Monday, December 21, 2015

Support this Research

Thanks for being loyal readers!! You may have noticed some new buttons at the bottom of my page.  I’ve wanted to avoid having a page with all sorts of pop ups and unseemly adds. To help support my infrequent adjunct and free lance work, as well as spend more time with my daughter these two buttons respectively allow contributions of 3 dollars a month or lump donations.  With the help of your contributions these are a few of the items I would love to develop in the near future:

  • Mater is a Mormon: A Parent’s Guide to LDS Principles in Film- This is my third book. I have a partial manuscript into publishers and I know this will be a future best seller. 

If you find value in this work, please help get more of it by supporting this research through a payal donation or subscription. Thank you!   

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Lies and Fraud in Ammoron's Letter to Moroni

I've been remiss in sharing some great posts from the blogger at Scriptorium Blogorium. You can find a good recent post here, and there are many more she's done on the Book of Mormon and Gadianton Robbers you might enjoy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review My Manuscript!

[Cross posted at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion. I've been busy with the holidays and working on lots of great projects. I have a book done, but I'm still waiting on my publisher. So this acts as both a way to make my book better, and do some advertising for it. Thank you for reading.)

Greetings everybody. I don't comment too much here, but thats in large part because I'm working on so many great things. A part of that is my newest book focusing on military history. I think I have a great product but I need some qualified reviewers to help me out.

In seven chapters I explore the history contained within the Book of Mormon and offer a bold reassessment of events that should change our view on the text. In even simpler terms, think of this as the story of the three little pigs as told by the wolf.

The first chapter offers insights into the actions of Gideon. As one of the early leaders in the church he had a decisive legacy of strength that. After comparing his actions as a leader to those by Moroni there are definite similarities that suggest an influence and connection between the two, but there are important differences that suggest Moroni and later Nephites became more militarized and aggressive. (This aggressiveness would cause its own set of problems as I detail in chapter 4.)

The second chapter uses three stories from history, to offer additional interpretations about the text that often go missed. For example, Moroni's actions in Alma 43-45 resemble the tactics used by the Vandal King Gelimer. But his enemy, Belisarius, was actually welcomed by the people more than their own king. My argument ends up being similar to the argument from Daniel Belnap in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies as I use the conflict between Arian rulers and Catholic subjects to suggest the Nephites were more heavy handed leaders than the narrative suggests. And that their actions likely alienated many of their subjects.

Chapter three takes a deeper look at Alma 47 and Amalickiah's long journey to power. Nobody every comes out and says, "Hello, my name is Amalickiah and I'll be your next dictator for life. Please leave your daughters at the door." So I looked at the possible arguments that he made and why there were so convincing. For example, Amalickiah was in a tough spot. He was appointed commander of the part of the army loyal to the king and had to storm the rebel faction's mountain outpost. He could easily be used as a scapegoat by the king, and had the disadvantageous tactical position. So he likely made an argument to Lehonti that explained that disadvantageous position, and offered his loyalty to the rebel faction in exchange for sparing his life and being second in command. He might have even made an argument that he was preserving Lamanite lives and keeping the peace. On top of this, as a dissenter from the Nephites he would have had a great deal of dirt real, exaggerated, or made up, but convincing nonetheless that would have made his calls for military action seem necessary and defensive to the Lamanites. (For example, Amalickiah defected in Alma 46, and contemporaneously in chapter 50 the Nephites seized Lamanite territory.)

Moving back to the big picture, I end the chapter by pointing out the often backward logic of warfare. As explained by noted strategist Edward Luttwak, roads that are less traveled because they are poor, become very good military roads precisely because they are poor and are more likely to be unguarded and achieve surprise. Amalickiah likely gained power through promises of peace which caused one of the biggest wars in the BoM. Moroni in contrast was often bellicose and straight forward in his desires, but worked to preserve peace and almost preemptively captured Amalickiah and ended the threat before it started.

I mentioned preemptive war which means half of you probably felt a surge of anger. But don't worry, chapter four details the negative consequences of the great war. The genesis for this chapter came as I was teaching American history. After the 7 Years War in 1763 the British stood triumphant over much of North America. But their victory actually caused more problems than it solved. In terms of financing the war, trying to prevent conflict with both Catholics in French Canada and Indians in the Ohio River Valley, the British ended up with more problems from their victory. So I looked at what changed during the war. I saw four factors there were vital in Nephite victory, increased use of heavy armor, reliance upon fortifications, preemptive warfare, and the seizing of territory in the east wilderness. Instead of analyzing the war itself, I wanted to see if these things affected the book of Helaman. And they did! Things like heavy armor and fortifications require more money. More money means more taxes, and rapacious taxation easily fuels an insurgency. The "getting gain" in the Book of Helaman, and the unrighteousness of Nephite society could refer to unscrupulous tax collectors. I point out how military gains usually require military expenditures to keep. On top of that, soldiers can easily develop a sense of corporate identity and strike out violently (such as killing a prophet like Nephi) when their interests are threatened. This results in a weird feedback look where the military is needed to hold the cities, and those cities are taxed to the hilt to fund the military. This can lead to civil unrest and insurgency, which needs more soldiers, which requires more taxation. In short, I look at the political fragmentation, desire for money, insurgency, and impotency of the army in the Book of Helaman and see a straight line from the military innovations by Moroni. Again, as Luttwak pointed out, the strange logic of war is that sometimes victory can be the worst thing for a nation. Because in victory every unexamined assumption, regardless of its contribution to victory, becomes enshrined as untouchable doctrine, and needed reforms become harder to implement. While defeat brings truth that much faster and discredits opponents of reform.

The next chapter looks at the letter of Giddianhi in 3 Nephi 3. I examine the subtle rhetoric contained in the letter and argue the Giddianhi borrows and adapts Nephi's arguments to assert his legitimate right to rule. Looking back upon the consequences of the great war and political fragmentation, as well as the medium in which he wrote, suggests that Giddianhi was not a traditional toothless highway robber, but a sophisticated elite with a claim to ruling. I point out how even righteous Nephites had to use spies and assassination to keep power (Helaman 2), rulers in Nephite cities beat confessions out of their prisoners (Alma 14) so having a righteous ruler in the midst of a long period of decline suggests they were as skilled as Amalickiah in gaining power. Once in power, the logic of war and defeat allowed them to implement the needed reforms. Their opponents were likely annoyed at how they didn't let a crisis go to waste.

The final chapter examines numbers and logistics in the BoM. This was in part driven by the standard anti Mormon narrative about millions of soldiers and how ridiculous that is. I've written about it enough on my blog and thought the arguments were always silly and ignorant, thus I thought it was time it got a chapter. I examine historical antecedents for large numbers and large numbers people killed in ancient societies. Given that much of Nephite history including their denouement suggest political fragmentation, I also look at the scholarly studies of inaccurate numbers. Starting with Hans Delbruck and others there is a sophisticated body of literature that suggests wrong numbers are rather common in historical accounts. Sometimes this results from scribal errors, inaccurate reporting by primary authors, use of numbers as a colloquial, and deliberate exaggeration. I go over a number of examples, but in Chinese history the new dynasty often commissioned and wrote the history of the previous dynasty. So the military failures would be exaggerated to amplify the loss of that emperor's right to rule.

Scholars also use things like logistics, or the number of people that can be reasonably fed, and the military participation ratio to calculate ancient armies. The mpr is the number of soldiers compared to the population that a society could field, and 25% was the upper limits for any society and the normal about 15%. The final number at Cumorah was listed as about 230,000 and 15% of that ratio is 35,000, right in between the numbers listed in Mormon 2:9 (42,000) and 2:25 30,000). (See Mormon 6:7 as well, which suggests women and children were in the order of battle and strengthens the idea that the final number is total.) Even then, that total number might be unit names and not numbers, and provide historical examples. A Roman century for example only had 80 soldiers at full strength. Finally, I conclude with a case study of Moroni 9. The most brutal in the BoM, I show how logistics and a wider military study effect spiritual principles. The widows at the tower of Sherrizah, starved because the army took the food. And I suggested, again based on ample historical study, that cannibalism wasn't just the result of spiritual decay but a practical effect of armies that act like locusts. If the numbers were accurate, or accurately repeated the mistakes of ancient historians, the BoM is thoroughly consistent with ancient texts.

I also include a short introduction and conclusion that explain my methodology reinforce my main points. I know many of you are busy, but I'm doing this on Thanksgiving Eve because I know you might want something in between your turkey induced sleep and pie produced coma. Or you might just need to keep your sanity with the inlaws. The book is short, and the hour reading it and a few minutes spent providing your feedback would help me a great deal. Plus, you essentially get the beta copy of the book for free. If you're interested, please send me a private message here with your email address, or you can contact me on my blog at Serious reviewers only please.

If we truly accept that the Nephites existed in a time and place, then they must exhibited all the foibles of other countries, including the ancient kingdom of Israel that adopted pagan practices and power politics of their neighbors. Yet when we read the BoM, we don't ask how the Nephite rulers were naturally concerned over their self interest, and perhaps unaware of the negative consequences their decisions could have. Its time we start reassessing Nephite leadership and ask if maybe the wolf had a point.

Thanks for reading this, and hopefully my manuscript!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Book Review: Even Unto Bloodshed

The Interpreter posted my review of Even Unto Bloodshed. I thought the book was an excellent discussion of LDS scriptures and thought on war, and a vital resource for understanding the need and legitimacy of just war, but you should read the whole review of course.  There is already a comment there and several on Dan Peterson's blog where people want to re litigate the war in Iraq or continue to promote their anti war views.  Three cheers for doing a gospel topic search of the word peace! That should settle the matter haha.  These tendencies only underscore how vital it is that Latter Day Saints have serious and substantive discussion of the topic, without needlessly charging the issue.  (Like calling people war mongering propagandists or saying they have a "hatred and unquenchable thirst for revenge" if they disagree with you.)  Anyways, I can highly recommend the book.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Mesoamerican Anthology- The Gadianton Chapter

Neal Rappleye has a fantastic suggestion about a Mesoamerican anthology. There are many volumes written about the Book of Mormon, but no volume collects all the research into one place. He suggested a section on warfare and I replied with my thoughts below:

This would be a great volume that I would buy. Though I think instead of basically having a collection of reprints, there could be a great deal of new material added. (To which I'd love to contribute.) Some of my research that seems to be inexhaustible concerns the use of "robbers" and their place in history throughout the world. In chapter two of my book, Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents, I show that both late Roman historians and Chinese sources during the period of division use the term robber to delegitimize competing centers of power. It also illustrated the declining power of the central government, the role of predatory and protective bands of robbers, and the significant overlap between secular banditry and political military insurgency.

In my second book I look at the akuto, or "evil gangs" of Samurai from Japanese history and found supporting conclusions. They definitely represented competing between officials appointed by the rising shogunate and those from the declining central government. These officials often fought for the right to tax lands, and for exclusive economic rights. The term was rather flexible and used by both sides much the same way modern writers throw around "freedom fighter" and "terrorist." In fact, I found court records that show competing law suits where they both labelled each other as member of an evil gang. I found other instances where large landowners and their retainers were variously accused of being an akuto, and then appointed as a local manager by the same official. This is because they knew the area so well they were often both the cause of and solution to the problems. I use several specific case studies which show the intense competition among land owners and officials, economic collusion among some of them (compare to the various comparisons between the Gadianton Robbers and the mafia), and various paramilitary actions that represented gang warfare between large landowners that even rose to insurgent like tactics.

Finally, I just did some research into Mao Zedong's early insurgency in Jiangxi province (and just presented it in London) and I found so much more supportive evidence. Again, there is a great deal of overlap between remote terrain (think of G robbers in the mountains), ethnic tension (I argue the G robbers were others), lack of government control (they always appear in the BoM during times of government weakness), and the overlap between banditry, local economic interests of leading figures (the "get gain" that is labelled as the chief sin of G robbers) and political military rebellion (3rd Nephi 3). I even found sources from Communist leaders to the brethren of secret societies. Many bandit groups found the oaths of loyalty a good way to replace the familial connections of larger more well established families (and the resulting political and economic cartels they formed that controlled the provinces.) Many of these elite families had their own private militias that would fight the bandits. At various times both the private forces and bandits would be legitimized by the provincial government. (Just like the akuto in Japanese history.) The Communists in turn found than an alliance with local bandit groups offered additional muscle and intimate knowledge of local areas and successful tactics. This in turn led to intra party concerning how much weight they should give to banditry. And the Nationalists labelled called their efforts "bandit encirclement and suppression campaigns." Of course, these campaigns can be analyzed and compared to specific verses in the BoM that described the Nephites attempts to combat the Gadianton Robbers.

Well I think I've gone on enough lol. (Like I said. I've been surprised at how the more I research the more I see that applies to the BoM.) But needless to say I think there is space for at least a chapter on historical instances of robbers and secret societies. As you said, Brant Gardner has some good material on it. Though as you see, I think there is enough for a book that focuses on robbers in history. Using specific details from half a dozen time periods and locations we can tease additional information from the BoM about what this combination looked like. I have several historians that specifically cite how difficult it is to strictly define them as they seem to cross so many boundaries. Not to mention they are sometimes an existential threat to the Nephites but we have almost nothing about them.

Thanks for the great post! As you can tell I love to think, read, and write about this so I appreciate the suggestion and chance to offer my thoughts. (I love it so much, I had to post this in two parts!)

What do you think readers?  I know I have at least a few authors that regularly read my blog.  And I know I have many readers were going to be part of the proposed anthology I discussed a long time ago.  I also have at least one expert on insurgency that reads as well.  What would you include?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Another Footnote: Even Unto Bloodshed.

I had the pleasure of receiving a review copy Even unto Bloodshed: An LDS Perspective on War.  That review coming out soon in the Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Studies. The book was an excellent discussion of scriptures regarding warfare and provides a firm foundation for an LDS theory of just war.  I particular enjoyed his thorough and powerful dismantling of pacifist arguments. I've run into annoying proponents of those theories before and its always nice to have articulate arguments support what you've been arguing for a long time.

He also made some good arguments in defense of preemptive war, including a moral obligation to wage that kind of warfare on occasion.  (Some people suddenly dropped their nachos during their apoplectic rage.) While defending preemptive war he said in footnote 4 on page 298: Morgan Deane covers the topic of offensive tactics in warfare more fully than I do here, and with a focus on different examples.

I appreciate the comment, and I do focus a bit more on military history and historical practice. That is one of the things I didn't notice as much in his book.  I'm glad I'm able to contribute to the conversation.  Its a bit frustrating to realize that I have so many good ideas that don't seem to get noticed, but my words are getting out there. I do have a highly praised book, Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents: Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon. I have a journal article under consideration at Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought describing the unexamined consequences of the great war; and I'll shortly submit another to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies about the arguments Amalickiah used to gain power. (Frequent readers will notice how those sound familiar. I figured if my second book is finally published these will make great advertisements for it. Not to mention that each publication will include a byline mentioning my current book.)

I'm also trying to get into contact with somebody at FairMormon for a presentation next year on insurgency. I already have a good title for it taken from my current research: Climbing a Tree to Find a Fish: Insurgency in the Book of Mormon.  Of course, I just presented the results of that new research in London.  I have great things happening and I'm happy to participate in a wider academic discussion. Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 4, 2015

To the Brethren of the Big Sword Society

I’ve been hard at work researching for my paper and I came across a very interesting document. It was written by the Communists in Jiangxi province in 1933. This was written in the midst of the final encirclement campaign that expelled the Communists from the province.  The document urges members of this secret society to leave their “bad landlords” (or the tu hao lie shen, “evil gentry”, as compared to the upright gentry). If they joined the Communists the party was willing to forgive their past mistakes.[1] 

There is a ton of meaning associated with this short document.  I’ve argued elsewhere that the Gadianton Robbers represented contested power centers.  In Nephite history the central government increasingly lost control, as represented by a rise in ethnic others and competing power centers. We see that here with the definitions of “bad” and “upright” landlords represented local power holders. Every society has bandits, but then some of these power holders had private groups of soldiers to protect themselves from bandits. They also used those personal soldiers to extort locals through tolls and taxes or even counter raids. The Book of Helaman is replete with condemnations against “getting gain” and examples of political fragmentation.[2]  At some point it seems every leader in Chinese society relied upon local bandit leaders to provide muscle, yet those in power had relatives or friends in positions of higher power that could legitimize these groups as militia. Stephen Averill even said that line between bandit gangs and official militias, brigand chiefs and local power holders was so often indistinct as to be nonexistent.[3]  In the Book of Mormon you might consider how fully half of Nephite lands were returned to their possession upon the conversion of a few elites.  That makes sense well connected local elites suddenly shift their allegiance.  (Compare Helaman 4 with 5:32) Huang Li Rui for example had extensive land that produced a large yearly income, 20 armed retainers that protected and promoted economic activity on that land (including bandit like activity), a son that was a militia leader, a grandson that was a government official in the main town, another son in the provincial assembly, he controlled numerous companies that traded across provinces, and he had numerous other familial connections.  In the shifting alliances of power forced by the Communist insurgency and Nationalist counterinsurgency,  a personal conversion or statement of loyalty to one side or the other could shift a great deal of power.

The brotherhoods then actually acted as a way to replace familial connections among the poor youth (those most likely to become bandits) provide protection, and enhanced their ability to coordinate strategies in their fight for economic and political power against people like Huang.  Thus the line between bandits, militia of a hated rival, private bodyguards, deputized law enforcement officers, or insurgents, became incredibly blurred. Moreover, I wrote in my second book, that the letter from the leader of the Gadianton Robbers, was pre-invasion propaganda designed to enhance his strength.  So it doesn’t surprise me that Communists who need strength to resist nationalist invasion send a letter to their “brothers’” that promises to forgive them if they joined forces.  The Communists were engaged in a multifaceted battle with the Nationalists that included military force and political persuasion.  On the local level that meant there were competing groups vying for power. Labels are very powerful, and labels like bandit were used to stigmatize. Yet early Communist forces had large components of bandits, including the entire forces of the two largest bandit groups nearest the Jinggangshan mountain base.  So when Chiang Kai-Shek labelled his campaign as bandit suppression and encirclement, it reflected an overt political attack on Communists, but it also reflected the way a political military fight can blur the boundaries with and reflect lawless banditry.  And its why a letter written by the Communists in 1933, can use almost the same words as a letter in 3rd Nephi chapter 3.

As you can see, I have many great ideas that I’d like to discuss further. I hope to be able to organize all of my fascinating research into a compelling article or presentation soon. Thanks for reading.

[1] CCP Kwang-Chang Central Committee, A Few Words to the Brethren of the Big Sword Society, December 22nd, 1933. Chen Cheng Collection, Reel III, no. 16, Hoover Library, Stanford California.
[2] This post focuses more on my research into Chinese insurgency, but interested parties can click the links and find scriptures that support my assertions.
[3] Stephen Averill, Revolution in the Highlands: The Jinggangshan Base Area 1927-1929. (New York, Rowan and Littlefield, 2007), 57. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dyed in Blood

I haven't had too much time to post this month. I'm getting ready for a conference in London, and submitted a third book manuscript called Mater is a Mormon: A Parent's Guide to LDS Culture in Film.  I did see a really good post by Michaeala Stephens. She discussed the difficulties of dying something in actual blood, and suggested a blood red dye from the Pau Brasil tree. She included a good description and some pictures as well.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The One Dynasty Wonder

For those of you that don't know, Phillip Jenkins, an Evangelical scholar  from Baylor University and William Hamblin from FARMS and BYU have been exchanging messages in a long debate. Even before that started Jenkins started several threads that essentially parroted anti Mormon talking points against the Book of Mormon. I've stayed out of the debate for a few reasons. Their arguments have reached about 30 blog posts each, and thats not including the posts from Jenkins that had over 500 comments and replies.  To use a technical term, Jenkins is a total dick and anybody basically familiar with the Book of Mormon can see the flaws in his arguments, but he refuses to read evidence which supports the text because he says there is none.

In the course of providing evidence Hamblin asked Jenkins if he would accept a name from the Book of Mormon that is also seen in the Mayan kings lists. Hamblin showed that the Jaredite king Akish is is listed on the king list of Palenque as U-Kix.

Jenkins of course discounted this and so did many of the critics following this debate. In response, a poster named Runtu argued that Akish was a one dynasty wonder that couldn't possibly have been cited thousands of years later.   He details how Akish was not in the king list in Ether 1, and chapters 8 and 9 show how Akish rebelled against Omer, and did fairly well for a bit. But eventually Omer regained the kingdom. Thus this is a rather "problematic" comparison.

Since I was only sort of following the argument I didn't come up with a response, until I read it again on Mormon Dialogue, and noticed how Akish is the first to introduce secret combinations in the text. My answer discussed the role that role that Gadianton Robbers played in history, the nature of "history" in the Book of Mormon, and the role of historical memory.

I don't include much of the words of my interlocutor but you do have the link where the discussion took place. Mainly he ignored my arguments, which is why its repeated twice, and made the ridiculous assertion that my argument isn't supported by the text.  I'm amazed at critics that superficially read the text based on faulty, unexamined assumptions, (and the person on Mormon dialogue didn't even come up with the argument),but then they ignore interpretations that offer in depth analysis based on a thorough knowledge of history and historical methods. And yet I'm the apologist crank for doing so.  

Since it originated on a discussion board, it isn't as polished or organized as it normally is, but was a remarkably fun and I think pretty good impromptu analysis of the text that critics fail to do.

I might consider how much we don't know about the Jaredite Civil Wars, and the place of rulers in the historical memories of the people who came after them. The account of the Jaredite destruction for example, actually follows Coriantumr when he isn't in power, Ether 13:23-24, 14:7.  The Book of Ether almost completely ignores the ruler in power at the time except for his battles with Coriantumr. It seems like a good choice considering Ether's purpose in describing the fulfillment of the Lord's prophecy to Coriantumr. But its makes for rather strange history compared to what we are used to and see in other historical accounts.

Might I tentatively suggest, that if Akish is really the same as U-Kix, then its possible we don't have the entire history of Akish and the reason why he is important to Mayans a thousand year later. It might have something to do with the secret combinations he introduced, which were also active during the Jaredite denouement, Ether 13:25, 14:8, and of course active through much of Nephite history as well. The Gadianton Robbers were even a political power during the end of Nephite history, to the point that the Nephites concluded a treaty with them and ceded territory. Mormon 2:28. So you can see traces of Akish's influence over a long period if you count Gadianton Robbers.   Critics might argue this is a very weak post hoc explanation. I would say in return, that the evidence which matters is the Akish- U-kix connection.  And the rest is the educated filling in the blanks that historians normally do when they only get a couple pieces in a 1000 year puzzle. 

Thanks for the response.  I thought I made myself pretty clear in a variety of ways. I was pretty clear the the Book of Ether was written with a specific purpose, which didn't include a history of Akish.  I showed specific verses which detailed how much of the last few chapters for example focused on Coriantumr and were not a typical dynastic history. And you could show the same thing with the rest of the book as a message about the rise and fall of the Jaredites, not the influence of Akish. Moreover, I talked about the Gadianton Robbers, which you seem to think is a rather paltry connection.  The band Akish formed was enough to fight for the kingdom. The bands at the end of the Jaredite nation were enough to support an incredibly bloody and long lasting civil war.  The ones in the middle of Nephite history were enough to almost cause their entire destruction. (See 3 Nephi 3 and 4.)  And they were strong enough to force the Nephites into ceding their ancestral lands at the end of Nephite history. Thats pretty much covers every period of the BoM.  Imagine how much information we might have if the Nephites weren't specifically forbidden to talk about it! Alma 37:29. You can also make the case, as I do in my second chapter of my book, Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents, that the Gaidanton Robbers were ethnic others. As such they would be specifically excluded from a lineage history of Nephites and the ethnic chauvinism that every ancient writers possessed. So in case I wasn't clear enough, I think you can make an argument, gleaned on whats included and specifically excluded in the text, using a keen analysis that historians make upon texts, that there is much more to Akish than a one generation "dynasty." In fact, there is a certain degree of importance and longevity that would be worth including in a king history...

There is a also a great deal about historical memory we don't know.  Besides kind of knowing the Kings name, what do we know about U-Kix of Palenque and why was he important to them  1500 years later?  Just like the Jaredites influenced the Nephites, I'm not going to summarize the literature that says so, but you can look at things items of continuity such as place and people names, the Olmecs also influenced the Mayans. The 1500 year later argument isn't even serious for me.  Lots of groups have founding myths that are based upon historical people, or semi historical people with mythical elements, or what historians believe are completely mythical people.  For example, Sargon the Great and the Yellow Emperor are two figures that go so far back in time they are semi mythical or the details incredibly spotty and debated. Sargon's name actually meant "the true king" so its possible he was invoked by leaders thousands of years later not because his dynasty lasted uninterrupted,  but because he would add legitimacy to current rulers. There is a robust history about nobles changing genealogies to gain legitimacy. Any usurping king could easily manipulate his king list to include, if we accept my reassessment of Ether, somebody like Akish.

Several times I expressed the tentative nature of my ideas, but this makes perfect sense to me. From the lack of any substantial history about Palenque before the classic period, as well as the limited history of the Book of Ether, I thought this was reasonable, albeit tentative and speculative suggestion based on the BoM, what I know about historical documents and memory, and Mayan history. To be extra clear, this means I think Akish is more important than you suggest, there is more continuity between Jaredites and Nephites and Olmec Maya than given, and plenty of space for him in Mayan historical memory.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Rethinking Mosiah 26 and the Conduct of Nephite Priests

              [To strengthen my reading comprehension I've been reading the Book of Mormon in Chinese. I came across Mosiah 26 and thought a re assessment of the chapter would aid my ideas that perhaps we might be getting a slightly white washed view of history from Nephite priests.  
             This applies to the paper I wrote about Gideon, which is now the first chapter of my second book. I'm also still annoyed at the anonymous peer reviewer that dismissed my argument out of hand, didn't like anything I wrote, and basically tossed my paper in the garbage. I think my argument is a good one that reassess the text, and I'm happy to provide additional support. Its still a work in progress so I welcome any comments, particular those that help me refine my main points.]   
             The idea that what was recorded, Gideon’s innocent death by Nehor, might be suspect is increasingly support by research and a careful reading of Mosiah. Noel Reynolds argued that Nephi’s text had political overtones designed to strengthen his claim to leadership.[1]  And Biblical scholar David Bokovoy went a step further and argued that Nephi’s account is propaganda that read like a classic Hebrew folktale designed to make him look like a hero. (And conversely, presented Laman and his descendants as villains.)[2]   
                Mosiah 26 in particular gives an account that could easily have been manipulated by record keepers or rulers to enhance their political power. Verse one details those that were two young to have heard and understood King Benjamin’s words. As King Benjamin was the one to initiate the covenant with his people and act as a mediator between them and God, their refusing to listen represents a break with this covenant.  They are then portrayed as a villainous other in verse six, since they flatter, deceive, and draw the people into wickedness. The political importance is first revealed in verse 10, where Alma is hesitant to use his power as High Priest. He is so hesitant and troubled at the thought of using his power (v.10), that he refers the case to King Mosiah, who again sends it back to Alma (v. 12). Alma then receives a long answer to his prayer that blesses him, recounts their foundational narrative at the Waters of Mormon and captivity, and God gives him authority to expel those from the church (v.15-20). Alma wrote this down, creating a new precedent for later generations, and “went and judged” those sinners (v. 32-33).
                At first reading this sounds like a heartwarming story of somebody who leads the church with such humility that he delays punishment as much as possible. While Alma the Elder and other Nephite leaders may indeed have been sincere, the account in Mosiah 26 is ripe for abuse. In less than ten years for example, Alma the Younger said the people of Zarahemla were in an “awful dilemma” (Alma 7:3). And this doesn’t include the almost complete wickedness seen increasingly in the books of Helaman and 3 Nephi. Those that wished to expel their brethren for political or financial gain could point to the precedent established by Alma in Mosiah 26. With that text in hand they could claim to be conscientious of God’s will, reluctant to use its power, but forced to expel them from the church (and its associated political and financial privileges in being among the Nephite elite.) Few people in history willingly usurp power, it is always done humbly and with great reluctance.  Reading Julius Ceasar’s account for example, we are forced to conclude that if only certain senators (who just happened to be his opponents) left him alone, he wouldn’t have had to illegally cross the Rubicon and make himself emperor. 
                To cite another example, the Venetians in the Fourth Crusade had prepared a large fleet to sail to the Middle East. Yet they hadn’t been paid and faced a difficult bind. If they disbanded the coalition army in Venice they faced significant economic disruption and hostile intent. They attacked the port of Zara which was on their way, a convenient hold over for the winter away from Venice, and economically beneficially to them (since it flanked their trade routes.). But the ruler of Hungary had given lip service to the same crusade, wasn’t doing anything to fight in it, but managed to get the Venetians excommunicated for their conduct in actual fulfillment of the crusade.  Not to mention that the crusades themselves were often done for power and money as much as spiritual enlightenment. Hence, religion is often intertwined with politics, strategy, and money. 
                Going back to Gideon’s dispute with Nehor.  Power, even reluctantly procured, is very dangerous and often justified after the fact and its often used inappropriately for political and financial reasons. Its possible that church leaders were not as innocent as claimed, but that they sometimes abused their authority (perhaps the awful dilemma that Alma cited), and acted violently (Gideon against King Noah and possibly Nehor), or encouraged political leaders to incite violence (Moroni’s Title of Liberty- see below), all of which makes us pause and reassess the text as written.

[1] Noel Reynolds, “Nephi’s Political Testament,” in John Sorenson and Melvin Thorne, eds., Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991) 220-230.
[2] David Bokovoy, “1 Nephi as Propaganda”, When Gods Were Men, February, 6th 2015. (Accessed July 8th, 2015.) 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Book Review: War: A Book of Mormon Perspective

As a military historian with an interest in the Book of Mormon I enjoy staying aware of current research in the field. I recently read the book, War: A Book of Mormon Perspective: How the War Chapters of the Book of Mormon Warn Against Wars of Aggression and the Warfare State. Unfortunately, the torturous title isn’t the only problem as Kendal Anderson’s book suffers from weak scholarly arguments, lack of research, and shallow research into the Book of Mormon. Moreover, Anderson’s work suffered from clichés,[1] sloppy typos, vague descriptions of historical events, lack of proper academic tone,[2] anti-intellectualism,[3] and slight engagement with scholarship.  This review will examine 4 brief examples from the many possible which underscore these serious flaws.

Civil War

                Anderson’s weaknesses are shown through several areas, and this was one of the most prominent. As part of his over reliance on marginal scholars he argued that the only just wars are the Revolutionary War and the South’s failed attempt to secede.  This was Anderson’s attempt to describe a form of defensive or just war combined with a thin veneer of cherry picked scriptures and simplistic analysis.

                Anderson failed to consider the moral cost of the South’s victory. The immoral practice would not have been abolished by the anarchist capitalism positions of ridiculous libertarians.  Anderson faces the same problem is his criticism of World War II.  As I pointed out in my criticisms of J. Reuben Clark, Anderson’s decisions would have left millions in slavery and millions more killed in genocide.  That is hardly just, and doesn’t take into account clear verses in the Book of Mormon that support a variety of military action.[4]

                The author also turned into a Southern apologist for slavery and states’ rights.  This is a trope brought out by those that deny the Civil War was fought over slavery, but proponents of the discredited “lost cause” school of thought don’t realize that the only right of states in question was the right to practice slavery. Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, said in his Corner Stone Speech said that the “corner stone” of their new country was the fundamental truth that blacks were inferior to whites and slavery guaranteed. The state secession conventions echoed this sentiment as well.  Anderson seemed so narrowly focused on the principle of coercion in the North’s fight against the South that he failed to realize the cost of inaction and the moral power of the Northern position; he also echoes those that supported and defended slavery.  Of course government conduct during war is often contemptible, but there is an importance difference between the moral cause of the war and immoral conduct during the war.  This difference failed to appear in Anderson’s contribution to the libertarian echo chamber.[5] 

                Another debate is the role that Lincoln played during the war. I often ask my students the ways in which Lincoln was a dictator.[6] But I ask those questions to illustrate the seeming contradiction that Lincoln had to bend the constitution in order to save it.  Again, this is part of the debate that real academics and serious student have as they grapple with questions that contain no easy answers and seeming contradictions within history.  It also supports the idea of a constant tension between security and freedom, and how the pendulum often swings between the two.  Libertarians dogmatically focused on a radical ideology fail to have this kind of comprehensive and nuanced awareness of the wider debate. After all, Anderson admitted that he didn’t care for school or pay attention, nor did he like reading obscure texts (8).   

Lost (About) China

                Again relying upon a handful of fringe and conspiratorial scholars, Anderson revealed a woeful ignorance of Chinese history and American foreign policy. Anderson stated that the Chinese Civil War started in 1931.  But only the Nationalist counter insurgency campaign started in 1931. The Communist insurgency really started with the failed uprising at Nanchang in 1927. Anderson also said they were in the “northwest” (149) but that didn’t happen until after the Long March of 1934.
Even worse than factual errors, Anderson presented a very tendentious history of the region.  For example, he presented Chiang-Kai Shek as a democratic reformer. Unfortunately, Chiang wasn’t nearly as good at reforming as he sounded.  Chiang’s strongest military forces were shattered during the Battle of Shanghai (1937) and he had to rely heavily upon warlord troops for the rest of the war.  Reforms were very difficult to implement due to this reliance, and of course a total war of survival against a vastly superior Japanese army.  The Communists, moreover, followed 3 Main Rules and 8 Points of Discipline that deliberately set them apart from the Nationalists and won the favor of peasants. They were much more adept at guerrilla warfare and highlighting their successes which further enhanced their prestige with the masses.[7]  After World War II the U.S. believed in a largely hands off policy that tried to broker a united front between the Nationalists and Communists similar to the 1920s and early period of the war with Japan from 1937 until the New Fourth Army incident of 1941.  In contrast to Anderson’s attacks that simply parroted other scholars, instead of “meddling”(150)the U.S. was too interested in peace, and as result they didn’t do enough immediately after World War II.
Thus Anderson is woefully ignorant of the history in this region. He relied upon a narrow group of scholars from the dated and tendentious Naked Communist of Cleon Skousen to the admittedly conspiratorial Jack Monett (134).   Its also a bit odd how Anderson argued in the rest of his book that America was immoral for intervening in world affairs, such as having bases in 130 countries (38), except in his (ignorant) view of China, where America should have picked sides in a 20 year long civil war to support Chiang Kai-Shek. 

Paranoid Style

                As an undergraduate I was a Marshall Scholar who had the opportunity to examine the archives at the George C. Marshall foundation at the Virginia Military Institute.  My award winning paper examined the confirmation of Marshall as Secretary of Defense during 1950. I bring this up because the fiercest critics of Marshall were isolationist Republicans such as William Jenner and Joseph McCarthy. During an epic rant on the senate floor Jenner invoked a long list of conspiracy theories ranging from FDR’s recognition of the Soviet Union, to the betrayal at Yalta, the loss of China, and finally the 1950 invasion of South Korea.
During my research I noticed that those like Jenner used what Richard Hofstadter called the paranoid style of American politics to attack Marshall and the loss of China as part of some wide spread conspiracy to aid Communism. Hofstadter used this theory to discuss right wing isolationists and how “no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” that they used to argue.[8] 

This summary of the paranoid style was somewhat discursive but its important because I wanted to show how perfectly it describes Anderson’s approach. He admitted to using conspiratorial authors. He used heated exaggerations throughout the book but especially the chapter on World War II.  He echoed the arguments of radical right wing politicians that accused Democrats of secretly aiding communism from FDR’s recognition of the Soviet Union, to the betrayal at Yalta, loss of China, and dereliction of duty that led to the invasion of South Korea. Not every historian is expected to know every facet of every time period.  But Anderson shows such a stunning ignorance of history that he ended up mirroring the paranoid style of McCarthyites, sometimes almost word for word, without a trace of self-awareness.

Book of Mormon

                Anderson showed little awareness for items in the Book of Mormon, which is most grievous considering the title of his book.  Half his book was devoted to reprinting the works of various libertarians in very long appendices; the substance of his book relied far too heavily on shallow and paranoid summaries of history.  When he did get around to discussing the Book of Mormon, he confessed to only studying for “several months”(9) and his analysis was both superficial and scant. To cite a few examples, he claimed its unethical to perform seek and destroy missions (11), but didn’t notice the Book of Mormon says the Nephites “searched and destroyed’ without negative editorial comment (Helaman 11:28). He attacked Lincoln for his indefinite detention of prisoners (32),(as he typically did so using a block quote from a questionable scholar), yet failed to notice Moroni did the same (Alma 51:19; Alma 62:4).[9] He argued that the Nephite system of judges was “not unlike our constitutional system” (45). This statement is made in ignorance of the excellent article from Richard Bushman who explained, among other items, that early Americans would have balked at monarchal qualities such as life long tenure of chief judges and the seemingly hereditary nature of the position.[10]

Anderson asserted that “the fruits of the Nephite war of defense against the Lamanites were peace, liberty, freedom of religion, the mass conversion of Lamanite POWs, and the restoration of Nephite lands and property (144).” This is stunningly ignorant of the text. As soon as a single chapter after the war ended the Nephites lost their capital to the Lamanites. By Helaman 4, Moroni’s son could only regain half the land. And the Book of Helaman is replete with wicked chief judges, the constant quest for money (Helaman 6:7, 18; 7:5, 21), and Lamanites that were more righteous than the Nephites (Helaman 6:1). This is hardly the golden age of peace and liberty that Anderson claimed.  My new book shows how the reforms of Moroni such as heavier armor and more fortifications changed Nephite strategy and tactics for the worse, allowed the robbers to flourish, likely required rapacious taxation, and probably fueled the insurgency.

                Everybody has different opinions about warfare but the strongest opinions are based upon diligent study, careful reading of primary sources, solid analysis, and rational arguments.  I chose these four topics because they respectively represent research done for my Master’s thesis, Marshall award, research grant, and critically acclaimed book.   In contrast, War: A Book of Mormon Perspective does not even show an awareness of many crucial sources, let alone a thorough study and sound assessment of them.  Anderson showed a dilettantish approach as he relied upon a small group of fringe scholars and tried to squeeze the round Book of Mormon into the square hole of libertarianism.[11]  I cannot recommend this book except to provide examples of how to have an appearance of scholarship while denying the power thereof. 

Anderson justified quitting college in part because he didn’t want to read “obscure texts.” Some texts are obscure because we are still learning and haven’t come across them yet; or because we are simply too lazy to obtain, read, and reflect upon them.  Others are obscure because they are justifiably relegated by the larger academic community to the dusty margins of book shelves occupied by inconsequential, fringe pseudo scholars.  Anderson’s book will remain obscure for the second reason.


[1] See pg. 13 for Satayana’s cliché about repeating history if you don’t remember it. On pg. 25 he cites the cliché about the winners writing history. pg. 75 contains the clichéd Ad Hiterlum fallacy. See pg. 83 where he used Lord Acton’s cliché about absolute power corrupting absolutely, misspelling Acton’s name in the process.  And on pg. 157 he cites Ben Franklin's cliché  that those who give up liberty for security deserve neither.     
[2] See for example, pgs. 41-42, 163, and 166.
[3] See pg. 8 where he “shirked college study” because it was riddled with “pap” (8), also see pg. 69.
[4] See Duane Boyce, Even Unto Bloodshed: An LDS Perspective on War (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015) and my forthcoming review for Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture for an example of a serious and comprehensive discussion of LDS scriptures on war.  
[5] He gives lip service to the distinction but his only comments concerning misconduct in war served to condemn all war outside of the two approved by libertarians.  He never mentioned the idea that wars can be just even if unjust actions occur during them. For example, in graduate school I read arguments regarding the “first war of war” that arose because the widespread and common practice of frontier warfare during the colonial era which deliberately targeted civilians and destroyed villages.
[7] See for example, Yang Kuisong, “Nationalist and Communist Guerrilla Warfare in North China,” in The Battle for China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, Mark Peattie, Edward Drea, Hans Van De Ven eds, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 308-327.
[8] Hofstadter, Richard (November 1964). "The Paranoid Style in American Politics". Harper's Magazine.
[9] He somewhat acknowledged this later in his book, but still said that Moroni did not exercise “the slightest degree of unrighteous dominion” (174).
[10] Richard L. Bushman, “The Book of Mormon and the American Revolution,” in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1982), 189–212.
[11] He acknowledged in the first paragraph that he spent a long time trying to “reconcile my Mormon theology with secular libertarianism”(8). An honest and fearless researcher will spend years allowing the text to challenge and even change his beliefs as they try to move past their superficial understanding of it. Not spend months trying to see his favored philosophy within the text.     

Monday, June 15, 2015

Right on Target:Gidgiddoni

Yikes sorry about that previous version. Needless to say the formatting turned out to be a disaster. Here is the link to a great piece about the name Gidgiddoni. I hope you enjoy.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Book Review: Captain Moroni's Command

David Spencer recently published a book called, Captain Moroni's Command: Dynamics of Warfare in the Book of Mormon.  You'll notice there is an endorsement from me on the back cover.  (Its fairly ironic that Cedar Fort thinks I'm good enough to help sell books for them, but I'm not good enough to publish with them. Go figure.)  Here is the full version of what I wrote:

To use Paul’s analogy of milk before meat, the text goes down like rich chocolate milk. Spencer discusses the topic like a knowledgeable battlefield tour guide.  The pictures and maps combine with an insightful but conversational tone that will engage new readers and those that might feel daunted by the subject.  I imagine this book acting as a hook for more serious study of the text as book that should by read by policy makers and generals.

I hope you enjoy reading it! 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Research Maps

I've got a few more great maps for my research into Mao's early insurgency. I'm the kind of guy that really enjoys looking at maps. In fact, I was at Deseret Industries today scouting out some Christmas presents and bought a large 24x36 Book of Mormon wall map. Its laminated so I want to buy some erasable markers and really dive into it with arrows and boxes.  Without further ado, here are the maps with a bit of explanation.
This map puts the fighting in Jiangxi into proper perspective. The thick black line is the route of the Long March (you'll notice the Chinese language is rather literal.) They marched over 6,000 miles which is twice the width of the continental U.S.  Source: The Great Road: The Life and Times of Chu Teh, by Agnes Smedley.

Topographic map of Jiangxi province. Outside of a small valley in the north, the terrain of the province was mountainous and difficult to traverse. Source: Counterrevolution in China, by William Wei.

The First Encirclement Campaign, November 1930- January 1931.  All of these campaigns occurred in the south east part of the province shown above.  Notice the large gap between the left and right circles.  My paper discusses the strengths and weaknesses of Nationalist advances. That gap allowed the Communists under Zhu De and Mao Zedong to attack and defeat isolated units.  I had to print, hand copy some elements that didn't print, and then scan that copy, I'm fairly proud at how well it turned out.  Source: Survival through Adaptation: The Chinese Red Army during the wars of Extermination- 1927-1936, by Wilbur Hsu. 
The Second Encirclement Campaign, April- May 1931. The important part of this campaign is the East to West movement of Communist forces.  Mao (really Zhu De as you'll see from my research) believed it was better to chop off one finger than to wound ten. So Communist forces would find one isolated unit which advanced too far, and then use the snowball effect to defeat others. The defeated unit retreated East, and undermined the morale of other units and caused confusion which would lead to those units being defeated. And so on from East to West during a rapid campaign. 
Third Encirclement Campaign, July- September 1931. This is the first campaign personally led by Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-Sheck). As a result the troops were better trained, equipped, and led. That being said the Nationalist core strengths such as advancing rapidly and independently to force a decisive battle and quick conclusion played into Communist strengths of luring enemies deep into Communist territory and using rough terrain to attack isolated units. The Nationalists did have some units isolated and lured into the deep, but you'll noticed the swarm of dark squares converging at the center of the map. I argue that Chiang was poised to obtain victory when outside events, such as the Guangxi revolt, and the Mukden incident with Japan gave Mao a reprieve. Thus it wasn't his genius that assured victory; he simply benefited of events outside his control to obtain essentially a draw.
Fourth Extermination Campaign, January- March 1933. Notice the two year gap between the Third and Fourth campaign as Chiang was dealing with an international crisis and warlord rebellion. The Communists used this period to expand a great deal. This is the only campaign where they didn't lure the enemy into the deep. The Communists preemptively attacked Nationalist forces securing a decisive victory. Mao was not in a leadership position at this time and his lure into the deep strategy was thoroughly discredited.  
The Fifth Extermination Campaign, September 1933- October 1944. Notice that this campaign lasted almost a year. The Nationalists built blockhouses and slowly advanced into Communist held territory. They adopted political reforms and an effective economic blockade as the Communists withered trying to attack fixed and fortified positions. This campaign was utterly disastrous for the Communists but Mao benefited once again.  Because he was out of power he used the defeat to regain power and then Monday Morning quarterback the decisions to elevate his opinions on what should have been done. 
The Roads of Jiangxi.  The key is a bit hard to read. The dark lines were the few page roads in the province.  Those dark lines don't extend into the center of Communist strength. But the dotted double line was a road constructed during the Fifth Campaign that allowed the Nationalists to project power right into the Communist capital.  Source: William Wei. 
I often joked that I could tell the story of the Book of Mormon just using the pictures in the front of the book. But you can also do the same thing with a series of good maps. I really enjoyed discussing these maps and I hope you get a chance to read the article. I have a rough draft that needs reviewers, and I'm hoping to have a publication announcement soon. Thanks for reading.

Which map did you like the most and why? Which map do you think was most helpful?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Research Pictures

I've been hard at work on several projects, including my research grant on Mao's leadership in the Communist insurgency.  Here is a map I might use that describes the terrain surrounding the Jianxgi Soviet. (Its labelled Kiangsi on the map.  Everything in Chinese history has at least two different spelling depending on the translation style used. Wade Giles has lots of dashes and apostrophes such as Sun-Tzu. Modern academia tends to use the Pinyin system that would say Sunzi.)

You'll see on the West side of the province is the Jinganshan (Chin-kang-shan) mountain range. After getting forced out by the combined efforts of local governors, Mao Zedong and Zhu De fled to the South Eastern part of the province with their capital in Juichin.  The entire province had few roads, weak government control, inaccessible terrain, and a history of rebellion that made them natural centers of strength for the Communists. In fact, part of my thesis argues that Mao deserves too much credit considering all the natural advantages they held.

This doesn't have too much direct application to warfare in the Book of Mormon.  Though I have several ideas I would like to develop that apply directly. I want to examine the recruitment efforts of "rural vagabonds" into Communist armies.  The strategy of "luring into the deep" and the vigorous debates over urban and rural guerrilla strategies. You'll remember that the Gadianton Robbers started in the cities and then moved to the country side, and they also handily defeated Nephite armies in their mountain hideouts. (This could also lead to somewhat ironic comparisons with my earlier comments on the subject. I've certainly researched a great deal in six years since I wrote that post.)   I also want to look at  counter productive Nationalist strategies described as "climbing a tree to look for a fish," which compare to the discussion of self interested and abusive Nephite soldiers in the Book of Helaman.  I'm still working on getting my second book published, and starting a third on Mormon principles in film.  This is so much research that just writing the footnotes for one paper created a rather funny picture: 

I hope to have links to my publications in the future! Thanks for reading! 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

How do you solve a problem like Iraq: The Fall of Ramadi in Alma 59

My book, Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents, argued that the Book of Mormon is a text that should be taken seriously by policy makers and even generals. The current events in Iraq and pending fall of Ramadi recall the capture of Nephihah in Alma 59, and provide additional insight into Nephite society and courses of action we might take. 

As I write this ISIS is driving towards the pivotal city of Ramadi.  They have captured nearby cities and threaten its supply route to Baghdad.  This is the capital of Anbar province, and the home of the Sunni Awakening that turned against Al Qaeda, allied with the U.S. during the surge, and essentially won the war in Iraq. The Institute for the Study of War says that “the fall of Ramadi would deal a major strategic and psychological blow to the Anbaris and to the government of PM Abadi. It would also undermine the relationships between Anbaris and Baghdad, as Iraqi Sunni leaders in Anbar have been calling for an increase in aid to the province as a whole and to Ramadi in particular.”[1]  The known brutality of ISIS, their genocide, sexual slavery, and destruction of monuments is tragic enough. Many Americans have the sense that we allowed this to happen by leaving and failing to view ISIS as more than a jayvee team. Moreover, the provincial government has been begging for more troops and help. 

How does this relate to the Book of Mormon?

Nephihah was a pivotal city that was close to the borders town of Moroni, along the route to Bountiful, and protecting the route to Zarahemla. After if we read starting in Alma 59:9- 

And now as Moroni had supposed that there should be men sent to the city of Nephihah, to the assistance of the people to maintain that city, and knowing that it was easier to keep the city from falling into the hands of the Lamanites than to retake it from them, he supposed that they would easily maintain that city….And now, when Moroni saw that the city of Nephihah was lost he was exceedingly sorrowful, and began to doubt, because of the wickedness of the people, whether they should not fall into the hands of their brethren…[His leaders] doubted and marveled also because of the wickedness of the people, and this because of the success of the Lamanites over them.

Ethnic Tension

The obvious comparison is that Moroni pleaded for reinforcements, didn’t receive them, and the fall of the city dealt a powerful blow to their spirits. There are more comparisons and possible insights. U.S. forces that remained would have acted as honest broker between the various factions in Iraq.  As strange as this sounds considering the pontificating about the hated Western imperialists, Sunni leaders in Anbar province had more trust in American soldiers than the government.   With soldiers in the country, and with future arms contracts for advanced weapons like fighter jets (now cancelled), which required a long relationship filled with shipments of spare parts, the military would have leverage to force the Shia government to be more inclusive of Sunnis and Kurds. Most importantly, our training advisers would have prevented the government from politicizing leadership posts within the army. Removing capable Sunni leaders (many of whom cut their teeth in Saddam’s army) crippled their effectiveness and led to their disgraceful retreat last summer.
The Book of Mormon doesn’t explicit mention others or describes domestic ethnic tension. In my book I describe how ancient historians often used loaded terms to describe ethnic others.  The late Roman historian Gildas called robbers a “hive of bees” and their influence an “infestation.”[2] Another Roman historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, called them “serpents that come out of their holes in spring” to attack with “wicked” and “most cruel” fury.[3] While Giddianhi described the robbers’ war as one for their rights, Ammianus described robbers as “swarthy and dark complexioned” who are “bitter exactors of their rights.”[4] This is compared to Mormon, who calls the Lamanites “lazy” (Mosiah 9:12), and Nephi, who describes those that do not believe as “dark” and “loathsome” (1 Nephi 12:23). The governor of the Nephites dismissed Giddianhi’s quest for his rights as the threatening of a “mere” robber (3 Nephi 3:12). This suggests that perhaps the people of Nephihah had the same smooth relationships with Zarahemla as Baghdad does with Ramadi.


Critics and even many members tend to view the Nephites as a Roman like empire that lasted a thousand years.  During most of Nephite history a better comparison would have been the rump states left over in Europe after Rome fell, or the city states of ancient Greece.  As late as the time of Alma the Elder he personally led the Nephites in battle just outside of the city of Zarahemla.  Those in Ammonihah rejected Nephite political authority, “the most capital parts of the land” rebelled in the Amlicite war, Morianton tried to seize land, and the unspecified strong holds and cities forced to raise the Title of Liberty (Alma 51:20) rejected Nephite authority and eventually allied with the Lamanites. The Nephites seemed ascendant after the war chapters, but as quickly as Helaman 1 they lost their capital.  In Helaman 4 Moronihah could only recover half the land.  The prophet Nephi left the land (and the record) for six years (compare Helaman 6:6 to 7:1)! When he came back the people had to plead to him through intermediaries (Helaman 11:8, suggesting he was still partially removed from the people.)  The Nephites retreated to their central territories to defeat the Gadianton in Robbers (3 Nephi 3-4).  In their final battle against the Lamanites Mormon says they number “as the sands of the sea” but only muster 30,000 soldiers for their war of survival (Mormon 2:42).[5] 

The point is outside of a short period of time during and after the great war, they were rather weak and didn’t not command large territories and huge populations.  The Nephites were not a large monolithic empire and faced various ethnic rivalries and political tension, perhaps similar to Iraq and seen in the failure to support Nephihah, which made cooperation difficult and fracturing into smaller entities more likely. 

What to do about it?

Looking at some similarities is nice, but what course of action might the Book of Mormon suggest?  After the fall of Nephihah, Moroni wrote a rather intense letter where he correctly diagnosed the treasonous reasons for the lethargic supply and mobilization by Zarahemla judges. His threatened coup turned out to be a counter revolution in conjunction with Pahoran. 

This is seemingly where the comparisons break down. Many Iraqis are sick of the government and tolerate the rule of ISIS.  The Kurds continue to rule autonomously and seek independence.   The current attacks in Ramadi are close urban operations that limit air strikes. The PM said that if unchecked ISIS could become unstoppable.[6] But not too many are flocking to his defense, and the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs basically shrugged at its loss.  Pahoran blamed the coup on “great flattery [that] led away the hearts of many” (Alma 61:4). 

Judging from the lack of support for action in Iraq, the reader might appropriately examine if the government under Pahoran and Moroni squandered public support for the war through misrule.  Moroni held men in prison for years without trial in Alma 51:19; 62:9. There is evidence that he killed dissenters (Alma 51:19), he threatened a coup and a genocide in separate letters (Alma 60:25-27; Alma 54:12-13), along with calling his opponent a child of Hell (Alma 60:18; 54:11), and he possibly militarized a vote against the King Men (after all, he and his supporters put on armor and gathered in a loud shouting body before the vote, Alma 46:21).  The war had to be funded from somewhere, and the 4,000 dissidents hewed down (Alma 51:19), and others imprisoned or executed provided plenty of revenue for the state, but likely left many kin seething with resentment.

The Nephite example suggests that military force won on the battlefield for Moroni and inspires many, (including me as a young recruit in Marine Corps Boot Camp) but it remains a short term solution because their underlying ethnic tension, political fragmentation, and heavy handed policies didn’t change. As I focused in my second book, in many cases forceful action created more enemies.     

The situation in Iraq is complex and difficult. The American public doesn’t want to send ground troops.  ISIS spans both Iraq and Syria and any action against them might assist Iranian agents in Iraq or help Basher Al Assad keep power.  Military operations cost money and degrade the military’s readiness for future conflicts. But many argue America has an interest in fighting genocidal barbarians forcing many into sexual slavery, who steadily advance and export terrorism. Much like the Nephites that cut bait and consolidated their central territories during the Gadianton threat, and Mormon’s strong defense of the narrow neck of land suggest that the least worst American option is to consolidate their position by supporting the Kurds as a bulwark against ISIS expansion, continue bombing, and work to train the Iraqi army so they can roll back ISIS.  This limits American commitment but provides a low risk high reward way to protect American interests in a vital region, without a burdensome American commitment. 

This was rather heavy on analysis, what do you think of the situation?

[2] Marcellinus, Res Gestae, 1.25-26. Of course, swarms could also refer to the difficulty and pain in prosecuting a successful counter-insurgency campaign. 
[3] Ibid., 19.8.1-2; 28.2.10.
[4]  Ibid., 22.16.23.
[5] Interestingly, if you look at the military participation ratio a society that was about 200,000 people, or about the total of dead at Cumorah, could produce an army of 30,000.  See “A Nephite Ten Thouand” in my upcoming book for more.