I had intended for another post to be Part 1, but I attended a promotion ceremony this week, and so… you get this post as Part 1 instead.
This was the first promotion ceremony I’ve attended. A guy I work with was promoted to commander, and I’m always game for a good ceremony and a bit of ritual, especially when I haven’t had a chance to see a ceremony such as this before.
There were a few short speeches by the powers that be expressing the importance of the occasion and the awesomeness of the new commander. He then took the oath of office. Though he had, of course, taken the oath long before, promotion ceremonies include a renewal of that oath. The oath, as found online (and which is the same oath all U.S. government personnel take):
I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will [continue to] support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
Now, the oath this commander took was actually slightly different; the Constitution part came up twice, the second time near the end. I think the captain administering the oath got flustered. But the parts were all there, so close enough. The new commander’s wife and sons joined him to place the new shoulder boards with three full bars on him, each of his two sons taking a shoulder. We clapped. We shook his hand and his family’s hands and offered congratulations. It was actually kind of cool and I’m glad I got to see it.
Though I don’t intend to do a compare/contrast thing throughout this series, this week’s events did leave me curious. So, how do Book of Mormon peoples do rank and recruiting?
The details are limited. There may be more details of this area on other plates we don’t have right now, but the scriptures we have now don’t have much. But there is some! Nothing is stated until Mosiah. Mosiah 9:16 and 10:7,9 suggest that both sides are led by their king or chief judge as the commander, and the army are volunteer, able-bodied men.
It isn’t until Alma that we see there is a nicely organized structure. Alma 2:13 says captains, higher captains, and chief captains were appointed. I’m guessing this is something like commanders, captains, and admirals, to use modern U.S. naval ranks. Prefer army? Then majors, colonels and generals. Leading them all is Alma, the chief judge (see Alma 2:16). The other side has structure as well, but it is listed more generally as “rulers and leaders” (Alma 2:14).
Later in Alma, from chapters 43 through 63, the term “chief captain” is used almost exclusively when referring to the Nephite military leaders, whether Moroni or his underlings. That makes things unclear. The chief captain is Moroni, but he has chief captains under him. Did the Nephites really not have different terms? Is this a translation issue? Was it something that came when Mormon abridged the record?
I consider the possibility of the last one because Mormon does not use the term “chief captain” when referring to himself or the military leaders under him. He uses the term “commander” once (Mormon 3:11), as well as simply “leader of their armies” (Mormon 2:1). Considering that a few hundred years separate the events in Alma and the events in Mormon, the method of organizing the military would likely have changed, and Mormon would only know the earlier way via the text in the plates, not from experience.
The military is still organized into levels in Mormon’s time, though. In Mormon 6:10, 12-14, Mormon lists the leaders of divisions of men, 10,000 people each, with him as the head of them all. He just doesn’t use the term used in Alma of “chief captain”, or even “captain” at all. I find this variation in terms, which one would indeed expect in a historical record covering hundreds of years and thus multiple cultures, fascinating.
William J. Hamblin points out that “Book of Mormon military organization was aristocratic and dominated by a highly trained hereditary elite. Thus, for example, military leaders such as Moroni1, his son Moronihah, and Mormon each became the chief captain at a young age (Alma 43:17; 62:39; Morm. 2:1).”
What about recruiting? That’s less clear. Throughout the Book of Mormon it seems to be a volunteer army of any and all able-bodied men. But not always. In Alma 51:13-20, king-men (those who want a king rather than judges) are happy about the coming Lamanites and refuse to take up arms to fight them off. Moroni is not amused. “Wroth” and “filled with anger” would describe him at this time. These king-men have two options: pick up their weapons and fight on their side, or die. A lot are “hewn down” and a some caved and joined Moroni’s army. Their leaders who weren’t killed were tossed into prison to await trial (for there wasn’t time for trials right then, what with the impending Lamanite attack and all). So… okay, the army isn’t quite so voluntary.
The other instance where recruiting seems more like a draft and less voluntary comes a few chapters later. In Alma 60, with numbers dwindling due to battle losses, Moroni writes an epistle to Pahoran, the chief judge. One might say there’s a bit of trash talking in this epistle, but one would definitely say there is a death threat. This seems a bit like the Secretary of Defense mailing a death threat to the President of the United States. Pahoran seems to take in stride, though, and he had a good excuse for his slackerhood since he was kind of busy fighting of his own rebellion. In any case, in Moroni’s epistle he is upset with Pahoran for, among other things, not gathering and arming men and sending them Moroni’s way (Alma 60:2). It’s unclear whether this means Pahoran was supposed to be on a PR campaign to convince men to join in the fight on their own, or if he was to conscript them.
What about an oath of office? Oaths are common when people are defeated and are given the option of making an oath that they will no longer take up arms against the winning army (with the other alternative being death). These seem to be treaties of nonaggression. Less common, at least within the text, are oaths soldiers take, with one definite exception: the Title of Liberty (Alma 46:12-28). Moroni recruited volunteers to join him in the good fight with the banner (“In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children”) that he took amongst the people and cried out to them, asking them to come forth and enter into a covenant: “We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression” (Alma 46:22).
Now and then doesn’t seem all that different. Well, in some ways.