Mormon, the military genius that he is, communicates by mail with the king of the Lamanites and the two of them baffingly agree to the location of their final showdown.
Safety in Numbers
In summarizing his apocalyptic battle with the Lamanites, Mormon lists his commanders, each of whom led a force of ten thousand. After mentioning thirteen captains, he apparently tires of writing out names and simply adds that there were ten others. This means that there were twenty-three Nephite leaders each in charge of ten thousand soldiers.
This also means that the Nephites lost almost 230,000 men in a single day. Even making the ridiculous assumption that the battle went on for a full twenty-four hours, that's 2.6 deaths every second. In total, it's approximately how many people were killed by the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. This is a huge and historically unparalleled loss of life.
And keep in mind that these are specifically described not as casualties but as deaths. Which means that if you compare it to what is considered the bloodiest day in American military history—the battle of Antietam on September 17th, 1862—this Nephite battle is of a preposterous scope. Antietam had almost 23,000 casualties. That tally includes both groups of combatants and includes the wounded, not just the dead. And still, in an era with more technological capability for destruction, the number barely scratches the surface of the Nephite conflict.
To be fair, the Nephite army (and, presumably, the Lamanite army as well) was much larger than either force that engaged in the fighting at Antietam. But Mormon states in verse 15 that every one of his soldiers had been killed except for twenty-four of them and "a few" who fled southward and "a few" who defected to the Lamanites. Sure sounds to me like he incurred upwards of 99% casualties. But compare that number against the famously disastrous Pickett's Charge during the battle of Gettysburg—"over 50% casualties." The Allied forces on the brutal D-Day assault managed to keep their casualties under a tenth. Even at the legendary battle of Thermopylae, well over one percent of the ill-fated Greek defenders managed to escape with their lives.
Either Mormon is a colossally incompetent general or his story was made up by someone who hadn't bothered to consider the absurdities of his own arithmetic.
A Confusing Eulogy
After witnessing the bloody demise of almost a quarter of a million of his countrymen, Mormon bemoans their fates (verses 17 and 18):
O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!
Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss.Um...didn't the Lamanites also reject Jesus? Why are the Nephites getting slaughtered due to unbelief instead of the Lamanites? Both groups committed the same crime and the Lamanites actually fell away from the gospel first, so....
I think the usual explanation here is that the Nephites covenanted with God to remain righteous, therefore they're being punished more harshly because the Lamanites never made that promise. On its face, that's an awful covenant depicting a tyrannical, easily offended god. But now that we're generations beyond any of those covenants, it seems grossly unjust to hold current Nephites accountable for their distant ancestor's promises. Not only that, but remember how, during the post-Jesus utopia, there were no manner of -ites? When a group called the Lamanites eventually split off, they split off because of apostasy, not because of skin color. They called themselves Lamanites to mark themselves as spiritual rebels, not to distinguish their racial heritage.
Which means the Lamanites in this chapter should probably have a lot of light-skinned ethnic Nephites in their midst, especially after generations upon generations of intra-societal marriages (as opposed to intra-ethnic marriages). Therefore, according to the covenants Nephites made with their unreasonably exacting God way back when, both armies should be annihilated because they're both made up of the covenanters' lineage.
But, somehow, God decides to make sure the Nephites get utterly routed to the point of insanity and the Lamanites mostly live to be godless savages another day.