Bin Laden’s “Truce” and the Book of Mormon

The latest tape from the Al Queda leader brought to my mind (strangely enough) the Book of Mormon communications between the leader of the Gadianton band and the Nephites, in 3 Nephi 3. Bin Laden shares Giddianhi’s boldness and his rhetorical strategies. Compare:

Giddianhi: “I hope that ye will deliver up your lands and your possessions, without the shedding of blood, that this my people may recover their rights and government, who have dissented away from you because of your wickedness in retaining from them their rights of government, and except ye do this, I will avenge their wrongs.”

Bin Laden: “Security is a need for all humans, and we could not let you have a monopoly on it for yourselves. People who are aware would not let their politicians jeopardize their security… By describing us and our actions as terrorism, you are necessarily describing yourself and your actions. … Our actions are reactions to your actions that destroy and kill our people in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine.”

Should we react like the Nephites did, by getting the hell out of the Middle East and fortifying ourselves? Remember that an interventionist option was brought before the Nephites, and rejected: “Now the people said… Pray unto the Lord, and let us go up upon the mountains and into the wilderness, that we may fall upon the robbers and destroy them in their own lands. But Gidgiddoni saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands.”

The Book of Mormon is an inconsistent text if we want to look to it to justify pacifism. However, on the point of extraterritorial intervention, it seems much more clear. Are we being delivered into the hands of these robbers, by foolishly rushing into lands not our own? Can our scriptures tell us anything about current U.S. military action?

*Update: Sure, this is a specious argument. But please tell me why. This is the blog equivalent of a dunk tank. I will tell commenters when they have successfully dunked me.


  1. “anonymous” I actually took the thread seriously.

    No one has answered my follow-up example.

    When the Nephite nation was in its final decline, Mormon was the name of the general who led them. When they decided to go on the offensive rather than defend, when they decided on pre-emptive strikes, Mormon stepped aside from command and told them that they were about to be subjected to the judgment of God.

    It is striking. Much of that section is striking, especially if you view the Nephites as a small cultural elite in a larger pool of humanity. Note that the wars go on after they are all slain, that in similar writings terms such as “ten thousand” and “hundred” are used to refer to military units, not actual numbers (quick, how many men in a Roman Century? — after all, the word means ‘100’ doesn’t it? — the historical number tended to be between 40 and 60. Or, quick, when Greek historians talk about an enemy phalanx being routed and destroyed, how many people died on the losing side? — 25%, 45%, 80% or 100% — after all, we are talking “devastated” or “destroyed” — well, the typical percentage casualty number was 15% — about what it took to destroy unit cohesion. So, to talk about so and so and his legion of ten thousand (hmm, a legion is ten thousand) we could in a normal time be talking a unit of four thousand men, after a bad period, as few as two thousand if we were talking Romans, and when it was “destroyed” you could be talking about less than four hundred men dying and the rest fleeing — but the cultural elite officers all being casualties, so a conflict that looks like over a million dead could actually be closer to fifty or sixty thousand dead).

    Anyway, back to the point, there are serious issues about relying about the arm of flesh.

    As for President Bush.

    People fail to understand him.

    Did he believe what he said? Surely. (I had a friend state that it would have been better if he was lying, do we value honesty or competency more in a president?).

    Is he a good and honorable man motivated by duty above all? Yes. That is how they got him to run for president, as his duty to the nation. That is how he was advised into waging war on Iraq, as his duty.

    Would I dearly love to see Cheny out and Powell in? Heck, I’d like to see Powell running for President. Yes, I’m bothered that Kerry is running as the fiscal conservative …

    Anyway, I’ll have to post about Bush some more some time.

    But I see serious issues in a pre-emptive war.

  2. “it’s indeterminate which side God chooses in the Book of Mormon”

    How so? Because the Nephites get destroyed?

  3. “it’s indeterminate which side God chooses in the Book of Mormon.”

    Since when? It is as clear as this blog :) You obey…God is on your side. You sin…you’ve lost your blessings, except for the blessing of repentance.

    Yes, Lynne, you have a fab point. The twin towers were built by Haliburton after all.

    And the fact that Bush is taking a broad-spectrum response to terrorism rather than just launching an occasional missile a la clinton…probably has something to do with this.

    Whose side is God on? Easy…whichever side is seeking to increase the agency of his Daughters & Sons to make choices for themselves.

    Well…that leaves out Usama & Saddam. Oh, who is bringing democracy & liberty to these folks? I knew it…the shining city on a hill…the blessed country, the USA.

  4. “Read some Molly Ivins.” …

    Molly is a humorist, about as accurate, on and off, as Rush Limbaugh.

    Often funny, though not always.

    BTW, are you going to engage the question?

    And, the Nephites in the “close the borders” scenario happened to actually retreat from their own borders to the center of their land.

    But what about Mormon and his experience?

    Anyway, interesting thread.

  5. Actually, we aren’t in Iraq, in Michelle’s words, “to help indigenous peoples force out rogue and murderous community members.” We’re in Iraq because the Commander-in-Chief wants us there. There was no basis whatsoever for a pre-emptive strike, so one was concocted, in the form of non-existent “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” The rationale for going in has changed ex post facto because the original rationale has been found to be invalid.

    This is Mr. Bush’s war. Period. We went in on his orders, and made a huge mess, and now we need to stay and clean it up. But let’s don’t pretend that there was any basis for the invasion other than self-delusion by the President. Iraq posed no immediate threat. The real threat is hiding in the mountains of Pakistan. But he’s HARD to get, so instead we went after an easier target. Meanwhile, the real threat continues to wage war. Remember the train bombing in Spain?

    Iraq is a terrible, wasteful, and pointless distraction from what the armed forces ought to be doing.

  6. actually…my apologies. I took the bait. this thread is about secret combos & terrorists…not Saddam & Bush & Usama.

    Although, apparently I’m one the only one to take it seriously…even Steve put it out as a straw (wo)man. :)

  7. And is it really good blog policy to make an admittedly poor argument and then ask your readers to tell you why? It doesn’t give me much confidence in you. Although I do enjoy your candor and good nature.

  8. Anonymous…here’s another thought: …If you want to take out ALL TERRORISTs and Evil Regimes then let’s attack Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Pakistan…I mean the list goes on and on! Saudi Arabia is way more responsible for 9-11 than Iraq…but Dubya and his corporate buddies wouldn’t dream of screwing with them. You are deluded as to what motivates Dubya!

  9. Anonymous:
    Let’s see us try to take out every evil regime! No doubt Saddam is a terrible dictator…but the world is full of them. Running up our deficit to fight freaks who are NO THREAT is reckless and shameful.

  10. As for why I’ve set up a dumb argument and begged people to knock it down…. I guess it’s because I’m having trouble knocking down myself, much as I’d like to. It seems like a really poor application of scripture, but I can’t figure out why. Mathew I think has come closest to articulating the discomfort I feel.

    good blog policy?… sheesh. I can’t live by your rules, man!!

  11. Brayden,

    ha! Amen to that. But you know, it used to be all the rage for military chiefs to be prophets (or at least, to seek divine guidance in their campaigns). I guess they don’t fight wars like they used to.

  12. BTW – the reason the argument is poor, is that to do what the Nephites did the US would have to completely close the US borders – something there is no real practical way of doing even if there was the will.

  13. Dave, I don’t know what BoM you’ve been reading, but mine only mentions Nephites, Lamanites and some other ites. I don’t know what you mean by “real-world context”! :)

    In all seriousness, I like the way you’ve brought up expropriation. It’s something we rarely think about. How much does this historicity bear on how you’d interpret or apply these scriptures?

  14. Dunk-the-liberal thus far:

    Mathew has come closest. 6.5/10ths of a dunk.
    Dave’s comment is also up there — 6/10ths.
    Brayden’s wit is next. 5/10ths.
    Michelle….. 1/10th.

  15. Getting back to Steve’s original question, I think the lesson of the scripture is that it sure helps having a prophet give strategy and tactics. I’m not sure we ought to extrapolate from the story an Al Queda strategy.

    Regarding Masons and the Illuminati (the real group or the myths about them?) I think the Gadianton parallels are vastly overstated. While I don’t agree with everyting he writes, and often criticize his tone, I think Dan Peterson has some very interesting stuff on comparing guerilla groups with the Gadiantons. (It’s a pet hobby of his)

  16. Glad you caught the fact that Ann Richards started the negative adds and ran them non-stop.

    I’m not sure of the point you are trying to make.

    He made a much less divisive governor than Ann Richards made, it is a pity he hasn’t been the same kind of president.

    Anyway, just slandering the man and mocking him doesn’t do much, except irritate people.

    BTW, what about the core of the thread?

    How do you feel about pre-emptive strikes vis a vis The Book of Mormon?

  17. I don’t think that secret combinations equate with terrorist groups, to be clear. Clearly the BoM is meant to be conjuring images of secret groups like the Masons (or Illuminati?).

    Terrorism has in general explicit political agendas. Gadiantons not so much. However, Al-Queda seems to have a lot in common with the Gadiantons, tactic-wise. So evaluating our responses via the BoM seems like a good idea, on its face…. though I am still very uneasy about it.

  18. I lived in Texas for five years, including the year he beat Ann Richards with his non-stop negative ads.
    I don’t think playing therapist and understanding his motivations is all that useful.
    I see the facts. This is a horrible administration that is doing real harm to this county.
    Thinking people everywhere should be alarmed at the prospect of another four years.

  19. I’m pretty sure that if our Commander-in-Chief publicly announced that his staff would be deriving military strategies from the Book of Mormon, I’d be looking for a new Commander.

  20. It’s not the political end – it’s that it’s crappy.

  21. Kaimi,

    Of course you’re right. But saying “the appropriate response is contextual” tends to strip our scriptures of their applicability, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t the point of making something canonical to render it capable of general use? Or are you saying that in these stories, all we really need to retain is “Pray to the Lord”, and that the battles, logistics, etc. are irrelevant? How do we pick and choose, then?

    Dunk rating: 7/10ths.

  22. Lyle:
    Saddam tolerated Christianity. Tariq Aziz was a Catholic! Now Dubya is going to end up with a Theocracy. Or a continuing quagmire! And he’s running up the deficit and spreading the forces too thin while he’s at it.
    Saddam had nothing to do with Twin Towers. Instead of diverting our forces to Iraq, they should have been used to find Usama.

  23. Lynne. Have you ever met the man or dealt with people in Texas who have?

    I’m not saying that the administration is anything like it should be, but if you fail to understand Bush and what motivates and controls him, you fail to understand where the weaknesses and the flaws actually come from and how they work.

    Not that hate and ridicule don’t satisfy many people, but they don’t address the issues, they are not useful for understanding and they don’t lead to solutions or coping methods that work.


    A couple of points.

    I knew the doctor’s wife who took the young GW around to the various county party meetings to introduce him as the man who would grow up to be the first governor of Texas since the reconstruction. Of course he wasn’t (we had some other Republicans get elected sooner), but that is where she starts.

    Of all things, she was one of the pro-abortion”big tent’ republicans and the reason, if you watched the national convention where George got nominated, half of the Texas delegation sat there like good old boys being forced to eat unsweetened yogurt. Those were all the conservatives who saw GW as a disaster of liberal proportions.


    Or consider how he was ocnvinced to run for president. He was approached as it being his duty, which is why he changed his mind and ran.

    As far as I can tell, we are in the war in Iraq because “Chiny” fed Bush the “It is your duty” approach and Bush believed it.

    As for the Vice President … well, I need to go take a shower and go to Church and I can’t post about him and still feel fit to take the sacrament.

    But you miss the point about Bush.


  24. Lynne: you support taking Usama. Bush supports taking out all Terrorists. I’ll take the latter.

    Saddam tolerated Christians. Yeah…well, he also murdered his own family members, Christian or Muslim, along with plenty of Kurds & Shia muslims. The US is working towards a democracy for the Iraqi’s. If they choose a theocracy…that is the people’s choice. Hopefully all will have certain civil rights guaranteed to them. Better a democratic tyranny than a tyranny of force.

  25. Mat, of course you’re right — it’s cheap analysis that drives me bonkers to hear (though from a strict BoM analysis, I’m not sure I’m far off).

    But your statement that “I’m not sure that we ought to take the political and martial maneuverings in the scriptures as a type for our time” is worrisome, because we’re clearly supposed to try and apply the scriptures as much as possible to our own lives, aren’t we? What makes my crappy analysis an invalid use of scripture? Is it the political end?

  26. Michelle, a near-dunk. 6.5/10ths.

    “you compare the U.S. position in Iraq to the Nephite position when Giddianhi delivered his ultimatum”

    Not so. I compare the U.S. position in Iraq to what would have happened if the Nephites had attacked the robbers in their own lands (which never happened).

    “Second, the Nephites didn’t “get the hell out of the Middle East and” fortify themselves after the threat — they stayed where they were, and prepared for the fight.”

    That’s not a correct reading of this story, since the Nephites did in fact shift their position — read 3 Ne 3-4… esp. 3:13, 4:2, etc. (Plus, the Nephites did get the hell out of the Middle East, at least originally — Lehi et al’s boat)

    “Not sure where you get this idea, but I had thought the whole prooftext discussion over at T&S would have prevented these sorts of posts. ”

    I didn’t read that discussion, I guess; plus I’m not sure how T&S would “prevent” our goings-on. But I don’t see how this prooftext is necessarily invalid to be used in a general application.

    I guess you’re not understanding what I say about extraterritoriality. At this time in the BoM, the robbers definitely had their own “lands” (3:20), and the Nephites had theirs. So what the Nephites were briefly considering was to leave areas under their control, to go attack the robbers in their “lands”. That’s extraterritorial intervention, I think, and it’s similar to what we’re (you’re) doing in Iraq in that respect.

  27. Michelle, you want to be a little more specific? I mean, I’m a little uneasy myself about my post, though I’m not sure why. I’ve certainly heard similar uses of scripture before (though for more conservative political ends). Is it the suggestion that we leave the Middle East that disturbs you?

  28. More specifics:

    First, you compare the U.S. position in Iraq to the Nephite position when Giddianhi delivered his ultimatum. But the Nephites weren’t in “extraterritorial” land. Or, as Dave mentioned, the Nephites were in the land to stay, not to help indigenous peoples force out rogue and murderous community members.

    Second, the Nephites didn’t “get the hell out of the Middle East and” fortify themselves after the threat — they stayed where they were, and prepared for the fight. They didn’t submit to Giddianhi, or his threats, but in fact defied both. Also, again, this threat didn’t come in the context of any “extraterritorial intervention,” and therefore can’t be compared to one.


    Gidgiddoni, the Nephite army leader, was a PROPHET, and did actually know that if they brought their fight into the forest, they would be destroyed. So he followed the counsel of the Lord and stayed. I doubt Pres. Bush has had similar revelations, that he has then ignored.


    You then use this whole scenario, which you yourself say is bad analogy, to prove that the Book of Mormon is clear on the point of extraterritorial intervention. Not sure where you get this idea, but I had thought the whole prooftext discussion over at T&S would have prevented these sorts of posts. Regardless, I don’t see how you argue that the BOM states such a position, except, I guess, for the fact that the whole book is about a people who came to a foreign land to inhabit it, and they all got destroyed. Does that mean you should go back to Canada?

  29. Now, I’m not sure if I really believe my own argument, principally because I’m not sure how well we can apply non-religious scriptures to our lives. But it’s at least good for a nice, heated debate.

  30. p.s. I hope you all have noticed the new “Recent Comments” link in the left column on BCC. Be patient with it, it takes a minute to load, but you will be richly rewarded. Thanks to Kaimi for running the code!

  31. People fail to understand the sincere duty bound and honorbale President Bush? Hilarious!

    I’ll tell you who I think understands Bush…Dave Chapell on Comedy Central. His BLACK President Bush nails this administration!

  32. Read some Molly Ivins. Bush was a terrible governor.

    60 minutes was interesting last night. Do you believe the Woodward book? Bush told Prince Bandar about the war befoe Colin Powell? And in return, Bandar promised to lower gas prices for the election year? Bush diverted Afghanistan money without telling congress? Sounds like a band of Gadianton robbers to me!

  33. Saddam is to 9-11 as colonel Klink is to Nazi atrocities (janeane garafolo)

    We’re fighting the wrong enemy and helping our real enemy, Usama, recruit new angry young men.

    Usama is targeting Halliburton? Pretty sure God’s not on anybody’s side in that battle.

  34. Steve,

    I think the key is in the phrase “Pray to the Lord.” The appropriate response is contextual. It may be appropriate to invade in one case (see Israel and the Canaanites), and inappropriate to do so in other cases (as you have pointed out).

  35. Steve,

    Your wackiest post to date. I’m not sure that we ought to take the political and martial maneuverings in the scriptures as a type for our time. The most obvious reason is that our modern world is a very different place and it is no longer possible to withdraw into our little fortress of a continent. I have no doubt that washing our hands of the middle east would not be enough–bin Laden and his ilk would continue to find reasons to blame American power and influence for their troubles. The second problem is that it isn’t that hard to find a scriptural example to support your foreign policy preferences. There are plenty of places where the battle was taken to the enemy. You’ve engaged in the sort of analysis that makes my blood curdle in Sunday School, which you yourself seem to apologetically realize.

  36. Steve, I think you’re being coyly witty here, as if this be some isolated BoM episode of territorial usurpation. We all know that real-world America, North to South, Atlantic to Pacific, was pretty much fully inhabited by 8000 BC. So the Lehi group wouldn’t have expanded to fill a deserted continent, as depicted, it seems, in the BoM. They would have expropriated every inch they got.

    The “Nephite conquest of America” would have displaced a whole host of truly Native American peoples. So in the real-world context, the entire text of the BoM is a latent commentary on a repressed extraterritorial interloper theme. Remarkably similar, in fact, to the 19th-century mindset of Americans who, having displacing Native Americans with hardly a second thought, could speak of Columbus “discovering America,” subtly writing the Native Americans right out of their own continent, as if they were just part of the landscape or something.

  37. Steve, the Masons are a secret society…not a secret combination. Their motivation is not “to get gain.”
    The illuminati? Um…no idea.

    Murder & Getting gain are two key characteristics of a secret combination.

    Getting gain does NOT refer only to economic wealth. There are examples of political dominion also.

    Murder is the primary weapon of Terrorist groups to date.

    While the US rhetoric & practice is to bring democracy…the Terrorists are only interested in despotic rule by fear.

  38. D. Fletcher says:

    The whole Bush/War/WMDs/Nephites-Lamanites/Baltimore Orioles thing ties my little brain up into pretzel-knots of stress. I can’t help but say I hate Bush but we need to do something, don’t we? And I’m sure that supporters of Al Quaida are saying the same thing. The biggest irony is that they have God on their side too, just as it’s indeterminate which side God chooses in the Book of Mormon — to use Mathew’s word, He seems pretty capricious as to whom he’s approving of, and when.

  39. We all know that when the Lamanite threat was the worst, Mormon took command of the armies, invaded and displaced the evil leaders in a pre-emptive strike.

    Don’t we?

    Actually, the entire approach of the Book of Mormon to pre-emptive warfare give me qualms about the approach we’ve taken to Iraq, especially since France is so much closer, has nuclear weapons and is a real enemy (this is a joke).

    As to:

    “So in the real-world context, the entire text of the BoM is a latent commentary on a repressed extraterritorial interloper theme.”

    You get the point that from the very first the Nephites were a ruling elite, not the mass of peasants, lost in a sea of natives.

    The constant revolts of the “kingmen” are a symptom of that.

  40. Well Steve, to simply reinforce what others have said: I think you made a great argument (and since I’m a loon… ;)

    Using the paradigm of secret combinations to understand Terrorist groups seems useful & descriptive…maybe even accurate. Certainly pithy. Sounds like a good theory to me, in the social science sense.

  41. Wow… I guess this is what happens when I don’t check comments over the weekend… anything more related to what my post was about?

    Dunk meter: wild pitches.