Brigham Young University and The Mountain Meadows Massacre by Juanita Brooks
The Mountain Meadows Massacre by Juanita Brooks recounts a tragic historical event in a manner that can teach important lessons. The book is well researched and well written and reflects the great historical significance of the massacre. In addition, students learn religious lessons studying the book and its subject. Although some members of the Church and a few of Brigham Young University's faculty doubt the wisdom of teaching The Mountain Meadows Massacre, this book should be taught at BYU.
The Mountain Meadows Massacre is an important book written by an important author. Some justifiably argue that Brooks's book is invalid because she is excessively defensive of John D. Lee-thus, they reason, the book is too subjective to take seriously as a historical work. Despite this shortcoming, the book is, overall, an excellent piece of critical writing. Brooks bases her book on primary sources displaying various opinions about the massacre. Even if the book is not completely objective, students can learn from bad examples as well as good ones. Studying The Mountain Meadows Massacre, especially under the direction of a competent teacher, can teach students to think critically about literature and avoid errors in their own writing. In addition to its literary merits, the book is a prime example of how authors can have a significant influence on the public. After Brooks's book was published, members of the Church began to research and discuss the Massacre more openly. One Mormon historian states: "Beginning with the landmark work of Juanita Brooks and proceeding at an increased pace during the past dozen years a spirit of openness, reconciliation, and healing has unfolded" (Leonard 14). The extensive research that has been performed on the Massacre has catalyzed important changes, such as the construction of a memorial at Mountain Meadows and the reinstatement of John D. Lee to the Church. A Mormon woman historian was able to change her world through her research and writing. The book and its author are significant enough to warrant study.
Students should also study the Mountain Meadows Massacre as an important event in history. It is relatively rare that 120 innocent people are slaughtered, especially by members of a church that generally endorsees pacifism and certainly not murder. It is extremely important to know how and why these things happened. When students understand mistakes made by others they are less likely to make the same mistakes themselves. The Mountain Meadows Massacre exposes the dangers of "us-versus-them" thinking and the devastating effects of mass hysteria in a militaristic atmosphere.
A university is more credible when students and teachers can discuss any event, no matter the controversy surrounding it. Richard L. Bushman, professor emeritus of Columbia University, stated concerning controversial matters in Mormon history, "You don't want...