Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Strategy and military theory in the Book of Mormon

What follows is a preliminary examination of strategy and military thought within the Book of Mormon.

Clausewitzean thought and strategy: Carl Von Clausewitz is the most influential theorist ever and it is fitting we should start with him. In making this list I must confess that I am not an expert on military theory, especially the incredibly dense writings of somebody like Clausewitz. But I have studied application of his words in a publications (In consideration for the Napoleon Series) in conference presentations (2009 Napoleon Conference) on my blog (Clausewitz on Captain Moroni's Genius) and from numerous studies in school (like the debate over Confederate strategy during the United States Civil War). Thus with my credentials at least basically established I will examine a few ways the Book of Mormon accurately conforms to the principles of Clausewitz and other military theorists.

-My post title "Clausewitz on Captain Moroni's Genius" covered how Moroni's actions match the criteria established by Clausewitz

-Strategic Policy: The Nephites attempted to take an active defense but were expressly forbidden by God and their leaders to take the offensive. This corresponds to Clausewitz who states that the weaker power usually goes on the defensive (the Nephites in this case), but a truly passive defensive is fatal.

-Defensive strength: Thus Moroni commanded Teancum to seek opportunity to "scourge" the Lamanites as possible, yet not take any major offensive like reclaiming the city until Moroni arrived. Clausewitz also said that defenses were normally stronger than offensives. The latter had the burden of positive purpose, I.E. they had to conquer to win, while the defender simply had to not lose. The negative purpose of the Nephites worked to their advantage in some cases as they used the threat to their homes and families as a motivator in the fight. One can think of the French thinking of "la patria" as they mobilized and fought with vigor to defend and spread the revolution. There are draw backs to being on the defensive that were of particular concern to the Nephites based on Mesoamerican politics, but I will address that in another post.

-Culmination point: This is the point at which the army on the offensive operates past its ability to gains its objective and the offensive then quickly moves to the other side. In history this is exemplified most by Napoleon's Russia campaign. Capturing Moscow moved Napoleon beyond the culmination point, where he then went on a defensive all the way back to Germany. In the Book of Mormon, Moroni reclaiming the capital, seizing Lamanite reinforcements, and then defeating the last Lamanite force represents the Lamanites moving past the culmination point. Teancum's midnight raid on the Lamanite king also represents a more limited culmination point, since the Lamanites never pursued anything more than a limited offensive in that area for the rest of the war.

Antoin Henri Jomini: While not as famous as Clausewitz, his post Napoleonic writings have influenced contemporary military thought to a great degree.

-General Maxim: The first rule of Jomini was to concentrate all available strength at the decisive point to win the battle. Moroni's tactical maneuvers excel at this rule. In Alma 43, 52, and 56, the Nephites maneuvered their forces in such as way so that they could " fall upon them in their rear, and thus bring them up in the rear at the same time they were met in the front" (Alma 56:23). This could represent a Jominian attempt to apply decisive combat power at the critical place and time.

-Interior lines: Jomini loved to discuss how interior lines are an advantage. To describe this concept think of a circle; the forces on the inside of the circle would have a shorter route and easier time defending any part of that circle compared to the forces outside the circle. A nation on the defensive, and the position of the Nephite Capital with forces on seas to the east and the west could apply the principle of interior lines. They could transfer forces to either side faster than the Lamanites; who had to go "round about" (Alma 43:22) in order to re-engage the Nephites.


-Psychological preparation: Chinese and Japanese writers were intent on being mentally prepared. "Those that excel in warfare first make themselves unconquerable" (Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, Ralph Sawyer trans, 163) Sun-Tzu also described the effects of certain terrain on fighting skills "Fatal terrain" is one where you throw the army into an impossible situation, like fighting with your backs to a river, and when you throw "soldiers into a place from which there is nowhere to go, they will die rather than flee. When they are facing death, how can one not obtain the utmost strength from the officers and men?”(Sun Tzu, 179, see also David Graff's Medieval Chinese Warfare pg,169). I have a paper under consideration from the Journal of BoM studies that examines one case of Moroni placing the armies of the Nephites in protection of women and children, thus activating a psychologically trigger among what otherwise would be lethargic levies.

-Fatherly care: Sun-Tzu said, "When the general regards his troops as young children, they will advance into the deepest valleys with him. When he regards the troops as his beloved children, they will be willing to die with him." (177) Compare with the words of Helaman and the performance of his soldiers: And now I say unto you, my beloved brother Moroni, that never had I seen so great courage, nay, not amongst all the Nephites. For as I had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me: Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus. (Alma 56:45-46)

-Unorthodox tactics: This is a peculiar definition, but according to scholars orthodox tactics were meant to hold an enemy in place so that the unorthodox flanking blow will strike successfully. Thus Nephite commanders would approach a city, and establish contact with the enemy: the orthodox method. Then they would execute some sort of ruse designed to overwhelm the army physically and undo them psychologically, and constitute the unorthodox manner of victory.

De Re Militari and the Strategikon: These are Roman and Byzantine writings, respectively, that describe strategy further. I cannot comment in great detail on these since I have not read a great deal about them. (Geeze, I'm not an encyclopedia) But in writing my book about Book of Mormon warfare I intend to make great use of them, and other ancient writers such as Frontinus.

Conclusion: A preliminary comparison of the Book of Mormon to seminal military texts reveals that the Book generally conforms to established principles of good generalship and seems authentic due to its verification through military theory. There are some differences such as the lack of defensive strength that Clausewitz describes. These can be attributed to cultural idiosyncrasies. A study of military theory from different cultures and time periods allows us more depth in examining what the Book of Mormon has to say concerning strategy and theory. It also bypasses the criticisms associated with "parallel mania" due to the universal nature of good military principles.

I hoped you enjoyed the read, and I look forward to bringing more knowledge and background to the study of Book of Mormon warfare.

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