Saturday, January 12, 2019

Stupid People Contend with Things After They Become Obvious: Preemptive War and the Book of Mormon

Greetings!  I’m hard at work on a new project that examines classical Chinese theory beyond Sun-Tzu. As a result I’m reading all sorts of interesting things. I’ll post about that project at a future date, but for now I wanted to post from an author that actually made the same arguments I did in favor of preemptive war.

Little is known about Master Shi, and like most classical texts there are significant questions about its construction and authorship.[1] But Master Shi was a minister living around 330 BC in the middle of the Warring States Period when there was a robust debate between varying schools of thought. He is also one of the first syncretist, which means he consciously borrowed from different schools of thought to make a new text on political, military, and social matters. For example, the stress on timely swift action is borrowed from the Diplomatic school, and virtue is a key word that relates to Confucian moralism.

The two ideas I found repeated are that its easy to solve a problem before they become big, and there is little thanks in doing so. I will quote the Shizi first and then material from my recent article on preemptive war. There is a bit of irony here as Shizi later quotes a passage from Mozi which condemns offensive warfare, but he provides an argument earlier in his text that perfectly defends it.

Even a tree so big that it shields the sky was, at its beginning, only as thick as the base of a tree sprout: easy to get rid of. But once it has fully manifested itself, a hundred people using hatchets and axes are unable to fell it!
When flames first arise, they are easily extinguished. But once it has gotten to the point where the Yunmeng and the Mengzhu swamp lands are aflame, then even with the help of the whole world ladling out the waters of the Jiang and Han rivers, one will still be unable to save the situation!
The "beginnings of misfortunes" are like flames and tree sprouts: easy to stop. But then they are neglected and become great matters, then even worthies like Kong Zi [Confucius] and Mozi will be unable to save the situation!
When a house burns and someone saves it, then we know their virtue. But the elderly who daub chimney cracks to guard against fire, thereby living their whole lives without the misfortune of stray flames causing a fire: their virtue remains unknown!
When they enter a jail or prison to relive one who has suffered difficulty [by bailing him out], then his relatives are held to be acting virtuously toward him. But those who would teach him with goodness, propriety, parental love, and sibling concern so that his whole life will be without such difficulty: no one considers this to be virtue!
Misfortunes also have chimneys and if worthies were to travel the world to aid in daubing them, then the world would have no military suffering, yet none would know their virtue. There it is sad: ‘Sagely people rectify things when they are yet spirituous [or forming]; stupid people contend with things after they have become obvious.’[2]

The next quote is from my article on preemptive war. I have already previewed the scriptures I use to make this concluding argument. Here I put the Nephite discussion of preemptive war in a historical context and explain why it is seen as a good thing to attack sooner instead of later and before problems become more expensive to fight, and mention why it’s hard to get credit for it.

It remains tough to justify preemption based on what could happen, or latent evil that hasn’t yet manifested itself. Yet destruction of Ammonihah, captives of Noah, and resulting battles make a convincing case study that shows the disasters that await when preemptive warfare is dismissed...[3]
The chief historical reason for a preemptive attack is the attacker’s belief that preemption now is better than facing worse consequences later.  The Japanese war machine in World War II only had a few months of oil left because of American embargoes. They felt that a surprise attack on America would stun them long enough for Japan to seize their prosperity sphere, especially the oil fields in Java. A preemptive attack immediately for them was better than waiting. The Germans in World War I faced enemies on every side, but they believed they could quickly defeat France and then be ready for Russia by the time their slower, Eastern foe had fully mobilized. They needed a quick strike through a neutral country to do so.[4] Epaminondas and the 3rd century Thebans faced yearly invasions from Sparta. He thought they should launch a surprise attack to permanently remove the devastating attacks on their homeland, weaken Sparta, and alter the balance of power.[5]  
The Nephites were always talked as though they were vastly outnumbered by the Lamanites (Mosiah 25:2-3; Alma 51:11; Mormon 2:3). A surprise attack could throw their enemy off balance, capture territory that would make the Nephite realm stronger, prevent an imbalance of power arising from defecting dissenters, preemptively stop a gathering attack, root out endemic banditry before the government fell, or simply fight at a place of their time and choosing instead of unpropitious battle being forced upon them. The Book of Mormon shows us that preemptive war was a justly held strategy, commonly employed, with as much effectiveness as other strategies but with potential pitfalls. In a world where a surprise nuclear attack is likely and the numbers of dead in a preemptive strike by terrorists could number millions, the attractiveness of preemptive war is even more enticing…

Thanks for reading. I work as a free lance author so if you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button at the bottom of the page. Its always exciting to find that the Book of Mormon is engaging the same ideas wrestled with by ancient societies, and its pleasing to get confirmation, in stunning fashion, of ideas that I’ve already stated. Who do you think said it better?


[1] The texts of this age usually involve debates between one of three categories: Wholly authentic, some kind of core piece that was added to in later centuries by followers, or a forgery. The central category is usually the most held position with modern translators trying to date the text using various clues similar to the Documentary Hypothesis in Biblical studies.
[2] Shizi: China’s First Syncretist, Paul Fischer trans., (Columbia University Press, 2012,) 67-68.
[3] Morgan Deane, Offensive Warfare in the Book of Mormon and a Defense of the Bush Doctrine,” in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives, (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), 38.
[4]See Matt Flynn, First Strike: Preemptive Wars in Modern History (New York: Routledge Press, 2008), for more.   
[5] Victor David Hanson, “Epaminondas the Theban and the Doctrine of Preemptive War,” in Makers of Ancient Strategy Victor David Hanson ed., (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 93-118.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A Soldier in Armor Does Not Bow: The Book of Mormon’s Debate with Chinese Theory

Two interesting quotes from the Chinese military writing Wei Liaozi introduces interesting questions about the place of ritual in the army camp. This was a latter work than other and far more famous classics like Sunzi (Sun-Tzu) and represents a possible development in Chinese thought away from what the Kaangxi emperor called, “nonsense about water and fire, lucky omens and advice on the weather, all at random and contradicting each other.”[1]

The first quote is clearly the lessons from a military commander that rejects divine intervention in battle:

Now if there is a fortified city and one attacks it from the east and west but cannot take it, and attacks from the south and north but cannot take it, can it be that all four directions failed to accord with an [auspicious] moment that could be exploited? If you still cannot take it, it is because the walls are high, the moats deep, the weapons are implements fully prepared, the materials and grains accumulated in great quantities, and their valiant soldiers unified in their plans….

The Chu general Kongzi Xin was about to engage Chi in battle. At that time a comet appeared, with its tail over Chi. [According to such beliefs] wherever the tail pointed would be victorious, and they could not be attacked. Kongzi Xin said: ‘What does a comet know? Those who fight according to the comet will certainly be overturned and conquered.’ On the morrow he engaged Chi and greatly defeated them. The Yellow Emperor said: ‘Putting spirits and ghosts first is not as good as first investigating my own knowledge.’ This means that the Heavenly Offices are nothing but human effort.[2]

This was interesting to me for at least several reasons. First, this is something which many modern readers would agree with. After all, a comet doesn’t determine who wins a battle.  Instead the military leaders assess the physical factors like the height of the wall and preparation of the army.   

But the second reason comes from its clash with the Book of Mormon. Mormon very clearly felt that God’s protection made the people powerful.  One of God’s prophets was saved by a rare celestial event in 3 Nephi chapter 1. Helaman 4:23-26 provides a counter argument to Wei Liaozi:

And because of their iniquity the church had begun to dwindle; and they began to disbelieve in the spirit of prophecy and in the spirit of revelation; and the judgments of God did stare them in the face. And they saw that they had become weak, like unto their brethren, the Lamanites, and that the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them because the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples—

Therefore the Lord did cease to preserve them by his miraculous and matchless power, for they had fallen into a state of unbelief and awful wickedness; and they saw that the Lamanites were exceedingly more numerous than they, and except they should cleave unto the Lord their God they must unavoidably perish.
 For behold, they saw that the strength of the Lamanites was as great as their strength, even man for man. And thus had they fallen into this great transgression; yea, thus had they become weak, because of their transgression, in the space of not many years.
According to Mormon the Nephites lost not because the walls were high and the moats deep, but because the Lord’s spirit has ceased to be with them. They were no longer preserved by his miraculous and matchless power. So Wei Liaozi focuses on human effort, while the Book of Mormon clearly shows that human effort is a part of it, but true victory relies upon God’s preserving power.

The second quote is related to the first, and it involves the behavior of armies.  As I described in what could be the common soldiers’ negative opinion of Moroni, despite being a central figure in the war chapters his character is blinded by hagiographic verses such as shaking the foundation of Hell (Alma 48:17) or his being beloved of all the people (Alma 53:3). The average soldier likely wasn’t nearly as righteous as the text suggests. They likely resented the extra labor imposed upon them and found Moroni to be a stern prig. I invite you to read all of those examples and arguments in the link. 

But the next quote suggests there are negative consequences to being too exacting in the application of rites:

When Wu Chi engaged Chin in battle, wherever he encamped the army did not flatten the paths between the fields. Young saplings provided protective covering against the frost and dew. Why did he act like this? Because he did not place himself higher than other men. If you want men to die, you do not require them to perform [perfunctory acts] of respect. If you want men to exhaust their strength, you do not hold them responsible for performing the rites. Thus, in antiquity an officer wearing a helmet and armor did not bow, showing people that he is not troubled by anything.[3]

The Methods of Sima, another military classic, expounds upon this concept exceptionally well:[4]

In the civilian sphere words are cultivated and speech languid. In court one is respectful and courteous and cultivates himself to serve others. Unsummoned, he does not step forth; unquestioned, he does not speak. It is difficult to advance but easy to withdraw.
In the military realm one speaks directly and stands firm. When deployed in formation one focuses on duty and acts decisively. Those earing battle armor do not bow; those in war chariots need not observe the forms of propriety [li]; those manning fortifications do not scurry... Thus the civilian forms of behavior [li] and military standards [fa] are like inside and outside; the civil and martial are like left and right.

There are no specific verses about how he acted in camp or on campaign.  Moroni is a revered figure by readers including me in boot camp. He did attack the central government for their stupor of thought which suggests that he felt at least in this instant his military command outweighed the civilian oversight. This could suggest that he firmly felt he shouldn’t have his strategy dictated by the dilatory actions of those in the capital. 

He seems like a strong military man that didn’t suffer civilian fools (Alma 60), yet also like a spiritual rock that would shake the powers of Hell forever (Alma 48:17). The deciding text for me is in discussion about the Sons of Helaman in Alma 57:21:

[They d]id obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them; and I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them.

The key word here is exactness, and this doesn’t directly apply to Moroni but his complaints against the government and another military force praised for “exactness” suggests Moroni would have enforced various rules in camp, was such a stickler for the rules, and he cared about even the minor infractions and  perfunctory rituals mentioned by Wei Liaozi.  

If this is an open ended question that isn’t answered by specific verses my personal experience makes me believe that a stern leader, impressed by “exactness,” would make an armored soldier bow. I’ve served in the military, and I can say that small things such as making sure your field jacket is all the zipped or completely unzipped (not halfway like an “effing GQ model” as my Sergeant said), or making sure that the caps to your canteens are snapped shut are a big deal in many units under the that these things lead to better discipline and combat performance. A good unit, or at least those with overbearing commanders often mistake trifling exactness with discipline. In fact, Wei Liaozi’s next comment vividly reminded me of my time in service: “To annoy people yet require them to die, to exhaust their strength, from antiquity until today has never been heard of.”

Yet even though Moroni’s behavior contradicted these theories, the editors of the Book of Mormon strongly disagreed and felt his behavior was important and necessary.


The two ideas about perfunctory ritual and divine intervention are connected. After all, if you don’t think that heavenly officers and omens helps an army’s performance in battle, the soldiers and leaders wouldn’t see a practical advantage in stressing the observance of those rituals. The righteous Nephites in the Book of Mormon certainly believed that their spiritual strength mattered in combat. Moroni rallied the people and made them covenant under the Title of Liberty, and articles by Stephen Ricks among others discuss how the Stripling Warriors reflected “outstanding purity.” These both suggest the Nephites considered religious rites rather important, as they could affect the outcome of the battle and the survival of the Nephites.

The importance of ritual during army life and divine intervention in battle matters to every soldier that has faced potential combat, and becomes an important question for governments that send them into combat. The Book of Mormon has a very clear message on the importance of righteousness and the observance of proper behavior by soldiers, and the divine hand that supported the Nephites. It is not in the same exact language, but it enters the conversation and debate on matters that challenged leading thinkers in the ancient world from Thucydides to Wei Liaozi.

Thanks for reading. I work as a freelance author. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below and you can get more articles! Or you can buy one of my excellent books which refines the ideas presented on the blog! 

[1] Jonathan D. Spence. trans and ed. Emperor: A Self Portrait of Kang-hsi. (New York: Alfred A Knopf). 1974. p. 22
[2] Wei Liaozi, trans. by Ralph Sawyer, The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, Westivew Press, 1993, 242-243.
[3] Ibid., 257.
[4] Ibid., 132.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Beloved Moroni? The Common Soldier's View

This might sound like an easy question to answer. After all, the book of Alma clearly stated:

Now behold, this Lehi was a man who had been with Moroni in the more part of all his battles; and he was a man alike unto Moroni, and they rejoiced in each other’s safety; yea, they were beloved by each other, and also beloved by all the people of Nephi. alma 53:2 
But there is more to the story than simply taking this passage at face value. My problem with simply accepting this verse was voiced in response to a controversial three part article by Duane Boyce. In part two he used a biased account from the Nephites to explain how the Nephite record keepers weren’t biased.[1]The Book of Mormon is of course something that should be used by those who think it has spiritual value. But that doesn’t mean its historical implications are correct. For the sake of space I won’t defend or explain the methodology I use though you can find explanations in several other places.

Examining the key verses

To put it simply, what if the claim about being beloved is just a rhetorical insertion? After all, there are no accounts of people rushing into the streets to proclaim their love for Moroni and throwing flowers at his feet. There is an account of people ripping their clothes symbolically, donning their armor, and rushing to support a political/military leader to subdue his enemies. That fits with our vision of Moroni as a strong and mighty man, but not with one that makes him seem sympathetic, cuddly, and beloved. (You might compare him to Stannis from Game of Thrones. He was right, just, and mighty, but described as more iron than velvet.)

In Alma 48 is used as a frequent qualification for the man as well: “if all men had been…like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever.” Again, that is a powerful endorsement of spiritual strength from an editor of the same religion and who was so infatuated with Moroni since he named his son after him. This statement reinforces Moroni’s strength in fighting evil and shaking the foundations of hell,but still doesn’t give any specific indications that he was beloved by the people.

Outside of Alma 48:17, Moroni was often described in the text as someone who was angry, pursued counterproductive negotiating strategies, vowed a war of extermination against the Lamanites and a coup against his own government, pursued bloody and direct battle when perhaps other strategies might have worked better, and left a legacy of what could objectively be described as aggression. Parsing the praise of Moroni suggests that he didn’t do anything in particular to gain the favor of his people, and likely did a great deal to alienate them.

Soldiers reacting to religion and work

Generals have their own stereotype of the church lady,Stonewall Jackson for example was known to walk through the military camps and soldiers would quickly hide their playing cards and start a church meeting to avoid Jackson’s displeasure. The very qualities that made him shake the foundations of hell would likely make him extremely annoying, and piously self-righteous to the average soldier that cared about their alcohol ration(Alma 55:11), time with the family (Alma 56:28), or time to patronize the world’s oldest profession ( Alma 39:3).

This gets in to how righteous the army really was. Some elements were likely zealots just as righteous as Moroni, (perhaps the soldier in Alma 44:12-13) but I think many were about the average soldier throughout history. There are no scriptures that really say all of them were a super righteous army, we tend to fill in the blanks ourselves which is the whole point of this post. For example, when King David was trying to cover up his affair with Bathsheeba he gave Uriah leave to make a conjugal visit with his wife (2 Samuel 11:6-11.) But Uriah was so righteous that he refused. The thought that David could cover up his crime using this ruse suggests that David also thought most soldiers would have gladly spent a night with their wife than be hard core and super dedicated.

But Moroni was kind of person the kind of leader that ordered his soldiers to make fortifications (Alma 50:10; 53:7) perform nighttime activities such as patrols and extensive guard duty (Alma 53:1, 5, 7),and harvest or distribute food in some way (again, Alma 53:7). These are good military strategies, but taken to taken to an extreme, and speaking from personal experience, all of these activities generally make the soldiers work so much that they wouldn’t have time for soldiering or leave with their families. In fact, on the day of this writing I found a great piece that looked at how the military creates endemic stress that destroys lives and families. Yet families are the very item he used to motivate his soldiers with the Title of Liberty before and during battle. In short, a few verses after it said he was beloved, we can read several reasons the average soldier would grumble about him even when they weren’t in battle:

And it came to pass that he did no more attempt a battle with the Lamanites in that year, but he did employ his men in preparing for war, yea, and in making fortifications to guard against the Lamanites, yea, and also delivering their women and their children from famine and affliction, and providing food for their armies. Alma 53:7
Describing Moroni without using Scriptures

Despite having many verses that suggest Moroni was an uncomfortable man to be around, rosy and laudatory accounts still exist.Notably, these are lacking a specific assessment of verses but, they mold Moroni in the image of their own Gods (D&C 1:16).

The first is from Kendal Anderson. (The whole book is pretty lousy so I won’t belabor that point but you can read my review here.) Anderson asserted that “the fruits of the Nephite war of defense against the Lamanites were peace, liberty, freedom of religion, the mass conversion of Lamanite POWs, and the restoration of Nephite lands and property (144).”

But this is stunningly ignorant of the text. As soon as a single chapter after the war ended the Nephites lost their capital to the Lamanites. By Helaman 4, Moroni’s son could only regain half the land. And the Book of Helaman is replete with wicked chief judges, the constant quest for money (Helaman 6:7, 18; 7:5, 21), and Lamanites that were more righteous than the Nephites (Helaman 6:1). This is hardly the golden age of peace and liberty that Anderson claimed. I have a general problem, (get it, general! hehe), with Libertarians’ vision of Moroni because he was an agent of the government that forced men to fight for liberty, which sounds like the opposite of their politics.

David Spencer in Moroni’s Command was better, but still misses the mark:[1]

[Moroni] cared deeply for his men, and was enraged when he thought they were being mistreated by the government. A typ­ical soldier, he hated bureaucracy, especially when it affected his soldiers’ well being and lives…In today’s world, Captain Moroni would be considered a soldier’s soldier.This means a man who leads from the front, shares the deprivations of his men, who puts his mission and men above himself, and who never asks his sub­ordinates to do things he is not willing to do himself.

But the argument is not as solid as it seems. Notably, it lacks any specific verses that described his behavior outside of the beloved scripture that inspired this post.

Cared about His Men

“He cared deeply for his men”…when they were being starved by the government and Moroni thought he could berate them using that example. When Moroni complained to the government it was in response to losing a key city,the leaders thoughtless state, and how the soldiers suffering was a result of their wickedness. Moroni wrote more about his sacred duty to defend his country than soldiers, and suffering of the latter was more of an exhibit condemning the politicians than a plea for their relief. Again, there were no specific mentions of how he suffered (though he did say he suffered Alma 60:3). Spencer says Moroni shared their depredations but can’t point to a specific verse. Despite Alma 60:3 which again sounds more rhetorical than real, there is no indication in the text that Moroni slept in the same tent as his soldiers, ate his food last, or let his men drink first. Unless otherwise mentioned, it is strongly likely Moroni had the best accommodations and food and awe struck readers are filling in the blanks when there is evidence to suggest otherwise.

The general sharing the suffering of the soldiers is so rare but beneficial for morale that it is included in classical Chinese texts. The Wei Liaozi states:[3]

Now when the army is toiling on the march, the general must establish himself [as an example.] In the heat he does not set up an umbrella;in the cold he does not wear heavier clothes. On difficult terrain he must dismount and walk. Only after the army’s well is finished does he drink. Only after the army’s food is cooked does he eat. Only after the army’s ramparts are complete does he rest. He must personally experience the same toil and respite.In this fashion even though the army is in the field for a long time, it will be neither old nor exhausted.

Chinese generals who did this, such as Wuzi/Wu Chi, were noted in historical texts:[4]
In his position as general, Wu Chi’s custom was to wear the same clothes and eat the same food as the mend in the lowest ranks. When sleeping he did not set out a mat, while on the march he did not ride a horse or in a chariot. He personally packed up his leftover rations, and shared all labors and misery with the troops.

Once when one of his soldiers had a blister, he personally sucked out the puss for him. The soldier’s mother heard about it and wept. Someone said to her: Your son is only an ordinary soldier, while the general himself sucked out the pus. What is there to week about? The mother retorted: That isn’t it. In years past Duke Wu sucked his father’s blister. His father went to war without hesitation and subsequently died at the hands of the enemy. Now Duke Wu again sucks my son’s blister, so I don’t know where he will die. For this reason I weep.
The Book of Mormon doesn’t contain the same detail about Moroni. The text can’t include everything, but Moroni is the central figure of the densest sections of the text. There is some evidence that he did night time scouting on his own (Alma 62:20). He allowed the women servant who was beaten by Morianton to enter his camp (Alma 50:31). Yet there is little indication that he voluntary served watch while the sentries were established, ate last,donated his tent to his soldiers, and similar lore that would have developed around him if he truly shared their suffering.

The Mission and Men Above All

The final point from Spencer was that Moroni put “mission and men above himself.” Like the emphasis on preparing for war a breakdown of this phrase has awful connotations for soldiers. There is always a trade off between driving soldiers and taking care of them, but taken to the extreme,caring about the mission above all else means the army might waste away from over exertion. In fact, proper marching without exhausting the army is vital component of victory. As Wuzi (the same one that reportedly sucked the puss out of his soldier’s foot) wrote:[5]

In general the Way to command an army on the march is to not contravene the proper measures of advancing and stopping; not miss the appropriate times for eating and drinking; and not completely exhaust the strength of the men and the horses…If advancing and resting are not measured;if drinking and eating are not timely and appropriate; and if, when the horses are tired and the men weary, they are not allowed to relax in the encampment,then they will be unable to put the commander’s orders into effect. When the commander’s orders are thus disobeyed, when encamped they will be in turmoil,and in battle they will be defeated.

The text presents mixed evidence that Moroni and Nephite leaders in general truly guarded against over working his men in support of the mission. In Alma 52:28-31, the text emphasizes the advantage gained from Moroni’s men being fresh compared to the Lamanites. But Alma 56:50-51 describes a negative Nephite performance and repeats the word weariness twice in consecutive verses. And the operations in Alma 51 produced “much fatigue (v.33).” That mixed evidence combined with the point that he likely over worked his men in non-combat functions suggests that he did not suffer with his men, and put his God appointed mission above his soldiers to the detriment of the latter.


In short, Moroni is praised in the text using rather stark terms as righteous, powerful, and beloved. But taking away the blinders from that hagiography with a closer and critical look suggests there are negative implications in that praise. He was powerful, but he could use anger to try and solve problems that were better served with patience and tact. He worked hard at preparing his people in defense of their families, but gave such a blizzard of commands that soldiers likely had little time to enjoy their families. He left a strategic legacy that did not lead to a golden age of peace, but ill served the Nephites.[6] He led from the front, like every military leader in this age. He protested the mistreatment of his men, at the same time that it served his political and military interests. He says that he suffered with his men, but the text doesn’t any specific examples. He protected his religion, with armed men storming a public space. He was sternly religious at the sharp point of hiss word, and he put his men and mission above himself to the point that he likely worked the latter group into the ground. Given the evidence from the text compared to a single verse from a far removed editor, I don’t think he was beloved.

A critical assessment of the text finds that Mormon the theologian, and possibly the limitations of sources which didn’t include the average soldier’s experience and feelings, overrode the accuracy of the text in describing him as loved. This is controversial, but it’s no less supported by a careful reading of the scriptures. Thanks for reading. I work as a freelance writer. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below so you can get more of it!! 

[1]“A Lengthening Shadow: Is Quality of Thought Deteriorating in LDS Scholarly Discourse Regarding Prophets and Revelation? Part Two” Duane Boyce, Interpreter:A Journal of Mormon Scripture 26 (2017): 49-92.

[2]David Spencer, Captain Moroni’s Command:Dynamics of Warfare in the Book of Mormon, (Cedar Fort Press, 2015,) 25-27.

[3] Wei Liao-Tzu, Ralph Sawyer Translated, The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, Westview Press, 1993,) 249.

[4]Sawyer, Seven Military Classics, 193-194.

[5] Ibid., 215.

[6] I discuss this legacy in great detail in From Saints to Sinners: Reassessing the Book of Mormon.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Going Broke in Style

In Toy Story the two favorite toys of the child get in a fight about flying. Buzz Lightyear says he can fly and Woody says he was only “falling with style.” I just got back from a Disneyland vacation with my daughter and it made me wonder how I can do things like that when I’m still struggling with hospital bills. So this post is not about being broke, but like Buzz Lightyear, going broke with style.


Our trip to Disneyland was great. I work as a free-lance writer, and teach college classes from home so my schedule is fairly flexible. That allowed us to go during a time when Disney offered their cheapest tickets. Every few years my credit card company sends me a new offer. I normally throw them away but a couple years ago I signed up and got about 60,000 free points, which help pay for several Christmases (see below.) This time, they sent me a Disney card that offered 250 dollars in free gift cards. (I earned some Disney points and bumped it up by another 25). So my tickets didn’t cost me anything out of pocket. The only thing I’m paying for a hotel and gas to get there which makes this an incredibly affordable trip.

The trick to qualify for these bonuses was to spend a certain amount of money within a certain time period, usually a month or the first 90 days. Because of my hospital bills I easily met that threshold. I had to spend the money anyway on hospital bills, so I figured I might as well get a few hundred dollars of Disney gift cards for my trouble.

Imperial War Museum London

On the same thread where I described my visit to the hospital I mentioned a trip to London. Well a new Las Vegas based carrier started nonstop flights to London. They had introductory rates that were incredible. I and my daughter averaged about 400 dollars a ticket for a transatlantic flight so I went ahead and pulled the trigger. Money was tight but I always try to put at least a few dollars out of every paycheck for opportunities like this. I don’t remember the name of the airline, maybe it was Norwegian air but whatever it’s official name it should be called Nickel and Dime Airline. They charged to pick your seat (we didn’t), 50 pounds for a meal (we carried on a small cooler with lunchables and granola bars), 30 pounds for checked in luggage (we packed light), and we traveled for an extremely good rate. Our trip to London wasn’t determined by the luxury of our flight, but by the wonderful things we could do like going to places like the Tower of London, Temple Church, and Imperial War Museum. I’m trying to do the same for China. I’m saving a ridiculously small amount of money each paycheck, but its seed money for nice trip sometime in the future when I come across a good deal.

Free Movies:

But there are more ordinary ways to the live the high life as well. There was a period in the summer when we went to free or low cost movies for six weeks in a row. We started with a City of North Las Vegas event. My daughter mainly wanted to go so she could play with friends. I enjoyed chilling in the park watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2. The next week was a onetime only event watching Rifftrax live. We had to pay a bit for this, but I knew it was coming and saved up. The next week we finally made it to watch Solo in the dollar theater. It was okay, but nothing amazingly special so I’m glad we waited to watch it for a dollar. Then we had another movie in a (different) park. It was the Last Jedi this time, which I again watched alone (yay family time?) Then the drive in movie theatre has a customer appreciation day. I wanted to watch Mission Impossible again. (I saw it for free the first time using my reward points.) But she won the day and we watched Jurassic World. That movie was so terrible we saw it for free and I still wanted my money back. So that was a whole series of movies for which we mostly paid nothing and my daughter loved it.

We can see first run movies for free as well. Eric Snider has a good summary of the negatives of these experiences as it essentially involves lots of waiting and a rush for seats that make Southwest look calm. But I usually have a stack of reading anyway so as long as I eat an early dinner and show up a couple hours early, I’m at the front of the line and don’t worry about all that. I’m Mormon and a former Marine, my tolerance for boredom and sitting in one spot is extremely high and this doesn’t close. Between the two methods we see so many movies for free that we rarely go to a normal theatre. But when we do I make sure to use my rewards card, so even then we are earning our way to a free movie.

More Free Stuff:

My former sister in law once said that if you are truly a Vegas resident you don’t pay your tickets. I laughed and thought she was kind of ridiculous, but after a few years I tend to agree. The cliché in movies is that there are ways of making you talk, and there are ways of getting free stuff.
Sam Boyd Stadium

Know somebody- My sister in law scored us free tickets to the Bite of Las Vegas, a fun event. We were looking at some smelly incense and cool rocks at the Fashion Show Mall and the since we were local the sales lady gave us tickets to the Renaissance Fair. We paid to get into Pirate Fest (using a military discount), but then we met one of the radio personalities who gave us free tickets to Motor Cross. We were at a free movie night hosted by the city and we won free passes to the Highroller. Supposedly this is the biggest one in the world (and the frat boy d-bag on the video guide reminded us that size matters.) This took away the sting of the London Eye being closed during our visit. I went to a Marvel Themed party at the Zappos headquarters downtown and scored free tickets to Avengers Station down on the strip. Our sister in law scored us free tickets two other times to Motor Cross. That is great because the October race is always the same weekend as my birthday. I used to know somebody who knew somebody who worked at the MGM ticket office. We got free several passes to the Tournament of Kings. At other times my ex worked as a concierge for one of the New York New York, and she got free tickets as part of her job. Usually we went on our own, but one time I joined her and her new husband, and my daughter for Blue Man Group. I definitely deserved parenting points for that one.

Radio- I’ve only won tickets once as I was caller nine for Rick Springfield. I’ve gotten close a few other times. I almost won some Motor Cross tickets. I was caller 6 when I needed to be caller 15 or some such. I almost won some tickets to Metallica as well. But even though I didn’t win there are still plenty of free events. The D in the old downtown has a free concert series. I’ve seen Seether, and recently the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I had to cancel a free Rick Springfield date because of my surgery. If I can’t afford Iron Maiden or Metallica I can usually see their tribute bands for as little as 5 dollars. It’s a decent way to spend the night. There is always a club that offers some no name band for free. Evel Pie recently won best pizza so they offered free pizza and the guy from Karate Kid singing you’re the best around. This show was so awesome I could actually joke with him in the middle of his set since I was five feet away with my free pizza and coke. (Getting a Coke or water is a good opening to flirt with the bartender about being so wild.)

The Lego store does free events every month, and we are members of the club for the chocolate store next door, so we get free samples every month as well. Right next to that is my favorite pizza place. We went to a free event hosted by Las Vegas Journal Review at the Las Vegas National History Museum (and the Glittering Lights at the Motor Speedway the next year) and scored a lifetime of coupons that make the pizza very affordable. So that’s always nice doing three free or discounted things right next to each other at a high end fashion show mall. Speaking of fashion shows, they usually have some kind of runway show as well and their holiday themed ones are quite fun. (Telling them that my daughter loved them is a good way to strike up a conversation afterwards. Models like compliments too!)

The best free events are around May the 4th. It sounds like May the Force Be with you so there are lots of Star Wars related events. The Desert Research Institute and Atomic Testing Museum do a May the Science Be With You where it’s a giant party. My daughter actually made the news two years in a row and we get cool tours of the research centers, live music, some food trucks, lots of swag, and generally a great time. The Lego Store and Toys R Us both offer free building events the same weekend as well. And that is usually the same weekend as free comic book day. So we end up with free legos, free parties, free comic books, and sometimes free motor cross tickets (which is often the same weekend.)

A Monet at the Bellagio Art Gallery

But there are free events all year. I went to the Stratosphere on the 4th of July which was free for locals. Me and my daughter go to the Shark Reef every Friday before Halloween. It’s a state holiday, they turn it into the Haunted Reef, and make it free for kids. (That and parking becomes free for adults that give blood as well.) The Bellagio Art Gallery had free days for locals as well. We really liked their Monet collection. Now that many of the casinos charge for parking we don’t go down there as much but there are still some places that have free parking and free events. St. Marks Square at the Venetian is nice, as is the garden at the Bellagio.

took a line up picture at the Mob Museum and my friend rocked the photo shop. 

The Mob Museum is a great tourist attraction that is usually free at least twice a year. November 15th is Kefauver day. This was a famous senator and two time Vice Presidential candidate that held hearings on the mob in the 1950s, including the court house in Las Vegas which is now the museum. The other free day is Valentine’s Day. They have part of the wall from the St. Valentine ’s Day massacre so you can see the bullet holes and everything and sometimes they have the actual Tommy Guns on loan. It gets a bit busy but the lines aren’t as bad as Disneyland. Plus, the Lego store usually has an adult build on the same day, so I can that for free as well. It being Valentine ’s Day I again check out my favorite pizza place too. So the free or discounted stuff usually has some synergy.I

Food fun-

Speaking of free or discount pizza, we can often eat out for very little money. The McDonalds app multiple times in the same visit lets us eat dinner for 4 dollars. Our other treat is having discounted tacos every Wednesday. When we go to a local fried chicken place called Caines I take advantage of a military discount. Veterans Day weekend always has some free food so I make the rounds. It’s usually just a free entrée so I have to cover a drink and tip, but it’s still a good chance to get food for a much better price than I normally could. Chick Fila has Cow Appreciation Day every year that is really fun and free. And we totally abuse 7-11 on July 11th. There are so many locations in Las Vegas we pretty much make a three mile circuit around the city getting about 3 or 4 free smalls. The end result is that we can eat out without busting our budget.

Christmas time Ninja-

The toughest time of the year is Christmas. If I had a dollar for every person that complained about commercialism and shopping I wouldn’t need to worry about the shopping. All the rhetoric in the world about the reason for the season won’t make your child happy they have no presents. As a general rule I find I can stretch my money pretty far. The best place to buy plush animals is the local Deseret Industries. I can find plush animals that are bigger than my daughter for just a few dollars. In contrast, a small plush costs 8 dollars at the Disney store. (I might skip the animal this year. She rocks the claw machine every time we go somewhere that has one.) Same thing with books and Barnes and Noble; I always buy used books at DI. The dollar store provides good stocking stuffers. But you can’t do Christmas on a 5 dollar budget which is where the ninja part comes in.

I don’t use my credit card for deficit purchases. I essentially pay bills with it using money I already have. Then I pay off the balance and collect the points. I have about 60 dollars’ worth of points saved up this year, which is actually one of my lower years. I also seem to collect Amazon gift cards. I drive for uber and they give me gift cards for completing their surveys. I use the Walmart Savings Catcher in which Walmart refunds me the money I could have saved by shopping at other stores. Finally I use the rebate app Ibotta to collect more money. Between all of those items I have 130 dollars of free money saved up.

It might seem like a great deal of work for too little gain for some people, but the time investment is really not that much. It takes me literally seconds to scan a receipt, and the math to make sure I have the money to pay off the bills I just put on my credit card is something I do everything month anyway. Just like using a rewards card at the movies, it’s a way to maximize spending that I am doing anyway.

That might not sound like a ton of money for some people but it’s just me and my daughter. Buying gifts for me is something I could do every day so for Christmas I usually buy something special that I wouldn’t normally purchase. In past years this has included items like a Game of Thrones banner or the Big Trouble in Little China Board Game. It’s pretty nice walking around Walmart on Black Friday knowing that my first 20-80 dollars is basically a shopping spree and that is before you get to the two dollar dvd’s and other Black Friday deals. (I usually don’t have my daughter that day so it’s nice to get out of the house and spend some free money.)


I’ve been doing pretty good as a free-lance author and historian, but medical bills and car problems have made the last year particularly difficult. Whatever my income I try to live a full life I’m not afraid to pull the trigger on a trip to London or China if I find a good deal, but I also strive to do free and every day things around town. After my divorce I didn’t want to fight for custody of my daughter just so she could be bored at my house half the time. When the money isn’t flowing as much as I’d like I can still go broke in style.