Sunday, August 30, 2009

Me as a Teaching Assistant

Well two days before classes were supposed to begin I received word that my classes were cancelled due to low enrollment. My reaction was about as priceless as the "Hitler as a T.A." video I posted a little while back. So I'm sorry I haven't posted anything substantive but I have been scrambling to find another teaching position. I still have some good ideas, its simply been hard to concentrate on blogging when the rug gets pulled out from under you.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tactics in the Book of Mormon

Here is another rough draft of an article I am writing for FAIR Wiki. Please share any thoughts or suggestions you might have.

Miriam Webster’s dictionary defines tactics as “the science and art of disposing and maneuvering forces in combat.”[1] Nephite tactics were a culmination of their STRATEGY and resulted in battles determined largely through shock battle.[2] William Hamblin said that “Battles frequently began with an exchange of missiles to wound and demoralize the enemy. Only when the missiles were exhausted did hand to hand combat occur. The battle described in Alma 49 offers a good description of archery duels preceding hand to hand melees. When panic began to spread in the ranks, a complete collapse could be sudden and devastating. The death of the king or commander often led to the complete collapse of an army, as happened in Alma 49:25. Casualties occurred most during the flight and pursuit after the disintegration of the main units. Battles in the Book of Mormon often end with descriptions of just such routs, flights, and destruction of armies (see Alma 52:26–36; 62:31, 38).”[3]

The clash of melee soldiers described in the Book of Mormon alternated between relatively bloodless and elite versus elite combat in Mosiah 19:14-15, 20:24-25 and Alma 2: 29-33. But verses such as Mosiah 20:10-11, Alma 43: 43-44, Alma 52:33-34 and 3 Nephi 4:11 suggest a bloody and vicious scrum with combat falling upon the leaders and masses alike.[4] In a letter to Moroni, Helaman recorded what would be the standard tactical goal. He said that “we were desirous… to fall upon them in their rear, and thus bring them up in the rear at the same time they were met in the front” (Alma 56:23).

Command and control was affected through battle standards (Alma 46:21). This system was effective enough to both end and restart the melee described in the Alma 43-44.

1. (Accessed August 22, 2009).
2. Shock battle should be linked to its Wikipedia article (if it has one as it should).
3. William Hamblin, “The Importance of Warfare in Book of Mormon Studies” in Stephen Ricks and William Hamblin Ed. Warfare in the Book of Mormon Provo: F.A.R.M.S. Publication, 1991.
4. See this preliminary research for more:
5. David A. Freidel. “Maya Warfare, Myth and Reality” Cal State East Bay University, Yuxana papers. (Accessed February 20th 2008)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Strategy in the Book of Mormon

This is a rough draft of a Wikipedia article that I am writing for F.A.I.R. Feel free to provide any feedback that you have.

Strategy in the Book of Mormon:
Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines strategy as “the science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under advantageous conditions".[1]

The Nephites adopted a strategy that most closely resembles what military historian Russell F. Weigley labeled the “offensive defensive”.[2] They were commanded to avoid offensive wars, (Mormon 3: 9-15)and multiple leaders such as Mormon and Limhi specifically refused to lead the Nephites in their offensive operations outside of Nephite lands (Mosiah: 21:6-12). They believed that their temporal safety and strength in war making were ensured through righteous living and pre battle ritual (Alma 61:13, Alma 46: 9-28, Alma 48: 7, Helaman 4: 24-26). However, once Nephite lands were attacked they were commanded by the Lord to “resist evil…with [their] swords” (Alma 61:10-13), and they felt it was “no sin” to use stratagems and offensive operations to defeat enemy armies (Alma 43: 30).

As part of this defensive mindset the Nephites built towers (Helaman 7:11), walls and small forts (Alma 48:8).[3] Under the reign of Pahoran, Moroni evicted Lamanites settlers along both the east and west seas so he could establish what anthropologist John Sorenson called “military outposts”.[4] These settlements strengthened the Nephite position (Alma 50:10-13). One researcher suggests this strength derived from the placement of the city Moroni upon a pivotal river crossing.[5] Further research postulates the existence of military colonies established closer to the west sea to bolster the defense of that area.[6]

Upon the invasion of Nephite lands military leaders relied upon defensive fortifications in many cases (Alma 49). However in later Nephite history this often proved ineffective (Helaman 1). Historians A. Brent Merrill and Morgan T. Deane suggest that Moroni used what is now called the principles of war in seeking to attack and defeat enemy armies.[7] Additionally the Nephites used “complex pre battle maneuvering”,[8] pre battle divination (Alma 43:23), ambushes (Alma 43:31-33), spies (Alma 50:31), and feigned retreats (Alma 52:23, 56:36), that culminated in shock battle (Alma 43:37, Alma 52: 32-34). (see TACTICS for more) And sometimes the various parties requested battle at a specific time and place ( Mormon 6: 2, Alma 52:20).[9] Although several pre battle ruses such as raids upon enemy supply,[10] aiding internal dissension (Alma 61: 8), and obstructing marching armies[11] suggest that some strategic options were designed to weaken armies through means other than battle.

For sub national actors such as the Gadianton Robbers, the Nephites adopted a military strategy of “search and destroy” (Helaman 11:28). This policy often failed miserably due to difficult terrain that these robbers occupied. When operating outside of that difficult terrain the Nephites consolidated their position to their central cities. They tried to defend those cities and engage the enemy army in climatic shock battles that took advantage of additional ruses, such sending an army to cut off their retreat (3 Nephi: 2:11, chapters 3-4).

1. (Accessed August 19, 2009).
2. Russell Weigley The American Way of War Indianapolis IN: Indiana University Press, 1973, 96-97.
4. John Sorenson. Mormons Map.(still need to complete this footnote)
5. Preliminary research posted on (Accessed August 19th 2009).
6. Unpublished research: “Notes on a Curious Verse: Alma 56:28” by Morgan T. Deane.
7. A Brent Merrill “Nephite Captains and Chief Captains in the Book of Mormon” in Stephen Ricks and William Hamblin Ed. Warfare in the Book of Mormon Provo, Salt Lake City: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and Deseret Book, 1991. Morgan Deane “No Sin by Stratagem” BCC E Journal 4:1 (2009), 1-32. (Forthcoming) “Principles of War” should have a hyper link to its Wikipedia article.
8. William Hamblin “The Importance of Warfare in Book of Mormon Studies” in Noel B. Reynolds Ed. Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited Provo, F.A.R.M.S. Publication 1997.
9. John Welch also argues that the Almicite War recorded in Alma 1-2 was prearranged: John Welch “Why Study War in the Book of Mormon” in Stephen Ricks and William Hamblin Ed. Warfare in the Book of Mormon Provo: F.A.R.M.S. Publication, 1991.
10. Brant Garnder’s Multi Dimensional Commentary of the Book of Mormon for Alma 52:22.
11. Morgan Deane Preliminary Research posted on (Accessed August 19, 2009).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Poor Life Choice

I've had people ask me why I wanted to find employment before completing or even starting a PhD program. The answer lies in this Simpsons clip. I didn't want to be a professional student who makes $600 a year and made a "poor life choice". I was worried that I would simply be in school for another 5 years with still no credible chance of finding a job. But I found a job in this environment competing against people with PhDs. With that behind me I know I can go to a PhD program and at least a decent job at the end of it. I hope all of you enjoy the clip.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Military Mind of Joseph Smith

There are many things wrong with the natural explanation of the Book of Mormon's origin. However a relatively undeveloped theme is the correlation, or lack thereof, between the military themes in the Book of Mormon and Smith's life. This post briefly addresses the topic while calling for greater research into this theme.

A brief perusal of this site should give you an indication of the myriad military themes the Book of Mormon contains. The list of topics on the left side of your screen contains strategy, tactics, Western military theorists, Classical Chinese military theorists, army composition, naval warfare, and logistics. Under the natural explanation for the rise of the Book of Mormon we must conclude that Joseph Smith made up these many military themes based on his extensive frontier library, (including an untranslated Karl Von Clausewitz). According to one theory, Joseph Smith had enough knowledge to borrow snippets from: Caesar, Frontinus, Procupus, multiple Irish Legends, The Venerable Bede, Jonathon Swift, Vegetius, Sunzi, Wu Chi, Emperor Maurice, Moorish Legend, the Irish Book of Invasions, The Aeneid by Virgil, Roman Legend, Plutarch, Polybius, Livy, Cincinnatus, Josephus, Pliny the Elder, Augustine, Eusebius, Tacitus, The Illiad by Homer, Sallust, Thuycdides, and Herodatus. Please see this link for more and this for a much needed reality check on that theory. But assuming Joseph did accomplish that much plagiarism from his extensive library, he then failed to show it the rest of his life. My question is, why would a military mind of the kind that could include material that supplies this site, suddenly go blank when faced with real life military issues, and command of a militia?

If Joseph Smith had the military mind to produce the martial narrative in the Book of Mormon we should see it all over his life: in impromptu day dreaming, his writings, and his speeches. But when we examine the major military events in Smith's life, that kind of military genius is sorely lacking. There are three areas that we would especially expect to see Smith's military mind break free. One could argue that Joseph was a disciplined con man that knew when to "lay low" or not seem militant. But there are several places where conflict found him. 1. Zion's Camp in 1834. 2. The Mormon War in 1838. 3. The Nauvoo period of 1843-1846.

1. Zion's Camp: This is where Joseph raised an "army" and marched from Ohio to Missouri in order to aid the Mormon settler's there. Here was Smith's chance. Did he discuss tactics? Did he plan any strategy? Did he drill his soldiers? For a military mind that could include marvelous and detailed military narratives here was his chance to shine in real life. Smith stayed a prophet though. He was more concerned with their spiritual health and basic organization than any detailed thoughts on strategy. And when he got there, he received a "revelation" that called them back before they could fight. If Smith was a fraud with an active military imagination and delusions of grandeur, he surely did not act as though he cared about strategy, physically fighting, or the glory of battle. In short, this was a strange way for the author of the Book of Mormon to act in real life.

2. The Missouri War 1838: Again, here was Smith's chance to really shine. His people were out numbered and blood was running high. The active military mind of the Book of Mormon would have attempted stratagems to lure their enemies. The military mind would have extensively discussed strategy and tactics. The extent of Smith's actions was organizing neighborhood militias. He was dubiously tied to an organization reminiscent of the Gadianton Robbers. And Richard Bushman said that Joseph Smith faded from the forefront in favor of his more militant counselors.(372)

Except for some local raids more in the American frontier style than the military tactics in the Book of Mormon there is nothing, no written records, no battle plans, no grand strategy to suggest the Book of Mormon was a guide or prevalent in Smith's thinking. Again, from the mind the produced the military maneuvers in the Book of Mormon this is inconsistent.

3. The Nauvoo Period. To the shallow scholar this is the most promising field. Joseph Smith was a general in the Nauvoo militia that numbered one of the largest in the state. But assuming Smith had a complex military mind because of his role in the militia is like saying that the President is a major league baseball player because he throws the first pitch at a baseball game. Like the first pitch, commanding the militia, taking part in parades, and participating in mock battles was a form of civic duty and largely ceremonial.

Most modern Americans associate militia with being a radical. For the large part of American history being in a militia was a sign of respectability and often required of politicians to show their patriotism. Many members of militia in established areas and large cities were simply there for show as a member of the upper class. As mayor of Nauvoo Smith tried to increase the respectability of himself and the society of church members he was trying to lead. He established a University (reopening this fall btw). He established a militia. He made plans for a hotel. So what turns out to be a centerpiece of Smith's military ambition is really a reflection of his humble upbringing.

Now some might argue about Smith's proposal to raise an army to conquer the west. Again, the militia was often used to augment the active duty forces, and Smith's offer seems little more than an attempt at further respectability. If this offer were matched with intensive discussion of strategy or his fixation with battle tactics it may seem to be consistent with the military mind of the Book of Mormon. But its not and stands as an isolated and unconvincing example of Smith's militarism and military mind.

Conclusion: Smith raised an army...but then compared it to migration led by Moses and backed down before fighting. He ordered raids...but these raids bear no semblance to the complex tactical actions in the Book of Mormon. And he was a general in a very large militia...but took part in only ceremonial functions equivalent to the President throwing the first pitch at a baseball game.

In Joseph Smith's writing there is no discussion of tactics. No discussion of strategy. No grand strategy for conquering...anything. What we find is a religious man continually referring to spiritual matters. If he created the Book of Mormon out of a fertile mix of plagiarism and imagination he NEVER showed it again in his lifetime. And in many cases he acted in contradiction to what the Book of Mormon indicated action would be. The lack of military thought coming from Joseph Smith would argue heavily against the Book of Mormon being a plagiarized fiction.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Me Thinks He Doth Protest Too Much: Interesting Fallout from the FAIR Conference

This is a big weekend for many people in the church as F.A.I.R. (The Foundation for Apologetics Information and Research) is having their annual conference. I was content to sit back and enjoy the blogging commentary, but a small kerfuffle has erupted over the comments of Robert White. You can trace the contours of the debate here and here.

To briefly summarize, some people did not like the words of Ron White and the role he envisions for FAIR. The intellectuals seem to be hypersensitive about their "standing" in the church. As the words of Chris and Jared seem to indicate, they feel they can stand for the church outside of FAIR in more intellectual realms and they resent the seemingly "in your face tactics" of Ron White.

As an intellectual I understand how they can feel that way. But I also think they need to seriously examine their intolerance towards the FAIR speaker. I would hardy condemn an entire organization or conference because of the seemingly offensive words of one speaker. I thought Ron White's talk was great and not at all what the critics thought it was; but if you didn't perhaps you should look for context, look at all the speakers, or just ignore those few impolite sentences. I also don't disparage other organizations such as Dialogue or Sunstone except when any group decides to be blatantly intolerant towards another group. Plus, its extremely elitist to attack an organization because their speakers may not have the right credentials. We are in a religion that had fisherman and farm boys as our spiritual leader, and its seems antithetical towards your stated goal of helping the members if your language is so obtuse that they cannot understand you.

Furthermore, I fully intend people of all backgrounds and education to enjoy THIS site. That is why I specifically aim to use accessible language and try to avoid jargonism that is so prevalent in many posts. I also accept all comments from the amateur history enthusiast to the PhD holders and seek to keep the comments section free of acrimony.

In conclusion, I feel its rather sad that people can get so up in arms over a conference that is supposed to uplift, edify and instruct. According to some people one person did not excel in that endeavor. And its even more sad that a particular blog reinforces its reputation by over reacting to that speakers apparent insult. I hope that my blog can truly be inclusive to people of all education backgrounds and political leanings. And I also hope that I will be included as a presenter some day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hitler as a Teaching Assistant

I am excited for my new job but at the same time I can totally relate to the meltdown in this video. And I fear if I ever go to a PhD program and get assigned as a teaching assistant I will understand it even more. It doesn't have too much to do with warfare in the Book of Mormon, but enjoy the funny clip anyway. (Caution: There is some bad language included) And thanks to Mark Grimsley at for bringing this to my attention.