Sunday, July 4, 2021

New Scriptures, Old Debate


[A recent post from a Facebook group. The group, Latter Day Lobsters and Sorted Saints, is awful. But it led me to produce this good summary. I particularly liked this post because it explained how Mormon debates about war and peace follow the contours of Christian thought which means we can benefit from reading those Christian thinkers.]

It's time prohibitive to comment on everything posted thus far but reading through the posts has been very enlightening.

It's ironically appropriate that the only significant response, until Slaughter started throwing Moroni under the bus and splitting hairs from section 98 was from the person that agreed with me about the lack of substance from most of the anarchist, libertarian, pacifists that dominant this group but show little of the Peterson ultra-competence. (Even though Slaughter is the only one that approached a substantive response it had serious flaws. See below.)

What strikes me the most is how much the research in my book applies to this discussion. The scriptures Mormons use might be unique, but the debates about them are extremely old. And yet, outside of a brief mention of Augustine by Tyler, there is no indication that anybody knows of that rich history of discussion by scholars like Grotius, Suarez, Vitoria, Walzer, Ramsey, Kant, and even John Locke. The shallow pacifist crowd on this page has indicated some knowledge of 20th century pacifism, and their favorite proof texts in the scriptures, but little else.

A knowledge of this rich body (explained in my book) would affect the debate in multiple ways. For example, in their book on the just war tradition out of Princeton press Charley and Cooke describe many examples of how modern pacifists wrongly elevate the Sermon on the Mount and diminish many others. They provide excellent analysis that shows why the Sermon on the Mount is a personal code and that and other scriptures clearly allow the use of force and warfare.

With knowledge of that intellectual trend and a strong debunking of that method in mind (even if they disagree), the shallow crowd here would be much more cautious about diminishing Moroni's comments on warfare in favor of their Sermon on the Mount pacifism. I guffaw every time I see it because it's like they volunteer to be the basic bitches of the pacifist movement AND they do it while having a condescending and mocking attitude towards their opponents.

Studying the rich intellectual tradition behind just war would also show there are many scriptures that suggest the Sermon on the Mount is not a silver bullet that supersedes all else. John the Baptist didn't tell the soldier that came to him to retire because it disagreed with Christ's gospel (Luke 3:14). Jesus didn't tell the soldier that came to him to retire, but praised his faith (Matthew 8:8-10). Jesus himself didn't turn the other cheek when struck (John 18:23). And of course, Romans 13:1-4 receives heavy treatment because it grants the state permission to use power and calls them God's servants. Those are just a few of the scriptures.

Of course these justifications on paper can be abused in practice, which leads to even more thought and strong guard rails in the form of caution and caveats from the theorists. Very smart people for thousands of years have covered this subject in every way, and applied it to rather sticky questions while also coming up with ideas like international law and human rights. (See Grotius and Vitoria respectively.) The failure of pacifists to recognize that when they cast their sophomoric emojis it's simply one more example of their dilettantish approach to the subject.

Getting back to the Bible, Paul Ramsey made the strong case that the love a Christian has for their neighbor explained in the parable of the Good Samaritan not only justifies, but REQUIRES the use of force. (Which is a major reason why I don't really buy the whole justified but not righteous interpretation of section 98.)

Ramsey asks the simple question, if the good Samaritan happened upon the beaten traveler, in the middle of the being beaten and robbed, would he not intervene to protect him? It would be ridiculous to assume he would hold up the other cheek of the beaten traveler and doing nothing would breach the love of neighbor that Christ was trying to teach.

Even more widely, there is a false dichotomy between the Sermon on the Mount and the just use of force that few on this site recognize. It has to do with the hearts. Christians can be peace loving in their hearts, fulfilling the commands in the Sermon on the Mount, while also using the love for God and their neighbor to protect their neighbors by participating in warfare, as shown by the thought experiment with the good Samaritan.

This wasn't something I invented to have my cake and eat it too as I try to squirm out of Mormon pacifist’s proof texting section 98 about renouncing war and proclaiming peace. (Which is an attack that has been levelled at me. At least those critics used words so they have you beat.) But it is something that goes back to Augustine and has been expounded upon since then. My favorite quote comes from Martin Luther about how physicians can saw off a leg, with all the associating screaming, squirting blood, and horrible sound of grinding through bone. But they are praised for it because they are trying to save the patient's life.

In short, the scriptures are different, but the contours of the debate and even the tactics used are extremely familiar as people would know if they studied more than a handful of pacifists.

If you liked any of my posts I encourage you to read some of my chapter drafts on my next book and offer feedback. Thanks!

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Jeremy Runnells is a Total Poser

    I commented over on Hanna Seariac's facebook page about what she labels as men unfairly flexing their power against a less powerful female. 

    So I think Runnells schtick is hilarious and read his response for kicks and giggles. [It is long, but hit control f and type Hanna.] 

    What's ironic to me is that Runnells ignores the implication in your post that you should do better research and then claims that your post is a thought stop technique. Then two paragraphs later he calls the CES a "head jack" and links to a picture of some robot with a hole for downloading information. The article says its the port that connects you to the matrix. That screams cultish programming to me so apparently Runnells has as little grasp of irony as he does scholarship.

    But then in his own post he says it's "simply a letter," "not a thesis for a Phd," not a "textbook" or "dry scientific paper," and not "rigorous" which sure sounds like he agrees with you.

    Yet in the same breath he claims his CES letter leads into his line by line debunking, which he implies, is the pinnacle of in depth research because it is thousands of pages of rebuttals. I've looked at the rebuttals that intersect with my research and he is laughable. For example, here he simply invokes "science" while being factual incorrect, ignorant of history, and not having a good grasp of the research and analysis that makes strong conclusions. 

    The truth is that Runnells is a total poser. He takes the mantle of scholarship and all the associating benefits and prestige when it suits him, and runs away from the burden of creating and defending scholarship when used to critique him.

    This explains why he can take offense at your criticism of the letter not being serious research at the same time that he says it's not a rigorous piece of scholarship, and right before he invokes his debunking articles as the final word of serious scholarship. He's the best scholar in the world, except when he has to defend his "research," and then he isn't.

I work as a free lance author. If you found value in this work please consider donating by using the pay pal button below. Or consider buying one of my books linked in the top left.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Bad Quotes and Good Ideas


    I have a new book coming out, someday, called Beyond Sunzi: Classical Debates on Chinese War and Statecraft. The book was exciting to write as I showed how various strands of Chinese thought interact with each other. I mention it here, besides venting my frustration at glacial publishers, because I see lots of false quotes with somewhat catchy ideas with no sources that don't pass the smell test. Here is a link to many of the worst quotes.

    What’s interesting though is that many of these lousy or fake points are related to good points found in Chinese writing. This post lists a bunch of fake quotes followed by good ideas that are represented in classical Chinese theory (and sometimes elsewhere.)  Because I’m so often responding to memes that have no sourcing at all, I’m making sure to show you the translation and page number I take it from.

 "A leader leads by example, not by force?"

    This has some relation to the teachings of Shen Pu Hai (Shenzi.) He talked about a ruler's need to display inaction or a placid mirror, so his ministers don't try to change their opinions to curry favor. This is more of a Daoist kind of actionless action.[1]

"Sweat more during peace: bleed less during war."

    This sounds a bit like a description of the Roman army by Josephus where he says that Roman training maneuvers were like bloodless battles, and battles like bloody maneuvers.

"If quick, I survive. If not quick, I am lost. This is 'death.'"

    The cadence sounds correct. Classical writing often follows something called the four-character formula. Mao’s basic rules for guerilla warfare was so popular and easier to remember because they were 4 sets of 4 character formulas. Because of the strong stylistic resemblance, it could be from a bad translation of Sunzi though I’ve read multiple translations and still don’t recognize it. 

    Sunzi often talked about quick wars, fast movement, and seizing something the enemy wants. On quick wars, “a victory that is long in coming will blunt their blades and dampen their ardor.”[2] On forcing enemy movement, “One who excels at moving the enemy deploys in a configuration to which the enemy must respond. He offers [or seizes according to Sun Bin] something which the enemy must seize.[3] Moving quickly was something that Confucians valued.

"Victory is reserved for those who are willing to pay its price."

    The points sounds like this from the Wei Liaozi, though this line is disputed (see the next point). "I have heard that in antiquity those who excelled in employing the army could bear to kill half of their officers and soldiers."[4]

"Who does not know the evils of war cannot appreciate its benefits."

    I don't know ANY author that would say this. Sunzi stressed the benefits of winning without battle mostly due to the high material cost of warfare (see above). Confucians would point to the needless loss of life. Legalists would be upset at the economic impact of losing so many farmers/ taxbase. I tried to get, "wading through blood and treading through guts" into my title because that summarizes how pretty much every writer found battle.

"When you understand what suits the terrain…investigate the rules for marching and formation…White blades meet; flying arrows are exchanged; you wade through blood and tread through guts; you cart the dead away and support the wounded; the blood flows for a thousand li; exposed corpses fill the field; thus victory is decided. This is the lowest use of the military."[5]

    Sun Bin, a purported lineal descendant of Sunzi, advised against commanders that employ them like tossed chunks of earth and grass.[6]

    The writer considered the prototypical Confucian minister, Guanzi, said that if the people were forced to crack the bones of their children for cooking then the state uproots itself.[7]

"The King is only fond of words, and cannot translate them into deeds."

    This one sounded close to something but is not in Sunzi’s text. It is in the history about him. After executing the king’s concubines because they failed to follow orders correctly the king dismissed the army. Sunzi responded to him, “Your majesty only likes the words, he is not able to realize their substance.”[8] That is a close enough translation, but it is not in the Art of War!! Moreover, his concept of punishment was disputed by many, including Sun Bin who said it wasn’t urgent.[9]

"Convince your enemy that he will gain very little by attacking you; this will diminish his enthusiasm."

    The general point is echoed in many places. Sunzi talked about displaying profit to entice the enemy and dampening their chi by waiting to attack. Sun Bin and Wuzi talked about how to manipulate the enemy. Here is the former:

The enemy’s generals are courageous and difficult to frighten. Their weapons are strong, their men numerous and self-reliant. All the warriors of their Three Armies are courageous and untroubled. Their generals are awesome, their soldiers are martial, their officers strong, and their provisions well supplies. None of the feudal Lords dares contend with them. How should we strike them?

To strike them, announce that you do not dare fight. Show them that you are incapable; sit about submissively and await them in order to make their thoughts arrogant and apparently accord with their ambitions. Do not let them recognize your ploy. Thereupon strike where unexpected, attack where they do not defend, apply pressure where they are indolent, and attack their doubts.[10]

"In peace, prepare for war. In war, prepare for peace."

    At first glance this sounded like a Latin phrase, and it is indeed: If you want peace prepare for war.

"Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust."

    This echoes a point that Confucians would make about the importance of character, proper rites, filial piety and the dangers of a corrupt state. Xunzi talked about nations that had the sharpest swords, highest mountains, toughest armor, and yet because they forfeited the mandate of heaven they fell.

"The men of Ch’u make armor out of sharkskin and rhinoceros hides, and it is so tough it rings like metal or stone. They carry steel spear made in Yuan, sharp as the sting of a wasp, and move as nimbly and swiftly as a whirlwind. [Notice the reference to swift movement.] And Chu’s troops were defeated at Chiu sha and their general Tang Mei, was killed; and…the state was ripped apart. Surely this did not come about because Chu lacked stout armor and sharp weapons. Rather it was because its leaders did not follow the proper way."[11]

    Confucius wrote that "an inhumane man cannot long abide in comfort."[12] And: "Only when the year turns freezing cold do we realize that pine and cypress are the last to winter."[13]

    Wei Liaozi wrote: The perfected man [chunzi] does not stop criminals more than five paces away….If you flog a person’s back, brand his ribs, or compress his fingers in order to question him about the nature of his offense, even a state hero could not withstand this cruelly and would falsely implicate himself.[14]

    As you can see, these are bad quotes but good ideas. Some are real quotes that are attributed to someone else. But most of these are bastardized ideas that have little relation to Sunzi and some relation to Chinese thought if you know Chinese well enough. Luckily, I do and have a book about it coming out soon. The zi/ tzu ending in Chinese means master, and they were masters of their craft. It’s a shame people don’t put much energy into learning from such great texts, many of which are translated and easily available, but rely on diluted ideas and fake quotes.

Thanks for reading! I work as a free lance author. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button at the bottom of the page, or you can buy one of my books using the link in the top left. 


[1] Herlee Creel trans., Shen Pu Hai: A Chinese Philosopher of the 4th Century, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 249, 351.

[2] Ralph Sawyer trans., The Art of War, in The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, (New York: Westview Press, 1993), 159.

[3] Ralph Sawyer trans., Sun Bin: The Art of Warfare,(Westview Press, 1995), 165, 186. One line reads: cause the enemy to roll up his armor and race far off.

[4] Sawyer, Wei Liaozi in the Seven Classics, 276.

[5] Andrew Seth Meyer trans., Huainanzi, by Liu An, chapt 15, (New York: Columbia University Press), 103.

[6] Sawyer, Sun Bin, 200.

[7] W. Allyn Rickett, Guanzi: Political, Economic, and Philosophic Essays from Early China v.1, (Princeton: Princeton University press, 1985), 294.

[8] Spring and Autumn Annals as quoted by Sawyer, Seven Classics, 151.

[9] Sawyer, Sun Bin, 90.

[10] Sawyer, Sun Bin, 169.

[11] Burton Watson trans., Xunzi: Basic Writings, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), 71-73.

[12] Chicung Huang, The Analects of Confucius, (London: Oxford University Press, 1997), 67.

[13] Ibid., 107.

[14] Sawyer, Wei Liaozi, 258.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Unexpected Warfare Verses in the Book of Mormon


    I continue to research just war theories. It has been richly rewarding, particularly regarding LDS scriptures. Just like I mentioned with Chinese theory, I find that the Book of Mormon answers questions that I didn’t know were being asked until I started studying important topics.

    What follows are a few scriptures that take on new meaning with a knowledge of Just War theory. One of the reasons for writing the book is not simply to show congruency with the just war “checklist.” (Just authority, just cause, proportionality, just peace.) But how the Book of Mormon interacts agrees, disagrees, or expands on the theory, and how those theories highlight verses we might not have thought applied to warfare. I list them in order of my discoveries of them so they might bounce around a bit, but they reveal a surprisingly robust and coherent theory that we didn’t know was there.

2 Nephi 28:7

Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.

    This is a short summary of an interesting philosophy that touches upon Enlightenment thought increasingly seen in the modern age and relates to an important contrast of the people of Ammon and late Nephite soldiers.

    Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke increasingly focused on natural law and secular rights instead of Biblical proof texts. This accommodated the growing scientific belief and provided key ideas about the American right to revolt and basic rights found in the Declaration of Independence and applied across different ethnic and religious boundaries. But it presented some changes that contained a contradiction. The most important change had to do with human life. Religion presents the life as having something after. That made the spiritual state of the participants and potential deaths important. It is why, for example, the Nephites were so sad to send so many Lamanites to the afterworld (Alma 48:23).

    The movement away from a religious based belief in the afterlife makes those lives more important during their mortal frame and death more tragic. This makes human suffering and death more worthy of humanitarian intervention and makes those interventions and potential wars more causality averse at the same time.[1] This is clearly seen applied to American foreign policy. Public opinion supports various humanitarian interventions such as Somalia or Bosnia, but a handful of casualties and downed Blackhawk helicopters produce such angst among policy makers that the mission immediately ended.

    The lack of afterlife also undermines the idea of sacrifice. If there are no treasures in Heaven that demand duty and sacrifice of a soldier (Matthew 6:20), then there are fewer reasons to abandon the pleasures of life such as eating, drinking, and being merry. Plenty of reasons remain for the use of force, such as a natural right to self-defense and immediate dangers to family, community, and defense of other rights.  But the lack of idea that souls continue in the afterlife makes the potential conflict more costly and seemingly tragic.

    The people to whom Nephi refers seem to have a much narrower viewpoint. They don’t worry about the afterlife; they care about their immediate surroundings and pleasure. This could be a truly prophetic vision that at least hinted at future philosophies that focused more on mortal life at the expense of sacrifice and duty (to God but also to a country), and that abandoned the afterlife.  

    The second way it applies to just warfare is seen in the contrasting attitudes of the Anti-Nephi Lehis and late Nephite soldiers. The former praised God in the very act of being killed (Alma 24:21). The late Nephite soldiers in contrast, cursed God, wished to die, but kept on fighting anyway (Mormon 2: 14). The first difference is listed by Mormon. It should be uprising that he began the verse by saying they did not have a broken heart and contrite spirit. As I’ve found, the heart problems are an important part of just warfare. And having a bad heart leads to bad attitudes. The Anti Nephi Lehis praised God, thanked his mercy, and were too afraid of sinning to take up their swords. Showing a longer-range view of their mortal life than the eat, drink and be merry crowd Nephi saw, and modern enlightenment influenced thinkers, the Anti Nephi Lehis were convinced they would be saved with God in direct contrast to their imminent deaths (Alma 24:15). The late Nephite soldiers cursed God, their eating, drinking, and being merry apparently brought them no value, they wanted to die, but kept fighting anyway. They didn’t have faith in, or didn’t care about the afterlife and their attitudes towards God’s grace, and fighting reflected that. They were hopeless and didn’t turn to a source for that hope. That represents Nephi’s discussion of those that try to eat, drink, and be merry, and fear death but still try to squeeze as much debauchery in that life.

2 Nephi 28:24

Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!

    This section is a bit shorter because it refers to those that are at ease in the heart of their security (Alma 60:19.)  Captain Moroni referenced the same idea, though Zion was an abstract concept more than physical capital of Nephite lands. Alma 60:22: Moroni said, Yea, will ye sit in idleness while ye are surrounded with thousands of those, yea, and tens of thousands, who do also sit in idleness, while there are thousands round about in the borders of the land who are falling by the sword, yea, wounded and bleeding?

2 Nephi 31:20

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

    It doesn’t surprise me that the capstone of Nephi’s teachings regards the heart. The chapter in my future book about heart problems will be the most important. Even though I will mostly discuss it in relation to 3rd Nephi, I think I will put it first. After describing modern philosophies that discount the afterlife try to rob God’s justice, Nephi tells you the antidote which is appropriately focused on the heart. Having a brightness of hope and love of God. I’ll admit as a military historian and not a theologian I don’t think or talk about love that much, though I hope (no pun intended) that I show it.  But regarding just warfare it is really the key to just intent. And a major message in the Book of Mormon.

    After writing and reflecting on this piece it turned out that this cohesive because the elements of just war logically flow into each other, and the ancient writers of the Book of Mormon were devoted, dutiful, and thoughtful writers of their sacred history. Of course, their words integrate themselves rather well into Christian just war thinkers.  I hope you enjoyed this piece and I look forward to more writing that shows how the Book of Mormon engages Just War ideas beyond the shallow proof texts currently cited. This post was originally much longer, but I spun off a section of it that will hopefully be presented later this year or part of the book. Thanks for reading!

I work as a freelance writer. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below, or buy one of my books using the link in the top left. 


[1] David D. Corey, and J. Daryl Charles. Just War Tradition : An Introduction, (Princeton University Press: 2012), 159.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Heart Problems, The Book of Mormon and The Just War Tradition

    I’ve talked about this issue before. In my first thoughts on preemptive war I discussed how if you read the account carefully in Mormon 4 he is complaining about their false oaths, bloodlust, and not that strategy. As I wrote:

    Mormon 3:15 also seems to prohibit preemptive war. However, the real sin recorded by Mormon was not the offensive tactics but rather the bloodlust and vengeance that dictated Nephite strategy (v. 14). One might also say it was their false oath (to a false god?) in Mormon 3:10 that finally forced Mormon into his utter refusal. Again, that doesn’t have much to do with their strategy. The seemingly unequivocal anti-war sentiment expressed in Mormon 4:4 does not record any saying of the Lord, but can just as easily represent a strategic description… If this is a command against offensive action it is also contradicted by other writings by Mormon. This is most clearly seen in a reevaluation of Alma 48:14. The traditional understanding of this verse is a prohibition against offensive warfare. But a slightly different reading suggests the Nephites are rather commanded to never “give an offense” except “against an enemy” and “to preserve their lives” (Alma 61:3).

    I expanded on that concept just a short time ago with many examples from the Book of Mormon.

    In Mosiah the people of Limhi were in bondage due to iniquity not strategy (Mosiah 23:12) In the multiple descriptions of Captain Moroni, not delighting in bloodshed was more important than strategy (Mormon 7:4). We might compare that attitude with the how the Lamanites are recorded as “rejoicing over the blood of the Nephites” (Alma 48:25). This could also be another ethno centric account of “barbarous cruelty” of the other side (Alma 48:24).  

    None of the above has to do with strategy. That might seem like an awkward admission given the point of the blog. But it gives me the impression that when we are exclusively debating strategy, we are missing the point. We should be examining our collective hearts. Yet we can’t ignore strategy either.  We can’t see inside other people, and we are too quick to judge and accuse other people based on strategies. We aren’t asked to sit passively on our thrones, but to resist whatever evil with swords that we couldn’t with words (Alma 60:21; 61:14). While it is secondary to our hearts, deciding when and how to engage in warfare still matters.

The Heart in Just War

    With those passages in mind I’ve been rather impressed with that dualism in the Christian Just War tradition. Most of their writings have focused on the difference between the mind and body. In reviewing the church fathers most of them commented on the general nature of Christians to be peaceable, content, and conciliatory as Justin Martyr said.[1] But contrary to popular perception, they still didn’t reject soldiering. Christians are recorded by Tertullian as fighting (he only rejected the danger of idolatrous military ceremonies), and many Christian fathers like Clement supported the state’s right to use force, and prayed for the success of the emperors army. The summary of the two positions to be peaceful and to fight in wars after hundreds of years of early Christian thought was given as a “vengeful spirit that is denounced” not force itself.[2]

    I find this particularly interesting as this is how I’ve responded to those that try to bash soldiers and non-pacifists over the head with Section 98. It says to renounce war and proclaim peace. I agree, in my heart I oppose and denounce warfare, but its unfortunately something that is justified on occasion. They never liked that answer as they believe the section should lead to an avoidance of warfare. Duane Boyce has done an excellent job of showing how unworkable that section is as a guide to foreign policy.[3]  

    The mention of “unfortunate” in the previous sentence is important, as the Nephites were “sorry” to take up arms against their brethren because they didn’t want to shed blood, and send so many damned souls back to God before they could repent. (Alma 48:23) Both ideas are found and even prevalent in Christian thought. Augustine was just as worried about where the souls of dead soldiers would go as he was about warfare itself. The Medieval monk Gratian warned that force should be used for love of justice, not for love of inflicting punishment.

    Augustine started the concept of “benevolent harshness” which is a term he uses to describe the mindset that should accompany the actions. It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but he used the example of a parent that punishes a child. That punishment is harsh, but it is done out of love and Martin Luther compared it to a doctor that has to save the patient by sawing off a limb. Modern writers might think of it as major dental work like a root canal. Its painful but necessary and the dentist does it out of a sense of compassion to save the patient from long term pain.

    John Locke focused on natural rights more than scriptures but comes to the same conclusions. John Lock said it was permissible to defend against aggression, but force should only be used as calm reason and conscience dictate, and not in extravagant passion. When I hear about passion and anger, I’m reminded of a great body of Chinese literature that stressed the avoidance of fighting out of anger and it’s connection to spiritual principles.

    Cao Mie said that a legendary ruler should reject “rage and fury’s mindset.”[4]This is an important command that receives treatment in multiple records. In a rare point of agreement the Five Lost Classics said that rage can be an ulcer for the emperor.[5] This is important as anger can cloud the needed analysis of a ruler or general and lead to rash commands from a ruler, or what I call strategic idiocy, and tactically it can incite soldiers to plunder and punish the people.

    This hot anger would also make it difficult for the ruler to see subtle items that indicate significant items. For example, by being angry at another ruler he might miss important elements of analysis such as the way the ministers respond to the ruler, the quality of soldiers and all the things that a ruler should do in assessing the upcoming war and calculating in the temple: [The ruler who uses] these principles to pacify and calm their own desires in order to hear what is said, to examine activities, to discuss all things…Although these things are not the matter at hand, by seeing the subtle you shall know the greater significance.[6]

The Heart Reconciles War with Sermon on the Mount

    Most importantly than missing important strategic signs, it leads to tactical aggression and massacres. The angry heart, in Christian or Chinese thought leads to increased violations of ethical or moral conduct. The greatest example of this avoidance comes from the Sermon on the Mount.  There, we are commanded to be peacemakers and turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:9, 38). This has been elevated by some, including pacifists from antiquity to the present into binding prohibitions against warfare.[7]  But they are not binding and exclusive scriptures. John the Baptist didn’t command the centurion to abandon his profession, but only be content and deal justly (Luke 3:14).  Jesus met a soldier and praised his faith, also without telling him to quit his beatitude breeching military service (Matthew 8:8-10). Jesus himself didn’t turn the other cheek when confronted by high priests (John 18:23). And just about every just war thinker cited Romans 13:1-4, where Christians should be subject to earthly authority and rulers are God’s servant when they use the sword. Paul Ramsey probably provides the most succinct explanation of how force can be loving. Using the example of the Good Samaritan, sometimes a person, or government representing the people must use force to protect and be a good neighbor.[8] That loving force also provides the important limits included in just war because the force to stop victimization shouldn’t be used in such a reckless and aggressive manner that it creates new victims.  All of this is before we consider restoration scriptures that clearly outline the just use of force.  


    In short, the heart problems I’ve discussed go to the central argument of Christians for how to turn the other cheek and be peacemakers, while at the same time making and prosecuting warfare. The answer first formed by Augustine (with some traces in early Christian thought) and then refined by later thinkers was that people’s hearts should always remain peaceful. Warfare should be done for a sense of justice, and not because of loving warfare, plunder, and punishment.

    As I’ve mentioned before, it is nice to read about topics I’ve already discussed. It provides confidence that I’m on the right track and my analysis is keen. In this case, the concept of heart problems I first discussed over ten years ago is part of a long tradition of great thinkers (and okay ones like me) that discussed how to reconcile the City of God and the kingdoms of men. This concept will be a pivotal chapter in the next book I’m writing. The chapter will cover 3rd Nephi and Christ’s retelling of the Sermon the Mount, and naturally reconcile the rest of Book of Mormon with Christ’s Sermon. The entire book will fully engage restoration texts with the concept of Just War. As Benjamin Hertzog said, it is vital for LDS thought to intellectually emerge from the confines of the mountain valleys the Saints once occupied, and engage the robust body of thought that exists.[9]

 I work as a freelance author. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button at the bottom of the page, or buy one of my books linked in the top left. 


[1] David Corey, J. Daryl Charles, Just War Tradition: An Introduction (ISI Institution, 2012), 29.

[2] Ibid., 47.

[3] Duane Boyce, Even Unto Bloodshed (West Jordan UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2015), 156-157.

[4] Caldwell, Ernest. “Promoting Action in Warring States Political Philosophy: A first Look at the Chu Manuscript Cao Mie’s Battle Arrays.” Early China 37.1 (2014): 259–289.

[5] Robin Yates trans., Five Lost Classics, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1997), 113.

[6] Michael Broschat trans., Guiguzi: A Textual Study and Translation, (University of Washington PhD Thesis, 1998), 142-143.

[7] This material will be an important chapter of my book and I plan to offer specific examples from pacifists, discuss why modern pacifism was a reaction to increased deadliness of weapons, and the other scriptures of the New Testament, including examples from Jesus, that undermine using the Sermon on the Mount exclusively. For brevity I didn't include it here.

[8] Paul Ramsey, The Just War: Force and Political Responsibility, (Rowan and Littlefield, 202),143-144.

[9] Hertzberg, Benjamin R. (2014) "Just War and Mormon Ethics," Mormon Studies Review: Vol. 1 : No. 1 , Article 15.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Zombie Apocalypse...Reading List


    The former high school buzzed with activity. The office now processed new recruits. The gym and its showers were the main living areas. A field of roped off areas, cots, and duffel bags filled with uniforms and scared recruits. Captain Deane walked down the hallway and the rest of the rooms were just as chaotic. Filled with supplies like the new, simple, unjammable rifles, and the lobo. The E tool handle combined with an axes hand that could take of the heads or lobotomize the zombies. He smelled a faint whiff of dinner coming from the lunchroom and suppressed a smile of Chris Farley dressed up as a lunch lady. He finally made it to the general’s lounge. Of course, he took the teacher’s lounge, which had the few nice pieces of furniture. Deane doubted he could convince the general they needed education, even while bivouacked at a school. They were scheduled to march on Santa Fe and began to roll back the zombie menace from the Mountain West safe zone in one week. Many of the kids in there didn’t even know how to hold their weapons.

    The general dismissed the officers in front of him and gave Deane an annoyed look. This starts well Deane thought.

    “We don’t have time for books.” The general said. “We are due to start marching in a week, what are you going to teach them that is so important?”


    The general Raj Singh, the Tiger of Delhi showed the way to defeat zombies was a square formation that recalled British firing lines. This was a common way to increase fire. When the British failed to form their lines, such as the Battle of Isandlwana they ran out of ammunition they were overwhelmed by swarms of Zulus. Sounds like the Battle of Yonkers right sir? Or the Chinese failure at Chongqing. In contrast, a much smaller group of cooks, medics, and various noncombatants at Rorke’s Drift formed a square, distributed ammunition, and defeated a much larger Zulu force. We need to teach our small unit leaders the importance of proper tactics. By reading Herodotus, we can read a small group of three hundred Spartans held off a million Persians.  We need to learn how discipline, like the Spartans, or cooks at Rorke’s drift used discipline, holding together in a line can defeat much larger forces.

    Small unit commanders will have to make a multitude of decisions with lives on the line. If they survived this far, they already know that, but they have riflemen in the military under a US flag so what they do, and how we win the war for humanity matters. What number of casualties are acceptable when you send soldiers on a mission?  This applies to those barely adults we have sitting in the gym, but also to the civilians that happen to be near a battle. If we lure a zombie horde to our firing line like Hope, do we have a responsibility to clear out civilians from the area, even if it risks more combat deaths? At what point is it acceptable to lose a certain amount of men in calling a retreat? We will encounter civilian areas that have been under siege (see below) since the great panic and the food riots, how will we judge their use of criminals as human shields?  We will also face various warlords and LAMOEs (Last man on earth, pronounced Lame-O) out in the wild requiring us to know a variety of small unit tactics and good moral judgement. A good introduction on the subject is Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars. Walzer answers questions like should soldiers take extra risks, calling for civilians in a cellar before tossing a grenade, or flying daylight bombing missions to better aim and avoid missing military targets and bombing civilian ones. The doctrine of military necessity describes how moral standards can be set aside during times of war when disaster is a worse alternative than whatever moral sin is being contemplated. Our small unit leaders need to have a base of knowledge beyond whatever they saw in pop culture in making those decisions. Zombie war is more than shooting zombies and requires at least a basic grasp of wartime ethics.

    The sieges of these towns are incredible. We held the critical Rocky Mountain passes during the winter and cleared the mountain west. We likely won’t face another siege, but we should still be ready.  The warlords who established themselves after the government fled might surround a patrol, counterattack our bases, and the tide might turn and we face another zombie horde. I hear the one around Hero City (formerly New York) numbers in the millions. And we aren’t exaggerating like Herodotus. Unit leaders need to know how to set up a perimeter and defense, guard areas of entry, prevent against sabotage from Quislings, how to react to breaches, and how to perform zombie specific tactics like thin the herd using fire attacks. There is a chapter in Sunzi on fire attacks that is often overlooked for people waxing eloquent about knowing thy enemy. The Romans were so merciless in their attacks and sparing survivors Josephus’ account of the Siege of Jerusalem is especially applicable to a city about to fall. The most comprehensive is from Aineias the Tactician, who writes from a bevy of personal experience and focuses exclusively on how to survive a siege.


    “So you see sir, we can do that reading list using the books in the library in under a week.” Deane said.

    The supply guys didn’t like it, but Deane got a room and a few hours each day for platoon leaders and above for a crash course in zombie reading.

    The above material borrowed heavily from the World War Z universe and is a fun application of military history.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Yonder is Matter Unorganized

    The genesis of this project occurred during my last project. I systematically analyzed of over 30 classical Chinese texts on warfare. The interactions between the text were intriguing. Some points taken as statement of facts were quite controversial arguments. Sometimes the arguments produced a synthesis or led to subtle variations that lead to additional ideas. This led me to think about Mormon thought a good deal and the many arguments between sides that have their various proof texts. I’ve already tried to go beyond the usual proof texts but I wanted to do the same systematic analysis.

    Last year’s Come Follow Me was the Book of Mormon so I thought it was a good chance to take notes as I kept up with my weekly readings. I still have lots of research to do but I wanted to share few of the major ideas I’m forming.  

Re Creating Late Nephite Thought

    I was surprised to see principles that could be extrapolated from late Nephite thought. I already mentioned that the Nephites could see the oncoming attack, had suffered prior attacks and thus this was their most justified preemptive attack. Comparing Section 98:23-27 with Mormon 3:6-7 as well as Alma 48:14, I couldn’t help but recall that after multiple attacks the defenders could bring their witness to God and be justified in striking back. The problem Mormon had, and what led to his utter refusal to lead them wasn’t the offensive attack itself, but that the Nephites were improperly using God’s just methods with a wicked heart.

    The Nephite offensive is also supported by the concept of reclaiming lost territory. I mentioned possible revanchist elements in justifying the attack and I should have expanded that concept. One of the seminal modern books on just war listed reclaiming lost territory as one of the reasons.[1] Michael Walzer mentioned the territorial loss of the Franco Prussian War of 1870 as a partial reason the French gave for fighting in World War I (1914). The Nephites were pushed out of ancestral lands they held for over 500 years! (From the time they left the land of Nephi around the 3rd century BC to the mid 3rd century AD.)  Of course, they would want it back!

    The rump dynasties in Southern China often spoke of returning to reclaim the homeland and concept was at least promoted in the court when it wasn’t practical to launch attacks. This led to numerous challenges for the government. Not launching an attack to reclaim their sacred homeland could undermine the legitimacy of the government. Being on the wrong side of the debate could lead to being sacked, or in the case of the legend Yue Fei, forced to commit suicide. Soldiers sometimes mutinied which made saying no to an attack incredibly dangerous.[2] This may bring a new appreciation and interpretation of verses that describe a Nephite army that “tremble[s with] anger” against their general, is “without civilization” and “harden their hearts” against Mormon’s commands(Moroni 9:4,11). We might consider these verses as an indication of how strongly they wanted to reclaim their homeland, how furious they were when their desires weren’t granted, and how close they were to violent mutiny. (One of the my favorite scenes, the mutiny in Game of Thrones comes to mind here as well.)   We only get hints of it, but we can see a justification within Nephite thought, and how that justification bases on texts and popular thought could help us understand why Nephite soldiers were angry, wicked and mutinous when they weren’t granted their wishes.

    Finally, the Nephites could argue military necessity in some cases. There are nuances in the definition but Walzer is the most succinct where he says that there are special cases where victory is so important or defeat so frightening that it is morally as well as military necessary to override the rules of war.[3] Or from Francisco De Victoria, “In war everything is lawful which the defense of the commonwealth requires.”[4] In plain language it suggests that the ends justify the means.

    The Nephites clearly faced this kind of defeat. Their entire nation faced eradication and thus they had the strongest argument for setting aside normal moral codes, like feeding widows as much as the army (Moroni 9:16). They faced an existential crisis and imminent catastrophe that required an override of the rules of war. Of course, Mormon disagreed, but as readers we know the Nephites are annihilated, thus they have the most moral defense for diverting food from widows to the army.

    We have three different philosophies that help us recreate what later Nephite leaders were thinking, and how they interacted with Mormon’s thought. Mormon thought that the Nephites were hopeless regardless of their strategy. That makes it sound like this blog is useless. I discuss in point three how strategy still matters. Yet we can’t always see into people’s hearts or have the benefit of hindsight. We also can’t be passive in a world full of danger, so it’s important for us to see what strategies we might pursue in addition to the spiritual principles we follow.

Lamanite Just War

    I’ve been mocked for considering Lamanite attitudes and positions. One clown chortled and sarcastically asked if my next book was the Book of Amalickiah. Amalickiah convinced many Nephites and Lamanites to follow him, leading to many deaths and a great war so we should figure out the arguments he made. We need to understand different perspectives of the Book of Mormon and we can do that by taking our good guy googles off and seeing the Nephite propaganda for what it is. We have a biased, ethno centric account of Nephites that called their enemies blood thirsty (Mosiah 10:12), but plenty of evidence that they weren’t. The text itself states at several points that the Lamanites are more righteous. Jacob says they respect their wives (Jacob 2:35), in Helaman they are often more righteous (Helaman 6:2-8), and we have the teachings of Samuel the Lamanite. At one point, Alma 47, they didn’t want to attack, and considering ancient societies the average Lamanite had little choice in going to war and could be considered just combatants.  Remember that it was the dissenters and not Lamanites that were their leaders because of their hardened attitudes (Alma 43:6).  It is reasonable to consider both sides.

    The Lamanites were expelled from the wilderness to provide a better defensive line for the Nephites. Just like lost land (see point number 1) territorial integrity is a violation of the collective people’s rights and should be defended. Hugo Grotius wrote that this kind of “injury received” is a reason for just war.[5]  As I wrote, the arguments from the towers Amalickiah made to stir of the people were probably far more persuasive when the expelled refugees came pouring into Lamanite lands as they now had a justified reason for attack. This is a good example of unintended side effects where Moroni tries to strengthen defenses by providing justifications for attacks.

    The possible stealing of the sacred artifacts would represent an injustice that needs to be rectified (Omni 12-13).[6] The Nephite record keepers often stressed the danger of their records falling into Lamanite hands. The Lamanites that attacked Limhi had a reasonable belief that the former broke their oaths by which the king Limhi ruled. Grotius listed violation of clause inserted in grant of power. Limhi and his people being blamed for the kidnapping of Lamanite women would make the Lamanite war just(Mosiah 20). (Though it was based on bad information which shows how dangerous and think even “just” wars can be.) The resulting war might be why Limhi was so scrupulous in quoting the treaty.[7]

Heart Problems

    One of my rebuttals to those that site supposed prohibitions against preemptive war is that the real sin of the Nephites was a heart problem not strategy. That is amplified throughout the text. The central promise of the Book of Mormon is that keeping the commandments will lead to prosperity.  In Mosiah the people of Lihmi were in bondage due to iniquity not strategy (Mosiah 23:12) In the multiple descriptions of Captain Moroni, not delighting in bloodshed was more important than strategy (Mormon 7:4). We might compare that attitude with the how the Lamanites are recorded as “rejoicing over the blood of the Nephites” (Alma 48:25). This could also be another ethno centric account of “barbarous cruelty” of the other side (Alma 48:24).  

    None of the above has to do with strategy. It gives me the impression that when we are exclusively debating strategy, we are missing the point. We should be examining our collective hearts. Yet we can’t ignore strategy either.  We can’t see inside other people, and we are too quick to judge and accuse other people based on strategies. (I’m looking at those for whom warmonger is their favorite lazy insult. I’m struck by the irony of their aggressive posts while believing in non-aggression.) We aren’t asked to sit passively on our thrones, but to resist whatever evil with swords that we couldn’t with words (Alma 60:21; 61:14) This connects to an entire blog post where I showed the many instances of trying to change hearts, but then relying on the sword.

    The provides an interesting corollary to James Falconers argument in his theological introduction that Benjamin’s answer to unity was repentance and keeping covenants more than a form of government. It isn’t a question of what government is correct, but that the people participating in the government and making strategy are doing so correctly. This reinforces the likely reason for Mormon’s rejection of what appeared to be a textbook example of a just war according to section 98 and the law of war given to Nephi (D&C 98:32). It wasn’t that the Nephites didn’t have proper cause on paper, it is that they were so hopelessly wicked that they still couldn’t justly pursue it.

Gideon or Helaman

    A king that failed or “alienate[d] his people” is also a reason for insurrection by Grotius.[8] This is interesting as theory that can be abused. Grotius included that justification, but then included much longer qualifications and warnings about doing so. He said that there should be limits on usurpations as they lead to “dangerous and bloody conflicts,” factions, and outside intervention.”[9]  
A righteous uprising is extremely difficult to determine and could lead to greater chaos. “Individuals ought not take it upon themselves to decide a question which involves interests of the whole people.”
This leads to two examples in the Book of Mormon. We see this as Gideon was an example of a righteous cause, but those in Helaman 1 were not. But both led to additional chaos. Gideon is seen as a righteous figure, but he failed to overthrow the king, and after a Lamanite invasion the people splintered further. In Helaman one the Nephites seized, tried, and executed a contender for the chief judgeship as he was “about to” flatter the people. As I explained, this could have fueled a sense of injustice and likely fueled the insurgency.[10]


    As you can see, I have some great ideas that are forming my next book. The matter is a little more organized but I still don’t know what the final product will look like.  My focus is far more systematic examination of all scripture. I’m particularly interested in how the different scriptures interact with each other, how the scriptures interact with military thinkers across the world ranging from the Salamanca School to the Mohists of classical China and focusing on more than what’s in the war chapters. What sounds most interesting to you? What would you like to see?


[1] Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, (Basic Books, 2015), 56.  

[2] Peter Lorge, War Politics and Society in Early Modern Chinese: 900-1795, (Routledge Press, 2005), 58-59.

[3] Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 132.  

[4] Fransico De Vitoria, Principles of Politics and International Law in the Work of Francisco De Vitoria, Antoni Serra ed., (Madrid Edicones Cultura Historica, 1946), 78.

[5] Grotius on the Laws and War of Peace, Stephen Neff ed, (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 81

[6] Don Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon’s Missing Stories, (Greg Koffored Books, 2019), 265-266.

[7] John Gee, “Limhi in the Library,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992): 54–66.

[8] Grotius, War and Peace, 73.

[9] Ibid., 76.

[10] Make sure to check out the comments in that link. They are equal parts hilarious and sad as I’m called a Marxist Schmuck- even though in my presentation I mocked hipsters that wear Che Guevarra t shirts and I chuckled over my heavily biased left-wing sources during my dissertation research. Despite the groundbreaking research into Mao’s insurgency, I don’t know basic facts about Mao’s text. Even though I mentioned 4 times that I trust the text’s spiritual pronouncements, I supposedly “don’t trust” the men of God by providing historical context of the robbers. And so on. Mormons will die on historicity hill, but when you apply historical methods to the text to produce new understanding they freak out like the out of coffee scene from Airplane.