Wednesday, April 28, 2010

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.

Monday, April 19, 2010

An Analysis of the Jaredite Civil War, Part III

What follows is the last section I was able to work on. Again, this a rough draft that is without notes which I am hoping to receive feedback about. Thanks for reading:

Practice of War
We read in that same verse that Coriantumr was studied in “all the arts of war” as well. We don’t have many details from the text what this art is. Based on several stratagems used later in the Jaredite Civil War, the immediate application of both the arts in cunning in “giving battle” to his enemies we can appropriately use the example of the General Zhang Fang from The War of the Eight Princes.

Zhang Fang was the leading general from one of the Eight Princes who led his troops with energy and vigor. Early in the war he led a surprise attack on the enemy forces. A short time later, trapped, he led a successful and daring night operation to supply his army. Later in the war he argued for a decisive military attack using the language of classic Chinese theorists. And subsequent historians blamed his “cruel and violent” behavior as one of the sources for China’s endemic conflict. Final, rival leaders “collaborated in a conspiracy to murder Zhang Fang, then sent his head as part of a peace offering to [a rival leader], who kept the head and kept on fighting.”

Zhang Fang’s career during The War of Eight Princes calls attention to the nature of military practice included within the “art of war”. This practice included a heavy use of stratagem and ruses to psychologically undo their opponent. Military practice was also intimately linked to both contemporary political strife and subsequent moralizing from historians.

We see this connection in Jaredite political society as well. The “arts of war” are explicitly forbidden from being explicated according to religious leaders in The Book of Mormon. In Ether chapter 8 the daughter of Jared suggests they consult the “secret plans” to “obtain kingdoms and great glory.” This includes a use of sexual temptation obtain power. Later, a contender in the civil war that guts the Jaredite kingdom increased the strength of his army due to his secret combination. And another contender for the throne assassinated the current ruler to obtain the throne.

The military practices are no less subversive than the political practices that precede them. At the start of the civil war we are informed that “every man with his own band” fought for they desired. The brother of Shared led a night attack in his fight for the throne.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Heroes of the Fallen

I've been honored to have read an advanced copy of Heroes of the Fallen, a new historical fiction novel by David West. I am further honored by having a part of my advanced review included on the back/inside cover and the Amazon page. So if you are looking for a new exciting read for yourself or a good early Christmas gift, I highly recommend his book. You can find it on Amazon here. Congratulations David. I've been blessed to get a few days of visitation with my daughter so I have to run.