Captain Moroni: War Criminal

I was reading a post at Times and Seasons today and several people were commenting on how they believed that the war chapters were placed there for our own needs, specifically saying that they thought they would come in handy in the next few years. Apparently, these folks are reading the Book of Mormon for military tactics. This strikes me as a particularly bad way to read it.

Few characters are presented with as many contradictions as Captain Moroni, the great hero of the war chapters. While I accept Captain Moroni as a hero, I think Mormon (who admired him so much that he seemingly named a child after him) wants us to keep a clear-eyed view of the man. Captain Moroni did some bad things, many of which would be considered war crimes today (or, at least, wrong).

For example, Captain Moroni convinced the nation to give him the power to force people to go to wars. The alternatives were imprisonment and execution. While the USA has often imprisoned draft dodgers and conscientious objectors, I don’t believe we have ever reached the point of telling people to fight or die. Soviet Russia did that in World War II, as an example, and that helps explain the appalling loss of life the Russian Army suffered at the time.

Another example is Captain Moroni’s administering of possibly poisoned food and drink to his prisoners of war. While this may seem a type of poetic irony, it strikes me as a great abuse of prisoners, who are wholly dependent on their jailers for food. It also assumes that Amalickiah and Ammoron held their own troops in higher esteem than they actually did, so I am not sure it was all that bright anyway. While the closest prohibition regarding this I could find in the Geneva Conventions was an admonition to provide adequate amounts of safe food, I am relatively certain that this sort of behavior wouldn’t be tolerated in a US Military Tribunal or in the Hague.

While not a war crime, Moroni’s tendency to insist on unconditional surrender and treaty acceptance seems to prolong the war. Much like Germany after World War I, the Lamanites, when they lose, must always accept complete defeat. The resentment, under these conditions, seems to build up quickly, resulting in more fighting to come. Oddly enough, when Moroni’s son, Moronihah loses half the kingdom to the Lamanites later, the Lamanites shortly give all their acquired territory back (after the religious intervention of Nephi and Lehi). Perhaps Zarahemnah and Ammoron would have responded better to Nephite peace overtures if Moroni hadn’t insisted on implying they were the children of hell.

Mormon, a participant in a scorched earth campaign, presents these details without comment. I believe this is, in part, due to his deep admiration for Moroni. Moroni was a man who did great things. At the same time, Mormon is a wonderfully subversive editor. Even if our all being like Moroni would shake the gates of hell, Moroni is presented with flaws intact and with subtle commentary. Why else the inclusion of Moroni’s threats of military coup when writing to the legally-elected, civil authorities of his country?

There is a field of ethical theory called just war theory that attempts to suss out when one nation may legitimately engage in military conflict with another. Generally, according to such theories, Moroni does great. He engages in warfare in self-defense, his response is appropriate, and he is never engaged in war for profit. However, his treatment of prisoners of war strikes me as unjust and his embrace of violence as a motivating tool makes him seem a bit of a bully. While Captain Moroni doesn’t bother me as much as some around here and while he strikes me, as he does Mormon, as someone to be admired, reading the Book of Mormon solely for tactical advice strikes me as a way to lose sight quickly of what is ethical in war.

Finally, has anyone else noticed that the Nephite generals almost always use the same basic strategy in combat? This indicates to me that the Lamanite military leadership must have been spectacularly stupid, which is probably not an assumption that is strategically helpful to make.

Comments

  1. I guess it was only a matter of time before the bleeding heart liberals commented on Captain Moroni’s tactics and methods.

  2. Deacon,
    Oh, we do that all the time here at the BCC.

  3. John,

    Soviet Russia did that in World War II, as an example, and that helps explain the appalling loss of life the Russian Army suffered at the time.

    It should be said that the Russians defeated the Germans. A sever cost to their nation, indeed.

    One thing that many readers of the Book of Mormon don’t realize when trying to compare to our day is that in our day, our country is the most powerful nation on the planet. The Nephites were NOT the most powerful of the two. They were the weaker of the two groups. At times, in particular this war, they had to resort to more extreme measures in order to survive. The United States DOES NOT need to drop to those standards because our survival is not at stake. It is one of the more reprehensible arguments to make, that because Captain Moroni did this or that we are justified in doing it to. No we are NOT!

    Perhaps Zarahemnah and Ammoron would have responded better to Nephite peace overtures if Moroni hadn’t insisted on implying they were the children of hell.

    Indeed.

  4. Steve Evans says:

    You’re poaching Ronan here John. But yes, I find it problematic to summarily execute those who do not believe in freedom…

  5. Regarding the point about the same strategy repeatedly, this is not as uncommon as you think. A great example is Shaka Zulu’s ‘buffalo horns’ tactics.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    Gotta love any post where Shaka Zulu is cited.

  7. There is a faculty member at the Univ of Virginia, an inactive Mormon, who writes a wonderful Just War Theory Blog. I will post the link shorty

  8. Sorry folks, I meant “shortly”. My typing sux today.

  9. Russell Stevenson says:

    I think we overstate the case when we view Moroni by modern standards. I see why we would (“liken unto us” and all that); however, there are numerous cases where Moroni did not seek to initiate war; his tactics relied strictly on a defensive posture. Additionally, his insistence on gaining a petition from the judges to kill the POWs is a stark contrast to the secretive system of CIA prisons the Bush administration uses. While it still does jar the modern ear, let us still remember that it is quite different.

    I appreciate the general thrust of this post, however, if only to serve as an excessive counterbalance to the lock-step lionization of Moroni. Might we not similarly portray the Anti-Nephi-Lehies as heroes?

  10. Ronin,
    Is this the blog you have in mind?

  11. this has to be one of the most refreshing bloggernacle posts I have ever read. praise be.

  12. There is no doubt that Moroni has many admirable things about him and seems to follow the just war model, but he is still a tragic figure.

    War seems to intoxicate the man slowly as it does all men. He becomes angry, increasingly angry as the text progresses. It is mentioned repeatedly. This leads to executing those as has been mentioned. I think the point of the text is not for us to condemn the man but to learn how war is truly corrosive. Moroni loses much of his luster and by the end we truly believe the gates of hell might shake not from moral righteousness but violence. The comparison between confronting enemies with sword and later Nephi/Lehi gospel is important.

    The anti-nephi-lehies are great heroes and yet we dismiss them by labeling them as wicked. They renounce war and yet their compassion leads them to offer their sons on the altars of national sacrifice. The psychological scars of such a conflict must have severely changed these very very young men. The text suggests they left northward. Perhaps these are the disillusioned men among whom Nephi has no success in the lands northward.

    I have always wondered whether Mormon’s own McNamara moment changed the text. He seems to have grown up very much a war guy but by the end, after all the horror, he can only say the wicked destroy the wicked and we should only take up weapons if God commands. Certainly he liked Capt Moroni but as he became older how did his own experiences change how he viewed the past.

  13. Latter-day Guy says:

    For example, Captain Moroni convinced the nation to give him the power to force people to go to wars. The alternatives were imprisonment and execution. While the USA has often imprisoned draft dodgers and conscientious objectors, I don’t believe we have ever reached the point of telling people to fight or die.

    Hmmm, this seems to be a bit misleading. I think that it would be germane to point out that these “people”, here compared with “draft dodgers and conscientious objectors”, were not merely looking to avoid a fight. Indeed, they were hoping to be defeated by the Lamanites. Alma 51:18 suggests that they were only slain “as they did lift their weapons of war to fight against” Moroni’s men. This is something rather closer to civil war than than conscientious objection; they were certainly willing to fight against their own countrymen. (Though, admittedly, the “pull down their pride and their nobility” business sounds aggressive and unpleasant.) There is at least some indication that they were a dangerously subversive group.

    RE: 9,

    Might we not similarly portray the Anti-Nephi-Lehies as heroes?

    I think it is clear that that is how the Book of Mormon portrays them. The Nephites go to a great deal of trouble to protect them so that they can keep their covenant. They are shown to be just as valiant as their 2000 sons. The Book of Mormon doesn’t ever (to my mind) glorify war, but doing one’s duty and keeping one’s promises. A sincere conscientious objector is as justified by the scriptures (particularly the war chapters of the BOM) as an honorable soldier.

  14. Latter-day Guy says:

    RE: 12

    Moroni loses much of his luster and by the end we truly believe the gates of hell might shake not from moral righteousness but violence…

    The anti-nephi-lehies are great heroes and yet we dismiss them by labeling them as wicked.

    Brother Madsen, what planet are you on this afternoon?

  15. I agree with #9 that we shouldn’t judge Moroni or Mormon or the war chapters by modern standards of what is correct or right.

    That said, when we discussed them in SS, our teacher wanted to focus on application to war in our day, like real war. Of any lessons to be learned, to me that is the least important — in part because none of us has any real influence on the specific tactics used in war, or even on the choice to go to war. But I do think the chapters are rich in teachings about facing the trials of our day. As someone said at T&S, our times are messy and difficult and we are ‘at war’ in many different ways.

  16. John C.,

    Nibley wrote that our war heroes from the BOM should be the Anti-Nephi Lehis who chose to reject bloodshed and adhere to peace at all costs. Of course, the Nephites had to fight for them. Yet, I think that Nibley, as do you it seems, worried that Mormons took Alma as the glorification of war, which if clearly is not.

  17. m&m
    Are you saying what is correct and right changes?

  18. Steve Evans says:

    ATTENTION: the following is opinion only. You probably don’t have to agree with it, and you might even escape banning if you disagree — this time.

    When people say stuff like what m&m says in #15, it tends to elicit the same reaction in me as when people talk about the Pioneers and say things like “we are all pioneers in our own way” or somesuch. I couldn’t disagree more. I don’t feel the need to prooftext or wrest these histories to forcefeed an application onto my life. Whenever we read of Nephites fortifying their cities and we start talking about “how can each of us fortify our cities, spiritually?”, it’s a ridiculous mockery of history.

    Not all past events need to metamorphosize into a life lesson, people! And for that matter, not all scripture needs to be immediately relevant, or interesting, or chock-full of instruction. If we respect history (and scripture), we need to be more serious about how we approach the text instead of cramming it into lesson plans.

  19. that’s crazy talk, Steve.

  20. Steve Evans says:

    amri, I guess all the bile I usually reserve for the Zeitcast has been welling up inside. Let’s get that ol’ train rolling again soon.

  21. Nice, amri.

  22. As long as we can talk about likening the scriptures unto ourselves, I can do the zeitcast any time.

    As an unrelated sidenote, people in Iquitos love to name their kids Hitler and Stalin.

  23. LatterDay Guy

    It has been my experience that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies covenant to renounce war is often dismissed as something quaint, because they were very wicked, but certainly nothing to mimic. That is simply my experience among LDS.

    As to Capt. Moroni, I admire him in many ways and also fear him. He was a very angry, wroth man and I stand by my assertion that the gates of hell might shake from his penchant for “peace through war”.

  24. Fwiw, I agree with Steve on this one. I want to find lessons from these chapters about righteousness and war and the power of God, but to take wartime lessons and craft peacetime lessons for “spiritual warfare” always bothers me. To take these chapters and see what they might tell us about our own involvement in actual war is fine. We don’t need to stretch them beyond the breaking point.

    After all, should we start advocating that, in order to emulate Captain Moroni, we need to excommunicate all who refuse to fight the forces of Satan with all their might – and dictate exactly what they must do in that fight? I approve of likening all things to ourselves, but I don’t want lessons that liken the scriptures unto ourselves in ways that fundamentally alter the nature of the original lesson. We do it all the time in the Church, but I still don’t like it.

  25. #23 – I didn’t understand #12 (and I almost typed a “what have you been smoking” response), but I think I understand #23. I don’t agree fully, but I think I understand what you mean. Thanks for the clarification.

  26. Latter-day Guy says:

    RE: 23

    While I obviously cannot argue with your experience, I have never heard anything remotely like that (in church or elsewhere), until today. I agree very much that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies are to be honored and looked to as an example: a very worthy example, but not the only example worth considering.

    As for your assessment of Moroni viz a viz the gates of hell, I can only disagree. (You are of course entitled to your––no doubt carefully considered––opinion. However, I don’t think that Mormon’s description contains within it the shadow your comment casts. If your citation is your own poetic reinterpretation, fine; it would be wholly unwarranted, though, to suggest that Mormon might be sneakily trying to say the same.)

  27. Deacon,
    I’m not actually a bleeding heart liberal, but if encouraging nation’s and military leaders to fight less and encouraging the humane treatment of prisoners of war is wrong, I suppose I don’t want to be right.

    Steve,
    I’m not exactly poaching, Ronan, because what interests me is in the application to modern times, I don’t have a cool British accent, and I like Moroni better than Ronan did. But, other than that, yep. (Sorry, Ronan)

    Russell & m&m,
    I agree that judging Moroni by the Geneva conventions is ridiculous. Just War Theory has been around since, at least, the 3rd century and was originally developed to give guidance to Christians who wanted to justify war but who felt the teachings of the Bible required pacificism. So, in some ways, it is interesting to compare those notions with what Moroni comes up with. That said, it is also a bit silly (as is this post, fundamentally). You have to have a notion of crime in war in order to have war criminals, which is a decidedly 20th century notion. Prior to that era, winners won any way they could and didn’t usually sweat the ethics of it.

    Russell,
    Do we too often lionize the Anti-Nephi-Lehis? I hadn’t noticed that we did it all that often at all. People don’t like being reminded that making earnest vows to God can result in their being slaughtered. Certainly the doings of their sons get more airplay in my area (in order to inspire both young men and mothers, strangely enough).

    Joshua,
    Where exactly does the Book of Mormon call the Anti-Nephi Lehi’s wicked?

    Steve and m&m,
    I don’t mind more metaphorical approaches to the war chapters because I get a real sense that they do not constitute a simple retelling of the history. In fact, in chapter 48, Mormon mentions every prominent figure in Alma and states that they were all similar to Moroni in their “shaking the gates of hell”ishness. Mormon is crafting literature in those chapters, which opens it up to more than just an historical interpretation. That said, I think interpretations that exclude historical context entirely are silly. Sure, I could say that God wants me to build a fortress to protect myself from temptation, but then what should I learn from the fall of Jericho? A balance is necessary.

  28. Steve Evans says:

    L-d Guy, it’s clear from the scriptures that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies were indeed very wicked before their conversion to the Gospel, and I think Josh’s initial point is valid — there is at least a whiff of an indication that their pacifism is warranted because of the level of their depravity prior to conversion.

  29. Howdy – I’m the Kenneth Anderson someone was kind enough to reference above re just war theory. I’ve posted up a quick note to BCC folks at my blog, in case anyone is interested:

    http://kennethandersonlawofwar.blogspot.com/2008/09/welcome-to-by-common-consent-folks.html

  30. LDS guy

    agreed that Mormon was not making such an assertion about Capt. Moroni. There does however seem to be a tragic development in his character as he becomes more and more angry as war affects him more and more.

  31. Steve,
    sure they were wicked when they were Lamanites, but not when they were ANL’s. The change of the name is important.

    Regarding the likening, just be careful. Sure, in one instance a fortification is great. But in others, it is not. People who say that the timbers are the Spirit and the earth is the scriptures and some such are acting crazy. People who say that God wants us to careful consider spiritual defenses of our own, maybe less so.

  32. Latter-day Guy says:

    RE: 28

    Oh, I agree, Steve. I meant in 26 that I had never heard their covenant either dismissed, described as quaint, or suggested as unworthy of emulation… even given the unsavory past that necessitated the covenant. I have never been to a meeting where they were held up as anything other than an example of heroic faith––perhaps I just haven’t been to the right meetings. :) (My previous comment ought to have been clearer; alas, brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio.)

  33. People who say that the timbers are the Spirit and the earth is the scriptures and some such are acting crazy.

    This makes me so want to use this in a lesson someday.

  34. Last Lemming says:

    I have thought for some time that so much of the BoM is dedicated to Captain Moroni solely because he was Mormon’s personal hero. I find little in these chapters that is relevant to my life. But I wonder how much we can learn about Mormon by analyzing what he has to say about Moroni? And what light does this shine on other parts of Mormon’s abridgment. No answers from me today, but the post did get me thinking.

  35. You probably don’t have to agree with it,

    Steve: for allowing dissent, you should be banned.

    While I agree that scripture shouldn’t be wrested into life-lessons, I’m reluctant to read scripture as history free of instruction for me. If it’s just history, then why should I give a scratch?

  36. You have to have a notion of crime in war in order to have war criminals, which is a decidedly 20th century notion. Prior to that era, winners won any way they could and didn’t usually sweat the ethics of it.

    Is that right? When did conventions in war first start? Certainly not with Geneva. And if there weren’t ethics in war anciently, how do we explain the oaths various Lamanites were forced to take not to come to battle again? Forcing an oath only makes sense if your enemy is bound by ethics to uphold the oath. (Or is there a subtle difference between “ethics” and “societal pressures” that I am missing?)

  37. #23 Did they renounce war, or did they proclaim their dependance of God for their protection? They are different actions. The Nephites under Moroni did the later quite well, but they didn’t do the former, because it is a much loftier level of faith. If they could have, God would have made it required. Fortunately, God will work in us according to our faith, even a society as a whole.

    There are different levels of what is acceptable, as taught in the DC42:43 “And whosoever among you are sick, and have not faith to be healed, but believe, shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food, and that not by the hand of an enemy.”

    In one instance, God give advice to heal them, in the other to nurture them with mild food, herbs, and no doubt surgery.

    God interacts with us according to our level of faith, and so must we act according to each other, as Moroni demonstrated.

  38. “If they could have, God would have made it required.”

    Source?

  39. BrianJ,
    To my knowledge, raping went right along with pillaging in the regular army playbook until fairly recently. Of course, neither is acceptable under Geneva, so what do I know.

  40. To take these chapters and see what they might tell us about our own involvement in actual war is fine. We don’t need to stretch them beyond the breaking point.

    I was surprised to hear this from you, Ray. It’s one thing to try to FORCE elements of the story (there isn’t necessarily going to be a symbolic parallel to every point and every event), but I’ve felt the Spirit very strongly and have found great and powerful insights as I have applied principles in these chapters to spiritual ‘warfare’ at many levels, personal and general. If that doesn’t work for you, that’s fine; we each have our own personal experiences with scripture. But I think it’s important to leave space for different readings.

    This book was never meant to be just a history in my view, and so I feel no need to somehow hold just to the history as the guide for how to read it. I don’t feel it a mockery at all to find meaning for my life and for our time.

    But hey, to each his/her own….

  41. I’ve felt the Spirit very strongly

    I’m afraid this is going to be mocked or misunderstood, as though I somehow find wonder in bloodshed or something, so I want to clarify. For me, the Spirit works in different ways. One way that I ‘feel the Spirit strongly’ is to have ideas and thoughts connect in my brain, to get insights into life and current events, etc — to have ‘aha’s. That is more the way the Spirit works with me with these scriptures than just through feelings.

  42. m&m, the rest of my comment tried to show what I meant by that sentence. There are lots of legitimate ways to liken the war chapters to ourselves, but, frankly, I have a problem with many analogies I’ve heard in church lessons over the years. I’ve heard some good ones, as well, but all too often . . . they really have been stretched beyond the breaking point.

    The “building fortifications” one is a great example. I’ve heard it used to justify cutting off real friendships and even simple social interaction with others. I’ve heard it used to teach that we really can’t trust those who have different beliefs – those apostate Gentiles. I’ve heard it twisted into some truly reprehensible analogies.

    The penalties for not promising to “support the cause” is another great example. I could go on and on about ways I’ve heard that one twisted beyond recognition – including some recent statements that all who don’t donate to the Prop 8 effort should be excommunicated – or at least disciplined in some official way. Many of the worst things I have heard from the mouths of otherwise kind, caring, dedicated people have been related to scriptural analogies that were stretched beyond the breaking point.

    Let me be clear: I have no problem with individuals taking just about any lesson they want to take. I personally have done so many times as I read these chapters. My problem is when those individuals present their lessons publicly as lessons for all – when many of these distorted analogies are presented as valid and right for all – when mothers whose children don’t obey with exactness feel like abject failures, since they “obviously” didn’t teach those kids well enough – when fighting enemy armies with boldness is morphed into condemning all outside the Church – etc.

  43. Ray, thanks for the clarification. Truly distorted analogies can of course be problematic, but I do think that because of that, sometimes people will throw the baby out with the bathwater and assume that all analogies or symbolic meaning in these chapters will be wrong or misguided, and I think that is unfortunate.

  44. Now that my husband has finished his book on Shakespeare and renaissance family life, he is committed to finishing his essay on peace for an upcoming collection. Someone else, who serves as a military chaplain, will write about the sometime need for war. One of the documentaries shown at a film festival Darius and I attended awhile back is called _A SOldier’s Peace_. Well worth seeing. It’s from the perspective of a recently returned Mormon soldier (from Iraq) who told the film crews recording his family reunion at the airport that he did NOT support the war. He said, “I will die for my country. But I will not kill for my country.” I met him and his wife. We all became fans of each other’s films. I am a firm believer in the need to “renounce war and proclaim peace” unless circumstances OVERWHELMINGLY demand something else.

  45. I am a firm believer in the need to “renounce war and proclaim peace” unless circumstances OVERWHELMINGLY demand something else.

    IMO, the war chapters actually agree with this.

  46. Rather than strained analogies, how about looking at the ‘war’ chapters as an extended real life case study in trying to act righteously in the most horrific of circumstances — war, civil war, treason, class struggle? A lot of things that Moroni does are arguable, but then so are most hard choices in tough circumstances. Mormon’s telling of this part of his national history shows us not specifically what to do when we face hard choices, but rather that even in the worst cases we can still strive to do the righteous thing, even if what that is is not always clear in real life. Give me real life accounts like this over abstract doctrine any day.

  47. A couple of point here. Moroni was still fighting a defensive war against a numerically superior invading army, still in Nephite territory. He had not reversed the course of war to invade the Lamanite territory, so the situation is nothing like Germany at the end of WW I or WW II.
    Zerahemnah was defiant even in defeat, but Moroni wanted to finish the war, not fight another one. Given that Amalickiah had sworn to drink Moroni’s blood and his treacherous coup against the Lamanite king showed him entirely untrustworthy. I doubt that anything Moroni said was going to pacify him. Since Ammoron had taken up his brother’s cause, about the best Moroni could expect was to provoke him into doing something rash.
    The Nephites seem to had a problem with the upper classes giving lip service to ideals of liberty, and then committing treason and siding with the Lamanites soon as the rightful authorities turned their backs. Moroni used the principle, we’re at war here. Join us or fight us, right here and now. Not 100% effective, but if someone knows of a better one for smoking out secret traitors, I’d like to hear it.
    As far as Moroni’s threats of a coup, the evident malfeasance of the government in witholding the required men and supplies was on the verge of starving his armies. He did not sucpect that the problem was treason.
    AS far as threatening a coup, Moroni knew he could’t fight the Lamines in his front with traitors at his back, and failure to deliver the supplies and manpower that had been agreed upon needed was a betrayal of the armies in the field. He did not suspect more active treason along with an attempted coup. He had already dealt with the enemy sympathizers at home, hadn’t he? But when he learned the truth and acted, it was in support of the rightfully elected government.

  48. I’ve felt the Spirit very strongly
    m&m this happens to me.

    I agree with Ray; We don’t need to stretch them beyond the breaking point. But most of us read scripture to learn something useful to apply to our lives today. As m&m points out; none of us has any real influence on the specific tactics used in war, or even on the choice to go to war.

    I believe the methods of mortal war can also be applied to spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare exists and it is fought with by people on both sides. Some of those people have bodies and some do not. The US military would love to have invisible soldiers!

    One thing we repeatedly learn from the scriptures is that people haven’t changed all that much.

    If there is something useful to learn from Captain Moroni that transfers to modern warfare given the vast advancements in weaponry that has occurred, it would not surprise me to learn that there are also parallels to spiritual warfare as well.

  49. JWL,
    Exactly.

    Confutus,
    “situation is nothing like Germany at the end of WW I or WW II.”
    Huh? Admittedly Moroni didn’t take Lamanite territory, but he did demand unconditional surrender.

    “Not 100% effective, but if someone knows of a better one for smoking out secret traitors, I’d like to hear it.”
    Are you suggesting that this is how it ought to be done today?

    “As far as Moroni’s threats of a coup, the evident malfeasance of the government in witholding the required men and supplies was on the verge of starving his armies. He did not sucpect that the problem was treason.”
    Why is that more acceptable for you?

    You seem to read me as saying that I think Cap. Moroni is a horrible person. I didn’t and don’t say that. What I say is more along the lines of what JWL said.

  50. Ronin,

    You can call me your shorty any day.

  51. #38 Ray, just patterns. God works with us according to our faith. God requires different things of us, according to our level of faith, IMHO. Use the scripture quoted in the DC. God varies counsel depending on what the people are able to give. I think it is all through the scriptures and life, Joseph Smith had varying levels of strictness. The anti-Nephi Lehi’s had made the covenant they had because of the murders they had performed, and believed, had faith that they could not take a life at all, even in self defense, a you well know. It just seems to me to be a pattern in life and all through the scriptures. I remember a Bishop when I was young telling me that he had a harder time getting an answer to a prayer as a Bishop than ever before in his life.

    I guess it is just my opinion.

  52. I’m still not following, Rand. I agree completely that “God works with us according to our faith,” and “God requires different things of us, according to our level of faith.” I just don’t see how you get from there to the actual statements about war.

    Just to clarify: Are you saying that if the Nephites could have “had enough faith” to renounce war altogether, God would have required it of them? Also, are you saying that it takes more faith to renounce war than to depend on God for protection in the case of real threats of war – or actual war?

  53. To those who don’t like excessive “likening,” what do you think viz a viz the Pauline “Armor of God” construct? Isn’t that a similar idea?

  54. Someone said:

    Much like Germany after World War I, the Lamanites, when they lose, must always accept complete defeat.

    And then Confutus, inadvertently or otherwise confusing us, wrote:

    He had not reversed the course of war to invade the Lamanite territory, so the situation is nothing like Germany at the end of WW I or WW II.

    Germany and the Western Allies entered into an armistice effective November 11, 1918, at a time when there were no Allied troops in Germany. In fact, on that date, the German army still occupied substantial parts of northeastern France and Belgium. The terms imposed by the Versailles Treaty two years later were harsh, but they did not constitute “unconditional surrender.”

    Parts of Germany were taken by France (Alsace-Lorraine), parts were occupied (the Saar, the Ruhr and the Rheinland), German armed forces were severely restricted and large reparations were imposed (to say nothing of the forced admission of war guilt), but there’s no way that the terms could be called “unconditional surrender.”

    I’m not sure if the reference to “revers[ing] the course of the war to invade Germany” was meant to imply that that was a bad thing. Looking at the course of the second world war from September 1939 to late 1942, I’d say that reversing the course of the war was a great thing to do.

  55. Ray, that is what I am saying. I think God will literally fight our battles for us. If we had the faith, I do feel we could trust God to fight them, as with Enoch, the children of Israel, etc.

    Would God require it of us if we had the faith? Well, yes, if we had the faith, God would require it of us, hypothetically speaking anyway.
    And again, in general, yes, I think it takes more faith to trust God to fight your battle for you. I would not say renouncing war in and of itself requires any faith at all though. I think it can be an act of cowardice, or some other such unfaithful motivation.

    Sorry, I didn’t realize I was so unclear. Thanks for asking me to try to be more clearly.

  56. Portia, I guess if you’re an early Apostle you can do whatever strikes you.

  57. Thanks, Rand, for the clarification. I think you inadvertently switched the “latter” and “former” in your first comment I referenced, which threw me.

  58. Ray, I see reading my last post, I shouldn’t watch a good football game while posting. I am usually a little more coherent.

  59. UCLA v. Tennessee, I assume?

  60. John C.

    It was the title of your post: Captain Moroni: War Criminal that created the impression that you might not approve of him or his actions.

    I’m not sure where you even get the idea that Moroni demanded unconditional surrender. He offered terms to the defeated army of Zerahemnah. 1) Surrender your weapons. 2) Go home. 3) Give your oath that you will Never come in arms again. Those terms were refused once, so Moroni acted to eliminate a future threat. When there was a second surrender, the same terms were offered, and this time accepted.

    I’m not necessarily recommending the “Choose now” at swordpoint approach for all cases and circumstances. It has its problems. However, under the circumstances Moroni faced, given that there were already armies in the field and Nephite lands in enemy hands, my question stands: what would have been a better approach? I can’t readily think of one.

    I didn’t fully edit my post. Moroni had three choices, none of them good. A) Go home and overthrow a corrupt, irresponsible goverment. 2) waste his starving army in a hopeless, last-ditch defense against a well-fed, numerically superior, and victory-encouraged foe, or 3) Surrender and throw himself and all his people on the nonexistent mercy of Ammoron.

    Had Pahoran been guilty as charged, it would have been sufficient cause to bring charges and force his removal from office using the procedure Mosah had prescribed. But there was no time, just as there had been no time for trials of the king-men a year or two before.

  61. I would like to make a suggestion. Everybody go read Collingwood’s “The Idea of History”.

    Until you do… History should not be judged on today’s standards. I think from the OP on down (with a few notable exceptions), the interpretation of history has been done exactly backwards. I think most of the issues people are arguing about stems ultimately around this point.

    Not that the Book of Mormon is merely a history book. But inasmuch as you are reading history out of it, it ought to be done correctly!!

    I think the most important point so far that hasn’t been made explicit (that I caught, anyway), is a question re: Mormon’s interpretation of history and his own biases versus God’s hand in selecting what small percentage of text actually made it into the BoM – How do you distinguish between the intention of God and the fact that His work is done by men?

  62. that last question probably needs clarification- how do you distinguish the things that occur because God needed/intended them to happen (e.g. Words of Mormon 1:7) versus the things that occur because a man thought it was a good idea (e.g. anything that the author didn’t feel directly inspired to include, but figured it’d be worth a go).

    I don’t mean to jack the thread, but I see this as an underlying issue to many of the disagreements. Maybe we could get it on the table.

  63. Captain Moroni did some bad things, many of which would be considered war crimes today (or, at least, wrong).

    To me the point of the War Chapters is that Captain Moroni, after everything he did, was described like this (Alma 48:17-18):

    17 Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.
    18 Behold, he was a man like unto Ammon, the son of Mosiah, yea, and even the other sons of Mosiah, yea, and also Alma and his sons, for they were all men of God.

    Worldly moral standards and laws come and go, but Captain Moroni’s valor and righteousness are not in question. He did what he did in defense of his country and his religion, and none of his actions prevented him from being described by a prophet as a man of God worthy of our emulation.

  64. Sorry for the repetitive posts. I guess I could have just repeated three exactly-similar posts on what I think of Moroni, but I figured that’s been done already (cough)….

    The following link is for people interested in Collingwood’s basic thrust. If you’re at all interested in understanding history and aren’t already familiar, check it out.

    http://people.westminstercollege.edu/faculty/mmarkowski/History-C.htm

  65. Why else the inclusion of Moroni’s threats of military coup when writing to the legally-elected, civil authorities of his country?

    You read this as an admission of error on the part of Captain Moroni, I read it as an example of how inspiration works. Moroni thought that the central government was corrupt, he received the following inspiration from God:

    Alma 60:33 “…Behold, the Lord saith unto me: If those whom ye have appointed your governors do not repent of their sins and iniquities, ye shall go up to battle against them. “

    God didn’t tell Captain Moroni that he was wrong about the central government, he let him continue operating with a flawed view of what was really happening. But then look how Pahoran turns it around:

    Alma 61:19 19 “And now, Moroni, I do joy in receiving your epistle, for I was somewhat worried concerning what we should do, whether it should be just in us to go against our brethren.
    20 But ye have said, except they repent the Lord hath commanded you that ye should go against them.”

    Pahoran took the inspiration that Captain Moroni had received, adjusted it based on a correct view of what was really happening, and they acted upon it.

    For me this has implications far beyond war. It provides an example that God will not always give us the full picture when he provides his inspiration to us, he will give us what we need to correctly navigate the situation. So don’t lose faith if you later learn that your underlying assumptions weren’t correct in the first place. This story shows that God doesn’t always tell us everything, he lets us figure somethings out on our own.

  66. Aluwid- Wonderful point

  67. SinisterMatt says:

    36:

    “When did conventions in war first start? Certainly not with Geneva”

    They do indeed go way back. I think that Geneva was the first attempt to write them down in a codified way.

    One of the more common laws that governed warfare is the rule that Christian European monarchies did not attack each other on Christmas and other holy days.

    Cheers!

  68. The Right Trousers says:

    #65: That’s great.

    I learned a related lesson last time I went through these chapters. To sum up: What do you do with counsel that claims to be inspired but is misdirected and downright offensive? (We’ll all have that happy experience a few times.) Pahoran didn’t just sit around trying not to be offended. He extracted good counsel from it and took courage to do the right thing. That’s a win-win-win strategy, and it’s hard to do. I’d say Pahoran’s faltering courage was more than made up for by his humility and wisdom. May we all have such, especially here in the Murmurnacle… ;)

  69. Hrm. As is often the case in internet discussion, I feel like you guys are debating someone else’s post. If you reread the post, I think you’ll find we are all in agreement on most points.

    Confutus,
    After I posted, I realized I should have put a question mark on the title. But it was too late.

    Also, my understanding of unconditional surrender is not that there are no conditions. My understanding of unconditional surrender is that the surrendering (?) party has no say regarding what conditions are enforced. The winning party can usually establish whatever conditions it wants. This is, of course, the problem. This is also why I applied the term to the end of World War I (is this an unusual understanding of the term? I hadn’t realized).

    Aluwid,
    I agree with you that Mormon’s express purpose in talking about the heroes of Alma is to provide examples of righteous behavior.

    Regarding Moroni’s letter, there is a plethora of good points to be learned from it and from Pahoran’s response. However, it was Mormon who chose to include it (or God through him, if you prefer). I suppose that Moroni is involved in the process in that he seems to have chosen to keep the correspondence, but we don’t know that and we don’t have any reason to assume that Moroni wanted the exchange to be public.

    b,
    Determining what is human and what is divine is one of the primary jobs of believers. I don’t have a formula or anything. Further, whatever I consider inspired, still comes to me through a human medium. So, as in this case, I just assume that God is usually happy to go along with our unique tastes on the subject.

  70. Wow. Reading all these comments, it appears to me that they reflect more on the author than they do of Moroni. To me, what makes Moroni a hero is what he does after the wars are over. Does he take charge as a conquering military hero? Nope. he goes home.

    An argument can be made that the entire book presents one uncomfortable lesson, and that is that real life is not for sissies. Many of the BoM’s heros are killers. Nephi kills a drunk and unarmed Laban. The great missionary Ammon first gets the attention of King Lamoni by killing many of the robbers coming to scatter the king’s sheep. Captain Moroni is, as we have discussed here, a conquering general. Mormon, the man who compiled the book, was the general of his armies when he was still a young man and ultimately led his people to their complete destruction. His son Moroni was a captain of the armies under Mormon. Christ didn’t come to the Americas until entire cities were destroyed, leaving only the most righteous. You can make the argument that God is more concerned about why you kill than whether you kill. Ths sin is in “delighting in the shedding of blood.”

    There comes a point where you have to stand for something, even if it means the shedding of blood. Moroni did that.

  71. CS Eric,
    I agree that in the Book of Mormon there is a lot of evidence indicating that matters of life and death are sometimes inconsequential in God’s eyes. That said, I don’t think caution about war is something I am reading into the text either. Mormon himself fought wars he did not believe in and for causes he considered lost. He even questioned whether he was doing the right thing. If anything, our human experience in war speaks far more to God’s generosity and forgiveness than it does to our ability to figure out just causes.

  72. If we are looking for:
    1) perfection in our heroes
    2) to judge other eras by our standards

    We are naive, in denial about our own dark souls, ignoring the reality of the duality of the nature of man or just fools.

    That is why I like Clint Eastwood movies. The hero is always conflicted or even flawed. But, I don’t go trying to draw life lessons or war strategy from Dirty Harry or Josey Wales. Like others, I prefer to look to the war chapters as being more about the war between good and evil. And, if I apply it to modern times, I view it as being about tribulation and how the faithful handle it.

  73. John C,

    I don’t think we disagree. One point I tried to make about Moroni is that he wasn’t the warmonger some people make him out to be. He offered terms of peace to his enemies, and it was only after they refused to commit to keeping the peace that he gave his “Clint Eastwood” remark, “We will end the conflict.” When the war was over, he went home. If he were a modern general, I can see him puttering around his garden, or golfing (at least until he got called to be a mission president). He didn’t enjoy war, but he also wasn’t afraid of it, and fought his war of life and death through to victory.

    From the text, I think you can make the case that Mormon saw both Moroni and the Anti-Nephi-Lehis as heros. Maybe it is just my reading from my experience, but I get the feeling that he didn’t want the ANLs to take up arms any more than Ammon or Helaman did. He stresses the point that these good people–the mothers–taught their children to trust God in everything they did. By keeping their oath, not only were the ANLs protected, but their sons were, too. The book that General of the Armies Mormon wrote teaches that the Nephites only prevailed against their enemies when they fought defensive battles, and when they trusted in the Lord. They always lost if they got caught up boasting in their own strength, or if they went on the offensive for any reason other than to reclaim their own lands. That is another point he makes: war is a miserable business, but if you trust in the Lord, things will be okay.

  74. And Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery;

    Yea, a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people.

    Yea, and he was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ, and he had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion, even to the loss of his blood.

    Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men. -Alma 48:11-13, 17

    I could try to add unto Mormon’s commentary on Captain Moroni, but I believe that kind of praise from one brilliant military tactician for another stands without need of further elaboration.

  75. Mormon lived, what, like 400 years after Moroni? I wonder, did he know any more, or much more, about him than we do?

  76. Given that Mormon had all the records from which to compile his abridgment, and that he said he couldn’t include 1/100th of the record available to him, and that he probably named his son after Captain Moroni, I think it’s a good bet that he did know more than we do.

  77. Thomas Parkin says:

    I appreciate Hugh Nibley’s thoughts on Capt Moroni expressed in his magnificent bit on leadership and management.

    http://farms.byu.edu/publications/transcripts/?id=125

    The whole thing is a wonderful read. The bit on Moroni begins with “history abounds”, just over half way through.

    ~

  78. Back to Steve’s comments about taking some parts of scripture at face value, I tend to agree. One thing to remember is that Mormon was a military man, a general (since the ripe age of 16, no less), and this part of Nephite history was of particulary interest for him. He named his son after Captain Moroni, for Pete’s sake. This, to me is one of the beautiful things about the BOM, showing the author’s personal tastes filtering in amongst the other more doctrinal passages of history that he’s condensing. The war chapters really are somewhat of an anomaly in the BOM, and to me this speaks more to Mormon’s humanity, and the therefore the book’s authenticity. To quote a trite phrase, sometimes “it is what it is”.

  79. nasamomdele says:

    The only thing as bad as people twisting scripture to facilitate their violent dispositions is those who use scripture to pursue a political agenda (#27 first paragraph).

    That’s theocratic socialism you’re weilding. Not that I don’t like the idea, it’s just not yours or my place to weild the scriptures in such a way.

    I suggest everyone go back and read those chapters again and see if a bloodthirsty moroni rises from the text amidst the corpses of innocent king-men.

    Some things cannot be likened to our times and shouldn’t.

  80. I think without Moroni, the Book of Mormon would have been a lot shorter. He probably saved the Nephites from a much earlier extinction.

    It would be interesting to hear a conversation between Moroni and Abraham Lincoln – two men who had to make some very hard, even devastating, decisions in regards to war.

  81. When people say stuff like what m&m says in #15, it tends to elicit the same reaction in me as when people talk about the Pioneers and say things like “we are all pioneers in our own way” or somesuch. I couldn’t disagree more. I don’t feel the need to prooftext or wrest these histories to forcefeed an application onto my life.

    One of the families I home teach expressed a similar reaction when I shared the following passage from President Uchtdorf’s FP message in July, Heeding the Voice of the Prophets: “As the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is now being embraced around the world, we are all pioneers in our own sphere and circumstance.”

  82. MattG- #78

    In what way(s) are the war chapters an anomaly?

  83. nasamomdele,
    In what way is supporting humane treatment of prisoners of war and saying we should go to war less frequently a political position? Are either the Republicans or the Democrats arguing the opposite? I don’t understand what point you are trying to make.

    Also, I don’t remember advocating “theocratic socialism.” Could you point out where I did? If it is any help, I would only actually advocate such a thing if God was actually at the head of it.

  84. I think it’s the writer has a lot of good points and it’s great that he sparked a discussion on such a topic. My little opinion is that it’s really hard to judge Moroni by our standards today.

  85. I just want to state my complete support for all of Captain Moroni’s tactics and policies. Take that as you will.

  86. Steve Evans says:

    Cicero, too bad the GOP isn’t running on a “Freedom or Immediate Death” platform this year, first I think Palin would be behind it and second I think it would show some verve.

  87. 83 In what way is supporting humane treatment of prisoners of war and saying we should go to war less frequently a political position?

    Political?

    Renounce war and proclaim peace… if men will smite you, or your families, once, and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded;

    See D&C98 .

  88. I would back up Cicero’s comment (#85).

    If you are part of a small(er) group of people whose very existence is being threatened by a large(r) group that is intent on destroying/enslaving you – then I think all kinds of tactics could become expedient. Even morally correct.

    Wars are a very messy business. I think Moroni did the best he could under the most difficult circumstances and that his best was probably unusually enlightened for his time – perhaps for any time.

    I think many of us in that same predicament would have failed and been overrun/destroyed.

    Also, in many assessments of this whole thing, the king-men get off far too easy. I don’t see them as gentle and kind pacifists or as conscientious objectors. In my view, they don’t deserve any commiseration.

  89. b (#82),

    The war chapters are anomalous in that they stray from the typical structure of the BOM both before and after these chapters. Typically Mormon recounts history, but with an emphasis on the prophecies of Christ and the doings and sayings of the prophets. Then here in the middle of Alma (and for a few chapters in the end of Mormon), we mostly have a fairly long and drawn out history of the Nephite/Lamanite wars, with not much doctrinal discussion given.

  90. Danithew,
    I agree that the kingmen are not solely conscientious objectors. Some actively work against the government. But the text does nothing to indicate that they all were traitors and terrorists and it very easily could have.

  91. #70: “An argument can be made that the entire book presents one uncomfortable lesson, and that is that real life is not for sissies.”

    —An argument can also be made that many of the primary stories in the book contain dangerous precedents that have no place in society. I remember a testimony meeting where a young, educated 25-year old expressed his wish that he could have the same faith Nephi did in killing Laban — i.e., that when the voice of the Lord comes, he would obey no matter what. This scared me to death. Real life doesn’t work when it’s acceptible for one man to kill another because he thinks God told him to. As we know too well, one man’s prophet is another man’s terrorist.

  92. I throw my voice in with #9. Trying to understand what was militarily expedient almost 2,000 years ago in a part of the world in which we don’t understand based upon a social commentary in an inspired transcript with a very defined point of view, while fun, is hardly worth while. I’m new here so forgive me if I step on toes. -

  93. John C.,

    Moroni may not have used the words “terrorist” or “traitor” – but that is a technicality. To say the very least, Moroni complains (in his letter to Pahoran) that the kingmen were a decisive negative influence – that they caused civil strife/war at the very time that the Nephites desperately needed to be putting up a united front against the Lamanites. Alma Chapter 60 reads:

    16 Yea, had it not been for the war which broke out among ourselves; yea, were it not for these king-men, who caused so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, at the time we were contending among ourselves, if we had united our strength as we hitherto have done; yea, had it not been for the desire of power and authority which those king-men had over us; had they been true to the cause of our freedom, and united with us, and gone forth against our enemies, instead of taking up their swords against us, which was the cause of so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, if we had gone forth against them in the strength of the Lord, we should have dispersed our enemies, for it would have been done, according to the fulfilling of his word.
    17 But behold, now the Lamanites are coming upon us, taking possession of our lands, and they are murdering our people with the sword, yea, our women and our children, and also carrying them away captive, causing them that they should suffer all manner of afflictions, and this because of the great wickedness of those who are seeking for power and authority, yea, even those king-men.

    Whether “all” the king-men were traitors or terrorists isn’t really the argument that I see Moroni making one way or another. The king-men were a pernicious problem.

  94. jonahtrainer says:

    Matt in #78, has some very insightful comments. It is evident from the text that Mormon took Moroni as a model for his political and moral philosophy and it guided him in his decisions regarding the use of force. As a result there are dead bodies and there must be an excuse or explanation. In other words, both Moroni and Mormon must raise a persuasive justified defense or they are murderers.

    Thus, there is an inherent conflict of interest in Mormon’s analysis and description of Moroni. His account appears to have been written persuasively and not objectively. We do not know what relevant facts he left out. After all, it is substantively Mormon’s own defense raised to excuse the dead bodies he is responsible for.

    Addressing Confutus in #60 who states Moroni had only 3 options; “3) Surrender and throw himself and all his people on the nonexistent mercy of Ammoron.”

    Actually, Moroni had a 4th option. If one does not want the accusation then one has to remain blameless and have no accusers. There must be no dead bodies for which one is an actual or proximate cause. Moroni could have been like Enoch and thrown his people on the mercy of God (Moses 7:13). If Moroni had been like Enoch, who truly ‘went home’ after being translated because of his righteousness (Moses 7:21), there would be no dead bodies to explain.

  95. You can’t compare and judge the Prophet of God to modern war captain for using their tactics to win wars.

  96. [#44] [A] recently returned Mormon soldier (from Iraq) who told the film crews recording his family reunion at the airport that he did NOT support the war. He said, “I will die for my country. But I will not kill for my country.”

    Well he sure chose the wrong profession, didn’t he? This should go down in the Annals of Great Failures in Career Counseling.

  97. Josh (#94) – You can’t compare an entire population of the righteous (Enoch’s city) with a fractured population fighting internal dissent (Captain Moroni’s society) and come up with such a blanket statement like “there would have been no dead bodies”. If the Anti-Nephi-Lehis teach us nothing else, it should teach us that God doesn’t always protect the righteous from the wicked – or, in the case of the early saints crossing the plains, from the elements and their own bad decisions.

    The idea that a past leader could have “thrown his people on the mercy of God” is baseless IF God would not have accepted those people due to unrighteousness. Also, many of the original Anti-Nephi-Lehis were slaughtered by the Lamanites, but their sons were preserved in their battles with those same Lamanites. Few things in life are as easy as your comment makes them seem.

  98. Thanks, Ray. Your #97 was much more polite than I would have been–which is why I didn’t respond to that comment.

  99. Eric Russell says:

    “I will die for my country. But I will not kill for my country.”

    This is what the non-grunts say after their boot camp buddies have picked up Combat Action Ribbons. All of the sudden it’s, “Well I didn’t want one anyway!”

  100. Steve Graham says:

    Why was my earlier post in this thread removed?

  101. Actually, after WWII the Army learned that a significant proportion of soldiers never fired their weapons. And studies showed that, of those who did, many shot into the air or otherwise deliberately missed. One question my father, who served in Korea, never answered was whether he’d ever shot anyone. As for me, when I was active duty in the Air Force, I was an officer, and even though they issued me a sidearm, they wouldn’t let me have any bullets.

  102. Well he sure chose the wrong profession, didn’t he? This should go down in the Annals of Great Failures in Career Counseling.

    +++

    And I bet his buddies had a whole hell of a lot of respect for him knowing he’d not help them out if they happened to be in a firefight.

  103. Steve Graham says:

    I have had 2 comments deleted from this thread. Why?

  104. Steve,
    They may have been caught in an overly aggressive spam filter. Let me see if I can free them up.

  105. Steve,
    I only found one of the comments, which I reinstated. What was the missing comment? I didn’t remove it, so I don’t know why it might have been removed. If you would like to email it to me, I could provide some further help. Please email me at hpsoandsos [at] gmail [dot] com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,675 other followers