Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Very Mean and Nasty Apologetic Post

My discussion of the debate between Stephen Smoot and Heartlander Johnathan Neville prompted a discussion of another topic in the comments that I want to expound upon here. The myth of the traditional apologetic style has been around for a long time. I’ve never seen examples of this style. What I have seen is the usual inter group dynamics on both sides of the debate that can be found in politics, sports, military units, and even debates about television. Labeling one side of the debate as mean when both are similar in behavior also shows an astounding double standard.

First the double standard: Years ago William Hamblin was very upset with the new direction of the Maxwell Institute and made some criticisms of Ben Park. The watch dogs of FARMS attack dogs erupted with disdain and jeering for more of the “traditional style” and mean apologetics that was damaging to a junior scholar and tried to make him lose his job.

Yet I found a similar example with the situation reversed. A short time later David Bokovoy sided with the MI people supposedly under attack. In his defense he specifically called out Stephen Smoot among others in harsh terms. Instead of saying it was unwise, mean, or nasty for a senior scholar to call out a junior scholar, and the potential damage it could do to his career, the same people that criticized Hamblin praised Bokovoy for speaking truth to power and unmasking the evil apologists. Both individuals were criticizing someone’s behavior, but when it was done by the supposedly superior new direction folks it was brave and praise worthy but when done by Peterson, Hamblin or Smoot, it was mean and nasty.

The myth of the mean Dan Peterson and old school apologists has grown into an article of faith in some circles. I’m not defending every interaction he or they’ve ever had, or every article they have ever written or published, but I believe this myth of an arching style is unfairly attached to them. Proponents of the attack style might point to Ralph Hancock’s words when he defended “sharpness of tone,” “irony,” and “measured indignation” (Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics, p. 98.) I’m not denying those styles exist, but I am saying that for whatever behavior you criticize about FARMS you can find the same or similar behavior on the other side.

The Interpreter writes negative reviews of books as does the new direction Maxwell Institute. Both sides have rolled their eyes at the other and disagree about methods. I have personal correspondence that includes petty behavior from the supposedly superior new direction folks. I’ve been asked gotcha questions at conferences by new direction folks and it went without comment. When Hamblin and Gee asked a difficult question, it became another example of the mean FARMS people. In one nasty incident, a new direction individual literally got in the face of an old school apologist at a conference and told him to go to hell.

The behavior seen on both sides is a result of group and inters group dynamics that include several factors. It is common to view “the other” as a monolith group that is different, mean, stupid, and then view every interaction through that filter. This has especial value in political discussions and I’m sure the readers of this post are ready to jump in the comments with their examples of mopologists. The discussion among groups of like minded individuals often uses a short hand and simplistic view of opponent’s beliefs and mocks them. Sometimes people who are normally kind and decent get stuck in the mire of online debates, having a bad day, and in many cases the individuals are behaving less than their better selves. When these less than stellar behaviors are coupled with inter-group dynamics the behaviors are more easily seen in the other side and furthers divides the two. This happens even though their behavior in incredibly similar. Historian Richard Hofstader pointed out this ironic fact in his classic essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, pointed out how opposition groups often become what they oppose. “The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy.” But the FARMS people are mean and nasty and we poop rainbows.

This post isn’t an attempt to categorize every interaction and the entire groups and sub groups of scholars, critics, and interested individuals. As churchistrue can testify, trying to categorize people can get messy very quickly. Personally I have no problems with either side. I’ve submitted to both the new direction Maxwell Institute and Interpreter, and I’ve published several pieces with the latter. I’m very proud to publish with an organization that still cares about the AR and not just the MS part of FARMS. And that’s why I think it was created, not so it can continue to be “mean” and “nasty.” I can’t speak for every publication of course, and there was one piece by Duane Boyce that had a multitude of serious issues, but even that doesn’t reflect or prove the myth of mean and nasty apologists. (Ironically enough, I really likedhis book so even his case isn’t simple.)

In conclusion, I think the behavior of various groups within, outside, and about Mormonism are closer in behavior than many think. I think that because of incredibly specific examples of behavior I’ve seen from both sides, but also because of what I’ve seen around the internet in debates about every subject, and because of what I’ve gathered about group dynamics. This post isn’t an invitation to discuss that one time (or many) an apologist was mean to you, or to express your disdain for Dan Peterson, but to offer a thoughtful reconsideration of common ideas.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Notes on a Curious Verse- Alma 47:33

Verse 33 presented one of the most intriguing items after Amalickiah gained complete control of the army:

Therefore, when the queen had received [word of the king’s death] she sent unto Amalickiah, desiring him that he would spare the people of the city; and she also desired him that he should come in unto her; and she also desired him that he should bring witnesses with him to testify concerning the death of the king.

This presents all sorts of ideas and implications. If the queen requested that he spare the people of the city it suggests that the Lamanite army could have sacked it. Anciently, plunder acted as one of the few reliable ways for an army to get paid, and often acted as a bonus for the success of a campaign. It was the chief motivation for many soldiers, and in many cases their only pay day. In brutal pre modern societies plundering was also the ticket to a better life. Some of the rebels around the capital were likely made up of different ethnicities than the elites in Nephi. The previous king of the Lamanties ruled seven cities (Alma 23:9-12), but his converted people only gathered in two of them (likely the two ruled by the kings converted by Ammon and Aaron), while being attacked from others.[1] Then the former group left entirely to join the Nephites. The Amulonite faction was neutered immediately after the departure of the Anti-Nephi Lehis (Alma 25:6-13 and Alma 28:1-3). And the Amalekites and Zormaites elites were defeated in Alma 43 and 44. Thus whoever was king at the time (the text never says), must have been in a weak position or brokered power arrangement with other factions. There is a good chance in fact, that the queen to whom Amalickiah is negotiating was a part of a marriage alliance upon which the king’s power rested. 

Like the faceoff between Amalickiah and Lehonti’s army, perhaps the queen still had military force and the inclination to oppose Amalickiah. But then the queen requested, or possibly ordered, that Amalickiah bring witnesses of the king’s murder. And the next verse says that the witnesses “satisfied” the queen. Hearing testimony suggests some sort of legal procedure. It’s possible that this served as part of the ritual surrounding a coronation the text skipped over, or more theatre to cover the naked ambition of two joint rulers, and likely a combination of both. Historically, the unexpected death of a sovereign often resulted in a mad scramble for power. The queen could easily use her position, and networks of elites to control the capital and remain in power. Amalickiah, in contrast, could use the army as a platform to control the countryside and seize the capital by force. With rival bases of political power, a desire to “spare the people of the city” likely represented a coded political message to end the still simmering power struggle. The queen remained in power; and with Amalickiah she had a partner just as powerful, if not more so, than her late husband. Amalickiah gained by keeping control of the army and possessing a stronger claim to the throne.

This is all good reasoning (if I can say so,) but I found additional evidence in a particularly vivid story.  As historical background for the purported author of the Methods of Sima Chinese historians recorded this:

[After taking command and hearing news of the enemy’s withdraw] thereupon he pursued and attacked the [enemy], subsequently retaking all the territory within the borders of the old fief, returning with the soldiers.   Before he reached the state capital he disbanded the units, released them from military constraints, swore a covenant, and thereafter entered the city. Duke Ching (547-490BC) and the high officials greeted him in the suburbs, rewarding the troops and completing the rites, only afterward returning to rest.[2]

The footnote explains that removal of military constraints consists of the loyalty required of soldiers to their commander. This has obvious implications and recalls Caesar crossing the Rubicon as the most famous example of a military commander using the army for political purposes. I also noted how there was both a ceremony, implied ritual, and rites which recalls the ceremony hinted at in Alma 47. Moreover, this ceremony conforms to the text of the Sima itself.  Several places show how a commander should not be brought back to the city to interfere with the court:

In antiquity the form and spirit governing civilian affairs would not be found in the military realm; those appropriate to the military realm would not be found in the civilian sphere [or the court]…Methods of Sima, 2.2

In antiquity the form and spirit governing civilian affairs would not be found in the military realm; those appropriate to the military realm would not be found in the civilian sphere. If the form and spirit [appropriate to the] military realm enter the civilian sphere, the Virtue of the people will decline. When the form and spirit [appropriate to the] civilian sphere enter the military realm, then the Virtue of the people will weaken. Methods of Sima, 2.9

Correspondingly, there are multiple examples of how the military commander should not face interference in the field from officials in the court with often out of date and faulty information. Here is one of the more evocative examples from the Six Secret Teachings of Tai Kong:

After the General has received his mandate, he bows and responds to the ruler: ‘I have heard that a country cannot follow the commands of another state’s government, while an army [in the field] cannot follow central government control. Someone of two minds cannot properly serve his ruler; someone in doubt cannot respond to the enemy. I have already received my mandate and taken sole control of the awesome power of the fu and yueh axes. I do not dare return alive. I would like to request that you condescend to grant complete and sole command to me. If you do not permit it, I dare not accept the post of general.’ The king then grants it, and the general formally takes his leave and departs. Six Secret Teachings of Tai Kong, 3.21

So there was a body of thought in ancient times that commented on the danger of military leaders using their soldiers to seize the court, and how military commanders in the field should not face interference from political leaders during their campaigns. To offer an example using modern terminology, that would be like Abraham Lincoln trying to micromanage the Battle of Gettysburg. Finally, there is a recorded instance of a successful general coming back to the capital and the court, and performing a ceremony with rites that would disband the army and spare the city any conflict between the civilian and martial leaders. 

As readers unpack the details surrounding this text and use additional examples from history they can tease out additional details that show there is much more to the story. Thanks for reading! I work as a freelance author so if you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below. 


[1] A special thanks Ryan Tanner for his brilliant insights, upon which a good part of this section rests.
[2] Ralph Sawyer trans, Shi Chi, in Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, (New York: Westview Press, 1993) 114. All subsequent quotes from military theorists are from Sawyer’s translation.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Book Review Saints: Volume One

George Orwell to rockers Rage Against the Machine have commented on the power of history and the wars over its interpretation. As a professor of history I constantly try to give my students the power to see the difference between a solid narrative and one that is manipulated. Saints: The Standard of Truth (1815-1846) is the first volume of a much needed update to previous attempts at church history and does a magnificent job of juggling many hard tasks.

The book starts with the eruption of a volcano in Indonesia which affected the weather of the indigent Smith family and necessitated their move to upstate New York. In 500 plus pages anchored by first person narratives and stirring vignettes that often focus on concern for loved ones, the book moves through the most tempestuous and still contentious years of church history. The first hurdle overcome is that the book discusses complex issues such as 19th century American folk religion, seer stones, census data, danites, plural marriage and legal proceedings, and keeps the prose at an accessible level. The ease of reading I would compare to Harry Potter which is a good thing. I’ve read many volumes that have too many ten dollars words in a one dollar sentence that bogs down the text.

The flow is helped immensely by interesting vignettes. From Thomas Marsh obtaining sample pages of the Book of Mormon from the printer, the introduction of the Book of Mormon to Brigham Young’s family and the reaction of the Hales to their son in law’s money digging, the historians and writers picked evocative examples that contextualize the historical events and often controversial issues being discussed. But the text isn’t mind reading or offering faith promoting rumors because these narratives and vignettes are well grounded in extensive primary and solid secondary sources.

The account of the first vision provides an excellent example of this. This is a story that (members formerly known as) Mormons could quote from Joseph Smith history even decades after they completed their missions. But in this volume the account draws on sources ranging from an interview with Smith done by the Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, an Orson Hyde tract written in German, an Orson Pratt tract, and the journal of Levi Richards on top of copies of primary sources in the Joseph Smith papers (chapter 2 foot notes 2,4,8,9,11.) I read each footnote and their sourcing is incredible and impeccable and there are reproductions of them in the Joseph Smith Papers and online. The extensive research results in a narrative that provides little known details, such as Joseph praying at the location where he left an axe in a tree stump. It also weaves in answers to repeated criticisms such as different first vision accounts, divining rods and peep stones. Again, it does all of this in a concise, readable, and engrossing manner. (Please note, before September 4th I’m limited in discussing material in the book that is already made available. As a result I’m only using examples from the first few chapters.)

This volume shows the power of history in using an intimate knowledge of primary sources, and judicious use of secondary sources like Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling. The limits of the discipline and often fragmentary sources can be frustrating. This volume does an excellent job at looking back, lightening a window into the past, and providing a solid example for future volumes of church history and how members can talk about it today. It addresses often repeated criticisms. But they talk about it in matter of fact language and in the middle of excellent contextualization which will make the sensationalist presentism of critics seem even weaker. It also looks to the future, by addressing supposedly controversial issues in a matter of fact way in the middle of their historical context; it will strengthen member’s faith and provide room for them to address tougher issues the church faces today.

The truth claims of the church remain a matter for thoughtful reflection and prayer. Critics will still find room to offer cynical rebuttals, though the excellent research and availability of sources will leave many of them impotent. Many members of the church correctly feel they don’t need a testimony of history, just a testimony of the church. Just like members of the church feel the need for geographic and cultural commentary on the New Testament, the history of the early church matters and interested readers will find this illuminating and a masterful, must read history that represents the best the discipline has to offer in pursuit of knowledge.

Thanks for reading. I work as a free lance writer. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button at the bottom of the page. Thanks again. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

China's Peace Disease

Rare Nationalist Propaganda, 1938

[This is more of a policy piece I developed as part of a site devoted to experienced driven commentary. It also includes material for a future book I’m writing introducing Modern Chinese Problems and Strategy.]

Hardware is fairly easy to assess. The speed of missiles, the range of sensors, and the amount of Aegis destroyers are all fairly certain quantities. But how they are used is not. Wars are not simply a math contest and generals are not mathematicians. Strategy, training and surprise matter just as much, if not more than the systems themselves. This is where the RAND report and so many analysts falter. They provide a chilling picture of material imbalance and possible scenarios such as China’s invasion of Taiwan in 2020. But they don’t account for the training and professionalism of the US military. For example, American pilots have been flying missions as part of the war on terror for almost 20 years. While the planes may need spare parts, the average fighter pilot has thousands of hours of combat experience.

China fought its last active war in 1979. There are few if any officers and military members that have experience operating in war time conditions. The last joint naval and land operation occurred in 1955. That means the senior leadership in China’s military has little combat experience. And none of their NCOs and junior officers has seen any combat. The Chinese do have an increasing number of sophisticated missiles, ships, and weapons, but there is little indication of how they will perform complex operations in wartime conditions. Training exercises are important, and China has many of them, but there is little that can replace the skills gained from war time experience. Chinese fighter pilots for example, often go through very basic training exercises and have trouble showing initiative. War time conditions include a great deal of stress, confusion, unexpected events and a limited time in which to make decisions. An untested military using untested technology means their missile threat may be one of the many militaries around the world that look and sound good on paper as they promise the “mother of all battles” only to melt away when the conflict starts. Assuming Chinese forces skillfully use their new missiles, these are a high use and rapidly depleted weapon. In this case it means China would have a strong first punch but little staying power once the missiles run out.

This peace disease is exacerbated by personnel problems. China has had a one child policy that affects their modernization of their military and interacts with general trends. The one child policy results in what Chinese analysts often call the “little emperor” syndrome. These are the only children of parents who are often spoiled to the point that the military lifestyle is rather jarring to them. Almost 70% of recruits are only children and this increases to 80% in some front line combat units. On top of that, the general effect of modernization, such as an increasingly urban and sedentary lifestyle means that recruits, on average, are taller, weigh more, and just can’t fit into tight military equipment built for a different average from 20 or 30 years ago. The pollution for which China is known for limits potential recruits even further. Many of potential recruits have severe lung issues that limit their ability to run and leads to an increase in respiratory diseases. The increasingly technical demands from these fancy weapons systems require recruits with more technical ability and aptitude. Average test scores have risen which suggests China is finding better recruits. But due to the above problems with modern and urban living, they often recruit rural candidates as well that have little exposure to complex technical systems and little ability to master them.

The solution to this has been to relax recruitment standards and hope that China can train them up to military standards. But many recruits don’t stay in very long. Many military assignments are in remote inhospitable locations far from home. Mid-career soldiers often have limited professional development opportunities and their skills aren’t as readily transferable to civilian sectors. Soldiers often receive low pay and benefits which makes retention difficult, and incentivizes a recurring problem with corruption.

On top of having trouble retaining recruits and seasoned mid career personnel, the culture of the military often prohibits independent and local decision making. They often refer decision making to higher units. Their training exercises are often a way for unit commanders to look good for higher ups. There is severe pressure for Red Units to win, resulting in exercises that fail to identify weaknesses. As alluded to above, there is legitimate worry that their fighter pilots are “dumb.”

The end result of all this severely undermines the click bait fearmongering that is popular among many academics. A closer look suggests that Chinese recruits are often physically and psychologically unprepared for combat and the advanced Chinese weapon systems. They have limited training opportunities and retention among the most skilled. They have a training system that often limits junior officers and promotes a culture of delayed decision making that could prove catastrophic in combat. Chinese officials are aware of the problem and doing more to rectify the situation. But only success in combat can truly dispel the dangers and drawbacks that come from these trends.

This kind of in depth analysis isn’t nearly as attractive click bait compared to fearful hot takes about supersonic weapons, drone swarms, and obsolete carriers. But it is very important to move beyond headlines and the short attention span of social media. Chinese analysts like Zhao Hui have pushed back on this narrative. After calling the arguments “untenable, unscientific, rustic, inhibit self-confidence, and may lead to misguided policy …” he provided two examples. In the Gulf War in 1991 Iraq had just fought an eight yearlong conflict with Iran, and the United States had not fought a major engagement since their withdraw from Vietnam 16 years earlier. Yet the lack of combat experience didn’t stop the United States from winning in overwhelming fashion.

The other example comes from World War I. The British had been involved in a long string of colonial wars, including the Boer War. Yet in the first (and almost decisive) phase of the war the British conducted a “continuous retreat” against victorious German forces. The United States in particular should be concerned because their experience comes from counter insurgency brush wars in contrast to a likely heavy weight match with China. Just like the British, their experience might be in the wrong area leaving them over stretched and unprepared for conventional combat.

Zhao provides several good points that I don’t think completely prove his case. It is possible for an untested military to beat a more experienced one. Those armies each had particular advantages in strategy, culture, and training that proved more decisive than the length of time since their last conflict. For example, the German army in World War I had an incredibly high standard of training, their General Staff College was the best in the world other nations tried to copy, and they had a venerable history and culture of excellence. As the Chinese philosopher Sunzi might have said, the German military was like the release of a torrent of water flowing down a mountain, the swoop of a deadly falcon catching its prey, or the release bolt from a crossbow. The German’s lack of recent military experience was a far less measure of their competence than their training, strategy, and élan.

Likewise, the Iraqis fought Iran for almost a decade. But those battles were largely stalemates along a static and somewhat geographically constrained front. The US in contrast had overwhelming air power, faced the Iraqis across a different front, led a large coalition and was fighting a war of liberation in contrast to Iraqi soldiers that were fighting for a dictator. Again, like the Germans, the combat experience was one factor among many that didn’t affect performance in that case.

It’s true the United States is fighting an insurgency and long war on terror. The military faces legitimate dangers of imperial over stretch as their hardware has deteriorated and many soldiers have faced multiple deployments. But the military is upgrading its equipment. The pilots in particular have received advanced and invaluable training that gives them the edge over Chinese pilots despite fighting brush wars for decades. More importantly, while there are examples of inexperienced forces beating ones that have more experience; China has many other problems that raise significant concerns. The Chinese military remains untested, they have trouble recruiting and retaining high caliber soldiers, they have new equipment that hasn’t been integrated into the military in combat conditions, and they don’t have the élan and institutional experience of the United States and German militaries that can compensate for peace disease. America might be overstretched, but unlike China’s peace disease, the institutional experience and quality of the American soldier can compensate while it is doubtful for China.

The major problem with those examples was that victory resulted from a variety of factors more than experience that included military culture, training, and equipment. There are two relevant examples from Chinese history which shows these additional factors.

The first comes from the Song Dynasty. Ruling in the same time frame as the European Middle Ages, the Song fought several wars with the Kitan Liao empire. The Chinese treaty with the Kitan produced long periods of peace interspersed with wars. The Song dynasty performed horrible at the start of these wars. The generals were accustomed to rather pleasant peace time requirements, and the soldiers were untrained. But the baptism of combat quickly produced a trained group of officers and soldiers that rose to the occasion and produced results for the empire. (Or as Mao said, their experience was “paid in blood.”) But they again went through a long period of peace and the same pattern repeated itself when the next war broke out 30 years later. This was a good example of peace disease, as the military performed well in combat with good leaders, culture, and advanced medieval weaponry, including extensive gunpowder weapons hundreds of years before Europeans adopted it. They simply lacked rigorous peace time training.

The next example comes from a military with lots of experience. The Nationalist army under Chiang Kai-Shek unified the country in 1926 and ruled during what is called the Nanjing Decade. This period has the dubious distinction of being before their fight with the Japanese, before World War II eclipsed that struggle, and before the Communists won the Civil War in 1949. As a result, they are often viewed from the lens of defeat in 1949 instead of their victories in the 1920s. New scholarship shows that the Nationalist army had strong espirit de corps and bold aggressive tactics that carried them to victory against the warlords. But they faced defeat, not because of imperial over stretch or because of their lack of peace disease but due to several important factors.

Against the Communists, the Nationalists fought forces that were just as motivated as they were. The extremely rough terrain of Jiangxi province, where Mao based his rebellion, was particularly unsuited to aggressive maneuver. In fact, the aggressive independent maneuver that secured victory against the warlords resulted in devastating ambushes and defeat against the Communists. Against the Japanese, they were simply overwhelmed by a superior military machine with more advanced equipment. The Chinese nationalists fought well, but the Japanese had more and better artillery, which was properly distributed to its front line units. They had support from tactical air forces and naval batteries which pummeled the Chinese units. Chiang Kai-Shek’s units, though experienced, didn’t have the same staying power and offensive punch that the Japanese did and they suffered accordingly.

Peace disease is a very important factor but it is one among many. The current Chinese army has a multitude of problems which suggest they will not be able to perform like the Germans in World War I, Japanese in World War II, and America in the Gulf War. Based on historical precedents they will likely pay for the needed combat experience by the blood their soldiers in the early phase of any conflict despite click bait fear mongering.

Thanks for reading. I work as a freelance writer and if you found value in this work please consider donating using the pay pal button below. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Book of Mormon Geography and the Terrain of a Rocky Conversation

As I’ve been online I’ve started to notice certain behaviors. After reading religious, sports, and political discussion boards I see the same behavior over and over again. I wrote about my deal breakers some time ago. I’ve also discussed the way that words can be abused and manipulated. My research has taken me into robbers, terrorists, warmonger, neocon, and on this blog neo apologist.

I bring those points up because of the minor tempest that occurred between Jonathan Neville and Stephen Smoot last week. The latter wrote an article assessing, critiquing, and essentially debunking the use of a letter by Heartlanders, or those that believe in a strictly North American setting. Instead of focusing so much on the use of the letter in question, or even larger issues of geography’s role in Book of Mormon historicity, this post examines the rhetoric of Neville and its application in striving towards productive dialogue.

First, a couple of caveats. Much like Smoot I don’t have a problem with those that believe the geography of the Book of Mormon takes place in North America, a limited setting, and even a hemispheric model or one that believes the Book of Mormon is some kind of fiction. What does bother me is when some people claim, as Neville does, that if you disagree with his position than you are fundamentally in error and disagreeing with the prophets. I also get annoyed, as I discussed with churchistrue last week, when people critique or scoff at other positions while showing the same negative qualities they critique. These individuals call others dogmatic, simplistic, weird, and literal, even as they are vague, simplistic, weirdly literal and dogmatic in their own positions.

With that introduction I wanted to use Neville’s response to Smoot as an example of the way that loaded terms and nicknames and other terms can be used to shape the discussion and really detract from the discussion. To save space you may assume that all quotes are from Neville’s response and I invite you to read his whole article for context.

M2C intellectuals terrified of Letter VII

This is the title, and it reads like a headline from a rag magazine, so I think it’s great (or really bad) example of his editorializing.


Book of Mormon central writes a series of articles called KnoWhys, which are accessible articles written for a general audience that summarize past research on the matter and connect it to larger issues in Mormon scripture study. Neville uses this bastardized version of the term 12 times in his short article including in the second sentence. Just two sentences in Neville displayed two of the most childish ways to engage a discussion.

M2C intellectuals feel threatened

This is editorializing and mind reading. He can’t know exactly what they feel, but he can interpret their actions in the most sinister way possible. I call this the Judge Judy test. I’m a writer that works from home (except for my third job driving for uber on nights and weekends, Viva Las Vegas.) As a result I watch Judge Judy every day, and she does an excellent job of finding out what people say, not the interpretation of what people say. If a witness says they “feel threatened” she would immediately say something like, “No, no, no. I don’t want to know how you felt or your editorializing, what did they actually say and do?” And writing an article, even one as bare knuckle as Smoots, still doesn’t warrant that editorial.

[Like] Ephesian sellers of idols who tried to silence the Apostle Paul.

The second half of the sentence where he said the intellectuals were threatened. This is poisoning the well. A long time ago I wrote a paper that won me the George C Marshall award. In discussing isolationists my roommate wrote: Morgan, I can tell you don’t like these guys. Ever since that point I’ve tried hard, even if I disagree with somebody, to avoid poisoning the well.

I also found that people often use analogies to carry their arguments. Instead of specifically describing the congruities between apologists and idol sellers, Neville makes an allusion and expects his readers to fill in the blanks based on the negative comparison. Thus in a sentence that is painfully short of details and specific arguments, and just the third one in his article, he makes as many as 5 childish and tendentious errors (for the same of brevity I skipped over explaining several of them): mind reading, editorializing, poisoning the well, and two short hand insults.

I could stop now but there are even more egregious examples that demand inclusion:

This [deletion of his article] is typical of the way the M2C citation cartel censors any information that contradicts the M2C dogma.

There is so much in this sentence but the biggest offender is “citation cartel” with dogma coming in second. He explains it later, but he’s upset that other material is quoted and not his. And he is upset that places like Meridian, FairMormon, and church correlation materials will repeat what he sees as unrighteous and pernicious research. Like the word robber in the Book of Mormon, or terrorist in modern discourse, cartel is used for its pejorative and shock value more than its clinical definition and explanatory power. In plain language, he is tossing bombs and insults at people he doesn’t like, and not making a serious and substantive argument.

The Mormon research world is small, but as somebody who is a part of it, I’ve never gone to the meetings of the cartel and with a secret handshake decided to exclude Neville. I ignore his work because I find his behavior odious and his professional work is a joke. My work stands on the strength of my research and arguments, and not because I’m with a certain faction. In fact, I don’t go to Deseret Book because I’m shocked and appalled they carry his crap instead of so many other good books out there. So either the cartel fell down on that one, or he has a vital outlet that many Mesoamerican scholars don’t have and there is no cartel. I can’t speak for Book of Mormon Central and the rest of the cartel but after reading posts like this [start sarcasm voice] I can’t imagine they have any reason to dislike Neville or maybe not use his work.

This title [of the KnoWhy] demonstrates the unrelenting arrogance of these intellectuals.

Playing fallacy cop is on my list of deal breakers especially because debates usually descend into mutual accusations of ad hominem. (It also leads to what I have named Deane’s Dagger: Any critique of a person’s tone automatically invites the same accusations against that writer.) That being said, this is a pretty blatant example of ad hominem that should be identified for what it is. There is also a rather stunning irony here, as Neville’s central case is that the Mesoamerican setting means you don’t believe in the prophets, and yet Neville assumes the role of speaking for church leadership and judging the worthiness of members, which is actually pretty arrogant.

I never agreed to join a church run by intellectuals, but that’s what these M2C ‘scholars’ are attempting to establish.

I’ve never taken the scare quotes seriously and that’s likely because of this sketch. Its funny in SNL, but sad in this case:

If you think that a person has made a faulty case I would like to see a counter argument and specifics explaining why. But scare quotes around the word scholar is petty and says more about the person using the scare quotes than the argument in question.


This is a debate that many at Wheat and Tares might not care about. I totally understand that if you don’t believe the Book of Mormon is historical, or think the book is providential but don’t care for its location you probably believe the intramural debates over its geography are silly and pointless. That’s great and I thank you for reading anyway. Regardless of the topic, the way we discuss issues matter. Arguments that are light on substance, reason, and evidence but make extensive use of emotionally charged words like cartel, scare quotes, absurd nick names, and excessive editorializing do a disservice to the truth, discussion, and increasingly the fabric of the country in this rancorous age. (Also, Neville’s favorite tactic when called on his tone seems to be forcing people to sift through his 50 blogs for citations. Hit control f and type “citation” on Smoot’s post to see scores of examples.)

Those that think Trump’s twitter feed is the herald of the apocalypse should care as well as those that think denying service to a Trump supporter is awful. I used to teach a class on Pakistan, and my students would often assume a sense of superiority over Pakistanis that riot over rumors of a flushed Quran or believe the CIA and not terrorists are responsible for violent attacks. But people here in America can lose their jobs before they get off the plane, and racist notes can get thousands of shares before turning out to be false. While Smoot threw some elbows, I think Neville’s reaction perfectly displays the major problem our society faces in processing truth and having productive dialogue and its why I discussed it here.

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Its All Greek to Me: Part II

This posts continues my discussion of ideas and notes from reading the Greek sources. This week I cover the issue of fake news, preemptive war, and austere characters among others.


ii.4.18-23 hearing the man’s message, they conducted him to Clearchus and told him what he had said. When Clearchus heard [the rumor of Persian movements] he was greatly agitated and alarmed. But a young man, one of those who were present, after reflecting a little on the matter, observed that the imputed designs of making an attack, and of breaking down the bridge, were not consistent. ‘For,’ said he, ‘if they attack us, they must certainly either conquer or be conquered; if then they are to conquer us, why should they break down the bridge? For even though there were many bridges, we have no place where we could save ourselves by flight, but if on the other hand, we should conquer them, then, if the bridge is broken down, they will have no place of retreat…It was then immediately concluded that the barbarians had sent this man with an underhand object…They then prepared for rest, but did not neglect, however, to send a guard to the bridge…but neither did any of the enemies come near the bridge.

The issues of fake news, incivility in shouting down Republicans that try to eat at restaurants and increasingly rancorous tone from politicians seems to be new and dangerous trends. But the Greeks dealt with fake news. Both the common citizen that didn’t have a great deal of education or much to lose, and the generals with the lives and deaths of polities and thousands of people on the line had to process information. In fact, the Greeks in this case had to do it in several instances. They didn’t receive news of Cyrus’s death (their employer fighting for the Persian throne). They had to assess Persian intent based on several messages sent to them, and the likelihood of Persian betrayal. The point is that our modern problems are not so special, and the answers to those problems are not very hard. A bit of calm assessment and self-reflection in the face of fear and great agitation helped the Greeks described by Xenophon make a better decision that in this case literally saved their lives. The Greeks remained alert and set guards, but the bulk of the army rested in security after seeing through the fake news they were given. Some calm calculation, or maybe sitting down and reading a book of Greeks rationally thinking might be better than posting another facebook rant or meme based on incomplete information.

ii.6.9-15 Clearchus is reported to have said that a soldier ought to fear his commander more than the enemy, if he would either keep guard well, or abstain from doing injury to friends, or march without hesitation against foes. In circumstances of danger, accordingly, the soldiers were willing to obey [Clearchus] implicitly, and wished for no other leader; for they said that the sternness in his countenance then assumed an appearance of cheerfulness, and that was severe in it seemed undaunted against the enemy; so that it appeared indicative of safety and not of austerity. But when they were out of danger, and were at liberty to betake themselves to other chiefs, they deserted him in great numbers; for he had nothing attractive in him, but was always forbidding and repulsive, so that the soldiers felt towards him as boys towards their master.

Outside of what seems like an archetype of the man who can’t live without a war, I highlighted the two things that stood out to me the most in that post. Austere is a particular word that also described an enigmatic figure in the Book of Mormon. Zeniff described his commander as an “austere and a blood-thirsty man commanded that I should be slain (Mosiah 9:2).” Using the same word could be just a quirk and doesn’t show much, except that Zeniff also “hesitated” to march against the Lamanites and wanted a peace treaty with them. That is one of the three things listed as deserving punishment from the austere Clearchus. That Greek general also seemed to be “fond of war”(ii.6.6), which might be translated by Mormon as bloodthirsty.

The text of the BoM is so sparse you can’t really say it’s a perfect fit. But I still found this incredibly intriguing. I often use different models from history to try and tease out additional details. The behavior of Clearchus adds color to the story surrounding Zeniff’s two verse account of the inter Nephite conflict and my gut reaction is that this is a strong comparison. The general was good at battle and those qualities that made him seem austere brought victory on the battlefield, but made him friendless and restless in times of peace. When Zeniff hesitated to fight the Lamanites in the middle of what I call a preemptive strike, it sparked those austere qualities in the unnamed general and led to civil war.


i.4 For indeed some idea of a whole may be got from a part, but an accurate knowledge and clear comprehension cannot…episodal history contributes exceedingly little to the familiar knowledge and secure grasp of universal history…It is only by combination and comparison of separate parts of the whole-by observing their likeness and difference- that a man…can obtain a view at once clear and complete and thus secure both profit and the delight of history.

My latest book is on comparative military history that studies a bunch of battles around 400 AD. I thought highlighting different cultures at the same time was novel and a good way to see how geography and culture might affect the development of armies and the conduct of their wars. It’s always nice when I’m reading along and get reinforcements for arguments I’ve already made.

ii.47 But when the war had lasted some time, and Cleomenes had revolutionized the constitution of his county, and had turned its constitutional monarchy into a tyranny, and, moreover, was conducting the war with extraordinary skill and boldness- seeing clearly what would happen, and fearing the reckless audacity of the Aetolians, Aratus determined that his first duty was to be well before hand in frustrating their plans.

My eyes got a little bigger when I saw this and wrote down: preemptive war. This is important as a source in several ways. I remember a know nothing blogger at a certain place in the Bloggernacle. I don’t want to be mean or start or blog war, so lets just call it the Centennial Bar. The wrote said that the Constitution plainly forbade preemptive war. Having an interest in the matter (for a reason I’ll explain in a minute), I wanted to know what specific clause stated this. He provided a long screed that attacked drone strikes, never ending war, the military industrial complex, and several items in the same vein, but didn’t provide a specific clause and provision in the constitution. Some others fumbled and said that a “plain reading” of the text supported that condemnation. But as I’ve said before, the “face” in “face value” reading has a similar Latin route to superficial, so I don’t really think that was a strong argument.

In talking about my free lance career I mentioned you have to have a strategy. In order to get noticed a scholar has to plant his flag somewhere. I recently got an email from the Michigan War Studies Group, and I noticed how many books there are on World War II and the Civil War. This reminded me of a visit to the Society Military History years ago historians on those conflicts (WWII and American Civil War) are a dime a dozen. That reinforced to me that something like Chinese history might be a better field to plant my flag. In the field of Mormon studies, I not only focus on preemptive war as a way to distinguish myself from other military historians and scholars, but there are numerous punks and posers in the online world that pontificate and assume a burn the witch quality about the subject. As Colin Gray and Duance Boyce have noted, there is an almost “demonic hatred” of preventive war, and a “reproach without evidence” style to condemning those who supported the Iraq war, or the use of military force in general.[1] So I make sure to write down every reference to it in history, to better add to my tool box when I discuss the subject and Polybius didn’t disappoint with his discussion of Aratus saving Greeks from a tyrant. When I discuss preemptive warfare I won’t have to rely on vague screeds but can instead point to example from Polybius to Epaminondas and Sunzi (Sun-Tzu) to support my analysis.

Thanks for reading. I really enjoyed re reading the classics and look to move on to other texts like the Ruin of Britain by Gildas and The Deeds of Robert Guiscard.

I work as a free lance author. If you found value in this article please consider supporting it using the pay pal button at the bottom of the page. 

[1] Duance Boyce, Even Unto Bloodshed: An LDS Perspective on War (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015), 171-173. Colin Gray, The Implications of Preemptive and Preventive War Doctrines: A Reconsideration, (Strategic Studies Institute Online, 2007), 28. : For a representative sample of the most extreme and unacademic versions, see Kendal Anderson, War: A Book of Mormon Perspective: How the War Chapters of the Book of Mormon Warn Against Wars of Aggression and the Warfare State, (Create Space, 2014), 21 where “evil power hungry dictators” are the only ones that start preemptive war, and page 42 where he calls the practice an “assault on humanity itself.” For a sample of the voluminous personal attacks on proponents of the practice, Irvin Hill wrote, “A writer proving the Book of Mormon defense of Preemptive war, or just another war mongering propagandist?,” Obedient Anarchy, January 28th, 2015. (Accessed, October 21st, 2016 )

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Its All Greek to Me: Herodotus in the Book of Mormon

I mentioned when I discussed Thucydides a little while back that I would move on to the rest of the Greek writings I had. I suppose my old college professors would be so proud I’m reading and reflecting on classic texts. What follows are some of the notes as I made connections and tried to assess the material. As usual, since this is a Mormon themed blog I will focus more on connections with the Book Mormon though I add connections with other writing projects as well. The post got very long so I split this into two parts with Herodotus today and likely Xenophon and Polybius next time.

vii.9 And yet, I am told, these very Greeks are wont to wage wars against one another in the most foolish way, through sheer perversity and doltishness. For no sooner is war proclaimed than they search out the smoothest and fairest plain that is to be found in all the land, and there they assemble and fight; whence it comes to pass that even the conquerors depart with great loss.
This was a key passage that popped to me as a military historian. Military historian Victor David Hanson described what he called the Western Way of War, and one of the most important elements of that way is the concept of decisive battle between heavy infantry. The Greeks were farmers and part time soldiers with rather small armies. This created an incentive to fight the wars quickly by charging at each other. This preference for shock battle, according to Hanson, inspired what was a way of war that was superior to other cultures. The Persians, for example, scoffed at this way of war but when faced with heavy infantry in a narrow pass such as Thermopaylae, a few hundred Spartans (plus associated allies) could withstand what was recorded as a million man army. If I were teaching a class I would highlight the importance of primary sources at this point.

Associated with the Book of Mormon, I discuss the use of shock battle by Moroni, which is praised in the text and seems to produce victory in the war chapters. But many people fail to realize how incredibly bloody that kind of warfare is. Remember the phrase from the quote, “even the conqueror departs with great loss.” Which, now that I think about it would have been a good line to include. In discussing his tactics and reassessing his status as a hero, I couldn’t help but note that such a great man of God could perhaps have found a way to win without bloodshed.

vii. 127 On reaching Therma Xerxes halted his army, which encamped along the coast…stretching out as far as the rivers Lydias and Haliacmon…The rivers here mentioned were all of them sufficient to supply the troops, except the Cheidorus, which was drunk dry.
vii. 187 Such then was the amount of the entire host of Xerxes. As for the number of the women who prepared the bread, of the concubines, and the eunuchs, no one can give any sure account of it; nor can the baggage horses and other sumpter beasts, nor the Indian hounds which followed the army, be calculated, by reason of their multitude. Hence I am not at all surprise that the water of the rivers was found too scant for the army in some instances; rather it is a marvel to me how the provisions did not fail, when the numbers were so great…
viii. 115 [During the retreat of the Persian army] all along the line of march, in every country where they chanced to be, [Xerxes’] soldiers seized and devoured whatever food they could find belonging to the inhabitants; while, if no grain was to be found, they gathered the grass that grew in the fields, and stripped the trees, whether cultivated or wild, alike of their bark and of their leaves, and so fed themselves. They left nothing anywhere, so hard were they pressed by hunger. Plague too and dysentery attacked the troops while still upon their march, and greatly thinned their ranks. Many died; others fell sick and were left behind…
These are three quotes that tell a story about logistics. One of the most frequent criticisms is about the large numbers in the Book of Mormon. In fact, I mentioned this in my first post here at Wheat and Tares. But without getting into the details of caloric consumption, we can notice the outlines of his account, and how it holds up historically. I was struck while reading this that even the author “marveled” at the numbers he presented. He commented the armies were so big that the cities would have been ruined if they were forced to provide two meals instead of one of the passing army (vii. 120) and they drank the rivers dry. As soon as the army faced some catastrophe and had to retreat, they suddenly fell victim to hunger, and diseases from drinking dirty whatever, which is likely all they could find. This is a common pattern found in history, and in the Book of Mormon even.

I wrote a post a while ago that was inspired by the supposedly ridiculous logistical requirements of the final Nephite army. In particular, I’m struck with the similarity to the form that Herodotus took:

Moroni 9:16- And again, my son, there are many widows and their daughters who remain in Sherrizah; and that part of the provisions which the Lamanites did not carry away, behold, the army of Zenephi has carried away, and left them to wander whithersoever they can for food; and many old women do faint by the way and die.

While the account is rather brief, in one of the most detailed letters we do see examples of logistical problems that led to combat over limited provisions and starving civilians. Of course, chapter 9 also mentions acts of cannibalism on both sides, so the assumption that they were living on a normal diet, and would need the normal amounts of food listed in such places as Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, Supplying War, and even Aztec Warfare wouldn’t apply in this situation. On top of this, the prisoners taken by the Lamanites were only fed the flesh of their relatives. (Moroni 9:8) So what we have here could be the practical implications of excessive war and large armies in addition to spiritual decay.

Moreover, I’ve often compared the large numbers in the Book of Mormon to the Chinese War of the Eight Princes. Unsurprisingly, given the quotes from Herodotus and the verse from Mormon, a large army was tough to feed and eventually (particularly after military defeat) had trouble feeding itself. As I wrote in Decisive Battles in Chinese History:

The Princes of the Jin dynasty laid waste to the rival cities. The citizens in and around the capital city of Luoyang were almost continuously looted, raided, starved, eaten, conscripted and attacked by Chinese and barbarian forces until one of the largest cities of the 3rd century world and most prosperous regions was desolate. The city of Luoyang had an estimated 600,000 people, and the army may have had as many as 700,000 people at the start of the war. And even suggested peace plans and the heads of rival generals couldn’t stay the slaughter.

And contemporary Chinese historians recorded:

By the [end of the war] trouble and disturbances were very widespread….many suffered from hunger and poverty. People were sold [as slaves]. Vagrants became countless. In the [provinces around the capital] there was a plague of locusts…Virulent disease accompanied the famine. Also the people were murdered by bandits. There rivers were filled with floating corpses; bleached bones covered the fields…There was much cannibalism. Famine and pestilence came hand in hand.
Needless to say, I think there is a pattern in the behavior and supply of ancient armies, and the supposedly ridiculous numbers that would be impossible to feed actually sounds about right. Herodotus marveled at his own account, talked about rivers being drank dry in good times and water borne illness and eating bark in the bad. Back to his account:

viii. 15 The third day was now come, and the captains of the barbarians, ashamed that so small a number of ships should harass their feet, and afraid of the anger of Xerxes, instead of waiting for the others to begin the battle, weighed anchor themselves, and advanced against the Greeks about the hour of noon.
This point immediately recalled the various Chinese fleets that are often forgotten in history but was often the decisive factor in the life or death of a dynasty. The fleet with the biggest impact was that of the southern Song. The northern Song dynasty collapsed on the plains around their capital of Kaifeng. But the southern Song saved themselves for over thirty years in twelfth century because of their impressive navy. They had lost most of their northern territory and faced a massive invasion from the Jurchens, who aimed to finish the job. But the navy broke the pontoon bridge of the invading force, which severed the invading armies’ logistical connection, and this prevented them from retreating to the north side of the river. The eight-thousand-man naval force of the southern Song dynasty tied down a one-hundred-thousand-man army for a significant amount of time. A short time later, it faced another engagement. Despite being outnumbered six to one, the Song navy charged into the much larger force, secure in its superior training, and annihilated the opposing the fleet. The Mongols knew the power of a navy and the necessity of training. They reportedly mustered seventy thousand marines to help conquer Xingyang (a chapter in my book) and built five thousand warships to conquer southern Song.

The similarities between the smaller navies of the Greek and southern Song defeating larger forces because of training and motivation reinforces a methodological point for me. In Mormon studies but also comparative studies in academia there are fierce debates about how similar two items from different cultures and time periods really are. Some people are so narrow, and for lack of a better term, isolationist that they bristle at any comparison. With all due respect I’ve found that sound military principles translate pretty well across time and geography.

Though this approach is not without criticism and danger. It is extremely important not to decontextualize events and do what I call the chicken nugget approach, which I described in a review of a text on Subotai:
[The author’s last chapter] represented the most vivid example of the chicken nugget approach. This used modern army nomenclature, Napoleonic terms, German words, and modern terms interchangeably throughout the book. Some people may enjoy the liberal sprinkling of terms from a variety of eras, I find it distracting. Many of the terms are not precisely interchangeable with the activities of Subotai or carried unneeded connotations or associations. So the chicken nugget method seemed analytically imprecise at best.
At the same time, a judicious and extremely strict comparison of military principles across cultures is extremely useful. I already cited one example of a small but motivated navy defeating a larger one with less training between two cultures separated by thousands of miles and years. In another example I discussed the historical evidence of noise in battle and conclude that the account in Forest of Kings is likely wrong:
Based on the analysis of the chaotic and loud battlefield then, Schele and Freidel’s recreation of Mayan battle fails to take into account the impractical nature of trying to understand each other during this kind of physical stress on a chaotic battlefield.
I could also point to blood letting and ritual fasting, and talked about the use of omens Thucydides account. I definitely fall on the other side of the debate and find judicious and specific comparisons, such as between small and highly trained forces from different cultures and times very useful.


I’ve enjoyed re reading these accounts, and for this one I even noticed the notes I first made 15 years ago! Herodotus described what some argue is the foundation of Western military history. He discussed cataloged enemy forces, discussed logistics, and a careful reading suggests that ridiculously big armies had ridiculous logistical requirements that often resulted in starving soldiers and civilians. Finally, I noticed that he reinforced a methodological point in dispute about how different cultures and time periods can still produce the same behavior or favorable comparisons.

When is the last time you read Herodotus? What is your favorite part? Is there anything you think I missed?

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Research Round Up

I write so much in so many areas I find it nice to bring it all together on occasion.  This will also go beyond the curtains to reveal some of the strategies that govern my writing and priorities. For example,  the research round up lets me write about writing, which helps me organize key thoughts (which could also be used as a pitch in the future) and meet a deadline in a way that’s easier than coming up with original material. Without further ado, lets dive into it.


I have several free lance writing gigs. My most frequent one is from Opslens Magazine, though I also write for Strategy and Tactics, and have occasional posts at the Salt Lake Tribune, Lifezette, Real Clear Defense, Fox News (don’t hold that against me), and many others. Again, you have to have a strategy in getting published, so I make sure to use my historical knowledge and specializing in China to offer timely and pertinent articles, though I also write on conservative matters.

Anniversaries are a great way to get otherwise ignored articles published. For example, Friday was the anniversary of the start of the Soviet German War. I write about the myths that resulted from the war.  My June 7th article shows my strategy really well. Most Americans tend to remember June 6th because of D-Day. But June 7th is a huge day in Chinese history and their fight against the Japanese.
I spent time in grad school towards a PhD in Chinese military history so I make sure to use those skills. I talked about piracy in the South China Sea. And I can’t believe they let me keep that joke in the title about counterrrrr measures. I build upon my previous analysis of NATO exercises to discuss a base in Poland.

I’m also a conservative. My strategy is often to find a unique angel to a situation. For example, people have been losing their mind over the migrant crisis on the border. I summarize some of the conservative positions, but more importantly, I look at a hidden conservative argument that Trump critics are making. This is a good time to mention that I’m not Marco Rubio at a CNN gun debate, so I will delete comments on this thread that include moral preening and denunciations.


The long term strategy is to focus on books. Royalties are a passive income stream that pays me for work done years ago. I wrote my first book, Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon, in a fit of confidence back in 2011, and finally got it published a few years later. It would never be on the New York Times Best Selling list, but it’s gratifying to get a check for work I did almost ten years ago.

I published a follow up on the Book of Mormon, From Sinners to Saints, this year. I haven’t talked much about it because I’m waiting for a review from another perma blogger here at Wheat and Tares, plus the other reviews at various sources in Mormon intellectual circles. The basic premise is a revisionist history of the text that reassesses heroes and villains. Many Latter Day Saints treat the book as historical, but then they read the text as though its bad propaganda instead of history so I reassess the behavior of both heroes and villains of the text.

I also didn’t advertise that book heavily because one of my first posts as a perma blogger was about Decisive Battles in Chinese History. I felt it was a bit of overkill to just talk about my books all the time.

I’ve got another one in the works tentatively titled from the Cree to Korea: World History of Battle at 400. This one started because I noticed many battles around the same time period. The Roman defeat at Adrianople in 378 (though after researching I switched to the Battle of Frigidus River), a key battle near Tikal in 378 that became a post here, the battle of Fei River in my Chinese battles book in 384, and researching I found key monuments about a Japanese invasion of Korea in 400. I’ve got a draft of that written, I’m waiting to hear back from publishers, as having that contract signed becomes great motivation to finally do those edits I’ve been planning. But I have a few polished sample chapters that I can send to publishers and edits of drafts are far easier than writing so I'm good.

My free-lance gig above is starting their own press soon. So I thought I should have something in the chamber and ready to go.  I didn’t plan on doing this, but I wrote a primer on Chinese strategy that I both started and finished in a single day. I was greatly aided by about 4 years worth of free lance writing on contemporary Chinese military history informed by my historical study. I have numerous posts on specific Chinese hardware such as the J20, its specific limitations and drawbacks, limitations of Chinese and American training, possible clues from history, analysis of Chinese strategy, and geographical considerations. After reading this book I expect readers to have a basis of knowledge to assess news coming from China and not give into fear mongering.


Anybody who has seen my Lego collection knows I have an active imagination. I’ve branched out into writing fiction though these are projects that are far away. I’ve always thought I should focus on having a career as a military analyst before I jump into fiction, but this stuff tends to come a bit easier so I’ve been branching out. I always thought some dramatization of the war chapters was fantasy on a number of levels until this post at W&T came out well. I have a killer dream journal that offers a number of great ideas. Some are just notes but some I’ve fleshed out into incredible short stories that rival any space opera and some are rather sweet and funny. Cedar Fort books just sent me an email offering some kind of self publishing package, so I will check that out when the time comes.

I also wrote a piece for a Mormon steam punk anthology.  I don’t know a ton about steam punk, but I do know about being a scared missionary feeling overwhelmed on the first day. So my missionary from a Dickens like Salt Lake goes on a mission to find Nephite artifacts. He bails out of his exploding airship, marches through the jungle in his suit, dodges hostile anti Mormons with their dart guns, uses a laser gun that doesn’t work, finds an ancient glittering city, and has to write home and convince his mother that he’s okay through his letter and convince himself that he can complete his mission. I called it, “Dearest Mother: My Mission is going well as I survived the fall from my airship.”  I rather enjoyed it, but it didn’t make the cut for the anthology. It will likely be one of the short stories I make from my dream journal, or possibly the first chapter in a steam punk mission.

So that is what I’ve recently completed or I’m working on. As you can see there is a good deal of synergy between my writing gigs as I use knowledge from one area to enhance by ability to write for another and offer unique angles.  What are you working on? What intrigues you the most from the above list?  Is there anything you want to see?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Thucydides in the Book of Mormon

I haven’t read Thucydides account of the Peloponnesian War since I was an undergraduate. Because I’m a military historian I thought it would be valuable to go through it again. What follows is a peak into what I describe to my students as “active reading.” As I go through it I’m not just trying to follow the narrative, but I’m engaging the material, questioning it, seeing how it might apply, and generally making notes in the margins and brain storming as I read. I’ve mainly applied it to the Book of Mormon (with a click bate title of course), though as you might have seen in my articles at W&T, I also include notes on comparison to Chinese history, and current events. What eventually happens is this information remains in the back of my mind until I have some kind of ah ha moment, start a new project, and I’ve had to spend a good deal of time searching and even have to re-read these books to find the mental note I took. (I should really take better notes.) Without further ado, here is a peak behind the curtain as passages that inspired additional thoughts.

i.22 “What particular people said in their speeches, either just before or during the war, was hard to recall exactly, whether they were speeches I heard myself or those that were reported to me at second hand. I have made each speaker says what I thought the situation demanded, keeping as near as possible to the general sense of what was actually said.”

This is a good discussion of the kind of questions people ask about historical sources. There seems to be three options that he has which are : actual words (this is more likely for public speechs like Pericles funeral oration), paraphrase (which might apply to things like the Melian dialogue that happened in private), and historical fiction, which is Thuycdides basically having people say what he thinks they would say.

I’ve thought about this a good deal in the Book of Mormon. John Gee pointed out how Limhi’s speeches all occurred in events where a scribe would be present. Amalickiah in 47 is particularly revealing though. Alma 55:5 suggests that at least one of the servants of the Lamanite king served in the army, he (or they) could provide a source for the killing of the king and at least second hand political knowledge of the Lamanties. But the direct speeches and tactics of Amalickiah are more complicated. It could be propaganda, or like the Book of Judges in the Bible, a collection of folk tales about the figure eventually written down. But the way he ruthlessly maneuvered into the kingship suggests something a little more organized than a collection of tales. It could be a genre of Mesoamerican literature that highlight great or infamous deeds of leaders. Regardless of the exact nature of the record, I find an intriguing insight from Thucydides about the difficulty of reconstructing speeches exactly, which should inform our understanding of the text.

i.10 He does, however, show that all the rowers in Philoctetes’ ships were also fighters, for he writes that all the oarsmen were archers. As for passengers on the ships, it is not likely that there were many, aside from the kings and other top people, especially since they had to cross the sea with military equipment on board, and in ships without the protection of upper decks, built in the old pirate fashion. So if we take the mean between the largest and smallest ships, we find that not many went to Troy…

I thought it was very interesting that Thucydides analyzed the numbers of Homer. As I’ve discussed before, questioning numbers is one of the first things that professional historians did. Unreliable eye witnesses, deliberately or accidental corruption of the text, numbers as a colloquial or symbolic use (I’ve told you a thousand times, 666), and historians use of battle for a didactic or moral point can change the numbers. As usual, when historians do these techniques to assess other texts, it’s seen as good scholarship. When the same thing is done to assess the text of the Book of Mormon, it is attacked as mental gymnastics and dismissed with a snide and condescending, “we know the book is false anyway.” (As a reminder, I delete comments like that on my posts.)

i.23 “ I believe the truest reason for the quarrel, though least evident in what was said at the time, was the growth of Athenian power, which put fear into the Lacedaemonians and so [they felt] compelled… into war.”

The war chapters inspire a good deal of writing, but it is mainly a good deal of speculation and inappropriate and superficial analogies. What I’ve tried to do in all of my research is look beyond battle to see it a culmination of tactics, strategy, history, culture, material culture, and geography. In doing that I’ve tried to look for the causes of the war chapters. There are a few models I’ve suggested such as the anthropological or great person model. The former sees the war as a competition for resources, trade routes, prime farm land, and the control of tax bases. The latter looks at the role that great people like Moroni and Amalickiah had in leading to war.

But the third model comes from Thucydides account of the Peloponnesian war which is a classic tale of interstate rivalries. After leading the Greeks to victory against the Persians, Athens and Sparta split and competed for the leadership of Greece. Athens started in the much more dominant positions with a fleet and eventually a lucrative empire . But the Spartans were powerful as well and they continued to vie for influence in Greece with a fearsome land army and set of allies opposing Athens. This competition for leadership in the political sphere led to armed competition as Athens tried to maintain its preeminent status and deny Sparta any more strength. So I’m kind of impressed that I could remember what Thucydides thought was the main driver of the war.

The shift of the Zoramites into the Lamanite sphere of influence (Alma 31:4; 43:4), the shift of the Anti Nephi Lehis into the Nephite sphere of influence (Alma 27:22-23), the expansion of the Nephites into the wilderness after expelling the Lamanites, the quick strike at Ammonihah (a city that only tacitly acknowledge Nephite rule, Alma 49: 6) in order to bolster Lamanite claims to Kingship (keep in mind that was the first city they attacked several times) point to the geo political factors of expanding and contracting spheres that cause conflict. This happens in particular during times of rapid growth or decay of one power against another and definitely recalls the “fear” that drove compelled them to conflict.

iii.82 Civil war ran through the cities…and they reversed the usual way of using words to evaluate activities. Ill-considered boldness was counted as loyal manliness; prudent hesitation was held to be cowardice in disguise, and moderation merely the cloak of an unmanly nature. A mind that could grasp the good of the whole was considered wholly lazy. Sudden fury was accepted as part of manly valor, while plotting for one’s own security was though a reasonable excuse for delaying action. A man who started a quarrel was always to be trusted, while one who opposed him was under suspicion…

Sounds like an average day online. I’ve seen this a good deal and its one of the most frustrating aspect of being a writer. Angry clowns seem to get all of the attention, while reasoned assessments get ignored. In fact, I’ve lost writing positions because I wasn’t angry enough or angry at the right people. You could also look at the counter puncher in Trump, the incivility of twitter, those for whom cuck is their favorite and frequent insult, and bomb throwers who sling warmonger, racist, and sexist with reckless abandon.

I used to teach a class on Pakistan, and my students often reacted with shock and a sense of smug superiority at the number of Pakistanis that riot over false rumors of desecrating a Quran, or those that believe the CIA and not terrorists are behind plots. But before you pat yourself on the back for not being one of those people, and confidently attack Trump and his supporters, realize that there are people who lose their jobs before they get off the plane, and consider how many of you have reposted an inflammatory memes and news without knowing the whole story. In the upside down word described by Thucydides you can be part of the problem while simultaneously thinking you are better than everybody.

vii.44 Battles are easier to understand in daylight, but even then soldiers who are present scarcely know more than their own particular experiences. So in a night battle-and this the only one in the war to involve large armies- how could anyone know anything for certain. Though the moon was bright, they saw each other as you’d expect in the moonlight: bodies were visible, but there was no way to know whether they were friends or enemies.

I wrote something about the experience of battle in the BoM. Thucydides account above would have been a pithy quote to share. Here is the relevant material from my article:

“logic insists that battle amongst thousands of people would be a noisy affair — and the early battle sounds would be quickly added to by thousands of clashing weapons and the screams of the wounded and dying. Moreover, the rush of adrenaline triggers physical reactions that make battle notoriously difficult to understand for those participating in it.
‘Studies have found at least half of participants [in battle] will experience the event in slow motion, a fifth in faster-than-normal time; two-thirds will hear at ‘diminished volume’ … a fifth at amplified levels; about half will see … with tunnel vision and black out everything not directly ahead and the other half with amazingly heightened clarity. Most individuals will suffer memory loss, while others will ‘remember’ events that never occurred.’ Alexander Rose, Men of War: The American Soldier in Combat at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima (New York: Random House Books, 2015), 72–73.

Back to Thucydides:

vii.50 Then most of the Athenians took the eclipse to heart and called on the generals to stop, while Nicias- who put too much faith in divination and such practices- said he would not even consider moving now until they had waited the twenty-seven days prescribed by soothsayers.

This is an interesting passage. It seems to go against what I typically believe about ancients, that most of the practices were believed, but often discarded or changed when they conflicted with military realities. Despite the ancient’s belief in the super natural, rituals that harm the warrior’s efficacy in battle usually don’t last long or became heavily modified, symbolic, or placed on monuments without being practiced extensively. Losing blood and fasting would produce a weakened state that would make combat difficult. It’s possible the noncombatants fasted, or this was posted on monuments to please the masses of people (who wanted righteous rulers), but not actually done in private. We could see this passage as an example of how Thucydides did not put much stock in divination rituals as this superstition prevented the Athenians from escaping Sicily.


This was a very enjoyable read and I’m moving to the portable Greek reader for more insights. Some passages reinforced previous points, some provide a new angle, others points provided trenchant reminders about human nature, the speeches are electrifying, even if they might be historical fiction more than history, and overall I’m reminded of why his book is required reading for college students. And I still shake my head at the foolishness of the Sicilian Expedition. What have you read recently that you really enjoy?

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Hill Yeah: Notes on Jaredite Geography

I’ve long been intrigued by Jaredite geography. Unfortunately, even those that accept the historicity of the Book of Mormon and have geographic models they fight over, find the book of Ether bewilderingly sparse. Yet the text is very clear in some instances on what is affecting the story, even if you don’t know where it is. It mentions plains, sea shores, valleys, hills, lands of first inheritance, strategic deposits of ore (steel, which invites another 1,000 words of analysis on its own), a great city, and a capital land. In the years of researching and writing I’ve become a firm believer that geography matters a great deal in a nation’s development and most importantly, in the conduct on the battlefield despite variations in date, culture, and regions. The following is a list of major geographic forms listed in the text and insights from history in how those places might affect battle.

Seashore– supply and protection

The biggest advantage of the seashore comes from those who have a strong navy. I’ve never read about the “embark, circle around via the sea, and then amphibiously invade the opposing army encamped on the seashore” maneuver in history. (But if you’ve heard of an example please let me know.) Because of that fact the sea shore provides a secure flank. This may mean that they are trapped, but since the power on the sea shore usually has a navy protecting the sea, it often becomes a secure exit door and not a trap. The encamped army can then maximize their defenses facing inland.

The British at Yorktown, and again at Dunkirk relied upon the sea for resupply and rescue. It was the temporary French advantage in sea power that allowed the Colonials to capture the British at Yorktown and win the war. The ancient Athenians actually made their entire city a fortified sea colony. Athens on the on the mainland, but they built the long walls that provided a fortified harbor and connection to their city.[1] In contrast to the British examples, this was a more permanent solution and even imperial policy, instead of something done by an army in the field after a defeat. Since Athens had the preeminent fleet for much of the early classical period they could always count on resupply by their navy. In fact, it was only the Spartan defeat of the navy and blockade of their port that finally brought them to their knees.

Alma 51 describes the repulse of Amalickiah’s army, and their camp on the sea shore. While not directly stated in the text this strongly suggests the same principles. They moved back to the ocean to provide additional security and resupply. In fact, the defection of the Zoramites may have been so dangerous in part because it gave the Lamanites an outlet in that region, when the Nephites relied on inland riverine transport. Ether14:13 described a running battle in which Lib retreated to sea shore. Again, the context of a recent battlefield defeat, followed by a retreat to a secure base and possible resupply strikes me as entirely consistent.
A good map showing pivotal valleys near the Wei, Fen, and Yellow rivers

Valleys– power base.

Valleys provide a good base of power. Valleys are usually formed by a river, has good farm land, restricted pass in and out which lead to relatively easy security. Multiple dynasties in China rose to power via secure river valleys as I described in my book on Chinese battles. The Di tribe settled in Wei River valley during the period of disunion. With only one pass to the east they could fortify their position, engage enemies, such as those at Luoyang, at their leisure and they eventually established the Former Qi Dynasty. The eventual founders of the much more impactful Tang Dynasty started as governors of the Fen River Valley, to the North East of both the Wei River valley (and its ancient capital of Chang’an), and the frequent Chinese capital at Louyang. The famous war lord Cao Cao started his career as a soldier in Ye, which was one pivotal pass away from the Fen River Valley. But he could also swing around towards the South East and attack the capital through Hulao pass. When the Tang were consolidating their power, one of the most famous battles in Chinese history happened at Hulao Pass, which was often called the Chinese Thermopylae. And to wrap up the importance of valleys, rebellious members of the Jin Dyansty held commands at each of the above centers (Ye, Chang’an, Taiyuan in the Fen River Valley and more), which explained why they so often swooped upon the hapless capital during the War of the Eight Princes to the point that what was once the rival of Rome in the ancient world became a desolate place of huddled refugees.[2] The carnage was so great in such a short time that contemporary historians described piles of white bones that covered the field and that quote inspired my research into comparing the War of Eight Princes with the Jaredite denouement (Ether 14:22).[3]

Of course the Nephite center of power was in a river valley surrounding Zarahemla and the “most capital parts” of the land (Helaman 1:27.) In the Jaredite fighting the Valley of Gilgal witnessed an “exceedingly sore” (Ether 13:27) that lasted three days. (This is a very similar and thus unsurprising time frame compared to the Battle of Hulao, as much of the time was spent eyeing each other across the narrow pass, feeling each other out, and sending out raids before finally engaging each other. Once the fighting started it was rather fierce, one leader of the Tang forces hacked his way across the battlefield so many times his armor looked like a porcupine with jagged arrows and broken blades.)[4] V. 28 and 29 describe a back and forth between that valley and the Plains of Heshlon. The armies likely fought over a key pass that led to the power center in the Valley of Gilgal. The chaos described in verses 1-3 of Ether 14 describe the loss of a power base very well, as I discussed in my first book.

Plains- battles

As mentioned above, the fight for a power base in the Valley of Gilgal led to more fighting in the plains. This is the best place for shock battle, wherein opposing groups of infantrymen rushed toward each other, seeking to cut their way through to their destination or out of a trap (Alma 52:33–34; Alma 43:39–43). The battle recorded in Alma 52 only occurred after the Lamanites refused to meet and battle on the plains, and had to lured out of their strongholds (Alma 52:20-21) The Greeks were particularly adept at this. Their small cities and farming valleys pitted opposing groups of heavily clad infantry that charged each other. The farmers couldn’t be away campaigning for long so the battles had to be decisive. While they typified what some call the Western Way of War, one of the earliest recorded battles in history between Egyptian and Caananite forces that charged across relatively flat land. Again, a pass proved critical in the course of the Egyptian’s march. This connects with the previous point that flat land near bases of power and likely critical valleys were prime locations for shock battles.

Wilderness– hit and run

The other type of battle consists of more lightly armored soldiers often with lighter or ranged weapons conduct hit and run attacks. These can occur on their own or sometimes as a result of a collapse of the army during shock battle. Cao Cao in battle of Red Cliffs had his army trampled in the swamps. They had won plenty of victories before, and were a good army that got routed but they didn’t maintain discipline in the retreat. The Noche Triste of the Spanish fleeing Aztec capital featured the same result. They tried to sneak away from the palace complex under siege. In the running fighting in the streets and canals leading out of the city, and under fire from Aztec light infantry and archers, many people died, and much like Cao Cao’s force, the mounted cavalry used the foot soldiers to gain footing in the muck.[5]

Helaman 11:25 described the Gadianton robbers redoubts in mountains, wilderness and secret places. The Nephite military attempted to route them out but had a great deal of difficulty. The text says they were “driven back” (v.29) with “great havoc [and] great destruction” (v.28). This mirrors Mao Zedong’s (Mao Tse-tung) and Zhe De’s experience in the Jinggangshang highlands. The mountain villages had few entrances, few roads, and could be blockaded with great difficulty. The few roads and avenues of approach made counter attacks extremely successful. In short, the remoteness makes it nice as another kind of power base (usually from predatory forces or those on the usurping side of the power scale compared to valley bases).

Chapter 14 in Ether described how Coriantumr was defeated and retreated to the wilderness of Akish (v.3). His enemy Shared tried to invade, but then “laid siege” to it but was subjected to counter attacks (v.5). Coriantumr stayed there two years while his enemies occupied the center of power (see below.) After a see saw battle against Lib that went all the way to the seashore, Coriantumr was again defeated and again retreated there (Ether 14:12-14). Again, see that the losing side took cover in the wilderness, gained strength, and could launch successful counter attacks against forces trying to root them out.

Capital City- Political and cultural nexus

From the debate about taking Moscow or Ukrainian farms in World War II,[6] the burning of Washington in the War of 1812, or the bombing of Chongqing, the capital is always extremely important for political, cultural, and logistical reasons. They organize the armies that defend the nation and losing the capital is often represents the defeat of the nation.

Ether records how leaders held court (Ether 9:5), dispensed justice (Ether 7:24), oversaw religion (though sometimes it was the other way around, “murdered in a secret pass by High priest” Ether 14:10), and represented others at “outcasts” (Ether 10:9). The Land of Moron was a nexus of important cultural and political power. Though holding it wasn’t a guarantee of victory. As mentioned above, Luoyang was the capital but powerful frontier commanders could force their way into the capital at will. Coriantumr remained in the wilderness regaining his strength enough to still contend with for the throne.


Based upon my experience researching military history for years I found this a useful thought exercise in how fundamental geographic realities affect war fighting. Each region has a particular strength and often provides the economic growth, farming land, key passes, or inspirational center that determines where battles are fought, and often what tactics are used. In fact, my latest book goes further and suggests that geography largely determines what kind of armies are created as well. Each geographic feature mentioned in the brief narrative helps us better understand the bitter struggle for survival and power and the way terrain affected their decisions.

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[1] David Berkey, “Why Fortifications Endure: A Case Study of the Walls of Athens During the Classical Period,” in Makers of Ancient Strategy Victor David Hanson ed., (Princeton University Press, 2009), 58-92.

[2] Arthur Waley, “The Fall of Loyang,” History Today Volume 1 Issue 4 April 1951.

[3] “By the [end of the war,] trouble and disturbances were very widespread….many suffered from hunger and poverty. People were sold [as slaves]. Vagrants became countless. In the [provinces around the capital,] there was a plague of locusts…Virulent disease accompanied the famine. Also the people were murdered by bandits. Their rivers were filled with floating corpses; bleached bones covered the fields…There was much cannibalism. Famine and pestilence came hand in hand [emphasis added].” Lien-sheng Yang, “Notes on the Economic History of the Chin Dynasty,” Studies in Chinese Institutional History(Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1961), 181.

[4] Old Book of Tang, chapter 60. New Book of Tang, chapter 78.

[5] Victor Davis Hanson, “Technolgoy and the Wages of Reason,” in Carnage and Culture: 9 Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Culture (New York, Anchor Books: 2002.)

[6] R. Stolfi, Hitler’s Panzers East: World War II Reinterpretered, (Norman OK, Oklahoma University Press, 1991.)