Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ancient Robbers, Modern Terrorists, and Harry Reid

Cross posted from Arsenal of Venice
                Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made national news by calling Cliven Bundy and his supporters domestic terrorists. As a resident of Las Vegas I’m not surprised that Harry Reid would say something like that.  Because of my research into revolutionary warfare, I’m even less surprised that words like “terrorists” are used as tools to delegitimize opponents.

                My research examined the period in Europe during the Late Roman Empire, as well as the Chinese period of disunion during the same time frame.  In both periods I found that the use of the term robber connoted specific differences in power between the central government and the perceived illegitimacy of new actors.  What was most interesting is that the new powers were often a mix of local officials with private soldiers that gained autonomy in the chaos, invading barbarians that were alternatively courted and opposed by the government and often given official titles, protective groups of war bands, and some old fashioned predatory robbers that fit the traditional idea behind the term. But as they say, history is often written by the winner, and in these cases, history was written by those in traditional power centers.  So despite most of the “robbers” having at least some form of legitimacy they were still labelled with the dismissive and often inaccurate term. 

We see the potency of words today as well.  Policy makers debated over whether to call anti-American forces in Iraq “insurgents” or “terrorists.”  Many Americans felt a great deal of frustration when the sectarian conflict in Iraq was labeled the demoralizing term “civil war.” It explains why the surge led by General Petraeus was labeled an escalation by some critics who were trying to invoke the ghoul of Vietnam. A blockade during the Cuban Missile crisis would have been an act of war, but a quarantine of the island prescribed the same action without the accompanying baggage. 

In the prelude to the Bosnia deployment, critics argued that the hatred was generations deep. It even dated back to the Battle of Kosovo or Mohacs and bubbled from the bottom up uncontrollably. Supporters pointed to the top-down nature of organized violence and the efficacy of intervention. Again, the language itself was used to either discourage or encourage intervention.  But each side avoided the term “genocide” to evade the treaty obligations associated with it. Thus policy makers use the rose-by-any-other-name term “ethnic cleansing” instead.

So when Harry Reid calls Cliven Bundy and his supports domestic terrorists it says a great deal about what Harry Reid thinks about them, but also about his tactics.  When you see somebody use a loaded word like terrorist or thug, it shows an attempt to cause an emotional response to delegitimize an opponent.   And that is an ancient practice.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

More than a Second Look: A Rebuttal to Rock Waterman

Rock Waterman operates a blog called Pure Mormonism, his post critiques my chapter, “Offensive Warfare in the Book of Mormon and a Defense of the Bush Doctrine,” from the book, War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives. Unfortunately his post does not offer a substantive criticism of my analysis, that relied upon fallacious reasoning and which failed to identify and respond to my main arguments. (All quotes from his article unless otherwise noted.)  

“But the Book of Mormon goes to great lengths to warn us that powerful men in our day would combine in secret to use fear as a means of getting us to believe the only way to save ourselves is to disobey God”

Is there a source for this, a specific scripture? This reminds me of many antiwar advocates who argue that the Book of Mormon is a book with a strong antiwar message, but can only say so by being so general that they ignore specific scriptures which justify, and even praise the use of force. That is why my chapter has an almost “Jesuitical” command and application of specific scriptures.[1] 

“you could expect to pay as much as $300.00 for [a copy of Warfare in the Book of Mormon]”

            This book is available on line for free. A failure to know about an online book is not a big deal. Except in this case it combines with other errors in his post to indicate shallow and dilettantish research of the subject. One of the first things I do before I start a research project is to identify and locate the sources. In fact my application to my PhD program largely hinged upon how well I performed that very skill.

“Deane's thesis is that ‘it was the bloodlust and general weakness of Nephite society that caused their failure,’”

That is not my thesis.  I listed my clear thesis in the traditional place of the last sentence of the first paragraph, and it reads: “But through a closer examine of the Nephite decisions, dictated as they were by terrain and technology, and comparison to the modern challenges that face America, we see that this neo-isolationist foreign policy is not only dangerous, but also an incorrect application of lessons from the Book of Mormon.(29)”

This is a bigger mistake than being ignorant of an online source. As I explain to my students, the thesis is the one sentence summary of your argument.  So if he doesn’t get my thesis correct, then he is tilting at windmills.  The sentence he quotes was my explanation of some supposedly clear cut antiwar verses in scripture.  While Waterman argues against my (not) thesis, he is actually  highlighting how I explore and explain specific scriptures, compared to the very few, in fact just two that are only referenced and not quoted, that show up in his post.  Yet, even though I’m the only one that presents scriptures and their analysis to support my argument, I am the one horribly “proof texting.” But to support that claim of proof texting he does not offer any verses and solid counter analysis, but simply vague and tendentious summations of the text.

“That is when he resigned as their leader, and that's the moment he points to in Mormon chapter four as the reason God allowed the entire Nephite civilization to be destroyed.”

I disagree, and don’t believe he adequately understands the chapter.  I review the supposedly explicit prohibitions against pre-emptive war and have this to say about the pivotal verse to which Waterman referred: “Mormon 3:15 also seems to prohibit preemptive war. However, the real sin recorded by Mormon was not the offensive tactics but rather the bloodlust and vengeance that dictated Nephite strategy (v. 14). The seemingly unequivocal anti-war sentiment expressed in 4:4 does not record any saying of the Lord, but can just as easily represent a strategic description. If this is a command against offensive action it is also contradicted by other writings by Mormon. This is most clearly seen in a reevaluation of Alma 48:14. The traditional understanding of this verse is a prohibition against offensive warfare. But a slightly different reading suggests the Nephites are rather commanded to never “give an offense” except “against an enemy” and “to preserve their lives” (Alma 61:3).

Finally, there is Mormon’s statement that the wicked punish the wicked (Morm. 4:5). This seems to describe the inverse of the ideal to trust in the Lord and implies, unsurprisingly, that making strategic decisions while not “under the influence” of the Spirit results in lousy choices with equally horrible results. Here Clausewitz can again lend us assistance with his description of an essential element of leadership called Coup De’ Oeil.  This term is complex but it basically describes both a commander’s ability to “see the light” and his strength to follow it. Clausewitz did not have any spiritual implications in mind, but it certainly applies here. When the Nephites were spiritually darkened, their ability to make correct military decisions were severely impaired. Thus the military prohibition described in the Book of Mormon is not against offensive or even preemptive action, but it is rather a condemnation against passive stupor, lacking trust in the Lord, and lusting for vengeance—in short, a darkened mind.(36-37)”

I have to include what I actually wrote here because much of Waterman’s analysis consists of saying that I am twisting, proof texting, and generally just being wrong; but he says so without offering any counter scriptures or even summarizing my arguments accurately.[2]  If he wanted to convince me he would have to show some specific reasons, not simply mentioning things like, “God does not justify nations going to war.”

“He points to examples where the Nephites were justified in conducting offensive maneuvers in order to defeat the Lamanites, without recognizing those offensive maneuvers took place on Nephite soil and not on the Lamanite's home turf.”

Huh?  Well, if your homeland is already invaded it wouldn’t be a pre-emptive strike. It would properly be termed an offensive defensive, which is exactly what I described in my chapter. This strategy relied upon strategically accepting an enemy attack, before maneuvering aggressively (i.e., offensively) to initiate a tactical battle of their choosing.  As I said in my (real) thesis statement, with the combination of surprise and increasingly deadliness of modern weapons, the offensive defensive strategy is foolish and dangerous.   

He seems to think that taking the offensive on foreign soil is the worst, as though there was a sign that said “50 miles until wicked strategy begins” outside of Zarahemla.  But as shown above, that is simplistic reasoning and doesn’t fully analyze the scriptures about offensive warfare.  (Ironically, this is the charge that he says about me.) As I said, and as he quoted, it was the dark minds that dictated strategy (and forfeited God’s favor) that brought destruction to the Nephites, not the soil upon which the offensive was conducted.  As I write about Gidgiddoni for example:   “In Third Nephi, Gidgiddoni claims that the Lord forbids them from preemptively going into their opponents lands (3:21). However, in that same campaign, Gidgiddoni maneuvered his army to cut off the robbers. His “offensive defensive” operations suggest, at least, a more flexible approach than an overly simplistic notion that offensive war [on whatever soil] is inherently immoral.(36)”

“I started my reading by skipping right to the pieces by two of my favorite experts on Mormonism and war, Joshua Madson and his father Ron Madson.”

As any freshman philosophy student can tell you, it is begging the question to support those with whom you already agree. (Not to mention that being a Mormon and opposing war doesn’t make you an “expert” in military matters. The lack of true experts commenting on warfare in the Book of Mormon is a major reason why I wrote my book.) Waterman’s fondness for the Madsons points to the likely reason for opposing to my article. But it is one thing to say an argument is wrong, but it is another to come up with solid and detailed analysis explaining why.  Before launching into his analysis Waterman said that members of the church should give the Book of Mormon a “second look.” I’ve read the book dozens of times and thought about it for many years; unfortunately, Waterman’s fallacious and superficial analysis that often missed my actual arguments doesn’t indicate the same focus. 

[1] Robert Wood, U.S. Naval War College, 
[2] I would also notice how many scriptures are cited by me. In two short paragraphs I cite six and quote two.  That is an example of in depth analysis. Compare it to Waterman's critique.