J Reuben Clark: Pacifist or Pro-Nazi?

by: Guest Author

July 17, 2013

The Butchers’ Apostle:[1] Context and the Anti War Quotes of J. Reuben Clark

The Butchers’ Apostle:[1] Context and the Anti War Quotes of J. Reuben Clark

This is the first guest post from Morgan Deane.  He blogs at Warfare and the Book of Mormon.

In repeated discussions of LDS positions on war there is an inevitable quotation from J. Reuben Clark.[2]  But non violent proponents and radical libertarians do not know the life and times of this man, which in turn undermine his positions and any use they may have in advancing an anti war agenda.  Isolated quotes from J. Reuben Clark fail to account for his inconsistent views, his pro Nazi positions, and his demotions and minority voice within church leadership.

Before I cover those three points I must point out several things. It may shock an average church member to read a critique of a former apostle.  This is a valid concern based on an abundance of love and respect for those leaders.  Yet I should remind readers that binding church doctrine is not found in isolated statements of church leaders.[3]  (And as I point out below, even contemporaries leaders disagreed with and prevented the publication of his statements.)  Church doctrine is found in the standard works, and in the consistent pronunciations of the First Presidency and the Quorum the Twelve. A single statement represents a well thought out opinion and is not considered binding on church members.

Furthermore, it is disingenuous to introduce a prophet’s words to bolster a political argument, but then expect an uncritical acceptance of those words. In essence radical libertarians and anti war critics introduce a piece of evidence in a court room, and then deny a proper cross examination of it. If they are so sensitive to possible mistreatment of a prophet’s image or legacy, perhaps they shouldn’t introduce his words to bolster their political arguments and castigate brothers who disagree with them.[4]    So with as much respect that I have for the prophets’ words, they are used to support arguments with which I disagree, and used in opposition to the context in which they originated. So a faithful member of the church can and should examine the historical context and logical implications of teachings often presented in isolation to support an agenda.

Tossed About With Every Wind of Politics

His shifting positions hardly represent a stable moral view of war, but rather a position that changes with the politics of the time.  He started his young adult life with his family barely convincing him not to enlist in the Spanish American War.[5]  This is particularly insightful as it is considered one of the most Imperialistic of America’s Wars and resulted in a brutal counter insurgency campaign in the Philippines.  He then worked for State Department and wrote what sounded like the Taft Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.[6] The Monroe Doctrine was a policy that told Europeans to keep their hands off North or South America. While the Taft Corollary added that America could and would be hands on in that region.   This doctrine expanded America’s involvement in unofficial wars, gunboat diplomacy, and even quasi annexation of Caribbean and Central American countries until the start of WWII. At the start of WWI he enlisted in the Army Reserves and even argued that German nationals should be imprisoned.[7]

A person might argue that he was impassioned by later abuses and ennobled by the course of his life so he would eventually become a pacifist.  But he said during this period that:

“The older I get, the more I see, the more experience I obtain, the more I become convinced that the peace propaganda and the present peace propagandists are both equally impractical and illusory, as also inimical to the interests of the this nation. If we get into war…we shall have to put some of them in jail, and personally I should like to begin with [prominent progressive and anti imperialist, William Jennings] Bryan.”[8]



Clark actually agreed with George Orwell, who later commented during WWII that,

“In so far as it hampers the British war effort, British pacifism is on the side of the Nazis and German pacifism, if it exists, is on the side of Britain and the USSR. Since pacifists have more freedom of action in countries where traces of democracy survive, pacifism can act more effectively against democracy than for it. Objectively the pacifist is pro-Nazi.”

A year later he said:

“Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me.’”[9]

Clark’s words and actions after his anti war shift exemplify this quote.  In sharp contrast to his earlier statements about interning Germans, Clark had effusive praise for Hitler and the society he was creating. This is in spite of the numerous reports he had concerning Nazi death camps.[10]  He even “suppressed” the anti-Nazi writings of a former mission president to Czechoslovakia which contained pictures of prisoners in a German concentration camp.

He repeatedly advocated for a negotiated peace with Germany that would have left them in control of much of Europe.[11] He did so after yet more reports from death camps such as Auschwitz. The FBI had secret files which detailed how Nazi agents received the private encouragement of J. Reuben Clark.[12]  After a fireside given by Clark one member publicly wrote that is was “the most reactionary, critical, and near seditious ever delivered in a country during a time of war.”[13]

After the war was over he condemned the Nuremburg trials while also accusing the Allies of seeking to destroy the German people. Historian D. Michael Quinn recorded that in over 600 boxes of personal papers there is not one criticism of Nazi conduct during the war.  “Clarks only accusation of war crimes was against his own nation’s leaders and armed forces.”[14]


These comments didn’t escape the notice of fellow church leaders and the rank and file members.  The title of this piece reflected one opinion of Clark’s pro Nazi views and the above section also included the “near seditious” nature of Clark’s words.  After the attack at Pearl Harbor President Grant disregarded Clark’s description of the war as “jungle law of beasts” and published a more cautious message.[15]  The First Presidency message in April 1942 did not contain any of Clark’s positions on conscientious objectors, though a later letter seemed to be influenced by Clark. In 1945 the First Presidency against softened a message he wrote.[16]

On the ascension of President David O. McKay he was demoted to second counselor in the First Presidency. McKay also forcefully ordered him to speak in support of military service during the Korean War.[17]  Many of his most strident remarks were made in unofficial capacities or remained in his private papers as he seemed out of step with many of his church colleagues, like Harold B. Lee and McKay, but also his professional colleagues, where he was the only former or current U.S. ambassador to reject creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; his opinions also elicited severe opposition from rank and file church members.  While morality is not a popularity contest, establishing church doctrine does require the consistent proclamation of all 15 people in the Presidency and Quorum of the 12.  Because of the deference for past and present leaders it is also extremely rare to be overturned in such conspicuous ways and reinforces the idea that Clark was not speaking for the Lord but stating his opinion.


It is tempting and easy to say you are anti war.  With the horrors of death and a humanistic concern for the individual welfare, not to mention the often naked use of power we see around the world, it is understandable.  But many anti war advocates don’t consider the logical outcomes of their actions. Thus somebody who was antiwar during WWII, inevitably became pro-Nazi.

J. Reuben Clark was not consistent in his positions. He supported imperialistic endeavors through his youth and even defended them and attacked pacifists as he advanced in his career.  He abruptly shifted without explanation and consistently defended Nazis and attacked any form of warfare.  He was so strident that he often didn’t garner the support of other church leaders and was overruled on more than one occasion.

Using out of context quotes from J. Reuben Clark might satisfy the pacifist looking for support in his position. But it ignores the context of his time.  The shifting positions, pro-Nazi attitudes, and minority within church leadership undermine the value of isolated quotes. Using his quotes suggests a failure to articulate clear moral positions, and the reason why you might shift them throughout a person’s life. They argue that the logical outcome of anti war positions will result in opposing just war against genocidal dictators. And they suggest that you hold a minority position within the Church and not accurately stating binding doctrine.


  1. Have you seen anybody use prophetic quotes out of context? Describe.  What issue was it, what happened, and how did it make you feel?
  2. What is the proper way to incorporate a prophet’s council into an argument? Is it even possible to do so without angering your opponent?
  3. Why might it be difficult to say you are antiwar?
  4. Did the quote from George Orwell about being for or against us sound like something George Bush said?  Does that make you reassess your view of Bush?

[1]D. Michael Quinn, “Pacifist Counselor in the First Presidency: J Reuben Clark Jr., 1933-1963” in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives, Patrick Mason, J. David Pulsipher, Richard Bushman eds. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012) 141-160, 149.  Unless otherwise noted, all of the page numbers for this post originate from Quinn’s essay.  I was rather surprised he presented the evidence found in this post without comment but instead focused on Clark’s protection and assistance to pacifists.  While the latter is good I think the former deserves more attention and consideration than it got in his piece.

[5] 141.

[6] 142.

[7] 143.

[8] 142.

[9] Jonah Goldberg, The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas (New York: Penguin Group, 2012) 183.

[10] 150.

[11] 153, 154.

[12] 153.

[13] 153.

[14] 156.

[15] 151.

[16] 155.

[17] 159.

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9 Responses to J Reuben Clark: Pacifist or Pro-Nazi?

  1. nate on July 17, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    This was very interesting. I agree that we must not take things out of context, but what if Ruben J. Clark was genuinely pacifist at one point in his life? If he gives a good quote or argument for that position, why shouldn’t one use it, just because it contradicts other positions he might have held in the past?

    An apostle is an apostle, and for church members, their words carry a certain weight. Maybe sometimes they were inspired, maybe sometimes they weren’t. But if we happen to think that they were inspired, at a particular time, why should knowing that they were also uninspired at other times deter us from quoting something we feel is inspired?

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  2. cadams on July 17, 2013 at 6:03 PM

    If he was pro Nazi, even in the face of Holocaust evidences, this puts all of his pacifist statements under question.

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  3. Douglas on July 17, 2013 at 9:43 PM

    A ridiculous assertion that JRC was “pro-Nazi” any more than either JFK or even “Papa Joe”, or even Sir Winston Churchill who asserted that if the UK had to be conquered that it would do well to be conquered by Hitler. All had some positive things to say about Nazi Germany, mostly in the context of being a bulwark against the “Bolshevik menace”. Many, not merely the aforementioned gentlemen, not only saw Communism as being led primarily by Jews, but that “International Jewry”, through both the Communists and the international banking cartels, sinisterially manipulated global politics and were behind the recent “Great War”. Certainly JRC would have been exposed to this view even in UT in his youth and certainly got a dose of it while studying law at Columbia. But I see no evidence that he was in league with, say, the KKK or the German-American Bund. I would say if anything JRC was ideologically aligned with Charles Lindbergh. This would be fairly much “America First”, meaning that the war that the UK and France had enjoined in a grossly miscalculated effort to deter Hitler from running roughshod over Poland (his most grotesque strategic blunder for he did for Molotov and Stalin in 1939 what they couldn’t do in 1920, get the Poles out of the way) simply wasn’t America’s fight. JRC didn’t want to enhance the coffers of war profiteers and sacrifice American boys for the dubious result of siding with one party or another in yet another intra-European squabble.

    It’s fundamentally wrong to label the ideology or attitudes of a man dead some fifty years in the context of current times instead of his, especially with a slant even by current standards.

    Also, it’s not for you or I to presume to judge a General Authority based on his politics or whether he has what some might feel are egalitarian attitudes. There are many things deliberately taken out of context by those whose intent is to defame and smear, like Quinn. GAs, like any of us, have their foibles and need the Savior no less, and each to a man will be quick to declare thus. Again, remember the context of the times. I’ve often lampooned Mark E Petersen where in a 1954 speech on race relations he declared that he’d “let” a black man drive a Cadillac if he could buy one. As “quaint” as the late Evan Mecham saying he wasn’t racist due to hiring blacks for some positions b/c they were the best for the cotton-picking job! Gee, I can just imagine that should the Lord be desperate and call me to a high position what grist for the mill that I’d provide! J Golden Kimball were he around today he’d be promptly given “Emeritus” status (which has been used to effectively cashier GAs) and called to be President of the Ulan Bataar Mongolia Temple.

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  4. Mormon Heretic on July 17, 2013 at 11:14 PM

    Communism was led by Jews????? WTH? What an absolutely ridiculous assertion. We all know how persecuted the Jews were in the Soviet Union. Who pray tell made that ridiculous assertion?

    By the way Douglas, when you add a blank line between your paragraphs, it makes for much easier reading.

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  5. Hedgehog on July 18, 2013 at 1:43 AM

    Addressing your wider point about quotes out of context, although this one wouldn’t be a prohetic quote, I was seriously bugged by this one in the old YW manual 1 lesson 16:

    “Never in history have women enjoyed the freedom of thought and action accorded the women of this Church. From the day of its restoration women have been accorded their full religious franchise, and in the temples of the restored Gospel a man may not partake of the highest ordinances without his wife by his side. In all life pursuits she is given her entire independence.
    “This gives to woman a mighty responsibility which, if she honors and uses, will be increased in power upon her; but if she ignores it or treats it lightly or fails to magnify it, she may lose that which she now possesses and thereby forfeit her birthright. For this great privilege women of this Church should be eternally grateful and willing to use and cherish this precious and priceless relationship. Where much is given, much is expected” (Leah D. Widtsoe, Priesthood and Womanhood, as quoted in Priesthood and Church Government, comp. John A. Widtsoe, pp. 90–91)”

    Because a) it’s a really old quote, and even in the best circumstances can hardly be used to represent the position of women in the church at the time the manuals were in use: the book it came from was published in 1939, and it’s my understanding the position of women in the church changed quite a lot after 1939. b) Given that it was her husband who appears to be responsible at least in part for the somewhat heirarchical and organisational structure of the priesthood and church administrative organisation (if I’m getting that right), I’d love to know precisely when and in what circumstances she made that statement, what the motives might have been etc. Basically the whole context in which she was speaking.

    Another is the ‘obedience is the first law of heaven’ that crops up all over the place in manuals, often as a bludgeon. The topic of my first post here.

    That said, when I do find myself under attack from some of these bludgeons in conversation/debate with those rather more rigid than myself in outlook, I certainly haven’t been above flinging quotes back at them as a defensive measure. It does have the effect of lessening the attack when reasoned discussion appears to be going nowhere.

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  6. Douglas on July 18, 2013 at 4:56 AM

    #4 – I was simply pointing out what JRC and his contemporaries believed regarding Judaism and Communism, not mine own analysis…hence why I couched such terms as “Jewish Bolshevism” in quotes. For all your worthy advice on style, MH, methinks you could pick that one up. These were attitudes prevalent, mostly rising out of a simplistic analysis of the preponderance of ethnic Jews in the Soviet leadership. Never mind that few, if any at all, were actually observant of the Jewish faith (atheism being a fundamental tenant of Communist dogma) and that starting in 1921 the first CPSU Congress denounced Zionism as a threat to world peace and inimical to the Soviet people. Hence any Jew actually expressing a desire to emigrate to Palestine (Israel after 1948) was immediately branded a traitor. It didn’t also help that a so-called cabal of Jewish physicians was falsely implicated in the so-called “Doctor’s Plot”. Stalin even seemingly plagiarized “The Poisonous Mushroom”, labeling Jews as “Rootless Cosmopolitans”…


    It just shows that Hitler’s brand of anti-Semitism wasn’t even original, though Der Fuhrer’s application thereof was far more heinous than anything that JRC or any of his associates could have dreamed up on their worst day.

    #5 – I guess it depends upon your point of view. I myself don’t know of any particular feminist-type changes for LDS women, or even American women in general, circa 1939, I can only speculate as to what Sister WIdtsoe was referring to. I prefer this (surmised in Robot Chicken: Star Wars, Episode 2.5) explanation of the role that one’s personal POV plays in discernment of the truth:

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  7. M Deane on July 18, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    Thanks Hedgehog. Your point about bludgeons is exactly how I would respond to Nate, and really the reason for my post in the first place. Its nice that people find inspiring words from prophets. If people want to have a personal philosophy that helps them and find wisdom in the words of leaders that is great. Deseret Book is filled with such homiletic works. But the implications of many anti war advocates that use people like Clark is that I’m wrong, unrighteous, wicked, and generally a horrible war monger because I don’t accept the non doctrinal quotes and out of context quotes from the people they present.

    I’m also with MH here about the thoughts from Douglas. I wasn’t completely clear on what your point was. My point was we should be very cautious in simply cutting and pasting juicy quotes from prophets who say stuff that agree with our political and anti war leanings. So making points like many people in the 30s were also pro Nazi doesn’t make me change that point. Plus, I included evidence which showed that Clark was pro Nazi even after the curtain was peeled back and the U.S. was fighting them. (The paragraph with fns 11-13 was all during the war.) Saying that they were not only pro Nazi but also conspiratorial and anti Semitic, makes me say: indeed, why is he then an authority for anybody on matters of war and in peace in 2013? Unless you agree with those conspiracies and I know a few radical libertarians who probably do.

    So the additional context you provided was good, but it doesn’t change my point, which is the more context provided about a general authority makes them less useful as a club with which to beat your opponents.

    I was hoping people would understand my point a little bit more. People on the bloggernacle should be very accustomed to having people throw out juicy quotes in Sunday school about r rated movies, the priesthood, or gender issues, and then have to explain why they are “going against the prophet” but still faithful. Getting beat over the head with non doctrinal quotes and having their testimony questioned because they have a more nuanced view of a prophets words are common topics here.

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  8. N. on July 18, 2013 at 12:02 PM

    “Have you seen anybody use prophetic quotes out of context? Describe. What issue was it, what happened, and how did it make you feel?”

    D. Michael Quinn, in almost everything I’ve read from him. When I first discovered his books, I devoured them, and I started chasing down original sources for quotes I found unbelievably juicy. Sure enough I found out why they were not to be believed; he had mischaracterized the quote for his own polemic ends. Some serious misrepresentation which would be found in lazy undergrad work, not becoming a serious scholar.

    How did it make me feel? Sad. Icky. Also, sorry for Bro. Quinn.
    I don’t really mean to poison the well on his stuff, but once-bitten, twice shy.

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  9. Steve on July 18, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    I suppose many a man and woman has changed views over a lifetime. If not, perhaps they were either perfect to begin with or learned nothing.

    At one time I thought the wars prosecuted by my country were just. I no longer think so. In so many cases we were led into them by deceit and subterfuge, particularly the ones in my lifetime (i.e. Vietnam, etc). And also the ones in my grandfather’s and father’s times (i.e. WWI and WWII).

    Perhaps we should have paid more attention to the warnings of the Book of Mormon against war except when being attacked and on the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants about our need to declare peace.

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