Friday, January 30, 2009

Mormon Mesoamerica Part II

Without further ado...

Standing armies: The writer uses Alma 53:2-6 and Alma 52:5-11 to show that "Both of these sections clearly describe a standing army, that is, an army that remains organized and structured while waiting for active battle. Again, this does not strike a modern reader as unreasonable, yet there is no evidence of such a practice in ancient Mesoamerica during the Book of Mormon time [quotes Payson Sheets "Warfare in Ancient Mesoamerica: A Summary View" 295]The existence of a standing army as described in the book of Alma would have been highly unusual in ancient Mesoamerica, and would have required a highly urbanized and centralized polity, which did not exist in ancient Mesoamerica during the specified time period.

Again, this is a superficial reading of the text. The verses mentioned are part of a seven years war, where the Nephites kept "standing" armies. Alma 62:44-47 mentions how the exceedingly great length of the war required new and extensive re-regulating of Nephite affairs. In verse 43 it mentions how Moroni yielded command of his armies to his son. In my opinion this is a small repsonse force, and the Nephite armies were largely made up of a reserve. See: Alma 16:3, Alma 60:2 which suggest that armies were largely drawn from people that were normaly farmers. Sorenson's seasonality of Warfare, and Merill's army composotioin (both from Warfare in the Book of Mormon) suggest that Nephite armies were largely part time. This does not take into account possible military colonies (at the city of Judea, and Moroni) and possible small garrisons manned by the left over forces, and a possible military caste, or small number of elite. (see "Military Castes" in Warfare in the Book of Mormon). And my paper being published for the BCC Papers suggests that there were significant breaks in the war (I call them three phases, Zoramite War, First and Second Amalickiahite War) because of the time it took to "reload". Suggesting that the Book of Mormon is consistent with the Mesoamerican difficulty of keeping standing armies.

Thus the blogger assumes that the Nephites had large standing armies similar to the Aztecs (and thus being anachronistic and impossible) when there is still much more study to be done concerning the size and composition (full time vs. part time, military castes, military garrisons etc.) of Nephite armies.

Logistics: This is the most egregious case of misreading the Book of Mormon. The blogger cites the distance and travel time from Jershon to Judea as 210 miles and impossible, and pointless since they would consume all their food just arriving there (thus the fathers sending "provisions" is impossible, Alma 56:27). But Alma 35:13 states that the people of Ammon moved from Jershon to Mulek, to make space (and presumably consume less food) for the Nephite armies there. Mulek is significantly closer to Judea. And using Sorensons geography, is less than 100 miles from Judea.

My research paper currently under consideration for the Journal of Book of Mormon studies has dealt with Nephite logistics (based on Alma 56:28 ironically). The women and children that accompnied the army would extend its operating range, and provide necessary labor once upon arrival. Thus the 100 miles is within acceptable range of an travelling army, representing a one way travel of 8-10 days. If a soldier carries 50 pounds worth of weapons and armor (a very high estimate considering most of the soldiers were probably commoners and had less armor and fewer weapons) the soldier could carry 3 days of food. They also travelled through the capital, and probably resupplied for another 3 days. (The capital being rougly halfway between Melek and Judea). Then you assume that the army had one porter for every 3 soldiers which could carry three days of food for themselves, and another 3 days of food and you have will finish your journey with food to spare. Plus, I suggest that Judea was a military colony, thus the remaining porters would farm the available land and provide more food upon arrival. (This is already a long post, I can do the boring details and excact calculations in another post)

The scenario suposedly gets worse with 3 Nephi 3:21-25, where the Nephites gather in one land, and have food left over, despite the supposedly high population density and limited farming space. Again this is a misreading of the text. I read it, as the Nephites abadoning their less defensible outpost cities in favor of their stronger cities and "lands". The most defensible cities were in the valley and flat lands around Bountiful and Zarahemla. Since the robbers would be more vulnerable after leaving their mountain hideouts and defensible terrain to battle on the plains. And, as noted by Sorenson, the term "land" is sometimes used for wide geographic spaces. Thus when the robbers could not longer plunder the less defensible Nephite outposts, they had to either farm themselves (thus exchanging position with the previously exposed Nephites) or try to attack the best defesnive locations of the Nephites. In short, the internal consistency of the Book of Mormon suggests a looser reading of the term "land" and how fortified they were, compared to the bloggers analysis. "If this event occurred in ancient Mesoamerica, then it required the existence of a highly urbanized, centralized polity with a far more efficient transportation system than actually existed in ancient Mesoamerica, and that same polity and transportation system disappeared without a trace." According to what the Book of Mormon actually says, it does not require a city with the size, power,and logistic capacity of the Aztec capital, but simply a more detailed understanding of what the Book of Mormon actually says.

Conclusion: This blogger presents some good points. His arguments would be stronger if he knew the Book of Mormon better, and was willing to adjust his understanding of it to meet his research. One of the best interactions between scholarhsip and faithful reading, is the adjustment of the latter to the former. In other words, we should be willing to allow scholarship to adjust our understanding of the Book, not from true to false, but from shallow reading to nuanced undestanding. Just as believers of the Book of Mormon used to think that it was account of the whole hemisphere; But changed in response to language and population problems presented which forced readers to re-examine verses that got missed due to past assumptions. Likewise, our study of war can benefit from dropping past assumptions under the light of sometimes critical scholarship. It would help if bloggers did not assume the Book of Mormon is false due to their shallow reading concerning warfare and eager desire to contrast it with Mesoamerican research.

Rebuttal to Mormon Mesoamerica Part I

Summary: The writer of this blog criticizes Book of Mormon warfare based on an incredibly narrow and superficial reading that seemed designed to fit the secondary sources the writer had available. I intend to show that his criticisms are simply straw men based on a shallow reading of the text. And, while much more study remains to be done, comparisons of the Book of Mormon to Mesoamerican scholarship must at least start with what the Book actually says, not what is seems to say.

Territorial Conquest Warfare: The writer starts with a discussion of the debate between a destructive war and simply tributary wars. The latter would simply change the political leader, and would effect the population far less than the destruction chronicled in the BoM. Conquest warfare arguably started in 378 (AD) according to the Rice in Maya Political Science (p102). Assuming this is true, I agree with Brant Gardner that this type of destructive warfare is consistent with the Book of Mormon time frame that has the latter fourth century featuring the final bloody finale to the Nephite nation. The blogger actually twists the quoted portion Gardner's words. Gardner's "suspicion" simply suggests plausible connections to events in the Book of Mormon to Mesoamerican trends, while the blogger treats his words as statement of hard fact and then smashes the straw man.

What I find interesting, is that the detailed war chapters taking place around 75 B.C., and receiving the most criticism from the blogger for its early date of territorial conquest, actually seems to be resemble all the facets of that final war in limited form. In other words: the elements of the final Book of Mormon war features all the essential elements much earlier. Editorially this would make sense, because Mormon had a strong connection to this period (he even named his son Moroni, like the figure that is highlighted in the 75 B.C. chapters,and he may be named after the waters where Alma started the church) There is limited evidence of ritual sacrifice (Alma 58:31-32), blood drinking and human sacrifice (Alma 49), territorial conquest (Alma 59:5-10) and an "eternal war" with language very similar to the Nephites 4th century destruction. (Alma 54)Thus, Nephite society moved towards war violent absolute, and Moroni is treated as a hero for successfully defending the Nephite nation and arresting that trend. (see my blog post: Moroni the War criminal part two for more)

On a final note the blogger cites David Friedal as to the impossibility of marches halfway across mesoamerica for territorial conquest, and that it likely happened instead through local factions attaching themselves to powerful foreigners. This is another example of the lack Book of Mormon study by the blogger. The war chapters are replete with local factions that ally themselves with foreign powers, possibly for greater trade (see my BCC paper publication for more). The numerous king men references are one, and the allusion to "gaining advantage through intrigue" (Alma 53:8) seems a spot on description of opportunistic session politics.

Coming soon: standing armies, Homeric warfare, and logistics.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An eeeevil Plan? The terminology of War

Mormons have been in the news alot lately. Much of has to do with our supposed "war" on gays. I don't plan on interacting with the temper tantrums of the gay community. I instead want to focus on the place that war has in our moral reasoning.

Often our children want to play war because it is a basic morality tale. You learn who is good and bad, as well as the benefits of certain virtures such as sacrfice and courage. Henry Kissinger in his book Diplomacy, also outlines how America wants to fight its wars with the rhetoric of a moral crusade. (war to end all wars, war to make the world safe for democracy etc)

The political borrowing of wars moral terminology tries to impart that same sense of moral focus. Ironically, it is mostly used by liberals who eschew regular war in favor of social causes: the war on poverty, war on drugs, etc. This tries to gain a sense of moral high ground for the progressive advocates. The prosecutors of this war can feel justified by their intrusion into others lives or increased government control because of they are "fighting" for their noble cause.

In this case, the gay community is trying claim the opposite of the usual moral terminology. They are trying to portray the prop 8 campaign as an evil war. (Think Dr. Evil from Austin Powers when you say it). So instead of liberals wrapping themselves in a flag with their "war" against various social evils, they are trying to cast their opponents as evil aggressors (probably wrapping themselves in a Nazi flag).

This reveals a language of victomology, where any loser in a vote suddenly becomes a victim similar to those in Darfour or the refugees in Palestine. These are blatant appeals to emotion that skip any logical and rational case for gay marriage in favor of simply guilting their opponents into giving in. In my experience defending prop 8, I always start with a few logical reasons why I want to preserve marriage; in return, the first card my opponents always play is to call me hateful.

Its also rather passive aggresive. They try to obfuscate their hateful and rude attempts at fighting back by dramatically painting their oppoenents as the aggresors. Hugh Nibley described this type of langauge in the Book of Mormon. Laman and Lemuel both complained that their brother was tyring to usurp power from them even as they repeatedly tied down, beat, and fought their brother. In Alma 54, Ammoron complained that his war was to avenge the wrongs done to him, when he was the one that fled after his failed revolution. The robber Giddianhi complained in the same fashion (3 Nephi 3:4-11). Giddianhi was a robber that lived in the mountains, and he complained of the wrongs done to him as he was threatening to rob and plunder Nephite lands.

In short: we should not be surprised that the aggresors, those who want to dramtically redefine marriage to suit their indulgences, should then try to wrap themselves in the language of the victim. As we examine the moral rhetoric that comes with war we see one more way Warfare in the Book of Mormon can help us today.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Clausewitz on Captain Moroni's Genius

The influential military theoretician Karl Von Clausewitz outlined several criteria for what makes a military leader a genius.

-Courage is the first requirement. Moroni had physical courage. In the Battle of Mulek (Alma 52) Moroni was wounded in battle, presumably fighting the enemy commander, Jacob, in one on one combat. (Alma 52:35, compare with Alma 2:29-33) Unlike Napoleon but more like Alexander the Great, Moroni fought at the head of his troops. Clausewitz also referred to the courage to face civilian audit. Moroni powerfully displayed his courage in the face of civilian audit by heavily criticizing the government. It is doubtful the government could have removed Moroni from his command: He had the loyal veterans, and like Caesar was not afraid to cross the Rubicon. Although when Moroni complained to the government he did cite their power to muster, equip, and feed men; and he cited that many men were dying from the lack of government care, so the government had significant power as well.

-Strength is next. Physical strength is important, but Clausewitz refers more to the mental stamina and physical power to perceive what is right and then follow it. The army is described as a "machine". And the machine is only as responsive and efficient as the general in charge of it. Thus the will of the general pushes the machine to greatness. I can think of Stonewall Jackson and his ability to move his army with such speed that he mentally disabled the enemy. Moroni was able to achieve decisive results by rapidly moving and motivating his "machine". Inherent in any military operation is the concept of "friction". A talented general can overcome friction and achieve his goals. He did this with able lieutenants like Lehi and Teancum; he also did this with ideological motivation like the Title of Liberty, and presumably the example of his physical courage.

-Coup De Oeil This is a french term that refers to the leaders ability to "see the light" and follow the light. Again, this is a mental continuation of physical strength, where a leader must have the strength to weigh the massive amounts of information and quickly discern what is right. It also has a religious overtone. Moroni had both the mental ability and the spiritual ability to see what was right (the light) and he had the physical and character strength to follow it in the face of opposition. He could animate the machine to follow and obtain the light of victory. (See my paper published by BCC Papers for Moroni's skill at seeing and following his strategic vision)

-determination vs. obstinacy. Clausewitz describes a fine line between a general courageously overcoming odds (in following the light) and a general that is obstinately refusing to accept reality. The line is a refusal to change based on a clear conviction. There are a couple instances of Moroni changing course based on clear conviction. The first is his execution of the king men. In being invaded Moroni saw the enemy within and without his realm. He sought and obtained power from the people to end the internal threat to better meet the external threat. After the important city of Nephihah fell, Moroni quickly ascertained the cause of the government neglect and "marched speedily" to restore the government. (Alma 61:15,17)

-imagination/terrain. This quality refers to the mental ability to envision (imagine) and use both micro and macro terrain. His use of tactical ruses in Alma 43 and 52 show his ability at mastering micro terrain. His desire to hold certain cities, and to build military garrisons represents his ability to master strategic terrain. His rallying the people in Alma 46 against Amalickiah represents his ability to judge human terrain as well.

-changing the rules. A commander must be revolutionary in his application of military principle. Moroni armed his soldiers to such a degree that the Zoramites retreated into the wilderness. He also fortified "after the manner of Moroni" (Alma 51) so that he "astonished" his opponents. (Alma 49) This also brings up an item: If the Book of Mormon prominently displays a story, is that because it is a text book example of the normal, or because it is incredibly unique. If its the latter, than Moroni's use of the Title of Liberty changed the rules of the game. But there is significant evidence (In a paper currently submitted to the Journal of BoM studies) that it is textbook.

In short, Moroni meets the criteria established by Clausewitz in determining a military genius. Studying the leadership of Moroni from a theoretical standpoint allows us to better understand the interaction betweenthe demands of military leadership and the demands of discipleship.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Problem with Numbers

I ran across an interesting site the other day: CARM. This "christian" apologetic group has a very active message board that largely consists of "yea those Mormons are dumb." In fact they have a current thread about Mormon "Scholars". The quotes around scholars are theirs and not mine. Their tactics consist of thumping their chests, demanding answers from Mormons, and then obfuscating and disqualifying the answers of anybody that actually responds, or even dare question the presumption that Mormonism is so obviously false, and maybe the Book of Mormon IS an ancient book.

That is where I come in. I have no stomach for intense polemic debates, I got my fill in Texas as a missionary. What I did want to comment on is the problem with numbers that is posted on CARM. I spent a great deal of time searching for the quote, more time than I wanted to on a site like that(I found it, but still have trouble posting links). But the two questions they present remain valid: Are the numbers accurate in the Book of Mormon? And if the casualty numbers detailed in several of the battles are false, is the historicity of the book still valid?

My answer is yes, no, and yes. Brant Gardner has done research on the possible symbolic nature of Book of Mormon numbers. One account contains a double/same/double pattern that could be a figurative device. (Alma 2:19: 12,532 and 6,562)Other numbers could be the mesoamerica equivalent of "if I told you a million times...". Now lets assume that the people at CARM are right, and that other scholars who cite demographic impossibility are right: does that destroy the historicity of the Book of Mormon? The answer is a resounding no. In fact, having number problems would put the Book of Mormon in good company. Herodotus said the Persian army numbered in the millions. According to one scholar an army that big would have the beginning of the column in Greece before the end of the column even started! (See "On the Possibility of Reconstructing the Battle of Marathon" by N. Whatley Journal of Hellenistic Studies) Kelly DeVries has discussed the imprecise nature of Medieval military Chronicles and cites the same problems. (Journal of Medieval Military History, vol. 2) Scribal error, deliberate exaggeration, and a use of numbers as a colloquium (I told you a million times)explain the "wrong" numbers in the Book of Mormon better than the other theory (Jo Smith making it up) and places it on a firm foundation with other ancient texts. Critics will cry foul, and argue that I just said that mistakes in the Book of Mormon prove its true, that's exactly what I did because real historians ("scholars" if you will) know the limitations of their sources and accept their historicity even with those limits. I.E. I read Herodotus in spite and sometimes because of its mistakes as well as for historical knowledge.

This argument is actually a second line of defense, since the first line of defense shows that either the original number for the demographic models is wrong. (A model starting with 50 will proceed differently than a model staring with 35, and over 1000 years will make a big statistical difference) Or that the qualifying statistics used are wrong (see Steven Danderson at FAIR) Or that the original group found "others" upon their arrival and absorbed them into their community. (See Sorenson: "Did Lehi Find others" Journal of BoM studies 1/1)

This shows the need for more careful scholarship in finding out the subtle things the Book of Mormon has to say. Using straw men based on shallow reading of the text to suit a "christian" goal of tearing down a religion is sad. More so when there are a great number of studies that have been done by scholars honestly examining what the Book of Mormon has to say concerning demographics and causality figures.

And there are more issues that historians can look at. A. Brent Merrill presented a case for a decimal organization of Nephite armies. (see the book, Warfare in the Book of Mormon) Future studies can examine the qualifying descriptions and the few express numbers to suggest army size. Scholars can then take the tentative demographic studies already completed and compare it to army size (decimal armies) and casualty reports, to examine orders of battle. So the real problem with numbers is not the wild statistics that pseudo scholars use to beat Mormons with, but the lack of in depth research concerning Nephite army size, casualty rates, and its comparison to demographic trends already presented.
Update: Thanks to meeting Mormon Heretic I can now post links
Update two: But in updating the link I deleted something that makes the link useless. Sorry.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Moroni The War Criminal? Part 2

Without further ado, here is part two:
While not a war crime, Moroni’s tendency to insist on unconditional surrender and treaty acceptance seems to prolong the war. Much like Germany after World War I, the Lamanites, when they lose, must always accept complete defeat. The resentment, under these conditions, seems to build up quickly, resulting in more fighting to come. Oddly enough, when Moroni’s son, Moronihah loses half the kingdom to the Lamanites later, the Lamanites shortly give all their acquired territory back (after the religious intervention of Nephi and Lehi). Perhaps Zarahemnah and Ammoron would have responded better to Nephite peace overtures if Moroni hadn’t insisted on implying they were the children of hell.

John's history is wrong. In World War I, Germany was not completely defeated, and the untouched German territory allowed the stabbed in the back myth to perpetuate. John’s criticism sounds much like WWII revisionists who argue that the United State’s demand for unconditional surrender prolonged the Pacific War. And just like the WWII revisionists, John is completely wrong. The Lamanites were ruled by a man arguably more authoritarian and cruel than Japan’s Emperor. To suggest that something less than death would have stopped him is wrong. John's Book of Mormon knowledge is also wrong, apostates in the Book of Mormon were worse than the non believers that Ammon, Nephi, and Lehi converted in other times. (Alma 24:30) Amalickiah swore to drink the blood of Moroni (Alma 49:27), and revealed an almost sociopathic lust for power. (Alma 47) In response to this homicidal blood drinker with an eternal hatred of the Nephite people, Pahoran articulated a fairly restrained policy. Alma 61:11-14. This restrained policy was simply to recover their lands already lost, not to invade and dominate Lamanite lands. (Status quo ante bellum) Thus, the unconditional surrender that John cites was not even that.

John C. also seems to think that Moroni "insulted" them into fighting. When Moroni called Ammoron a child of Hell he had already: attempted a coup in the Nephite government, seized Lamanite power through intrigue and murder, attacked two cities in Nephite lands, instigated internal rebellion in Nephite lands, swore to drink the blood of Moroni, invaded again, and plundered several Nephite cities. Moroni was defending Nephite lands against enemy slaughter and depredation, the fact that Moroni was still able to negotiate without a blinding revenge is remarkable.

Mormon, a participant in a scorched earth campaign, presents these details without comment. I believe this is, in part, due to his deep admiration for Moroni. Moroni was a man who did great things. At the same time, Mormon is a wonderfully subversive editor. Even if our all being like Moroni would shake the gates of hell, Moroni is presented with flaws intact and with subtle commentary. Why else the inclusion of Moroni’s threats of military coup when writing to the legally-elected, civil authorities of his country?

From the viewpoint of Moroni the legally elected representatives where guilty of gross negligence at best, thus his letter was justified from his point of view. There was actually a coup against the government and Moroni provided the needed corps of loyalist forces to restore the government. Thus Mormon included Moroni’s letter (threatened coup and all) as an indicator of how forceful, determined, and ultimately successful Moroni was as a defender of God’s people and representative of the “true spirit of Freedom-which is the Spirit of the Lord”. (Alma 61:15)

Clausewitz described war as a being that moves towards a violent absolute. (On War: Book 1, chapter 1) With the passion and hatred displayed by the Lamanite leaders, it is remarkable that Moroni did as well as he did in resisting the tendency of war to move towards it violent absolute. In fact,I get that sense that Moroni was like the leader of the Latins in Virgil's Aeneid. The King resisted the call to war, and tried to hold back his people, knowing the disastrous consequences that comes with the foolishness of the heroic impulse and the encouragement of war's enmity. But the people opened the gates of war anyway. Once the War started, Moroni prosecuted it with vigor, skill, and a comparative amount of restraint and civility: he gave a trapped enemy a chance to surrender, allowed prisoners to leave after swearing an oath, he resisted the chance to slaughter passed out soldiers. He also acted with spirituality and sensitivity: He consecrated his banner, he dedicated the land, he supported the civilian government, he knew gospel principles and received revelation. In short, Moroni is a hero not a war criminal; and deserves the respect of LDS and non LDS alike. He acted within the context of ancient society, but with significant righteous "twists", proving that we can be good soldiers and good people, and we can live in the world but not of it.

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.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ancient Models for Modern War

Lindsey asked a good question. Good enough, that she will get an entire post as a response. The question is: How can ancient war help us understand modern conflict? In particular, how can the Book of Mormon help us understand modern war?

There are several responses I have to this. Here are some general impressions:

1. Every historian has the same general answer; when you study the past, different cultures, and periods hundreds or even thousands of years removed from ours you are really trying to learn about yourself. You can do this by seeing similarities or explaining why there are differences. Thus the study of the past is really a study of yourself, and a study of the future. (Insert the overused George Santayana quote here). So the study of the past has intrinsic merit in understanding ourselves today. For example, I mentioned how we can study the tactical operations of Nephite armies. This will allow us to examine how the "average" soldier acted. By understanding the hopes and fears of ancient soldiers, it can inform us pertaining to the universality of mans condition, and help us understand ourselves. That as people we tend to react a certain way to fear and death no matter what time and culture we live in.

2. There are some specific military historians (See Martin Van Creveld's "The Transformation of War", and Hammes' "The Sling and the Stone" for two of them) who say that we have entered a post Clausewitzean phase where the famous German military theorist's ideas on the nature of war no longer applies, because wars basic nature has changed. Others, such as my former teacher Dr. Echevarria, argue that Clausewitz is still very much in force and that war can change colors (i.e.: technology) but its nature (the trinity of (1) primordial violence, hatred, and enmity; (2) the play of chance and probability; and (3) war's element of subordination to rational policy) remain the same. See "4th generation warfare and other myths" at the Strategic Studies Institute. Examining the nature of war with a book that seems to have come out of nowhere can better inform us concerning the underlying nature of war; even for an ancient society, or what the 19th century imagination of an ancient society.

3. In a similar vein, other military theorists point to almost scientific principles that explain how war is conducted. British Inter World War Theorist J.F.C. Fuller articulated the principles of war that our modern U.S. Army Officers study even today. Thus ancient warfare should conform to these principles just as much as modern warfare does. And studying an ancient book (like the Book of Mormon) should exhibit these principles of war and could add to our understanding of them. In the LDS Church we often talk about the definition of principle: Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. (Richard G. Scott, November 1993 Ensign,86) Thus the Book of Mormon, if true, should contain not only vast amounts of spiritual truth, but also other truth as well. I have already done research that shows the Book of Mormon conforms to these principles and adds several twists to our understanding of them. (The paper is currently under review by BCC E Journal)

4. Today's military historians are obsessed with the "Western Way of War". The short short version of the theory says that Ancient Greeks fought a certain way, and Western culture has generally produced armies that fight the same way. By introducing the Book of Mormon to this argument we can examine one of several things. First, does the Book of Mormon present similarities to this Way? If so, what does that say about the uniqueness of a supposed Way of War. Does it mean there is a universal condition to war? Or is it more like John Lynn's counter argument that says each culture has a specific dialogue and "way" of war? Thus the Book of Mormon can help add to a modern debate about the prosecution of modern war.

5. There are examples of modern technology mirroring in many ways ancient tactics and technology. The first chariots were missile platforms from which archers could fire with greater security. Kenneth Chase in "The World History of Firearms", showed how early gunpowder forces would use mobile wagons linked together to provide firing platforms and greater security. Thus, an ancient technology like the War chariot was loosely reproduced thousands of years later due to both societies having similar demands. Thus, studying the ancient tactics in the Book of Mormon will allow us to see general principles that can apply even today.

6. The Book of Mormon's spiritual message should not be separated from warfare. Every cultural must face war, and many Christian cultures find trouble reconciling their faith with their martial duties. And in ancient cultures the state was generally the religion and vice versa. (William Hamblin called ancient wars "A continuation of God's policy by other means" in Warfare in the Ancient Near East) Now today we have a separation of church and state. But we don't suddenly become atheists when we join the military. The entwined spiritual and martial message of the Book of Mormon are still vital to know and understand for those of us today who interact with war's devastation, personnel conflicts, and demands.

7. Finally, the Book of Mormon has been the symbol of the LDS religion since its inception. Thus how the Book was used within Mormon culture can also lead us to a better understanding of war. For instance, in 2003 President Hinckley used Alma 43 to articulate a Mormon version of "The Just War Theory" to justify the Iraq War. (Ensign May 2003: "War and Peace") So the words of the Book of Mormon inspire modern action and both can be examined to identify the trends of Mormon society, and society in general in how they feel and react towards war.

The Past and the Future

This post deals with what has already been studied concerning Book of Mormon warfare and what can or needs to be done.

The famous LDS scholar Hugh Nibley started the trend in several of his books. He compared one of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Title of Liberty episode in the Book of Mormon. He also produced a brief battle history for the war chapters of the Book of Mormon. From an anthropological standpoint, John Sorenson has produced a geography and short battle history of the Book of Mormon as well. His study is interesting because he tries to see how the Nephites actually lived-their fears and hopes- in studying the cultural clues the Book of Mormon has given us. Brant Gardner's multi-dimensional commentary to the bom (link forthcoming) also focused on anthropological detail, and included several tactical or cultural examples from Mesoamerican warfare. The best book is adroitly title "Warfare in the Book of Mormon". This features the laws of war, the tools of war, army organization, and even a little military theory from Clausewitz. Unfortunately, the book is out of print and somewhat hard to find.

Largely, Book of Mormon warfare is a subset of the intense polemical debates between believers and non believers in the Book of Mormon. Thus, warfare studies focus on the supposed anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, such as steel weapons, bows and arrows, demographic implausibilities and extant evidence. Critics try to focus on the lack of physical evidence for many of the large battles in the bom. Supporters focus on the many similarities between fortifications in the bom and trends in Mesoamerican fortifications. Outside of the debate surrounding the supposed anachronisms there is little directly involving warfare. The remaining study focuses on the impact of the book on LDS theology, and not the study of the text.

I feel this is a mistake. A short list of study that can help in historicity debate of the Book of Mormon include the following:

1. A study that included not just Clausewitz, but Frontinus, the Strategikon by Maurice ,De Re Militari, and Sunzi or Tai Kung can help provide context for the warfare described in the bom. Unlike the "two edged sword" that surrounds the polemic debates- where one side sees nothing but ancient and authenticating parallels, and the other sees nothing but 19th century and fradulating parallels- a study of a wide range of cultures and military theory allows the proper context to judge what kind of warfare the Book of Mormon contains from a theoretical standpoint.

2. We can then take the theory of war, and apply it practically to the Book of Mormon by examining other narrative books, such as the Book of Maccabees, Chinese Literary tales, the Popul Vuh and the bible. This will again provide context in order to see what the Book of Mormon says concerning warfare compared and contrasted to other ancient books. Again these are studies that have not been done, but I feel are crucial for understanding what the Book of Mormon truly says concerning war, and not simply seeing parallels based on our limited knowledge.

3. Additional studies can include a study of contrasting leaders to determine the desired qualification of a ruler and strategic culture of the people within the Book of Mormon. The military thinker Karl Von Clausewitz said that "war is a continuation of policy by other means". And Dr. Antulio Echevarria from the Strategic Studies Institute said that the political discourse before war is just as important as the leadership decisions during war and they are flip sides of the same coin.

4. We can examine the traditional drum and trumpet history of the strategic campaigns, with a broader theoretical concept than Nibley's post World War II study, and Sorenson' geographic focus.

5. We can build on Gardner's tactical commentary by including the wide range of options implied within the text, that are skipped over by devotional commentators and largely skipped by cultural commentators like Gardner. This approach has the added benefit of examining the duties and functions of the average solider; this face of battle approach will help us reach the goal that Sorenson and many latter day saints seek: to understand how the living breathing people of the bom behaved and felt.

6. A final study will include the logistics of the Nephite nation. Modern scholarship points to logistics as the root of strategy and not its branches, thus studying logistics will help us understand how non combatants were affected, but also allows us to reexamine the political leadership, and strategic decisions of the military leaders.

In short: historians wishing to study the Book of Mormon have a field that is white and ready to harvest.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


On this day of new beginnings I thought it would be appropriate to start my blog as well. I am a student currently living in Buena Vista Va. I study military history at Norwich University and am a few months (and a few revisions in my thesis) away from getting my Masters.
As I have studied at Norwich, I've continued my life long study of the Book of Mormon. And I found that after studying historiography, military theory, Ways of War, war's effect on society, military technology and logistics I am now like a painter that just discovered water colors. My study of Book of Mormon warfare was in black and white, now after my graduate study it is in color. With my head now exploding with things I have never seen before, I decided to use a blog as an online diary to explore some of these ideas. I hope that my thoughts will be helpful to other people that study the Book and Mormon; and I hope those with constructive ideas and comments will post them.
Another hobby of mine is surfing the web and seeing what people say about the Book of Mormon. This leads to plenty of interesting sites filled with standard anti- mormon rhetoric. (I know the anti mormon label is disputed, but I will address that in a later post) So the second purpose of this site is to place my rebutalls to criticism of the Book of Mormon. These will be associated with my speciality of warfare in the Book of Mormon but will also extend to Mormon history.
Finally, I hope to bridge the gap between scholarly study of the Book of Mormon, average Mormons, and warfare scholars. Since finding that little has been written on the subject (the topic of my next post), there is little interaction between Mormons and the exceeding amount of warfare in the keystone book of their religion. And there is little interaction between scholars who specialize in warfare, and a book that says a ton about it. Well, thank you for your time, and I hope to add many useful ideas to the body of Mormon and scholarly knowledge.