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. 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
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.
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.
Or from Francisco De Victoria, “In war everything is lawful which the defense
of the commonwealth requires.”
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
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. 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).
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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?
Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical
Illustrations, (Basic Books, 2015), 56.
Peter Lorge, War Politics and Society in Early Modern Chinese: 900-1795, (Routledge
Press, 2005), 58-59.
Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 132.
De Vitoria, Principles of Politics and International Law in the Work of
Francisco De Vitoria, Antoni Serra ed., (Madrid Edicones Cultura Historica,
on the Laws and War of Peace, Stephen Neff ed, (Cambridge University Press,
Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon’s Missing
Stories, (Greg Koffored Books, 2019), 265-266.
John Gee, “Limhi in the Library,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1
Grotius, War and Peace, 73.
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
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.