Saturday, December 27, 2014

Maintaining and Manipulating the Appearance of Your Camp in The Book of Mormon and Chinese Theory

I had the pleasure of reviewing an advanced copy of David Spencer’s new book: Moroni’s Command. I offered some thoughts and brief endorsement for the back cover. But there was one particular passage that really stuck out to me based upon my knowledge of Chinese military theory:

When scouts were sent out from Manti to determine the strength of the Nephite force, they discovered that the Nephite force was not too large, so the Lamanite force began to make preparations to attack. Helaman’s own scouts reported the Lamanite activity, and he began to make demonstrations carefully designed to give the impression that his force did not suspect the actions of the Lamanite force. Along the main approach to his camp he dispatched two small forces, one under Gid and the other under Teomnor and ordered them to take up hidden positions to the left and right of the main path (Alma 58:16-17). Meanwhile he made an effort to maintain appearances that everything was business as usual in the Nephite camp, seeking to allay any Lamanite suspicions, so they would approach without caution. Helaman’s maturity as a commander since the Antiparah maneuver is evident in this account, as his forces in the main camp coolly waited until the last possible moment before fleeing from the advancing Lamanite force dispatched to destroy them.  This was an essential component of the plan because, by keeping up these appearances Gid and Teomner remained completely undetected.[1]  

The appearances of an armies camp is an important tool that China theorists prescribed for finding out the strength of the enemy. Since those theorists also described warfare as the “way of deception”.[2] It is no surprise then, that military commanders often manipulated their appearance to fool the enemy. 

Tai Kong wrote:[3]

If [your plans] are heard about, the enemy will make counter plans. If you are perceived they will plot against you. If you are known, they will put you in difficulty. If you are fathomed, they will endanger you.

Thus one excels at eliminating the misfortunes of the people manages them before they appear. Conquering the enemy means being victorious over the formless.[i.e., good at denying the enemy a chance to know your plans…]

To be the first to gain victory, initially display some weakness to the enemy and only afterward do battle. Then your effort will be half, but the achievement will be doubled.

And Wuzi wrote:[4]

In employing the army you must ascertain the enemy’s voids and strengths and then race [to take advantage of] his endangered points. When the enemy has just arrived from afar and their battle formations are not yet properly deployed, they can be attacked. If they have eaten but not yet established their encampment, they can be attacked. If they are running about wildly, they can be attacked. If they have labored hard, they can be attacked. If they have not yet taken advantage of the terrain, they can be attacked. When they have lost their critical moment and not followed up on opportunities, they can be attacked. When they have traversed a great distance and the rear guard has not yet had time to rest, they can be attacked. When fording rivers and only half of them have crossed, they can be attacked….In general circumstances such as these, select crack troops to rush on them, divide your remaining troops, and continue the assault- pressing the attack swiftly and decisively.

And the most famous Chinese theorist, Sunzi, touched upon each of these matters as well. “Thus if I determine the enemy’s disposition of forces [hsing] while I have no perceptible form, I can concentrate [my forces] while the enemy is fragmented.”[5]

And he offered a warning to those that judge based on enemy camps:

Thus the strategy for employing the military: Do not approach high mountains; do not confront those who have hills behind them.[6]  Do not pursue feigned retreats. Do not attack animated troops. Do not swallow an army acting as bait…[7]

There is a clear congruence between Spencer’s narrative of how this battle developed, and the way that theorists described the need to study, and sometimes manipulate or avoid being manipulated by the enemies’ organization in their camp.  As I described in my book, this doesn’t mean that Helaman opened up his copy of the Seven Military Classics. But if we assume that military theory categorizes and measures military operations the same way a thermometer can measure heat, then using this theory to analyze the Book of Mormon is no different than checking the temperature on your food.  Moreover, if we assume the events described in the text are historical, then we should notice its relation to historical military texts.  Finally, I should not that I’m not completely convinced this is how the battle happened. I think Spencer fills in some blanks that aren’t readily apparent to this reader. But given that my second books is entirely about filling in blanks and making sometimes large (though well founded) assumptions based on small amounts of text;[8] and I find his description of the events matches up surprisingly well with military theory, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in making those assumptions. I rather enjoyed describing connection and I hope you enjoyed reading about it. Thanks.  

[1] David Spencer, Moroni’s Command: Dynamics of Command in the Book of Mormon,  (Salt Lake City: Cedar Fort Books, 2015), 137-139.
[2] Ralph Sawyer, trans. The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China (New York: West View Press, 1993)158.
[3]Ibid., 68-69.
[4] Ibid., 213.
[5] Ibid., 167.
[6] An army with hills behind them would be in fatal terrain, making them especially dangerous. See chapter 4 of my book, Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents.
[7] Sawyer, Seven Military Classics, 170-171.
[8] And several anonymous reviewers, one in particular, seemed especially nit-picky and ridiculous in offering criticism of that approach. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Comparison Is Better Than Yours

In What Are the Odds Brian H. argues that Smith copied the terms Cumorah and Moroni come from the Comoros Islands and its capital of Moroni.  Other posters made sure to remind Brian that the terms were not on any maps known during the time, nor are there any extant dime novels or sources that contain the terms. But I wanted to take a step back and discuss methodology and comparisons.  Outside of the military kind, I’m not very strong with theory, but I think this is a good description of why ancient comparisons are stronger than modern ones. 

I wanted to comment on methodological consistency. In order for critics to support a naturalistic origin of the BoM they must find all sorts of sources and documents that Smith was supposed to have read, memorized, and then recalled in bits and pieces. For example, I read a critical website which claimed Smith had enough knowledge to plagiarize from: Caesar, Frontinus, Procopius, multiple Irish Legends, The Venerable Bede, Jonathon Swift, Vegetius, Sunzi, Wu Chi, Emperor Maurice, Moorish Legend, the Irish Book of Invasions, The Aeneid by Virgil, Roman legends, Plutarch, Polybius, Livy, Cincinnatus, Josephus, Pliny the Elder, Augustine, Eusebius, Tacitus, The Iliad by Homer, Sallust, Thucydides, and Herodotus.

            So now we can add Captain Kidd to that.

            Though when a world renowned non Mormon Egyptologist sees a distinct connection between Pahor and Paanch in historical sources and Pahoran and Paanchi in the BoM, it is immediately discounted without a second thought. Or its discounted with some lame attempts to show its just a common Italian name, but I guess we can just add that right next to the Irish legends and accounts of Sullust.  

             As my graduate adviser used to say, any monkey can make comparisons, so many of these, even the ones which support Mormonism aren't very strong. DJB and others have certainly shown that is the case with the Captain Kid comparison. They might be weak on their own, but when you end up having hundreds of comparisons, and dozens of names attested in ancient sources from the warrior Tecum in the Popul Vuh, to Egyptian names like Pahor and Paanch (noted by an eminent non Mormon Egyptologist), to the Olmec Kish, to the city of Lamani, who then happen to exist in the same time and place as the BoM suggests; it becomes much stronger than doing a google book search for some nouns or phrases that Smith supposedly learned within his vast underground library, that he secretly committed to memory during his nights off as a day laborer, so he could quote them, one line at a time, at random moments while dictating an intricately complicated text without notes. The absurdity of this theory is shown in this excellent satire by Jeff Lindsey, called One Day in the Life. Modern day scholars with access to the best research libraries, ample amounts of free time, and access to even more information on the internet would have trouble doing that.

             So that is the problem with comparisons and why this theory is rather weak. A stronger theory, and what ancient comparisons have going for them, is that it is consistent with Smith translating an ancient text. So he didn't have to know a few dozen sources- a couple from Kidd, a couple from a Greek source, a couple from a Roman source, and so on- and then plagiarize them, he could simply translate using the power of God, and the ancient comparisons (person names, place names, cultural clues, societal information [see the Mesoamerican Custom of Smiting Off Arms on murals for example], geographical tidbits, and so on) are there because its an ancient text. So ancient comparisons end up making that theory sound more plausible, while modern comparisons or plagiarisms combined with what we know about the production of the BoM make it the theory seem even more absurd.

             And to answer your question about percentages, there are only so many sounds in the human language. So there is a fairly good chance that any two sounds from two different languages can sound familiar. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Free Holiday Giveaway!

Greetings. It is that time of the year when most of you are stressing about presents.  So thought I would offer you a chance to have a White Christmas, but even a Bleached Christmas, with a free copy of my book Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents, Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon. This is your chance to grab what has been called, "a must for anyone studying the Book of Mormon." The raffle begins on Wednesday the 19th and ends one week later.  The latter two options reset daily, because I know all of you will want to discuss this amazing deal on a daily basis! Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thoughts on General Grant

[This is more of some unofficial consulting I did about the American Civil War general Ulysses Grant. I'm working on several fellowships and research grants in addition to my teaching and full time work, so it was a light month for research into the Book of Mormon. Though I do have a copy of my manuscript submitted to a publisher. I will describe that project in a later post and hopefully have something to report.] 

I don't have quite as much about Grant on hand.  He gets a bad rap because of his actions in Virginia in 1864. The combination of political pressure, hard to ford rivers, and a better opponent in Lee made him adopt frontal tactics that were incredibly bloody and exhausted his army. Though he still out maneuvered Lee, and  he didn't let tactical failures override his strategic objective of  eventually capturing Richmond.

His best campaign was in Vicksburg.  He crossed the Mississippi, detached from his supply line which gave him more maneuverability (and its something Sherman later did in capturing Atlanta), and then out maneuvered and defeated the rebel armies before investing the fort. He captured it a short time later.

He started his career capturing river forts in Tennessee.  There is a story I don't remember much, but he ran into an enemy detached early in his career. And he reportedly saw the look on the face of the enemy commander and recognized the sheer terror in his eyes.  So he realized that the enemy armies were just as afraid of enemy contact as he was at the time. He resolved there not to be afraid to take the fight to the enemy and attack, which is why the rest of his career was rather audacious and he was the commander that won the war. (I remember the story because I try to remember that as I'm dating- the ones that like me are just as nervous as I am to talk to them.)

Historiographically, its somewhat odd that the winner of the war is studied less than the losers like Lee and Stonewall Jackson. A part of that has to do with how Grant won in Virginia. His brutal frontal assaults are like the trenches of WWI and not very romantic. The lost cause mythos, where the south reinvented their generals as patron saints of lost causes also helps add to the aura of Lee. And Lee definitely sought out climatic Napoleonic battles to win the war, which just like Napoleon, are very fun to study.  But notice how Lee looked to the past to win, while Grant (and Sherman) ended up being a harbinger of the future and actually won.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book of Mormon Guns

I came across at great post about guns at the group blog: By Common Consent. I got a good chuckle out of it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Nine Terrains

[I did some consulting for a business friend of mine about the 9 types of terrain listed by Sunzi, particularly focal terrain, and thought my answer might benefit a wider audience.]

Thanks for the questions. To start I looked at Ralph Sawyer’s commentary accompanying his translation:

The Nine terrains analyzed in this chapter appear in two sequences with some variations. In addition, some the terms appeared previously in Chapters 8 and 10; other are new but apparently overlap with earlier configurations. This suggests that essential materials have been lost, the text has been corrupted, or the concepts were in a state of flux and not yet rigidly defined. 

 Dispersive: Following Giles and Griffith [other translations], who use the appropriate term “dispersive.” The commenters generally understand dispersive as referring to the tendency of the men, while fighting within their native state, to be thinking of their homes and families and to be inclined to return there. Consequently, they are neither unified nor aroused to a fighting spirit. Note that later in the chapter the commander must unify their will on dispersive terrain (before invading enemy territory), and Sunzi also advises against engaging on dispersive terrain. This was perhaps a strategy designed to vitiate an invader’s strength before engaging him in battle.

Light: Apparently, the soldiers still do not regard the enterprise too seriously and continue to think about home and family. Because it remains relatively easy to withdraw but dangerous to forge ahead, it is termed “light terrain.”

Contentious Terrain:  This is ground for which one contends, therefore “contentious” terrain. (Giles also translates as “contentious,” Griffith as “key ground,” and it is unquestionably a strategic point.)  The configurations of terrain previous warned against in the last chapter are probably prime objectives under this category of their great tactical potential if they can be seized and exploited. 

Traversable terrain: In chapter 10 this is termed “accessible” terrain. Army movement is unhampered. 

Focal: Following Griffith’s apt term, “focal.”  Presumable this is territory in which major highways intersect and is accessible to major powers on various sides. Its occupation is the key to controlling vast territory…The character literally means, “terrain where the highways intersect.”   

Heavy: Griffith translates as “serious.” This term contrats with “light terrain,” the severity of their situation now being clearly apparent to the soldiers. Their minds are unified, their courage united. Chu Chun sees the critical element as the cessation of food supplies, with the soldiers suddenly having to forage and plunder to sustain themselves, as stately slightly later in the chapter. This weighs heavily on them.

Entrapping: This seems to also encompass Heavens Pit and Heaven’s Net. The term is first discussed in Chapter 8.

Encircled Terrain: “Constricted” is the same term as that used for one of the configurations in chapter 10. (It can also mean a “gorge.”) The term for “encircled” can also be translated as “besieged” in other contexts and clearly carries such implications. The emphasis here is on the necessity to pass through a narrow opening or along a narrow passage, which constrains the flow of men and material and thereby makes them vulnerable to being surrounded and attacked by even a small force.  [See the Chinese success against the Japanese army at Pingxingguang Pass, September 1937, for a good example.]

Fatal: Sunzi consistently advocates exploiting “ground of death” because when troops are deployed on it, the situation forces them to fight valiantly. The commentators think it would be terrain with the solid obstacles to the front, such as mountains, and water to the rear, preventing a withdrawal.[1]      

Focal Terrain:

For an example of focal terrain we might look at Moroni 9:16:

And again, my son, there are many widows and their daughters who remain in Sherrizah; and that part of the provisions which the Lamanites did not carry away, behold, the army of Zenephi has carried away, and left them to wander whithersoever they can for food; and many old women do faint by the way and die.

Strategically this implies that the Nephites were pressed on several fronts. All the armies were close to the tower of Sherrizah, but Mormon could not reach it. So the Lamanite army likely occupied what is called the central position. This allowed the Lamanites to shift and mass their forces between the army of Mormon and that of Zenephi as necessary. While the Nephites armies would each have to attack on their own. Since Zenephi is not following the orders of Mormon it is unlikely that would work together, even if they could coordinate an attack with a Lamanite army between them.  Napoleons early campaigns in Italy, and Stonewall Jackson at the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic used this to maneuver to great effect.[2]  Jackson was being chased by two separate armies closing in on the North and South. So he delayed one and fought the other. After his victory he then turned and defeated the other army.  The combined armies could have crushed Jackson if they coordinated properly, but Jackson was able to out maneuver them and defeat each in turn. 

The Chinese held focal terrain during WWII at the battles of Wuhan (1938) and Hengyang (1944). Both were pivotal rail junctions, the former had a large concentration of factories and the fleeing national government, the latter housed important American air bases and was the junction of several important rail lines in southern China.  The first battle featured Chinese forces defending a central position with Japanese armies maneuvering and defeating Chinese forces from the North, South, and East. Chinese forces eventually fled West to Chongqing.

Wang Qisheng, Professor of History at Peking, wrote: During the battle of Hengyang, Chiang Kai-Shek sent Bai Chongxi, the vice chief of staff, to Guilin with the task of coordinating the defense of the city…. Bai held to a different strategic view than Xu Yongchang [leading Nationalist commander], but he also disagreed with Xue Yue’s [a local commander] operational plans. Unsurprisingly, conflicting order confused local combat units, and the Chinese forces were hamstrung by a lack of coordination. 

A further problem was the lack of communication between frontline commanders.  The Tenth Army defended [the focal terrain] of Hengyang for more than forty days. If reinforcements had coordinated their operations with the Tenth Army inside the city, the defense of Hengyang might have been more effective. When the Tenth Army tried to force its way out of the city, units outside offered no support. When units outside attacked the enemy, the Tenth Army merely adopted a defensive position. The lack of coordination meant that the Japanese could defeat the defenders piecemeal. [3]  

This is good example of the need for unity in command, and coordination of forces when occupying a central, or focal position. 

Fatal Terrain:

From my chapter on military philosophy in Ender’s Game,[4] many Chinese commanders would deliberately place their armies with their backs to a river or mountain, to prevent fleeing; Sunzi called these kinds of decisions the use of “fatal terrain.” Of the soldiers, he said “Throw them into a place from which there is nowhere to go, and they will die rather than flee. When they are facing death, how could one not obtain the utmost strength from the officers and men?”[5] At the beginning of Ender’s training, Graff was asked if he “enjoyed breaking” students. He replied that he did, but only when they “put the pieces back afterward, and are better for it.”[6] The modern slogan “sink or swim” nicely captures this concept. In a military context, a commander would deliberately place his troops in hopeless situations, with their backs to the river or in a position with no chance of escape. The fatal terrain tactic was intended to quickly stimulate the discipline and effort needed to survive the battle.

Graff used fatal terrain when he stacked the game against Ender. Faced with daily battleroom contests and twice the normal number of opponents, and students seeking to kill him on top of that, Ender had to quickly learn how to “swim.” The final product supported the thinking of both Graff and Sunzi when Ender showed himself a victorious commander. Commanding the fleet in attacking the bugger home world, Ender was thrown in the deep end, hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. But he called upon his resolve from his earlier “hopeless situations” and achieved total victory.

Another military theorist who wrote in the Seven Military Classics, Wuzi, said: The people do not take pleasure in dying, nor do they hate life, [but] if the commands and orders are clear, and the laws and regulations carefully detailed, you can make them advance. When, before [combat], rewards are made clear, and afterward punishments are made decisive, then when [the troops] issue forth they will be able to realize an advantage, and when they move they will be successful.[7]

Conclusion: So we see that focal terrain requires cooperation among different commanders and a skillful maneuvering of the armies.  Fatal terrain is used to enhance the effectiveness and moral of soldiers.  Thanks for the question, I’m happy to help and ready to add any clarification if needed.  I enjoyed putting this together, if anybody needs advice or consultation on military theory or Chinese military history I’m happy to help.

[1] Ralph Sawyer Trans. Sunzi’s Art of War, in The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China (New York, Westview Press, 1993)178, 450-451.
[2] See the Battle of Cross Shields and Port Republic towards the bottom of the page.  Author, “Jackson’s Valley Campaign May 21- Jun 9 1862.,_1862.png
[3] Wang Qisheng, “The Battle of Hunan and the Chinese Military’s Response to Operation Ichigo” in The Battle for
China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, eds Mark Peattie, Edward Drea, and Hans Van De Ven, (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2011) 414 (403-420).
[4] Morgan Deane, “Forming the Formless: Sunzi and the Military Logic of Ender Wiggins” in Ender’s Game: The Logic Gate is Down ed by Kevin Decker, (New York, Black Well Press, 2013), 81-82 (78-88).
[5]  This is Graff’s translation of a key passage in Sunzi’s Art of War, David Graff, Medieval Chinese Warfare: 300–900 (New York: Routledge Press, 2003), 168-169.
[6] Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game (New York: TOR Books, 1991), 20.
[7] Ralph Sawyer trans., The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China
(New York: Westview Press, 1993) 245.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Duck Dynasty Strategy from the Book of Mormon

[Cross posted at Wheat and Tares]

The Duck Dynasty patriarch made news recently for advocating a controversial policy in response to the group ISIS in Iraq.  He said that “in this case, you either have to convert them—which I think would be next to impossible—I’m not giving up on them, I’m just saying either convert them or kill them. One or the other.”

This had inspired the usual rants about “racist, hillbilly, redneck, white trash” from those on the left who say this is the same kind of rhetoric- covert or die- that inspires ISIS and other terrorist groups.[1] That it happened on Sean Hannity’s show has inspired connections to all sort of loony fringe figures from Cliven Bundy to Ted Nugent.  But Latter-day Saints should have noticed something rather particular about his statement.  In Helaman 6:37 it reads:
And it came to pass that the Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gadianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites.
So in response to the threat of Gadianton Robbers the Lamanites hunted (and presumably killed) them, or they converted them.  To understand this strategy, and how it might apply to modern times, it is important to realize more about the Gadianton robbers than is commonly assumed. The Nephites were not a hegemonic power throughout much of the text and especially the book of Helaman.  The Nephite record keeper(s) complain about losing the chief judge position (Helaman 6:39), the people had to plead to the prophet Nephi through intermediary leaders (Helaman 11:8-9), and the prophet Nephi had to qualify his prophecies to only the lands they possessed (Helaman 7:22). The Gadianton robbers were not a band of toothless high way bandits that the term implies, but they filled the vacuum represent by Nephite weakness which resulted in competing power centers.  The complicated power struggle and struggle for legitimacy resulted in the use of delegitimizing terms such as robber, and resulted in a rather elastic application of the term.  In some cases those that were labelled robbers actually filed suits and counter suits using complicated legal maneuvering to counter label their enemies as robbers-hardly the picture that one gets from hearing the term.   In discussing the opponents of Roman historian Susan Mattern offered this insight that applies a great deal to the Gadianton robbers, “The difference between a bandit, a tribal chief, a petty king, or the leader of a rebellion could be open to interpretation; many individuals are located in more than one of these categories by the ancient sources.”[2]

This understanding of the text leads offers another interpretation of Phil Robertson’s comments.  Instead of a brutal ISIS like policy of forced conversion or death, the Lamanite’s policy is a reaction to a brutal enemy in a complicated time filled with competing power centers. The weakness of the Nephites allowed the robbers to flourish and created a chaotic situation probably not unlike that currently seen in the Middle East, and the Lamanites responded with two associated policies.[3]  Since ancient polities often combined religion and the state, this had an important and powerful political goal.   While the problem persisted throughout the books of Helaman and Nephi, the Lamanites had success in either converting or actively hunting them.

In modern times the gospel still has ability to affect politics and promote harmony.  As the Prince of Peace true conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ is the best chance for it. The Nephites had a prolonged period of tranquility after the personal ministry of Christ.[4] The modern church continues to spread the gospel and proclaim peace (D&C 98:16). Barring a conversion and when subjected to the “barbarous cruelty” (Alma 48:24) of people like ISIS, those that are subject to attacks of ISIS have a right, and given the genocide and mass accounts of sexual slavery in the region, many would say they have a responsibility, to resist and kill them.

So what might seem like a ridiculous claim from Phil Robertson captured a certain logic. Preaching the gospel and proclaiming peace is the best way to achieve a lasting peace. But when that fails the Lamanites hunted the Gadiantion robbers, the Nephites resisted “with their swords” (Alma 61:14) whatever they couldn’t resist with their words, and Phil Roberts said convert or kill.  He was less artful than the scriptures, but no less correct.

What do you think? Is it appropriate to apply the Book of Mormon to a modern problem? Why or why not?  Does this change the assumptions you make about the Book of Mormon? Does this change your opinion of Phil Robertson, or help you understand the threat posed by modern Gadianton robbers?

[1] For a typical example please see this:
[2] Susan Mattern, “Counterinsurgency and the Enemies of Rome,” in Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, Victor Davis Hanson eds (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 169 (163-184).
[3] It is possible that the Nephite policies themselves contributed to the rise of Gadianton Robbers. The prophet Nephi pointed to many sins committed by the Nephite people, these crimes and the likely power graps by unscrupulous politicians likely had an alienating effect.  This is the subject of a new book that revises and reexamines our understanding of the text.
[4] For more see Robert Rees, “Imagining Peace: The Example of the Nephites Following Christ’s Visit to the New World” in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives, Patrick Mason, David Pulsipher, and Richard Bushman eds, (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012) 41-56.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bleached Bones Available in Paperback, Early Reviews

Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents: Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon is now available in paperback. (You can click the Kindle version to see the cover art.) There are not any reviews posted on Amazon, but this is what others are saying about the book, my research, and contributions I've made elsewhere that are a part of this book:

 “…an absolute must for anyone studying the Book of Mormon... [ties] wide ranging examples from the ancient world in remarkable efficiency. Deane's personal experience also gives a strong eye to military aspects so often neglected... This is a book that will be talked about for years to come by any serious student of the Book of Mormon...” David West, award winning author of Heroes of the Fallen

“Deane is an excellent scholar with fresh ideas and is always worth reading.” Matthew Roper, research associate at the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies

“A valuable contribution…” Brant Gardner, author of Second Witness: An Analytical and Textual Commentary on the Book of Mormon

“With a sigh of relief, one might say balance is restored to discourse on application of military lessons in the Book of Mormon to current conflicts. His work draws interesting, scholastically grounded parallels, placing [the war] narrative [and even] seldom plumbed verses on a…true to life description.” Kristopher Swenson

“[Deane helps provide] a fitting springboard for robust and lively debates.” Robert Wood, Chester M. Nimitz Chair Emeritus, U.S. Naval War College.

“Good insights…both engaging and provocative.” Harlow Clark, Association of Mormon Letters

If you haven't already, make sure to get your copy today! If you already have a copy, feel free to add your comments below! I'll be sure to add them to the master list I keep; and who knows, they might be included on the back page of future editions!  (Unfortunately I found several glaring typos, in particular I mangled the dates of the fall of Rome with the Battle of Adrianople. I know that most of you won't notice, but to me, mistakes such as those glow like a neon sign. So I want a second edition to fix those typos.)  Typos aside I'm still very happy with the book, and I would love to hear what you think! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Undissected War

I just finished another draft of a chapter for my second book. (By the way, my first book is now available in paperback as well.)  The new chapter is based on the abstract linked to below, though I've made significant modifications that I think enhanced the chapter.  I found this as I was researching which went very well with the ideas that inspired my chapter. In fact, it is rather nice to know that I noticed the same principles described by one of the best modern strategists.  (The author's book on Roman strategy  still dominates the field.) It tends to give me even more confidence that my second book will be even better than the first.

Here is from page twenty of Edward Luttwack's Strategy:

...critical faculties are certainly more likely to be sharpened by failure; and if remedies are offered to improve performance, they are less likely to be resisted by inert conservatism because the hierarchical defenders of the status quo, will have been undermined by defeat...With victory, all of the army’s habits, procedures, structural arrangements, tactics, and methods, will indiscriminately be confirmed as valid or even brilliant-including those that were positively harmful, but with all of their harm concealed by undissected experience of success...

Here is the last paragraph of my abstract that inspired the chapter: 

Battlefield losses often inspire great soul searching and political, military, and cultural reform, while winning a war brings a whole new set of problems.  From Rome to Britain, to American policy after World War II, the burden of hegemonic leadership is often assumed vigorously after outstanding military victory, but often unravels from within due to the demands of money and men and a slow decay of society’s ability, and desire, to furnish them.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Vandal Wars, Evil Gangs, and the Fall of Chang'an: Three Untold Stories in the Book of Mormon

[The following is the introduction to a paper I've completed and I'm now editing. I hope you enjoy the preview.]

          There are many military history topics that recall events in the Book of Mormon. The comparisons are intriguing and initially seem superficial, and they rarely argue for any dependence between the text, but teasing out additional insights through the use of judicious comparisons can bring clarity and power to the scriptures.  The following three stories are examples of comparisons started by a basic hook, which, upon closer examination reveal important insights in the text of the Book of Mormon. In the first example, Moroni employed tactics that Belisarius faced during the Vandal War.  Each editor of the history, Mormon and Procopius placed their respective generals, Moroni and Belisarius, in a narrative that highlighted their worthiness. But Belisarius invading the Vandals led to another discussion of offensive war, and suggests we reconsider our understanding of the dissensions listed in the war chapters.  The akuto in medieval Japan reinforces the idea that Nephite power shifted and was contested by rival forces in the book of Helaman. It looks at the myriad ways that akuto and robbers are seen in society, from the traditional idea of a mere bandit, to a more complicated power struggle between competing centers, economic collusion, and guerrilla warfare.  Finally, the quick fall of the capital in Helaman one, compared to the fall of Chang’an in medieval China, suggested that Nephite society was not as powerful as they seemed after winning the great war at the end of Alma. So what begin as three stories actually turn into three untold stories embedded in the text that can be teased out through intriguing comparisons from a wide variety of sources.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Peace, PR Statements, and Connor Boyack Attacks

Connor Boyack is a computer programmer and frequent political commenter in the state of Utah. I’ve previously critiqued his fallacious and unsound positions. In this article Boyack incorrectly attacks the church's PR statement based on the bias produced by his political leaning. This causes him, among other things, to sound an uncertain trumpet, seemingly sets himself as the church spokesmen, and violate Godwin’s Law.  (All quotes from Boyack's article)

“The events of 9/11 served as a catalyst for the neocolonial interventionist power brokers in government to advance their agenda.”

Radical libertarians have had many years to perfect their anti-Bush screeds, I’m fairly educated but I have little idea what this gobbledy gook means. I'm a big fan of using plain English with as few specialized terms and jargon as possible. This helps you stay clear and concise while being accessible to non specialists.  Jargon like this actually obscures more than it clarifies.  To borrow a phrase from scriptures about the importance of clarity, “if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle?" First Corinthians 14:18-9  Ironically, the subject of Boyack’s attacks is the church PR statement and editorial in the church paper that clarified a talk from Elder Nelson.  I tend to think that God’s church has a right to clarify its statements, especially in a time of 24 hour news cycles and internet echo chambers that didn’t exist in Christ’s day. 

“The Church was quick to respond—perhaps anticipating a PR nightmare like the one that happened just five months later to the Dixie Chicks.”

Here Boyack mind reads.  As I stated above, most likely the church didn’t want false or misleading information to be spread about the church. Given that the church just recently invited a PR nightmare by excommunicating Kate Kelly and possible John Dehlin and Rock Waterman; and they faced massive protests, vandalism, and even anthrax scares at the temples over the marriage proposition in California, I don’t think the church is worried about a little blowback.  Instead, I think Boyack is projecting his interpretation onto the church to advance his political agenda at the expense of appointed church spokesmen.  

“I can’t help but feel that this was a missed opportunity to boldly stand on some of the most important doctrine we have.  Did Jesus back down when challenged? Charged with blasphemy—a “crime” for which capital punishment was mandated—the high priest demanded of him, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus’ response: “I am.” There was no mincing words here, nor walking back of Christ’s claims.”

Here Boyack is claiming to interpret what Jesus would do…for Christ’s chosen mouth pieces on this Earth.  While every member should be an active thinker that tries to faithfully apply the Spirit in their lives, I find this interpretation by Boyack rather unseemly, and an attempt to place himself ahead of the prophets and appointed church personnel that issued the clarifying statements.  As I stated above, I trust the appointed church spokesmen to sound the trumpet more than radical libertarians that claim that honor for themselves.  While many might complain that PR statements are not “official” doctrine, I happen to think that church newspapers and church issues are fairly authoritative, and that I don’t get to pick and choose which ideas I like (let alone insert what I would say instead) based on my political leanings as though I’m at a buffet.

“Of course, this was merely a successful implementation of a long-known strategy perhaps summed up best by Hermann Goering, one of the highest ranking Nazis who survived the war and who was well versed in propaganda. The people ‘can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders,’ he remarked. ‘That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.’”

No radical libertarian screed is complete with the violation of Godwin's Law.  To show how shallow this comparison is I want to briefly compare the leadership of Bush and Obama.  Sometimes a good leader has to drag the country along with them. They have to use their bully pulpit (a phrase first inspired by Teddy Roosevelt and his dynamic use of the presidency to accomplish his agenda), to change public opinion.  Bush did so. He presented evidence (though maligned by critics it was a fair assessment agreed upon by Clinton and British officials).  And he got authorization for the use of force from Congress. Obama on the other hand, leads from behind.  He makes tough sounding statements about red lines or bringing people to justice, even as dictators ignore those lines or those escaping justice live out in the open.  So instead of comparing Bush’s case for war to Nazi propaganda, you could simply call it leadership from a man that tried to convince the country of what he knew was just and necessary.  Of course many people have different interpretations and assessments of Bush's actions, but to immediately jump to Nazi propaganda is fallacious and insulting.

 “I suppose what I’m saying is that rather than shying away from the substance of what Elder Nelson said, it would have been great if the PR department doubled down, positioning Christ’s church as the leading voice of peace amid a cacophony of conspiring warmongers.”

This is heart of Boyack’s message. He may think he is sounding like a great peace advocate.  Yet I believe this reveals his duplicity. In fact, as I was reading my previous post on the matter, I think my analysis completely applies here. As I stated in September of 2012:

“A short time ago I wrote about the duplicity [in a different article than above] of the antiwar critic. I argued that when the prophet agrees with their political views the critics mistakenly attach too much weight to that statement. Then they use those words as a cudgel with which to beat their opponents. When a prophet does not agree with them, they use various qualifiers to negate their words. These include things such as speaking as a man, speaking under the cultural influence of the day, or simply giving their non-binding opinion. While this sounds disrespectful towards a prophet, the last reason is actually the correct one as outlined by the church. So critics proof text their favorite quotes which agree with their political leanings, and then apply an inappropriate amount of weight to them. They take their cherry picked arguments and beat their opponents over the head with them. And they cast aside their words when they don't."
I think we see that here. Boyack latched onto Nelson’s words because they fit his political agenda. Then he castigates approved means of church communications which places Nelson’s talk within the context of Mormon doctrine, both of which support just wars.  This is supremely ironic, because Nelson talked about renouncing war and proclaiming peace. In order to advance his agenda, Boayck lobbed grenades towards everything from the Deseret News to this author, by indirectly calling them Nazis, cowardly, and un Christ like (not to mention his use of Gadianton Robbers to describe his opponents elsewhere.)  I think if we were to start applying Elder Nelson's talk, we could start with our political discourse. I would add, we could also place more trust in the words of our leaders, even when it disagrees with our deeply held political beliefs.  And it doesn't take a PR statement to understand and apply those ideas.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Plundering the Narrative: Gadianton Robbers and First Nephi 1:2-3

[I wrote the following in application to the upcoming Mormon Theology Seminar.  I faced tough competition and wasn't selected, but I hope to pursue these ideas in the future.  I was limited to 750 words and had to be incredibly brief.]
           Hugh Nibley and John Tvedtness described the colophon in First Nephi 1:2-3.[1] These colophons served as ancient seal of approval or copyright. Noel Reynolds argued persuasively that Nephi’s record is the beginning of a political text that justified Nephi’s rule over his brothers, and Nephite supremacy over the Lamanites.[2]  Conversely, then, colophon like statements from Nephite dissenters and opponents reveal counter and subversive political narratives. The letter from the Gadianton Robber, Giddianhi, in Third Nephi 3: 9-10 is particularly revealing.  His entire letter, in addition to having a colophon similar to Nephi’s, used and subverted the Nephite foundational narrative to enhance the power of his pre-invasion propaganda.
 Nephi says that his words are true, and that he makes them according to the “learning of his father, [consisting] of the learning of the Jews and language of the Egyptians.” (1 Nephi 1: 3) Giddianhi references his position as governor of his society, “which society and works thereof I know to be good, and they are of an ancient date and have been handed down to us.” (3 Nephi 3: 9) So both writers recognized their position in society, testified of its truth or goodness, and referenced the heritage that influenced their writings.   
But a detailed comparison of the two chapters reveals even deeper connections.  An often quoted modern phrase is based on the “tender mercies” found in First Nephi 1:20. In contrast to the tender mercies of the Lord described by Nephi, Giddianhi claimed that he wrote his letter and sealed it with his own hand, “feeling for your welfare, because of the firmness in that which you believe to be right, and your noble spirit in the field of battle.”(3 Nephi 3:5) The leader Giddianhi claimed that the Nephite’s firm faith moved him to offer mercy, and the Gadianton leader will grant them a reprieve, or deliver them from their impending destruction.  So it is possible that Giddianhi recalled the Nephite’s foundational narrative with a twist to enhance his claim to leadership. The robber offered his tender mercies instead of God’s. Many ancient rulers cast themselves as God, part God, or the only approved conduit for God’s power. So what seemed like fake empathy from a slimy politician instead reads more like an exchange between Themistocles and Xerxes during the second Persian Invasion. 
The verses before the tender mercies described the preaching of Lehi to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In that preaching Lehi “plainly” warned of their destruction and described their means of their escape.  (First Nephi 1:18-19)  In contrast, the Nephites were offered a chance to know their secret works, and if accepted, Giddianhi offered an oath that they wouldn’t be destroyed but accepted as brothers. (3 Nephi 3: 8)  Again, this is a slight twist of the Nephite belief system. As modern members repeatedly hear, the “strict heed” a member gives to their oaths and covenants prevents their destruction. Thus, entering into an oath with the robbers would prevent the Nephite destruction; just as the inhabitants of Jerusalem could escape destruction from the Babylonians by obeying God’s word given to Lehi. The chief Governor reinforced the concept of deliverance through honoring covenants after Lachoneus rejected Giddanhi’s offer and instead commanded the Nephites to pray, and prophesied to them until they repented. (3 Nephi 3: 12, 16).
In conclusion, Giddanhi subverted the Nephite political narrative from First Nephi 1 to enhance the pre-invasion propaganda within his letter.  He sounded merciful in response to Nephite firmness in battle, by suggesting that he instead of God was the source of tender mercies. He prophesied of their destruction in 30 days, which recalled Lehi’s fulfilled prophecy Jerusalem’s destruction. (Nephite prophets used this fulfilled prophecy to bolster their case on other occasions. see Helaman 8:21.) Finally he argued the Nephite’s only escape was to accept his oath and be initiated into his society. Subverting Nephi’s political narrative 600 years later begins to show how Nephi’s colophon and remaining writing established a ruling ideology. This subversion adds sophistication and power to Giddianhi’s arguments, and suggests one reason why his threat remained so potent and seductive.  

You may read an expanded version of this argument in my Reassessing the Book of Mormon.

[1] Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 17-9.  John A. Tvedtnes, "Colophons in the Book of Mormon," in John Sorenson and Melvin Thorne, eds., Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), 32-37.
[2]Noel Reynolds, “Nephi’s Political Testament,” in John Sorenson and Melvin Thorne, eds., Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991).