Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Troops of a Father and Son: Impact and Implications

I received a great amount of feedback to my last post in addition to some questions. In general every blogger has to accept a trade off: shorter posts are nice to read but you have to be incredibly judicious in what you post, while longer posts allow you to include a great amount of detail but you may loose a greater number of readers. Those of you that know me from grad school know that I prefer the short school. I generally do short posts and leave a few assumptions unspoken. Since I seemed to garner some interest I will now flesh out a few of those unspoken assumptions and add a few that commentators brought to my attention.

Nature of the text: This was the work of a Chinese military leader during the Warring States Period, roughly 400-300 BC. A common problem during the period was the increasing size of armies. The Spring and Autumn periods featured armies of roughly 30-50 thousand. A few hundred years later these armies had swollen to the hundreds of thousands. And these large armies could wipe out the existence of a nation in one campaign. That is why the number of states dwindled during the Warring States period from 30 to 1. Thus the command and control of large numbers of conscripts became a significant concern for leaders. Since Chinese culture already valued the respect of a child for a parent this was applied by military theoreticians. The works of Sun-Tzu, Wu-Tzu, and Wei Liao-Tzu contain admonitions that a general must be a father and the soldiers the son. This implies trust, respect and obedience in both parties that should increase the performance of armies as I described in my previous post. In fact, many of the spiritual principles found in Chinese Theory result from pragmatic concerns. The stress on these emotions were a powerful and effective way to teach leadership and soldier skills. If you examine my posts "Full Time Soldiers" and "Military Causes for the Problems in Helaman" you would see where I detected and described an increase in the army size and length of service basically similar to what Chinese Society faced in the Warring States period. So the Chinese text can help us illuminate the problems that Nephite society faced and what Mormon thought was the answer to it: stronger families as shown by the Sons of Helaman.

And perhaps a final question is in order: since Mormons today have such good families does that explain their stellar record of service to their country? Service in the country can mean work in government agencies, the military, and even service industries such as Doctors, lawyers, teachers, and the fulfillment of civic duties. Do the traits that make one a "good son" have a causal effect on the number of people that give service and the quality of that service?

Mother and Son: A commentator mentioned the difference in texts between the father and son of Wu-Tzu and the mother and son mentioned by the Sons of Helaman (hereafter cited as SoH). But many readers of Alma 56:47 look at the last half of the verse but miss out on the first half: 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

The SoH had a cultural fortification similar to the ancient Chinese and they stated it to their father general. I don't feel the statement about their mothers is a major aberration from the text of Wu-Tzu. The Chinese text is a prescriptive military tract. While the BoM contains a description of events. In the transfer from prescriptive theory to descriptive narrative we should expect minor differences and be flexible in our application of the former to the latter.

The Beauty of the Lilies...ummm er...military theory: Its one of the fun ironies of being a military historian that sometimes the most beautiful things I read are poetry. Those that have read Charge of the Light Brigade should already appreciate that fact, but this is military theory written in terse Eastern prose. I will re post it here in a way that accentuates its form:

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.'


I can't force anybody to appreciate poetry, but I hope you can notice its form and message. [I'm not a poetry teacher I'm a historian, I hope I have given you enough context and examples to appreciate its beauty]

A Model for life: I asked a question earlier that applies to this section. Does the filial duty that modern LDS are known for reflect itself in superior quality of LDS servicemen? I plan on posting in the future about the paradoxical nature contained in a military text ostensibly devoted to being a more proficient killer that actually points out many of the proper moral behaviors we should have in our daily life.

Ritual Warfare: I've mentioned the similarity of this point across ancient civilizations in several places on my blog. Please check out "But Ricky", "Prearranged Battle", and "Homeric Warfare".

As always I invite comments.

6 comments:

David J. West said...

Have you read Col. Dave Grossman's book 'On Killing"?
It has some of the most fascinating things I have ever read in relation to killing and obeying an authority figure/doing what is right.

And when it comes to poetry, keep it coming. We need to be in balance like a samurai. To not study out all things would have us become stiff-necked.

When it comes to Ritual warfare, I am convinced its in the text we just need to be able to see it.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks for the comment David. I am teaching a course on Japanese history this fall so I should have some good Samurai quotes in a few months. I will look up the book you mention as well.

SmallAxe said...

Wow, thanks Morgan for engaging my earlier comments. I'll be brief here, but I have more I hope to say later.

One of the constant critiques about the Chinese tradition is that it is authoritarian, or perhaps paternalistic in the example under discussion. Sons should unquestionably obey their fathers. Of course, this is an over simplification; but I do believe this is an accurate description to a certain degree. This would also explain why the model of father-son could work in a military text where authority is important.

Do you see something similar happening in the BoM or contemporary LDS context? In other words, perhaps one reason that LDSs make such good servicemen is because they are good at listening to authority and bad at questioning it. Does Mormonism as a paternalistic or authoritarian tradition contribute to this?

Morgan Deane said...

Authoritarian is a tough word because it has such negative connotations. The Chinese were very much so, and the Nephites much more than most members think. Nephite society was less influenced by legalism than Chinese society but they were not a democracy. So there is a similarity between the two but there are many differences as well. There is little indication that the Nephite government was as harsh and quick to excecute their citizens as the Chinese governments. And I found a great deal of exhortations within my readings that would specifically exclude the events in the BoM.

In the matter of family values there is a basic similarity though. I feel LDSs are inculcated with civic virtues and family values such as duty, obediance and loyalty. Lots of civilzations instill those qualities without being authoritarain however. So Chinese society has family values and strong central governments, Nephite society would be a little farther down the authority scale, with modern LDS families yet farther down the scale. So they all share similar familial values but the amount of government control is significantly less with each example. But some could argue that the Church is very controlling. Compared to Ancient China the modern church exerts significantly less direct force.

To answer your question I would not call the church authoritarian based on comparisions to governments and societies that have been. But I would stress the strong pyramidal structure of the church and a patriarchal system do produce better citizens and soldiers because of the values they instill.

I don't know if these qualities make the church "bad" at questioning authority. There is a duality where we are supposed to gain our own testimony and try the spirits etc. but at the same time we are not supposed to steady the ark or speak ill of the Lord's annoited etc. So I don't know if I would match your description.

Thanks for the very thought provoking comment. If I did not make sense please let me know.

SmallAxe said...

The SoH had a cultural fortification similar to the ancient Chinese and they stated it to their father general. I don't feel the statement about their mothers is a major aberration from the text of Wu-Tzu. The Chinese text is a prescriptive military tract. While the BoM contains a description of events. In the transfer from prescriptive theory to descriptive narrative we should expect minor differences and be flexible in our application of the former to the latter.

Sorry, but I'll have to be short.

Do you think that these two traditions are drawing from a single source? In other words, why see the difference here as prescriptive versus descriptive? Why would it be a problem that the Wuzi and BoM had two different prescriptions?

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks for the questions.

I said "perscriptive" because the Wu-Tzu was written to instruct. "Descriptive" comes from noticing similar instructions within a historical narrative. So they are two different kinds of texts by nature. If we had a text called "The Military Theory of Mormon", this would be much easier. But as it stands I have to notice what Mormon thinks is important or good military theory by what is stressed within the narrative.

To the first question, I'm not sure what you're getting at. I don't think they are drawing from the same source. In a generic sense that all religions have some truth, and in the sense that both cultures are religous, non western and ancient. And Hugh Nibley has discussed some of the Eastern parallels in "The World of the Jaredites", since he claims the Jaredites travelled from the Orient. If you think they have different perscriptions it may not be a problem at all. Although it would be kind of a boring blog post to describe a connection I did not find. But I think they matched pretty well, are representative of two ancient cultures, and the slight differences result from the different nature of the texts.

Hope that answers your question.