Taxing a Conqueror
Since we've already established that, since the Nephites defeated the Lamanites in battle, there should no longer be a subservient relationship, I have to wonder how exactly the Lamanites got their exorbitant taxes from the Nephites. In verse 2, Zeniff mentions that he posts guards around the borders of his land to defend against a surprise attack from King Laman. Which I think implies that the unnecessary taxes got to King Laman in one of two ways.
First, it could be that, because Zeniff is an idiot (and apparently it's hereditary, because his grandson is quite incompetent himself), he and his people voluntarily offered up the taxes they'd been paying. Every month, Zeniff sends a shipment of crops and livestock and perhaps even currency over to Laman.
Or, instead, maybe King Laman sent tax collectors. Once a month, the Nephite guards would encounter a group of Lamanites, but then, after determining that they were simply the tax men, they'd willingly grant them passage into Nephite territory.
Neither way makes any sense. You just defeated Laman in battle after he attacked you—why are you still paying him for the right to live on the land that he gave you permission to live on?
The Duties of Kingship
Again, perhaps because he had no idea how running a government and a society actually works, Joseph Smith summarizes the duties of a monarch very oddly (see Mosiah: Survival Expert). After mentioning all the military stuff that Zeniff did, Joseph wrote this (or Zeniff wrote this, depending on who you believe):
And I did cause that the men should till the ground, and raise all manner of grain and all manner of fruit of every kind.
And I did cause that the women should spin, and toil, and work, and work all manner of fine linen, yea, and cloth of every kind, that we might clothe our nakedness;Do you really think it's necessary, as king, to make sure people plant their own food? Do you really think that the people needed King Zeniff to remind them that they don't have clothes and that it gets cold in the winter? Do you really think that the Nephites are so stupid and so clueless that they can't scrape together the intelligence required to follow some of their most basic survival instincts?
Don't waste your time organizing trade, erecting buildings, arranging roads, providing education, or maybe working on some kind of irrigation technique or sewage system. Just make sure your people are ready for war and issue a royal decree telling the men to plant food and the women to sew.
Terrible Word Choice
I know that I keep mentioning this, but it is maddeningly idiotic--there is no reason the Nephites should still consider themselves to be in servitude to the Lamanites! And Joseph Smith knows it, because in verse 6, he says that, following the death of King Laman, his son "began to stir his people [the Lamanites] up in rebellion against my people [the Nephites]."
Yeah. Rebellion. Did the Union rebel against the Conferacy? Did the Empire rebel against Luke Skywalker? Did the Mormon church rebel against me? In order for one to rebel, there has to be an established power for the rebel to be initially subject to. If you're rebelling, you're doing so from a position of no authority or at least a supposed weakness.
So why would the Lamanites, who extract high taxes from the Nephites, be stirred up to rebellion against them? If they're going to rebel, that implies they're not the strongest nation in the first place. So why do the Nephites consider themselves to be in bondage to a society that feels the need to rebel against them?
This makes no sense.
The Oldest Trick in the Book
In verse 9, Zeniff hides "the women and children" in the wilderness so that the men could face the Lamanite hordes in battle. This is stupid.
How are you going to hide a city's worth of women and children? You might as well keep them close, where you can defend them. He's lucky the Lamanites didn't have a few hundred soldiers peel off to follow the cloud of dust and kill all the unarmed women and children. I guess if Joseph Smith had lived long enough to watch a few movies he would have realized that Zeniff's plan here is a classic and oft-exploited mistake.
We Fight Because...Reasons
These are the motives the Lamanites have for trying to slaughter Zeniff's people:
- Their ancestors were "wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea"
- Their ancestors were "wronged while in the land of their first inheritance" because Nephi actually listened to God
- Nephi took it upon himself to rule the new civilization
- They thought that the plates of brass belonged to their ancestors and Nephi had stolen them
The chapter heading puts these events at between 187 and 160 BC. While these things may have happened a few dozen pages ago, each event has been over and done with for about four hundred years. I'd expect this kind of thing to fade over time and get weaker across each successive generation—much the same way that racism and homophobia are slowly waning. After enough generations, people don't care as much what happened to their ancestors—especially if it hasn't stopped them from forming a society with a decent amount of economic gain and a strong military presence. Oh, here's why it didn't fade:
And thus [the Lamanites] have taught their children that they should hate [the Nephites], and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi.Okay, I have two problems with that—first, seriously? This has got to be the Book of Mormon being racist again, because I don't think the fair-skinned Nephites ever go four hundred years being bloodthirsty and solely intent on the utter destruction of the Lamanites. But the barbaric, dark-skinned, head-shaving, leather-thong-about-their-loins-wearing Lamanites, of course, they live for murder and hatred and blood and evil, down all the generations.
Second, this is another reason why the Book of Mormon smells like fiction. An entire civilization brainwashed into wanting to kill all the Nephites? People don't do groupthink that well in reality. Children of racist parents learn that diversity isn't a bad thing. Victims of Mormon childhood programming learn to think for themselves. There are plenty of stories of German citizens during World War II who didn't buy into Hitler and his charisma and his warmongering. And none of those things has persisted effectively for four hundred years. But the Book of Mormon is saying that the Lamanite lust for Nephite blood has that kind of longevity and complete uniformity. That's unrealistic—probably because it isn't real.