Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Some Perspectives On Preparing For War

The term “preparing for war” is often included in the descriptions of Nephite warfare. This post briefly describes the different uses of the term.

-Arming. We see this explicitly in Alma 2:12. It’s also implied in both Helaman 1 and Alma 16:3. In both cases the Nephites did not have time to equip an army.

-Gathering. The Nephites also did not have time to gather their soldiers. In Helaman 1:24 we read that the Lamanites marched with such speed “giving [the Nephites] no time to assemble themselves together save it were in small bodies; and in this manner [the Lamanites] did fall upon them and cut them down to the earth.” Combining both arming and gathering, we see the Lamanites gathering to “the place of arms” in Alma 47:5. Sorenson suggests this is a hill zone of obsidian near Kaminaljuyu where the Lamanites could hammer out the details before starting their campaign.[1]

-Building. This refers to the fortifications that the Nephites built in Alma 52:6-7; 49:9 and 50:1. In the future I plan on examining the phrase “places of resort”.

-Regulations. In Alma 51:22 we read that Moroni prepared the people by making regulations. This refers to many of the King Men and their cities that refused to support the war. I suggest this refers to a quota of men and supplies required of subject or allied city states in support of the Nephite cause. This is also typical of Mesoamerican warfare, where the central power would supply their soldiers by marching through subject cities during their campaign.[2]

-Logistics. This is related to the regulations, but also refers to Alma 53:7 where the army itself was deployed to “deliver the people from famine”. In a pre modern society the bulk of the army would consist of farmers tied to the land. Thus the army would be hard pressed to fight during their harvest.

-Training. Helaman 4:4 the Lamanites spent “all that year” preparing for war. While the bulk of this time could refer to the gathering of food required for the campaign I feel it also refers to training.[3] Premodern armies largely consisted of fulltime farmers conscripted for short term service. Thus they needed training and at least one ancient society had a rotation system where frontier soldiers would serve in the capital for short periods of time.[4] This would inculcate loyalty to the central government, weaken the ability of local commanders to form private armies, and increase the proficiency and élan of local militias. This “diligent” (Alma 51:9) system could be fruitfully applied warfare in The Book of Mormon.

-Making covenants. Spiritual preparation is connected to physical preparation in Alma 48:7-8. Mesoamerican warfare often consisted of cosmological drama, where the battles are only the second act following dedicatory rituals (seen in the Title of Liberty episode of Alma 46), and post battle desecration rituals.[5] While marching armies and arming soldiers are visible, I think the covenant making and public drama of warfare allowed Limhi to observe the Lamanite preparations for war in Mosiah 20:8.

-“As if”. In Alma 52:6-7 we read that the Nephites were “round about as if making preparations for war”. It seems separate from the actual preparations of fortifying and seems to imply a sort of psychological warfare. The writings of Frontinus and Sunzi (Sun-Tzu) attest to importance of mental preparation and tactical ruses in premodern warfare. This includes Sunzi’s famous dictum that “warfare is the way of deception”. [6]

Thus we see there are a number of ways we can understand preparation. They are normally specified in the text, but they also hint at many more ideas. In every case they are consistent with the norms of ancient warfare and in covenants making, they specifically mimic current concepts of ritual in Mesoamerican war making. Thanks for reading.

1. John Sorenson. An Ancient American Setting for The Book of Mormon (Provo, Salt Lake City: FARMS and Deseret Book, 1985) 252.
2. Ross Hassig. Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Control (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995).
3. For an example of the extensive preparations required, see David Graff. Medieval Chinese Warfare: 300-900 (New York: Routledge Press, 2002) 146-147.
4. Ibid., 190-191.
5. Payson Sheets. “Warfare in Ancient Mesoamerica: A Summary View” in Ancient Mesoamerican Warfare M Kathryn Brown and Travis Stanton Eds. (New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2003), 295.
6. Ralph Sawyer Trans. “The Art of War” in The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China (New York: Westview Press, 1993) 158.


Michaela Stephens said...

Thanks for addressing this topic of "preparing for war"; I've recently had some questions about it myself.

In your "making covenants" section, you state that this is not specifically mentioned anywhere in the Book of Mormon. I disagree. When Captain Moroni waves the title of liberty his appeal is, "Behold, whosoever will maintain this title upon the land, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that they will maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them." (Alma 46:20) I'm not sure why you see this as part of a dedicatory ritual. I don't know what that means, but I do know that there is covenant-making right there. (You probably have some scholarship that you can point me to for this.)

Also, the stripling warriors entered into a covenant that they would fight in all cases to preserve the freedom of their fathers. (Alma 53:17)

On another topic, I noticed that you mentioned Helaman 4:4 where the Lamanites spent a whole year preparing for war. I think it is interesting that in the next verse it tells how the Lamanites then succeeded in obtaining all the land up to Bountiful. It seems like the Lamanite success was in proportion to their preparation (since the Nephites were in spiritual disarray).

Loved the bit about "as if". I've thought about that little bit too.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks Micheala. I took out the line about not being explicitly mentioned.