Monday, December 14, 2009

Fatal Terrain in The Book of Mormon

What follows is a portion of some unpublished research that I wrote a year ago. It dives into some of the interesting elements revealed by Alma 56:28. I would try to write more original posts but I am currently facing a very difficult time in my life. Not only do my classes keep getting canceled, but I have additional family burdens weighing upon me. If you would like to read the whole paper you can either email me or go to site operated by Mormon Heretic and look for a thread titled "My Second Scoop".

Alma 56:28- And also there were sent two thousand men unto us from the land of Zarahemla. And thus we were prepared with ten thousand men, and provisions for them, and also for their wives and their children.

Likely explanations of Alma 56:28 also include a psychological motivation for the inclusion of women and children on a border city. Classic Chinese military theorists such as Sun-Tzu wrote that when a commander “[throws] his soldiers into a place from which there is nowhere to go, they will die rather than flee. When they are facing death, how can one not obtain the utmost strength from the officers and men?”[1] Historian David Graff called this a “psychological trigger” that commanders would employ in order to “stimulate” a soldier that would otherwise act indifferently.[2] In this case, the deployment of both soldiers and family could be viewed as a governmental policy designed to help conscripts fight with greater √©lan. Moroni could have thought that having the family of fighting soldiers live in the threatened city would spur the Nephite armies more than leaving the family safely at the capital. In support of this argument, Moroni hinted at the apathy associated with staying in the capital when he condemns the civil government for lack of effort.[3] Plus, previous events in the Book of Mormon contribute to the deadly combination of family and military service. The soldiers of King Noah burned him at the stake for his order to abandon their families and his refusal to allow them to return.[4] This event could be an abnormal exception, or it could be the logical and expected sequence of events for soldiers that are forced to abandon their families by order of the government. The Nephites abnormal behavior of burning their king could be considered a psychologically motivated event based on familial concern.

The foregoing explanation assumes that the average Nephite soldier needed this boost, and that the government and Moroni would be harsh enough to place families in a dangerous situation simply to incite greater effort. This would also seem to counter the ideological imperative stated in the Title of Liberty- that the rights of their family trump the right of the Nephite leadership to use them as psychological props. A compromise position could consist of Moroni including the wives and children of soldiers in the field armies for their pragmatic benefits of increased morale, more efficient use of combat power and ideological purity; with the unstated or even unintentional benefit of a psychological trigger as well.

Thanks for reading. What do you think? Can you think of other examples that display this kind of military thinking? Are there any contradictory examples in The Book of Mormon?

1. Ralph Sawyer trans. The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China (New York: Basic Books, 1993.)179, also see footnote 162.
2. David Graff Medieval Chinese Warfare 300-900 (London and New York: Routledge Press, 2002) 169.
3. Alma 60:21-22.
4. Mosiah 19: 16-20.


David J. West said...

I find that intriguing and have no doubt based of my own research that the average Nephite soldier would need a boost.

Michaela Stephens said...

I think that you are right on, considering all that would inspire the Nephites at the bitter end was thoughts of their wives and children. (Religion, God, and freedom didn’t motivate them any more.)
But you also bring up an interesting point.

“The soldiers of King Noah burned him at the stake for his order to abandon their families and his refusal to allow them to return.”

I think it is highly ironic that the ones who stayed with their families then had the gall to use the sex appeal of their fair daughters to pacify the Lamanites. This hiding behind the skirts of those they were supposed to protect seems to me to be a small sample of the wickedness that must have been among the community under the reign of King Noah. Considering how the wicked priests thought nothing of snatching away some Lamanite daughters, this suggests that they used to snatch away Nephite daughters fairly regularly and that the common people may have learned to use this to their advantage whenever they were threatened somehow.

Sorry I’ve gone off the topic of your post.

Morgan Deane said...

You make a good point about using their women to save them. I need to look it a bit more, but that would be an interesting post. I think at least partially there was some sort of ritual/tributory relationship where they could "get away" with that when they couldn't in other situations.

Thanks for the comments all.

Morgan Deane said...

On the comment at hand, I can think of two examples (Alma 43-44 and 52) where the Lamanites fought with "exceeding fury" because they were trapped. You could argue that Moroni put the Lamanites on fatal terrain with dangerous results. In fact, the battle in Alma 52 had Moroni getting wounded trying to prevent the breakthrough of Lamanite forces and their Zoramite chief captain. I guess thats another post for another day. :)