Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ancient Models for Modern War

Lindsey asked a good question. Good enough, that she will get an entire post as a response. The question is: How can ancient war help us understand modern conflict? In particular, how can the Book of Mormon help us understand modern war?

There are several responses I have to this. Here are some general impressions:

1. Every historian has the same general answer; when you study the past, different cultures, and periods hundreds or even thousands of years removed from ours you are really trying to learn about yourself. You can do this by seeing similarities or explaining why there are differences. Thus the study of the past is really a study of yourself, and a study of the future. (Insert the overused George Santayana quote here). So the study of the past has intrinsic merit in understanding ourselves today. For example, I mentioned how we can study the tactical operations of Nephite armies. This will allow us to examine how the "average" soldier acted. By understanding the hopes and fears of ancient soldiers, it can inform us pertaining to the universality of mans condition, and help us understand ourselves. That as people we tend to react a certain way to fear and death no matter what time and culture we live in.

2. There are some specific military historians (See Martin Van Creveld's "The Transformation of War", and Hammes' "The Sling and the Stone" for two of them) who say that we have entered a post Clausewitzean phase where the famous German military theorist's ideas on the nature of war no longer applies, because wars basic nature has changed. Others, such as my former teacher Dr. Echevarria, argue that Clausewitz is still very much in force and that war can change colors (i.e.: technology) but its nature (the trinity of (1) primordial violence, hatred, and enmity; (2) the play of chance and probability; and (3) war's element of subordination to rational policy) remain the same. See "4th generation warfare and other myths" at the Strategic Studies Institute. Examining the nature of war with a book that seems to have come out of nowhere can better inform us concerning the underlying nature of war; even for an ancient society, or what the 19th century imagination of an ancient society.

3. In a similar vein, other military theorists point to almost scientific principles that explain how war is conducted. British Inter World War Theorist J.F.C. Fuller articulated the principles of war that our modern U.S. Army Officers study even today. Thus ancient warfare should conform to these principles just as much as modern warfare does. And studying an ancient book (like the Book of Mormon) should exhibit these principles of war and could add to our understanding of them. In the LDS Church we often talk about the definition of principle: Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. (Richard G. Scott, November 1993 Ensign,86) Thus the Book of Mormon, if true, should contain not only vast amounts of spiritual truth, but also other truth as well. I have already done research that shows the Book of Mormon conforms to these principles and adds several twists to our understanding of them. (The paper is currently under review by BCC E Journal)

4. Today's military historians are obsessed with the "Western Way of War". The short short version of the theory says that Ancient Greeks fought a certain way, and Western culture has generally produced armies that fight the same way. By introducing the Book of Mormon to this argument we can examine one of several things. First, does the Book of Mormon present similarities to this Way? If so, what does that say about the uniqueness of a supposed Way of War. Does it mean there is a universal condition to war? Or is it more like John Lynn's counter argument that says each culture has a specific dialogue and "way" of war? Thus the Book of Mormon can help add to a modern debate about the prosecution of modern war.

5. There are examples of modern technology mirroring in many ways ancient tactics and technology. The first chariots were missile platforms from which archers could fire with greater security. Kenneth Chase in "The World History of Firearms", showed how early gunpowder forces would use mobile wagons linked together to provide firing platforms and greater security. Thus, an ancient technology like the War chariot was loosely reproduced thousands of years later due to both societies having similar demands. Thus, studying the ancient tactics in the Book of Mormon will allow us to see general principles that can apply even today.

6. The Book of Mormon's spiritual message should not be separated from warfare. Every cultural must face war, and many Christian cultures find trouble reconciling their faith with their martial duties. And in ancient cultures the state was generally the religion and vice versa. (William Hamblin called ancient wars "A continuation of God's policy by other means" in Warfare in the Ancient Near East) Now today we have a separation of church and state. But we don't suddenly become atheists when we join the military. The entwined spiritual and martial message of the Book of Mormon are still vital to know and understand for those of us today who interact with war's devastation, personnel conflicts, and demands.

7. Finally, the Book of Mormon has been the symbol of the LDS religion since its inception. Thus how the Book was used within Mormon culture can also lead us to a better understanding of war. For instance, in 2003 President Hinckley used Alma 43 to articulate a Mormon version of "The Just War Theory" to justify the Iraq War. (Ensign May 2003: "War and Peace") So the words of the Book of Mormon inspire modern action and both can be examined to identify the trends of Mormon society, and society in general in how they feel and react towards war.


Lyndsey said...

Really good answer. I think the book of Mormon does give a concrete answer to how Christians can reconcile with war with the Just war theory in Alma. That has always been one of my favorite scriptures. It would be really neat to learn more about how book of Mormon warfare and war in other cultures are similar or different. I am loving your blog. Unfortunately my comments may not be at all intellectual. As I am not focusing on educating young minds, I don't get the opportunity to really read up on diplomacy and foreign relations. So sad! Doesn't really come up in teaching discipline and adolescent psych. But I miss it a lot.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks Lindsey. I am trying to "raise awareness" as the liberals say, so let everybody know about the blog.

Lyndsey said...

You made my G-chat status. I will add you to blogs I follow when I learn to do that.