"We ought to be grateful for peace every day of our lives, but we ought to be vigilant to prevent the types of warfare, the aggressive behavior, the dominance of one military force over another that we have witnessed in the past," said President Thomas S. Monson.
President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, spoke with the Church News regarding the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. During the interview, he said, "The planners of war rarely face the suffering that the people do. It's when whole families and entire cities face suffering that we see the real horror."President Monson said that as people must deal with the past, as in marking the anniversary of the end of the war, they ought to judge it carefully. "We're looking at this war in retrospect, rather than during the heat of the emotions of the time," he said. "It's difficult to mentally go back and say what you would do, or what you would not do. There is great truth in the statement, `He who learns not from the mistakes of the past is doomed to repeat them with their attendant consequences.'
President Monson said that while wars might divide peoples of the world, the gospel of Jesus Christ unites them.
"I went to a regional meeting in Germany," he said. "During the priesthood session I felt impressed to talk to the brethren about military service. I told them that I had been in the U.S. Navy, on the opposite side in the war as they. I asked how many of them had served in the German Navy, and asked them to stand. I then asked how many had served in the German Air Force, in the German Army, and asked each, in turn, to stand. Almost every man was standing. I then told them, `You served because your country was at war. It was mandated that you honor the law of the land. The same was true in America, and that placed us in conflict one with another as opposing armed forces. But we all served because we felt it was our duty. Now we're all together in the great army of the Lord as one. Do not shy away from the fact that you were in the military. You can be pleased with yourself that you responded to the call of your country.' From that point on in the meeting there were more smiles among the men, and one could feel the unity and camaraderie which existed.
"When the meeting was over, they didn't want to leave," he said. "As I left the building there were a lot of embraces, and many of them took me by the hand and said, `My Brother.' The brotherhood of the priesthood rose above the horrors of war, above the pain of conflict and above the tragedy of devastation."
President Monson reflected on his high school days when World War II was raging. He remembers seeing mothers in his neighborhood remove from their windows blue stars, which indicated they had sons in the armed services, and frequently replace them with gold stars, which symbolized their sons had been killed. The war had nearly ended when he came of age to enlist. He joined the Navy and served in San Diego, Calif., until the joyful news came that the conflict was over.
The war ended, but its devastation lingered. Called in 1950 as bishop of Salt Lake City's Sixth-Seventh Ward, he tenderly cared for many who had suffered much during the war. Many Latter-day Saints from war-torn nations, particularly Germany, had settled within his ward's boundaries.
After President Monson became a General Authority in 1963, he received assignments that took him to many countries that had been devastated by the war, among them Japan and the Philippines, as well as many nations of Europe. Although nearly two decades had passed since the end of the war, he still saw vivid evidence of it.
"In Berlin," he said, "I was speaking at a stake conference; a third of the congregation were widows who had lost their husbands. Some of our outstanding Church leaders in Germany had been killed in the war, as well as many of their sons."
While President Monson was dedicating a new chapel at Zwickau, Germany, one older brother came forward with tears in his eyes and asked to be remembered to President Ezra Taft Benson. He then said to "tell him he saved my life, and those of scores of my brothers and sisters in my native land because of the food and clothing he brought to us from members of the Church in America."
President Monson said he was encouraged to see how faithful to the gospel the Saints had remained. He noticed also how many had made the best of the worst-possible circumstances.
"In all of those areas it is simply amazing what the influence of Latter-day Saint military personnel has brought to pass," he said. "The servicemen were very generous with their food and their means to people who were in desperate need. Our Latter-day Saint servicemen went out of their way to relieve suffering wherever they could."
In many areas, he said, they planted seeds of the gospel, bringing a newness of hope where there had been only hardship. Historians are able to document specific branches, districts, wards and stakes that had their beginnings because of LDS servicemen and women. In many instances they prepared the way for the full-time missionaries who followed.