is what I have learned thus far:

1.  Though sometimes there is not a best choice in a situation, there is always a better choice.  We are required to find it, and to exercise all our efforts and talents in that pursuit.

2.  The key to finding that better choice is purity of heart and purity of intentions.  You must be inspired by “a better cause.” The national interest cannot be defined in terms of fallen power -- there must be a better cause to all that you do.  In that cause, there is no room for hatred, revenge, pridefulness, sinfulness, or covetousness.  The Spirit can whisper to you clearly when your heart is clean.   Seek for leaders with clean hands and clean hearts.  Be clean yourself.

3.  War is not always evil.  The use of force is not always evil.  Sometimes it is a sacred obligation, as in cases of defense.  Sometimes to refuse to use force is evil.  But there must be a code of conduct in way or in any use of force.  Such a code would include:
                        --non-combatants not targeted
                        --no criminal behavior -- pillage, rape, etc.
                        --POWs treated humanely unless they mutiny
                        --a spirit of mourning, not triumphalism, must accompany force

4.  Pragmatism or “expedience” is not evil unless it gives in to evil.
                        --workable minimums are better than unsupportable, unsustainable maximums.  Run no faster
                                     than you are able.
                        --you can work with others of different values if the divergence is not too great, and if their values
                                     do not trample yours.  Otherwise, there may be blowback and moral contamination of one’s
                                     actions.  In such cases, unilateralism is to be preferred to multilateralism.

5.  Parochialism is unjustifiable.  D&C 88 is the foundational scripture here.  Our policy must include efforts to inform our public and the publics of other nations as to the truth of what is happening.  An important part of that endeavor is to chronicle truth, and then disseminate it.

6.  If others hate and revile your policy, it does not mean it is not the better choice.  If others hate and revile you, and call you arrogant/imperialist, etc., it does not mean that you are.  The important test is that outlined in #2.  Are you inspired by a better cause?  Are your hearts and hands clean?  If so, you must have the courage of your convictions.  Remember the exchange of epistles between Ammoron and Moroni; Moroni rejects Ammoron’s version of events as false and self-serving, and does not shrink from telling Ammoron exactly here he is headed (Alma chapters 54 and 55).

7.  We must be a nation of our word.  No more idle promises.  No more signing treaties we have no intention of keeping.  Or promising Hungarians or Shiites that we will come to their aid when we won’t.  Or telling Saddam Husseins there will be consequences for bad behavior when there won’t be.

8.  We must not just stop evil; we must try to sow good.  So, for example, the recent Congressional initiative to provide significant funding for AIDS prevention in sub-Saharan Africa is a wonderful and good-hearted policy decision.  But we can’t make everything all better for everyone -- it is the privilege and agency of a people to help themselves when they can.

9.  Even if you follow all of these maxims, there will still be setbacks and failures and difficulties.  The better policy choice is not always the easiest to implement or the swiftest to see results.  To have the courage of your convictions, you need to have some convictions!  This is where tests 1 and 2 come in.  Have you tried you hardest to find the better choice?  Are your hearts and hands clean, and are you inspired by a better cause?

10.  There is truth and there is falsehood.  There is good and there is evil.  The result of losing grasp of this is complacence.  The opposite of complacence is vigilance, planning and proactivity.  But after all we can do, we must rely on God’s arm -- and only those who are pure in heart can do that.  Don’t give in to discouragement, despair, cynicism, or fatalism!  We can make a difference.  Every one of us can.  I have been reading in Ezekiel lately, and this is what God said to Ezekiel before destroying the survivors left at Jerusalem:            

And I sought for a man among them (just one man!), that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.  (Ezek. 22:30)
We will be as accountable for what we were too complacent to do as we are accountable for what we actually do.

We can wield the sword while proclaiming peace.  Indeed, in this fallen and wicked world, we must.  But we must not become part of that lie that is the world’s wisdom about power and security.  We must maintain our full membership in the kingdom of God on earth.  Only with devotion to God and to good and to life, only with a clean heart and clean hands and diligence and hard work, can we hope to emulate those great men of old, such as Captain Moroni, who of necessity took up the sword in a better cause, conducted himself with both skill and humanity during war, and then retired to his home when his people were safe and the peace was won.  We have such men today.  Let me tell you of one, Captain Harris Carter of the US Army in Iraq (“War Tests Courage, Decency,” Deseret News, 20 April 2003, A4, A11.)

Toward sundown, on a patch of Kuwaiti desert 10 miles south of the Iraqi border, the first sergeant of Attack Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, called the men to attention.  Their commander, Army Capt. Chris Carter, 31, of Watkinsville, Georgia, strode up to the formation in full battle dress -- desert camoflauge, flak jacket, Kevlar helmet. . . . In the days ahead, he said, thousands of life-and-death decisions would be made by thousands of soldiers.  They were well-prepared, he said.  Their training, equipment, and spirit would carry them through.  “We are a moral army,” he continued.  When Iraqi soldiers surrender, “treat them with respect,” he said; when they don’t surrender, “kill them.” But defeating Saddam Hussein’s army was only part of the job.  They must also earn the trust of the Iraqi people.  “We have to go in there and treat them right.”

[Later], after three hours of fighting, a soldier saw an old woman lying near the middle of the bridge, waving for help.  Carter’s Bradley lurched forward, he and two of his men moving in a crouch behind it as small arms fire cracked around them.  As they reached the woman, Carter threw a smoke grenade to obscure his position.  Carter knelt beside the woman and offered her water, but, fearing a trap, also checked her for hidden explosives.  From across the river, Iraqi fighters opened fire.  The Bradleys and M1A1 Abrams tanks pounded them as Carter called for an armored ambulance.  After medics loaded the bleeding woman into the ambulance and backed away, the Bradley backed off the bridge, Carter and his men staying behind it for cover.

Later, Carter reflected on why he had put his men in harm’s way to save the woman.  He had come to Iraq to fight “not just for the political aims of this conflict, but for the people,” he said.  “To leave her out on that bridge would have gone against the grain of why we are here.”

[Carter] also realized the war had changed him.  “It has made me a lot less concerned about worldly things,” he said.  “It’s not about possessions, but about taking care of people we know, we love -- and taking care of people we don’t know.” On April 10 [2003], in downtown Baghdad, Carter heard the latest news” President Bush had declared that Saddam’s regime was gone for good and that the Iraqi people would soon be enjoying the blessings of liberty.  “Good, we’ve done our job,” Carter said.  “Now send us home.”

May our hearts be strengthened to be like Captain Carter’s heart, I pray.



[1] Kerry M. Kartchner and Valerie M. Hudson, eds., Wielding the Sword While Proclaiming Peace:  Views from the LDS Community on Reconciling the Demands of National Security with the Imperatives of Revealed Truth (Provo:  David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, Brigham Young University, 2003). http://www.amazon.com/Wielding-Sword-While-Proclaiming-Peace/dp/0842525793 [Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Hudson, Valerie M. (2012) "Power's Reality, Power's Illusion: Policy at the Intersection of the Two Kingdoms," SquareTwo, Vol. 5 No. 3 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHudsonPower.html, [give access date]

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