Thursday, April 17, 2014

More than a Second Look: A Rebuttal to Rock Waterman

Rock Waterman operates a blog called Pure Mormonism, his post critiques my chapter, “Offensive Warfare in the Book of Mormon and a Defense of the Bush Doctrine,” from the book, War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives. Unfortunately his post does not offer a substantive criticism of my analysis, that relied upon fallacious reasoning and which failed to identify and respond to my main arguments. (All quotes from his article unless otherwise noted.)  

“But the Book of Mormon goes to great lengths to warn us that powerful men in our day would combine in secret to use fear as a means of getting us to believe the only way to save ourselves is to disobey God”

Is there a source for this, a specific scripture? This reminds me of many antiwar advocates who argue that the Book of Mormon is a book with a strong antiwar message, but can only say so by being so general that they ignore specific scriptures which justify, and even praise the use of force. That is why my chapter has an almost “Jesuitical” command and application of specific scriptures.[1] 

“you could expect to pay as much as $300.00 for [a copy of Warfare in the Book of Mormon]”

            This book is available on line for free. A failure to know about an online book is not a big deal. Except in this case it combines with other errors in his post to indicate shallow and dilettantish research of the subject. One of the first things I do before I start a research project is to identify and locate the sources. In fact my application to my PhD program largely hinged upon how well I performed that very skill.

“Deane's thesis is that ‘it was the bloodlust and general weakness of Nephite society that caused their failure,’”

That is not my thesis.  I listed my clear thesis in the traditional place of the last sentence of the first paragraph, and it reads: “But through a closer examine of the Nephite decisions, dictated as they were by terrain and technology, and comparison to the modern challenges that face America, we see that this neo-isolationist foreign policy is not only dangerous, but also an incorrect application of lessons from the Book of Mormon.(29)”

This is a bigger mistake than being ignorant of an online source. As I explain to my students, the thesis is the one sentence summary of your argument.  So if he doesn’t get my thesis correct, then he is tilting at windmills.  The sentence he quotes was my explanation of some supposedly clear cut antiwar verses in scripture.  While Waterman argues against my (not) thesis, he is actually  highlighting how I explore and explain specific scriptures, compared to the very few, in fact just two that are only referenced and not quoted, that show up in his post.  Yet, even though I’m the only one that presents scriptures and their analysis to support my argument, I am the one horribly “proof texting.” But to support that claim of proof texting he does not offer any verses and solid counter analysis, but simply vague and tendentious summations of the text.

“That is when he resigned as their leader, and that's the moment he points to in Mormon chapter four as the reason God allowed the entire Nephite civilization to be destroyed.”

I disagree, and don’t believe he adequately understands the chapter.  I review the supposedly explicit prohibitions against pre-emptive war and have this to say about the pivotal verse to which Waterman referred: “Mormon 3:15 also seems to prohibit preemptive war. However, the real sin recorded by Mormon was not the offensive tactics but rather the bloodlust and vengeance that dictated Nephite strategy (v. 14). The seemingly unequivocal anti-war sentiment expressed in 4:4 does not record any saying of the Lord, but can just as easily represent a strategic description. If this is a command against offensive action it is also contradicted by other writings by Mormon. This is most clearly seen in a reevaluation of Alma 48:14. The traditional understanding of this verse is a prohibition against offensive warfare. But a slightly different reading suggests the Nephites are rather commanded to never “give an offense” except “against an enemy” and “to preserve their lives” (Alma 61:3).

Finally, there is Mormon’s statement that the wicked punish the wicked (Morm. 4:5). This seems to describe the inverse of the ideal to trust in the Lord and implies, unsurprisingly, that making strategic decisions while not “under the influence” of the Spirit results in lousy choices with equally horrible results. Here Clausewitz can again lend us assistance with his description of an essential element of leadership called Coup De’ Oeil.  This term is complex but it basically describes both a commander’s ability to “see the light” and his strength to follow it. Clausewitz did not have any spiritual implications in mind, but it certainly applies here. When the Nephites were spiritually darkened, their ability to make correct military decisions were severely impaired. Thus the military prohibition described in the Book of Mormon is not against offensive or even preemptive action, but it is rather a condemnation against passive stupor, lacking trust in the Lord, and lusting for vengeance—in short, a darkened mind.(36-37)”

I have to include what I actually wrote here because much of Waterman’s analysis consists of saying that I am twisting, proof texting, and generally just being wrong; but he says so without offering any counter scriptures or even summarizing my arguments accurately.[2]  If he wanted to convince me he would have to show some specific reasons, not simply mentioning things like, “God does not justify nations going to war.”

“He points to examples where the Nephites were justified in conducting offensive maneuvers in order to defeat the Lamanites, without recognizing those offensive maneuvers took place on Nephite soil and not on the Lamanite's home turf.”

Huh?  Well, if your homeland is already invaded it wouldn’t be a pre-emptive strike. It would properly be termed an offensive defensive, which is exactly what I described in my chapter. This strategy relied upon strategically accepting an enemy attack, before maneuvering aggressively (i.e., offensively) to initiate a tactical battle of their choosing.  As I said in my (real) thesis statement, with the combination of surprise and increasingly deadliness of modern weapons, the offensive defensive strategy is foolish and dangerous.   

He seems to think that taking the offensive on foreign soil is the worst, as though there was a sign that said “50 miles until wicked strategy begins” outside of Zarahemla.  But as shown above, that is simplistic reasoning and doesn’t fully analyze the scriptures about offensive warfare.  (Ironically, this is the charge that he says about me.) As I said, and as he quoted, it was the dark minds that dictated strategy (and forfeited God’s favor) that brought destruction to the Nephites, not the soil upon which the offensive was conducted.  As I write about Gidgiddoni for example:   “In Third Nephi, Gidgiddoni claims that the Lord forbids them from preemptively going into their opponents lands (3:21). However, in that same campaign, Gidgiddoni maneuvered his army to cut off the robbers. His “offensive defensive” operations suggest, at least, a more flexible approach than an overly simplistic notion that offensive war [on whatever soil] is inherently immoral.(36)”

“I started my reading by skipping right to the pieces by two of my favorite experts on Mormonism and war, Joshua Madson and his father Ron Madson.”

As any freshman philosophy student can tell you, it is begging the question to support those with whom you already agree. (Not to mention that being a Mormon and opposing war doesn’t make you an “expert” in military matters. The lack of true experts commenting on warfare in the Book of Mormon is a major reason why I wrote my book.) Waterman’s fondness for the Madsons points to the likely reason for opposing to my article. But it is one thing to say an argument is wrong, but it is another to come up with solid and detailed analysis explaining why.  Before launching into his analysis Waterman said that members of the church should give the Book of Mormon a “second look.” I’ve read the book dozens of times and thought about it for many years; unfortunately, Waterman’s fallacious and superficial analysis that often missed my actual arguments doesn’t indicate the same focus. 

[1] Robert Wood, U.S. Naval War College, 
[2] I would also notice how many scriptures are cited by me. In two short paragraphs I cite six and quote two.  That is an example of in depth analysis. Compare it to Waterman's critique.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

War and Peace Review from Dialogue

         From the newest issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, a review of War & Peace in Our Time: Mormon Perspectives. Reviewer Rachel Esplin Odell calls the book "an instructive contribution that expands, deepens, and refines conversation about questions of war and peace in the LDS tradition." She concludes: "The diversity of LDS thought represented in this volume indicates that Mormon theological resources can inform an array of stances on both these complex concrete issues, as well as broader ethical principles regarding questions of war and peace. Indeed, given the varied and at times contradictory approaches to violence and politics in LDS history and scripture, it is difficult to identify a definitive Mormon paradigm regarding pacifism or just war. Rather than impede the growth of LDS thought on war and peace, however, the lack of such an obvious framework instead provides fertile ground for further discussion and examination of such subjects within the Mormon community."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Guest Post: Alma's Secret Combination in Mosiah 18

John Kammeyer won his Juris Doctor from the Northwestern School of Law.  He has three books of scriptural research published at The Nephite Art of War (2012), Warfare in Mesoamerica: Battles in the Book of Mormon (2012) The Book of Exodus: An Israelite Endowment (2014).  I enjoyed the idea of viewing Alma's movement as a political insurgency.  It reminded me of historian John Grimsley's argument that the Civil Rights movement was an insurgency, and suggests that our conception of warfare might expand beyond conventional armies and battles.
Would it surprise you to learn that Alma the Elder was running a secret combination? While his purposes were good rather than ill, it still had all the elements of a subversive group—and King Noah certainly took it as such.

(Mosiah 18:1a) And now, it came to pass that Alma, who had fled from the servants of King Noah, repented of his sins and iniquities,

The first thing an insurgency needs is a leader with a cause. Daniel C. Peterson and others note that few movements in the ancient world were purely secular, they almost always had a religious motive or rational.[1] There is nothing unsavory in saying Alma’s motives were mixed.

First Phase: The goal of an insurgency is to separate the people from the government. According to the Wikipedia:

Maoist theory of people's war divides warfare into three phases. In the first phase, the guerrillas gain the support of the population through attacks on the machinery of government and the distribution of propaganda.[2]

Every successful insurgency has to (1) discredit government ideology, and (2) replace it with one the people will believe in.

(Mosiah 18:1b) and went about privately among the people, and began to teach the words of Abinadi—

Alma would have started recruiting among his own household and servants. According to Che Guevara: “At the outset there is a more or less homogeneous group…that devotes itself almost exclusively to hiding in the wildest and most inaccessible places.”[3]

(Mosiah 18:3) And as many as would hear his word he did teach. And he taught them privately, that it might not come to the knowledge of the king. And many did believe his words.

Alma had established a kind of first-phase insurgency, politicizing the people, in Maoist terms, or “preparing the minds of the people to be faithful,” as Captain Moroni (Alma 48:7) would have put it. Or in another setting, it looks like the beginning of the Maccabean revolt, as described by Herzog and Gichon:

For approximately a year the rebels made their preparations in relative peace. Emphasis was laid on the reaffirmation of the principles of Judaism for which they were fighting. They defended themselves whenever necessary, but initiated few operations while organizing their base. At the same time they strengthened contacts with the villages in the countryside and spread the story of the revolt. Soon an effective intelligence-gathering organization was developed as a people’s militia grew under the leadership of Judah the Maccabee…[4]

Judah Maccabee laid the foundation of his movement on righteousness, and ideology, and recruiting the countryside.

Second Phase: According to Wikipedia:

In the second phase, escalating attacks are made on the government's military and vital institutions.[5]

This proceeds from indoctrination, to progressively denying the government the ability to function, by means of a functional organization.

(Mosiah 18:4) And it came to pass that as many as did believe him did go forth to a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts. (5) Now, there was in Mormon a fountain of pure water, and Alma resorted thither, there being near the water a thicket of small trees, where he did hide himself in the daytime from the searches of the king. (6) And it came to pass that as many as believed him went thither to hear his words.

The king was still looking for him. Noah assumed Alma would attempt to raise up a rebellion against him, and he “did hide himself…from the searches of the king.”

(Mosiah 18:7) And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma. Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him. And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord.

We note from Alma 31:5 that

…the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—

According to Che: “the guerrilla, having taken up inaccessible positions out of reach of the enemy...ought to proceed to the gradual weakening of the enemy.”[6]  Rather than subverting the government by the sword, Alma was subverting it by the word of God.

(Mosiah 18: 16) And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon; and they were in number about two hundred and four souls; yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God. (17) And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church.

A covenant, binding them to God and to their leader, Alma, would have been a powerful unifying element. They were swearing their lives to him and to God. They were serious about this.

Alma started to establish cells among the larger population:

(Mosiah 18:18) And it came to pass that Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

Initially, there were about four cells, each led by a priest, while Alma hid out in his wilderness refuge. It was an urban conspiracy, like the later Gadianton Robbers. While building the organization, he continued to indoctrinate.

(Mosiah 18:19) And he commanded them that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets.

To maintain the loyalty of the group, he had to keep them focused on his teachings, his ideology. There could be no rivals to his leadership.

(Mosiah 18:20) Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people. (21) And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another. (22a) And thus he commanded them to preach.

To subvert the government, he had to keep the people focused on the covenant with God.

(Mosiah 18:22b) And thus they became the children of God. (23) And he commanded them that they should observe the sabbath day, and keep it holy, and also every day they should give thanks to the Lord their God.

Living among a larger population, they would be able to unobtrusively observe what was going on, and know if the King had learned of them.

(Mosiah 18:24) And he also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support.

This was to establish equality among his people. Next, he had to instill a functioning social system, in order to keep them focused on the covenant.

(Mosiah 18:25) And there was one day in every week that was set apart that they should gather themselves together to teach the people, and to worship the Lord their God, and also, as often as it was in their power, to assemble themselves together.

They were organized in cells of fifty people, or about six to eight households each. Recruiting them from extended households would ensure the secrecy of the movement—everybody was related, everyone knew who was involved. On normal days, the priests would perhaps go from household to household, like a secret home teaching route. There are other ways the entire group could have met, such as at market days and national festivals. They knew their own calendar and could make arrangements. Since the movement was based on family groups, outsiders wouldn’t be able to tell if it was a family barbeque or a sacrament meeting.

(Mosiah 18:26) And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God, that they might wax strong in the Spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God.

Daniel J. Elazar also notes:

[The Levites] had to support themselves by their own labor and could not count on maintaining themselves through their ritual services. They were not a clergy living off the labor of others. This is an old Jewish tradition, part of the approach to civic life of the edah.[7]

Compare this with the Priests of Noah, who were glutting themselves on the people’s goods. There must have been a lot of bitterness about this. A secular reason for the priests to support themselves was to maintain the clandestine character of the movement. Nobody was to stand out from the larger population.

In the second phase of the insurgency, the organization grows and becomes more sophisticated. Alma would have led the group. The priests, an embryonic Council of Elders, would have transmitted his teachings to the group. In Marxist terms, a sort of Central Committee.

It was common in Semitic societies to have a joint presidency between priestly and lay judges.[8] The lay judges, led by Helam, would have had a lot to do at this point, ensuring the welfare of the group. It parallels the modern relationship between the LDS Stake President and the Bishop. Alma and the priests oversaw the spiritual welfare of the people, and Helam oversaw the temporal affairs.

(Mosiah 18:27) And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given. (28) And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul.

Communalism would instill a sense of community and of shared hardships and danger.

(Mosiah 18:29) And this he said unto them, having been commanded of God; and they did walk uprightly before God, imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants.

Charity was part of the covenant, as we find both in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon.

In Mosiah 18:31 we note that “these things were done in the borders of the land, that they might not come to the knowledge of the king.” It was a secret society.

Third Phase: According to the Wikipedia:

In the third phase, conventional fighting is used to seize cities, overthrow the government, and take control of the country.[9]

There is no way to know how far Alma was aiming to go with this; presumably, he was trying to bring the whole society back to righteousness. It didn’t reach a third phase, because King Noah discovered the movement.

(Mosiah 18:32) But behold, it came to pass that the king, having discovered a movement among the people, sent his servants to watch them. Therefore on the day that they were assembling themselves together to hear the word of the Lord they were discovered unto the king.

It doesn’t sound like he’d penetrated the group, but too many people were beating a path out to Alma’s thicket.[10]

(Mosiah 18:33) And now the king said that Alma was stirring up the people to rebellion against him; therefore he sent his army to destroy them. (34) And it came to pass that Alma and the people of the Lord were apprised of the coming of the king's army; therefore they took their tents and their families and departed into the wilderness.

It took a while for the king to figure out what was going on. He must have sent his soldiers out to the Waters of Mormon, unaware of the larger character of the movement. So while they were (literally) beating the bushes for Alma, people were filtering out of the city and assembling elsewhere for departure.

(Mosiah 18:35) And they were in number about four hundred and fifty souls.

The goal of an insurgency is survival, even if this means retreating and giving up territory. According to Mao, in an only slightly different context: “A strategic retreat is a planned strategic step taken by an inferior force for the purpose of conserving its strength and biding its time to defeat the enemy, when it finds itself confronted with a superior force whose offensive it is unable to smash quickly.”[11]

Bear in mind that Alma was only 80 miles away, once they settled in the Land of Helam. He had no intention of returning to overthrow Noah, but he would not have been the first or last rebel leader to flee into the wilderness in order to fight another day.

Is this reading too much into Mosiah 18? Not at all, it makes sense of the story in both religious and temporal contexts.


Elazar, Daniel J. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

“Deuteronomy as Israel's Ancient Constitution: Some Preliminary Reflections.”

Herzog, Chaim, and Gichon, Mordecai. Battles of the Bible. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole, 1997.

Ricks, Stephen, and Hamblin, William, Warfare in the Book of Mormon. SLC: Deseret, 1990.

Wikipedia, “Guerrilla Warfare.”

[1] Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, Warfare in the Book of Mormon. (SLC: Deseret, 1990), 204, passim; and note 96, page 221.
[2] Wikipedia, “Guerrilla Warfare.”
[3] Warfare in the Book of Mormon, 150.
[4] Chaim Herzog and Mordecai Gichon, Battles of the Bible, (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole, 1997), 268.
[5] Wikipedia, “Guerrilla Warfare.”
[6] Warfare in The Book of Mormon, 154.
[7] Daniel J. Elazar, “Deuteronomy as Israel's Ancient Constitution: Some Preliminary Reflections,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
[8] The pattern exists in the Old Testament, DDS, Testament of the 12 Patriarchs, the Book of Mormon, and even the Doctrine and Covenants.
[9] Wikipedia, “Guerrilla Warfare.”
[10] We can read between the lines: somebody got caught, and peached on Alma. His fate must have been quit unpleasant after the king was through with him.
[11] Warfare in the Book of Mormon, 155.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Presenting: The Arsenal of Venice

Victor David Hanson described how the Ottoman Admiral Ali Pasha carried his entire fortune into the battle with him at the Battle of Lepanto (1571). Hanson argues he did that in part because he couldn't trust that the Sultan would not arbitrarily confiscate his fortune. In contrast, the Venetians were part of the city states of northern Italy which safeguarded their money in a relatively democratic republic with free markets and a respect for property rights. This resulted in a striking imbalance of economic and military power between the Venetians and Ottomans. Despite having far vastly smaller amounts of territory and resources compared to the Ottoman Empire, the Venetians and their shipyards and armories that made up the Arsenal of Venice could create a relatively larger fleet of higher quality ships faster than their opponents.
This website seeks to highlight and promote ideas that defend the fundamental principles of American strength, including free market principles, commitment to the rule of law, limited government, and military strength symbolically represented in the Arsenal of Venice. It also serves to highlight my writing projects and I humbly hope to be as productive in producing quality policy and military analysis as the historical Arsenal of Venice.  
This is a new website I've developed to highlight my broader writings, and provide an online presence for them  The end goal is for this website to do with my various political and military writings what this website did for my ideas concerning warfare in the Book of Mormon. I hope you get a chance to look at it and provide any feedback.