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.

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