Friday, April 17, 2015

Alma 57: Pesky Prisoner Problems

War continues.  But we've taken a break from reading about Captain Moroni's meritorious exploits to focus on the prophet Helaman's bizarre dabbling in military leadership.  I mean, it's not bizarre for the Book of Mormon, but we've definitely never seen Thomas S. Monson or Ezra Taft Benson or Spencer W. Kimball leading troops into battle.

Good Prisoners Make Good Neighbors
After Helaman's forces lay siege to the city of Cumeni, the Lamanite forces buckle and surrender.  Helaman is immediately presented with a huge logistical obstacle because his men have to guard an entire army's worth of captives.  His solution is to send the Lamanites down to Zarahemla.  I have no idea why.  Why would he send a bunch of enemy soldiers into what is basically the capital city of his civilization?  Couldn't he at least have shipped them off to Bountiful, which Moroni recently converted into a prison?

What really makes no sense, though, is that Helaman sends a "part" of his men to march the bad guys down to Zarahemla.  His issue was that he didn't have enough troops to keep the Lamanites from escaping or overpowering their captors.  How does peeling off a small portion of his forces to guard the prisoners in transit solve that problem at all?

Spoiler alert:  much to everyone's idiotic surprise, the Lamanites wind up rebelling.

Only the Unfaithful Die Young
After repelling a fierce attack on the city of Cumeni, Helaman gives his Stripling Warriors orders to bury their dead.  He's surprised to discover that, once again, exactly none of them has died.  Two hundred of them "fainted because of the loss of blood," but Helaman has managed to sustain roughly ten percent casualties and zero percent fatalities.  It's like he's one-upping his all-too-miraculous performance from the previous chapter.  But the worst part about all this is his explanation for why it happened (verse 26):
And now, their preservation was astonishing to our whole army, yea, that they should be spared while there was a thousand of our brethren who were slain.  And we do justly ascribe it to the miraculous power of God, because of their exceeding faith in that which they had been taught to believe—that there was a just God, and whosoever did not doubt, that they should be preserved by his marvelous power.
Dude.  Helaman.  Aren't you, like, the prophet and the keeper of the sacred records?  Have you ever read the sacred records?  Because they clearly contradict what you just said.

Or maybe you're right.  Gideon, the righteous enemy of King Noah, who was murdered by Nehor in the first chapter of Alma...that guy wasn't really a strong believer.  And Abinadi, the prophet who boldly preached repentance and expounded upon the scriptures to King Noah's priests, scoring the critical conversion of Alma the Elder...his testimony was pretty lukewarm.  And all those hundreds of people in Ammonihah who God specifically allowed to be burned to death by their wicked chief judge so their murders could be evidence against him...they just didn't have enough faith.

Transposed into modern times, this is an incredibly heartless thing to teach.  The relief society president who raised six children in the church and goes to the temple twice a month...well, she only got cancer because her belief was wavering.  And that young man who passed away during his mission...he'd have survived if he'd been devoted enough to the gospel.

This is like backhanded victim-blaming.

What a Bloody Miracle
The successful Nephite defense of Cumeni was only possible because of the early return of the troops who'd left to escort the Lamanite prisoners to Zarahemla.  After those guys joined the fight and managed to turn the tide, Helaman figures out what happened.

While Gid and his men were marching the Lamanites away from Cumeni, they came across a group of Nephite scouts who frantically explained that a Lamanite army was about to descend upon the city they'd just left.  Upon hearing this, the prisoners took heart and fought back.  Most of them were killed by the guards and a few managed to escape.
I sure hope nobody turns a weird giant crank underneath Cumeni and moves the whole city on them.
Suddenly having no prisoners, Gid's troops decided that they'd better book it to Cumeni and help.  They arrived just in the nick of time, the Lamanite attack was repulsed, and everybody lived happily ever after.  You know, except for all the dead people.  They didn't live.

Gid's reaction (verse 35) and Helaman's reaction (verse 36) are similarly sickening:
And behold, we are again delivered out of the hands of our enemies.  And blessed is the name of our God; for behold, it is he that has delivered us; yea, that has done this great thing for us.
Um...he has done this great thing for us?  You mean he gave you an excuse to slaughter your prisoners so you could go back to Cumeni and slaughter more people?  If you really believe these events were orchestrated by your God, doesn't it worry you how little he seems to care for human life?
Now it came to pass that when I, Helaman, had heard these words of Gid, I was filled with exceeding joy because of the goodness of God in perserving us, that we might not all perish; yea, and I trust that the souls of them who have been slain have entered into the rest of their God. 
You were filled with exceeding joy?  A thousand of your countrymen are dead and even more of your enemies are dead.  That's a lot of death.  Have a little respect.  What kind of God accomplishes "goodness" with so much fortuitous bloodshed?  And I'm sure you're not even thinking about all the dead Lamanites, because you know damn well that those filthy savages died in their wickedness and aren't destined to enter into "the rest of their God" any time soon.

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