Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Its All Greek to Me: Herodotus in the Book of Mormon



I mentioned when I discussed Thucydides a little while back that I would move on to the rest of the Greek writings I had. I suppose my old college professors would be so proud I’m reading and reflecting on classic texts. What follows are some of the notes as I made connections and tried to assess the material. As usual, since this is a Mormon themed blog I will focus more on connections with the Book Mormon though I add connections with other writing projects as well. The post got very long so I split this into two parts with Herodotus today and likely Xenophon and Polybius next time.

Herodotus:
vii.9 And yet, I am told, these very Greeks are wont to wage wars against one another in the most foolish way, through sheer perversity and doltishness. For no sooner is war proclaimed than they search out the smoothest and fairest plain that is to be found in all the land, and there they assemble and fight; whence it comes to pass that even the conquerors depart with great loss.
This was a key passage that popped to me as a military historian. Military historian Victor David Hanson described what he called the Western Way of War, and one of the most important elements of that way is the concept of decisive battle between heavy infantry. The Greeks were farmers and part time soldiers with rather small armies. This created an incentive to fight the wars quickly by charging at each other. This preference for shock battle, according to Hanson, inspired what was a way of war that was superior to other cultures. The Persians, for example, scoffed at this way of war but when faced with heavy infantry in a narrow pass such as Thermopaylae, a few hundred Spartans (plus associated allies) could withstand what was recorded as a million man army. If I were teaching a class I would highlight the importance of primary sources at this point.

Associated with the Book of Mormon, I discuss the use of shock battle by Moroni, which is praised in the text and seems to produce victory in the war chapters. But many people fail to realize how incredibly bloody that kind of warfare is. Remember the phrase from the quote, “even the conqueror departs with great loss.” Which, now that I think about it would have been a good line to include. In discussing his tactics and reassessing his status as a hero, I couldn’t help but note that such a great man of God could perhaps have found a way to win without bloodshed.

vii. 127 On reaching Therma Xerxes halted his army, which encamped along the coast…stretching out as far as the rivers Lydias and Haliacmon…The rivers here mentioned were all of them sufficient to supply the troops, except the Cheidorus, which was drunk dry.
vii. 187 Such then was the amount of the entire host of Xerxes. As for the number of the women who prepared the bread, of the concubines, and the eunuchs, no one can give any sure account of it; nor can the baggage horses and other sumpter beasts, nor the Indian hounds which followed the army, be calculated, by reason of their multitude. Hence I am not at all surprise that the water of the rivers was found too scant for the army in some instances; rather it is a marvel to me how the provisions did not fail, when the numbers were so great…
viii. 115 [During the retreat of the Persian army] all along the line of march, in every country where they chanced to be, [Xerxes’] soldiers seized and devoured whatever food they could find belonging to the inhabitants; while, if no grain was to be found, they gathered the grass that grew in the fields, and stripped the trees, whether cultivated or wild, alike of their bark and of their leaves, and so fed themselves. They left nothing anywhere, so hard were they pressed by hunger. Plague too and dysentery attacked the troops while still upon their march, and greatly thinned their ranks. Many died; others fell sick and were left behind…
These are three quotes that tell a story about logistics. One of the most frequent criticisms is about the large numbers in the Book of Mormon. In fact, I mentioned this in my first post here at Wheat and Tares. But without getting into the details of caloric consumption, we can notice the outlines of his account, and how it holds up historically. I was struck while reading this that even the author “marveled” at the numbers he presented. He commented the armies were so big that the cities would have been ruined if they were forced to provide two meals instead of one of the passing army (vii. 120) and they drank the rivers dry. As soon as the army faced some catastrophe and had to retreat, they suddenly fell victim to hunger, and diseases from drinking dirty whatever, which is likely all they could find. This is a common pattern found in history, and in the Book of Mormon even.

I wrote a post a while ago that was inspired by the supposedly ridiculous logistical requirements of the final Nephite army. In particular, I’m struck with the similarity to the form that Herodotus took:

Moroni 9:16- And again, my son, there are many widows and their daughters who remain in Sherrizah; and that part of the provisions which the Lamanites did not carry away, behold, the army of Zenephi has carried away, and left them to wander whithersoever they can for food; and many old women do faint by the way and die.

While the account is rather brief, in one of the most detailed letters we do see examples of logistical problems that led to combat over limited provisions and starving civilians. Of course, chapter 9 also mentions acts of cannibalism on both sides, so the assumption that they were living on a normal diet, and would need the normal amounts of food listed in such places as Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, Supplying War, and even Aztec Warfare wouldn’t apply in this situation. On top of this, the prisoners taken by the Lamanites were only fed the flesh of their relatives. (Moroni 9:8) So what we have here could be the practical implications of excessive war and large armies in addition to spiritual decay.

Moreover, I’ve often compared the large numbers in the Book of Mormon to the Chinese War of the Eight Princes. Unsurprisingly, given the quotes from Herodotus and the verse from Mormon, a large army was tough to feed and eventually (particularly after military defeat) had trouble feeding itself. As I wrote in Decisive Battles in Chinese History:

The Princes of the Jin dynasty laid waste to the rival cities. The citizens in and around the capital city of Luoyang were almost continuously looted, raided, starved, eaten, conscripted and attacked by Chinese and barbarian forces until one of the largest cities of the 3rd century world and most prosperous regions was desolate. The city of Luoyang had an estimated 600,000 people, and the army may have had as many as 700,000 people at the start of the war. And even suggested peace plans and the heads of rival generals couldn’t stay the slaughter.

And contemporary Chinese historians recorded:

By the [end of the war] trouble and disturbances were very widespread….many suffered from hunger and poverty. People were sold [as slaves]. Vagrants became countless. In the [provinces around the capital] there was a plague of locusts…Virulent disease accompanied the famine. Also the people were murdered by bandits. There rivers were filled with floating corpses; bleached bones covered the fields…There was much cannibalism. Famine and pestilence came hand in hand.
Needless to say, I think there is a pattern in the behavior and supply of ancient armies, and the supposedly ridiculous numbers that would be impossible to feed actually sounds about right. Herodotus marveled at his own account, talked about rivers being drank dry in good times and water borne illness and eating bark in the bad. Back to his account:

viii. 15 The third day was now come, and the captains of the barbarians, ashamed that so small a number of ships should harass their feet, and afraid of the anger of Xerxes, instead of waiting for the others to begin the battle, weighed anchor themselves, and advanced against the Greeks about the hour of noon.
This point immediately recalled the various Chinese fleets that are often forgotten in history but was often the decisive factor in the life or death of a dynasty. The fleet with the biggest impact was that of the southern Song. The northern Song dynasty collapsed on the plains around their capital of Kaifeng. But the southern Song saved themselves for over thirty years in twelfth century because of their impressive navy. They had lost most of their northern territory and faced a massive invasion from the Jurchens, who aimed to finish the job. But the navy broke the pontoon bridge of the invading force, which severed the invading armies’ logistical connection, and this prevented them from retreating to the north side of the river. The eight-thousand-man naval force of the southern Song dynasty tied down a one-hundred-thousand-man army for a significant amount of time. A short time later, it faced another engagement. Despite being outnumbered six to one, the Song navy charged into the much larger force, secure in its superior training, and annihilated the opposing the fleet. The Mongols knew the power of a navy and the necessity of training. They reportedly mustered seventy thousand marines to help conquer Xingyang (a chapter in my book) and built five thousand warships to conquer southern Song.

The similarities between the smaller navies of the Greek and southern Song defeating larger forces because of training and motivation reinforces a methodological point for me. In Mormon studies but also comparative studies in academia there are fierce debates about how similar two items from different cultures and time periods really are. Some people are so narrow, and for lack of a better term, isolationist that they bristle at any comparison. With all due respect I’ve found that sound military principles translate pretty well across time and geography.

Though this approach is not without criticism and danger. It is extremely important not to decontextualize events and do what I call the chicken nugget approach, which I described in a review of a text on Subotai:
[The author’s last chapter] represented the most vivid example of the chicken nugget approach. This used modern army nomenclature, Napoleonic terms, German words, and modern terms interchangeably throughout the book. Some people may enjoy the liberal sprinkling of terms from a variety of eras, I find it distracting. Many of the terms are not precisely interchangeable with the activities of Subotai or carried unneeded connotations or associations. So the chicken nugget method seemed analytically imprecise at best.
At the same time, a judicious and extremely strict comparison of military principles across cultures is extremely useful. I already cited one example of a small but motivated navy defeating a larger one with less training between two cultures separated by thousands of miles and years. In another example I discussed the historical evidence of noise in battle and conclude that the account in Forest of Kings is likely wrong:
Based on the analysis of the chaotic and loud battlefield then, Schele and Freidel’s recreation of Mayan battle fails to take into account the impractical nature of trying to understand each other during this kind of physical stress on a chaotic battlefield.
I could also point to blood letting and ritual fasting, and talked about the use of omens Thucydides account. I definitely fall on the other side of the debate and find judicious and specific comparisons, such as between small and highly trained forces from different cultures and times very useful.

Conclusion:

I’ve enjoyed re reading these accounts, and for this one I even noticed the notes I first made 15 years ago! Herodotus described what some argue is the foundation of Western military history. He discussed cataloged enemy forces, discussed logistics, and a careful reading suggests that ridiculously big armies had ridiculous logistical requirements that often resulted in starving soldiers and civilians. Finally, I noticed that he reinforced a methodological point in dispute about how different cultures and time periods can still produce the same behavior or favorable comparisons.

When is the last time you read Herodotus? What is your favorite part? Is there anything you think I missed?

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Research Round Up



I write so much in so many areas I find it nice to bring it all together on occasion.  This will also go beyond the curtains to reveal some of the strategies that govern my writing and priorities. For example,  the research round up lets me write about writing, which helps me organize key thoughts (which could also be used as a pitch in the future) and meet a deadline in a way that’s easier than coming up with original material. Without further ado, lets dive into it.

Free-lance:

I have several free lance writing gigs. My most frequent one is from Opslens Magazine, though I also write for Strategy and Tactics, and have occasional posts at the Salt Lake Tribune, Lifezette, Real Clear Defense, Fox News (don’t hold that against me), and many others. Again, you have to have a strategy in getting published, so I make sure to use my historical knowledge and specializing in China to offer timely and pertinent articles, though I also write on conservative matters.

Anniversaries are a great way to get otherwise ignored articles published. For example, Friday was the anniversary of the start of the Soviet German War. I write about the myths that resulted from the war.  My June 7th article shows my strategy really well. Most Americans tend to remember June 6th because of D-Day. But June 7th is a huge day in Chinese history and their fight against the Japanese.
I spent time in grad school towards a PhD in Chinese military history so I make sure to use those skills. I talked about piracy in the South China Sea. And I can’t believe they let me keep that joke in the title about counterrrrr measures. I build upon my previous analysis of NATO exercises to discuss a base in Poland.

I’m also a conservative. My strategy is often to find a unique angel to a situation. For example, people have been losing their mind over the migrant crisis on the border. I summarize some of the conservative positions, but more importantly, I look at a hidden conservative argument that Trump critics are making. This is a good time to mention that I’m not Marco Rubio at a CNN gun debate, so I will delete comments on this thread that include moral preening and denunciations.

Books:

The long term strategy is to focus on books. Royalties are a passive income stream that pays me for work done years ago. I wrote my first book, Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon, in a fit of confidence back in 2011, and finally got it published a few years later. It would never be on the New York Times Best Selling list, but it’s gratifying to get a check for work I did almost ten years ago.

I published a follow up on the Book of Mormon, From Sinners to Saints, this year. I haven’t talked much about it because I’m waiting for a review from another perma blogger here at Wheat and Tares, plus the other reviews at various sources in Mormon intellectual circles. The basic premise is a revisionist history of the text that reassesses heroes and villains. Many Latter Day Saints treat the book as historical, but then they read the text as though its bad propaganda instead of history so I reassess the behavior of both heroes and villains of the text.

I also didn’t advertise that book heavily because one of my first posts as a perma blogger was about Decisive Battles in Chinese History. I felt it was a bit of overkill to just talk about my books all the time.

I’ve got another one in the works tentatively titled from the Cree to Korea: World History of Battle at 400. This one started because I noticed many battles around the same time period. The Roman defeat at Adrianople in 378 (though after researching I switched to the Battle of Frigidus River), a key battle near Tikal in 378 that became a post here, the battle of Fei River in my Chinese battles book in 384, and researching I found key monuments about a Japanese invasion of Korea in 400. I’ve got a draft of that written, I’m waiting to hear back from publishers, as having that contract signed becomes great motivation to finally do those edits I’ve been planning. But I have a few polished sample chapters that I can send to publishers and edits of drafts are far easier than writing so I'm good.

My free-lance gig above is starting their own press soon. So I thought I should have something in the chamber and ready to go.  I didn’t plan on doing this, but I wrote a primer on Chinese strategy that I both started and finished in a single day. I was greatly aided by about 4 years worth of free lance writing on contemporary Chinese military history informed by my historical study. I have numerous posts on specific Chinese hardware such as the J20, its specific limitations and drawbacks, limitations of Chinese and American training, possible clues from history, analysis of Chinese strategy, and geographical considerations. After reading this book I expect readers to have a basis of knowledge to assess news coming from China and not give into fear mongering.

Fiction

Anybody who has seen my Lego collection knows I have an active imagination. I’ve branched out into writing fiction though these are projects that are far away. I’ve always thought I should focus on having a career as a military analyst before I jump into fiction, but this stuff tends to come a bit easier so I’ve been branching out. I always thought some dramatization of the war chapters was fantasy on a number of levels until this post at W&T came out well. I have a killer dream journal that offers a number of great ideas. Some are just notes but some I’ve fleshed out into incredible short stories that rival any space opera and some are rather sweet and funny. Cedar Fort books just sent me an email offering some kind of self publishing package, so I will check that out when the time comes.

I also wrote a piece for a Mormon steam punk anthology.  I don’t know a ton about steam punk, but I do know about being a scared missionary feeling overwhelmed on the first day. So my missionary from a Dickens like Salt Lake goes on a mission to find Nephite artifacts. He bails out of his exploding airship, marches through the jungle in his suit, dodges hostile anti Mormons with their dart guns, uses a laser gun that doesn’t work, finds an ancient glittering city, and has to write home and convince his mother that he’s okay through his letter and convince himself that he can complete his mission. I called it, “Dearest Mother: My Mission is going well as I survived the fall from my airship.”  I rather enjoyed it, but it didn’t make the cut for the anthology. It will likely be one of the short stories I make from my dream journal, or possibly the first chapter in a steam punk mission.

So that is what I’ve recently completed or I’m working on. As you can see there is a good deal of synergy between my writing gigs as I use knowledge from one area to enhance by ability to write for another and offer unique angles.  What are you working on? What intrigues you the most from the above list?  Is there anything you want to see?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Thucydides in the Book of Mormon




I haven’t read Thucydides account of the Peloponnesian War since I was an undergraduate. Because I’m a military historian I thought it would be valuable to go through it again. What follows is a peak into what I describe to my students as “active reading.” As I go through it I’m not just trying to follow the narrative, but I’m engaging the material, questioning it, seeing how it might apply, and generally making notes in the margins and brain storming as I read. I’ve mainly applied it to the Book of Mormon (with a click bate title of course), though as you might have seen in my articles at W&T, I also include notes on comparison to Chinese history, and current events. What eventually happens is this information remains in the back of my mind until I have some kind of ah ha moment, start a new project, and I’ve had to spend a good deal of time searching and even have to re-read these books to find the mental note I took. (I should really take better notes.) Without further ado, here is a peak behind the curtain as passages that inspired additional thoughts.


i.22 “What particular people said in their speeches, either just before or during the war, was hard to recall exactly, whether they were speeches I heard myself or those that were reported to me at second hand. I have made each speaker says what I thought the situation demanded, keeping as near as possible to the general sense of what was actually said.”

This is a good discussion of the kind of questions people ask about historical sources. There seems to be three options that he has which are : actual words (this is more likely for public speechs like Pericles funeral oration), paraphrase (which might apply to things like the Melian dialogue that happened in private), and historical fiction, which is Thuycdides basically having people say what he thinks they would say.

I’ve thought about this a good deal in the Book of Mormon. John Gee pointed out how Limhi’s speeches all occurred in events where a scribe would be present. Amalickiah in 47 is particularly revealing though. Alma 55:5 suggests that at least one of the servants of the Lamanite king served in the army, he (or they) could provide a source for the killing of the king and at least second hand political knowledge of the Lamanties. But the direct speeches and tactics of Amalickiah are more complicated. It could be propaganda, or like the Book of Judges in the Bible, a collection of folk tales about the figure eventually written down. But the way he ruthlessly maneuvered into the kingship suggests something a little more organized than a collection of tales. It could be a genre of Mesoamerican literature that highlight great or infamous deeds of leaders. Regardless of the exact nature of the record, I find an intriguing insight from Thucydides about the difficulty of reconstructing speeches exactly, which should inform our understanding of the text.


i.10 He does, however, show that all the rowers in Philoctetes’ ships were also fighters, for he writes that all the oarsmen were archers. As for passengers on the ships, it is not likely that there were many, aside from the kings and other top people, especially since they had to cross the sea with military equipment on board, and in ships without the protection of upper decks, built in the old pirate fashion. So if we take the mean between the largest and smallest ships, we find that not many went to Troy…

I thought it was very interesting that Thucydides analyzed the numbers of Homer. As I’ve discussed before, questioning numbers is one of the first things that professional historians did. Unreliable eye witnesses, deliberately or accidental corruption of the text, numbers as a colloquial or symbolic use (I’ve told you a thousand times, 666), and historians use of battle for a didactic or moral point can change the numbers. As usual, when historians do these techniques to assess other texts, it’s seen as good scholarship. When the same thing is done to assess the text of the Book of Mormon, it is attacked as mental gymnastics and dismissed with a snide and condescending, “we know the book is false anyway.” (As a reminder, I delete comments like that on my posts.)


i.23 “ I believe the truest reason for the quarrel, though least evident in what was said at the time, was the growth of Athenian power, which put fear into the Lacedaemonians and so [they felt] compelled… into war.”

The war chapters inspire a good deal of writing, but it is mainly a good deal of speculation and inappropriate and superficial analogies. What I’ve tried to do in all of my research is look beyond battle to see it a culmination of tactics, strategy, history, culture, material culture, and geography. In doing that I’ve tried to look for the causes of the war chapters. There are a few models I’ve suggested such as the anthropological or great person model. The former sees the war as a competition for resources, trade routes, prime farm land, and the control of tax bases. The latter looks at the role that great people like Moroni and Amalickiah had in leading to war.

But the third model comes from Thucydides account of the Peloponnesian war which is a classic tale of interstate rivalries. After leading the Greeks to victory against the Persians, Athens and Sparta split and competed for the leadership of Greece. Athens started in the much more dominant positions with a fleet and eventually a lucrative empire . But the Spartans were powerful as well and they continued to vie for influence in Greece with a fearsome land army and set of allies opposing Athens. This competition for leadership in the political sphere led to armed competition as Athens tried to maintain its preeminent status and deny Sparta any more strength. So I’m kind of impressed that I could remember what Thucydides thought was the main driver of the war.

The shift of the Zoramites into the Lamanite sphere of influence (Alma 31:4; 43:4), the shift of the Anti Nephi Lehis into the Nephite sphere of influence (Alma 27:22-23), the expansion of the Nephites into the wilderness after expelling the Lamanites, the quick strike at Ammonihah (a city that only tacitly acknowledge Nephite rule, Alma 49: 6) in order to bolster Lamanite claims to Kingship (keep in mind that was the first city they attacked several times) point to the geo political factors of expanding and contracting spheres that cause conflict. This happens in particular during times of rapid growth or decay of one power against another and definitely recalls the “fear” that drove compelled them to conflict.


iii.82 Civil war ran through the cities…and they reversed the usual way of using words to evaluate activities. Ill-considered boldness was counted as loyal manliness; prudent hesitation was held to be cowardice in disguise, and moderation merely the cloak of an unmanly nature. A mind that could grasp the good of the whole was considered wholly lazy. Sudden fury was accepted as part of manly valor, while plotting for one’s own security was though a reasonable excuse for delaying action. A man who started a quarrel was always to be trusted, while one who opposed him was under suspicion…

Sounds like an average day online. I’ve seen this a good deal and its one of the most frustrating aspect of being a writer. Angry clowns seem to get all of the attention, while reasoned assessments get ignored. In fact, I’ve lost writing positions because I wasn’t angry enough or angry at the right people. You could also look at the counter puncher in Trump, the incivility of twitter, those for whom cuck is their favorite and frequent insult, and bomb throwers who sling warmonger, racist, and sexist with reckless abandon.

I used to teach a class on Pakistan, and my students often reacted with shock and a sense of smug superiority at the number of Pakistanis that riot over false rumors of desecrating a Quran, or those that believe the CIA and not terrorists are behind plots. But before you pat yourself on the back for not being one of those people, and confidently attack Trump and his supporters, realize that there are people who lose their jobs before they get off the plane, and consider how many of you have reposted an inflammatory memes and news without knowing the whole story. In the upside down word described by Thucydides you can be part of the problem while simultaneously thinking you are better than everybody.


vii.44 Battles are easier to understand in daylight, but even then soldiers who are present scarcely know more than their own particular experiences. So in a night battle-and this the only one in the war to involve large armies- how could anyone know anything for certain. Though the moon was bright, they saw each other as you’d expect in the moonlight: bodies were visible, but there was no way to know whether they were friends or enemies.

I wrote something about the experience of battle in the BoM. Thucydides account above would have been a pithy quote to share. Here is the relevant material from my article:


“logic insists that battle amongst thousands of people would be a noisy affair — and the early battle sounds would be quickly added to by thousands of clashing weapons and the screams of the wounded and dying. Moreover, the rush of adrenaline triggers physical reactions that make battle notoriously difficult to understand for those participating in it.
‘Studies have found at least half of participants [in battle] will experience the event in slow motion, a fifth in faster-than-normal time; two-thirds will hear at ‘diminished volume’ … a fifth at amplified levels; about half will see … with tunnel vision and black out everything not directly ahead and the other half with amazingly heightened clarity. Most individuals will suffer memory loss, while others will ‘remember’ events that never occurred.’ Alexander Rose, Men of War: The American Soldier in Combat at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima (New York: Random House Books, 2015), 72–73.

Back to Thucydides:


vii.50 Then most of the Athenians took the eclipse to heart and called on the generals to stop, while Nicias- who put too much faith in divination and such practices- said he would not even consider moving now until they had waited the twenty-seven days prescribed by soothsayers.

This is an interesting passage. It seems to go against what I typically believe about ancients, that most of the practices were believed, but often discarded or changed when they conflicted with military realities. Despite the ancient’s belief in the super natural, rituals that harm the warrior’s efficacy in battle usually don’t last long or became heavily modified, symbolic, or placed on monuments without being practiced extensively. Losing blood and fasting would produce a weakened state that would make combat difficult. It’s possible the noncombatants fasted, or this was posted on monuments to please the masses of people (who wanted righteous rulers), but not actually done in private. We could see this passage as an example of how Thucydides did not put much stock in divination rituals as this superstition prevented the Athenians from escaping Sicily.

Conclusion:

This was a very enjoyable read and I’m moving to the portable Greek reader for more insights. Some passages reinforced previous points, some provide a new angle, others points provided trenchant reminders about human nature, the speeches are electrifying, even if they might be historical fiction more than history, and overall I’m reminded of why his book is required reading for college students. And I still shake my head at the foolishness of the Sicilian Expedition. What have you read recently that you really enjoy?

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Hill Yeah: Notes on Jaredite Geography



I’ve long been intrigued by Jaredite geography. Unfortunately, even those that accept the historicity of the Book of Mormon and have geographic models they fight over, find the book of Ether bewilderingly sparse. Yet the text is very clear in some instances on what is affecting the story, even if you don’t know where it is. It mentions plains, sea shores, valleys, hills, lands of first inheritance, strategic deposits of ore (steel, which invites another 1,000 words of analysis on its own), a great city, and a capital land. In the years of researching and writing I’ve become a firm believer that geography matters a great deal in a nation’s development and most importantly, in the conduct on the battlefield despite variations in date, culture, and regions. The following is a list of major geographic forms listed in the text and insights from history in how those places might affect battle.

Seashore– supply and protection

The biggest advantage of the seashore comes from those who have a strong navy. I’ve never read about the “embark, circle around via the sea, and then amphibiously invade the opposing army encamped on the seashore” maneuver in history. (But if you’ve heard of an example please let me know.) Because of that fact the sea shore provides a secure flank. This may mean that they are trapped, but since the power on the sea shore usually has a navy protecting the sea, it often becomes a secure exit door and not a trap. The encamped army can then maximize their defenses facing inland.

The British at Yorktown, and again at Dunkirk relied upon the sea for resupply and rescue. It was the temporary French advantage in sea power that allowed the Colonials to capture the British at Yorktown and win the war. The ancient Athenians actually made their entire city a fortified sea colony. Athens on the on the mainland, but they built the long walls that provided a fortified harbor and connection to their city.[1] In contrast to the British examples, this was a more permanent solution and even imperial policy, instead of something done by an army in the field after a defeat. Since Athens had the preeminent fleet for much of the early classical period they could always count on resupply by their navy. In fact, it was only the Spartan defeat of the navy and blockade of their port that finally brought them to their knees.

Alma 51 describes the repulse of Amalickiah’s army, and their camp on the sea shore. While not directly stated in the text this strongly suggests the same principles. They moved back to the ocean to provide additional security and resupply. In fact, the defection of the Zoramites may have been so dangerous in part because it gave the Lamanites an outlet in that region, when the Nephites relied on inland riverine transport. Ether14:13 described a running battle in which Lib retreated to sea shore. Again, the context of a recent battlefield defeat, followed by a retreat to a secure base and possible resupply strikes me as entirely consistent.
A good map showing pivotal valleys near the Wei, Fen, and Yellow rivers

Valleys– power base.

Valleys provide a good base of power. Valleys are usually formed by a river, has good farm land, restricted pass in and out which lead to relatively easy security. Multiple dynasties in China rose to power via secure river valleys as I described in my book on Chinese battles. The Di tribe settled in Wei River valley during the period of disunion. With only one pass to the east they could fortify their position, engage enemies, such as those at Luoyang, at their leisure and they eventually established the Former Qi Dynasty. The eventual founders of the much more impactful Tang Dynasty started as governors of the Fen River Valley, to the North East of both the Wei River valley (and its ancient capital of Chang’an), and the frequent Chinese capital at Louyang. The famous war lord Cao Cao started his career as a soldier in Ye, which was one pivotal pass away from the Fen River Valley. But he could also swing around towards the South East and attack the capital through Hulao pass. When the Tang were consolidating their power, one of the most famous battles in Chinese history happened at Hulao Pass, which was often called the Chinese Thermopylae. And to wrap up the importance of valleys, rebellious members of the Jin Dyansty held commands at each of the above centers (Ye, Chang’an, Taiyuan in the Fen River Valley and more), which explained why they so often swooped upon the hapless capital during the War of the Eight Princes to the point that what was once the rival of Rome in the ancient world became a desolate place of huddled refugees.[2] The carnage was so great in such a short time that contemporary historians described piles of white bones that covered the field and that quote inspired my research into comparing the War of Eight Princes with the Jaredite denouement (Ether 14:22).[3]

Of course the Nephite center of power was in a river valley surrounding Zarahemla and the “most capital parts” of the land (Helaman 1:27.) In the Jaredite fighting the Valley of Gilgal witnessed an “exceedingly sore” (Ether 13:27) that lasted three days. (This is a very similar and thus unsurprising time frame compared to the Battle of Hulao, as much of the time was spent eyeing each other across the narrow pass, feeling each other out, and sending out raids before finally engaging each other. Once the fighting started it was rather fierce, one leader of the Tang forces hacked his way across the battlefield so many times his armor looked like a porcupine with jagged arrows and broken blades.)[4] V. 28 and 29 describe a back and forth between that valley and the Plains of Heshlon. The armies likely fought over a key pass that led to the power center in the Valley of Gilgal. The chaos described in verses 1-3 of Ether 14 describe the loss of a power base very well, as I discussed in my first book.

Plains- battles

As mentioned above, the fight for a power base in the Valley of Gilgal led to more fighting in the plains. This is the best place for shock battle, wherein opposing groups of infantrymen rushed toward each other, seeking to cut their way through to their destination or out of a trap (Alma 52:33–34; Alma 43:39–43). The battle recorded in Alma 52 only occurred after the Lamanites refused to meet and battle on the plains, and had to lured out of their strongholds (Alma 52:20-21) The Greeks were particularly adept at this. Their small cities and farming valleys pitted opposing groups of heavily clad infantry that charged each other. The farmers couldn’t be away campaigning for long so the battles had to be decisive. While they typified what some call the Western Way of War, one of the earliest recorded battles in history between Egyptian and Caananite forces that charged across relatively flat land. Again, a pass proved critical in the course of the Egyptian’s march. This connects with the previous point that flat land near bases of power and likely critical valleys were prime locations for shock battles.

Wilderness– hit and run

The other type of battle consists of more lightly armored soldiers often with lighter or ranged weapons conduct hit and run attacks. These can occur on their own or sometimes as a result of a collapse of the army during shock battle. Cao Cao in battle of Red Cliffs had his army trampled in the swamps. They had won plenty of victories before, and were a good army that got routed but they didn’t maintain discipline in the retreat. The Noche Triste of the Spanish fleeing Aztec capital featured the same result. They tried to sneak away from the palace complex under siege. In the running fighting in the streets and canals leading out of the city, and under fire from Aztec light infantry and archers, many people died, and much like Cao Cao’s force, the mounted cavalry used the foot soldiers to gain footing in the muck.[5]

Helaman 11:25 described the Gadianton robbers redoubts in mountains, wilderness and secret places. The Nephite military attempted to route them out but had a great deal of difficulty. The text says they were “driven back” (v.29) with “great havoc [and] great destruction” (v.28). This mirrors Mao Zedong’s (Mao Tse-tung) and Zhe De’s experience in the Jinggangshang highlands. The mountain villages had few entrances, few roads, and could be blockaded with great difficulty. The few roads and avenues of approach made counter attacks extremely successful. In short, the remoteness makes it nice as another kind of power base (usually from predatory forces or those on the usurping side of the power scale compared to valley bases).

Chapter 14 in Ether described how Coriantumr was defeated and retreated to the wilderness of Akish (v.3). His enemy Shared tried to invade, but then “laid siege” to it but was subjected to counter attacks (v.5). Coriantumr stayed there two years while his enemies occupied the center of power (see below.) After a see saw battle against Lib that went all the way to the seashore, Coriantumr was again defeated and again retreated there (Ether 14:12-14). Again, see that the losing side took cover in the wilderness, gained strength, and could launch successful counter attacks against forces trying to root them out.

Capital City- Political and cultural nexus

From the debate about taking Moscow or Ukrainian farms in World War II,[6] the burning of Washington in the War of 1812, or the bombing of Chongqing, the capital is always extremely important for political, cultural, and logistical reasons. They organize the armies that defend the nation and losing the capital is often represents the defeat of the nation.

Ether records how leaders held court (Ether 9:5), dispensed justice (Ether 7:24), oversaw religion (though sometimes it was the other way around, “murdered in a secret pass by High priest” Ether 14:10), and represented others at “outcasts” (Ether 10:9). The Land of Moron was a nexus of important cultural and political power. Though holding it wasn’t a guarantee of victory. As mentioned above, Luoyang was the capital but powerful frontier commanders could force their way into the capital at will. Coriantumr remained in the wilderness regaining his strength enough to still contend with for the throne.

Conclusion

Based upon my experience researching military history for years I found this a useful thought exercise in how fundamental geographic realities affect war fighting. Each region has a particular strength and often provides the economic growth, farming land, key passes, or inspirational center that determines where battles are fought, and often what tactics are used. In fact, my latest book goes further and suggests that geography largely determines what kind of armies are created as well. Each geographic feature mentioned in the brief narrative helps us better understand the bitter struggle for survival and power and the way terrain affected their decisions.

[Thanks for reading. I work as a free lance writer. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the pay pal button below.] 

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[1] David Berkey, “Why Fortifications Endure: A Case Study of the Walls of Athens During the Classical Period,” in Makers of Ancient Strategy Victor David Hanson ed., (Princeton University Press, 2009), 58-92.

[2] Arthur Waley, “The Fall of Loyang,” History Today Volume 1 Issue 4 April 1951. https://www.historytoday.com/arthur-waley/fall-lo-yang

[3] “By the [end of the war,] trouble and disturbances were very widespread….many suffered from hunger and poverty. People were sold [as slaves]. Vagrants became countless. In the [provinces around the capital,] there was a plague of locusts…Virulent disease accompanied the famine. Also the people were murdered by bandits. Their rivers were filled with floating corpses; bleached bones covered the fields…There was much cannibalism. Famine and pestilence came hand in hand [emphasis added].” Lien-sheng Yang, “Notes on the Economic History of the Chin Dynasty,” Studies in Chinese Institutional History(Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1961), 181.

[4] Old Book of Tang, chapter 60. https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=gb&chapter=941042 New Book of Tang, chapter 78.

[5] Victor Davis Hanson, “Technolgoy and the Wages of Reason,” in Carnage and Culture: 9 Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Culture (New York, Anchor Books: 2002.)

[6] R. Stolfi, Hitler’s Panzers East: World War II Reinterpretered, (Norman OK, Oklahoma University Press, 1991.)