Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Vandal Wars, Evil Gangs, and the Fall of Chang'an: Three Untold Stories in the Book of Mormon

[The following is the introduction to a paper I've completed and I'm now editing. I hope you enjoy the preview.]

          There are many military history topics that recall events in the Book of Mormon. The comparisons are intriguing and initially seem superficial, and they rarely argue for any dependence between the text, but teasing out additional insights through the use of judicious comparisons can bring clarity and power to the scriptures.  The following three stories are examples of comparisons started by a basic hook, which, upon closer examination reveal important insights in the text of the Book of Mormon. In the first example, Moroni employed tactics that Belisarius faced during the Vandal War.  Each editor of the history, Mormon and Procopius placed their respective generals, Moroni and Belisarius, in a narrative that highlighted their worthiness. But Belisarius invading the Vandals led to another discussion of offensive war, and suggests we reconsider our understanding of the dissensions listed in the war chapters.  The akuto in medieval Japan reinforces the idea that Nephite power shifted and was contested by rival forces in the book of Helaman. It looks at the myriad ways that akuto and robbers are seen in society, from the traditional idea of a mere bandit, to a more complicated power struggle between competing centers, economic collusion, and guerrilla warfare.  Finally, the quick fall of the capital in Helaman one, compared to the fall of Chang’an in medieval China, suggested that Nephite society was not as powerful as they seemed after winning the great war at the end of Alma. So what begin as three stories actually turn into three untold stories embedded in the text that can be teased out through intriguing comparisons from a wide variety of sources.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Peace, PR Statements, and Connor Boyack Attacks

Connor Boyack is a computer programmer and frequent political commenter in the state of Utah. I’ve previously critiqued his fallacious and unsound positions. In this article Boyack incorrectly attacks the church's PR statement based on the bias produced by his political leaning. This causes him, among other things, to sound an uncertain trumpet, seemingly sets himself as the church spokesmen, and violate Godwin’s Law.  (All quotes from Boyack's article)

“The events of 9/11 served as a catalyst for the neocolonial interventionist power brokers in government to advance their agenda.”

Radical libertarians have had many years to perfect their anti-Bush screeds, I’m fairly educated but I have little idea what this gobbledy gook means. I'm a big fan of using plain English with as few specialized terms and jargon as possible. This helps you stay clear and concise while being accessible to non specialists.  Jargon like this actually obscures more than it clarifies.  To borrow a phrase from scriptures about the importance of clarity, “if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle?" First Corinthians 14:18-9  Ironically, the subject of Boyack’s attacks is the church PR statement and editorial in the church paper that clarified a talk from Elder Nelson.  I tend to think that God’s church has a right to clarify its statements, especially in a time of 24 hour news cycles and internet echo chambers that didn’t exist in Christ’s day. 

“The Church was quick to respond—perhaps anticipating a PR nightmare like the one that happened just five months later to the Dixie Chicks.”

Here Boyack mind reads.  As I stated above, most likely the church didn’t want false or misleading information to be spread about the church. Given that the church just recently invited a PR nightmare by excommunicating Kate Kelly and possible John Dehlin and Rock Waterman; and they faced massive protests, vandalism, and even anthrax scares at the temples over the marriage proposition in California, I don’t think the church is worried about a little blowback.  Instead, I think Boyack is projecting his interpretation onto the church to advance his political agenda at the expense of appointed church spokesmen.  

“I can’t help but feel that this was a missed opportunity to boldly stand on some of the most important doctrine we have.  Did Jesus back down when challenged? Charged with blasphemy—a “crime” for which capital punishment was mandated—the high priest demanded of him, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus’ response: “I am.” There was no mincing words here, nor walking back of Christ’s claims.”

Here Boyack is claiming to interpret what Jesus would do…for Christ’s chosen mouth pieces on this Earth.  While every member should be an active thinker that tries to faithfully apply the Spirit in their lives, I find this interpretation by Boyack rather unseemly, and an attempt to place himself ahead of the prophets and appointed church personnel that issued the clarifying statements.  As I stated above, I trust the appointed church spokesmen to sound the trumpet more than radical libertarians that claim that honor for themselves.  While many might complain that PR statements are not “official” doctrine, I happen to think that church newspapers and church issues are fairly authoritative, and that I don’t get to pick and choose which ideas I like (let alone insert what I would say instead) based on my political leanings as though I’m at a buffet.

“Of course, this was merely a successful implementation of a long-known strategy perhaps summed up best by Hermann Goering, one of the highest ranking Nazis who survived the war and who was well versed in propaganda. The people ‘can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders,’ he remarked. ‘That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.’”

No radical libertarian screed is complete with the violation of Godwin's Law.  To show how shallow this comparison is I want to briefly compare the leadership of Bush and Obama.  Sometimes a good leader has to drag the country along with them. They have to use their bully pulpit (a phrase first inspired by Teddy Roosevelt and his dynamic use of the presidency to accomplish his agenda), to change public opinion.  Bush did so. He presented evidence (though maligned by critics it was a fair assessment agreed upon by Clinton and British officials).  And he got authorization for the use of force from Congress. Obama on the other hand, leads from behind.  He makes tough sounding statements about red lines or bringing people to justice, even as dictators ignore those lines or those escaping justice live out in the open.  So instead of comparing Bush’s case for war to Nazi propaganda, you could simply call it leadership from a man that tried to convince the country of what he knew was just and necessary.  Of course many people have different interpretations and assessments of Bush's actions, but to immediately jump to Nazi propaganda is fallacious and insulting.

 “I suppose what I’m saying is that rather than shying away from the substance of what Elder Nelson said, it would have been great if the PR department doubled down, positioning Christ’s church as the leading voice of peace amid a cacophony of conspiring warmongers.”

This is heart of Boyack’s message. He may think he is sounding like a great peace advocate.  Yet I believe this reveals his duplicity. In fact, as I was reading my previous post on the matter, I think my analysis completely applies here. As I stated in September of 2012:

“A short time ago I wrote about the duplicity [in a different article than above] of the antiwar critic. I argued that when the prophet agrees with their political views the critics mistakenly attach too much weight to that statement. Then they use those words as a cudgel with which to beat their opponents. When a prophet does not agree with them, they use various qualifiers to negate their words. These include things such as speaking as a man, speaking under the cultural influence of the day, or simply giving their non-binding opinion. While this sounds disrespectful towards a prophet, the last reason is actually the correct one as outlined by the church. So critics proof text their favorite quotes which agree with their political leanings, and then apply an inappropriate amount of weight to them. They take their cherry picked arguments and beat their opponents over the head with them. And they cast aside their words when they don't."
I think we see that here. Boyack latched onto Nelson’s words because they fit his political agenda. Then he castigates approved means of church communications which places Nelson’s talk within the context of Mormon doctrine, both of which support just wars.  This is supremely ironic, because Nelson talked about renouncing war and proclaiming peace. In order to advance his agenda, Boayck lobbed grenades towards everything from the Deseret News to this author, by indirectly calling them Nazis, cowardly, and un Christ like (not to mention his use of Gadianton Robbers to describe his opponents elsewhere.)  I think if we were to start applying Elder Nelson's talk, we could start with our political discourse. I would add, we could also place more trust in the words of our leaders, even when it disagrees with our deeply held political beliefs.  And it doesn't take a PR statement to understand and apply those ideas.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Plundering the Narrative: Gadianton Robbers and First Nephi 1:2-3

[I wrote the following in application to the upcoming Mormon Theology Seminar.  I faced tough competition and wasn't selected, but I hope to pursue these ideas in the future.  I was limited to 750 words and had to be incredibly brief.]
           Hugh Nibley and John Tvedtness described the colophon in First Nephi 1:2-3.[1] These colophons served as ancient seal of approval or copyright. Noel Reynolds argued persuasively that Nephi’s record is the beginning of a political text that justified Nephi’s rule over his brothers, and Nephite supremacy over the Lamanites.[2]  Conversely, then, colophon like statements from Nephite dissenters and opponents reveal counter and subversive political narratives. The letter from the Gadianton Robber, Giddianhi, in Third Nephi 3: 9-10 is particularly revealing.  His entire letter, in addition to having a colophon similar to Nephi’s, used and subverted the Nephite foundational narrative to enhance the power of his pre-invasion propaganda.
 Nephi says that his words are true, and that he makes them according to the “learning of his father, [consisting] of the learning of the Jews and language of the Egyptians.” (1 Nephi 1: 3) Giddianhi references his position as governor of his society, “which society and works thereof I know to be good, and they are of an ancient date and have been handed down to us.” (3 Nephi 3: 9) So both writers recognized their position in society, testified of its truth or goodness, and referenced the heritage that influenced their writings.   
But a detailed comparison of the two chapters reveals even deeper connections.  An often quoted modern phrase is based on the “tender mercies” found in First Nephi 1:20. In contrast to the tender mercies of the Lord described by Nephi, Giddianhi claimed that he wrote his letter and sealed it with his own hand, “feeling for your welfare, because of the firmness in that which you believe to be right, and your noble spirit in the field of battle.”(3 Nephi 3:5) The leader Giddianhi claimed that the Nephite’s firm faith moved him to offer mercy, and the Gadianton leader will grant them a reprieve, or deliver them from their impending destruction.  So it is possible that Giddianhi recalled the Nephite’s foundational narrative with a twist to enhance his claim to leadership. The robber offered his tender mercies instead of God’s. Many ancient rulers cast themselves as God, part God, or the only approved conduit for God’s power. So what seemed like fake empathy from a slimy politician instead reads more like an exchange between Themistocles and Xerxes during the second Persian Invasion. 
The verses before the tender mercies described the preaching of Lehi to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In that preaching Lehi “plainly” warned of their destruction and described their means of their escape.  (First Nephi 1:18-19)  In contrast, the Nephites were offered a chance to know their secret works, and if accepted, Giddianhi offered an oath that they wouldn’t be destroyed but accepted as brothers. (3 Nephi 3: 8)  Again, this is a slight twist of the Nephite belief system. As modern members repeatedly hear, the “strict heed” a member gives to their oaths and covenants prevents their destruction. Thus, entering into an oath with the robbers would prevent the Nephite destruction; just as the inhabitants of Jerusalem could escape destruction from the Babylonians by obeying God’s word given to Lehi. The chief Governor reinforced the concept of deliverance through honoring covenants after Lachoneus rejected Giddanhi’s offer and instead commanded the Nephites to pray, and prophesied to them until they repented. (3 Nephi 3: 12, 16).
In conclusion, Giddanhi subverted the Nephite political narrative from First Nephi 1 to enhance the pre-invasion propaganda within his letter.  He sounded merciful in response to Nephite firmness in battle, by suggesting that he instead of God was the source of tender mercies. He prophesied of their destruction in 30 days, which recalled Lehi’s fulfilled prophecy Jerusalem’s destruction. (Nephite prophets used this fulfilled prophecy to bolster their case on other occasions. see Helaman 8:21.) Finally he argued the Nephite’s only escape was to accept his oath and be initiated into his society. Subverting Nephi’s political narrative 600 years later begins to show how Nephi’s colophon and remaining writing established a ruling ideology. This subversion adds sophistication and power to Giddianhi’s arguments, and suggests one reason why his threat remained so potent and seductive. 

[1] Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 17-9.  John A. Tvedtnes, "Colophons in the Book of Mormon," in John Sorenson and Melvin Thorne, eds., Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), 32-37.
[2]Noel Reynolds, “Nephi’s Political Testament,” in John Sorenson and Melvin Thorne, eds., Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991).

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Now Available- Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents: Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon

Cross posted from Arsenal of Vencie
Morgan Deane, a military historian and former Marine sustains the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient document and shows how text contains a strong and distinctive voice on military matters that should be taken seriously by modern readers and even policy makers and generals.  Through a Hugh Nibley like command of ancient societies from Mesoamerica, China, and Rome, as well as a grasp of military theory from Clausewitz to Sun-Tzu he expands upon the Jaredite civil war, the face of battle, logistics, ethno-religious conflict, the political dimensions of conflict and insurgency, and strategy.  He specifically valorizes Captain Moroni against a rise in attacks against his character, presents a Nephite and Latter Day Saint just war theory, and shows how The Book of Mormon defends the use pre-emptive war. In a world filled with strife and conflict, Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents will help the reader understand the context and society in which the Nephites lived…and died, and provide critical tools to evaluate modern military issues ranging from how to understand the threat posed by terrorists to assessing the wisdom of military action. 

About the Author:

Morgan Deane earned degrees in history from Southern Virginia and Norwich University. He served in the Marine Corps as an infantry riflemen, squad leader and intelligence analyst. He is the author of “Forming the Formless: Sun-Tzu and the Military Logic of Ender Wiggins,” and “Offensive Warfare in The Book of Mormon and a Defense of the Bush Doctrine.” He has authored numerous articles for the Encyclopedias of Military Philosophy and Russia at War, and contributed to text books on American and World History. Currently he teaches history at Brigham Young University-Idaho, American Military University, and elsewhere; and he is a PhD student at Kings College London. He and his daughter Lorraine live in Las Vegas, Nevada.