War in the Book of Mormon – Introduction

War in the Book of Mormon has always bored me. The war chapters in Alma, for example? Sure, my eyes have gone over the words of those verses and chapters multiple times, but my brain cells were focused on more pleasant things, like Star Trek or rocky road ice cream or… the dentist. I love the Book of Mormon, but it’s the doctrinal aspects that I love. Even the stories take a distant second. I’m all about the doctrine.

War from a couple thousand years ago? Who cares? (I’ve also never really been that into history, as you might imagine.)

But it seems applicable to my life now. I’ve been a defense contractor for almost a decade. The first 8 years, however, seemed far removed from anything military-like. Even though it was the Army, and even though I even lived on a military base, it was all very science-focused and very defensive-only, and there were so few military people actually around. Things we tested often seemed to have civilian uses as much as military uses. Honestly, the military aspects of that life were simply an annoyance that sometimes crept up from the background. The war parts in the Book of Mormon seemed as relevant to me then as they did in high school (i.e., not).

Then I moved to a new job supporting the Navy. Now, the Navy is a lot cooler than the Army (I’m told them’s fightin’ words), but the change that matters for the purposes of this post is that there is no longer any doubt: I am in the business of war. I mean, I’m not a soldier, and I’m far, far removed from battle, but I am in the business of war.

Now, there’s no need to overstate things – I’m merely a technical writer. Master of nouns, keeper of verbs, lover of prepositional phrases. No, really, prepositional phrases are my favorite part of speech; they really give me a bit of a thrill. But I write for the Navy. Warships, missiles, guns, mine hunters… these are my world. And I like my world. It’s interesting work, and I believe what I do is important and I’m proud to serve my country in this way.

But my point: my world is war. I’m safe and secure and far removed from anything traumatic, far removed from the horrors of war, but still… it is my world. And so I have recently found myself actually curious about those verses and chapters in the Book of Mormon that I’ve so fully ignored all of these years.

Thus, I am beginning a multi-part series as I share with you what I learn as I read through the Book of Mormon, focused solely on war.

30 thoughts on “War in the Book of Mormon – Introduction

  1. Tanya, this should be interesting. I can’t wait. There are so many conflicting issues for Latter-day Saints when it comes to war. On the one hand we are the following of the Prince of Peace, and Mormons are generally very peaceful people in their dealings with their neighbors. On the other, they serve in the military (unlike, say, JWs) and are unafraid of dealing with the realities of war. I’ll be reading your thoughts with interest.

  2. Hi Tanya,
    I look forward to reading your series. I love your writing. The BofM sections on war have never been my favorites either. The reasons are those sections of scripture are boring, and most of all those chapters are way too depressing. I look forward to reading your insight and will very much appreciate your thoughts as I can continue skimming those chapters and just retain your nuggets of wisdom

    PS My oldest son is an Army Man and yes thems fightin’ words!!!!!

  3. I look forward to reading your future posts. In the mean time I would love to see what you think of my blog. I’ve been studying warfare in the BoM of Mormon for awhile now and even have a few posts devoted to Naval warfare within the BoM. (its not the oxymoron that people think) Thanks for the post!

  4. I can’t wait to read your upcoming posts.

    Just one note of clarification on the Navy vs. the Army. Mind you, I don’t have a stake in the game, but I have issues with any branch of service that issues bell bottom pants to its members. It’s just plain wrong to issue bell bottom pants!! That said, I think the Army is the better branch of service; no bell bottoms.

    /end of rant about bell bottoms

  5. Geoff and JA, I hope to not disappoint 🙂

    Morgan, I will indeed read your blog! I can’t believe I’ve missed it, as it is clearly right up my alley at this time.

    Brian, I readily concede that the Navy has the worst uniforms of all the branches of the military. By far. But they have really cool ships PLUS really cool aircraft! Also, Star Trek followed their ranking system, so it must be the coolest.

  6. Beyond the events themselves, I am interested in what point the author of the text was trying to convey in the war accounts. What narrative purpose do those accounts serve? What were they conveying within the overall schema of the text?

  7. The bell bottom encourage upward mobility. You’ll notice the officers where normal pants. The real fighting words are between the Navy and the Coast Guard though.

  8. It would be interesting to read the Book of Mormon looking for what it says *about* war from a moral/ethical standpoint. (Has someone done a balanced study on this? I’d like to read it.)

    Most Latter-day Saints (in my experience) see the Alma war chapters through the lens of the Title of Liberty, and use it as justification for “righteous war.” My impression is that the BofM’s total message is more mixed, seeing war as *sometimes* justified under specific circumstances, but never a good or noble thing, and quite often unnecessary and wasteful.

  9. Joel, I didn’t “get” the war chapters until my 4th or 5th reading of the Book of Mormon. Keep plugging away. Then, more and more light on dawned me each time I read it. I think I’m on my 9th or 10th reading of the Book of Mormon. Eventually it comes through.

    I’ll give you some hints: (Tanya, excuse me if I’m stealing your thunder.)

    1. Why did the Nephites have wars, both external and internal (civil)?
    2. What could the Nephites have done better to avoid wars in the first place?
    3. What did the Nephites have to do in order to win or end a war?
    4. What did the Nephites do (or fail to do) shortly after winning or coming out of a war?

    5. It seemed to me on the first few readings, that the Nephites would have been better off if they had just left Laman and Lemuel back home, or back in the Arabian peninsula. L & L just didn’t want to go, and the Nephites would (apparently, or at least superficially) have been better off without the Lamanites through the centuries. So why did God go to such great pains, and require Nephi and Lehi and the other “good guys” to put up with L & L for so long, when they didn’t want to go along anyway?

    In other words, why did God want or “need” the Lamanites to be there? What was God’s purpose in that?

    6. Are God’s “rules” or S.O.P.’s from the Book of Mormon, as they apply to “the inhabitants of this land”, still applicable to us today?

    7. What do we learn from the Book of Mormon about governments and political power and the kind of people who seek after power?


    It’s not just the details of _tactics_ (such as the “get the guards drunk and sneak out at night” trick, or palisade fences, or trenches around forts) about the war chapters that matter to us, but also the _strategy_ that reveals human nature, and the “meta story” of what causes things at political and societal levels, and the overall “rules” by which God interacts (or ceases to interact) with individuals and societies.

  10. @Bookslinger
    Good questions, all. Re: Number 5 of your list: I agree leaving L&L back in Jerusalem would have been much better for everyone. However, I don’t necessarily believe they came because God wanted or needed them there, or that they served God’s purpose. I think they were there because their dad wanted them to come because he was human and loved his children, even the obnoxious ones. I will confess that I am not one who believes the hand of God is in all things. I think most things happen because of choices we or others make and God has little to with it. I think there are then exceptions to that.

  11. Nice, Tanya!

    I look forward to reading your thoughts. My most recent readings of the war chapters have focused on how the strategies described can be used in my own ministry in the war for men’s souls.

  12. Personal opinion here: there are two main purposes to all the war chapters and the overarching discussion of war in the BoM. 1)As societies decay and become completely depraved, Satan stirs up the hearts of men toward warfare. Sometimes you have no choice but to defend yourselves, but the most righteous people (with some exceptions) will lift themselves up above the fray so to speak so they are protected from the depravity around them. 2)The vast majority of the justified war in the BoM is completely defensive war, which means righteous societies need to be extremely careful about engaging in and supporting warfare. Those are the two main messages I get.

  13. Tanya: The Lord actually tells Nephi the purpose of L & L’s descendants or “seed.” It’s two fold. Therefore, in order for those descendants to fulfill those two purposes, He needs L & L in the new world to create those descendants in the new world. I won’t give away the two purposes here.

    It wasn’t just Lehi’s love for them. L & L would not have gone to the New World without the miraculous interventions of the Lord on several occasions: 1) the angel on the trip back to Jerusalem, 2) Nephi miraculously breaking the bonds that his brothers put him in, 3) the liahona as a miraculous physical object and sign to guide them in the wilderness (Lehi and Nephi didn’t need a physical liahona or an outward sign because they knew how to heed the Spirit. The liahona, as a sign, was for the non-believers in the group) and 4) the Lord’s punishment of L&L by having Nephi “shock” them to get them to work on the boat.

    L & L were pretty much dragged, kicking and screaming, along for the ride. I strongly believe that if Nephi hadn’t killed Laban, L & L would have ditched the group and gone back to Jerusalem. However, with Laban “murdered”, Nephi and his brothers were the number 1 suspects, and so L & L couldn’t show themselves back in Jerusalem. Also, the loss of the family treasure was likely another disincentive to going back.

    Geoff: I won’t mention it, because I don’t want to steal all of Tanya’s thunder, but the warfare between Lamanites and Nephites also fulfills one of the purposes the Lord had for the Lamanites, which he told Nephi about, in advance.

    As I think about it, Nephi had plenty of opportunity to say to L & L, “Look, you guys don’t want to go, okay, so don’t go with us. You stay here. We’re going. Buh-bye.” But Nephi had been told what the purposes of L & L’s seed was, along with prophecy concerning their future.

    We read about the Nephites and call them blessed; well, most of them, up until the end. But the bottom line, is that we don’t have any known Nephites with us today. But we do have Lamanites with us today, and they are in the process of fulfilling those ancient prophecies. So we do have Lehi’s posterity among us, and they happen to be the seed of Laman and Lemuel, the so-called “bad guys,” not Nephi the good guy. Interesting.

  14. @Bookslinger
    I’ve typed and deleted and retyped a response several times now, and no matter how I phrase it, my response will surely get me labeled apostate ;-). So let me just clarify that I really have read the Book of Mormon multiple times, so I know of that which you speak. I simply haven’t paid much (any) attention to the wars until now 🙂

  15. Mike, where I think we would disagree is what constitutes a defensive war and how much societies should prepare for those defensive wars.

  16. I’m surprised in all these comments that nobody has mentioned the entire book devoted to the subject called (appropriately) “Warfare in the Book of Mormon”. A good part of the book is devoted to why there is so much warfare in the book and why it should matter to us both from an academic standpoint and from a religious standpoint. You can find it online here: http://mi.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=66

    I should also point out that President Hinckley explicated the Church’s position on the Iraq war in 2003. His version of just war did come from the BoM so I would be hesitant to poo poo the ideals of just war expressed in Alma 43-45 based on curent political grievances.

    Since this subject is what I blog about I invite interested parties to comment on my blog. If you wish for me to examine a particular sub topic I would be happy to do so. And I would love to have some critical feedback to some of the points I discussed over there as well.

    Thanks again for the post Tayna. Its nice to feel knowledgable once in awhile. 🙂

  17. Morgan, we at M* have had many, many contentious discussions of Pres. Hinckley’s talk. Hopefully we can avoid that kind of contention again.

  18. Tanya, weren’t you working at Dugway as a technical writer? That seems basically supporting the war effort. (Or am I confusing you with someone else)

    Anyway, I look forward to your posts. I’ve long thought that the war sections of the BoM are very relevant to us. (Both in Alma and then in the Isaiah sectons)

  19. The only time I worked for the military, it was a rather ancillary task too. We were tracking hazardous materials of the typical industrial variety. The stuff that if not disposed of properly tends to pollute local water aquifers and the like.

    Rocket manufacturing comes close, but in that job we were building rockets for NASA, not the military – at least in my division. Not that I think anything is wrong with building weapons for the military – of this country or virtually any other stable, responsible, and democratic country at any rate.

  20. My experience is a bit like Tanya’s, regarding her move to Washington. I lived in Los Alamos, New Mexico (as did Clark), a place that revolves around work for the government, half of it related to weapons, and research I did in other places (Baltimore, Los Angeles) was sponsored by the Office of Naval Reseach or by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Even living in Los Alamos didn’t compare with living and working within the domain that the Army calls the Military District of Washington. The military is a huge part of the federal government, and an entire metropolitan region dedicated to government is a different thing than an outpost of several thousand people up in the mountains or out in the desert.

  21. Yeah but I bet they don’t have training runs with the a security team named The Pro Force who fast repel out of helicopters dressed like Ninjas. (Is it just me or did the security force at Los Alamos always come off like they’d seen way too many bad cartoons in the 80’s)

  22. Three years after beginning my first “real” job as a computer programmer, the company I worked for ended up merging with a major defense contractor. Until then, we were in the business of either moving bytes on a network from point A to point B, or billing our customers for allowing them the use of our network to move said bytes around.

    On the day that the merger became official, we all went to a local hotel and gathered in a conference room where we were treated to a multi-media presentation designed to educate us as to our new identity in the world, and it included lots of videos of jets zooming, missiles flying, air-to-water torpedoes launching, and at the end of the presentation, the lights came up and we all looked at each other and asked ourselves: Holy Cow! This is who we are now?

    I don’t know how many people resigned shortly thereafter (there may have been no resignations tendered at all for all I know), but I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that it could have been more than a few.

    It would be interesting to learn just how much of our economic well-being is highly dependent on those who design and build weapons of mass- and not-so-mass-destruction and sell them to the rest of the world, all in the name of keeping the “American way of life” going. It may be accurate to say that none of us can really consider ourselves to be blessed peacemakers.

  23. Mark, considering how defense contractors buy and sell and merge companies (even non-defense ones) like crazy, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens a lot. I can see how it would be quite a jolt to suddenly find yourself in a world that you didn’t intend be a part of or even morally objected to, all in one day when you’re informed your company has been bought/merged/whatever.

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