Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rethinking Moroni and the Great War

          One of the three blog posts and dozens of comments that complain  about me provides a few chances to explore the research in my new book, Rethinking the Book of Mormon. What follows is a response to Kendal Anderson insofar as it provides a chance to show details from my new book.    

“Deane is correct in assuming that such 'offensive' attacks were facilitated to reclaim cities and forts that had fallen into the hands of the Lamanites, but never to conquer Lamanite lands, cities and forts.”

          Alma 50 is an interesting and under studied chapter. In this chapter Moroni seized lands that the Lamanites possessed during a time of peace.  A person could argue at best that this was during a cold war and a necessary measure.   The names of the new cities are particularly insightful (v.13-14, 25), they are powerful people that include the chief judg that retired in the same chapter (Nephihah in a quid pro quo?), the man who refused the crown to leave on a mission in Aaron (this possibly refers to a different one, but given the company I don’t think so), military leaders (Moroni, Lehi) and a powerful leader of an ethnic group (Morianton). Not only did they seize land, but this was described by the narrator as a Nephite golden age- Alma 50: 23. 

          My research shows how new land proved to be a boon to the current leadership because it was land outside of the existing power structure.  Instead of having to defeat rival nobles to seize land, they could seize land from their external foes, and extend their power a great deal vis a vis their external enemies and internal rivals. The chief political leader could distribute land and both create and empower new allies among their political and military peers. Referring to the list of cities a person can see these major alliances among the military, political elites, and ethnic groups. (Of course the people left out from this deal, maybe a good deal of the lower judges in Alma 46:4, and perhaps people like Amalickiah, had reason to be upset over this proposal.)

"A man who 'did not delight in the shedding of blood,' and who sought not for power, 'but to pull it down,' would not have engaged in such debauchery.[martial law, military check points, Abu Gharib, etc.]”

          According to Anderson, Moroni is very good. (Moroni does get a great endorsement from Mormon about shaking the foundation of Hell.) Therefore anything Anderson doesn’t like in the present is something that Moroni would also oppose. But being praiseworthy doesn’t mean perfect. A close reading of scriptures suggest many defects.  He held men in prison for years without trial in Alma 51:19; 62:9. There is evidence that he killed dissenters (Alma 51:19), threatened a coup and a genocide in separate letters (Alma 60:25-27; Alma 54:12-13), along with calling his own governor a traitor and opponent a child of Hell (Alma 60:18; 54:11), he possibly militarized a vote against the King Men (after all, he and his supporters put on armor and gathered in a loud shouting body before the vote, Alma 46:21), combined with the discussion of preemptively seizing land in the East Wilderness during a time of peace his actions likely supplied Amalickiah with plenty of juicy gossip, and probably created the kind of material that stirred the Lamanite king towards war (Alma 47:1).

          In short, close and careful analysis suggests that Moroni helped instigate the war.  After the war, my research suggests his heavy armor and fortifications required higher taxes and a government that could seem rapacious to the average tax payer; which in turn may have inspired the insurgency reported in Helaman. The newly empowered elites, (with the newly seized territories), could have constituted a self interested, and almost parasitic class that used their military and political positions to feed off the people.  All of this does seem like a strong parallel to Iraq, only it is Moroni/ American policies that inspired these behaviors.  

Quoting me:  “A careful reading of the war chapters suggests that Moroni initiated a series of actions that inaugurated an imperial period within the book, led to their eventual destruction as a political entity, and can be used by modern readers to justify an aggressive and interventionist American foreign policy.” End of quoting me.

Anderson continues: “Imperialism?  Aggressive and interventionist foreign policy?  Really Deane?  Did Moroni ever invade and conquer Lamanite lands?  Did he annex new territory, engage in nation building, set up foreign trading stations, send Nephite troops all over the world to police it, and build bases on foreign soil?  That is what a empire does.  Moroni’s war was nothing but a war of self-defense against an invading Lamanite army.  Once the defeated threat was driven out of Nephite lands and swore an oath of peace the war was over.  You’re digging for things in the text that don’t exist.  Instead of applying our situation to the scriptures you are applying the scriptures to our situation.  The Book of Mormon should be the measuring stick, not the American empire.”

          I made an exception and included a lengthy excerpt from his “arguments,” only because I think Anderson severely misunderstands me. Just because it can be used to justify an aggressive and interventionist foreign policy doesn’t mean I think it should be. Anderson seems to think that I’m using the scriptures to justify American imperialism.  In calling the Nephites imperial which led to their destruction I showed that is not my position.  As I briefly sketched above, Moroni’s use of innovative strategies such as using heavier armor, new fortifications, seizing flanks, and preemptive war, had negative consequences.  These consequences have gone wholly unexamined by readers who focus almost exclusively on the short term victory in the war chapters, and supporting their pet ideologies, but don’t examine the many defeats that followed the next 70 years or so in the book of Helaman. 

          As far as I know I’m the first person to show how their defeats are a result of their victories. The genesis for this chapter actually came when I was teaching and noticed all the problems the British started having in the American colonies after their victory in the 7 Years War (1756-1763). From being in debt, to their tax policies, to shifting balance of power between the European powers, colonists, and Indians, to the attempts to alleviate friction with the Indians, to trying to set policy towards Catholics in Canada, and of course the rebellion a short time later, the British actually lost more in America than they gained. So I started to look at how victory can sow the seeds of defeat. I began with the things Moroni did to achieve victory and then looked at some potential consequences. For example, more armor costs more money. Where did the money come from and how might it change those who collect it, and those from whom its collected? (This has obvious application to the extraordinary amount of money we spend on deployed forces around the world and the taxes needed to furnish that money.)  The results were intriguing and powerful because I started seeing those consequences all over the book of Helaman and 3 Nephi.[1]   

“Truth is, it doesn’t matter what could’ve been prevented.”

         I think the thousands of people that died on 9/11 or the people in Nephite villages that were destroyed in places like Alma 16 and Helaman 1, as well as their families members, certainly believe it matters.   

         If I might humbly suggest, if we had power to prevent deaths, it should be seriously considered and not flippantly dismissed because you don’t like the strategy that might save them. As the research in my new book suggests, every strategy has powerful consequences that can save lives, but also cause more harm than good. That's why the text demands serious and careful study from every angle, and a fearless and searching evaluation and reevaluation of the scriptures, regardless of how well it merges with our beliefs.  Contrary to the notion from Anderson’s colleagues that I’m “tainted” because of my military service, or “twist” scripture, I have years of study, books, articles and blog posts that show my commitment to diving as deeply as I can into understanding the scriptures regardless of where it might lead.[2] My new book is a result of that study and I’m not using hyperbole when I say it contains revolutionary material that will completely change the way we look at the text.  For the first time I examine facets of the Great War and other topics, and offered a nuanced view of major figures in the text.  I invite all interested readings to enjoy my forthcoming book, Rethinking the Book of Mormon.


1  Just for the record, Anderson dismissed my arguments that support preemptive warfare, and my arguments that also suggest it has dangerous consequences. Good grief, that strongly suggests to me that the only acceptable answer to people like Anderson is that I agree with them! After all, one of Anderson’s associates, Irvin Hill, described himself as a “rude pig,” and admitted that he doesn't disguise his contempt for “pricks” like me. They reflexively disagree after misreading my arguments, openly hold me in contempt, in their own words act like "rude pigs,"  but are surprised when I don't think its worth my time talking with them!  
2   I don’t see the same commitment from somebody who admits he only spent a “couple months” of serious study in the war chapters and seems to ignore sections of scripture such as Alma 50.   Kendal Anderson  War: A Book of Mormon Perspective: How the War Chapters of the Book of Mormon War Against Wars of Aggression and the Warfare State (Create Space, 2015), 9.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Rethinking the Book of Mormon

[I've included the potential book blurb for my second volume, and a preliminary table of contents. The manuscript is submitted to the publisher, and I look forward to hearing back from them. I hope you're as excited as I am!] 

Believers in the Book of Mormon contend it is an account of real people that existed in history. From Joseph Smith’s plural marriage to Brigham Young’s statements on race, as we study the complexity of history we develop a deeper appreciation for struggling leaders moving, sometimes imperfectly, through a tragic and fallen world. Rethinking the Book of Mormon is the first book of its kind to develop a similarly complex history within ancient scripture. Extensive historical examples, including the campaigns of the Byzantine general Belisarius, "evil gangs" of Samurai, and purposeful manipulation of records by Chinese dynastic historians, combine with detailed analysis of subtle clues in the text to provide additional insight into the militarization of the Nephites by their spiritual leaders, the deadly machinations even righteous rulers needed to gain and keep political power, and the reliability of reported armies sizes as judged by the military participation ratio. Filled with unique insights, such as the ironic use of peace rhetoric by Amalickiah that led to a great war, the velvet glove rhetoric of Giddianhi that suggests he was more than a toothless highway robber and had some legitimate complaints, and Moroni’s innovative and winning tactics leading to rapacious taxation and insurgency, Rethinking the Book of Mormon is a revolutionary interpretation that offers a complex understanding and reinterpretation of both heroes and villains in the text; which promises to enrich our understanding of the vibrant historical narrative within the Book of Mormon.  

1. Introduction
2. Gideon's Legacy: The Spiritual Foundation and Militarization of the Nephites
3. The Vandal Wars, Evil Gangs, and the Fall of Chang'an: Three Untold Stories in the Book of Mormon
4. For the Peace of our People: Amalickiah's Arguments in Alma 47
5. Undissected Victory: The Consequences of the Great War
6. Plundering the Narrative: Giddianhi's Letter in 3rd Nephi 3:2-10
7. Myriads, Centurions, and a Nephite Ten Thousand
8. Complexity, Political Maneuvers, and Contradiction: The Book of Mormon Rethought