Monday, July 1, 2019

Sharpening Swords and Sharpening Oneself- Applying Research

I’m working on new project tentatively titled, A Soldier in Armor Does not Bow: Classical Debates on War and Government Beyond Sun-Tzu.  Sunzi (Sun-Tzu) tends to overshadow the rest of the commentary on classic Chinese military theory. The translations are too many to count and just the famous ones include Giles, Griffith, Cleary and Sawyer. And this is before getting into various proliferating boutique editions sold at major book stores.

But this focus on Sunzi borders on obsession and it blinds the general public to the many more works in existences, hinders those with academic training in military theory from the rich potential of the rest of the corpus, and the texts beyond Sunzi are often ignored by the majority of scholars who specialize in these texts and instead focus their research on the ethical, metaphysical, and literary qualities inside them. Xunzi is an excellent example of this trend. He was one of the most influential and sophisticated philosophers in pre imperial China and is the subject of dozens of books and essays. Yet there is no work that devotes significant attention to Xunzi's military theories, despite the fact he thought the topic of armed conflict enough important to devote an entire treatise to it.

The project will take advantage of my academic study in Chinese military history, an extensive background in general military thought including both ancient and modern thinkers, and the increasing number of English translations of seminal volumes that remained to be studied.  These include new translations of the Mozi, the Dao De Jing, the Analects of Confucious (Kong Fuzi), Seven Military Classics, Huainanzi, Sun Bin’s Art of War, Shizi, Guanzi, Mencius, Xunzi, Yi Zhou Shu, the Pheasant Cap Master of Heguanzi and the so called "lost classics" of the Yellow Emperor. When combined with the existing the Book of Lord Shang, Han Feizi and fragments or excerpts from the works of thinkers like Shen Puhai and Jia Yi this becomes a sold corpus. Taken together they cover a broad spectrum of Chinese thought and debate among Confucianists, Legalists, Daoists, the methods of Shen Pu Hai and their various combinations and synthesis.

Despite being publicly available, some of them for close to 100 years, very little has been done to systematically assess and evaluate these texts. Focusing on Sunzi to the detriment of the rest of the military thought is a tragedy. That misplaced focus fails to recognize that moral questions that governments wrestled with. Sunzi’s focus on purely rational calculation obscures the debate around moral matters that many writers contend strengthened both the government and soldiers. In some places, Sunzi’s advice directly contradicts sound commands regarding the conducts of army towards civilians, and the treatment of soldiers. Important concepts such as shih and weighing (quan) are elaborated much more fully in other texts.  The misplaced focus also ignores the history of the China and its application. Many leaders such as those that unified China in the 2nd century BC and the Kaangxi Emperor of the late 18th century AD respectively used other theories and called the classics like Sunzi “worthless.”

As part of that project I’ve seen a good deal of material that can be applied to the Book of Mormon and our study of it.
      Why Study? This quote supplies advice about the role of knowledge in sharpening oneself and its relationship to warfare.

Learning is like sharpening. Suppose fine copper from Mount Kunwu and excellent tin from zhufu are worked by the famous blacksmiths of Gan and Yue and forged into a sword. Yet if they do not use both fine and course whetstones on it, then when using it to stab it will not enter, and when using it to slash, it will not cut…Nowadays, people all know to sharpen swords, but no one knows to sharpen themselves. Learning is the sharpening of the self.[1]

If you change sharpen swords to being a jerk on social media it is even more insightful. Now that I think about it, this quote, “Nowadays, people all know how to be a jerk, but no one knows how to learn” sounds like something that would be posted on the archways at facebook.

2      The authorship of historic texts: The man named Guanzi is thought to have lived in the 7th century BC. But his writings weren’t complied until about 26BC and his writings contain a great deal of material that responds to contemporary debates in the late warring states period. This has led to debates among different theories that are repeated in some measure in regards to almost every text.

The two extremes range from it being written by Guanzi or entirely written by somebody else. The middle views are more nuanced and include a corpus of older material that was added by later scholars or disciples. Another theory is that writings from a certain school were written in Guanzi’s name or attributed to him by the editor of his works in 26BC. This means that different authors wrote texts that discussed good ministry, authoritative Confucianism, and good policies towards the people and the unknown authors sought more authority for their works by invoking Guanzi’s name, or it was a way to classify them and the Guanzi School simply became Guanzi.

This has the most application regarding the Book of Abraham. I’m basically familiar with the issues regarding the Book of Abraham though I can’t say exactly how much of the above about Guanzi applies to this. The LDS gospel topics essays says, “[Abraham] is the author not the copyist” which implies that the line, “by my own hand,” in the introduction is a bit more nuanced. This might inspire critics to say that apologists are stretching or twisting to explain away uncomfortable facts when I can read the same debate about almost 30 different ancient texts. So I can say it’s really pretty normal to assume that ancient writings have rather complicated provenance and the Book of Abraham, as an assumed ancient writing, is no different.

3       Anachronisms: This is a favorite hobby horse (or Tapir) of critics but it’s similarly flawed when viewed from a historical perspective. The one that popped out to me the most was an argument from Tai Kong. This text was supposedly written in the later Zhou Dynasty around the 10th century BC. But then this ancient Tai Kong directly addresses a specific problem to the latter Warring States Period:

“When the people are not engaged in agriculture and sericulture but instead give rein to their tempers and travel about as bravados, disdaining and transgressing the laws and prohibitions, not following the instructions of officials, it harms the king’s transforming influence.”[2]

These are the same types of individuals that legalists like Han Feizi criticized.[3] They were viewed as honorable people but they didn’t fight for the state and actually undermined it so they were often criticized by government officials.

The response to this isn’t that the book is a clear forgery that now has no use. Going back to point one the explanation depends on who you ask. But it could very well be that later writers added things to a core text which introduced the anachronisms. Most anti Mormon critics tend to move the book quickly into the total fraud category, but an alternate explanation is that this represents the long provenance of the book going through the hands of difference editors (such as Joseph Smith translating Mormon’s translation of Ether.) 

4       Related to the anachronisms was the moral outrage over violence and how it contribution to the texts and how people viewed the authenticity of them:  Confucians such as Mencius were quick to disqualify texts like the Tai Kong over their anachronisms because its depiction of brutal violence, spy craft like corrupting with women, and revolutionary nature made it unsalable for Confucians. Sunzi was often criticized because he didn’t seem to care about morality like Confucians did. Guanzi, the good Confucian minister advocated for proper treatment of the people, Sunzi said cast them into hopeless situations in order to stimulate the greatest effort. Sunzi said that warfare was the greatest affair of state but many others would argue that it was the altars of state that was most important.[4]  To the utter horror of Confucian historians the Yi Zhou Shu included how a conquering ruler cut off over 1 million ears and captured another 3 million.[5]

The point is that editors tell the stories they want to and often make judgements about the veracity of documents based on their personal beliefs. These judgements can be seen by carefully looking at what is included and how it’s included. Before you start to say there I go again, this is the same methodology that Grant Hardy employed when he pointed out the long digression after Nephi comes back with the plates and similar inferences that can be made about Nephi’s actions.

Hardy discussed how Nephi came back from killing Laban and obtaining the plates. Instead of recording Lehi’s reactions it does something really unusual, it details the words of Sariah, and then it says how Lehi made an offering for sacrifice. By reading the text critically and looking at what was included and not included we might tentatively believe, according to Hardy, that Lehi did not approve of Nephi’s actions. The larger point is that a careful reading of the text suggests possible unintended consequences and actions that Mormon (once we leave the plates of Nephi) often tried to massage away from the text. This doesn’t hurt the text but should increase our appreciation of it.

5       Answering Questions that Weren’t Asked: One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is finding that the Book of Mormon actually answers great questions that I never asked until I started reading these Chinese texts. I’ve posted these previously on my blog so I won’t repeat them here. But you can find much more about battlefield morality and the role of ritual in camp.  I’ve got a paper based on this submitted for an upcoming conference so I hope I can present this to a larger audience.

Those are the major factors that apply to the Book of Mormon. My extensive readings and specific examples I provide are reasons why I find the criticisms of both anti Mormons and fundamentalists rather shallow. They often stem from a lack of knowledge and inappropriate use of the limited knowledge they do have. Its too often scholarship warped into a narrow pursuit, which is why I’m so excited about this book that will bring classical Chinese military theory to a much wider audience.  

Thanks for reading. I work as a freelance author so if found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below or buying one of my books. It will help me continue my research so I can bring you more of these. Thank you! 

[1] Shizi: China’s First Syncretist, Paul Fischer trans., (Columbia University Press, 2012,) 58.
[2] The Six Secret Teachings of Tai Kong, in The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, Ralph Sawyer trans., (Westview Press, 1993), 48.
[3] Han Feizi Basic Writings, Burton Watson trans., (Columbia University Press, 2003,) 106.
[4] Tai Kong, Seven Military Classics, 64; Sun Pin Military Methods, Ralph Sawyer trans., Westview Press, 1995. 84; Five Lost Classics: Tao, Huanglao, and YingYang in Han China, Robin Yates trans., (New York City, Ballantine Books, 1997) 57; Han, Watson, 50; Basic Writings of Xunzi, Burton Watson trans., (Columbia University Press, 1963,) 71, Wuzi, Seven Classics, 206.
[5] Robine McNeal, To Conquer and Govern: Early Chinese Military Texts from the Yi Zho Shu, (University of Hawaii Press, 2012), 94.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Hastings, History, Human Nature, and the Book of Mormon

A great feeling in my research is when I read something that supports the analysis I’ve previously done. This has happened in the matter of preemptive warfare, insurgency and the misuse of words. I'm doing a project on the Battle of Hastings and wrote this analysis:

The rear guard action possibly suggests that Harold had gained some loyal support among his followers. Though it’s also possible and more likely even this was simply self-preservation. The foot soldiers couldn’t out run the motivated cavalry forces, flush with victory and looking for easy kills. So the soldiers didn’t want to be lanced from behind as they were running and chose to form an ad hoc defensive position that turned out to be deadly for the pursuers disorganized by their enthusiastic chase.

I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing any information so I went and read some primary sources. Except for the knights coming upon a trench unaware, I was entirely correct about what happened just from intuition and here is the writing of Oderic Vitalis:

The Normans, finding the English completely routed, pursued them vigorously all . . . night, but not without suffering a great loss; for, galloping onward in hot pursuit, they fell unawares, horses and armor, into an ancient trench, overgrown and concealed by rank grass, and men in their armor and horses rolling over each other, were crushed and smothered. This accident restored confidence to the routed English, for, perceiving the advantage given them by the moldering rampart and a succession of ditches, they rallied in a body, and, making a sudden stand, caused the Normans severe loss…

Things like this are always a great pat on the back letting me know that I’m doing a good job of analyzing these events. They are also good reinforcements. I’ve had people pushback on my analysis and call me names for it. They are variously upset that I disagree with accepted narratives about the Book of Mormon and the heroes within it. I’ve been called a Marxist schmuck for suggesting the Gadianton Robbers might have had some legitimate complaints. (I find this especially ironic because I mocked accounts written by leftist reporters about the Chinese insurgency.)  When I suggested that Nephite leaders were elites protecting their interest, instead of accepting this as pretty normal conclusion after reassessing the text in critical fashion, fundamentalists suggested I was ruining the text of the Book of Mormon and personally attacked my righteousness.  

So why do I mention this here?  The same principles that let me correctly identity details about the Battle of Hastings before reading it are the same principles that make me offer new and innovative interpretations that should be uncontroversial things about the Book of Mormon. Human nature largely remains the same and its especially observable in matters of war and politics. Knowing that nature lets me guess how certain events happened at Hastings because I have a credible claim of knowing what they are thinking and feeling.

Ancient historical texts are written for a reason and weren’t as interested as modern historians in factual accuracy. In the case of Hastings many of the details were altered to support William’s claim to the English throne and Harold’s illegitimacy. The night before the Battle of Hastings historians reported the Normans as praying all night and confessing their sins, but the same source implies they looted London at the very moment William was coronated. So the texts often change or spin certain events, sometimes they present dubious claims to rule and attack the legitimacy of others. Just writing the previous sentence I couldn't help but think of competing Nephite and Lamanite founding narratives (Mosiah 10:13-17), though you could make the same observations about the competing claims to the English crown.  

Mormon’s goal was to present a spiritual message which meant at times that details were changed or left out. Except for times when they Nephite behavior invoked moral condemnation, the Nephites were the good guys. So their elites often did things like expand their power by conquering new lands (Alma 50), exaggerate the wickedness of their enemies, and protect their right to rule while portraying similar behavior from non-Nephites as wicked and scary. A particularly striking example happened after the Lamanites converted. When they became members of the good guy club suddenly their war like behavior, which was normally part of their depraved natures, became laudatory because they were part of the club fighting against Gadianton Robbers. To read more about these features of human nature please see this post.

As the title of my book implies, some texts try to portray some people as “Saints” and good guys opposing the bad guys and “Sinners.”  Just like the soldiers at the Battle of Hastings or William’s claim to the throne of England a critical assessment of the text reveals more about the behaviors of leaders in Book of Mormon. The reality is that people in the text are often closer to being both Saints and Sinners. As I often say, orthodox Mormons will fight to death that the Book of Mormon is historical, but then they choose to read the text like it’s a kids story or bad propaganda and attack those that read it as history. I will keep reading the text as historian reads histories. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Publications and My Newest Book on Modern Chinese Strategy

IISH / Stefan R. Landsberger / Private Collection; Recruiting poster from the 1970s. It is the cover of my book and I like how it shows a different facet of Chinese history than dragons or Western stereotypes. 

I’ve got many exciting non Book of Mormon news to share. I published a piece about supposedly new technology revolutions in two different places. Both Real Clear Defense and The National Interest are national publications with wide audiences so they represent good feathers in my cap.

Today, May 24th, I checked Real Clear Defense where a piece of mine was also published. It was on Sunzi and China’s possible preemptive war.  All of this becomes a nice preamble for my biggest news. It wasn’t on the Book of Mormon so I didn’t talk about it much here, but my book on modern Chinese warfare dropped yesterday. It’s listed at a great price and you don’t have to take my word for its quality, as all of the publications linked to above are from the same author, using the same base of knowledge, and some parts of the above pieces came from the book!! They were good enough for leading publications so they should be good for your coffee table too.  

The title is Dragon’s Claws with Feet of Clay: A Primer on Modern Chinese Strategy. The first half of the title acknowledges that China is doing scary things, but the second half of the title suggests that China isn’t nearly as powerful as the click bait articles say. If you are reader of this blog you probably already know and like my writing style, it’s just on a slightly different subject. Considering China is in the news on a weekly basis you will amaze your friends and be the smartest person in the room after reading this book. Make sure to grab your copy today!!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Notes on Book of Mormon Insurgency from Late Roman History

I’ve been trying to go through the entire thing, but I haven’t made it through yet. I have found some great material that reinforces what I’ve said about insurgency before and provides insights into the Book of Mormon generally. Amminaus Marcellinus was a late Roman historian that provides valuable insight and as Hugh Nibley said, when we come to expect an outrageous collection of potpourri we instead find confirming context.
14.2.1-2: For the Isaurians  too, whose way it is now to keep the peace and now put everything in turmoil by sudden raids, abandoned their occasional secret plundering expeditions and, as impunity stimulated for the worse their growing boldness, broke out in a serious war. For a long time they had been inflaming their warlike spirits by restless outbreaks, but they were now especially exasperated, as they declared, by the indignity of some of their associates, who had been taken prisoner, having been thrown to beasts of prey in the shows of the amphitheatre at Iconium, a town of Pisidia—an outrage without precedent.
And, in the words of Cicero,  as even wild animals, when warned by hunger, generally return to the place where they were once fed, so they all, swooping like a whirlwind down from their steep and rugged mountains, made for the districts near the sea; and hiding themselves there in pathless lurking-places and defiles as the dark nights were coming on-the moon being still crescent and so not shining with full brilliance—they watched the sailors….[then attacked] and since their natural ferocity was fired by greed, they spared no one, even of those who surrendered, but massacred them all and without resistance carried off the cargoes, led either by their value or by their usefulness.
The key comparisons are in bold. This list could get quite long but just a brief look includes “being stirred up to anger” (Helaman 11: 24) and the next verse was “murder and plunder…done from wilderness and secret places” (11:25). They, or their lambskins, were died in blood being great and terrible and recalls wild beasts (3rd Nephi 4:7). Speaking of beasts Gildas described mountain insurgents as a hive of bees (1.26). They used their tough terrain to hide and defeat Nephite armies: “sally forth from the hills, and out of the mountains, and the wilderness, and their strongholds,” (3rd Nephi 4:1). (More on the Nephite army’s defeat below) “Get gain” (Helaman 7:21) is repeated frequently throughout the books of Helaman and 3rd Nephi speaking to their greed.

The most interesting part might be the outrage that stoked them to war. It’s not very popular to say it, (I’ve been called a Marxist Schmuck for doing so) but a critical reading suggests that Nephite misrule gave the robbers legitimate complaints.

From my 2016 FAIR presentation:  
There is evidence that the Gaidnaton Robbers were really just seeking land reform. At the end of this phase of conflict in 3 Nephi 6:3, the peace treaty specifically included distribution of land. It reads that Nephite leaders granted unto those robbers who had entered into a covenant to keep the peace… “lands, according to their numbers, that they might have, with their labors, wherewith to subsist upon; and thus they did establish peace in all the land.” That’s a rather odd peace treaty. If we take a straight forward reading of the text, the Gadianton Robbers revolt for no good reason beyond being influenced by the devil, and having a lust for money and mayhem. After many years of battle and devastation they caused, when they are finally defeated in epic battle they got…more land? And the next verse described the “equity and justice” of the peace (3 Nephi 6:4), which at least infers that those qualities were lacking in Nephite laws and might have inspired the insurgency in the first place.
Moving back to Amminaus:
14:2.5-6 Anger at [the slaughter of their people by the robbers] aroused the [Roman] soldiers quartered in the numerous towns and fortresses which lie near those regions, and each division strove to the best of its power to check the marauders as they ranged more widely, now in solid bodies, sometimes even in isolated bands. But the soldiers were defeated by their strength and numbers; for since the Isaurians were born and brought up amid the steep and winding defiles of the mountains, they bounded over them as if they were a smooth and level plain, attacking the enemy with missiles from a distance and terrifying them with savage howls. 
And sometimes our infantry in pursuing them were forced to scale lofty slopes, and when they lost their footing, even if they reached the very summits by catching hold of underbrush or briars, the narrow and pathless tracts allowed them neither to take order of battle nor with mighty effort to keep a firm footing; and while the enemy, running here and there, tore off and hurled down masses of rock from above, they made their perilous way down over steep slopes; or if, compelled by dire necessity, they made a brave fight, they were overwhelmed by falling boulders of enormous weight.
In addition to reinforcing the view of the Isaurians as a scary other and the ethno centric stereotypes we see about Lamanites from the Nephites in the Book of Mormon, I think this is simply a more detailed version of the defeat of the Nephites in Helaman 11:27-30:
Now behold, these robbers did make great havoc, yea, even great destruction among the people of Nephi, and also among the people of the Lamanites. And it came to pass that it was expedient that there should be a stop put to this work of destruction; therefore they sent an army of strong men into the wilderness and upon the mountains to search out this band of robbers, and to destroy them. But behold, it came to pass that in that same year they were driven back even into their own lands… And it came to pass in the commencement of the eighty and first year they did go forth again against this band of robbers, and did destroy many; and they were also visited with much destruction.
The Book of Mormon doesn’t say explicitly say this but the defeat recorded above implies it and the history Ammianus’ record provides the likely details. If I were asked to comment on terrain in general I would have suggested that rough mountain terrain would prohibit the deployment of broad military fronts, and mountain dwellers with specialized weapons (slings and boulders), as well as sure footing would prevail. In fact, in discussing the effects of Moroni’s reforms on the Nephites after he passed away as a national hero, I suggested that their heavy armor was a negative in fighting these bands. As I summarized on page 112:
It gave [the Nephites] a tactical advantage in some areas, but also made them more susceptible to fatigue and the hit and run tactics of their enemies. This cost them strategic mobility which allowed robbers to flourish in more inhospitable regions. The heavier infantry may have inspired the hit and run tactics and mountain hideouts of the insurgents. The greater logistical need of the heavy infantry couple with their inability to operate in rough terrain led to an increase of banditry in the land.
14.2.7: Therefore extreme caution was shown after that, and when the marauders began to make for the mountain heights, the soldiers yielded to the unfavourable position. When, however, the Isaurians could be found on level ground, as constantly happened, they were allowed neither to stretch out their right arms nor poise their weapons, of which each carried two or three, but they were slaughtered like defenceless sheep
 As I just wrote, heavy infantry is great on the plains and gives the counter insurgent forces a tactical advantage. The Romans gained the advantage by luring them out on level ground, and the Nephites won their climatic battles against the Gadianton Robbers by doing the same thing.


This has been a brief overview of what I see as a typical insurgency found in a few short verses from a late Roman historian. The Isurians were viewed as a barbaric and ferocious other, who subsisted on plunder, with complaints against the central government. They were excellent in the mountains and could defeat armies there but when they tried to plunder in the plains they could be caught and defeated.

On a larger point, this once again shows that my writings about insurgency in the Book of Mormon are not radical revisions for those who know history and military history. Heavy infantry has trouble in the mountains, ancient historians depict other ethnic groups negatively, states have trouble extending control in difficult terrain, rebellious groups can cause problems but often don’t have the state apparatus (taxes, agriculture, military) to overthrow the central government. The Book of Mormon fits comfortably within the context of an ancient insurgency and we need to the read the book with the same critical eye that we read other ancient histories.