Question: What is known about strategy in Book of Mormon warfare?

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Question: What is known about strategy in Book of Mormon warfare?

The Nephites adopted a strategy that most closely resembles what military historian Russell F. Weigley labeled the “offensive defensive”

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines strategy as “the science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under advantageous conditions." [1] As might be expected of the history of a people covering around 1,000 years, there were likely changes in military engagements that varied with the times and with the available population. Our best evidence for strategy and tactics begins in the middle of their history with the massed engagements described in the Book of Alma within the first century before Christ. The basic strategies are similar in the battles of the final destruction of the Nephites around 400 years after Christ.

The Nephites adopted a strategy that most closely resembles what military historian Russell F. Weigley labeled the “offensive defensive”. [2] They were commanded to avoid offensive wars, (Mormon 3: 9-15)and multiple leaders such as Mormon and Limhi specifically refused to lead the Nephites in their offensive operations outside of Nephite lands (Mosiah: 21:6-12). They believed that their temporal safety and strength in war making were ensured through righteous living and pre battle ritual (Alma 61:13, Alma 46: 9-28, Alma 48: 7, Helaman 4: 24-26). However, once Nephite lands were attacked they were commanded by the Lord to “resist evil…with [their] swords” (Alma 61:10-13), and they felt it was “no sin” to use stratagems and offensive operations to defeat enemy armies (Alma 43: 30).

As part of this defensive mindset the Nephites built towers (Helaman 7:11), walls and small forts (Alma 48:8). [3] Under the reign of Pahoran, Moroni evicted Lamanites settlers along both the east and west seas so he could establish what anthropologist John Sorenson called “military garrison cities”. [4] These settlements strengthened the Nephite position (Alma 50:10-13). One researcher suggests this strength derived from the placement of the city Moroni upon a pivotal river crossing. [5] Further research postulates the existence of military colonies established closer to the west sea to bolster the defense of that area. [6]

Upon the invasion of Nephite lands military leaders relied upon defensive fortifications in many cases (Alma 49). However in later Nephite history this often proved ineffective (Helaman 1). Historians A. Brent Merrill and Morgan T. Deane suggest that Moroni used what are now called the principles of war in seeking to attack and defeat enemy armies. [7] Additionally the Nephites used “complex pre battle maneuvering”, [8] pre battle divination (Alma 43:23), ambushes (Alma 43:31-33), spies (Alma 50:31), assassination (Alma 51: 33), and feigned retreats (Alma 52:23, 56:36), that culminated in shock battle (Alma 43:37, Alma 52: 32-34) [9] (see [[../Tactics|tactics]]). Sometimes the various parties requested battle at a specific time and place (Mormon 6: 2, Alma 52:20). Although several pre battle ruses such as raids upon enemy supply, [10] aiding internal dissension (Alma 61: 8), and obstructing marching armies [11] suggest that some strategic options were designed to weaken armies through means other than battle.

For groups such as the Gadianton Robbers, the Nephites adopted a military strategy of “search and destroy”

For groups such as the Gadianton Robbers, the Nephites adopted a military strategy of “search and destroy” (Helaman 11:28). This policy often failed miserably due to difficult terrain that these robbers occupied. When operating outside of that difficult terrain the Nephites consolidated their position to their central cities. They tried to defend those cities and engage the enemy army in climactic shock battles that took advantage of additional ruses, such sending an army to cut off their retreat (3 Nephi: 2:11, chapters 3-4).


Notes

  1. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/strategy (Accessed August 19, 2009).
  2. Russell Weigley, The American Way of War (Indianapolis IN: Indiana University Press, 1973), 96-97.
  3. See Fortifications subsection of wiki.
  4. John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Map (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000), 97. ISBN 0934893489.
  5. Preliminary research posted on http://mormonwar.blogspot.com/2009/04/naval-warfare-in-book-of-mormon.html (Accessed August 19th 2009).
  6. Unpublished research: “Notes on a Curious Verse: Alma 56:28” by Morgan T. Deane.
  7. A. Brent Merrill, "Nephite Captains and Chief Captains in the Book of Mormon," in Ricks and Hamblin, eds., Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), xxx. Morgan Deane “No Sin by Stratagem” BCC E Journal 4:1 (2009), 1-32. (Forthcoming)
  8. William Hamblin, "The Importance of Warfare in Book of Mormon Studies," in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds, (Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997), xxx. ISBN 093489325X ISBN 0934893187 ISBN 0884944697. off-site GL direct link
  9. John Welch also argues that the Almicite War recorded in Alma 1-2 was prearranged: John Welch “Why Study War in the Book of Mormon,” in Ricks and Hamblin, Warfare.
  10. Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 Vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 4:Alma 52:22.
  11. Morgan Deane, preliminary research posted on http://mormonwar.blogspot.com/2009/02/army-composition-and-tactics-part-ii.html (Accessed August 19, 2009).