Monday, May 4, 2009

Modern Day Gadianites

I have had some good questions concerning the Gadianton robbers. The main ones concern modern day parallels. Thus I wanted to post some of my answers so more people could read them and get involved in the discussion.

Somali Pirates:

I don't think so. Their tactics suggest a similarity to modern day pirates (see 3 Nephi 4:1). But I believe that lots of warfare back then was hit and run. (See John Welch's summary in Warfare in the Book of Mormon for a brief synopsis of every conflict) The leader of Gadianton was educated (see the letter in 3 Nephi 3) and professed he had rights to leadership similar to the aspiring Nephite leader Paanchi in Helaman 1:13. And I argue that people "defected" because the social order of the Nephites would not allow their marriage, or they wanted greater economic opportunity among the Gadianton robbers. This was from former soldiers who did not have a chance to plunder (due to lack of wars or Nephite regulations influenced by the Church), and among the noble households that wanted more political and economic freedom. (because they could no longer "fake it" and get the benefits of belonging to the state religion, Helaman 3:33) Thus like the Zoramites a little earlier, they separated from the Nephites so they could obtain wealth by the power of their hands. Compare the prayer on the Rameumptom to the goals of the Gadianton robbers and notice 3 Nephi 1:29.

The Mafia:

In some cases I think that comparison works very well. Many bandit groups in Chinese history and the mafia operated outside of the law, were based on personal loyalty and had economic motives for their existence. They operated outside the law as they do today, and they often clash with the instruments of government power as they do today. In some areas they would also serve to protect the local population and even provide local government services(like in some areas of Iraq and Somalia).

Although there are some significant differences as well. Houesecarls and warrior bands were led by men who had both civil and military power. (The King, nobles, or regional warlords) It was also considered normal and acceptable to have an armed following. In modern times however, the mafia often operates with a "face", where they operate as a leading citizen during the day (or at least pretend to), but run their "business" and armed followers at night and in secret. The state also had a police force that serves to protect the public and operated in opposition to the mafia. The households soldiers often served as the instrument of the kings power, and served as a private loyal force to check the power of other nobles and quell bandit forces. Some noble's household warriors also served to protect the local population because their was no police force.

There is also a masters thesis done by a BYU student that compares the Gadianton robbers to the Mafia. I will take a look at it sometime and see what he has to say about it too.

The Taliban:

I think the Taliban currently operating in Pakistan would be the closest comparison. It is a state within a state. It has its own hierarchy and controls some territory and has its own military force. But it does this in the same sphere as the government forces and apparatus. In places where there is weak government control the mayor of the town is really just a figure head and the local Taliban commander is in charge.

So I would compare the Gadianton Robbers to military organizations that also have state functions (like Hezbollah) but significant ability to disappear, retreat or blend in. The power of many ancient governments rested in its military. There were no such things as police for internal control and the army for external threats, it was just the army. There were some governments in Medieval China that had little control outside of the military's operational capability. (The Former Qin Dynasty comes to mind) They had to co opt local rulers, thus Nephite defections would be serious if that was the case. And they could only defeat the robbers by gathering in a central location within direct control of its governor and commander.

But the early part of the Gadianton robbers history could be loosely compared to the mafia. They were based on loyalty and had secret codes. But I would compare them more to infiltrators that layed the ground work for later action. Mao said this would be the first phase insurgency. Second phase would be to gain direct control of some areas to build infrastructure. The third phase would be a conventional campaign to seize control of the government through regular warfare. So the first phase may seem like the mafia, but it still applies more to the Taliban or other paramilitary organizations that have potential and desire for state control. The mafia never wanted state control (only enough control to influence legislation but never to govern), they wanted to control business. The Pirates are also interested in getting money, they are socially motivated (often forced into it by warlords or poverty) but are not aiming to rival governments. In fact they only exist due to a weakness in government and extreme poverty, I don't believe they exist to take over the government. The things that do compare: loyalty or personnel following, seeking wealth, operating in secret or in hiding, hit and run tactics, etc. were things associated with other ancient armies and insurgent forces. Not necessarily the same as modern day pirates, gangs, or the mafia.

Conclusion: I don't claim to have a monopoly on information, I'm doing my best to answer the questions and establish some working ideas for studying the Book of Mormon. The Gadianton robbers had as much of a state as the Zoramites, Amlicites, and Amalikites or Taliban, they were called robbers due to a change in tactics, and I think because they were successful in destroying the Nephite state.

Thanks for the comments. Comparisons can be easy to make sometimes, but it is the differences and contrasts that really stand out. I appreciate the help in the form of questions in fully analyzing the Gadianton robbers.


Mormon Heretic said...

Morgan, I've never really been a fan of studying warfare in the BoM, but I really like your analysis. Thanks!!! I'm becoming a big fan.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks. I am glad you enjoy it. Maybe some day one the Mormon blog agregators will get the hint and put me on their feed. I have emailed several of them and they have not responded.

Anonymous said...

Lets not forget the Crips and MS 13.

Anonymous said...

Che Guevara and Mao Zedong too.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks P.A. I make the comparison between Marxist revolutionaries and the G.R. in the final paragraph. I did not go into detail because Daniel Peterson has an excellent article allready written on the subject. Perhaps I will try to get a hold of the book its in and summarize it for everybody.