Thursday, January 22, 2009

Moroni the War Criminal? Part 1

A rebuttal to "Moroni the War Criminal"
Summary: John C. reveals a stunning interpretation of Captain Moroni that is one part bad history, and one part out of context. For students of ancient warfare, Moroni's actions reveal that he was significantly more magnanimous and peaceful than any other ancient commander. John C. also uses several modern examples that do not support the conclusions he tries to draw. Thus in ancient context and modern example John C. is wrong and seems to take a contrarian position simply for the sake of it.(my words in italics)

I was reading a post at Times and Seasons today and several people were commenting on how they believed that the war chapters were placed there for our own needs, specifically saying that they thought they would come in handy in the next few years. Apparently, these folks are reading the Book of Mormon for military tactics. This strikes me as a particularly bad way to read it.

I think they are right. As I explained in my previous post, Ancient Model for Modern War, the intertwining of the spiritual and the secular, or church and state in ancient times makes the Book of Mormon even more compelling for those involved in War. We do not become atheists when we put on a uniform, and we must deal with war everyday for a long time (military professionals do call the Global War on Terror: “The Long War”). We are faced with moral/religious choices everyday in our secular lives. And something as important as war and live and death demands a careful reading of a people that already faced those decisions. Thus members of the church can and should study the Book of Mormon for tactical lessons, as well as spiritual lessons.

Few characters are presented with as many contradictions as Captain Moroni, the great hero of the war chapters... Captain Moroni did some bad things, many of which would be considered war crimes today (or, at least, wrong).
For example, Captain Moroni convinced the nation to give him the power to force people to go to wars. The alternatives were imprisonment and execution. While the USA has often imprisoned draft dodgers and conscientious objectors, I don’t believe we have ever reached the point of telling people to fight or die. Soviet Russia did that in World War II, as an example, and that helps explain the appalling loss of life the Russian Army suffered at the time.

As pointed out in the comments section of their blog post, the King Men were not conscientious objectors. The ancient state combined the spiritual and the secular, thus they were apostates and traitors.(See William Hamblin’s Warfare in the Ancient Near East) Hardly the type of people a Nation already under attack should treat with kid gloves. Alma 51 shows that these King Men were actively fighting against the Nephite nation. And that the King men “did lift their weapons of war” (v.18) against Moroni. There WERE conscientious objectors in the Nephite Nation, and the Nephites protected them at great cost in men and material. (Alma 53:12-16; 56:7)

Another example is Captain Moroni’s administering of possibly poisoned food and drink to his prisoners of war. While this may seem a type of poetic irony, it strikes me as a great abuse of prisoners, who are wholly dependent on their jailers for food. It also assumes that Amalickiah and Ammoron held their own troops in higher esteem than they actually did, so I am not sure it was all that bright anyway. While the closest prohibition regarding this I could find in the Geneva Conventions was an admonition to provide adequate amounts of safe food, I am relatively certain that this sort of behavior wouldn’t be tolerated in a US Military Tribunal or in the Hague.

John C. does not understand that this tactic was only used in response to Lamanite attempts at (to use John’s modern terminology) biological warfare. And it was a purely defensive measure, to ensure the quality of his army's food; not an offensive tactic used to degrade or abuse his prisoners. Moroni fed his prisoners, let them live freely with the people of Ammon (Alma 62:17) and did not massacre them when any the typical ancient commander would have. (Alma 55:18-19) Also, the comments section pointed out correctly: it is distracting and leads to confusion to use modern words, notions, and conventions to describe ancient armies and practices.

Thanks for reading this installment. Coming soon: Unconditional Surrender, Moroni's threatened coup, and the breathtaking conclusion.

No comments: