Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Adolescents who enter the freshman class at, for example, Virginia Military Institute are immediately shorn of their hair, deprived of their civilian clothes, and taught to drill and march in step- as prior class, race, or political loyalties fade into columns of identically appearing, moving, and chanting cadets. Take the most vicious street or motorcycle gang, replete with Uzi machine guns and years of experience in shooting rival thugs, and it would not stand a chance in battle against a regiment of armed VMI classmates-none of who have a single serious misdemeanor record of arrest or have fired a shot of anger in their entire lives...Such is the power of drill and the discipline it spawns.

Military historian Victor David Hanson's description of discipline explains the performance of the Stripling Warriors (Carnage and Culture, 331). We read that that they "never had fought" but did not fear death" (Alma 56:47). And in a fierce battle:

19...[the] little band of two thousand and sixty fought most desperately; yea, they were firm before the Lamanites, and did administer death unto all those who opposed them.
20 And as the remainder of our army were about to give way before the Lamanites, behold, those two thousand and sixty were firm and undaunted.
21 Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them; and I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them.

This discipline was held by men who had never fought while in the face of greater numbers. The Lamanites are thought to have taken captives for sacrifice, and evidence for this period of Mesoamerica point to the same. Just as the freshman class of VMI can beat a veteran biker gang, the Sons of Helaman beat the Lamanites due to their superior discipline.

What other examples of discipline can you find in The Book of Mormon? How does this principle apply in our daily lives?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Yes They Can, II

I did a recent post about the creepy video of children singing to their dear leader, Barrack Obama. I did not explain in great detail why it was so creepy. Let me clarify, when I pledge allegiance its to the flag of the United States and what the country stands for. Principles like justice apply to everybody regardless of who happens to be in the White House. When I took my oath of enlistment I promised to uphold and defend the constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic. I most certainly did not pledge my allegiance to the President, but to the same document that he swears to protect. And the hymns I sing are reserved for subjects such as God, his prophets, and general patriotic themes. Again, I would never sign a song about a politician.

Doing so smacks of what historians call a "cult of personality". Its defined by Random house as "a cult promoting adulation of a living national leader or public figure, as one encouraged by Stalin to extend his power." And Encyclopedia Britannica say "A cult of personality [is] when a country's leader uses mass media to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. Cults of personality are often found in dictatorships and Stalinist governments."

In The Book of Mormon the most famous cult of personality would be the one that surrounded the Gadianton Robbers. In Ether chapter 8 we learn that the primary bound is an oath of personal loyalty to their leader. Not only were personal loyalty oaths frowned upon but their motive to get power is similar to the cult of personality and strongly condemned:

22 And whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold, they shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of his saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground for vengeance upon them and yet he avenge them not

Plus in this post, I discussed how historians called private soldiers "robbers" because they did not take a CIVIC oath, instead it was a personal oath of fealty to a landlord. Notice the comparison in the Roman robbers with the oaths that I took, then look at what, or more properly who, the following links praise.

I don't think President Obama is a Gadianton Master, although a future post could compare Alinsky's rules for seizing power with that of the Gadiantons within the BoM. However I am genuinely concerned when I see behavior like this. Remember with any president concerning fascism, extending government control over our lives, and stealing our money: yes they can, especially when you have little children singing primary like hymns to their dear leader. (Dear leader is one of the titles of North Korea's dictator.)

Indoctrination Quiz

More Indoctrination

I have no problem with people supporting President Obama. I do have a problem with people telling me what to think, and making children sing primary songs about him.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Connection From Donna

Despite my recent financial difficulties I am grateful for many things. Pertaining to this blog I have now achieved a place of respect that people send me unsolicited items. In the past 36 hours I've had two book manuscripts, an Education week talk, and a link to another blog that had a military discussion. I am honored that people hold my opinion and ideas in such high regard that they want to consult me. I intend to respect that feeling by keeping the quality and quantity of posts here very high.

The two books will take awhile to get through. Each is over 300 pages and since these are prepublished books my comments will stay private at first. This is because all things must be done in wisdom and order (Mosiah 4:27), and some of my comments may be critical and my job as a peer reviewer is to help their books become better. However, I after the initial review is done I will discuss the issue with them and see if I can post some intriguing snippets. Once the books near publication I will consider an advanced review in consultation with the authors. I am waiting for the permission to post all or some of the education week notes.

I can link to and comment on Donna's recent post. The whole article is good and I recommend that you read it. In particular I enjoyed this paragraph from her thread:
Why did the ancient Greeks use the word kosmokrateros to depict certain aspects of the military? Because the military was filled with young men who had a lot of natural ability — raw power, if you will. In order for that raw power to be effective, it had to be harnessed and organized (kosmos).

Thus, young soldiers with abounding energy were taught to be submitted, disciplined, ordered and perfectly arranged. This is the picture of rank and file. In the end, all of those men, with all of that raw ability, were turned into a massive force.

This compares very well to what historian Victor David Hanson called The Western Way of War. In his book Carnage and Culturehe discusses the discipline of Greek soldiers that becomes a hallmark of the WWoW. On page 329 he writes:
Discipline as it emerged in Europe is the attempt at the institutionalization of a particular type of courage through training and rote, and is manifested in the preservation of rank and order....The key is not to make every man a hero, but to create men who by and large are braver than their untrained allies in withstanding an enemy charge, and in the heat of battle follow the orders of superiors to protect the men at their sides.

In later posts I will develop the theme of discipline within The Book of Mormon and our own lives. For now, enjoy the excellent analysis from Donna's site and enjoy the bonus video clip. (Warning: After the 2:00 minute mark the battle starts. Those who are squeamish should stop there.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Personal Power Strategies

This is the first of a news series of posts I plan on doing. I previouslydiscussed how good spiritual principles are often interchangeable with good military principles. I also realize that examining The Book of Mormon from a purely historical standpoint ignores a large part of the book's aim and focus. So this ongoing series will first discuss abstract military principles based on both historical military theory and practice. Then I will either reference an excellent discussion of it somewhere else, or I will put on my Sunday School teacher hat and explicate the necessary spiritual principles. The emphasis will be on the connection between good military principle and good conduct and spiritual behavior.

Hard Things First: Our first example comes from the writings of Clausewitz and the Scriptorium Blogorium. Clausewitz, and U.S. Army Doctrine defines the Center of Gravity as "the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act." (Joint Publication 1-02, DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms). A good example from history would be the fact that Robert E. Lee's surrender is considered the end of the Civil War. Yet Jefferson Davis was still trying to reorganize the Confederate government, General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his army 17 days later, and some Indian tribes continued to fight for several years under the confederate banner. So this results in many pedantic historians trying to pad their own egos by saying things such as: "Well Lee's surrender did not actually end the war..." But due to Lee's victories he had become one of the South's principle centers of gravity. Thus his surrender DID end the war.

Michaela over at Scriptorium Blogorium has an excellent discussion of what this meant for Captain Moroni's strategy, and what it means for our spiritual strategy as well. I don't have enough good words to say about how accurate her analysis is.

Taking the High Ground: In Alma 47 we read that the Lamanie army mustered upon a mountain. And the commander Lehonti refuses to come down and meet Amalickiah under a justified fear that he would be killed. This is such an intuitive principle it almost explains itself. Popular culture reinforces this trend; in The Two Towers (2002)and The Return of the King(2003) the Rohirrim retreat to a mountain fortress and muster their army on the side of a mountain. In Jewish history the revolt of AD70 lasted the longest for those that retreated to their mountain fortress. And the Chinese and Koreans resisted the Mongol invasions for over 50 years due to their use of self sustaining mountain fortresses. Please see Huang K'uan-Chung's article in Chinese Ways of Warfare, edited by Hans Van De Ven. I could point out other numerous battles from Hastings (1066)to the Seven Days Battle (1862) that display the importance of the high ground as well.

Robert D. Hales discussed some of the spiritual applications of this principle in a recent address.

So what do you think? Do these principles help you in your daily life? Do they give you additional insights into how you behave? As an added bonus I've added the video to "Bring the World His Truth" (Army of Helaman).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Surrender in the Book of Mormon

Michaela, who blogs at scriptorium blogorium, asked a very interesting question. She says:
I've noticed that often Captain Moroni causes the opposition to enter into a covenant to keep the peace once he has beat them. I'd like to know whether this covenant IS the surrender or whether it is one of the terms of surrender that Moroni requires of them.

I'm honored that she presented the question to me and I will do my best to answer. As with anything on this site, feel free to disagree or comment on it. The most detailed knowledge of surrender we find in Alma 43-45 in a battle between Zarahemnah and Moroni [1]. Once the enemy is fearful and surrounded the battle stops, Moroni presents his terms for surrender which include a covenant. Zarahemnah rejects these terms and the battle resumes. After further destruction of their army the terms are offered again and the battle is over.

There are several other instances of a "covenant surrender". In 1 Nephi we read that Zoram quite struggling with Nephi after the latter covenanted to "give him a place" at Lehi's camp. Zoram also covenanted to remain with the paty (1 Nephi 4:35-37). In the battle of Mulek one section of the army was forced to surrender (Alma 52:32). The verse is unclear if it was by covenant or not.

From my understanding the covenant is the surrender. Since its a ritual, there are many aspects to it. These are most clearly seen in Alma 44 where Zerahemnah has his weapons returned to him by Moroni and the battle is resumed. Since the ritual would have spiritual meaning, it would "damn their souls" to reject it (Alma 56:7-8). They would also fight without the benefit of their god, or demon like power in the Lamanites case (Alma 43:44).

In my study of ancient conflict, warfare was a clash of the gods. Victory was by divine favor, defeat was an divine diagnostic of Nephite spiritual health. The Chinese often talk of "Heavenly Mandates" and "auspicious omens" with campaigns even starting on a specific day in order to win ideological support for the war (Arthur Wright's Sui Dynasty or Ralph Sawyer trans. Seven Military Classics).

In Mesoamerica they fought under banners infused with the power of deity. A ritual oath to the victorious army and god, meant that any subsequent battles by the defeated force would be without the help of their deity. It would be unthinkable to enter combat without your deity. It would be difficult to even raise an army when under covenant to another god. For instance, in Alma 47:2 the Lamanites are justly afraid of even mustering for battle because the Nephite God have been victorious so many times. These soldiers don't seem to have taken the oath and even they are cautious about attacking again.

Thus the surrender of an opposing army through covenant was the most complete temporal and spiritual victory sought by the Nephite armies. This was accomplished through a ritual that at least included the physical deposit of weapons. Other factors may include a particular march home and maybe even vassal status (Alma 62:29). Included in The Book of Mormon is a "pull[ing] down of their pride and nobility and levelling them to the earth" (Alma 51:17). This may be metaphorical, but I suggest this includes defacing monuments and temples to rival deities, especially since Moroni then forced them to place the banner in "their towers...and cities" (Alma 51:20). (Please see this post for more) Other suggestions for a ritual surrender include the hanging of the Gadianton robber Zemnarihah in 3 Nephi 4:28-33. For further study John Welch has some very interesting observations found here regarding the law of war and ritual surrender.

Thank you for your question and thank you for reading.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Weakness in the Nephite Government

One of my colleagues has posted some excellent notes about the land dispute between Morianton and Lehi found in Alma 50. I like the holistic approach that she takes to analyzing the scripture. She mentions some possible historical factors and includes the spiritual application of the verse.

I want to take a slightly more narrow approach by contrasting the unrestrained passion of Morianton with the restrained passion of Moroni [1]. I will also use this incident to examine the strength of the Nephite government and the possible ethnic composition of the Nephite nation.

First, Micheala and I agree that the story of Morianton's short rebellion pivots on his unrestrained passion. For a more detailed summary and the original text you can click the link in the first paragraph. But the citizens of two cities went to arms over their respective borders. Morianton was going to lead his men north but he fell into a fit of rage and beat his servant, thus giving away his plan. With his plan uncovered Moroni sent a detachment under one of his best lieutenants to catch and defeat Morianton. The moral of the story points to the downfall of Morianton due to his unrestrained passion.

Moroni had a great deal of passion as well. In Alma 48 we read about Moroni's faith:

16 And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them; and this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity.

The interesting part was in the word "resisting". It implies self restraint and control that is often associated with discipleship. This also links to a previous post where I discussed the need for restraint and refinement for a warrior to be truly successful. In this chapter, Moroni is linked with the successful prophets of God, and in the next two chapters he defeats an external threat through innovative fortifications and an internal threat through the unrestrained passion of his enemy.

Next, the fact that the people of Bountiful and the Land North would have joined Morianton argues for the weakness of the Nephite government and a minority of the Nephite nation being non ethnic Nephites. We read earlier in The Book of Mormon that the Nephites were outnumbered by Mulekites and the combined Nephite/Mulekite population was still less than half of the Lamanite population. The Nephite rulers also limited the Chief Judgeship to the Nephites. Thus there was a large minority population within the Nephite nation. Hugh Nibley and Micheal Hobby have pointed out that Morianton is a Mulekite name. And the real fear of Moroni concerning the Bountiful defection shows that the Nephites often only had power over their cities equal to the current military power. Empires throughout history have often lost control more distant provinces when their military is weak.

As the Book of Helaman demonstrates, the Nephites are no exception to this tendency. If not for the swift action of Moroni, the Nephites could have seen their government topple from a menace with strength in the north as they did later in their history (3 Nephi 7:9-13). So the potential for Bountiful to join the Morianton argues for the loose government control that the Nephite nation had over many of their cities. Also, Morianton was able to field his own army and command his own city, thus this episode shows that the government did not have a monopoly on using force, and that the discussion of household soldiers still apply. This could also lead to a discussion about the difference between a territorial and hegemonic empire, (coming later).

Thanks for reading. I invite your comments.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I've had some more complaints concerning the failure of the comments feature. I sign in using my google ID, the I ignore the error message and simply click submit a second time. That usually gets me posted. Past that, as Doctor McCoy might say, I'm a historian not a techie. I hope that helps. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Update: The Military Mind of Joseph Smith

The "Military Mind of Joseph Smith" has been re posted over at the Millennial Star. You can find it here. I would like to welcome any first time visitors. I hope you enjoy what you find here, feel free to look around and post any comments or questions that you might have.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Beltway Disease

A couple posts ago I mentioned how we have a text that can and should help us analyze current events. The scriptures can also help us see beyond a person's rhetoric and instead see the potentially damaging actions that could occur. My friend sent me a link to an article from Meridian Magazine. The article uses the King Men as a tool to analyze President Obama's first nine months, and the culture of corruption in general that surrounds the Beltway.

I disagree with several points of his analysis. First, like Micheal Hobby, I think the King Men were far more active in Nephite politics before and after the episode that Lawrence describes. But six years is close enough to the four year presidential cycle so I can see why he would stress that number. Plus even though I dislike Obama's policies, I don't think he has entered dictatorship territory yet. Jimmy Carter territory for sure, but not the far out dictatorship that many people are warning. Although, Lawrence addresses this concern by showing how the King Men were often subtle and deceiving.

I think Lawrence's best point was how the King Men thought they were the new nobility and looked down on others. I've lost track of the number liberal blogs where anybody who believes in God, Guns, or traditional morality are just plain hick, racist, and troglodyte rubes. A sad number of Mormon blogs are like this as well. Everybody in the club considers themselves the new elite and they make sure through their acerbic comments that anybody who dares to disagree will know that they are just not as smart, nuanced, educated, subtle etc, as the permabloggers. You also see this in the way Obama treats the Town Hall protesters. My wife recently asked why Obama is continuing to seek his version of health care even though Americans clearly want something else. My answer was that he knows what is better for us, so our opinions don't matter. If only WE KNEW, we would want his plan and more government in our lives. Since we don't know, we must be angry and ignorant dummies for protesting his plan.

This post was more political than usual. Feel free to respectfully post your comments if you disagree. I also wanted to point out an example of using the scriptures to analyze current events. The danger comes from the harsh feelings that result when your analysis and conclusions differ from others. Overall I would recommend this article as a way to use the scriptures to examine the difference between rhetoric, goals, and actions.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Mesoamerican Custom of Retreating to a Tower

A recent article suggests that a small group of defenders in Mesoamerica would flee to the temple to make a last stand. This story reminded me of Gideon and his attempt to kill King Noah. In Mosiah 19 we read:

3 And the lesser part [of King Noah's people] began to breathe out threatenings against the king, and there began to be a great contention among them.
4 And now there was a man among them whose name was Gideon, and he being a strong man and an enemy to the king, therefore he drew his sword, and swore in his wrath that he would slay the king.
5 And it came to pass that he fought with the king; and when the king saw that he was about to overpower him, he fled and ran and got upon the tower which was near the temple.
6 And Gideon pursued after him and was about to get upon the tower to slay the king, and the king cast his eyes round about towards the land of Shemlon, and behold, the army of the Lamanites were within the borders of the land.
7 And now the king cried out in the anguish of his soul, saying: Gideon, spare me, for the Lamanites are upon us, and they will destroy us; yea, they will destroy my people.
8 And now the king was not so much concerned about his people as he was about his own life; nevertheless, Gideon did spare his life.

Jerry Ainsworth describes what the term "tower" probably meant in The Book of Mormon here. So when facing defeat Noah flees to a Pyramid to make his last stand, just as Mayans do in the linked article. When Moroni defeats the King Men he also plants the Title of Liberty on their towers(Alma 51:17-21). This would make even more sense if he just defeated them at their tower. Plus, in unpublished research I have suggested that "pull down their pride" and "level them to the earth" refer to defacing stone symbols of their power. This also has a match in the article, as the victors would put their "graffiti" and symbols of their god on the newly conquered tower.

Now the timing of this article puts it at 150 A.D, however the location corresponds to one of the dominant theories for Book of Mormon geography. Also, this could update our knowledge of Mesoamerican warfare; as I have shown, principles of warfare can generally be applied both forwards and backwards in time. Thus the location and principles both match up well with warfare in the Book of Mormon. Thanks to for the hat tip.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Yes they can!

A long time ago I posted about the ideology of war. The post basically describes some research done by Hugh Nibley concerning the rhetoric of war. This rhetoric was an an attempt by the "villains" in the Book of Mormon to present themselves as heroes.

The Lamanites only fought to regain their rights "stolen" by Nephi and his descendants. Korihor was only trying to free an oppressed populace. The Zoramites just wanted to live on their own until they were subjected to Nephite cultural Imperialism, that is, the preaching of Alma and the conversion of large segments of the Zoramite population. I have no doubt that if we had more of the words of King Noah he would say that his excessive building projects were designed as a show of strength against Lamanite aggression and were thus protecting his people. And the Gadianton robber, Giddianhi, simply wished to reclaim his rights which the Nephites had taken from him.

The point is that you rarely find somebody proudly proclaims they are overthrowing freedom, leading a murderous rebellion, or seeking wars of aggression. Even Hitler conquered territory claiming to correct the wrongs of the Versailles Treaty, seeking to bring freedom to Germans in other lands, or seeking a joining (Anschluss) with other Germans. Terrorists obfuscate their true nature and tactics by claiming the mantle of "freedom fighter". In short, dictators will find more subtle ways to cloak and or justify their actions:

We need to continually parse and examine the words that people use to justify their actions. We receive great training in the scriptures, since we already know who the "bad guys" are. And even Moroni [1] had to rally the people to the cause of righteousness. Real life is a bit more tricky, but we can and should apply the lessons we learn to modern situations.

For example, I will demonstrate how even singing about hope and change can have ominous connotations. I came across this video from 2008. It was without a doubt the creepiest thing I saw the entire election. And the "Pyongyang Remix" shows why. I don't think Obama is Hitler, but this video clearly shows how even lofty and inspiring rhetoric can really be used as a tool for political control by real or potential dictators.