Friday, November 14, 2014

Alma 44: Moroni's First War Crime

Captain Moroni has Zerahemnah's army cornered.  When he steps forward to demand their surrender, he uses the spotlight as a chance to bear his testimony and convert any good Mormon surely would.

When Piety Borders on Denial
Moroni is so confident that the events of the battle undeniably point to the powerful intervention of God that he even goes so far as to assume that the Lamanites see things the same way:
Now ye see that this is the true faith of God; yea, ye see that God will support, and keep, and preserve us, so long as we are faithful unto him, and unto our faith, and our religion; and never will the Lord suffer that we shall be destroyed except we should fall into transgression and deny our faith.
He seems to have some seriously strong faith that God protects his people so long as they are righteous, which is a little bizarre, considering that the slaughter of the righteous, pacifist people of Ammon was a pretty significant event that took place very recently.  About five years before that, also in young Moroni's lifetime, God also allowed the righteous inhabitants of Ammonihah to be destroyed.  So I'm not sure why he was so positive that God was going to keep his army from destruction, especially after he put all his chips on that one super-risky military strategy that never should have worked.

Identical Experiences, Divergent Conclusions
When Zerahemnah manages to get a word in, he responds with this:
Behold, we are not of your faith; we do not believe that it is God that has delivered us into your hands; but we believe that it is your cunning that has preserved you from our swords.  Behold, it is your breastplates and your shields that have preserved you.
Captain Moroni is so wrapped up in his own euphoric spiritual orgasm that he's forgotten that the Lamanites don't share his religious views.  Because God's finger wasn't visibly smiting anybody, it's actually a matter of some debate whether he was even involved.  Moroni is content to look at the events of the battle as God opening up a divine can of whoop-ass.  But Zerahemnah, thoughtful, down-to-earth man that he is, sees the impossible underdog victory as the result of some more logical factors, such as his army being outmaneuvered and underequipped.

I notice, however, that Zerahemnah doesn't take responsibility for the biggest reason he lostthat he repeatedly had his army retreat in the worst possible direction.  He must be too ashamed to admit to it.

ProTip:  Hire a Professional Editor
Somewhere in the midst of Moroni's bloviation, he demands that Zerahemnah promise to end the wars between their clans:
And now, Zerahemnah, I command you, in the name of that all-powerful God, who has strengthened our arms that we have gained power over you, by our faith, by our religion, and by our rites of worship, and by our church, and by the sacred support which we owe to our wives and our children, by that liberty which binds us to our lands and our country; yea, and also by the maintenance of the sacred word of God, to which we owe all our happiness; and by all that is most dear unto us
Yea, and this is not all;  I command you by all the desires which ye have for life...
Yeah.  No kidding, that's not all.  You started off saying that you were commanding him to do something, but you got so caught up in listing things you were commanding him for that you never actually got around to commanding anything.  Proofread, Joseph!  You have too many sentences in this book that you forget to resolve...or strangely, that you resolve later, in a different sentence.  Seriously, what the hell?  It's like you had very little formal schooling or something!
And don't even get me started on your punctuation habits!

Honor Among Savages
Anyway, Moroni offers to spare the lives of the defeated army if they agree to put down their weapons, leave Nephite territory and "come not again to war."  Here is the Lamanite commander's surprisingly classy reply:
And now it came to pass that when Zerahemnah had heard these sayings he came forth and delivered up his sword and his cimeter, and his bow into the hands of Moroni, and said unto him: Behold, here are our weapons of war; we will deliver them up unto you, but we will not suffer ourselves to take an oath unto you, which we know that we shall break, and also our children; but take our weapons of war, and suffer that we may depart into the wilderness; otherwise we will retain our swords, and we will perish or conquer.
Humbly, Zerahmenah personally offers his arms to Moroni and requests permission to leave in shame.  Even though he clearly has an easy out by saying "oh, yeah, sure, we totally promise we won't attack you guys any more" whether it's true or not, he takes the high road.  He says that even if they make the oath, they know they won't keep it.  He speaks realistically and honestly.  But Moroni somehow interprets this as supreme defiance and reacts dramatically:
We don't stand for that kind of disgusting honesty around here.
You've brought your destruction upon yourselves!
And now Moroni was angry, because of the stubbornness of the Lamanites; therefore he commanded his people that they should fall upon them and slay them.  And it came to pass that they began to slay them; yea, and the Lamanites did contend with their swords and their might.
Some of the Lamanites had agreed to Moroni's terms before this happened.  And after it happened, Zerahemnah and his remaining followers agreed to it as well.  This just goes to show how effective it is to enforce peace with threats of violence.

But more than that, this shows how much of a role model Captain Moroni isn't.  In this chapter, he's arrogant, bloodthirsty and uncompromising.  Zerahemnah, in contrast, comes off as much more honorable, yet for some reason he's the leader of the "savage" Lamanite army and Captain Moroni is the virtuous leader of the righteous Nephite army.  This is clearly backwards.  Zerahemnah is a classy guy.  Moroni is a full-blown war criminal.  

They surrendered, you prick!  You're supposed to stop killing people when they surrender!

A Neat if Pointless Ending
There are heavy losses on both sides.  The Lamanites limp back to their homeland and the Nephites return from war triumphant.  But, at the conclusion of this chapter, I have one remaining question:  What vitally important doctrine was all this violence and bloodshed at the hands of a supposedly righteous man supposed to teach us?


  1. Just found your blog thanks to Outer Blogness, and am very much looking forward to reading more of your BoM commentary. I've been reading through the PoGP lately and been thinking of doing something similar, but I'm lazy ... I'm glad to discover I'm not the only one who has problems following Josepg Smith's sentence structure.

    Seriously, with all these great commentaries out there (have you listened to My Book of Mormon podcast at all?), it seems the talent is out there to put together a Reduced Scriptures (something like Reduced Shakespeare but in written or podcast form) -- if it hasn't been done already.

    1. Thanks, it's good to have you here!

      I'm not much of a podcast guy, but I've heard good things about that one (link for anyone interested). There are indeed a lot of good commentaries, but I'll confess that I don't usually like to read them. I find it useful to plow through the Book of Mormon with as much of my own insight as possible. If there's an issue that arises in a chapter that I don't know enough about, I'll research it, but I think there's more value in reviewing my own impressions than gathering information from better-researched sources because I'm trying to keep this series more logic-based than scholarly. I'd rather independently make the same points as previous commentators than let others steer the direction of my posts.