Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Duplicity of the Anti-war Critic

As I’ve been a part of the Mormon blogging community I’ve noticed the same arguments and referenced talk against war, while also noticing certain cultural trends from the same people. These cultural beliefs are often at odds with the words of modern prophets so the proponents of these beliefs must explain how they can be members of the church but not accept the prophet’s words as face value. Yet one of the most referenced talks used against war is “The False Gods We Worship” from Spencer W. Kimball where he argues an incredibly pacifistic stance. Thus on some issues anti-war critics parse a prophet’s words to the point that they become meaningless, while other topics they cling to and use to bludgeon their opponents.

Before we continue I should point out the proper place that a prophet’s words have in establishing doctrine. In statement from May 4th 2007 the first presidency concerning official doctrine they state:

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.

In short a single prophet’s words doesn't have a great deal of weight as binding church doctrine. This may lead to some confusion as there is the weight of church culture, quasi-official publications like the “For Strength of Youth” pamphlet, and standards at Church schools which led to the infamous “skinny jeans” episode that could lead to an average member’s perception of doctrine that is radically different than what even the leaders of the church say is official.[1] It also leads to near comical levels of frustration among anti Mormons as they try to critique odious Mormon doctrines and find that very little of their quotes even qualify as such.

Many internal critics of church policy would agree with the limited ability of a prophet’s words to proclaim official doctrine. This includes those that advance so called homosexual rights, historians of race relations in the church such as Margaret Blair Young, and hard line immigration advocates. In reference to Packer’s talk about homosexuality the critics not only provide the above parsing but they go so far as to denounce his words and claiming that he is a “bully” with “blood on his hands” for his talk.[2] This kind of explicit rejection is not only tolerated but celebrated. Margaret Blair Young repeated "folk lore” and “common 19th century opinions” as the standard explanation for the priesthood ban.[3] Those that oppose the church’s relatively liberal stance on immigration told me in conversation that they simply oppose it. Keep in mind that women who wear shorts and anybody who shows ankle or wrist is also disobeying the counsel of past prophets.

Thus, socially liberal members agree with the church’s official doctrinal channels and amply use them for their social causes; but
they have a different opinion regarding the antiwar talk of Spencer W. Kimball. Whenever the concept of war is discussed this talk is inevitably pointed to.[4] It is usually from liberals that hate war,[5] but also from those that slavishly follow Ron Paul and use this talk to support his fanatical isolationism.[6] I’ve seen it posted on facebook during a Republican presidential debate. At the recent Mormon Perspectives on War and Peace Conference I was excoriated for doubting its binding nature by several of the audience members.

And yet this brings me to the duplicitous part of the behavior. I was excoriated by people, and I regularly receive attacks for not “following the prophet” from those who would say the same thing about a different prophet’s talk concerning their pet subject matter. In other words, they change the weight of a prophet’s words based on their level of support for the topic. The blogs where I see this then devolve into prophet bashing as each participant in the conversation uses the prophets that agree with them to make their case. So if I choose to throw Elder Packer under the bus I will receive the praise of the homosexual crowd. If I choose to ignore the church’s stance on immigration I will receive praise from minute men.[7] But all this time I would not be properly using their words of counsel.

So instead I keep a proper perspective on the words of the prophets as taught by the church leaders. I accept them as wise men but do not believe they pronounce doctrine with every talk, but that binding doctrine is found in the standard works and official declarations. This is one more reason I chose to focus on warfare in The Book of Mormon. Instead of going downstream and proof texting unofficial sources of doctrine, I focus my studies on a more solid foundation.


All accessed December 27th, 2011.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reflections of an Insurgent

Now I’m not an actual insurgent. I don’t set roadside bombs or kidnap journalists but I have been an outsider using nontraditional tactics to reach my professional goals. I borrow the terminology of Dr. Mark Grimsley, a professor of history of The Ohio State University, who used the term “insurgent” to describe the role that blogging has in the field of military history. Since I am about a month away from my third anniversary of blogging I thought I would reflect on where I’ve come from, my original goals, and where I am going.

The Ohio State University is one of the best schools in military history and Grimsley’s award winning blog is a standard in the field so I followed much of his advice. I focused on a particular subject. Since I have an interest in politics, foreign policy, music, movies, and an active personal life I could have gone in many different directions for my blog. But focusing on one topic allowed me to become the “go to” spot for one subject, instead of offering a little bit on many topics. I also wasn’t clever enough to come up with a clever title so I went with a straight forward title.

Grimsley also described blogging as an insurgent medium. He said that it is impossible for one person to acquire an air force, operate large armies across the sea, or do many things that modern nations can. But an insurgent can make a crude bomb, he can pick up a gun and take pot shots at a passing convey of soldiers and he can still fight. Applied to blogging, I don’t have the degrees that many people do. I didn’t have access to a publishing organization, but I did have ideas and desire. So I started a blog and in one sense started “publishing”.

One of my stated goals was to explore the many thoughts I’ve had about The Book of Mormon. While they may not have been the most refined thoughts, publishing them on this blog has produced numerous advantages. I’ve received unsolicited fiction and nonfiction books involving military history and The Book of Mormon. In my count I’ve had three books, an excellent fiction book, and two academic books. I’ve even had an academic publisher, Oklahoma University Press, ask me to review books for them. I’ve had calls for papers forwarded to me. This allowed me to present a paper at Claremont Graduate School, which will end up being published next year.

This shift in “publishing” medium presents me with some very good problems. As Mao Zedong described an insurgency has three phases. The first phase is a local insurgency. The second phase involves taking physical control of remote areas. The third phase involves a transition to a traditional campaign to seize power of the national government. So what this insurgent blog has done is help my career from the first to the third phase. Instead of operating my blog as the only outlet to discuss my preliminary thoughts it has become an accompanying medium to advertise my success in publishing in traditional mediums. So I’ve gone from a guy with a roadside bomb to living in the palace of the old dictator trying to figure out how to form a provisional government.

Just today I received confirmation that I will be writing a chapter in a World Civilization textbook from American Public University Press. I am refining my paper about the American Civil War for publication in a Journal. And I am making suggested revisions in what will be a chapter in Mormon Perspectives on War. I also received a new book from OU Press to review. This is all in addition to my waiting to receive word about my book manuscript, and several presentations next year.

This has a huge time requirement. Every one of these papers has a different citation style and publishing in traditional presses requires more editing and a higher standard of writing than preliminary thoughts on a blog. Next, I am wondering about the function of this blog. It is hard to rail against the machine when you are the machine. At the very least it requires a change in the stated goals of this blog. It seems it is now a way to advertise my more traditional publishing outlets. This means I will most likely, and sadly, provide far fewer posts that analyze scriptures. Change might be tough but in my case it is both easy and necessary because I am still full of ideas but simply publish them in different places. The final problem involves the pace of those traditional outlets. While I publish my preliminary thoughts on a weekly basis, books and journal articles take longer. Hence my publishing frequency here will slow down as well.

I appreciate all of you taking this journey with me and I look forward to continuing to provide quality posts about warfare in The Book of Mormon.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Review: Sunzi at Gettysburg

You can find my new book review at the Michigan War Studies Review. This is not directly related to warfare in The Book of Mormonbut those of you that have noticed the links of the left side of my blog and have read my manuscript realize how much of my research here is based upon East Asian military theory. In related news I had a publisher request a full manuscript from me so at the very least I haven't been rejected yet. And of course that could lead to much more. Thank you for reading.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Spare the People

In studying my Chinese I came across an interesting verse. I didn’t recognize the character and after I looked it up it roughly translated into “treat leniently” (kuandai). So I looked at the English version in Alma chapter 47. After Amalickiah maneuvered himself into the command of the rebel Lamanite army he murdered the King, framed the King’s servants, and received a letter from the Queen.

It reads:
33 Therefore, when the queen had received [word of the King’s death] she sent unto Amalickiah, desiring him that he would spare the people of the city; and she also desired him that he should come in unto her; and she also desired him that he should bring witnesses with him to testify concerning the death of the king.

This verse presents all kinds of questions. If the Queen requested that he spare the people of the city this makes me wonder how often Lamanite armies sacked their own cities. The Queen also specified that “the people” be spared. Since the servants of the King were the assumed killers is it possible the Queen thought Amalickiah and the army would exact revenge upon the city? Was it a plea to avoid a civil war between the King’s royal family- the Queen and allies- and the leader of the main army? But then the Queen requests, or possibly orders, that Amalickiah bring witnesses of the King’s murder. And the next verse says that the witnesses “satisfied” the Queen. How much power did the Queen have? Was this more a negotiation between the leader of the army and still potent political leader? Hearing testimony suggests some sort of legal procedure. Was a trial a part of a ritual coronation?

These questions will keep me occupied for quite a while. What I can say now is that a transfer of power using the military often involved sacking the city as well. I can think pf a particularly vivid instance where barbarians captured the Chinese capital and the palace women committed suicide rather than be ravished in the looting.[1] The unexpected death of a sovereign often resulted in a mad scramble for power. The Queen could easily use her position and contacts to control the capital and remain in power. And Amalickiah could use the army as a platform to control the countryside and seize the capital. With rival bases of political power a desire to “spare the people of the city” could have been a coded political message to end the potential of a civil war. Finally, I have to do a great deal of study concerning ritual coronations and a possible legal procedure for doing so.

So what do you think? What are your answers to these questions and interpretation of this curious verse?

1. Peter Lorge, War, Politics, and Society in Early Modern China: 900-1795 (New York: Routlege Press, 2005) 53-54.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review: The Devil's Colony

The Devil's Colony: A Sigma Force Novel
James Rollins
479 pages

The Devil Colony: A Sigma Force Novel by James Rollins combines the historical mystery of National Treasure with the intensity of 24 in this action adventure about gold plates and American Indians. Aside from minor criticisms the narrative flows quickly and forms an almost nonstop series of action sequences that entertained and involved the reader to a point that I heartily recommend this book to interested parties.

Just like National Treasure movies the book starts with an excellent hook involving cloak dagger action on the frontier, Indian warfare, and the Founding Fathers. Quickly transporting the reader to the modern day a couple of teenagers stumble upon an ancient Indian cave and set in motion a chain of events involving gold plates, government conspiracies and ancient secret orders. This reader was confused as those that seemed to be candidates for the main character died or faded away quickly. The next few sections added to my confusion as the author introduced various members of the Sigma team. But once introduced the plot moved along in a compelling series of 24 style action sequences.

The book had several typos readily apparent to Mormon eyes. The BYU anthropologist that assists the government team in hunting down the ancient gold plates refers to the Church as the “Church of Latter Day Saints” and The Book of Mormon was translated by “John Smith”. There are also about a dozen f words and at least one s word in the book. While this is a paltry number compared to a standard hour in the Marine Corps it may be offensive enough to discourage the average Latter Day Saint reader. But in defense of that language, at a few moments in the book I felt like saying “hot damn” as I tried to catch my breath during the incredible action sequences.

The bread and butter of the series is its’ action sequences and Rollins does not disappoint. Some of the highlights include breaking out of Fort Knox, a series of encounters with a physically imposing and sadistic German mercenary, and a helicopter escape from an imploding island. There are codas that introduce the members of the team and a final few sections that introduce threads which will presumably fill the next book. Outside of several very minor criticisms I heartily recommend this book to friends and family. In fact I had to steal it back from my mother to complete this review.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What are you doing?

Edited, 8/25/11: So I guess I WAS having a really bad day. I deleted the previous comments and will make this a simple update post. Enjoy!

Since I spent some time on the internet instead of working on my book I thought I could at least do a blog post. So here is what I am doing:

Of course I'm working on my book. I'm still waiting to hear from publishers. My tentative title is "All the Arts of War: Ancient Warfare and Modern Lessons from the Book of Mormon". I have also renamed my chapter on Gadianton Robbers to "Bitter Exactors of Their Rights". I was thinking I could repeat the main title immediately underneath with Chinese characters. And then the cover would look something like the above picture.

Other Publications:

“Offensive Warfare in The Book of Mormon and a Defense of the Bush Doctrine” in Patrick Mason, Richard Pulsipher, and Richard Lyman Bushman eds. Mormon Perspectives on War Salt Lake City: Kofford Books, 2012. (Contracted)

“Qi Jiguang (1528-1598)” The History of the Philosophy of War and Strategy New York: ABC-CLIO Press, 2012. (Contracted)

Book Review "Sun Tzu at Gettysburg: Ancient Wisdom in the Modern World" by Bevin Alexander, New York: WW Norton and Co., 2011. in The Michigan War Studies Review.

Possible Publication:

Confederates Still in the Attic: Justifying the Civil War. The Justified Reader New York: Kansas University Press, 2012.


"The Infestation: Robbers in late Imperial Rome and the Chinese Period of Disunion", Society For Military History, May 10, 2012.

"Fed with the Flesh of their Husbands: The High Cost of Waging Economic War", Mormon Scholars in the Humanities, May 17, 2012.

As you can see I have a great many exciting projects on which I'm working. What are you doing?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Call for Reviewers

I'm still hard at work on my book. I am done with a rough draft and waiting to hear back from the publishers but I need to polish what I have. I need anybody who is willing to review my work. You will help if you can read a couple pages, a chapter, or the entire book. You don't need to be a historian or even LDS. You can simply read to see if you enjoy it, just for typos, or provide critical feedback to my arguments. Anything and everything will help.

My only condition is for those that offer to review my work do so in a timely manner. (I'm talking hours and not days or weeks).

Thank you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

All the Arts of War

Greetings. I haven't been posting a great deal, but I'm happy to say this is due to my upcoming book. I have several leads on publishers and I'm aiming to have a completed manuscript by the October General Conference. Because of this book I haven't been able to focus on much else besides research and writing. Since I value my readership, all five of you, I wanted to give you a sneak peak at my current title and table of contents.

All the Arts of War: A Military Study of The Book of Mormon
1. Introduction: Growing importance and spotlight on Mormonism. Why study the church through warfare in The Book of Mormon? Why does military history matter?
2. Bleached Bones Covered the Field: Analyzing the Jaredite Civil War using the Chinese “War of the Eight Princes”.
3. In These Difficult Circumstances: Gadianton Robbers in Nephite Society.
4. They Fought on Both Hands With Exceeding Fury: Battle in The Book of Mormon.
5. All the Arts of War: Military Theory and Practice.
6. The Inward Fire: The Leadership of Captain Moroni.
7. By and By We Shall Receive Wine for Our Rations: Logistics in The Book of Mormon.
8. Cords and Ladders: Prisoner Treatment in The Book of Mormon.
9. The Lord Forbid? Offensive Warfare and a Defense of the Bush Doctrine.

You'll notice that all of my titles are quotes from The Book of Mormon or from primary sources I found in my research. What do you think? Do these spark your interest?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

MHA Conference

This weekend is the Mormon Historical Association Conference. You can find their program here, but here is where you will find me:

Session 1E:Latter-day Saints and the Civil War
“Mormons and the American Civil War Press”
Kenneth L. Alford, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
“Civil War Saints: Latter-day Saints Serving in the Civil War”
Robert Freeman, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
“A Closer Look at the Utah Cavalry”
Joseph R. Stuart, Sandy, UT

2A: Introducing the Church History Department’s Integrated Catalog and Joseph Smith Papers WebsiteChair: Richard E. Turley Jr.
Elder Marlin K. Jensen
Elder Paul K. Sybrowsky
Reid L. Neilson
Church History Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, UT

3G: Mormons and the U.S. Military in the Nineteenth Century
“Saints and Soldiers: Mormon Soldier Motivation for Enlisting in the Civil War”
Brant Ellsworth, Penn State University, University Park
“A Mormon Revolution: Mission President Louis Bertrand’s Predictions of America’s Downfall”
Erik J. Freeman, Utah Valley University, Orem
“The Last Bastion: Pipe Springs and Its Place in Brigham Young’s ‘Great Game’”
John A. Peterson, Kaysville, UT

This looks like a great conference and I hope to see you there.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

More on the Mormon Rebellion

So Mormon Dialogue has a thread about this book, with these posts as the highlight (and lowlight respectively):

You can find my original review here. And the entire thread is found here.

After only making it to the second paragraph of Deane’s review, I wanted him to defend the claim of there being “new research” in "Turley et al"s book. Can Deane identify just five new bits of information found in "Turley et al"s book that cannot be found in Blood of the Prophets, Innocent Blood or Mountain Meadows Massacre? My guess is Deane has not read any of these books.

I am completely shocked that any person with a shred of decency would write such a thing as the following: "then the authors dismiss relative examples of frontier violence that could have provided context for the Mountain Meadows Massacre", but this is found in Deane’s review. What violent act in the west compares to Mountain Meadows? It was not until the Oklahoma City bombing that any like number of civilians were murdered in cold blood in a non-military campaign on U.S. soil.

Deane claims the authors present the Mormons and Young as “witch burners”, “delusional”, “weasels”, “ungrateful guests”, and “dirty and sinister”. If one is willing to give Deane the benefit of the doubt, it could be said he has made at least five errors in a very short review. From my reading of the text he is sighting, I think Deane is being dishonest. For example the authors in describing how heated the reformation of 1856-1857 was, write that “Young ignited the most fearful spiritual upheaval since the 1642 Salem witch hunts.” (94) This is beyond stretching the truth on Deane’s part. Deane’s other words don’t even show up in the text.

And finally, how weak is it when apologists like Deane cry that their side of the story is not being told? What does he think 40,000 to 60,000 copies of Massacre at Mountain Meadows sold means? How many copies of Mormon Rebellion will be sold? Possibly three to four thousand books sold, less than 9 percent of Turley’s book. This apologists is not satisfied with these kinds of odds; no he want to destroy any other voice, call the other voices liars, or not even let the other voice speak, this is his strategy. An apologist like Deane doesn’t take the time to look at the evidence even-handedly, learn about the history or think for himself, he just attacks.

My response: Hey Joe. I’m happy to clarify a few things for you, although based on the tone of your post this will be my only response to you. I would be happy to continue if your tone does change. If it makes you feel better you can blame it all on my apologist programming and lack of decency.

I’m a historian that specializes in Military history with a secondary background in Mormon history. As such I am unaware of any historiographic minefields when I review a piece. So I can honestly say I don’t bring any approach or agenda to a book. I actually looked forward to this book a great deal.

But I’m sorry, the book contained many lousy historical practices. Providing context to an event doesn’t condone it, but it does provide greater understanding. This is what good history is supposed to do. American history has its share of extra judicial killing, mob action, and bloody border zones. Little of it compares to the scope of MMM and none condone it, but it would have been nice (not to mention more professional as historians) for the bloodiest action of the war to receive a more nuanced treatment. For example, Dr. John Grenier has impressively shown that there is a strain of American war making that targeted civilians. This strand was so prominent he called it the “America’s First Way of War”. So its misleading (among other things) to present the MMM in a vacuum independent of American and Western U.S. history.

I used the term “new research” to apply equally to new analysis of existing sources. Again, historians need to do more than use their existing collections. The manner in which they analyze the varying accounts and then synthesize it into an argument matters just as much as their research. The authors again failed, and thus their arguments are suspect at best. As I said with “context”, I appreciated the Turley book’s attempt to understand the motivations of the perpetuates. And I was disappointed that the authors skipped the chance to do likewise in favor of their agenda.

But this became less puzzling as I realized the very simplistic structure of the book. Mormons=bad, opponents of Mormons=good, people that like Mormons= dumb dumb dumb dumb! That is not history. To borrow a phrase from my time in Texas that is very useful in studying history, even the flattest pancake still has two sides. I’m sure Brigham Young had his share of faults. But the author’s continued bias became so typically outrageous that it was comical by the end of the book. So instead of gaining new insight into a controversial religious figure I instead laughed at the comic book super villain they created. Judging from the authors accounts I was expecting to look at the pictures and see stake marks over Young’s heart where the Federals unsuccessfully tried kill him. Again, professional and talented historians would take pains to try and present a nuanced picture of their subject, not write a one sided hit piece.

Finally, my list of “bad” and “good” insults was accurate. The ones in quotes are direct, the ones that are not express the sentiment the authors were creating. As you can see from even the small sampling, I was not taking their words or sentiments out of context. The sheer numbers of instances made me think this wasn’t a random occurrence, but an agenda that fatally undermined their attempt at legitimate history. Even as a sophomore earning my undergraduate degree my advisor could tell when I disliked a historical figure and he told me not to poison the well with my prose. Again the author’s repeatedly committed mistakes that an undergraduate should and could avoid.

For clarity sake: “witch burners” is the accurate description of how people Salem project their passion and what the authors intended in recalling that period of religiously inspired violence. I would have to be as dumb as you think I am not to make that connection. “Delusional” is found on page 144 where the authors state that “meanwhile a messenger from the real world interrupted Young’s dream of grand alliance.” Again, this is an appropriate one word description of the authors’ intent.

I hesitated to use “weasels” but believe it correctly identifies the authors’ sentiment. The Medieval Norman conquer Robert Guiscard has been called “Robert the Fox” but the Latin word was also translated as “Robert the Underhanded” or “Robert the Weasel”. This is appropriately recalled when the authors write on page 209, “A later opponent said that Young was not much consequence as a lion, but when he took on the role of the fox, ‘he is very formidable’. Young showed nimble skills in escaping culpability for both blunders…” It was extremely clear to me that the authors were arguing about Young’s ability to weasel out of problems and they used negative terms to do so.

“Ungrateful guests” is located on page 197 (I originally listed it as page 180- my notes are that messy). Here the authors state “Travelling in Vilet’s comfortable carriage The University of Pennsylvania graduate returned the captain’s hospitality by serving as Young’s eyes in the enemy camp.” And “dirty and sinister” is found on page 123 (mistakenly I put 124) as “rough and sinister looking men”. Again, you could say that I was being unfair or reading too much into it. But the consistency with which the authors poison the well convinced me that I was not. And I’m sorry to sound like a broken record but professional historians do not consistently commit these kinds of errors.

Your last paragraph is incredibly sad. It’s a long diatribe against a perceived enemy, full of vitriol and ad hominem but does nothing to bolster the defense of the book. I don’t know and don’t care how many prints the respective books have. I’ve never been called an apologist (but I guess I made it into the club!), and never published with FAIR. Trying to paint me into the enemy camp, call me a liar, question my intelligence, or question my character doesn’t engage my arguments. If anything, your hyperbolic response to my review indicates that you’re the one that read it with preprogrammed agenda. (Assuming you even read it!) You did find several typos in my citations. Thank you for calling it to my attention. Have a nice life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

And Thus Was The End

I had trouble sleeping last night due to the huge news. In a daring military raid Osama Bin Laden was killed by U.S. soldiers. I recalled these scriptures in 3 Nephi 4:

12And notwithstanding the threatenings and the oaths which Giddianhi had made, behold, the Nephites did beat them, insomuch that they did fall back from before them.

13And it came to pass that Gidgiddoni commanded that his armies should pursue them as far as the borders of the wilderness, and that they should not spare any that should fall into their hands by the way; and thus they did pursue them and did slay them, to the borders of the wilderness, even until they had fulfilled the commandment of Gidgiddoni.

14And it came to pass that Giddianhi, who had stood and fought with boldness, was pursued as he fled; and being weary because of his much fighting he was overtaken and slain. And thus was the end of Giddianhi the robber.

I love "reading between the lines" of these verses. Verse 12 mocks the military strength of the robber "notwithstanding their [threats]", and then mocks their leader who "fought with boldness" as he "fled". And finally, the rather matter of fact delivery that recalls President Obama's somber announcement: "And thus was the end of Giddianhi the robber".

My highest compliments go to the troops and the best tribute I can offer involves a classic Metallica song. The local radio station played this the day Saddam's sons were killed. It felt appropriate then, and feels even more so now. Osama Bin Laden was a coward that killed innocent people. The world is a better place without him.

Metallica's "Seek and Destroy":

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Slaves and Soldiers

A website called "Mormon Heretic" has a great article on the possibility of the Hebrew slaves really being a military unit. This is partly based on the translation Hebrew word "elith", which in addition to being a number is also a military unit. Long time readers should recognize this argument since I've studied this possibility in The Book of Mormon here. You can find the current Mormon Heretic article here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Weapon of Love

Here is an excellent presentation from the War and Peace Conference. David Pulispher summarizes the Ammonite Conundrum. The Ammonites are presented as great pacifists yet their sons are presented as the greatest examples of righteous warriors. He instead takes away the Pacifist/Just War dichotomy and instead presents the good, better, and best options.

Session 2 - J. David Pulsipher, "The Ammonite Conundrum" from LDS WarPeace on Vimeo.

The most intriguing aspect of his presentation was his "Best" option. He modified Gandhi's teaching and called it the "Weapon of Love". This struck me because I used the same terminology in responding to my wife's misbehavior and in my attempts to save my marriage. I enjoyed the presentation, and it was an extremely pleasant treat to know that in the worst moments of my life I respond the way the Gandhi and the Savior would!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Book Review: The Mormon Rebellion, America's First Civil War 1857-1858

The Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War, 1857-1858
David L. Bigler and Will Bagley
University of Oklahoma Press
April 2011
384 Pages

[This is cross posted at The Association of Mormon Letters, link forthcoming]

The Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War 1857-1858 by David Bigler and Will Bagley seeks to resurrect the major causality of the war, “the truth” (p.X). They do this by revising the perception of the War as “Buchanan’s Blunder” and placing the blame squarely on Brigham Young’s delusional and overzealous lust for power. The authors use an impressive array of primary and secondary sources and crisp prose but their simplistic analysis, false dichotomy, and extremely tendentious arguments make the work of dubious value to historians and interested parties.

The authors start their narrative with the first negative reports from federal officials stationed in Utah in 1851. They spend several more chapters detailing Mormon defiance of federal authorities, their relations with the Indians, and their attempts to gain statehood. What they notoriously left out are the detailed reasons for the Mormon flight to the Great Salt Lake Basin and a nuanced account of the character of Federal officials and their interaction with Mormon leaders. The book spends a chapter on the Mountain Meadows Massacre that largely fails to comment on the extensive new research presented by Turley et al.

The authors spend several chapters on the conduct of the war. These chapters benefit from extensive journals of combatants on both sides and the Nauvoo Legion records. They follow that with an uneven account of the first federal officials to return to the valley and the actions of the U.S. army. The epilogue argues that the war ended with the death of Brigham Young in 1877.

But the problem with their narrative starts early on. The chance to understand the Mormon position is squandered by the authors’ dismissing the description of Mormon concerns over their repeated past mistreatment as their “obligatory litany”, “propaganda” or manufactured sympathy (see for example, p. 148, 292). One of the fundamental principles taught in history 101 is that you need to understand as much as you can the participant’s point of view and not simply judge the morality of their behavior. The authors not only dismiss the Mormon point of view but start out by comparing this event to 9/11 on page XI; then the authors dismiss relative examples of frontier violence that could have provided context for the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and don’t even mention contemporary Utopian or Millennial societies that would have again provided crucial additional context. They fail to discuss other possible factors that motivated Brigham Young’s decisions. This lack of context makes the events in the book even more sensational and gives the uninitiated a rather skewed picture of 1850s Utah.

In addition to lacking context, the authors rely upon a false dichotomy. Starting in the first chapter the Mormons are “zealots” while the President has “selfless ambition”(p.3). The Mormons, and especially Brigham Young are presented as “schemers” (p.12), “bitter”(p.22), witch burners (p. 94), “Orwellian” (p.5), delusional (p.144), fanatic (p.159), weasels (p.209), ungrateful guests (p.180), menacing (p.272), dirty and sinister (p.324). While the Mormon opponents are presented by the authors as “selfless” (p.3), deserving “praise” (p.9), typically courageous (p. 152), determined peace makers (p.180), “hospitable” (p.197) and “most perfect” (p.324). Anybody who sympathized with the Mormons was presented as a buffoon or dupe such as Thomas Kane and Alfred Cummings.

In short, the lack of context, the simplistic analysis, and the false dichotomies led to an extremely partisan account. This partisanship was reflected in the sources used in the narrative. For example the superbly written account that set that standard for history of Mountain Meadows from historians Turley et al. verify Brigham Young’s letter that ordered the militia to stand down. Yet the authors side step the current research and arguments to liberally cut and paste from a hyper partisan secondary source from 60 years ago (p.178). They lace every word of Brigham Young with evil intent, including something as innocuous as a peace offering to soldiers short on salt (p.212).

In addition, the authors stated claim is to destroy the Mormon mythology surrounding these events. Thus it seemed rather hypocritical for the authors to use myth and legend to destroy myth and legend. The rumor Brigham Young “poisoned” an Indian chief is seemingly presented because it fits their bias and not on the strength of the source (p.79). In the events preceding the Mountain Meadows Massacre the authors accept a grotesque legend attributed Albert Smith with little dissenting commentary (p. 158). Legends of Lot Smith are used because it matches the author’s view of Mormons as “zealous” fanatics (p.212). Severely biased descriptions of Thomas Kane are used to discredit him and present the army in a better light.

Finally, the authors missed several opportunities to study a unique chapter of American military history. This was the largest operation between the Mexican and Civil Wars. It featured several future stars in the Civil War including General Johnston leading the operation and the potential commander of the operation Robert E. Lee. The regular army faced logistical difficulties and challenges from guerilla warfare. They also had to occupy a population that was extremely nervous of Federal power at best and often openly challenging of it. Then this society has to reconstruct itself in the face of federal power with significant local discord. Yet there was scant discussion from the authors about the U.S. armies’ attempts at solving any of the above problems and the possible lessons it taught them there were applied in the Civil War. And in at least one case, the adoption of infamous order 11 by General Grant targeting Jews, the authors could have used military history to add additional context and legitimacy to Mormon fears of oppression at the hands of the U.S. Army. One wishes the authors would have spent a few less pages portraying Brigham Young as a boogey man a few more pages that provided relevant historical analysis and context.

In conclusion, the authors’ research was superb but their analysis failed to provide the proper nuance required of the complex emotions of 1857 Utah and their outrageously biased dichotomy leading to a tendentious use of sources makes this a book that fails to present “the truth” and one I cannot recommend to any kind of historian or member of the church.

Update: I've received some push back on my opinions here and noticed several typos. You can find my follow up here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Conference Reflections or "I'm gonna need more mace"

I'm mostly joking on the second half of the title. It was inspired from the famous line from Jaws where the character sees the shark and says "We're gonna need a bigger boat." I need a bit more time to digest to everything but here are a few of my thoughts.

Overall: The trip was great. No missed exits or reservation snafus. Claremont has a beautiful campus and the food was amazing. While the traffic was much better than I expected I still filled my ten year quota of a-hole, tailgating, weaving, flip me off while drinking a coffee and talking on a cell phone California drivers. On a much better note, if you want to see pictures of my Disney Land trip please add me on facebook.

My experience: My presentation went okay. I was extremely nervous so I stuttered a great deal. But I got better as I went on. It didn't help that Dr. Bushman was in the first row giving me a bad ass Ivy League stare. I heard an audible guffaw when I favorably compared Moroni's action against Amalickiah to Bush's removal of Saddam. During the question and answer period I could hear similar negative reactions.

My mom was just outside the door and overheard a participant leaving who said he "wondered how it didn't come to blows in there". Most of the pacifists must have avoided me but I received a dozen handshakes praising my presentation. (I did have somebody ask if I got a purple heart. Apparently my knees were more stiff from Disney Land than I thought.) I had so many people wanting to talk to me that I couldn't make it to the bathroom in between sessions. The best moments came from the recent graduate of the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth. He enjoyed my analysis and doctrinal commentary from The Book of Mormon. I had to laugh because he felt the need to clarify "doctrinal" as military doctrine instead of theology when I originally thought the former anyway. I also ran into Dr. Bushman, he shook my hand, told me he enjoyed my presentation and wanted to ask me a few questions about it. I didn't get a chance to hear those questions but I'm sure I will be involved in BoM studies for a long time so there is no hurry.

Conference thoughts: There were a great many pacifist presentations. In his opening comments Richard Bushman said the conference was designed to bring a greater voice to anti war forces. The views varied widely though. There were some that rejected all war while others that were fairly "pro war". "Pro war" is still misleading since those who support the Global War on Terror would rather live in peace.

I ran into several National Security practitioners who gave me their cards. I'm hoping it helps me get an analyst position. I will organize the notes I have and get you some academic posts as I catch up on all the work I missed while I was gone. Finally, the conference was videotaped and I overheard some of the grad students discussing the possibility of publishing the proceedings so I will let you know where you can find them. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mormons and the Civil War

In previous comments I discussed the rather unique history that Utah Mormons had with the Civil War. They felt the war was God's punishment against the nation that banished them but also sought entry into the United States and profited from the conflict. So right on cue I found a great website with a video that discusses some of those issues. You can find it here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Conference Preview

The Conference in Claremont is coming quickly. You can find the program here. Here is what I am looking forward to:

1. Having the chance to be the only one to present a remotely pro war point of view based on The Book of Mormon. I don't have abstracts from the other papers but their titles suggest a non violent reading of the book. I'm not quite sure where Madsen and the others create a pacifist point of view but I look forward to seeing their arguments. It will create an endless amount of posts for me here I'm sure. I also don't have the C.V.s of those involved but I think I am the only qualified military history there. (Of course they are qualified in other ways which is why it's called a "perspectives" conference.)

2. Meeting several other veterans. I seem to be the only enlisted member there but there is a veteran General Authority, a Major, and and two chaplains. Its been an amazing two years since I left and I still miss it.

3. Listening to many of the presentations such as: "Gaza in The Book of Mormon", "Zion as a Refuge from the Wars of Nations: Cultural Resource or Impediment?", "Pacifist Counselor in the First Presidency: J. Reuben Clark, 1933–61","'The Work of Death': Hugh Nibley and War", and pretty much everything about The Book of Mormon.

I plan on taking copious notes as long as I'm there since I still have a trip to Disney Land and a return trip with my daughter to consider. I am afraid this may turn into one big hippie love fest but I still look forward to the presenting, raising my profile, and discussing military matters.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

War: What is it Good For?

Besides giving me a job it looks like its good for helping a bunch of hippie peaceniks pretend they know a great deal about military history and to self righteously congratulate themselves. You can check out the thread here.

On a serious note. Looking at the OP and comments makes me question how well the citizens of this country can adequately judge military matters. I mean I haven't read Chomsky but I know a great deal about the interaction between military and political power, just war theory, the necessity of a strong defense, and after my recent paper the possible righteous foundations for war. But some people are disconnected from reality, and don't have the context of history to properly judge military conflict. Since one of the state purposes of this blog is to help people understand the connections between warfare in The Book of Mormon and society I want to see how you think I can better accomplish that. And I am forming some ideas to help my readers better attain the military literacy that was so obviously lacking on the other site. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Happy Anniversary!

Two years ago today I started blogging! Although I was a bit hesitant to celebrate this since I spent much of last year in a painful daze. It kind of reminded me of this video:

All the jokes aside I can point to highlights which occurred due to this blog:

I've been blessed to preview/review multiple books. David West's Heroes of the Fallen was a joy to read. And if you look closely a part of my review posted on Amazon as well.

I have several books reviews from Oklahoma University Press. You can find those by clicking on the "book review" link on the side of the page. I'm also in the process of reviewing Brian Steed's Wars and Rumors of Wars.

I had a chance to review a fun game called "Character Match". It turns out my daughter loves all the funny looking shapes and letters. Finally, I had a chance to meet and interact with many great people. This allowed me to find out about the upcoming Claremont Conference among other things.

And of course, I have a place where I can publish my thoughts. Historian Mark Grimsley describe blogging as an "insurgent medium". I have tried to adopt his advice and establish my voice and name through nontraditional means.

So now I ask my readers, what has been your favorite memory or post from this blog?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Captain Moroni's Back Story

Michaela has an excellent post at the Scriptorium Blogorium. You can find it here.

I also want to add two items. 1. Alma 16:3 and Helaman 1:24 suggest that the Nephites needed time to raise their armies. This adds weight to Micheala's analysis. 2. The article Military Castes in The Book of Mormon suggests that Moroni would have been trained and capable to defend Nephite lands at an early age. This again strengthens her analysis.

I highly recommend this article.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I seemed to have reached a plateau in my writing. I come up with good ideas, I'm good at research, can write good term papers, but can't seem to break through into publishing. So I'm asking for any and all interested reviewers! You not only get to see topics previewed on this site more in depth, but you will also have the satisfaction of helping an up and coming scholar. The following is a list of papers I need reviewed.

The Narrow Strip of Wilderness in the Modern Age:
This is a for a conference on Mormon perspectives on war. While it is just a presentation and has lower standards than a publication this is still important. It is my academic "debut" for many Mormon circles. That may sound ironic since I've been blogging and writing for two years now, but its presentations and publications that really help you make a mark in the field. Plus, its possible that editors from Mormon publications will be there so, naturally, I want to make a good impression.

This paper examines military theory from Clausewitz and then looks at its practice in the American Civil War. I then examine the theory that underlined Nephite actions and then tried to examine Nephite military practice. Finally I applied this to the modern age and offered tentative lessons concerning American foreign policy and particularly the Bush Doctrine.

Bleached Bones Covered the Field:
This is a special paper for me. I started this the day before my personal life fell apart. So just completing it was badge of honor for me. But aside from its' personal importance the paper has a great deal to offer the field of Book of Mormon studies.

This is the only paper of which I know that approaches a study of the book from the East. Hugh Nibley has discussed this topic mostly in passing. John Sorenson has produced a bibliography which included pages of contact between Asia and the New World. And DNA often points to an Asiatic connection. So this paper examines the Jaredite civil war in Ether chapters 13-15 with the Chinese "War of the Eight Princes".

In addition to the unique avenue of approach this is one of the few English language studies of the Chinese civil war. Plus, Chinese military history is also relatively neglected. So this paper offers a truly unique approach to understanding The Book of Mormon. I simply need some help tightening the prose and arguments to get this published.

Notes on a Curious Verse:
This is a paper I wrote while on break from graduate school. As I've said before, I must be the only person that gets more work done during the holidays. This examines Alma 56:28 and its implications for Nephite military strategy, culture, and logistics. Again, this is one of the few papers that takes a "war and society" approach to military history in The Book of Mormon, but also only the second piece to examine military theory in it. (Hugh Nibley's Clausewitzean analysis is the other one).

No Sin By Strategem:
This was the first paper I wrote during graduate school and probably needs the most work. It examines the military career of Captain Moroni using the "principles of war".

So there you have it. I have many fun and important papers with which I would love to receive help. Let me know and thanks in advance!