Wednesday, July 29, 2009

No less serviceable

I came across an interesting discussion of ritual war within Karl Friday's Samurai Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan. On page 32 he says:

To the Japanese of the Nara, Heian and Kamakira eras, ritual and ceremony were not quaint or meaningless customs designed to occupy the time of bored courtiers, they were a visible symbol of the social order and served an important function in vitalizing and renewing the polity...for from the very beginning, court ritual and ceremony were politics.

As such, defense of the emperor and the state involved far more than just guarding the security of his corporeal body, and military service extended into the realm of [the spiritual]. Participation in rites of this sort was, in effect, an alternative type of military service, one equally valued at the time as police work and battlefield activity.

With the both physical and spiritual service being equally important in Ancient Japan I was drawn to a discussion of the spiritual leaders of the Nephite realm. In Alma 48, Mormon praises the military leader Moroni [1] for his military and spiritual might, but he makes sure to point out that:

19...Helaman [the prophet] and his brethren were no less serviceable unto the people than was Moroni; for they did preach the word of God, and they did baptize unto repentance all men whosoever would hearken unto their words.
20 And thus they went forth, and the people did humble themselves because of their words, insomuch that they were highly favored of the Lord, and thus they were free from wars and contentions among themselves, yea, even for the space of four years.

The modern Western mind often separates the spiritual from the martial. In fact, any connection of the two usually brings up significant negative connotations like Al Qaeda and religious inspired terrorism. I recently read an article where Jerry Falwell, the former Christian minister at Liberty, caused quite a stir when he said that Christians must put on the "Armor of God". The press office had to quickly point that he only meant that spiritually.

In contrast, the prophets in the Book of Mormon were often their military leaders. (3 Nephie 3:19)Moroni received direction from the prophet on where to position his forces. (Alma 43) He told Pahoran what the Lord had said to him. (Alma 60:31-35) And he blessed a banner which he then used as flags of allegiance and as a battle standard. Yet through all those actions, Moroni and other Nephite generals were still only equal to the prophets of God who cultivated the spirituality of the people. As in many other ancient societies, their spiritual health directly reflected their physical health. And it had a direct bearing on the safety of their realm. This is best summarized by the promise: If you keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The answers to whats wrong with this picture

I got quite a few good and funny responses. Maybe I will have a "caption this" contest in the future with Mormon war themes. Before I point out the answers I must make two statements. First, I appreciate the beauty of art no matter what my academic mind says about it. Second, the "answers" are simply based on current scholarly consensus. A new archaeological discovery or new geographic theory could cause a complete rethinking of the field, thus every answer can include a qualifier such as "probably" or "most likely".

Here is the picture one more time:

And here are my answers:

1. Chris pointed out correctly that both weapons and armor look too Western European. Moroni looks like he is about to cross the Rubicon in this picture. Except for the Sword of Laban, which seemed like a status symbol for much of Nephite history (see The Sword of Laban as a Symbol of Divine Authority and Words of Mormon 1:13, Mosiah 1:16). Other than that, the evidence suggests that they used the standard Mesoamerican sword called a macuahuitl.
2. Likewise, their armor would look more Mesoamerican. Remember Moroni's armies wore: breastplates and arm-shields, yea, and also shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing— Hamblin points out the differences in the likely armor between European and Mesoamerican forces:(The table is formatted better in the article than it is here)

Table 1. Comparison of Biblical and Book of Mormon Armor Terminology KJV Bible Book of Mormon

armor armor
— arm-shield
breastplate breastplate
buckler buckler
coat of mail —
greave —
— head-plate
helmet/helm —
— thick garments/clothing

The print version also has several visual aids. Chris mentioned that the armor was metal instead of some leather wood variant. I agree, the search party mentioned in Mosiah 8:10 brought back the most amazing artifacts they could find: metal armor. Moroni being a part of a heredity military household could have had extremely rare and prestigious armor. But this is not supported by Mesoamerican evidence or the armor mentioned in Alma 43:19.

3. Shannon pointed out and I mentioned this earlier, that Moroni's skin color looks too European as well. We have this belief that the Nephites were a bunch of Anglo Saxon's running around in ancient America. Soreson points out the flaws in this reasoning: We can safely infer that Lehi and his party showed physical features in the normal range for people in Palestine in his day...Their build was slender and gracile (sic.), unburdened by heavy muscles. (This information was not known to the artist who prepared tahe illustrations used in the Book of Mormon...) Hair was shaded black to fully brown. Eyes too, were most often brown, alhtough they could also range...Light reddish-brown or copper colored (untanned) skin was normal... (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 81-82)

Sorenson also mentions the possibility of inter marriage with local native populations that would make them darker.
4. I was surprised to read that the banner was in Hebrew and not Reformed Egyptian. This article discusses what reformed Egyptian would look like to modern eyes. And I didn't know enough Hebrew to notice, so that is extra points to Chris for noticing something that I did not.
5. I'm such a geek that I took Scott's suggestion about a leg tattoo as a chance to examine the practice of pre classic Mesoamerican body art. I know Micheal Coe discussed it in his seminal book called The Maya. He used face painting as the reason there were light and dark skinned people in Mesoamerican murals. As Mormons, we have a slightly difference explanation for that of course. So I appreciated the joke not only for the laughter, but for an idea to study once I get some free time.
6. There were some other comments about the nature of the flag waving and the bad quality of the Jpeg file. Way to get into it!

Thanks for the comments, stay tuned for a potential "caption this" contest.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

My wife often complains that she can't buy me any art because I always point out whats wrong. Now its your chance:

The answers will come shortly.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Guest Writer: Roger on Hill Cumorah Order of Battle

Sorry for my delay in posts. Last week I had my car break down right before a conference on Napoleonic warfare, and I still had to continue building the courses I am under contract for. So needless to say I have been a little busy. But I value my readers, those that do so often, those who just stop by, those that don't comment, and those that do.

I also have some good developments to announce as well. I have been contacted by several people asking for my opinion on various items. I have a new card game called "character match" that I need to look at. One reader and frequent commenter has mentioned a historical fiction novel that he plans to send me for review. The result will probably be a multi part series here and hopefully make it on the cover! And I received an email from Roger Magneson which is the subject of this post.

Roger graduated from West Point Academy, which already made me jealous, and he recently got his MLS from Emporia State. He recently wrote an article highlighting three principles of war within the book of Mormon. The one I wanted to highlight in this post comes from his provacative interpretation of the casualty figures given for the final Nephite battle at Cumorah. I won't steal his thunder by bloviating about the topic, but I did want to highlight that a common criticism of the Book of Mormon concerns its highly unrealistic numbers. I rebuffed that critique in The problem with Numbers
where I also recognized the need for additional research and analysis. Without further ado here is Roger's argument:

Units of the United States Army have names that have come down through history and through several countries. Terms such as squad, platoon, company, battalion, brigade, division, etc. are known to most people even if they are uncertain about how many soldiers comprise each. The size of units in the United States Army is determined by acts of Congress. During the American Civil War, for example, an infantry regiment consisted of 10 companies of roughly 100 men each. One thing is certain, however: at any given moment, not every position in a unit is filled. Consider the First Minnesota Infantry Regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg. Since we know this is an infantry regiment, we know that it is comprised of approximately 1,000 men. However, on 2 July 1863, at Gettysburg, the First Minnesota had been reduced by casualties to 262 men. On that day, 215 more were killed or wounded.David ben Jesse was made a captain over a thousand by Saul the King (1 Samuel 18:13) and of course modern Israel in its trek to the Great Basin had captains of tens, fifties, and hundreds similar to ancient Israel (D&C 136:3).

Not only were the numbers descriptive of the size of the unit, but as Dr. Hugh Nibley points out the number was also the name of the unit. In discussing Nephi’s reference to Laban’s fifty instead of tens of thousands (1 Nephi 4:1), Dr. Nibley states: the military forces are always so surprisingly small and a garrison of thirty to eighty men is thought adequate even for big cities. It is strikingly vindicated in a letter of Nebuchadnezzar, Lehi’s contemporary, wherein the great king orders: “As to the fifties who were under your command, those gone to the rear, or fugitives return to their ranks.”

Commenting on this Offord says, “In these days it is interesting to note the indication here, that in the Babylonian army a platoon contained fifty men”; also we might add, that it was called a “fifty”—hence, “Laban with his fifty.” Of course companies of fifty are mentioned in the Bible, along with tens and hundreds, etc., but not as garrisons of great cities and not as the standard military unit of this time (Nibley, 1988, p. 127.)

Now consider Cumorah, the final battle of the Lehite nations. Beginning in A.D. 375, the Nephites, not the army, but the entire Nephite nation was being driven before the Lamanite armies (Mormon 4:22). In A.D. 384, Mormon in a letter to the Lamanite king asks if he, Mormon, can gather the Nephite nation to battle at Cumorah, which is granted by the Lamanite king (Mormon 6:2-3). Within a year all the people are gathered in except a few who flee to the south country and a few who defect to the Lamanites (Mormon 6:15). At the end of the first day’s fighting, Mormon gives a list by name of 13 commanders and their ten thousand who had fallen, Mormon and Moroni being the exceptions, and then states there were 10 more commanders with their ten thousands who had fallen (Mormon 6:11-15) for a total of approximately 230,000 dead. Note that the name of the unit is ten thousand. Taking a cue from the regiments of the American Civil War, Nephite units might have been called, for example, the First Zarahemla Ten Thousand, the Second Zarahemla Ten Thousand, the First Bountiful Ten Thousand, and so forth.

The problem is this: the Nephite people had been conducting a running and losing battle with the Lamanites for 10 years, and while there may have been at one time 23 units called “ten thousand” in the Nephite army, when the Nephites gathered to Cumorah they were gathering everyone, including women and children (Mormon 6:7). It is highly unlikely that the 23 “ten thousands” were anywhere near full strength in terms of fighting men. Could the difference have been made up of women and children? The record is silent on this point, but knowing the desperate nature and the finality of the fight at Cumorah, it is highly probable that the women and children would fight in the ranks in preference to being captured by the Lamanites. However, even with women and children in the ranks I could not believe the ten thousands were at full strength. In my experience in the military I have never seen a military unit at full strength. Considering that the Nephites had just completed a running war of ten years, I would guess the Nephite ten thousands were anywhere from mere token units, as the First Minnesota, to at most 50% strength.

I appreciate Roger sending me his research, and I'm honored that so many believe I have something meaningful to offer in the field of Mormon studies. I will continue my attempts to deliver. In that vein I recommend my post called Myriads of Soldiers that discusses the number of a unit equalling its name.

I should also point out that this is the kind collaborative effort that I wish to stimulate in my attempts at a warfare symposium. Thank you for your patience. As always, I invite comments and look forward to seeing them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

(Gadianton?) Robbers in Late Imperial Rome

In preparation for my (possible) PhD program I have been examining European medieval history a bit more. I came across a very interesting lecture that applies to the Gadianton Robbers in the Book of Mormon. On the Late Imperial Army in Rome Richard Abels said this:

As soldiers became landlords and landlords became the masters of soldiers, private individuals became the heads of military retinues of bucellarii. Though by law bucellarii were required to take an oath not only to their employers (a private contract), but one as well to the emperor (public). But, as Whittaker points out, ‘the public oath was of limited relevance if the patron rebelled, or if imperial rule was not recognized: the loyalty of the soldiers than became private obsequium [a personal following]‘ (295). Archaeologically, one of the key developments of the fifth century was the increasing ‘nucleation of rural sites. … Small farms disappeared, many vici (villages) were abandoned or removed to old Iron Age hittop sites, while larger villas … survived, expanded and were often fortified. … [There is evidence] of concentration of property holdings, the increased isolation and inaccessibility of estates and the compulsion on peasants to seek the refuge of the rich’ (292).

Increasingly in the fifth century, the “remnants of the Roman army operated in towns,” and bands of bucellarii in the service of local great men, their patrons, controlled the countryside. The Roman sources term these bands as ‘robbers,’ but it seems probable that they were actually the private forces of local magnates maintaining order and control outside of Roman public authority.

This has several implications for the study of the Book of Mormon. For background please see this post, which discusses household soldiers in the book. And this post, which explains the social-military problems in the Book of Helaman. Those posts argue for the existence of household bands within the Book of Mormon, and the weakening power of the central government in the Book of Helaman. Both argue for a events at least basically similar to the above lecture, where the central government loses power and independent leaders emerge with their own forces.

The part that really intrigued me was the description of these household soldiers as "robbers". Of course anybody remotely familiar with the BoM will notice the similarity to the famous Gadianton Robbers. But they may not be familiar with the concept of bias within the Book of Mormon. Bias often has a negative connotation in modern discourse, but its essential in analyzing ancient documents. In the Roman case, it seems that the ethnic Romans resented the lack of national loyalty or civic duty of household soldiers by calling them "robbers". We could argue that Mormon and the Nephite historians he quoted had a similar bias. They resented the rise of household soldiers who were more loyal to their patron than the central government (and by extension God).

I should also remind you that the Gadianton Robbers often acted OUTSIDE of the major cities. They had a phase where they were hidden within the cities, but the majority of their activities, and the portion of their activities that challenged the existence of the central government was from bases outside of the major Nephite cities.

Conclusion: Its important that as we read the Book of Mormon we realize that the writer had a specific intent: To testify of Jesus Christ. Other factors, such as historical, economic, political, or cultural events can and will be skewed. This does not take does not take away from its historicity or divinity but adds depth to our study of the book as a primary document, and a tool of God containing the words of imperfect men. Plus, I have not examined these concepts with pre classic Mesoamerica. Although I have stated in other places that I believe the Book of Mormon can inform Mesoamerican knowledge instead of simply being judged by it.

I hoped you enjoyed the post, if you have anything to add or think I missed a vital point please let me know.

WHITTAKER, Dick. "Landlords and warlords." In Rich and Shipley 277-300.
MACMULLEN, Ramsey. Corruption and the Decline of Rome. 1988
RICH, John, and SHIPLEY, Graham. War and Society in the Roman World. 1993
In a perfect world I would have looked up these secondary sources and then quoted the primary ones, but I am so pressed for time I could not do that. I hope you enjoy it anyway.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Reluctant Warrior and Patriotism

Happy late Fourth of July. I fully realize the irony of writing a military blog while not posting about the holiday. I was hesitant to do so because I could not conceive of a gripping topic and I did not want to just throw a random post out there. After reading the comments on this thread, I now have something worth talking about. The original post was fairly innocuous, and its message matched what we have been discussing with the troops of a father and son. But at about comment 52 a writer attacks the thought that military service is patriotic. Plus he inserts a quote from Spencer W. Kimball which equates military service and military might as "Satan's Counterfeit to true patriotism". I don't want to quote out of context so please read the comment for yourself.

This comment bothered me due to several reasons. I will present them from least bothering to greatest. First, it reminded me of the old political argument that dissent is truest form of patriotism. This is an old liberal trope that seeks to excuse dissenters from their draft dodging King Men like arguments. I understand that there needs to be legitimate debate concerning foreign policy, but this debate often gives way to shrill, vicious, and petty partisan sniping that endangers our troops. That behavior is little better than the King Men being pleased with the trials of their countrymen (Alma 61:3). But I try to keep the scriptures out of partisan debates because everybody can find their own rationale for their position.

Secondly, the commentator attacked Moroni [1] and many other military figures in the BoM. I always examine figures with as little bias as possible but an in depth study of a persons life usually makes you hate them or love them. For instance, my study of George C. Marshall's confirmation as Secretary of Defense left me with an incredibly deep dislike for isolationist Republicans of the 1950s. In a similar vein my study of Moroni [1] has firmly established him as a figure worthy of mine and everybody's respect.

In regards to patriotism we read in Alma 61 that Moroni and Pahoran believed that :, behold, we will resist wickedness even unto bloodshed. We would not shed the blood of the Lamanites if they would stay in their own land.
11 We would not shed the blood of our brethren if they would not rise up in rebellion and take the sword against us.
12 We would subject ourselves to the yoke of bondage if it were requisite with the justice of God, or if he should command us so to do.
13 But behold he doth not command us that we shall subject ourselves to our enemies, but that we should put our trust in him, and he will deliver us.
14 Therefore, my beloved brother, Moroni, let us resist evil, and whatsoever evil we cannot resist with our words, yea, such as rebellions and dissensions, let us resist them with our swords, that we may retain our freedom, that we may rejoice in the great privilege of our church, and in the cause of our Redeemer and our God.

This is the titular verse of the thread. Moroni did not seek war, he did not want to fight, and he would have surrendered if God commanded. But instead Moroni put his trust in God and resisted evil with his sword. This concept of the reluctant warrior stands in stark contrast to the commentator's assertion (using Kimball out of context) that military service is a "counterfeit patriotism". A complete reliance upon your own strength is wrong and could be called counterfeit patriotism. But the kind of service given by Moroni does not qualify, and its shameful of Derek to prop his political position with out of context quotes and by denigrating an individual in Holy Writ. Moroni's military service was born out of patriotism, a deep love and respect for God and Country.

Thirdly, he has disrespected the many military men and women who did sign up out of a sense of patriotism to their country. I have served seven years in the military. I volunteered before 9/11 and re-enlisted twice afterwards. I did not enlist due to my war like desire and trust of man's power but because I thought my country deserved my service in return for what it did for me.

In 2007 I was reaching the conclusion of my original term of service. I had been married less than 6 months, the Democrats had just won control of congress, the surge had not yet truly started, the Iraq war had reached its nadir, and my unit was scheduled to deploy in less than a year. Of course I was not going to re enlist. But then I received an email from the Commandant of the Marine Corps asking me to reconsider my decision. This was the day after I listened to a lecture from Ronald C. Carter concerning Valley Forge and the War for Independence. I did not want to re enlist, but I had been asked to serve my country a little while longer. So I answered the call to service and enlisted for another two years. Thankfully my unit's deployment was cancelled a few months later. Thus I served my country, not because I wanted to, but because I felt it was the sacred duty I owed my country. Furthermore, my military service drew me closer to God. Just like Moroni, I did not want to fight, and I wish nobody had to, but sometimes we are called to serve due to circumstances beyond ones control. "But trusting my all to his tender care" I did what I felt called to do. (LDS Hymns, "I'll go where you want me to go")

Not only did I sacrifice in a way similar to Moroni (albeit with far less personal cost to me), but some people choose to disparage our service. They choose to prop up their political views by using a prophet's words as a club. This club then knocks down our service and the sincere Christ like motivations behind them.

The reluctant warrior, as displayed by Moroni [1] is an ideal model for why a person should give turn to the sword, and describes the connection between military service and patriotism. I hope that we can keep the true spirit of the 4th of July with us throughout the year. I also hope that we can avoid petty sniping as many true patriots are currently marching through the Afghan desert.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

To Grasp the Sword and Die

In preparation for my classes this fall I have been doing a great deal of reading. In The Precepts of Kato Kiyomasa I found this intriguing line:

Having been born into the house of a warrior, one's intention should be to grasp the long and short swords and die.

But a contemporary general of Kato named Kuroda Nagamasa wrote in Notes on Regulations that:

The arts of peace and the arts of war are like the two wheels of a cart which, lacking one, will have difficulty in standing.

Both generals fought in the Sino-Japanese Korean War (1592-1598). And both saw extensive combat during their lifetimes in both unification and expansion wars. So they had similar combat experience but came to different conclusions concerning the necessity of cultured skills.

These quotes got me thinking about warfare in the Book of Mormon. Which "art" is valued more, peace or war? Does modern society value one or the other? Do military leaders in the Book of Mormon favor one or the other? The last question is difficult to answer because the text is devoted to Christ and spiritual aspects to draw us closer to Him. And because Mormon provides little background for the characters he introduces and he does not go into long asides concerning Nephite culture.

We can notice a few things concerning the "arts of peace" practiced by military leaders in the Book of Mormon. Both Moronis can read and write letters, meaning they are educated. Both lead their armies at a rather young age, which means they are skilled in the arts of war. Mormon acts as a historian for much of his life in compiling the Nephite records now contained in the Book of Mormon. The numerous primary texts included in the book reveal that Moroni had the power to read and understand their context within Nephite history, sometimes a difficult task for even modern college students to do.

The Book of Mormon says that in times of righteousness the Nephite leaders were also prophets, thus they should have had a love for the "arts of peace". Moroni [1] knew ancient prophecy (concerning the remnant of Joseph) and could perform rituals in creating the Title of Liberty. Helaman was a prophet that could also lead troops. In his letter to Moroni he summarizes what I can "The Moroni Doctrine". Thus Helaman was skilled in both the arts of war and peace, and Moroni was intelligent and organized enough to train his subordinates to a common standard.

However we can also read the words of Mormon in the fifth chapter of Mormon:

2. But behold, I was without hope, for I knew the judgments of the Lord which should come upon them; for they repented not of their iniquities, but did struggle for their lives without calling upon that Being who created them.

So even though there are many indicators of "the arts of peace" there are also some that suggest they thought the warriors place was to grasp the sword and die.

Thus I can tentatively conclude that the most discussed military leaders in the Book of Mormon were more balanced the Kato in favoring both arts of war and peace. What do you think?

Extending this to modern times. Do you think that one is more important than the other? In academic circles the study of warfare is the red headed step child of the field. But in popular circles people love the study of warfare. In Church circles it seems that scripture study almost completely ignores the military aspects of the book. I think they do that for the same reason that academics disdain the study, they think that studying war means you like or encourage war. We also have a modern humanist notion that wars are illegal and should be eliminated. However, ancient war was often an instrument of God in punishing his people's wickedness. During times of righteousness they succeeded in war, thus conflict became a Divine Diagnostic of Nephite society.

After hearing my opinion and musings on the subject, does this provide any lessons for modern Latter Day Saints? Does this impact your opinion concerning the place warfare in your scripture studies?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Call for Papers: The Family and Human Relationships in History

Since I have been writing some rather family centric posts I thought I should point out that the Mormon Scholars in the Humanities is having a conference next May on that subject. Here is the official release:

Call for Papers

The Family and Human Relationships in History, Literature, Art, and Philosophy

May 21-22, 2010, Claremont, CA

A conference sponsored by Mormon Scholars in the Humanities

Every story, it is said, is a family story. Yet in stressing the freedom and self-sufficiency of the individual, modern culture de-emphasizes the degree to which people are born in dependency, of specific parents, and develop in and through relationships with others, most closely in the family. By considering the family, family history, and human relationships, we invite inquiry into changes in the culture of the family over time, inquiries into family memory, depictions of the family and the individual in art and literature, and philosophical investigations of the role of family, friends, and mentors in personal development. Some questions to consider:

* How do models and philosophies of the family and relationships illuminate depictions of the family in history, literature, and the arts, and vice versa?
* How has the notion of genealogy shaped different forms of representation in the arts and in sacred literature, as well as philosophies of history, morality, and ethics?
* To what degree is our identity a gift of others, and to what degree is it an individual accomplishment and responsibility? Do degrees of autonomy and dependence differ from era to era, culture to culture, and even from individual to individual?
* In what sense is the family the basic unit of society? What do the humanities teach us about the family as a social institution or about the roles and responsibilities within a family? About successes and failures of the family?
* If one goal of personal development is a certain kind of maturity in the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and moral realms, what are the processes by which individuals achieve it? Do these types of development have necessary social dimensions? In light of possible family and social aspects of self-development and freedom, in what ways are individuals also responsible for others, and for themselves?
* How do LDS history, values, and doctrine pertaining to the family and to the notion of genealogy influence the work of the Mormon scholar in the humanities? How do they challenge or support the fundamental assumptions of humanities scholarship today?

Creative submissions relevant to the conference theme in story, verse, drama, or visual form are also invited.

We encourage LDS scholars in all fields of the humanities, arts, and history to propose papers or complete panels in response to the topic. Panel proposals should include a general title, presenters’ names and contact information, and paper abstracts.

To accomplish its mission of supporting LDS scholars, MSH will, in conjunction with the conference, offer individual mentoring on scholarly research and writing for publication.

Please send 200-word abstracts and brief CV to David Paxman at (without the 9’s), by January 15, 2010.

I would love to develop the recent themes we have been discussing into a paper, but next year's Society for Military History Conference is the same weekend, its being hosted 5 minutes away from me, and I have one paper submitted already with another in development. Even it those don't pan out I will need to do some networking with other professionals in my primary field. Plus, depending on how my applications go I will meet my dissertation advisor there. However, if anybody wishes to participate in a collaborative effort in preparing a paper that they can present in Claremont I am game. For instance, I can provide the historical context from ancient societies while somebody else can discuss modern social data concerning the Saint's civic activity.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Troops of a Father and Son: Impact and Implications

I received a great amount of feedback to my last post in addition to some questions. In general every blogger has to accept a trade off: shorter posts are nice to read but you have to be incredibly judicious in what you post, while longer posts allow you to include a great amount of detail but you may loose a greater number of readers. Those of you that know me from grad school know that I prefer the short school. I generally do short posts and leave a few assumptions unspoken. Since I seemed to garner some interest I will now flesh out a few of those unspoken assumptions and add a few that commentators brought to my attention.

Nature of the text: This was the work of a Chinese military leader during the Warring States Period, roughly 400-300 BC. A common problem during the period was the increasing size of armies. The Spring and Autumn periods featured armies of roughly 30-50 thousand. A few hundred years later these armies had swollen to the hundreds of thousands. And these large armies could wipe out the existence of a nation in one campaign. That is why the number of states dwindled during the Warring States period from 30 to 1. Thus the command and control of large numbers of conscripts became a significant concern for leaders. Since Chinese culture already valued the respect of a child for a parent this was applied by military theoreticians. The works of Sun-Tzu, Wu-Tzu, and Wei Liao-Tzu contain admonitions that a general must be a father and the soldiers the son. This implies trust, respect and obedience in both parties that should increase the performance of armies as I described in my previous post. In fact, many of the spiritual principles found in Chinese Theory result from pragmatic concerns. The stress on these emotions were a powerful and effective way to teach leadership and soldier skills. If you examine my posts "Full Time Soldiers" and "Military Causes for the Problems in Helaman" you would see where I detected and described an increase in the army size and length of service basically similar to what Chinese Society faced in the Warring States period. So the Chinese text can help us illuminate the problems that Nephite society faced and what Mormon thought was the answer to it: stronger families as shown by the Sons of Helaman.

And perhaps a final question is in order: since Mormons today have such good families does that explain their stellar record of service to their country? Service in the country can mean work in government agencies, the military, and even service industries such as Doctors, lawyers, teachers, and the fulfillment of civic duties. Do the traits that make one a "good son" have a causal effect on the number of people that give service and the quality of that service?

Mother and Son: A commentator mentioned the difference in texts between the father and son of Wu-Tzu and the mother and son mentioned by the Sons of Helaman (hereafter cited as SoH). But many readers of Alma 56:47 look at the last half of the verse but miss out on the first half: Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives

The SoH had a cultural fortification similar to the ancient Chinese and they stated it to their father general. I don't feel the statement about their mothers is a major aberration from the text of Wu-Tzu. The Chinese text is a prescriptive military tract. While the BoM contains a description of events. In the transfer from prescriptive theory to descriptive narrative we should expect minor differences and be flexible in our application of the former to the latter.

The Beauty of the Lilies...ummm er...military theory: Its one of the fun ironies of being a military historian that sometimes the most beautiful things I read are poetry. Those that have read Charge of the Light Brigade should already appreciate that fact, but this is military theory written in terse Eastern prose. I will re post it here in a way that accentuates its form:

When they advance they cannot be withstood;
when they withdraw they cannot be pursued.
Their advancing and withdrawing are measured;
the left and right flanks respond to the signal flags.
Even if broken off from the main order they preserve their formations;
even it scattered they will reform lines.
They will hold together in peace;
they will hold together in danger.
Their number can be assembled together,
but cannot be forced apart.
They can be employed,
but they cannot be exhausted.
No matter where you can dispatch them,
no one under Heaven will be able to withstand them.
They are called 'the troops of a father and son.'

I can't force anybody to appreciate poetry, but I hope you can notice its form and message. [I'm not a poetry teacher I'm a historian, I hope I have given you enough context and examples to appreciate its beauty]

A Model for life: I asked a question earlier that applies to this section. Does the filial duty that modern LDS are known for reflect itself in superior quality of LDS servicemen? I plan on posting in the future about the paradoxical nature contained in a military text ostensibly devoted to being a more proficient killer that actually points out many of the proper moral behaviors we should have in our daily life.

Ritual Warfare: I've mentioned the similarity of this point across ancient civilizations in several places on my blog. Please check out "But Ricky", "Prearranged Battle", and "Homeric Warfare".

As always I invite comments.