Sunday, April 25, 2010

Offensive and Preemptive Warfare in The Book of Mormon

The provocative title is a direct response to those that espouse an isolationist foreign policy using The Book of Mormon as support. This is not only a dangerous position to take in the modern world, but incorrectly applies strategic lessons from The Book of Mormon. This post will briefly address Nephite strategic choices based on technological and geographic considerations contrasted with geographic and technological challenges we face today.

Now the Nephites were commanded to never go on the offensive against their enemies. (Alma 48:18) In the several instances where the Nephites disobeyed this command they were soundly defeated: Helaman 11:28-29, Mormon 3:10-11; 4:18. So case closed, the Bush doctrine is evil and America must repent of its Imperial ways right? Not so fast.

As I described earlier, once Nephite lands were invaded, they felt it was "no sin" to resort to offensive maneuvers and stratagems to defeat their enemies (Alma 43:30). Thus the Nephite strategy could be better described as the "offensive-defensive", where they don't seek offensive maneuvers until a clear and present danger presents itself. Moroni's action against the King Men, where he presumptively "cut off" Amalickiah before he could join the Lamanites (Alma 46:30) is one example.

Now Moroni's preemption operated on a much smaller scale. Premodern battle consisted of face to face encounters. The armies that travelled to these battles were limited by the primitive logistics of the age. (They didn't get a Burger King in Kabul back then.) Their logistical limits are compound by the apparent lack of wheeled transport in pre Colombian Mesoamerica. But even with an army's damage limited to what they can personally smash or kill, and a nation's limitations in supplying them, the Lamanites could quickly desolate some cities before the Nephites "could raise a sufficient army"(Alma 16:2-3). In Helaman 1:19 the Lamanites marched "with such great speed" that they captured the capital city. And ultimately they completed their genocide with their primitive means.

Today battlefields stretch over many miles. The personal weapon of an infantrymen, the M-16, has an effective range of roughly a third of a mile. Jet fighters, stealth bombers, and cruise missiles can launch from one location and strike 6,000 miles away. And Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles can truly live up to their name and strike from continents away.

World wide airline and naval travel easily transport dangerous people and material. The Nephites must have been surprised at how narrow their strip of wilderness could be at times, our protection is just as thin if we do not set proper guards (Hel 1:18) or be "up and doing" in defense of our liberty(Alma 60:24).

During the Cold War we could nominally count on the international order to restrain the actions of our enemy. But even this existence led to the Cuban Missile Crisis and Krushchev threatening to "swat America's ass" with the weapons he inserted there. Now we face regimes that explicitly reject that world order, support terrorism as an arm of foreign policy, and seek the most devastating weapons known to man.

The threat is just as real and apparent as the Lamanites marching on Zarahemla. Yet if we wait for the launch of nuclear missiles, or a terrorist attack using the same, we will be lamenting the desolation of Ammonihah instead. Arguing for a neo isolationist foreign policy based on The Book of Mormon ignores the strategic realities that both nations faced as a result of geography and technology. The nature of modern technology, the connection of rogue regimes with terrorist organizations, the precedent re enforced by 9/11, and the shrinking world of globalization demand that pursue an "offensive defensive" like the Nephites of old.


Mormon Heretic said...

Morgan, forgive me for side-tracking a bit here. Are you coming out in support of the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war?

Morgan Deane said...

I intended this to be more broadly applicable, but it can apply to the Bush Doctrine as well.