Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Geographic Strategy Behind the Location of Nephihah

Using the terrain to strengthen your defense is not a new idea. Richard Smail described the early crusader habit of building forts using existing terrain.[1] Such a fortress would be built upon a spur near a pivotal river crossing, and thus be only accessible by one side. This would reduce the need to four high walls, hence both men and material could be better concentrated. Benjamin Wallacker discussed how many Chinese cities could be self sustaining fortresses.[2] This allows the defender a greater degree of sustainability in the face of assault. Finally, David Graff's analysis of the Battle of Huo-I examined how that city was placed to guard the open plains extending away from a narrow river gorge.[3]

This final point has direct application to the city of Nephihah, its importance to the Nephite government, and the actions of Moroni. The Book of Mormon describes plains being near the city and bearing the same name(Alma 62:18). When this city fell Moroni doubted if the Nephite government would survive (Alma 59:11). John Sorenson places the city in a position between the capital of Zarhahemla and the Nephite possessions on the East Sea.[4] So we can assume that the capture of Nephihah opened up another avenue of approach to the capital (the other being on the West sea where Helaman was fighting) and almost fulfilled the Nephite nightmare of being harassed on every side (Alma 52:13-14).

I submit that the strategic importance of this city, evidenced by the internal evidence and geographer cited above, is due to the tactical importance gained from its location. Micheala Stephens has discussed the unique tactical insight from the description of Moroni's night time scouting recorded in Alma 62.[5] Since Moroni needed no ladders to get on the walls, but did need cords to get down OFF of the wall she argues that the city was backed by cliffs on at least one (and presumably the west) side. I support this assertion for several reasons. First, the macro geography of the Nephite nation supports Nephihah as a pivotal city in their defenses. And based on the readings I outlined in the first paragraph, few places are more solid than a self sustaining fortresses that takes advantage of micro terrain and protects a river valley leading to the capital.

Furthermore, the account mentions how Moroni came upon the West side of the city and was able to see the army camped by the East side of the city. While Moroni could see this while standing on the city wall, it makes more sense if he were significantly higher by standing upon the cliff side in the west and able to see the army campfires in the east. An article by William Hamblin described how Saladin used the ruse of climbing upon an unexpected place to surprise an army; so this has verifiable historical correlations as well.[6] Finally, the account mentions the Lamanites attempted to flee out "by the pass"(Alma 62:24). This pass could mean a number of things including the East gate where they were camped or another gate. But it could refer to a mountain pass that would be near Nephihah, especially if it was built into a cliff. And it could refer to whatever terrain is opposite the "plains of Nephihah". This includes the example of Huo-I, which described a city located at the opening of a narrow river valley into a plain.

The brevity of the text and the preliminary nature of Book of Mormon geography preclude a definite conclusion.[7] But the above was a consistent reading of both internal and external evidence that point towards Nephihah being strategically located withing Nephite lands with the benefit of natural terrain such as cliffs and or "passes". And I suggest that Nephihah was located near a strategic choke point along the river Sidon with rocky terrain to one side, and upon plains to the other. The next step would be to correlate the theory presented here with real world geographic models and see what we find!

Thank you for reading. I invite your comments.

1. Richard Smail. Crusading Warfare: 1097-1193 London: Cambridge University Press 1995.
2. Benjamin Wallacker "The Siege of Feng Tian", Peter Lorge Ed. Warfare in China to 1600,London: Ashgate Publishing, 2005.
3. David Graff, "The Battle of Huo-I", Ibid.
4. John Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. Provo: F.A.R.M.S. Press, 1985, 241.
5. Private Email Correspondence October 24th, 2009.
6. William Hamblin. "Saladin and Muslim Military Theory", The Horns of Hattin, 228-238.
7. But please see this post for why you haters can go screw yourself.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Spiking and Tilting

An article by Bejamin Wallacker titled "Two Concepts in Early Chinese Military Thought" gives us the title of this thread.[1] He first presents a translation of the military writer Sunzi:

What enable the masses of the Three Armies to invariably withstand the enemy without being defeated are the unorthodox [chi] and the orthodox [cheng]...In general, in battle one engages with the orthodox and gains victory through the unorthodox. Thus one who excels at sending forth the unorthodox is as inexhaustible as Heaven, as unlimited as the Yangtze and Yellow rivers...In warfare the strategic configurations of power [shih] do not exceed the unorthodox and the orthodox, but the changes of the unorthodox and orthodox mutually produce each other, just like an endless cycle. Who can exhaust them?[2]

As an explanation of this concept Wallacker cites Samuel Griffith who says:

The concept expressed by cheng, 'normal' [or orthodox] and chi, 'extraordinary' [ or unorthodox] is of basic importance. The normal (Cheng) fixes or distracts the enemy; the extraordinary (chi) forces act when and where their blows are not anticipated. Should the enemy perceive and respond to a chi [or unorthodox] maneuver in such a manner as to neutralize it, the maneuver would automatically become cheng [or orthodox].[3]

This is quite an interesting concept to explain. The best way to describe it would be the debate with the Sicilian from Princess Bride. In trying to determine which cup has the poison, the Sicilian reaches the point where he says something like: "I can expect you to expect me to expect that you are lying, therefore I..." This quote represents the endless nature and connection between the two concepts. And it explains why this concept is so difficult to translate: Since they are expecting the unexpected would the expected then become unexpected?

Finally, Wallacker studies the etymology of the words Cheng and Chi in order to better relate them to English. He says:

The Sun-Tzu tells us, then, that after 'spiking' the foe, keeping him fixed vulnerably to his position, we bring in our 'tilting' forces to know him off balance and even to topple him over. The English 'tilt' helps us keep in mind also the [unorthodox] nature of the typical Chi maneuver. It is [unorthodox] in direction and method, [unorthodox] also brings in something extra, something the foe cannot take account of.[4]

We have an example of this in the Book of Mormon. In Alma 62 we read that:

30... Moroni, after he had obtained possession of the city of Nephihah...went forth from the land of Nephihah to the land of Lehi.
31 And it came to pass that when the Lamanites saw that Moroni was coming against them, they were again frightened and fled before the army of Moroni.
32 And it came to pass that Moroni and his army did pursue them from city to city, until they were met by Lehi and Teancum; and the Lamanites fled from Lehi and Teancum, even down upon the borders by the seashore, until they came to the land of Moroni.
33 And the armies of the Lamanites were all gathered together, insomuch that they were all in one body in the land of Moroni. Now Ammoron, the king of the Lamanites, was also with them.
34 And it came to pass that Moroni and Lehi and Teancum did encamp with their armies round about in the borders of the land of Moroni, insomuch that the Lamanites were encircled about in the borders by the wilderness on the south, and in the borders by the wilderness on the east.

Thus you have Moroni who pursues the main army of the Lamanites. The narrative places him as the focus of the Lamanite army, and he pushes them to the last Nephite city held in enemy hands, Moroni. At this city the Lamanites are out of options. They have largest army led by the Nephite Chief Captain to their west, they have nothing but seashore to their east, they could admit defeat and retreat to their own territory in the south, they only have to the North (but not really). Moroni has "spiked" them in place, while Lehi and Teancum take advantage of pinned main Lamanite army by expelling the Lamanite garrisons to the north of the city of Moroni, and by merging their forces with Moroni. In short: Moroni spiked them and Lehi tilted them. This piece of military theory and practice sets up the conclusion for war.

Thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments.
1. Benjamin Wallacker "Two Concepts in Early Chinese Military Thought" Peter Lorge Ed. Warfare in China to 1600 Vermont: Ashgate Publishing, 2005, p. 235-240.
2. Ralph D. Sawyer Trans. The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China Colorado: Westview Press, 1993, 164-165.
3.Wallacker, "Two Concepts", 296.
4. Ibid., 299.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Use of Qualifiers in Studying The Book of Mormon

I want to address the criticism concerning qualifying words in our writings. These are words such as "probably", "most likely" and so on that indicate a degree of doubt concerning scholarly research. What follows is a brief response to the charge that scholarship which defends The Book of Mormon is faulty or inadequate because it includes these qualifiers:

I have found that the more I study and the more degrees I get the more I realize how much I DON'T know. In fact, one of the main conclusions of my Master's Thesis was that even deceptively simple topics defy easy conclusions; and the problem only gets worse with ancient topics that have a paucity of written sources, such as pre Nara Period Japan, Shang Dynasty China, Old Kingdom Egypt and Pre Classic Mesoamerica.

In the books I've read even the most simple points are debatable based on how you interpret evidence. So the authors correctly offer qualifiers. I could open to a random page from any academic book and find the same qualifiers that you attack. This process is accelerated the farther back you go in time. These qualifiers acknowledge the limitations of research and represent an honest attempt to allow the possibility that contradictory evidence may be uncovered in the future. Thus is shows that the historian is aware of the limits of his craft and his sources. When there is a rush to judgement, and refusal to allow for additional sources you will probably find somebody begging the question with an ax to grind.

And these "books" that I mentioned earlier are not fluff pieces either, but from the leaders of their fiel such as Bernard Bachrach, David Graff, Peter Lorge, Ralph Sawyer, and John Gallagher. So people who are leaders in their fields with PhDs and years of experience, still qualify many of their arguments; but those at some "Christian" ministry sites, read a few articles from an anti Mormon site and think they can end the debate. So I think a negative reaction to the use of qualifiers says more about your education and scholarly acumen than quality of Mormon researchers.

My spiritual testimony of the book is firm and unbending, but when you enter the academic realm a cautious reading of sources is not only understandable but desirable.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Extirpative War Contrasting with the Book of Mormon

Seeking evidence for The Book of Mormon through parallels is a double edged sword.[1]In the search for tighter methodological controls a third variable is needed. Instead of A is similar to B, as most comparisons go, we need A is more similar to B than C.

In seeking this additional variable John Grenier's First Way of War is incredibly useful.[2] In this book he describes a way of war beyond the normal conventions. In fact he uses the term Petite Guerre which acts as a synonym for irregular warfare. This included extirpative war making, which Grenier describes as warfare "centered often on individual action, focused primarily on...fields, food supplies, and civilian populations."[3] This way of war specifically avoided what we could call standard battles.

We can then take this way of war and compare it to the militarized periods of Smith's life that I have previously discussed.[4] In the Mormon War we find an example of these extirpative tactics. The time period 1837-1838 is between the time period that Grenier outlined, 1607-1814, and the brutal irregular war the Missouri witnessed during the American Civil War 1861-1865. This is one more research topic that I wish to explore in the future and will keep you updated.

Dealing with The Book of Mormon, we have now have our contrasting variable which solidifies ancient parallels. In my research the Book of Mormon features a focus on strategy and tactics between organized armies of men that seek decisive battle. While there are elements of irregular warfare within the book, the narrative and their society seemed focused on regular warfare. This is in stark contrast to warfare in Smith's day which often focused on destructive war against civilian populations and property, conducted by small bands of irregular soldiers.

This is a rough draft of an research topic I hope to pursue in the future. Between Chinese classes, preparing for graduate school, and familial obligations I am sorry to say I can't offer you more. I hope you enjoy and I look forward to your comments.

1. William Hamblin, "Sharper Than a Two-edged Sword," Sunstone, December 1991, 33-61.
2. John Grenier, The First Way of War: American War Making On the Frontier London: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
3. Ibid., 13.
4. See "The Military Mind of Joseph Smith", posted on this blog and The Millennial Star

Friday, October 9, 2009

Guest Blogger: Moroni as a Great Captain

This is another brief piece from Roger Magneson. He has a B.S. from The United States Military Academy and an M.L.S. from Emporia State. I enjoy this piece because of its "old school" quality. Many of the new approaches to history focus on the expierence of the average soldier, war and society, or gender studies. There is nothing wrong with that, but its also nice to study what historians call grand or high history, i.e. the study of generals, strategy and battle. Without further ado, here is Roger:

Moroni as “Great Captain”

In March of 1989, a symposium on warfare in the Book of Mormon was held at Brigham Young University. After a considerable amount of presentation and discussion, someone asked the question, “What’s all the fuss about Captain Moroni?”

The United States Military Academy (West Point) required first class (senior) cadets to take a two-semester course entitled “History of the Military Art.” Successes in warfare were studied from the careers of the “great captains,” the truly great generals of all time: Alexander, Epaminondas, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Marlborough and Eugene, Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Lee and Jackson, Grant and Sherman, Eisenhower, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten.

What made them “great captains” was that their innovations led them to victory. Innovations could be in strategy, those measures taken before the armies meet in the field that will give one of them an advantage; tactics, those measures taken during the battle that tip the scales in the innovator’s favor; or in some other aspect of warfare such as weapons, organization, communications, etc.

When someone asked what all the fuss was about Moroni, everyone laughed, because they knew of Moroni’s great character attested by the prophet-general-historian Mormon, and they sensed that Moroni could probably claim a place as a great general simply by the nature of his towering, sterling character even though it is unlikely that most of the people there had ever studied great generals, and certainly did not know of them by the term “great captains.” Moroni, often called Captain Moroni, commander of the Nephite forces between 74-57 B.C., was a “great captain” for his innovations in weapons and tactics. When we compare him with other “great captains,” we shall see that he ranks with the very best.

Gustavus Adolphus, the Lion of the North (Palmer & Britt, 1969, p. 4), King of Sweden, and commander of the Protestant army of the Thirty Years’ War, has been called the “father of modern warfare” (Palmer & Britt, 1969, p. 26). His innovations in weaponry made the Swedish army the envy and model of all European armies of the day and influenced the nature of armies for “two centuries afterwards” (Palmer & Britt, 1969, p. 4). At the time of the Thirty Years’ War to move a single gun required “thirty or forty horses” (Palmer & Britt, 1969, p. 12), battles being set-piece affairs, that is, the troops on both sides were organized into three columns with the cannon in the front, where after the opening salvos from both sides the guns were largely ignored. Gustavus (all “great captains” are called by only one name) standardized his artillery to “three sizes—24-pound, 12-pound, and 3-pound” (Palmer & Britt, 1969, p. 12). These are not the weight of the guns, but rather the weight of the projectile the guns “throw,” in this case cannon balls weighing 24, 12, and 3 pounds.

According to Palmer the most revolutionary development was the regimental piece, a 3-pounder which could be moved easily with one horse or by three men. By assigning a regimental gun to at least one platoon in each squadron, Gustavus provided artillery support right down to the smallest combat unit. Some also went to the cavalry. So mobile was the small weapon that it could be—and was—used on all types of operations, not excluding reconnaissance. (p. 12)

When Gustavus came ashore at Peenemünde, his army numbered only 13,000 men. This is remarkably small considering that Wallenstein, the commander of the Catholic forces, had at different times raised personal armies of 50,000 and 20,000 men. To shorten the story, Gustavus garnered the allies he needed and ultimately defeated every army he met.

Now consider Moroni. In chapter 43 of Alma, Moroni had raised his armies to counter the threat of Zerahemnah and the Lamanite armies. While the Nephites and the Lamanites had had swords since the days of the first Nephi, patterned after the sword of Laban (2 Nephi 5:14), Moroni had clad his people in armor: “breastplates. . .arm-shields, . . .and also shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing” (Alma 43:19). Moroni introduced head protection other than helmets (one piece of metal shaped to fit one’s head), breastplates, and arm protection. What Moroni did not introduce was leg protection. Armor that is worn on the front of the shin usually extending from the knee to the ankle is called greaves, and armor that protects the legs is noticeably missing from the catalog of Moroni’s innovations. Moroni’s armor revolutionized warfare in the Americas, the Lamanites copying the use of all his innovations, and later generations upon the Americas copied the same types of armor to the point that while they had headplates, breastplates, and arm protection, they did not have greaves.

In a three-way comparison of Near East armor as mentioned in the Bible, armor as mentioned in the Book of Mormon, and armor depicted in the stela of Meso-America from circa A.D. 700, William Hamblin at the aforementioned symposium pointed out that while the Bible speaks of helmets, the Book of Mormon speaks of “head-plates,” and while the Bible speaks of greaves, the Book of Mormon makes no mention of such lower leg-protecting armor (Ricks & Hamblin, eds., 1990, p. 417). The Maya used “small plates of jade, shell, or metal” mounted on a “wooden or cloth hat” (Ricks & Hamblin, eds., 1990, p. 414). Additionally, the stela do not depict helmets, a single piece of metal shaped to cover the head. The Mayan armor for the head appears to be far more similar to the “head-plates” of the Book of Mormon.
While the Bible speaks of greaves, Moroni does not seem to have invented them for the First Century B.C. Book of Mormon armies. Thus the Book of Mormon notes that while the soldiers in one battle were protected by their armor, “their wounds were upon their legs, many of which were very severe” (Alma 49:24). Hamblin points out that the stela do not indicate greaves in the sense they were used in the Near East. It appears that Moroni’s innovations in armor lasted for nearly a millennium, even to the lack of greaves. “Great captains” imprint the course of war for generations, and while Gustavus innovates in offensive weapons, Moroni innovates in defensive weapons, armor. Either way, the innovations throw the fight to the innovators.

At the Battle of Leuctra, 271 B.C., Epaminondas, commanding a Theban army of 6,000, faced Cleombrotus, king of Sparta commanding a Spartan army of 11,000 (May, E. C., 1970, p. 28). Armies of ancient Greece fought in three columns. The best soldiers were placed in the right column as a mark of honor. When two armies closed with each other, the right column of each army tended to destroy the left column of the opposing army and create a swirling motion as the successful right columns would then turn on the remaining columns of the opposing army. Epaminondas knew Sparta would not vary from the tactics that had given them hegemony over all of Greece, thus Sparta’s best warriors would be on the right flank. Epaminondas made a surprising tactical innovation placing his best soldiers in the left column and making it 50 ranks deep. Additionally, he attacked obliquely from left to right leading with his left column, where his power lay, so that the other two columns would not engage the Spartans until his left column had destroyed the Spartan right column. The innovation worked exactly as Epaminondas had hoped, and Sparta was deposed as the hegemon of the Greek city-states.

Moroni also used tactical stratagems, not with the same weight of long-term consequences as Epaminondas, but important to a cause whose whole nation’s population was less than half the number of their enemy’s (Alma 43:14). Teancum, one of Moroni’s capable lieutenants, was ordered to attempt to take the city of Mulek which was invested by a Lamanite army under the command of one Jacob, a Zoramite. Teancum thought it not wise to attempt an assault on the city and waited until Moroni arrived. Moroni held a council of war, asking for suggestions on how to take the city. The plan decided upon was straightforward: invite the Lamanites to battle on the plains between the Nephite city of Bountiful and the Lamanite-held city of Mulek. Jacob declined their offer, so Moroni developed a ruse. Moroni’s army marched away from the city of Mulek and into the wilderness by night presumably avoiding Lamanite spies watching their camp. At daybreak, the Lamanites in the city of Mulek saw another very small army under the command of Teancum marching northward along the seashore behind the city, and decided to engage them. Teancum’s decoy ran northward toward the city Bountiful with the Lamanites in bloodthirsty pursuit.

Meanwhile, Moroni sent part of his army into the unattended city of Mulek and captured it. The other part of Moroni’s army followed behind the Lamanite army, at a reasonable distance to avoid being discovered it is to be assumed. As the decoy and the Lamanite army neared Bountiful, Lehi, one of the oldest and most feared of Moroni’s lieutenants, led an army out of Bountiful toward the Lamanite pursuers. The Lamanites, not wanting to meet either Lehi or his fresh troops, turned around and ran toward Mulek only to find themselves facing Moroni’s army in their front and Lehi and Teancum closing upon the Lamanite rear. Jacob decided to cut his way through Moroni’s troops to the city Mulek, rather than fight Lehi. Jacob’s rear troops surrendered to Lehi almost immediately. Jacob’s troops fought fiercely, but in the end they could not break through Moroni’s lines, Jacob was killed, and the Lamanite army surrendered (Alma 52:16-35).

When the Lamanite supreme commander, Ammoron, would not exchange prisoners with Moroni on the terms Moroni demanded, again Moroni resolved upon a stratagem to effect his purpose. Moroni’s people were held in the city of Gid. Moroni found a man of Lamanite descent, named Laman, among his army and sent him to the guards at the city of Gid with wine. Laman told the guards that he had escaped from the Nephites and taken wine in his escape. The guards at Gid asked for the wine, but Laman suggested they should wait. This only made the guards more anxious for the wine, and finally Laman gave in to their pleadings. When the guards were in a drunken sleep, Laman retuned to Moroni and gave him a report of the situation. Moroni returned with his army to Gid, threw weapons over the walls for all of the prisoners including women and children, and surrounded the city. When the guards awoke in the morning, they found they were surrounded by the Nephites without and the Nephite prisoners within were armed. The Lamanites capitulated (Alma 55:2-23).

Moroni qualifies in at least two ways as a great captain. First, as an arms innovator he impacted warfare on the Americas for nearly a millennium. The innovation in armor alone is enough to qualify Moroni as great captain. Second, as a tactical innovator he used different stratagems to bring the Lamanite armies to battle and to give up cities the Lamanites had captured.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Churchill and Pahoran

We can compare Churchill's words with that of Pahoran in Alma 62 where after being called a traitor among other things he said:

9 And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart. I, Pahoran, do not seek for power, save only to retain my judgment-seat that I may preserve the rights and the liberty of my people. My soul standeth fast in that liberty in the which God hath made us free.

Certain principles are timeless, and being able to "eat words", either those of our own or of others, is an important quality to possess. I am grateful for the example of humble men in history and scripture.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Warfare in General Conference

No I'm not referring to the atmosphere that street protesters bring. I did hear two interesting spiritual principles elucidated today.

1. I just described how discipline can increase the power of an otherwise underwhelming group of people like the Stripling Warriors. One member of the Seventy discussed how tempered glass, just like tempered steel can withstand large amounts of pressure. He went on to say that we need to be temperate in our lives. As we patiently bear the trials in our lives we become hardened like steel and able to withstand many more events.

2. Second, the role of warfare as a blessing was described using a verse from Alma 62 which reads:

41 But behold...because of the exceedingly great length of the war...many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.

Overall, I find it interesting that things like tempered steel, and the humbling effects of war are so easily used. This tells me that at many basic and correct principles of warfare have filtered down to every level, where even non military men and audiences know how to use and understand them. The language of warfare, such as discipline and hardened steel, is an important medium in describing the very real spiritual dangers out there.

Bonus:Nothing requires patience quite like an 80's training montage, enjoy Fire Makes Steel by Survivor.