Thursday, October 10, 2013

Coriantumr’s Blitzkrieg in Helaman 1


 This is not the Coriantumr you are thinking of from the Book of Ether.  This Coriantumr is a Nephite who defects to the Lamanites and gets command of all the Lamanite armies in Helaman 1.  He did not survive the campaign, so his military career is a short one.  As we shall see, he exploits a key Nephite weakness, but his success is the very thing that makes him vulnerable and ensures his final defeat.

14 And it came to pass in the forty and first year of the reign of the judges, that the Lamanites had gathered together an innumerable army of men, and armed them with swords, and with cimeters and with bows, and with arrows, and with head-plates, and with breastplates, and with all manner of shields of every kind.
15 And they came down again that they might pitch battle against the Nephites. And they were led by a man whose name was Coriantumr; and he was a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was a dissenter from among the Nephites; and he was a large and a mighty man.
16 Therefore, the king of the Lamanites, whose name was Tubaloth, who was the son of Ammoron, supposing that Coriantumr, being a mighty man, could stand against the Nephites, with his strength and also with his great wisdom, insomuch that by sending him forth he should gain power over the Nephites—

Coriantumr is all the more dangerous to the Nephites because he dissented from them.  He knows where they are fortified and he knows where their weak points are.  We don’t know how long Coriantumr has been with the Lamanites though.  Perhaps his large and mighty physique would get him noticed quickly, but it would take time for his wisdom to come to the notice of the king.  Tubaloth seems to think that Coriantumr would be a great answer to the fantastic generals the Nephites have had thus far, like Captain Moroni, Moronihah, Lehi, Teancum, Helaman, etc. 

And yet, you can also detect Mormon is poking subtle fun at both the Lamanite king and Coriantumr in verse 16 when he says, “the king of the Lamanites…supposing that Coriantumr, being a mighty man, could stand against the Nephites, with his strength and also with his great wisdom..”  Coriantumr was not strong enough to stand against the Nephites all by himself (or even with an army), and we will see that he wasn’t very smart either.

17 Therefore he did stir them up to anger, and he did gather together his armies, and he did appoint Coriantumr to be their leader, and did cause that they should march down to the land of Zarahemla to battle against the Nephites.
18 And it came to pass that because of so much contention and so much difficulty in the government, that they had not kept sufficient guards in the land of Zarahemla; for they had supposed that the Lamanites durst not come into the heart of their lands to attack that great city Zarahemla.
19 But it came to pass that Coriantumr did march forth at the head of his numerous host, and came upon the inhabitants of the city, and their march was with such exceedingly great speed that there was no time for the Nephites to gather together their armies.
20 Therefore Coriantumr did cut down the watch by the entrance of the city, and did march forth with his whole army into the city, and they did slay every one who did oppose them, insomuch that they did take possession of the whole city.

This is very bad.  The Nephite guards may have seen the Lamanites coming, but the danger came so fast that there was not time enough for Nephite armies to get there to stop them.  And then, the few guards there were got killed, so there was no one to warn the people the Lamanites were upon them.

21 And it came to pass that Pacumeni, who was the chief judge, did flee before Coriantumr, even to the walls of the city. And it came to pass that Coriantumr did smite him against the wall, insomuch that he died. And thus ended the days of Pacumeni.

Not only are the city guards killed, but Coriantumr also kills Pacumeni, one who could have organized a better resistance.  It is curious that Coriantumr seems to target Pacumeni specifically.  It is likely that he knew where to find the chief judge’s house or offices, since Coriantumr was a dissenter.  Coriantumr is taking a page out of Teancum’s book—get rid of the top leader in order to make it difficult for your enemy to get organized.

Notice the presence of a city wall shows us Zarahemla was fortified.  However, with no army to man the walls and keep the enemy out, the walls didn’t do any good.  And we see in the case of Pecumeni that city walls become deadly when the enemy is inside because walls prevent you from escaping except through the exits.  The fortifications can become a prison.

22 And now when Coriantumr saw that he was in possession of the city of Zarahemla, and saw that the Nephites had fled before them, and were slain, and were taken, and were cast into prison, and that he had obtained the possession of the strongest hold in all the land, his heart took courage insomuch that he was about to go forth against all the land.

Perhaps Coriantumr worried that his plan would fail.  It was certainly unexpected and daring.  Success in the first stage at Zarahemla seems to confirm to him that the rest of his plan was good and he should keep going. 

Now, the real question should be, “Was he justified in taking courage?”  To answer that, we have to look at the kind of forces his massive army has prevailed over.  So far, he’s taken out a few guards, he’s terrorized a bunch of civilians who don’t know the first thing about defending themselves, and he’s chased down and killed the chief judge.  Is that really something to be proud of?  In reality, he hasn’t yet faced a real army!

23 And now he did not tarry in the land of Zarahemla, but he did march forth with a large army, even towards the city of Bountiful; for it was his determination to go forth and cut his way through with the sword, that he might obtain the north parts of the land.

His next objective of cutting his way through to obtain the north parts of the land seems really strange.  What strategic significance could it have to him?  Coriantumr is a Nephite dissenter, so possibly he grew up hearing people talk about how important the north lands were as a fallback place of resort or refuge, so perhaps he thought it was important for the Lamanites to take that away.  However, he didn’t consider that something with strategic importance to the Nephites might not have equal strategic importance to the Lamanites as a Lamanite possession.  If anything, the north lands would be a strategic liability to the Lamanites.  He would have to maintain a corridor of Lamanite-occupied lands in order to supply it, and a corridor would be far too easy for Nephite armies to cut off, since they could attack it from two fronts.  If the Lamanites didn’t maintain a corridor, the north lands have to be supplied by forays through enemy territory, a very costly situation.  It would be most likely that Lamanite possessions gained in the north would be virtually unsupplied, leaving them vulnerable to the Nephite forces and with no way for the main lands of the Lamanites to maintain military authority over them.  In short, his objective was a foolishly chosen one.

24 And, supposing that their greatest strength was in the center of the land, therefore he did march forth, giving them no time to assemble themselves together save it were in small bodies; and in this manner they did fall upon them and cut them down to the earth.

giving them no time to assemble themselves together save it were in small bodies – Coriantumr’s best advantage was the sheer speed of his army’s travel.  It made it hard for the Nephites to tell what his next target was, and the places he invaded didn’t have time to muster more than a token resistance before they were wiped out.  To gather an army from a scattered countryside, you either need one messenger that can travel incredibly fast to reach all the places where fighting-age men can be found, or you need many messengers to reach the fighting men all at the same time with enough time for them to come together.  Or if you are summoning an already-collected army from elsewhere, your messenger has to get there and back with the army all in the time that the invader takes to arrive. 

It is very hard to see how Coriantumr could have thought that the Nephites’ greatest strength was in the center of their land and not on the periphery where the armies and most fortified cities were.  Perhaps he thought there were many more men of military age in the center than were part of the army on the periphery and reasoned that if he could kill as many potential Nephite recruits as possible he could decimate the Nephite army’s ability to be reinforced in a lengthy campaign.  However, this plan foolishly did not take into account where the Nephites’ greatest military strength was now—those trained armies at the periphery.

25 But behold, this march of Coriantumr through the center of the land gave Moronihah great advantage over them, notwithstanding the greatness of the number of the Nephites who were slain.
26 For behold, Moronihah had supposed that the Lamanites durst not come into the center of the land, but that they would attack the cities round about in the borders as they had hitherto done; therefore Moronihah had caused that their strong armies should maintain those parts round about by the borders.
27 But behold, the Lamanites were not frightened according to his desire, but they had come into the center of the land, and had taken the capital city which was the city of Zarahemla, and were marching through the most capital parts of the land, slaying the people with a great slaughter, both men, women, and children, taking possession of many cities and of many strongholds.

Again, we see that Coriantumr continues to wreak havoc among the civilian populace, and as he takes possession of Nephite cities he leaves part of his army there to maintain them, so after each victory, his innumerable army shrinks more and more.  During all of this, he still hasn’t faced an actual Nephite army, so his army remains just as inexperienced at facing trained opposition as when his invasion began.

28 But when Moronihah had discovered this, he immediately sent forth Lehi with an army round about to head them before they should come to the land Bountiful.
29 And thus he did; and he did head them before they came to the land Bountiful, and gave unto them battle, insomuch that they began to retreat back towards the land of Zarahemla.

When Coriantumr’s army finally faces a real Nephite army, their numbers are no longer as strong and unstoppable as they were at the beginning, and their inexperience against a real army becomes obvious.  They can’t stand up to the battering they get from Lehi’s (traditionally) elite force, so they retreat.

30 And it came to pass that Moronihah did head them in their retreat, and did give unto them battle, insomuch that it became an exceedingly bloody battle; yea, many were slain, and among the number who were slain Coriantumr was also found.
31 And now, behold, the Lamanites could not retreat either way, neither on the north, nor on the south, nor on the east, nor on the west, for they were surrounded on every hand by the Nephites.
32 And thus had Coriantumr plunged the Lamanites into the midst of the Nephites, insomuch that they were in the power of the Nephites, and he himself was slain, and the Lamanites did yield themselves into the hands of the Nephites.

It is here that Coriantumr and the Lamanites discover that the blitzkrieg tactic had plunged them into greater danger than they could handle.  While Coriantumr had been so interested in taking away the Nephite refuge of the north lands, he had neglected to plan a good one for himself.  He considered his conquered city of Zarahemla a refuge, but it was too far away to reach, so his army was surrounded and he lost his life.

Also note that all the armor the Lamanites had doesn’t seem to have done them much good because the battle was “exceedingly bloody.”  The Lamanites had only fought unarmed, unarmored civilians up to that point, and possibly the Nephite armies have more experience fighting an armored foe and inflicting wounds through or around armor than the Lamanites do (assuming the Lamanites hadn’t trained for it before the campaign.)

33 And it came to pass that Moronihah took possession of the city of Zarahemla again, and caused that the Lamanites who had been taken prisoners should depart out of the land in peace.
34 And thus ended the forty and first year of the reign of the judges. (Helaman 1:14-34)

The Lamanite army left in Zarahemla seems to have been no match for Moronihah’s experienced army, since it says Moronihah took possession of the city of Zarahemla again.

It might be argued that the Nephites should have retained all the Lamanite prisoners to prevent their coming again to battle and as workers to fortify the inner cities, but Moronihah continues his father’s merciful tradition of releasing Lamanite prisoners. 

So, at the end we see Coriantumr, who was thought to be such a wise man, turned out to be not very smart after all.  The only reason he succeeded at the beginning was because on the whole his plan was so foolish the Nephites never thought something like that would be attempted.  (Yes, folks, stupidity still has the potential to surprise us.)  Once the surprise was over, the Nephites were able to exploit the weaknesses of Coriantumr’s plan.  He killed and terrorized a lot of people, and he made it obvious to the Nephites that they needed to fortify in the center of the land as well, but his strategy left the Nephite military virtually unopposed, and his gains were only temporary.  

Another thing we see in this story is a lot of “supposing.”  Everybody is supposing things that don’t quite turn out to be accurate. 
·      The king of the Lamanites supposed that Coriantumr could stand against the Nephites with his strength and great wisdom and gain power over them.
·      The Nephites supposed the Lamanites would not attack Zarahemla, so they didn’t have enough guards there to defend them or even to warn them of attack.
·      Coriantumr supposed that the Nephites’ greatest strength was in the center of the land, so he thought that if he could blitz to the center and take cities out really quickly it would rid him of virtually all Nephite opposing forces.
·      Moronihah supposed the Lamanites would not dare to come into the center of Nephite lands to attack.

Who gets a chance to correct their faulty assumptions?
·      The Lamanite king doesn’t find out that Coriantumr wasn’t a good person to lead his armies until his beaten soldiers trickle in from Nephite territory.  If Moronihah hadn’t been merciful and let the Lamanites go, the king would probably wouldn’t have learned until even later.  As it is, when he finds out the truth, there is no opportunity to fire Coriantumr, regroup, and get a better plan.  The Lamanite invasion is over.
·      Coriantumr had a chance to correct his faulty assumption that the Nephites’ greatest strength was in the center of their land when he saw that there was no real army to oppose him as he blitzed through.  He should have wondered why he hadn’t seen any standing armies.  He should have made some kind of effort to find out where he might expect to meet real opposition.  Instead, he kept on working his plan, supposing that the Nephites were even weaker than he thought.
·      Moronihah, once he learned where the Lamanites had attacked and where they were heading, saw that his previous assumptions had been faulty, and he sent Lehi’s army to head the Lamanite army and brought his other armies up from behind.  We don’t know how he got his information, but somehow he found out the truth and acted on it.
This shows us that if we find signs that our assumptions are faulty, we should not dismiss them, but seek out more information.  We need accurate information in order to act wisely.  Coriantumr’s faulty assumptions led directly to his army’s defeat and his own death.  Moronihah’s faulty assumptions led to a large slaughter among his people, and only discovering the truth and acting on it enabled him to save who was left.

The Nephites learned is it was no longer enough to fortify and protect the periphery of the land.  Now the center of the land must be protected as well.   This has application to our families.  It is not enough to fortify and protect the family members who go out into the world for work and school because Satan finds a way to blitzkrieg through to the home itself, targeting those who remain, which may be a mother and young children. 

We noted earlier that when Coriantumr got possession of Zarahemla, the city fortifications became a prison to the judge Pecumeni when he wanted to escape.  This is worth thinking about.  Family rules and commandments can be like fortifications that keep a family safe, but if the people running things—parents or siblings who babysit--are oppressive and destructive, they can make those rules feel like a prison that must be escaped.

If you notice, Coriantumr wanted to obtain the north parts of the land, so he made a bee-line for Bountiful.  The north parts of the land were considered a refuge for the Nephites, a place they could flee to if pressure from the Lamanites got too heavy.  In our lives, the temple is our place of refuge to which we flee for some respite when life gets too much for us.  Satan knows that, and he will do whatever he can to try to deprive us of that refuge.  He will try to make us sin in ways that will make us unworthy to go. 

Finally, we learn that Satan is just as willing to attack in stupid ways as he is to attack in clever ways.  Even if his goals (and those of his minions) are ultimately foolish, that doesn’t matter to him because if he can’t win, he will still be pleased if he can cause widespread misery and suffering.