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Hugh Nibley a man of paradoxes and disagreements

PROVO, Utah — Who better than the youngest son of Hugh

Nibley to explore the scholar's love of disagreement?

Alex Nibley presented a lecture Feb. 18 detailing his

father's life from graduate school to his time at BYU, a

span of about eight years from 1938 to 1946. The lecture was the latest in the

weekly series commemorating the centennial of Hugh Nibley's birth.

In explaining the paradoxes, the younger Nibley described his father as a dignified buffoon, an infantile sage, a childlike old man and an ecumenical sectarian.

"He hated war and volunteered to fight," Alex

Nibley said.

He pointed to his father's participation in World

War II as the greatest educational experience of Hugh Nibley's life.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, it became clear

to Nibley what had to be done. It pained him in many ways to see the

country and culture he had fallen in love with on his mission to Germany be at

the center of the war. He took no satisfaction in destroying Germany, only that

the Hitler-led Nazis were stopped.

__IMAGE1__Shortly after his enlistment, Nibley's language skills were

recognized and he was transferred into an intelligence division. There was not

much organized intelligence at this time, and Nibley was assigned to teach many

officers about German history and warfare.

"He knew everything about war except what it was like,"

Alex Nibley said.

Hugh Nibley would soon have more firsthand knowledge of war

than anyone could ever need.

His intelligence group was made a part of the now-renowned

101st Airborne Division. Originally scheduled as a member of the glider portion

of the D-Day assault, Nibley was bumped from his seat in a glider and instead

drove a jeep onto Utah Beach.

Nibley grew tremendously from this time, but was condescending and critical of the Army and its operations later in life.

Alex Nibley interviewed his father extensively about the war

years for his own book "Sergeant Nibley, Ph.D.: Memories of an Unlikely

Screaming Eagle." In his estimation, he had more conversations with his

father about World War II than anyone.

The younger Nibley saw hints of nostalgia and admiration in

his father for the men he served with.

The end of the war was a great moment of triumph — "and

for Hugh Nibley a great moment of sadness as he watched the destruction of the

civilization that he admired so much and the people that he had preached to,"

Alex Nibley said.

These internal conflicts seem to have continued with Nibley

throughout his life as a Mormon apologist and conversationalist.

Disagreement appears to have been a hobby of sorts for

Nibley as he always looked forward to a healthy discussion presenting each


"I think people don't understand about Hugh Nibley is

how much he valued disagreement," Alex said. "This is a subject on

which I can speak with some authority."

There were many instances of disagreement between father and


More than being right when possible, Nibley valued the

process of discussion. He often went out of his way to ensure that both sides

were represented.

Hugh Nibley and his family possibly made up 20 percent of

Utah County's Democrats at one time, Nibley joked.

He remembered one time he and his family were campaigning

for a Democrat during an election and were to hold a rally of


After the side of the Democrat challenger was presented, the

already-leaning crowd seemed to be in unanimous favor of the Democrat.

Professor Nibley then noted that there was no one in attendance to present the

opponent's side. Nibley then proceeded to present the Republican's side and won

over the crowd — much to the chagrin of the family.

It wouldn't be fair to Hugh Nibley if all sides weren't represented

and a discussion had.

"Hugh Nibley believed that differences in philosophy

and belief were not only inevitable but strengthening," Alex Nibley said. "He

cared more about the people than the stupidity of their ideas — as he might

have said."

Hugh Nibley never delighted in the loss of precious life

surrounding him during the war, but reflected once in his journal of his

happiness in a foxhole, surrounded by destruction. Maybe he shouldn't be

feeling this way at this time he thought.

He then wrote in his journal, "It's not what happens to

you that matters, it's not what becomes of you — it's what you become that's