Thursday, March 24, 2016

What was Battle Like?

[The following is part of an article I've written that tries to answer the simple question, what was battle like for the average Nephite soldier. The whole product is too long to repeat here, and is currently under review from editors for publication. But I'm happy to produce a snippet here for you.] 

Once the opposing armies reached each other on the battlefield it followed a rough sequence of events.  Linda Schele and David Friedel suggested that Meosamerican warfare included ritualistic pre battle insults.  These activities followed an “honorable precedent” that went back 20 katuns ( about 400 years) or more.[1]  Real life battles, even as the armies were advancing, was a confused mélange that recalled the floor of the New York stock exchange, with screaming warriors bellowing battle cries, commanders attempting to shout orders, battle drums, gongs, trumpets, or cymbals, the braying of pack animals or cavalry horses, and the pounding of one’s own heart thumping in their ears, quickly added to by the screams of the dying and thousands of clashes of metal. Moreover, the rush of adrenaline triggers physical stimuli that make battle notoriously difficult to reconstruct.

“Studies have found that at least half of participants [in battle] will experience the event in slow motion, a fifth in faster than normal time; two-thirds will hear at ‘diminished volume’…a fifth at amplified levels; about half will see…with tunnel vision and black out everything not directly ahead and the other half with amazingly heightened clarity. Most individuals will suffer memory loss, while others will ‘remember’ events that never occurred.”[2] 

Schele and Freidel’s recreation of Mayan battle then fails to take into account the impractical nature of trying to understand each other during this kind of physical stress on a chaotic battlefield.[3] As other historians have suggested when examining pre battle insults, this is much more likely a stylized recreation of the account embellished far after the battle rather than a faithful recreation of events.  Some kind of pre battle yelling and insults probably did happen but instead of ritual communication between groups it was far more likely they were spontaneous outburst to strengthen the shouter’s morale and nearby comrades than any type of cross army communication (Alma 43:49-50; 3 Nephi 4:8-9). We should expect that writers with military experience such as Mormon and Moroni would avoid stylized after action accounts in favor of more realistic descriptions.

[1] Linda Schele, David Freidel, A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1990), 151.
[2] Rose, Men of War, 72-73.  
[3] Karl Friday, Samurai Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan, (New York: Routledge Press, 2004), 145-149.
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