Thursday, June 28, 2012

Moroni's Preemptive War

Dan Campbell is a community organizer that writes about The Book of Mormon. His post about Amalickiah’s leadership had numerous problems. The major problems include improperly applied modern connotations, abused sources, improperly defined pivotal terms, insulting his readers, and ignoring Moroni’s pre-emptive strike against Amalickiah.

One of Campbell’s major critiques is Amalickiah’s use of propaganda. Campbell writes:

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of." These are the opening lines of Edward Bernays famous book Propaganda published in 1928. Bernays was part of the first official American state propaganda apparatus, The Committee on Public Information. This group played a crucial role in convincing the peace loving people of America to go to war in Europe in 1917 (WWI). The closing lines of the book are these: "Propaganda will never die out. Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos." What we must understand is that whether we feel it plausible or not, men in power are, and have been, and ever will be studying how to and attempting to manipulate the masses to achieve their corrupt goals or in other words their “order out of chaos.” (highlighting mine)
The problem with this is within his very quote. Propaganda is a modern term. It takes advantage of technology only available in the modern age. This included the use of radio, widespread newspapers, leaflets, (eventually television), and the structure of a totalitarian state to ensure the censorship of contrary information and dissemination of the party line. It also presumed a literate society that can read pamphlets and tracts mass produced by printing press. The pre-modern society in The Book of Mormon did not contain these elements. Theirs was an oral society with a small elite that could read and write. Central control was largely absent as seen by the inability of the Lamanite King to muster all of his forces. Written records were rare and relatively difficult to produce. There is a reason why the 1453 invention of the printing press was world altering. So of course the father of propaganda called this a uniquely modern phenomenon. Unfortunately Campbell copied his (apparently) favorite author without realizing how unworkable it is as a model for understanding The Book of Mormon.

I suspect the writer used this model because of his natural bias and radical libertarian, borderline conspiracy theories. This also led him to abuse sources. We all have bias but he seemed intent on attacking what he views as contemporary pro war propaganda. He did so by quoting a modern writer writing about the use of modern mediums in a modern society as seen above. He then advanced his conspiracy theories with an uncited quote from Ezra Benson. Even verified, he puts too much weight on the quote. Next, he admittedly “imagines” what Amalickiah says. Unsurprisingly, it sounds like GeorgeW. Bush’s rationale for his foreign policy. One of my publications comments that King Men who opposed Moroni may have called him warmongering fascist. But I qualify my statement and used a generic term. Here he admittedly imagined that Amalickiah used the same words as Bush. On top of using little facts to support his assertions of modern day propaganda, and preemptively defending against the charge of conspiracy, he does what many radical LDS libertarians do and condemned his opponents to Hell. (Alma 54:11)

Even worse than his unsupported assertions, Campbell’s definitions of military terms were extremely poor.  Terrorism is probably the most debated term in contemporary thought. Yet the author summarily defines it “in a nutshell”, as an “act against a non-military target, an assassination, or some other equivalent high-profile crime intended to provoke a massive public reaction.” Terrorism does seek to provoke a reaction, but that reaction is usually terror and not increased government control like he implied. Better definitions also include violent acts that seek to provoke terror. The FBI defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” But there is also a debate concerning if and how the various definitions might apply to state or liberation forces. While in this case Campbell implied that the threat of terrorism was an excuse for the state to expand its power.

Despite getting the definition wrong, he insulted those that disagreed with his analysis. “If you are unaware of the implications or the history of either of those terms, thank the public school system and being your research. (i.e. google).” As with many radical libertarians, he cannot simply stick to his argument but must insult the intelligence of his readers and pretend that he knows so much more than his opponents. But then he got those terms wrong and used very unscholarly terms such as “in a nutshell.” Maybe I haven’t arrived as a scholar on my way to getting a PhD in Chinese military history, but I don’t know any historians that would equate research with a google search.[1]

Most importantly, the author failed to cite the preemptive action of Moroni against Amalickiah. As I write in the upcoming volume on War and Peace in our Times: Mormon Perspectives:

[Moroni] adopted active and, dare I say, preemptive measures to protect their nation. Mormon records the first instance of this in Alma 43. As he prepared an ambush for Lamanite forces, Moroni “thought it no sin that he should defend them by stratagem” (v. 30). Moreover, Moroni preemptively “cut off” Amalickiah, based on the assumption that preventing his escape through military action would prevent a future war (46:30). As with the first instance, this action is presented without editorial dissent, and it is instead given as part of Moroni’s stellar resume. In the same chapter that described a period in their history that was “never happier,” Moroni “cut off” the Lamanites living in the east and west wildernesses (Alma 50:11). This occurs during a time of supposed peace, but it could also be described as a lull or “cold war” between the First and Second Amalickiahite War. In either case, while there were no active hostilities between the two nations, Moroni is lauded for his preemptive actions, ambushes, and active defense.

Thus, there is ample evidence that Moroni would have supported and led a preemptive war, because he did so before. Moroni was prevented from “cutting off” Amalickiah because the latter likely sacrificed the bulk of his army to save himself. (Alma 46:32-33) This does support the idea of Amalickiah as a scheming leader. But citing Moroni’s incomplete preemptive war undermined Campbell’s case. I make a preliminary argument which supports preemptive war here.

In conclusion, I don’t know why libertarians feel the need to pontificate on subjects about which they don’t know, and castigate fellow members of the church they have never met. Campbell valiantly attempted to apply Amalickiah’s actions to the modern day. But he improperly applied modern ideas to ancient scriptures, abused sources, provided poor definitions of pivotal terms, insulted his readers, and ignored Moroni’s pre-emptive strike against Amalickiah. Opponents of military intervention need to better use The Book of Mormon through strict application of terms and a more thorough understanding of military history.

1. It is possible that the author was facetiously referencing what his dumb opponents would use, and not what he uses. But based on his previous mistakes I think that is giving him too much credit.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Blow to FARMers

I came across some very sad news here. It is sad to see politics rear its ugly head. I thought Daniel Peterson deserved better. My blog and research into The Book of Mormon builds upon the foundation started by FARMS. Hamblin is right, I have looked other places to publish my research. This seems to be a trend that FARMS now encourages.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Philosophies of Man, Mangled With Scripture

Connor Boyack is a web programmer and pugnacious advocate for his political views. Unfortunately he is a horrible military historian. His post “Preventive War in the Book of Mormon” is riddled with imprecise terms, wrenched quotes, and an inappropriate understanding of the prophet’s words and scriptures.[1]

He defined preventative war as seeking to “fight the enemy on your own terms,” as an extension of the belief that the best defense is a good offense. Boyack contended that this is supported through an extensive network of spies in an effort to prevent a future attack.

Boyack’s definition is rather poor. In the first place many nations can shape their defense so they can “fight the enemy on your own terms”. The Northern Song Dynasty faced repeated invasions from their nomadic neighbors and instituted a system of forts, walls, trenches, and ditches that negated the potency of an invasion. He also failed to identify specific military action that meets these criteria. Boyack and other radical libertarians most often cite the Iraq War as the worst example of preventative war. Since the Iraq War had ample justification he seems to be tilting at windmills. He also failed to specify the difference between possible and imminent attacks, and preventative versus pre-emptive attacks. His definitions are so vague it seems as though he can twist those descriptions to fit any war he doesn’t like or support.

His definition meets further resistance when he tried to use Eisenhower to support his case. Eisenhower’s New Look military relied upon “nukes and spooks” to keep the military budget low. His two most famous cases of these are the CIA inspired coup in Iran and his threats to use nuclear weapons against the Chinese in the 1954 and 58 Taiwan Crisis. Thus Boyack supported his attack on preventive war with an out of context quote from an individual which used tactics included in the definition of it. In short, the man who prepared planes for a nuclear first strike is used to oppose first strikes. The man who leaned heavily on the CIA is used to condemn the use of spies. This speaks to the ignorance of Boyack and his tendency to dogmatically assert quotes which sound as though they agree with his political leaning. Moreover, with all due respect to Eisenhower, he never served during a time of rogue states seeking weapons of mass destruction with extensive ties and support for terrorists, and thus his opinion on how to deal with them is not reliable.

Boyack also prophet bashed with an unverified letter from the WWII era First Presidency.[2] Assuming it is even real, he incorrectly weighed their words. I’ve discussed in other places, how official and binding church doctrine is found in the standard works and statements signed by the top 15 leaders of the church, and not in the isolated words of the individual leaders. The reason for this becomes apparent as Boyack cites Hinckley to support his cherry picked verses from The Book of Mormon but failed to describe how Hinckley endorsed the Iraq War. (Of course, Boyack twists his words into saying something else, which only proves my point about the duplicity of the anti war critic.) Again, Boyack selectively quoted an individual who would likely contradict his arguments.

Finally, Boyack turned to verses in The Book of Mormon. Conveniently he side stepped the war chapters. But he failed to account for Moroni’s, preventative expulsion of Lamanite settlers from the East wilderness.[3] For the remainder of the verses cited by Boyack, I will reply with quotes from my upcoming chapter in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives.

The thoughtful reader may recall several supposedly clear-cut verses that forbid “preemptive war.” The eleventh chapter of Mosiah, for example, describes how the soldiers of King Noah boasted and delighted in bloodshed. Yet there is no clear condemnation of all warfare, only of lusting after blood and boasting in one’s own strength. In Third Nephi, Gidgiddoni says the Lord forbade them from going into their opponents lands. Yet even in that same campaign, Gidgiddoni maneuvered his army to cut off the robbers. His “offensive defensive” operations suggest, at least, a more flexible approach than an overly simplistic notion that offensive war is inherently “bad”.

Mormon 3:15 is also cited as forbidding preemptive war. But the real sin recorded by Mormon was not the offensive tactics but rather the blood lust and vengeance that dictated Nephite strategy. The seemingly unequivocal anti-war sentiment expressed in Mormon 4:4 does not record any saying of the Lord, but can just as easily represent a strategic description. If this is a command against offensive action it is also contradicted by the other writings of Mormon. This is most clearly seen in a reevaluation of Alma 48:14. The traditional application of the verse is interpreted as a prohibition against offensive warfare. But a slightly different reading suggests the Nephites are commanded to never “give an offense” except “against an enemy” and “to preserve their lives.”(Alma 48:14)
Independent of one’s position on preventative war, (you can see my position here), Boyack failed to define his terms properly, wrenched quotes out of context from people who did or said things which specifically contradicted Boyack’s position, incorrectly asserted the primacy of unsupported quotes, failed to understand the meaning of supposedly supportive verses, left out at least one verse which directly contradicts his case, and tried to disqualify the very clear verses that justify armed actions. Simply being wrong is one thing. I witness stupid screeds every day. But Boyack and many fanatic Ron Paul supporters then follow up with laments about the ignorance of others, and their need to go back to school. They have many philosophies, but even mangling them with scripture won’t make them correct or a viable foreign policy.

Update 7/24/12: This is an abortive post that I didn't think rated its own entry.  Since all the trolls liked this post I will simply post it here: The title to my post, The Household of God, comes from  the Book of Ephesians. It exemplifies the basic respect that I feel every Latter Day Saint should have for another. It also represents the respect a person should have for their opponents. I've previously discussed what bugs me about certain political groups. For radical libertarians their opponents are not only wrong, but also wicked and evil. As though he is trying to prove me correct, Connor Boyack labelled his opponents Gadianton Robbers.

There are many problems with the government, and I think wrong and dangerous ideas exist. But Boyack's post typically casts a wide net filled with vague parrallels, undefined terms, dogmatic use of past LDS leaders, lousy analysis of the scriptures, and rabid denunciations of his political opponents.  I certainly wouldn't label people with whom I disagree as Gadianites.  I wish radical libertarians would spend a little more time in the library and a little less time hurling insults in their online echo chambers.    

1. You can also find it here.
2. See the first comment from Boyack's original post.
3. Alma 50:6-11.