Thursday, April 23, 2009

Impact of Naval Warfare

Many members of the Church of Jesus Christ are good at explicating spiritual messages from the text of the Book of Mormon. As recent talk given by Robert D. Hales as a Church Education Fireside used the concept of "high ground" that an army used for defense in Alma 47 as the basis for his over 30 minute keynote address. I was impressed at how easily the speaker and audience seemed to transition between sound military principle and useful spiritual lessons.

On a related note, my wife has recently commented that I have "ruined" her. She was recently reading a verse and thought it was about naval warfare. Of course, I don't believe I "ruined her". Instead of reading the Book of Mormon for spiritual experiences, she has started to read it "backwards". Instead of taking obvious military principles like the high ground and applying it to spiritual matters, she takes narratives that are ostensibly about religious material and finds military lessons or ideas. Thus this post points out two additional scriptures that involve naval warfare. But I also wanted to point out the need for readers of the Book of Mormon to have their minds work both ways. One of my papers mentioned the double helix of spiritual and warfare that is intertwined throughout the book. Thus we need to look at both topics, examine ideas from both directions, and have our scholarly ideas be as strong as the spiritual ideas we find.

Without further ado here is verse #1 in Alma 2:
15.And it came to pass that the Amlicites came upon the hill Amnihu, which was east of the river Sidon, which ran by the land of Zarahemla, and there they began to make war with the Nephites

My wife mentioned this verse as a possible naval invasion of Zarahemla. (I discussed the conflict and campaign here) This is completely possible. I have discussed how ancient armies would have used rivers over land due to their ease of transport and supply compared to land roots. The advancing army could have been river borne and used the hill as a convenient staging area before they attacked the city. They could have come up and over the hill by land to start the battle as well, so there is some ambiguity in the verse. If this was a river borne assault then that suggests that the Capital did not have adequate naval defenses or possibly even a navy. If the Sidon area was a wealthier city with secessionist tendencies this could have been a private army and navy against a still weak central government (This was the second year of the reign of the judges immediately after the humble reign of King Mosiah). Thus this verse does point to some possible insights into Nephite War, society, and government based upon their manner of naval warfare.

Verse #2 Alma 51:
32 And it came to pass that they did harass them, insomuch that they did slay them even until it was dark. And it came to pass that Teancum and his men did pitch their tents in the borders of the land Bountiful; and Amalickiah did pitch his tents in the borders on the beach by the seashore, and after this manner were they driven.

Upon reading this verse it dawned on me that maybe Amalickiah's army retreated to the sea shore for resupply! The British did this at Yorktown. And if we assume that the Nephite government had a smaller and part time army than their war like neighbors (see above)this would apply to their navy as well. So we can deduce that the Lamanites would have at lest local naval superiority.

It should be remembered that Alma 51 described a revolt similar to that in Alma 2. Only Moroni had to travel to their cities and "pull down their pride and nobility". So there is a possibility that the naval capacity of the Nephites were being used just downstream of Zarahemla, and not by the seashore of Bountiful through Moroni. This reinforces verse 22 that shows the Lamanites taking advantage of the Nephite contention. It also gives us tantalizing insight into Chapter 60:

16 Yea, had it not been for the war which broke out among ourselves; yea, were it not for these king-men, who caused so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, at the time we were contending among ourselves, if we had united our strength as we hitherto have done...had they..united with us, and gone forth against our enemies...if we had gone forth against them in the strength of the Lord, we should have dispersed our enemies...

I am thinking this wish for "uniting" includes the naval forces available to many of the capital cities north of Zarahemla. But instead of uniting with the central government the government had to use their own forces to subdue them. Thus most of the naval forces (since the capital was fighting the capital parts) were engaged elsewhere and Amalickiah could safely camp on the sea shore and receive resupply from his naval forces.

This explores several scriptures that imply naval warfare, trasport, and supply. These verses are also surprisingly consistent in describing the impact of that Naval warfare had on Nephite government (private navies used to overthrow government), society (increased wealth allowed private armies/navies of "king men"), and war strategy (lack of navy at the capital and eastern sea shore hurt Nephites but helped the King Men and Lamanites, a navy was also needed to subdue the King men). These are just a few ideas I have concerning the needed explication of military ideas from the Book of Mormon.

In the future I plan to examine the defection of critical navies with Chinese history, and connect this to the Malay Model for Book of Mormon geography. Thank you for reading, and a special thank you to Mormon Heretic at for his help with links. As always I look forward to your comments.


Anonymous said...

Please forgive me the awkwardness of my response, Morgan. It's tough for me to comment on interpretation of particular verses because the CofChrist version of the Book of Mormon I use matches the LDS version in text, but numbers all the chapters and verses differently. I have to work through a concordance to zero in on the particular text and put it in strategic context, so I'll have to speak in generalities rather than quoting specific verses.

I think your analysis of the sea supply in your second example is on, but the Mesoamerica interpretation suggests a different strategic context.

I'll suggest the following map
to show the "startline" for Nephite-Lamanite combat assuming only the known extent of Mayan civ in association with particular eras, that the original landing was on the Pacific coast, and that the cities Lamanites "moved into" were south of the cities the Nephites occupied or built.

The Wiki entries for the individual cities give lots of useful info about trade routes and timing when those cities were important.

In this scenario, the Sidon is normally associated with one of the two major rivers flowing north from the east-west mountain range that serves as the "strip of wilderness" that forms the natural defense line between the two peoples.

In this pre-classic era, Lamanite naval power would be confined to the Pacific coast. You can build ships at the east end of the range on the Atlantic side, but there are no real targets until your tech base and economic base grows significantly.

Nephite naval power would be river-based, very useful for shipping north-south, but with nowhere to go in the Gulf of Mexico once you get there.

Fast forward until the time that, because of conversions back-and-forth in city allegiences, the mountain borders no longer provide the key barrier they once were.

The Nephites have to start building up east coast cities to create strategic depth, but their naval power is somewhat useless because it's blocked from the eastern front by Yucatan. On the otherhand, if the Lamanites have a friendly port (thanks to the Zoramites) north of the mountains, they have a significantly shorter supply line by extending the well established trade routes south of the mountains to the Atlantic coast, moving their forces north into Nephite lands and seizing the east coast strongholds one by one until they have the logistical base necessary to strike west toward the Nephite heartlands.

Now, all of this is contingent on relatively high population levels and supply capabilities, which is an EXTERNAL test of MesoAmerica. For example, how large an army could the population base and tech level of Mayan society support away from their croplands? But the Mesoamerica model seems very plausible in terms of placing the geography internally into the strategic campaigns depicted in the BofM.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Morgan Deane said...

lol, it did go through the first time, I will delete the duplicate to save space. I am late for work but I will study the map and comment on your strategic ideas a little later.

Morgan Deane said...

After studying the map for awhile I think you have good points. I'm not sure if there is a contradiction bewteen our two strategic views. Perhaps a subtle shift in locations if you take the Sorenson model versus the Yucatan model. (due to the course the Sidon takes comparitively between models)
But I see your point and think its great that the expansion of the Lamanites in the east sea could be a natural result of their power in that area due to added ports compared to the Nephites lack of power due to the direction that Sidon flows.

Thanks for commenting. And I feel its important we look at the ideas on this site from different geographic models. I should also mention that I generally use Sorenson's model because its the map I know the best. But I try not to make any post or my ideas too reliant on any one model.

I look forward to hearing from you more. Thanks.