Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review My Manuscript!

[Cross posted at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion. I've been busy with the holidays and working on lots of great projects. I have a book done, but I'm still waiting on my publisher. So this acts as both a way to make my book better, and do some advertising for it. Thank you for reading.)

Greetings everybody. I don't comment too much here, but thats in large part because I'm working on so many great things. A part of that is my newest book focusing on military history. I think I have a great product but I need some qualified reviewers to help me out.

In seven chapters I explore the history contained within the Book of Mormon and offer a bold reassessment of events that should change our view on the text. In even simpler terms, think of this as the story of the three little pigs as told by the wolf.

The first chapter offers insights into the actions of Gideon. As one of the early leaders in the church he had a decisive legacy of strength that. After comparing his actions as a leader to those by Moroni there are definite similarities that suggest an influence and connection between the two, but there are important differences that suggest Moroni and later Nephites became more militarized and aggressive. (This aggressiveness would cause its own set of problems as I detail in chapter 4.)

The second chapter uses three stories from history, to offer additional interpretations about the text that often go missed. For example, Moroni's actions in Alma 43-45 resemble the tactics used by the Vandal King Gelimer. But his enemy, Belisarius, was actually welcomed by the people more than their own king. My argument ends up being similar to the argument from Daniel Belnap in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies as I use the conflict between Arian rulers and Catholic subjects to suggest the Nephites were more heavy handed leaders than the narrative suggests. And that their actions likely alienated many of their subjects.

Chapter three takes a deeper look at Alma 47 and Amalickiah's long journey to power. Nobody every comes out and says, "Hello, my name is Amalickiah and I'll be your next dictator for life. Please leave your daughters at the door." So I looked at the possible arguments that he made and why there were so convincing. For example, Amalickiah was in a tough spot. He was appointed commander of the part of the army loyal to the king and had to storm the rebel faction's mountain outpost. He could easily be used as a scapegoat by the king, and had the disadvantageous tactical position. So he likely made an argument to Lehonti that explained that disadvantageous position, and offered his loyalty to the rebel faction in exchange for sparing his life and being second in command. He might have even made an argument that he was preserving Lamanite lives and keeping the peace. On top of this, as a dissenter from the Nephites he would have had a great deal of dirt real, exaggerated, or made up, but convincing nonetheless that would have made his calls for military action seem necessary and defensive to the Lamanites. (For example, Amalickiah defected in Alma 46, and contemporaneously in chapter 50 the Nephites seized Lamanite territory.)

Moving back to the big picture, I end the chapter by pointing out the often backward logic of warfare. As explained by noted strategist Edward Luttwak, roads that are less traveled because they are poor, become very good military roads precisely because they are poor and are more likely to be unguarded and achieve surprise. Amalickiah likely gained power through promises of peace which caused one of the biggest wars in the BoM. Moroni in contrast was often bellicose and straight forward in his desires, but worked to preserve peace and almost preemptively captured Amalickiah and ended the threat before it started.

I mentioned preemptive war which means half of you probably felt a surge of anger. But don't worry, chapter four details the negative consequences of the great war. The genesis for this chapter came as I was teaching American history. After the 7 Years War in 1763 the British stood triumphant over much of North America. But their victory actually caused more problems than it solved. In terms of financing the war, trying to prevent conflict with both Catholics in French Canada and Indians in the Ohio River Valley, the British ended up with more problems from their victory. So I looked at what changed during the war. I saw four factors there were vital in Nephite victory, increased use of heavy armor, reliance upon fortifications, preemptive warfare, and the seizing of territory in the east wilderness. Instead of analyzing the war itself, I wanted to see if these things affected the book of Helaman. And they did! Things like heavy armor and fortifications require more money. More money means more taxes, and rapacious taxation easily fuels an insurgency. The "getting gain" in the Book of Helaman, and the unrighteousness of Nephite society could refer to unscrupulous tax collectors. I point out how military gains usually require military expenditures to keep. On top of that, soldiers can easily develop a sense of corporate identity and strike out violently (such as killing a prophet like Nephi) when their interests are threatened. This results in a weird feedback look where the military is needed to hold the cities, and those cities are taxed to the hilt to fund the military. This can lead to civil unrest and insurgency, which needs more soldiers, which requires more taxation. In short, I look at the political fragmentation, desire for money, insurgency, and impotency of the army in the Book of Helaman and see a straight line from the military innovations by Moroni. Again, as Luttwak pointed out, the strange logic of war is that sometimes victory can be the worst thing for a nation. Because in victory every unexamined assumption, regardless of its contribution to victory, becomes enshrined as untouchable doctrine, and needed reforms become harder to implement. While defeat brings truth that much faster and discredits opponents of reform.

The next chapter looks at the letter of Giddianhi in 3 Nephi 3. I examine the subtle rhetoric contained in the letter and argue the Giddianhi borrows and adapts Nephi's arguments to assert his legitimate right to rule. Looking back upon the consequences of the great war and political fragmentation, as well as the medium in which he wrote, suggests that Giddianhi was not a traditional toothless highway robber, but a sophisticated elite with a claim to ruling. I point out how even righteous Nephites had to use spies and assassination to keep power (Helaman 2), rulers in Nephite cities beat confessions out of their prisoners (Alma 14) so having a righteous ruler in the midst of a long period of decline suggests they were as skilled as Amalickiah in gaining power. Once in power, the logic of war and defeat allowed them to implement the needed reforms. Their opponents were likely annoyed at how they didn't let a crisis go to waste.

The final chapter examines numbers and logistics in the BoM. This was in part driven by the standard anti Mormon narrative about millions of soldiers and how ridiculous that is. I've written about it enough on my blog and thought the arguments were always silly and ignorant, thus I thought it was time it got a chapter. I examine historical antecedents for large numbers and large numbers people killed in ancient societies. Given that much of Nephite history including their denouement suggest political fragmentation, I also look at the scholarly studies of inaccurate numbers. Starting with Hans Delbruck and others there is a sophisticated body of literature that suggests wrong numbers are rather common in historical accounts. Sometimes this results from scribal errors, inaccurate reporting by primary authors, use of numbers as a colloquial, and deliberate exaggeration. I go over a number of examples, but in Chinese history the new dynasty often commissioned and wrote the history of the previous dynasty. So the military failures would be exaggerated to amplify the loss of that emperor's right to rule.

Scholars also use things like logistics, or the number of people that can be reasonably fed, and the military participation ratio to calculate ancient armies. The mpr is the number of soldiers compared to the population that a society could field, and 25% was the upper limits for any society and the normal about 15%. The final number at Cumorah was listed as about 230,000 and 15% of that ratio is 35,000, right in between the numbers listed in Mormon 2:9 (42,000) and 2:25 30,000). (See Mormon 6:7 as well, which suggests women and children were in the order of battle and strengthens the idea that the final number is total.) Even then, that total number might be unit names and not numbers, and provide historical examples. A Roman century for example only had 80 soldiers at full strength. Finally, I conclude with a case study of Moroni 9. The most brutal in the BoM, I show how logistics and a wider military study effect spiritual principles. The widows at the tower of Sherrizah, starved because the army took the food. And I suggested, again based on ample historical study, that cannibalism wasn't just the result of spiritual decay but a practical effect of armies that act like locusts. If the numbers were accurate, or accurately repeated the mistakes of ancient historians, the BoM is thoroughly consistent with ancient texts.

I also include a short introduction and conclusion that explain my methodology reinforce my main points. I know many of you are busy, but I'm doing this on Thanksgiving Eve because I know you might want something in between your turkey induced sleep and pie produced coma. Or you might just need to keep your sanity with the inlaws. The book is short, and the hour reading it and a few minutes spent providing your feedback would help me a great deal. Plus, you essentially get the beta copy of the book for free. If you're interested, please send me a private message here with your email address, or you can contact me on my blog at Serious reviewers only please.

If we truly accept that the Nephites existed in a time and place, then they must exhibited all the foibles of other countries, including the ancient kingdom of Israel that adopted pagan practices and power politics of their neighbors. Yet when we read the BoM, we don't ask how the Nephite rulers were naturally concerned over their self interest, and perhaps unaware of the negative consequences their decisions could have. Its time we start reassessing Nephite leadership and ask if maybe the wolf had a point.

Thanks for reading this, and hopefully my manuscript!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Book Review: Even Unto Bloodshed

The Interpreter posted my review of Even Unto Bloodshed. I thought the book was an excellent discussion of LDS scriptures and thought on war, and a vital resource for understanding the need and legitimacy of just war, but you should read the whole review of course.  There is already a comment there and several on Dan Peterson's blog where people want to re litigate the war in Iraq or continue to promote their anti war views.  Three cheers for doing a gospel topic search of the word peace! That should settle the matter haha.  These tendencies only underscore how vital it is that Latter Day Saints have serious and substantive discussion of the topic, without needlessly charging the issue.  (Like calling people war mongering propagandists or saying they have a "hatred and unquenchable thirst for revenge" if they disagree with you.)  Anyways, I can highly recommend the book.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Mesoamerican Anthology- The Gadianton Chapter

Neal Rappleye has a fantastic suggestion about a Mesoamerican anthology. There are many volumes written about the Book of Mormon, but no volume collects all the research into one place. He suggested a section on warfare and I replied with my thoughts below:

This would be a great volume that I would buy. Though I think instead of basically having a collection of reprints, there could be a great deal of new material added. (To which I'd love to contribute.) Some of my research that seems to be inexhaustible concerns the use of "robbers" and their place in history throughout the world. In chapter two of my book, Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents, I show that both late Roman historians and Chinese sources during the period of division use the term robber to delegitimize competing centers of power. It also illustrated the declining power of the central government, the role of predatory and protective bands of robbers, and the significant overlap between secular banditry and political military insurgency.

In my second book I look at the akuto, or "evil gangs" of Samurai from Japanese history and found supporting conclusions. They definitely represented competing between officials appointed by the rising shogunate and those from the declining central government. These officials often fought for the right to tax lands, and for exclusive economic rights. The term was rather flexible and used by both sides much the same way modern writers throw around "freedom fighter" and "terrorist." In fact, I found court records that show competing law suits where they both labelled each other as member of an evil gang. I found other instances where large landowners and their retainers were variously accused of being an akuto, and then appointed as a local manager by the same official. This is because they knew the area so well they were often both the cause of and solution to the problems. I use several specific case studies which show the intense competition among land owners and officials, economic collusion among some of them (compare to the various comparisons between the Gadianton Robbers and the mafia), and various paramilitary actions that represented gang warfare between large landowners that even rose to insurgent like tactics.

Finally, I just did some research into Mao Zedong's early insurgency in Jiangxi province (and just presented it in London) and I found so much more supportive evidence. Again, there is a great deal of overlap between remote terrain (think of G robbers in the mountains), ethnic tension (I argue the G robbers were others), lack of government control (they always appear in the BoM during times of government weakness), and the overlap between banditry, local economic interests of leading figures (the "get gain" that is labelled as the chief sin of G robbers) and political military rebellion (3rd Nephi 3). I even found sources from Communist leaders to the brethren of secret societies. Many bandit groups found the oaths of loyalty a good way to replace the familial connections of larger more well established families (and the resulting political and economic cartels they formed that controlled the provinces.) Many of these elite families had their own private militias that would fight the bandits. At various times both the private forces and bandits would be legitimized by the provincial government. (Just like the akuto in Japanese history.) The Communists in turn found than an alliance with local bandit groups offered additional muscle and intimate knowledge of local areas and successful tactics. This in turn led to intra party concerning how much weight they should give to banditry. And the Nationalists labelled called their efforts "bandit encirclement and suppression campaigns." Of course, these campaigns can be analyzed and compared to specific verses in the BoM that described the Nephites attempts to combat the Gadianton Robbers.

Well I think I've gone on enough lol. (Like I said. I've been surprised at how the more I research the more I see that applies to the BoM.) But needless to say I think there is space for at least a chapter on historical instances of robbers and secret societies. As you said, Brant Gardner has some good material on it. Though as you see, I think there is enough for a book that focuses on robbers in history. Using specific details from half a dozen time periods and locations we can tease additional information from the BoM about what this combination looked like. I have several historians that specifically cite how difficult it is to strictly define them as they seem to cross so many boundaries. Not to mention they are sometimes an existential threat to the Nephites but we have almost nothing about them.

Thanks for the great post! As you can tell I love to think, read, and write about this so I appreciate the suggestion and chance to offer my thoughts. (I love it so much, I had to post this in two parts!)

What do you think readers?  I know I have at least a few authors that regularly read my blog.  And I know I have many readers were going to be part of the proposed anthology I discussed a long time ago.  I also have at least one expert on insurgency that reads as well.  What would you include?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Another Footnote: Even Unto Bloodshed.

I had the pleasure of receiving a review copy Even unto Bloodshed: An LDS Perspective on War.  That review coming out soon in the Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Studies. The book was an excellent discussion of scriptures regarding warfare and provides a firm foundation for an LDS theory of just war.  I particular enjoyed his thorough and powerful dismantling of pacifist arguments. I've run into annoying proponents of those theories before and its always nice to have articulate arguments support what you've been arguing for a long time.

He also made some good arguments in defense of preemptive war, including a moral obligation to wage that kind of warfare on occasion.  (Some people suddenly dropped their nachos during their apoplectic rage.) While defending preemptive war he said in footnote 4 on page 298: Morgan Deane covers the topic of offensive tactics in warfare more fully than I do here, and with a focus on different examples.

I appreciate the comment, and I do focus a bit more on military history and historical practice. That is one of the things I didn't notice as much in his book.  I'm glad I'm able to contribute to the conversation.  Its a bit frustrating to realize that I have so many good ideas that don't seem to get noticed, but my words are getting out there. I do have a highly praised book, Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents: Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon. I have a journal article under consideration at Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought describing the unexamined consequences of the great war; and I'll shortly submit another to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies about the arguments Amalickiah used to gain power. (Frequent readers will notice how those sound familiar. I figured if my second book is finally published these will make great advertisements for it. Not to mention that each publication will include a byline mentioning my current book.)

I'm also trying to get into contact with somebody at FairMormon for a presentation next year on insurgency. I already have a good title for it taken from my current research: Climbing a Tree to Find a Fish: Insurgency in the Book of Mormon.  Of course, I just presented the results of that new research in London.  I have great things happening and I'm happy to participate in a wider academic discussion. Thanks for reading.