(Note: this is my current understanding on the Prophecy on War. The LDS Church has not given out an official interpretation of its events beyond the Civil War and the World Wars predicted).
Joseph Smith's Prophecy on War (D&C 87) is a big thorn in the side of those critics of the Mormon Prophet. Some claim that 'everyone knew that the North and South were going to war, so it wasn't that big of a prophecy.' However, the evidence is against such belief. Many believed that the tensions between North and South were calmed down just a few years prior to the Civil War.
Elder Orson Hyde supplemented the prophecy in 1858, claiming the destructions and wars were about to come upon the U.S. When he made these claims, many eastern newspapers quoted and mocked him. There was no way the States were going to war, according to the papers. In 1862, Elder Hyde commented on this fact as further evidence that the American people did not consider this prophecy valid prior to its accomplishment.
But the Prophecy on War is more than just a prediction of the Civil War. we shall see that the Prophecy of War goes well beyond the Civil War/War between the States, and down to our own day. In fact, calling it the Prophecy on War is a misnomer. It would be better to call it the Prophecy on Slavery, as it deals with slavery throughout the prophecy.
War Among the States and Among All Nations
The section starts by prophecying of the Civil War, a war that will be the beginning point for all great wars . We read in D&C 87:
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;Here we see that the Civil War is the beginning of wars to be poured out "on all nations." The Civil War was a great turning point in warfare. With it came modern warfare, which opened the way for wars of mass destruction to be commonplace and widespread. Also, this was the first war where new weapons of destruction were used: repeating rifles, gatling guns, iron ships, railroads for transporting troops and equipment, and telegraph to communicate over long distances, etc. All this added up to tens of thousands being killed in battles, and more than 600,000 dead over the 4 year long war. It would be a war based upon slavery: the black slaves toiling in the fields, but also for those white Americans who felt the Union was enslaving them with laws that affected their economic choices (states' rights). To this day, many white Southerners call the Civil War the "War of Northern Aggression."
2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.
3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.The South, during the Civil War, called upon other nations for assistance, and "they" or Great Britain and other nations would later "also call upon other nations" for assistance in their own defense. Imagine a nation like Great Britain, which at the time ruled the oceans and had a formidable army having to call upon other nations for assistance! And yet it happened in both the First and Second World Wars, which is exactly the time when war was "poured out upon all nations." World War II was only a continuation of the First World War, as France and other nations sought to enslave and punish Germany with huge restrictions and even bigger economic stresses. In 1917, the German Mark was worth 75 cents in American dollars. By 1921, it required over One Trillion Marks to equal one dollar. People were starving because of the devastating requirements placed on Germany, causing the Germans to seek someone to save them. Sadly, Adolph Hitler became their one great hope. It is easy for starving people to believe the words of the person who is feeding them and giving them jobs.
From the ashes of the Great World Wars, some nations were opened to greater levels of democracy, while others were plunged deeper into the tyranny of slavery.
The Fall of Communism
Now this next portion is very interesting. Many readers think it refers to the Civil War, but it doesn't. In terms of time, it refers to a time after the wars on all nations:
4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.
The only "slaves" in the days after the World Wars, have been those who suffered under the bonds of Communism and racism. Isn't it interesting to see how quickly the shackles of slavery fell off of the slaves of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and among the blacks in South Africa, and to an extent, even in the United States in its Civil Rights movement. However, since their "masters" are marshaled and disciplined for war, there are few primary choices, except Communism and Socialism where this has occurred.
What took millions of lives in bloodshed during the Civil War and World Wars I and II, then seems almost like a bloodless coup in the collapse of the Iron Curtain. However, when one considers Josef Stalin slaughtered over 25 million people in the Soviet Union, starving millions (especially in the Ukraine) during his 5 year plans, and sent untold more to the gulags and mines of Siberia, we can see that it was a very bloody experience over 70 years. for the slaves under Socialism.
It was only three years between the time President Ronald Reagan proclaimed at the Brandenburg Gate, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" and the Berlin Wall being torn down by the former slaves. Since then, millions have had economic and religious opportunities in many of those nations. We do see tyranny attempting to regain power in some former Soviet states, but there seems to be an equal push to retain new rights that weren't available before.
For Christians, there has been a true evangelism that has swept much of the area over the past two decades. Bibles are now common place, a variety of churches are erected, and LDS temples are beginning to dot the land.
The Terrorism Connection
In the last decade, we've seen great wars on terrorism. I believe this is discussed as well in the Prophecy on War.
5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.At one time I thought the remnant referred to is the literal House of Israel, and particularly the Lamanites (Native Americans). It may be that a portion of this part of the prophecy will still be fulfilled by them. Now, however, I feel it is the remnant of the slaves in the Arab/Muslim world that this refers to. Tyrannical dictators of Muslim nations have kept their peoples in poverty and slavery. They have stayed in power by turning the anger of the peoples against the Jews and the Gentile Nations (Western nations).
The events predicted overlap to some extent. So while the Soviet Union was on the rise, the great world wars brought down those enslaved by Hitler's Germany and others.
Radical Arab attacks have been known for decades: from airplane hijackings, to the terrorism at the Munich Olympics, and to the assault on the cruise ship Achille Lauro. Over time, they have organized and become more powerful, until we all gasped in horror as commercial airliners were used to bring down the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001.
We are now feeling the pain of the remnant of Arab and Muslim slaves in the world, as they continue attacking and vexing the Gentile nations, even as some try to gain freedom from those who have enslaved them. Sadly, it seems that of those nations overthrowing their leaders, many are not gaining the freedoms they sought, but are being placed in a new form of radical Islamic slavery.
Interestingly, many of the tactics the radicals are using are very similar to the terrorist attacks used by the Gadianton Robbers in the Book of Mormon (Books of Helaman and 3 Nephi). They gained great power, taking over some lands and nations, and vexing the righteous Nephites and Lamanites. The Nephites and Lamanites sought to destroy them in their mountain hideouts, but were generally unsuccessful. After a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, radical Islam is still growing in many parts of the world. Terror will possibly become a part of the "new normal" in the United States, even as it is in Israel, as we see events such as those happening on Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon occur.
Great Destructions to Come
6 And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;As the times of terrorism occur, natural disasters and other problems will increase. Since 9/11/2001, we've seen some of the biggest earthquakes to ever occur (including Japan's earthquake that caused nuclear reactors to melt down), global economic disaster, tsunamis that have slain hundreds of thousands, bird flu and other (new and old) diseases, deadly tornadoes (Joplin MO, Tuscaloosa AL), and devastating hurricanes (New Orleans, and the northeast)
7 That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies.Obviously, when the remnant of the slaves vex the Gentiles, we shall see great destruction and bloodshed begin. So, the times for great destruction may not be too far away.
In section 88 of the D&C we learn a little more of the disasters to occur:
88 And after your testimony cometh wrath and indignation upon the people..A rather bleak picture, to be sure. So, what can protect us from such terrible premonitions of war and nautral disaster?
89 For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes (Japan, Chile, Haiti), that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.
90 And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests (tornadoes), and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds (tsunami, hurricanes).
91 And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people
Stand In Holy Places
8 Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen.
I frankly do not know how close we are to the final destructive days and the beginning of Christ's peaceful Millennial reign. However, whether it is in 2 years or 200 years, we can see that these are potential signs for us to be noticing. The solution is to "stand in holy places, and be not moved".
The "holy places" mentioned above are Zion and her stakes. As with the righteous Nephites and Lamanites in 3 Nephi, the time will come when we will see the need to physically gather in places of refuge and safety for sanctuary. Right now, we are building the stakes of Zion so that we will have an organization and plan ready to receive those who need help.
When Hurricane Andrew hit southern Florida in the early 1990s, Mormons came by the hundreds to help people fix their homes. Two LDS stake center buildings were used by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Red Cross as headquarters. When the army needed 3000 chainsaws, which would take them weeks to requisition, the Church had them brought in the very next day. Mormons in Idaho filled a semi-truck full of Idoaho potatoes and drove down to provide food for the people.
When Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, thousands of Mormons were organized by region to travel down to the area and assist every weekend for months. Saints from as far away as Indianapolis and elsewhere traveled and worked on their own dime to help out where they could. So it is with each and every natural disaster in the United States, and elsewhere.
The LDS Church provided millions of dollars of aid to the victims of the Indonesia Tsunami, dig wells for fresh water in many poor nations, and have inoculated tens of thousands of children in Africa and elsewhere. But that is not all, bishop's storehouses provide assistance to many struggling to find work, pay the bills, or have food on the table. Anyone who has seen Welfare Square in Salt Lake City is amazed. But those who visit the bishop's storehouse in Indianapolis Indiana will also be impressed with the program run in that area, far from Mormon central. It is this organization and desire of the membership to serve and help others that will bring it to the forefront of assistance to those who seek the refuge of Zion.
In D&C 45, we read of Zion and her stakes:
66 And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God;
67 And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion.
68 And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.
69 And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.
70 And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.
71 And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy.
Not all will be Latter-day Saints, but all that are willing to keep the 10 Commandments, and perhaps a few other laws of righteousness will be welcome to dwell in safety, while the wicked choose to suffer through the great destructions of the last days prior to the Second Coming of the Lord.
Once again, we see that the Prophecy of War is a timeline of events, many happening in our own day. It truly is an amazing prophecy given to Joseph Smith from the Lord, to prepare us for the last days.