Friday, January 14, 2011

There has to be backstory to Captain Moroni’s meteoric rise

And Moroni took all the command, and the government of their wars. And he was only twenty and five years old when he was appointed chief captain over the armies of the Nephites. (Alma 43:17)
Captain Moroni blasts onto the scene in Alma 43 with such power and brilliance that you know he wasn’t appointed to that position at so young an age without have shown some incredible aptitude for strategy and boldness in his earlier years. There is no mention of him whatsoever before this point in the record, but it is possible to identify certain influential and formative events and link these to certain strategies he uses with such masterfulness during his military command. Moroni was appointed chief captain at age 25 in the 18th year of the reign of the judges, which puts him at about age 7 when Alma the Younger was first appointed chief judge. Between age 7 and age 25, Moroni saw his nation in three separate conflicts with the Lamanites. If we work backward through Nephite history from the point he takes command, I think we can detect how these conflicts influenced his thinking about strategy in warfare.

In Alma 28, there is mention of a tremendous battle, and it is treated so briefly in the text that we hardly ever notice it. It happens after the Anti-Nephi-Lehis are safely settled in Jershon with Nephite armies to guard them. This happened in the 15th or 16th year of the reign of the judges and Moroni would have been about 22 or 23 years old, which is prime fighting age.
1 And now it came to pass that after the people of Ammon were established in the land of Jershon, and a church also established in the land of Jershon, and the armies of the Nephites were set round about the land of Jershon, yea, in all the borders round about the land of Zarahemla; behold the armies of the Lamanites had followed their brethren into the wilderness.
2 And thus there was a tremendous battle; yea, even such an one as never had been known among all the people in the land from the time Lehi left Jerusalem; yea, and tens of thousands of the Lamanites were slain and scattered abroad.
3 Yea, and also there was a tremendous slaughter among the people of Nephi; nevertheless, the Lamanites were driven and scattered, and the people of Nephi returned again to their land.
4 And now this was a time that there was a great mourning and lamentation heard throughout all the land, among all the people of Nephi—
5 Yea, the cry of widows mourning for their husbands, and also of fathers mourning for their sons, and the daughter for the brother, yea, the brother for the father; and thus the cry of mourning was heard among all of them, mourning for their kindred who had been slain. (Alma 28:1-5)
If I were to speculate, I might jump to the conclusion that Moroni was part of the army guarding the Anti-Nephi-Lehis and that it could have been through his instrumentality that no Lamanites succeeded in killing any Anti-Nephi-Lehis and that this must have been a stunning effort in which more and more Nephite resources were poured into the conflict to prevent the Lamanites from ever reaching the Anti-Nephi-Lehis and that surely the Nephite victory after such a tremendous slaughter was due to Moroni’s grassroots leadership.

But I think that is probably assuming WAY too much. I do a lot of speculating, but I think that goes much too far.

The fact that tens of thousands of Lamanites were driven and scattered abroad suggests that there were a number of different Nephite armies driving the Lamanites in many different directions with varying degrees of success.

Also, mentioning the Nephite victory in the same breath as the tremendous slaughter among the Nephites suggests that the Nephites were caught unprepared and it was another miraculous victory. Now, knowing as we do Moroni’s stouthearted character, we can easily visualize him rallying a besieged group of his fellows and leading a counter-attack that first looks futile and which then turns into a rousing success. That kind of thing builds military reputation really fast. Further, considering how Moroni would so often call on people to “rally ‘round the flag” when he was chief captain, I can imagine that he was only continuing a rallying tendency from before he was chief captain and that his ability to mobilize and inspire his peers was part of what made him such an obvious choice for commander of all the Nephite armies.

Regardless of how Moroni participated, we can see how this particular conflict would have influenced him. Seeing such carnage among so many unprepared Nephites would have got him thinking about how it could have been avoided and this would reveal to him the vital importance of both watchfulness, preparation, fortification, and even protective battle dress. (It is notable that at his first commanded battle he requires his men to be dressed in protective clothing. I can almost hear him say to himself, “Finally, a chance to get it right!”) We eventually see all these other elements of watchfulness, preparation, and fortification addressed throughout his years as commander.

Previous to this conflict is the conflict in Alma 16. (Remember, we are working backwards.) This happens in the 11th year of the judges and Moroni would have been 17 or 18 years old, which is also certainly fighting age. In this conflict, Ammonihah is attacked then completely destroyed, and then citizens of Noah are attacked and carried off. General Zoram with his two sons Lehi and Ahah get guidance from the prophet Alma on where to go to get the captive Nephites back, and they save every Nephite captive, while driving and scattering the Lamanites.

It is possible that Zoram’s example of asking the prophet Alma for guidance could have been an influence on Moroni, if Moroni had been part of his army, because Moroni eventually does the same thing in Alma 43. Yet Moroni still manages to improve on Zoram’s methods. While Zoram moved his whole army after the Lamanites, Moroni left part of his army behind to defend the city he was leaving, while he went to the recommended place of battle. Also, Zoram only asked Alma, while Moroni, when his turn came, asked Alma where to go AND sent spies to watch the Lamanites. (I don’t think this meant Moroni was a skeptic. I think it just means that he was living the principle of “do all you can then trust God.”)

Also, if you look at the place of battle for the Zoram-commanded Nephite troop movements in Alma 16:6-7, they are very similar to the place of battle Captain Moroni later chooses in Alma 43:27,31-33 when he is in command. If Moroni had been in Zoram’s army, his familiarity with the lay of the land would have helped him substantially. (I also have to point out that General Lehi was at both battles, and is mentioned by name at both parts of the record. For all we know, the strategy in Alma 43 could have been HIS idea.)

Whether he had participated or not, from the fight to regain the captive inhabitants of Noah, Moroni would have certainly gained a strong appreciation for General Zoram’s greatness and honor in achieving the military objective without loss of life. And we know that Moroni was able to recreate this same great performance himself at least once when he reconquered the city of Gid and liberated all its Nephite prisoners without any loss of life, Nephite or Lamanite.

Now we go further back in time to Alma 2-3. This is the 5th year of the reign of the judges and Moroni is about age 12 or 13. This is the Amlicite conflict when the Nephites engage the Amlicites in one place, beat them, and then are warned by their spies that they must race to another place to prevent an enormous combined Amlicite-Lamanite army from descending upon Zarahemla. With divine help, they beat this army and drive it out. Then, not many days afterward, they have to beat off yet another Lamanite army at the first place again (see Alma 3:20-23).

Now, I can’t see Moroni being old enough to take part in this conflict, but I’m sure he heard plenty of talk about it afterward. I think it would have made him think about the need for guards and spies to warn when enemies were coming. It would have shown him it could also be important to follow and spy on enemies who were fleeing. It would have taught him how vital it was for the army to move quickly. Most importantly, I think the repeat attack at the same place would have started him thinking why armies attack the same place more than once. (This lesson, when later combined with the destruction of Ammonihah, would have laid the foundation for Moroni’s ability to predict that the Lamanites would try to attack Ammonihah and Noah again.)

We are unable to know exactly how or where Moroni gained his formative experience in tactics and strategy. But it is easy to see how the conflicts of the Nephite nation played a vital role in his ideas. Somehow, wherever he was, he was seeing the big picture and drawing the conclusions from it that would make him the great warrior he was.

What does this mean for us today in our lives? I suppose that when we are dead and gone, our descendants will look at our lives through the records we leave behind and they will say, “Isn’t it obvious how these large events were playing such a role in their lives and preparing them for greatness!” And they will list all the different things. They will point to the Persian Gulf War, or the Great Recession of 2008, or the rise of social media, or whatever it is that will have taught us the lessons that contributed to our prowess. They will say, “Look how they were prepared for that calling!” or “Look how they were prepared to save their family!” or “Look how they were prepared to build Zion!” And they will speculate about us and attribute all manner of great motives to us that would make us blush to hear them. Let’s not disappoint them, shall we? Whatever it is that we do, let’s do it the best we can.

So.. share your dreams with me. What do you want to be known as the best in?


Morgan D said...

Totally awesome. I don't know why I never considered this before. I thought your analysis was right on. I would add that Alma 16:3 and Helaman 1:24 suggest that the Nephites rarely had a fulltime army and that they needed time to gather and arm their soldiers. So your suggestion that Moroni would desperately rally small bands of Nephites is not so far fetched.

Also, I would suggest the chapter on "military castes" in Warfare in the Book of Mormon which suggests that Moroni was a part of a hereditary military household and would have had special military training at a younger age than the average farmer.

I will definitely link to this post.

Morgan Deane said...

You can find the link here:

Michaela Stephens said...

I thought you'd like it. ;-) Thanks for the link to the article. Very interesting.

Jocelyn Christensen said...

Excellent! I totally agree with how these events in our lives are preparing us to do the great things that we can here to do...someday it'll all be clear.