Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Troops of a Father and Son

I have been attending my residency at Norwich University for the past week in preparation for getting my M.A. on Friday. Today I had a little bit of free time so I found an interesting piece of text from the writings of Wu-Tzu. In the section on "Controlling the Army" we read:

Marquis Wu asked: "What measures will ensure the soldiers will be victorious?"

Wu Ch'i replied: "Control is foremost...What is meant by control is that when stationary [in camp] they observe the forms of propriety
[Li] and when in action they are awesome. When they advance they cannot be withstood; when they withdraw they cannot be pursued. Their advancing and withdrawing are measured; the left and right flanks respond to the signal flags. Even if broken off from the main order they preserve their formations; even it scattered they will reform lines. They will hold together in peace; they will hold together in danger. Their number can be assembled together, but cannot be forced apart. They can be employed, but they cannot be exhausted. No matter where you can dispatch them, no one under Heaven will be able to withstand them. They are called 'the troops of a father and son.'"

In the footnote Ralph Sawyer writes: "The troops and their commander (and ruler) are characterized by a relationship similar to the idealized one between father and son: it is characterized by benevolence, righteousness, beneficence, good faith, and love from the parent with the reciprocal virtues of trust, love, respect, and obedience from the son."

I should also mention that the word Li in Chinese history refers to the proper observance of religious rituals and righteous behavior according to the Confucian tradition.

Thus the 'troops of a father and son' are righteous soldiers that have mutual love and respect between commanders and soldiers. These soldiers perform difficult maneuvers and respond well to difficult situations.

We read of a similar kind of soldier in the Book of Mormon. In Helaman 53 we read that the people of Ammon:

20...were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all—they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted.
21 Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him.


In Alma 56 Helaman continues the story:

10 And I did join my two thousand sons, (for they are worthy to be called sons) to the army of Antipus, in which strength Antipus did rejoice exceedingly; for behold, his army had been reduced by the Lamanites because their forces had slain a vast number of our men...

This small army of father and sons becomes tactical bait for the Lamanites but cannot be caught by their larger army after a multi day chase in Alma 56: 30-42. Cut off from the main army but no longer being chased they debate their next course of action. Their commander recounts the soldier's reply:

43 And now, whether [the enemy army is] overtaken by [the main army] we knew not, but I said unto my men: Behold, we know not but they have halted for the purpose that we should come against them, that they might catch us in their snare;
44 Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go against them to battle?
45 And now I say unto you, my beloved brother Moroni, that never had I seen so great courage, nay, not amongst all the Nephites.
46 For as I had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me: Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus.
47 Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.
48 And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.
49 And it came to pass that I did return with my two thousand against these Lamanites who had pursued us. And now behold, the armies of Antipus had overtaken them, and a terrible battle had commenced.



So they courageously enter battle and now we read of their performance:

52 And it came to pass that the Lamanites took courage, and began to pursue them; and thus were the Lamanites pursuing them with great vigor when Helaman came upon their rear with his two thousand, and began to slay them exceedingly, insomuch that the whole army of the Lamanites halted and turned upon Helaman.
53 Now when the people of Antipus saw that the Lamanites had turned them about, they gathered together their men and came again upon the rear of the Lamanites.
54 And now it came to pass that we, the people of Nephi, the people of Antipus, and I with my two thousand, did surround the Lamanites, and did slay them; yea, insomuch that they were compelled to deliver up their weapons of war and also themselves as prisoners of war.


After the battle Helaman wrote:

56 But behold, to my great joy, there had not one soul of them fallen to the earth; yea, and they had fought as if with the strength of God; yea, never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength; and with such mighty power did they fall upon the Lamanites, that they did frighten them; and for this cause did the Lamanites deliver themselves up as prisoners of war.

So far we see that these "Sons of Helaman" are righteous men filled with truth, soberness and courage. When they decided to battle they rehearsed the words of their mothers and liberty of their fathers. This deference to familial teachings and the counsel of elders is considered a powerful form of proper conduct [Li] in Ancient China. They loved their father commander and he loved them in return. And they entered battle with vigor (or awesomeness) when it was not required of them. In Alma 57 we read an account of their conduct during a Lamanite counterattack:

19 But behold, my little band of two thousand and sixty fought most desperately; yea, they were firm before the Lamanites, and did administer death unto all those who opposed them.
20 And as the remainder of our army were about to give way before the Lamanites, behold, those two thousand and sixty were firm and undaunted.
21 Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them; and I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them.


Just as in the first battle, the "Sons of Helaman" perform better than the regular soldiers. They kept their proper form (in relation to their families and religion) in peace, they remained in formation (or their proper form) while in battle. They were threatened with annihilation but held firm. They obeyed and observed every order of their commander, performing "[measured] advanc[es] and withdraw[s]". They were employed but never 'exhausted in battle', chased but never caught. They were "awesome" when joining battle. They respected their commander so much they called him father. They were led and respected as sons. In short, they exemplified the traits desired by Wu-Tzu for 'the troops of a father and son'.

This post was not designed to prove a definite connection between the Book of Mormon and Asian culture. In the post titled "But Ricky", I used a Hugh Nibley quote to describe how we should expect all sorts of nonsense if we compared a work of fiction to ancient records. But instead we find that an accepted ancient record provides a strong and surprising match for a record that also claims to be ancient. This is now my 50th post, with each one I am more inclined to take away the "claim" from my previous sentence. This is one more example of a match that the critics must explain to me in order to dissuade this historian from concluding the Book of Mormon is an authentic record.

7 comments:

David J. West said...

Great post, I have enjoyed a lot of Sawyers translations. My first thought upon seeing the title was Mormon and Moroni, shortsighted on my part because like your example of Helaman, it applies on so many levels. Here's to your next 5,000 posts.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks for the comment, I need to read up on Mormon and Moroni's era in the BoM.

I am always worried that I will "run out" of material. And yet as I keep reading both the BoM and other texts I always find something new and amazing.

Danielle Walker said...

WOW. I had no idea you were a smartie pants. I enjoyed reading the blog and seeing a connection between your childhood interests and adult pursuits.

SmallAxe said...

Hi Morgan. I appreciate the parallels between the BoM and the Wuzi, but why insist that they relate to the issue of historicity? Not that I'm challenging the authenticity of the BoM, but it seems like there are so many more interesting things to say without steering the topic back to the question of historicity.

Morgan Deane said...

Thats a good question. I think I could answer it better if I knew what kind of "interesting things" you had in mind. I post mainly about the things I read and what comes to mind. Intellectual history seems a little too abstract for me. I have posted on methodology in the past. I have also linked to other sites when I see some good work in military history, such as a Juvenile Instructor post about Mormons that fought in the Civil War.

In short: I post what I think is interesting but I am open to writing things that appeal to a wider audience and others' taste. For this post I could have linked it to fathers day. I could have described the rather sublime and almost poetic display of warfare in these chapters. Then there is the paradoxical idea that warfare can show us how to live and act. So I guess there were a couple different angles I could have taken.

Anyways, this was kind of a rambling response. Thanks for the comment. I look forward to reading more of your suggestions.

SmallAxe said...

In general what I'm referring to are answers to the large questions--i.e., So what? Or, why should I care? This is to put it very bluntly, although I don't mean it to be rude. The audience, I imagine, are LDSs, so why should this material matter to LDSs?

In your initial post it seems that the answer is that it should matter because it reaffirms the historicity of the BoM. I'm sure there are, however, other interesting things. You suggest several of them in your latest comment. I would also add questions such as, Why do these texts claim that parent-child relations are the most effective in terms of soldiers and their leaders? Even this one question spins out several other questions in regards to the differences in the texts: The Wuzi is metaphorical and the BoM is literal. Is this a significant difference? The Wuzi also talks about "fathers and sons", whereas the BoM talks about "mothers and sons". Is this a significant difference?

There could also be other intriguing questions: the Chinese texts seems to explicitly talk about ritual in a military context, does the BoM do the same? All of these questions certainly could have important implications for modern warfare, but of course you would need to connect this with becoming a better LDS.

Personally speaking, the historicity question is significant, but all too often it acts as a hinderance to more productive conversations. For instance, if your audience is practicing LDSs, don't most of them already believe the BoM to be a historic document? Why spend so much time reenforcing what they already believe? Why not take that as a basis for engaging in other kinds of issues?

On another note, do you have any other posts about what you mention in your last comment, in terms of warfare showing us how to live?

Morgan Deane said...

I see what you mean. I think a part of the problem is that I assume that people have read some other posts and that the points I describe carry over.

For instance, I discussed previously how one of my goals is to bring the BoM into mainstream discussion and use by a broader historical audience. Thus my intended audience is other military historians as well as members of the church. But even members can get a great deal of use from my points since many people have a belief in the BoM's historicity but may not know that many examples, or just the common ones like Chiasmus. Based on my particular skill set I believe I can offer unique and exciting examples of its historicity often. But one of my posts (New Apologetic Implications) also discussed the desire to move past the trench warfare of apologetics and on to new territory. So I definitely see your point and I could discuss more things than just reaffirming its historicity.

I do try to offer a brief so what at the bottom of each post. It may be narrow in focus but I try to keep my posts to a reasonable length. And I occasionally branch out to other "so whats" in some posts as well. You can try "the importance of suffering" for an example.

Also, on a broader note I feel that too often studies of the BoM examine its impact on 19th and 20th century societies and religion. I feel there is far less study of its historical context in the Ancient Near East and Mesoamerica. Even when scholars do examine its historical roots, military aspects are greatly neglected. Thats especially confusing when warfare seems the most common subject of the book outside of Christ. I believe I discussed this in my first couple of posts, where I describe the state of warfare studies and where I want to go.

On the subject of The Wu-Tzu I have been considering several follow up posts because I can't get this out of my mind. I find it strangely poetic and beautiful. I don't have any posts on warfare as the way to live but I am planning on it, for now you can try "the importance of suffering", "the good/bad emperor", "an eeevil plan", and "the pioneers lead us from Valhala".

This was a rather long response but I appreciate the feedback a great deal and I will keep it in mind for future posts.