Thursday, December 31, 2009

What a Nice Necklace: The Flattering of Amalickiah

In reading Alma chapter 47 I couldn't help but get the impression about the stupidity of Amalickiah's enemies. Then I realized that much of their "stupidity" was a result of the Amalickiah's flattery. With that flattery stripped from the account we can better understand his dangerous game.

A good example are the events surrounding Lehonti's encounter with Amalickiah. In chapter 47 we read that the "larger part" of the Lamanite army did not wish to fight the Nephites. So Amalickiah led the loyal part of the army to subdue the rebellious part according to the orders of the King.

8 Now it was not Amalickiah’s intention to give them battle according to the commandments of the king; but behold, it was his intention to gain favor with the armies of the Lamanites, that he might place himself at their head and dethrone the king and take possession of the kingdom.
9 And behold, it came to pass that he caused his army to pitch their tents in the valley which was near the mount Antipas.
10 And it came to pass that when it was night he sent a secret embassy into the mount Antipas, desiring that the leader of those who were upon the mount, whose name was Lehonti, that he should come down to the foot of the mount, for he desired to speak with him.
11 And it came to pass that when Lehonti received the message he durst not go down to the foot of the mount. And it came to pass that Amalickiah sent again the second time, desiring him to come down. And it came to pass that Lehonti would not; and he sent again the third time.
12 And it came to pass that when Amalickiah found that he could not get Lehonti to come down off from the mount, he went up into the mount, nearly to Lehonti’s camp; and he sent again the fourth time his message unto Lehonti, desiring that he would come down, and that he would bring his guards with him.
13 And it came to pass that when Lehonti had come down with his guards to Amalickiah, that Amalickiah desired him to come down with his army in the night-time, and surround those men in their camps over whom the king had given him command, and that he would deliver them up into Lehonti’s hands, if he would make him (Amalickiah) a second leader over the whole army.

Why would Lehonti agree to this? Amalickiah was dangerous and presenting a deal too good to be true. But Amalickiah could argue that he did not desire to shed blood. He had the "smaller part" of the army and had to attack a fortified position and could argue that he was saving his army from destruction. Plus, if his army lost the battle with Lehonti (which was likely considering his disadvantages)he would have no command and maybe loose his head in battle or from the Kings wrath for failing. So he was saving at least partial command by offering his army's surrender to Lehonti.

Amalickiah presented a win win situation because Lehonti did not have to kill his brethren and he gained greater strength to his army. Lehonti probably had his ambition flattered as well. Amalickiah could argue that with the combined strength of the armies that Lehonti could place himself on the throne.

14 And it came to pass that Lehonti came down with his men and surrounded the men of Amalickiah, so that before they awoke at the dawn of day they were surrounded by the armies of Lehonti.
15 And it came to pass that when they saw that they were surrounded, they plead with Amalickiah that he would suffer them to fall in with their brethren, that they might not be destroyed. Now this was the very thing which Amalickiah desired.

In addition to fulfilling the win win situation he gained the loyalty of his army by saving them from certain destruction.

16 And it came to pass that he delivered his men, contrary to the commands of the king. Now this was the thing that Amalickiah desired, that he might accomplish his designs in dethroning the king.
17 Now it was the custom among the Lamanites, if their chief leader was killed, to appoint the second leader to be their chief leader.
18 And it came to pass that Amalickiah caused that one of his servants should administer poison by degrees to Lehonti, that he died.
19 Now, when Lehonti was dead, the Lamanites appointed Amalickiah to be their leader and their chief commander.

In debating class I was often told that aiming to hang your opponent is too obvious and won't work, you need to make him look at the rope and say "what a nice necklace or neck tie". Amalickiah presented what appeared to be acts of self preservation: saving his army (and neck) from a frontal attack against a larger army in a fortified position. And he flattered the ambition of Lehonti by giving him command over the combined armies and perhaps by appealing to his desire to be king. These two things made the decision of Lehonti the most logical choice and cautions the modern reader to be aware of the pretty necklace or neck tie.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Lessons of Ancient Historians

Micheala operates a blog called The Scriptorium Blogorium. Her analysis of the scriptures often seems to spring from my own mind as she presents historical, cultural and spiritual lessons. Although this time she presented something that never occurred to me. She discussed the possibility that the initial confrontation with the Amlicites was a fake to draw the Nephites away from Zarahemla so their combined army with the Lamanites could attack the now unguarded city.

Here is how Micheala describes it:

Then something else occurred to me. I thought it was very interesting that Amlicites, when they were beaten, fled off into the wilderness. Interesting that they seemed to know exactly where to go to meet the Lamanites. And why didn’t the Amlicites wait until the Lamanites got there before they fought the Nephites? Could it be that the first Amlicite battle was not supposed to be the real battle at all? What if it was actually supposed to be a decoy, a diversion? It certainly could have ended up that way if the spies hadn’t been sent to follow the Amlicites to see what they would do. With the Nephite army clear out in the wilderness, Zarahemla would be wide open for invasion.

That has to be what happened. The Nephites almost were defeated with a diversionary strategy worthy of Captain Moroni. What saved them? Nephite spies were sent to watch the fleeing Amlicite army. Those spies warned the army in time and the army got to Zarahemla in time (to realize just how outnumbered they were). Who sent the spies out? Alma the Younger, who was the prophet.

So now we have a better idea of why this account was special. The Nephites were at a major disadvantage, being unaware of a clever diversionary plan to decoy them away from the city, and being far fewer in number than the invading armies of Amlicites and Lamanites. The deck was certainly stacked against them. And yet.. they won. With the help of the Lord they won.

The message I see in this story is that we don’t need to fear being outnumbered. We don’t need to fear the strategies against us. If we follow the prophet, we’ll be safe and we will be led to defend exactly what is under attack. If we pray for help, we’ll be strengthened at those times that we are outnumbered.

I think Micheala's analysis is both intriguing and accurate. Micheala correctly applies the spiritual principle of the story. But if we look at this historically it would make sense that the editor, Mormon, would be loath to include an episode that casts his people in a negative light unless there was a didactic purpose for it. Thus the teaching lesson that Micheala pointed out is EXACTLY the reason the story was included. Following the Warrior Prophet allowed the Nephites to escape the ruses of the enemy. This has spiritual value for us, but also corresponds to the reason many other ancient books were written such as Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War, Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, and Chinese Imperial histories. For example, the latter were written by the new dynasty to explain why the previous dynasty lost the Mandate of Heaven and the new dynasty gained it. (see my post on bad and good emperors for more on that)So this episode points out the fact that Mormon was not a historian in the modern sense of the word, but was a typical ancient historian that wrote his record to teach us specific principles. I appreciate Micheala pointing out both the spiritual and historic value of this episode.

What do you think?
Update: I just realized this is my 100th post. Thank you to all my readers for making this worthwhile and for providing such excellent feedback. I hope to provide so many more posts worth reading.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

If its so hot, why am I shoveling all this snow?

Today's activities included shoveling my car out of a six foot snow drift. But don't worry, after getting my car out I spent the rest of my day mad at directv for having satellites that can't handle a few feet of snow (and cursing my contract with them of course). I only bring this up because I often read of people who advocate a North American Geography for The Book of Mormon. They often fail to address this interesting tidbit from the campaigns of the Nephites.

After Teancum defeated a Lamanite army we read in Alma 51 that:

33 And it came to pass that when the night had come, Teancum and his servant stole forth and went out by night, and went into the camp of Amalickiah; and behold, sleep had overpowered them because of their much fatigue, which was caused by the labors and heat of the day.

We also learn from the next chapter that this was a news years eve raid designed to take advantage of the Lamanites superstition.

Now I certainly labored diligently to get my car out but "the heat of the day" did not contribute to my fatigue. In fact, according to the average high temperature for the months of December through February (depending on the Lamanite new year) was 40 degrees. Not only is the one day out of ordinary, but the Nephites normally campaigned during what we would consider the winter time.[1] Sorenson has pointed out that the Nephite records point to an almost exclusive conduct of warfare during the tenth through second months. This would be extremely unusual for European and American audiences, but normal for agrarian societies. The latter usually have a wet season (for planting) and after the harvest they would have a limited window of dry (but hot) weather for campaigning.

So the next time you read somebody's North American geography ask for their explanation of that new years day heat wave and almost exclusive Nephite campaigning in the winter time.

1. John Sorenson "Seasons of War Seasons of Peace" William Hamblin and Steven Ricks eds. Warfare in the Book of Mormon Provo: FARMS, 1991.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fatal Terrain in The Book of Mormon

What follows is a portion of some unpublished research that I wrote a year ago. It dives into some of the interesting elements revealed by Alma 56:28. I would try to write more original posts but I am currently facing a very difficult time in my life. Not only do my classes keep getting canceled, but I have additional family burdens weighing upon me. If you would like to read the whole paper you can either email me or go to site operated by Mormon Heretic and look for a thread titled "My Second Scoop".

Alma 56:28- And also there were sent two thousand men unto us from the land of Zarahemla. And thus we were prepared with ten thousand men, and provisions for them, and also for their wives and their children.

Likely explanations of Alma 56:28 also include a psychological motivation for the inclusion of women and children on a border city. Classic Chinese military theorists such as Sun-Tzu wrote that when a commander “[throws] his soldiers into a place from which there is nowhere to go, they will die rather than flee. When they are facing death, how can one not obtain the utmost strength from the officers and men?”[1] Historian David Graff called this a “psychological trigger” that commanders would employ in order to “stimulate” a soldier that would otherwise act indifferently.[2] In this case, the deployment of both soldiers and family could be viewed as a governmental policy designed to help conscripts fight with greater √©lan. Moroni could have thought that having the family of fighting soldiers live in the threatened city would spur the Nephite armies more than leaving the family safely at the capital. In support of this argument, Moroni hinted at the apathy associated with staying in the capital when he condemns the civil government for lack of effort.[3] Plus, previous events in the Book of Mormon contribute to the deadly combination of family and military service. The soldiers of King Noah burned him at the stake for his order to abandon their families and his refusal to allow them to return.[4] This event could be an abnormal exception, or it could be the logical and expected sequence of events for soldiers that are forced to abandon their families by order of the government. The Nephites abnormal behavior of burning their king could be considered a psychologically motivated event based on familial concern.

The foregoing explanation assumes that the average Nephite soldier needed this boost, and that the government and Moroni would be harsh enough to place families in a dangerous situation simply to incite greater effort. This would also seem to counter the ideological imperative stated in the Title of Liberty- that the rights of their family trump the right of the Nephite leadership to use them as psychological props. A compromise position could consist of Moroni including the wives and children of soldiers in the field armies for their pragmatic benefits of increased morale, more efficient use of combat power and ideological purity; with the unstated or even unintentional benefit of a psychological trigger as well.

Thanks for reading. What do you think? Can you think of other examples that display this kind of military thinking? Are there any contradictory examples in The Book of Mormon?

1. Ralph Sawyer trans. The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China (New York: Basic Books, 1993.)179, also see footnote 162.
2. David Graff Medieval Chinese Warfare 300-900 (London and New York: Routledge Press, 2002) 169.
3. Alma 60:21-22.
4. Mosiah 19: 16-20.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Millions" in The Book of Mormon

Many critiques of The Book of Mormon often result from several common errors. The attack against the "millions" number from the book of Ether is a perfect example of arguments that result from shallow reading of the text and a lack of historical context.

1. Shallow Reading: The "millions" that some site is actually "nearly" that number. This equivocation is not something that I made up, it’s in the text. So critics take a figure explicitly inexact and turn it into a precise number. There is internal evidence for doubting BoM numbers elsewhere as well. At one point Mormon says that the Nephites “numbered as it were, the sands of the sea”. Yet this innumerable nation only mustered 30,000 soldiers for their war of survival against the Lamanites. (Mormon 1:7; 2:25)

But back to the chapter at hand, this number (of millions) is assumed to be from one battle in one area. This is demonstrably false. First, Ether 15:2 states that these casualties are in the past tense. So you have to look at chapter 14:
v 1-2 social order breaks down
v 3 civil war faction "gave battle" unto Coriantumur
v 4 more battles, travel
v 5 a long siege more deaths
v 6-10 more civil war and intrigue
v 11 two factions "give battle" across the land
v 13 another battle
v 14 army "smited"
v 16 a series of battles across the land
v 17 "many" cities overthrown and inhabitants killed
v 18-26 "swift" and "speedy" destruction across the land
v 27 more battle

So Chapter 15:2 is the result of the previous sanguine conflicts that ranged across the land. Not one “skirmish” in front of Ramah.

2. Historical Context: The possibly exaggerated numbers within The Book of Mormon fits many other historical accounts. Many scholars have already done a great job of pointing out the flaws in the Exodus numbers.[1] But I'm reminded of Edward Dryer's account of the "War of the Eight Princes" that decimated the Western Jin Dynasty in Ancient China. Some scholars argue the Jin army had 700,000 soldiers, and their capital at Luoyang boasted a population in the hundreds of thousands but was deserted by the end of the civil war. The battles from this civil war ranged across Northern China for only about 7 years, one contemporary observer said that the “bones had been picked” from the dynasty and one ancient historian suggests that one province had only 1% of its population survive the conflict.[2] Even earlier in Chinese history, Ralph Sawyer has pointed out that Warring States Period Kingdoms could possibly field up to half a million men for one campaign.[3] In every case these numbers are taken with a grain of salt, but that doesn’t condemn the texts that state them as a fraud.

Despite the evidence that pre modern societies could create and kill incredibly large armies over a short space of time, lets assume that the people here are right, and that other scholars who cite demographic impossibility of “millions” are right: does that destroy the historicity of the Book of Mormon?

The answer is a resounding no. In fact, having number problems would put The Book of Mormon in good company. Herodotus said the Persian army numbered in the millions. According to one scholar an army that big would have the beginning of the column in Greece before the end of the column even started![4] Kelly DeVries has discussed the imprecise nature of Medieval European military chronicles and cites the same problems.[5] As stated above, Edward Dryer doubts the numbers contained in the Imperial history of the “War of the Eight Princes” but still studies the primary sources for the conflict.

Scribal error, deliberate exaggeration, and a use of numbers as a colloquium (I told you a million times) explain the "wrong" numbers in the Book of Mormon far better than other theories and places it on a firm foundation with other ancient texts. Critics will cry foul, and argue that I just said that mistakes in the Book of Mormon prove its true, that's exactly what I did because historians  know the limitations of their sources and often accept their historicity even with those limits. To cite another example Greek historians, much like Mormon, had an ethnocentric view of their world. If all you read was Herodotus and Thucydides you would conclude that Westerners were the center of the world. But when study the Greeks with their proper historical context, you would know that there was a much bigger and arguably more influential power in Persia.[6]

So in short, there is a great deal of precedent for large numbers of soldiers being killed in battle. A careful reading of the text within The Book of Mormon suggests that an inexact number of people were killed over the course of numerous battles and locations. But The Book of Mormon is not false for possibly presenting exaggerated numbers, instead those wild numbers suggest that Mormon had the same editorial proclivities as other ancient historians. Thanks for reading, I look forward to your comments.

1. See The Church of Jesus Christ's Old Testament manual for one example.
2. Edward Dreyer, “The War of the Eight Princes”, Nicola Cosmo Ed. Military Culture in Imperial China Harvard University Press, 2009.
3. Ralph Sawyer Trans. The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China West View Press, 1993.
4. N. Whatley. "On the Possibility of Reconstructing the Battle of Marathon" N. Whatley, Journal of Hellenistic Studies 84.1 (1964):119-139.
5. Kelly DeVries. "The Use of Chronicles in Recreating Medieval Military History, Journal of Medieval Military History, 2.1 (2004): 1-30.
6. Victor David Hanson Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western PowerAnchor Books, 2001, Chapter 1.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Monkey Business and the Problems with Comparisons

The title of this post is drawn from a line that one of my graduate school advisers used to say. Dr. John Grenier told us that any monkey can make a comparison. Its the differences that can really make or break a point. He also cautioned us to be very specific and narrow in making comparisons.

I used this advice when confronted with a post about evil Chinese invading Texas for oil. In the comments section I explained why that analogy fails on so many points. Basically, its the differences between Chinese and American foreign policy over the past 100 years, and differences in justification between the fictional Chinese invasion and the American attack on the Taliban. But you should also go there for my full explanation and context.

But there is a more widely used analogy that fails as well. This is the myth of Afghanistan as the "Graveyard of Empires". This analogy fails due to the same advice I learned in graduate school: shallow comparisons do not work when you begin to notice the differences in details. What follows is an article from the military historian Victor David Hanson that describes the important differences, and sometimes historical inaccuracies that make the grave yard of Empires comment a myth. Normally I prefer to offer a link and focus on my own analysis, synthesis and argument. However this article was so completely spot on and made me shout "exactly" or "that's what I said" into my computer screen so many times that I thought it was worth re posting large chunks of it here.

The topic of Afghanistan in itself is tangential to warfare in The Book of Mormon. But the monkey business I described here is directly related to it. As I described before, your chance in making faulty comparisons increases a great deal with an ancient (or plagiarized) book and both sides of The Book of Mormon historicity debate have faced this problem. On this site I've striven to avoid shallow comparisons and to offer the important differences when I do see a problem.

Without further ado, here is Victor David Hanson: Afghan Mythologies

As President Obama decides whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, we should remember that most of the conventional pessimism about Afghanistan is only half-truth.

Remember the mantra that the region is the “graveyard of empires,” where Alexander the Great, the British in the 19th century, and the Soviets only three decades ago inevitably met their doom?

In fact, Alexander conquered most of Bactria and its environs (which included present-day Afghanistan). After his death, the area that is now Afghanistan became part of the Seleucid Empire.

Centuries later, outnumbered British-led troops and civilians were initially ambushed, and suffered many casualties, in the first Afghan war. But the British were not defeated in their subsequent two Afghan wars between 1878 and 1919.

The Soviets did give up in 1989 their nine-year effort to create out of Afghanistan a Communist buffer state — but only because the Arab world, the United States, Pakistan, and China combined to provide the Afghan mujahideen resistance with billions of dollars in aid, not to mention state-of-the-art anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons.

While Afghans have been traditionally fierce resistance fighters and made occupations difficult, they have rarely for long defeated invaders — and never without outside assistance.

Other myths about Afghanistan abound.

Is the country ungovernable? No more so than any of the region’s other rough countries. After the founding of the modern state in 1919, Afghanistan enjoyed a relatively stable succession of constitutional monarchs until 1973. The country was once considered generally secure, tolerant, and hospitable to foreigners.

Did we really take our eye off the “good” war in Afghanistan to fight the optional bad one in Iraq? Not quite. After our brilliant campaign to remove the Taliban in 2001, the relatively stable Karzai government saw little violence until 2007. Between 2001 and 2006, no more than 100 American soldiers were killed in any given year.

In fact, American casualties increased after Iraq became quiet — as Islamists, defeated in Iraq’s Anbar province, refocused their efforts on the dominant Afghan theater.

Is Afghanistan the new Vietnam? Hardly. In the three bloodiest years, 2007 through 2009 so far, the United States has suffered a total of 553 fatalities — tragic, but less than 1 percent of the 58,159 Americans killed in Vietnam. What is astounding is the ability of the U.S. military to inflict damage on the enemy, protect the constitutional government, and keep our losses to a minimum.

Our military is the most experienced in both counterterrorism and counterinsurgency warfare in the world. The maverick savior of Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, now oversees operations in the Mideast and Central Asia. His experienced lieutenant, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is a successful veteran of the worst fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unlike past foreign interventions, our U.N.-approved aim is not to create a puppet state, but a consensual government able to defend itself against the Taliban and al-Qaeda — while preventing more strikes against the United States.

With Iraq relatively stabilized, jihadists have no choice but to commit their resources to prevent a second defeat. Meanwhile, Pakistan at last is cracking down on terrorist enclaves...

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

With "Support" like this, Who Needs an Enemy?

I read a recent column from a blogger that discussed how he "supports" the troops. I explained my reasoning in the comments section of that blog, but his support is hardly such. You can click the link for my full explanation and context, but as a veteran of 9 years who even participated in these wars I questioned his support. He wished for me to fail in the current unjust wars, but still claimed he cared about me. Other commenters suggested that I was a Nazi, war criminal, brainwashed, pathetic, anti Christ, and stupid. And there is the title of this post.

Thanks for the support, but no thank you. I would rather you wish me success in prosecuting the war, not simply give me a courtesy that everybody but the criminally insane gives by supporting my desire not to be killed. The position of supporting the troops while opposing the war is also logically untenable. I am a willing participant in executing the policy of this country (since we know from Clausewitz that war is a continuation of policy by other means). I explicitly endorsed these wars when I re enlisted (twice) during them. So its incongruent to say you support me but don't support the policy I endorse, and that you wish for me to fail in my efforts.

In future posts I will discuss some of the mistakes that current anti war advocates make in applying The Book of Mormon and other scripture to their position. This includes the difficulties of a purely defensive strategy brought upon by modern technology. I will also discuss some common historical and scriptural misconceptions that are apparent in the linked thread and others I've seen. These include the myth of Afghanistan being the "graveyard of Empires" and the superficial use in citing Christ as "The Prince of Peace".