Tuesday, July 7, 2009

To Grasp the Sword and Die

In preparation for my classes this fall I have been doing a great deal of reading. In The Precepts of Kato Kiyomasa I found this intriguing line:

Having been born into the house of a warrior, one's intention should be to grasp the long and short swords and die.

But a contemporary general of Kato named Kuroda Nagamasa wrote in Notes on Regulations that:

The arts of peace and the arts of war are like the two wheels of a cart which, lacking one, will have difficulty in standing.

Both generals fought in the Sino-Japanese Korean War (1592-1598). And both saw extensive combat during their lifetimes in both unification and expansion wars. So they had similar combat experience but came to different conclusions concerning the necessity of cultured skills.

These quotes got me thinking about warfare in the Book of Mormon. Which "art" is valued more, peace or war? Does modern society value one or the other? Do military leaders in the Book of Mormon favor one or the other? The last question is difficult to answer because the text is devoted to Christ and spiritual aspects to draw us closer to Him. And because Mormon provides little background for the characters he introduces and he does not go into long asides concerning Nephite culture.

We can notice a few things concerning the "arts of peace" practiced by military leaders in the Book of Mormon. Both Moronis can read and write letters, meaning they are educated. Both lead their armies at a rather young age, which means they are skilled in the arts of war. Mormon acts as a historian for much of his life in compiling the Nephite records now contained in the Book of Mormon. The numerous primary texts included in the book reveal that Moroni had the power to read and understand their context within Nephite history, sometimes a difficult task for even modern college students to do.

The Book of Mormon says that in times of righteousness the Nephite leaders were also prophets, thus they should have had a love for the "arts of peace". Moroni [1] knew ancient prophecy (concerning the remnant of Joseph) and could perform rituals in creating the Title of Liberty. Helaman was a prophet that could also lead troops. In his letter to Moroni he summarizes what I can "The Moroni Doctrine". Thus Helaman was skilled in both the arts of war and peace, and Moroni was intelligent and organized enough to train his subordinates to a common standard.

However we can also read the words of Mormon in the fifth chapter of Mormon:

2. But behold, I was without hope, for I knew the judgments of the Lord which should come upon them; for they repented not of their iniquities, but did struggle for their lives without calling upon that Being who created them.

So even though there are many indicators of "the arts of peace" there are also some that suggest they thought the warriors place was to grasp the sword and die.

Thus I can tentatively conclude that the most discussed military leaders in the Book of Mormon were more balanced the Kato in favoring both arts of war and peace. What do you think?

Extending this to modern times. Do you think that one is more important than the other? In academic circles the study of warfare is the red headed step child of the field. But in popular circles people love the study of warfare. In Church circles it seems that scripture study almost completely ignores the military aspects of the book. I think they do that for the same reason that academics disdain the study, they think that studying war means you like or encourage war. We also have a modern humanist notion that wars are illegal and should be eliminated. However, ancient war was often an instrument of God in punishing his people's wickedness. During times of righteousness they succeeded in war, thus conflict became a Divine Diagnostic of Nephite society.

After hearing my opinion and musings on the subject, does this provide any lessons for modern Latter Day Saints? Does this impact your opinion concerning the place warfare in your scripture studies?


David J. West said...

I am dissapointed at the lack of discussion of Book of Mormon warfare for the reasons you cite above, the idea that IF you want to talk about it you must be bloodthirsty, crazy, or overcompensating. But it was an absolute fact of life in their day and in so many way's ours as well. It is our priesthood duty to protect the weak and innocent-to do that we must be prepared and balanced.

In your mention of Mormon
2. But behold, I was without hope, for I knew the judgments of the Lord which should come upon them; for they repented not of their iniquities, but did struggle for their lives without calling upon that Being who created them.

I have given this a lot of thought while begining my book series, of which Mormon is a main character on why he would do the things he does, knowing that ultimately the Nephites will be wiped out. I know that there must have been that balance to him, where he had to do what was right despite all odds, that for the sake of the still innocent children he had to command and hold back the tide of destruction.

In all your asian refrences have you yet mentioned the Book of Five Rings? Musashi's text (at least to my understanding) stressed the preparation for death but at the same time being balanced so as not to be stiff-necked, as I have posted before. In any case keep up the good work, and any more plans on the warfare seminar?

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks, the Five Rings is something I need to look over again. With all my other readings I haven't got to it yet, although it should go way faster than the Seven Military Classics.

I don't have any more news on a Military History Symposium. I have about 4 people who are interested ( but one of them probably can't travel), so its still in the tentative stage. I am waiting to see what kind of traction this blog gets in the 6 months or so. I figure the best way to get critical mass for a conference is to continue doing the best possible posts on this site.

So thanks for reading, posting, and your interest. Please spread the word.