Friday, December 11, 2020

New Book! Come Follow Me 2020, Historical Essays of the Book of Mormon

Greetings! If you follow me on social media you know I’ve been posting Come Follow Me posts this entire year. At first, I wasn’t going to post anything, as it sounded like a significant time investment when I’m already working several jobs and have major research projects ongoing. But then I realized I have a blog with over ten years of posts. Most of the Come Follow Me posts have been taken from the archives and shared with a wider audience. I’ve taken those posts and put them into a new book, Come Follow Me 2020, Historical Essays of the Book of MormonThe regular price is 99 cents, but starting on Saturday and for a limited time you can get the book for free!!! In celebration of this new book I'm running a promotion where you can get my book on modern Chinese strategy, and additional insights into the history contained within the Book of Mormon, for free!!!!! You can't physically put them in your stocking, but you can have hundreds of pages of excellent insights to read over the holidays. Get yours today!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Just and Preemptive War, Who Said it Better?


    I’m working on my next project which is a systematic assessment and the relationship of all the Mormon scriptures on warfare. On occasion I found something that expresses an idea that I have previously expressed. This has happened in the past with both preemptive war and strategy. I like to share them because it’s a good way to highlight what I’m reading and thinking as I’m reading. Also because it’s a good boost to know that my analysis and instincts are so keen that I find them repeated in previously unread texts!! Those texts are often seminal works in the field and yet you get them in plain language and for free from your humble blogger.

    Here are the newest comparisons. I wrote this back in 2011 (based on a draft written in 2009!! I had the danger of nuclear weapons and the need for preemptive war when I wrote point #5):

“It is difficult to justify offensive action based on possible future events or latent evil,”[1]

    Micheal Walzer wrote:

We can make only short-term predictions, and we have no way that even mimics mathematics of comparing the costs of fighting to the costs of not fighting, since [the first] set of costs is necessarily speculative,[2]

    Both examples explain how the argument for war is tough because it’s based on possible events or just speculative. 

    In my seven-part series on preemptive war one of the major lessons regarded the benefits of choosing the time and place of the battle instead of having the enemy seize the initiative and bring the battle to you. This is one of several times I make the point:

Just as the people of Zeniff likely learned, it was better and less bloody to fight a battle at a time and place of their choosing, then having to hastily form their own army (Alma 16:3), and then later fight at a disadvantage.  

    Again, Michael Walzer wrote in the anticipation spectrum about the difference between preventive and preemptive war. He wrote a nation must show:

A manifest intent to injure, a degree of active preparation that makes that intent a positive danger, and a general situation in which waiting, or doing anything other than fighting, greatly magnifies that risk.[3]

The key point of similarity is that waiting to fight is too great of a danger and thus a nation must attack.

I hope you enjoy the same insights each said in two different ways. Who do you think said it better? I appreciate the chance to read these great texts and that my ideas often match them so well. I’ve got more research coming and I hope to share it with you soon.

Thanks for reading!! I work as a free lance author. Providing ad free research over the last ten years takes time and effort. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button at the bottom of the page, or buy one of books using the Amazon link at the top left. 


[1] Morgan Deane, “Offensive Warfare and a Defense of the Bush Doctrine’ in War and Peace: Mormon Perspectives on War, (Greg Kofford Books, 2012) 38.

[2] Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, (Basic Books, 1977) xvi.

[3] Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 81.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Trump as Moroni?

[I shared this on facebook and though it deserved a more permanent place. As someone who specializes in military history and published extensively about Moroni and the Book of Mormon, I am uniquely qualified to comment.] 

People are spazzing out about Mike Lee's comparison of Trump to Captain Moroni when I think it was pretty good. Lee's comparison was pretty narrow to begin with, by pointing to a specific scripture that Trump is not seeking power but to tear it down. 

Trump has been a disruptive outsider against the Washington establishment. That word was used so much in 2016 that I thought I should start a restaurant called the establishment. I don't like the phrase deep state as it sounds fairly conspiratorial, but entrenched bureaucracy is what I use. We just had a Homeland security official come out as this deep throat type member of the resistance. The phrase resistance itself is rather arrogant as these people somehow thing that their intransigence is part of a noble effort to stop a dictator when they are really partisan hacks undermining the people's elected representative.  Even though he worked for Trump who was elected by the people, he bragged that he was part of this noble resistance. Nikki Haley wrote that people as high up as the Secretary of State thought it was their duty to contain and control Trump, as though the people were too dumb to choose a President and executive policy.  

Trump is draining a swamp that fights back on a constant basis, so comparing him to a stronger fighter figure and using a specific scripture where he is fighting the elites of his day is a good comparison. 

Most who object to the comparison do so because of their political opposition to Trump. But they are doing so by ignoring the narrow comparison above, and instead use the hagiographic depiction of him as a military stud muffin that ignores the real critiques of Moroni. 

The political opponents of Trump should realize that the political opponents of Moroni could credibly make even worse arguments against the latter. They could say he was an angry individual that preemptively seized territory in a time of peace, relied upon deception to win his battles, rejected peace offers to instead call his interlocuter a child of Hell and then threaten to arm child soldiers and pursue a war of extermination against that opponent. He threatened a coup against the government when it suited him and before he figured out all of the facts and seemed like a warmonger. While its not written down, my knowledge of military culture makes me suspect if we were on campaign with him we might find him laughing at the locker room humor similar to an Access Hollywood tape.   

We rightly revere Captain Moroni as a spiritual hero. But like Jessica Rabbit, he was written that way. A sober examination of his life and critical assessment of his policies, and most importantly, his fighter attitude against the entrenched opposition to his single minded goals, suggest that Trump is a fighter comparable to Captain Moroni.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Mormon Bred

 [I wrote the following in a facebook group about Mormon's young leadership.]  

 I teach a class on military leadership and one of the major questions I ask is whether the great leaders were born or trained. Many of the ancient commanders like Alexander the Great were amazing so it sure seems like they were born geniuses. But I must remind my students that those born in the elite and upper class had numerous advantages that others didn’t. Most people lived as farmers barely eking out a living. If they did have to fight they would be comfortable with farming and hunting implements but usually not swords. Think of David with his sling, which a shepherd would need often to ward off predators. Or see Mosiah 9:16. The elites on the other hand could spend their days training. Therefore, you see people like Ammon, the former crown prince, who could time and angle his defensive sword strokes in such a way that he could cut off arms. Mormon and Moroni clearly had language training as they could read and write. (Moroni provided a discursive explanation of why he wrote in one ancient, obscure language instead of another, Mormon 9:32-33.)  Alexander the Great was tutored by Aristotle and Mormon seems to have been a quick study, we don’t know from who, to receive his commission at the age of 10. Most farmers were often undernourished but the elites would be taller, healthier, and have the diets to build muscle mass.

I read Mormon 1-2 and saw many factors that aided his leadership. Like Alexander the Great he had many advantages that those from lesser families and bloodlines wouldn’t have. We might consider this an example of where much is given much is required and I think he and his son delivered. Mormon led the people through 70 years of wickedness and warfare and of course we have the book that bears his name.

Our young men and women living in the modern age need to take advantage of the education- physical, mental, and spiritual, that are available to everybody. They need to take their spiritual training seriously. Unfortunately, we seem to be a sedentary society that doesn’t train our minds or bodies. Instead of mental gymnasts we seem to be mental couch potatoes. We eat spiritual Twinkies instead of diving into the hard work of really understanding and applying the scriptures. We join the angry mob in cancelling people without considering how the media and small groups of strident jerks lead us around by the nose. I think Mormon would be ashamed at how we squander all the many gifts and tools available to the least of us that used to be the luxury of a few.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Moving Beyond Empty Words


        Almost ten years ago David Pulsipher wrote about the “extraordinary agility” pacifists must use to make their case:

Crafting an argument…requires navigating a spiritual minefield…The Book of Mormon…contains the most hazards. Compiled by a seasoned general the text exudes a just war sensibility. To diffuse the power of that story Latter Day Stain pacifists resort to…arguing that a careful observation of the larger Book of Mormon narrative speaks to the futility of violence, its endless cycles, and its inability to achieve lasting peace.[1]

        With this in mind I’ve been shocked and bemused to find it exhibited so frequently by those that write for and follow Latter Day Saint Peace Studies. I regularly see people who disqualify quotes from the Book of Mormon as being less than Jesus. They say that Moroni was just a general, Pahoran just a chief judge (and often mix the two) to say they weren’t authoritative. They claim that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where Jesus superseded the law means that his words supersede all other scriptures. This especially applies to the Book of Mormon. Of course Jesus himself said that whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants it is the same (D&C 1:38), and that Mormon wrote that righteous leaders were in fact prophets (3 Nephi 3:19) so I don't buy those arguments and think they are merely picking and choosing which scriptures to accept based on what they like. 

        But by disqualifying they are missing out on even more. Finding how seemingly contradictory scriptures interact with each other can increase one’s appreciation for matters of war and peace, and lead one away from facile, proof texted arguments. To show an example of that I will use my research into classical Chinese military theory beyond Sunzi.

        Guanzi, considered the epitome of good Confucian ministers said that good rulers should “vanquish [their enemies] without resorting to treachery.”[2]  This, along with the claim of Confucius that the “sage is not crafty,”[3] seems to directly contradict Sunzi’s words that “warfare is the way of deception.”[4] The easy explanation is that Sunzi was an amoral cretin. Yet he became the most famous theorist and was used by emperors and leaders throughout Chinese history. Like those figures that used deception in warfare and remained good Confucians, there are ways to reconcile the two.

        First, Guanzi mentions treachery which is different than deception. The Chinese believed in what various translators have described as orthodox and unorthodox attacks. The orthodox pins down, or “spikes”[5] an enemy to prepare for the army’s unorthodox or “tilting” maneuver. But the difference between the two can become blurred. If an enemy is expecting a surprise flank attack, the surprising unorthodox attack instead becomes the expected orthodox attack. So, the definitions of these terms can often change during one battle, depending on the intent of the attacker and perceptions of those being attacked.

        A conversation from the film The Princess Bride (1987) serves as a memorable illustration. Westley, the hero, enters a battle of wits with Vizzini the Sicilian. In the course trying to outwit each other, Vizzini described how he knows that his opponent knows his mind to predict Vizzini’s next action. Vizzini goes on to say (with dazzlingly circular logic) that, sometimes, his opponent knows that he knows, so he must do something completely different. But his opponent must know that he knows that he knows…so he must do what was originally predicted. The repetition of “he knows that I know” represents the inexhaustible permutations between opting for the orthodox and unorthodox and describes the difficulty in trying to know your enemy while trying to keep your own strategy a secret. 

        In short, both armies know they are entering a maze of mirrors, with complex prebattle maneuvers and fake feints and real deceptions, then they are accepting the parameters of the battle. There is nothing treacherous or crafty upon entering a struggle in which both know the rules. On top of that, a sudden surprise attack from an unexpected direction could produce a psychological trap, win the battle without a fight, and become a moral, bloodless, and proper Confucian way to end the battle. As Guanzi wrote: If one attacks a city or lays siege to a town so its occupants are forced to exchange their sons for food and crack their bones for cooking, such an attack is merely to uproot oneself…[6] Those that resort to deception to capture the city or win the battle can claim they are being good Confucians by winning with minimal bloodshed.

        The second example comes from the impetus and planning for the Battle of Maling. The rulers discussed the need to declare war on a mutual enemy on behalf of their ally. This would honor their alliance and maintain honor among the other leaders of the Warring States. That was the part that fulfilled Confucius’ advice for a sage not to be a crafty.  But that didn’t mean they marched straight at the army invading their neighbor. Doing so would have left their allies in a stronger position even if the won! They would relieve the siege of their ally’s capital by depleting their own resources for nothing gained except the abstract concept of honor.  Instead Sun Bin advised that they take an indirect route through their mutual enemies’ homeland. The campaign marched in the opposite direction of their besieged allies, protected their supply lines, offered an easier battle than lifting a siege, and left both their enemy and ostensible ally in a weaker position than the start of the war. This would place them in a stronger position to eventually conquer both. Thus, they were honorable by declaring war, but showed how they pursued their self-interest as well.

        By looking at how both statements can be true at the same time, to avoid being crafty and pursue a way of deception, we see insight into the nature of battle in Chinese history, the difference between treachery and deception, the moral role that deception can have, and how moral decisions can be used to advance self-interest. The writings of the masters, or scriptures are not catch phrases from fortune cookies or silver bullets for discussion boards. They are complex thoughts that try to prescribe moral behavior among an even more complex world.

        After this book is published, I plan to bring the same amount of analysis to Mormon scripture. Instead of simply having a favorite set of scriptures and downplaying the rest, or as the Chinese scholars complained of those that quoted Sunzi, “merely reciting empty words...without penetrating the depths of their teachings,”[7] we might instead consider how they interact with each other. I’ve already showed some of the interactions in posts like Nephite thought on warfare, and the word and the sword. I’m confident I’ll find more and the interplay between seemingly contradictory verses will be just as multifaceted as the examples I showed above. The scriptures deserve more than petty facebook pontificating and crafty attempts to ignore uncomfortable verses.

I work as a free lance author and researcher. Producing high quality, ad free research for more than a decade takes time and effort. If you found value in this work please consider supporting more of it by donating to the pay pal button below, or buying one of my books through the link at the top left. 


[1] Daivd Pulsipher, “The Ammonite Conundrum,” in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives, (West Jordan UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), 1-2.

[2] Guanzi: Political, Economic and Philosophic Essays Vol I, Alan Rickett trans., (Princeton University Press, 1985,)277.

[3] Analects of Confucius, Chichung Huang trans., (Oxford University Press, 1997,)111.

[4] Sunzi, in The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, Ralph Sawyer trans., (Westview Press, 1993), 158.

[5] Benjamin Wallacker, “Two Concepts in Early Chinese Thought” in Chinese Warfare to 1600 Ed. By Peter Lorge (New York: Ashgate Publishing, 2005), 235-240.

[6] Guanzi: Political, Economic and Philosophic Essays Vol I, Alan Rickett trans., (Princeton University Press, 1985,) 394.

[7] Questions and Replies Between Tang Taizong and Li Weikong in The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, Ralph Sawyer trans., (Westview Press, 1993), 338,360  "People who study Sunzi today only recite emtpy words. Few grasp and extend his meaning."  Thus the study of military strategy must be from the lowest to the middle and then from the middle to the highest, so that they will gradually penetrate the depths of the teaching. If not, they will only be relying on empty words. Merely remembering and reciting them is not enough to succeed."

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Heartland Starter Pack


I’ve been asked occasionally about the Heartlander theory of Book of Mormon geography. I’m stumped by this answer, not because I’m unfamiliar with their research, but because I’m so familiar with it that I categorically reject that line of thinking. My first encounter with the Heartlanders was at the Mormon History Association conference in St. George around 2012. I talked to the representative of their press and when I disagreed with their geography I suddenly felt like a mongoose trapped in the corner by a chatty cobra. My short answer to these questions is that their scholarship is cringe worthy poor, their most frequent tactic is to criticize the faith of their opponents, and they should be avoided. Here are a few links that explain that summary.

Having a Form of Scholarship:

Historian Ardis Parshall visited the FIRM Foundation Conference led by Rodney Meldrum.  She provides good summaries of the presentations but an even better explanation of why they miss the mark and resemble conspiracists more than sincere believers or researchers. 

Poor Book of Mormon Scholarship:

One of the most erudite people I know, Stephen Smoot, provides an 8 part review of the Annotated Book of Mormon. It’s a shoddy work that consists of rampant errors, abuse of historical sources and DNA, reliance on forgeries, and unsubstantiated claims.  Brant Gardner, one of the leading scholars on the Book of Mormon reviewed two more books here.  I like this review because it provides detailed pictures and analysis about why key pieces of evidence are forgeries.

Abuse of DNA:

This one is longer, but its needed to show Rodeny Meldrum’s DNA evidence is really snake oil and strained proof texting.

Personal Behavior and Apostasy:

By making these claims so iron clad, they are making their own faith brittle, while at the same time clubbing those who disagree with them.  This post explains why their obsession will lead them out of the church. This series of posts explain why their geography theories are often no better, and many times worse, than what they peddle.

I could do many more posts about their atrocious behavior where their favorite tactic is misreading a source, making it binding doctrine (against the official church position) and then questioning the faithfulness of those that disagree.  They’ve strapped Joseph Smith to the hood of their demolition cars so often their logo should be a Mad Max car. Now you have a few resources that should help rigorously examine their often too good to be true claims.   

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Moroni's Tactics and the Vandal War

Belisarius led armies from the Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) empire in the 6th century AD. He fought the Persians on the eastern front of the empire and eventually fought a long war to reclaim Italy from Gothic tribesmen. The subject of interest here is the Vandal war in North Africa. The Emperor Justinian, taking advantage of a revolt against Vandal rule and a peace with the Persians, sent Belisarius with a small force of ten thousand men to attack the formerly held territories of the Roman Empire in North Africa.

One the invasion landed on the beach; Belisarius marched towards the Vandal’s capital at Carthage. He ordered his soldiers to pay for their supplies and forbade them from pillaging. As a result, they had the support of the people and moved “as if in their own land.”[1] Gelimer, the Vandal king, planned an ambush along their likely route. At Ad Decimum, Gelimer planned a three-pronged attack. His brother, Ammatas, would attack the advance of Belisarius from the front. Another force under Gibamundus would attack Belisarius from the left flank. And Gelimer would use his local knowledge of roads to take an interior route to attack Belisarius from the rear. 

The plan compensated for the division of forces by relying on the surprise of attacking simultaneously form multiple directions. Unfortunately, the plan collapsed quickly. The cavalry of Belisarius defeated the flank attack led by Gibamundus and the latter fell among the fighting. A short time later the frontal attack led by Ammatas smashed into the Byzantine force. He engaged the vanguard of Belisarius’ army, but the former hadn’t prepared to attack Belisarius so far north; as a result, Ammatas had his army spaced out along the road. The forward units were defeated piecemeal as they marched into the Byzantines, and then as those units retreated, they affected the next column and forced them to retreat and so on. His entire force ended up fleeing in a panic back towards Carthage. 

Finally, Gelimer arrived and attacked towards the north at what he thought was the rear, and already engaged, army of Belisarius. If the plan had worked, the two attacks by Gibamundus and Ammatus would mean that Gelimer attacked the rear for a coup de grace like Helamans “furious” attack upon the rear of the Lamanite army in Alma 56:52 with his Stripling Warriors. Gelimer routed the screening cavalry (the force that defeated Ammatas earlier), who then fled to the safety of the main camp of Belisarius. Gelimer regrouped his forces and stood poised to attack the bulk of the army of Belisarius. He hadn’t achieved his goal of attacking in the rear for the finishing blow, but still commanded motivated soldiers flushed with initial victory, while Belisarius, seemingly under attack from every direction, was trying to reorder his forces. Yet upon seeing the dead body of his brother Ammatus, Gelimer paused to assess the situation.[2] The pause by Gelimer allowed Belisarius to rally his fleeing cavalry, and counterattack with his entire force. Gelimer fled south, and Belisarius had an open road to Carthage. He took the city, defeated the resurgent Gelimer and reclaimed North Africa for the Byzantine Empire.