It is interesting to read Ammoron’s letter to Captain Moroni in Alma 54:16-24 and see how it reveals his fraud and lies. Let’s analyze it and see what we can find.
16 I am Ammoron, the king of the Lamanites; I am the brother of Amalickiah whom ye have murdered. Behold, I will avenge his blood upon you, yea, and I will come upon you with my armies for I fear not your threatenings.
Ammoron claims Captain Moroni has murdered Ammoron’s brother Amalickiah, yet it was done by Teancum, a military man, done as an act of war while Amalickiah was acting as a military general. Amalickiah’s death was a military objective, not a crime against a civilian, so to call it a murder is spin for the purposes of manipulation. Even so, to use a whole army to avenge a so-called murder is still overkill. And to punish all the Nephites for one act that one person did is injustice. So there are at least three layers of wrongness in it.
Also, Ammoron says he doesn’t fear Captain Moroni’s threatenings, but when we read Captain Moroni’s letter reproduced in the same chapter, it doesn’t seem like Captain Moroni meant to be very threatening. Captain Moroni knew Ammoron wouldn’t listen to threats of hell and damnation, but he used them anyway. He didn’t really promise death unless Ammoron didn’t withdraw. And when Captain Moroni says they will seek their first inheritance, he only promises blood for blood and life for life, which is more retaliatory than offensive-aggressive. He also threatens with an army of women and children, which was not meant to be seen as a threat to Lamanite warriors. In short, Captain Moroni just wants to appear threatening without actually scaring Ammoron because of how he’s trying to get more prisoners than in a one-to-one exchange.
Back to Ammoron’s letter.
17 For behold, your fathers did wrong their brethren, insomuch that they did rob them of their right to the government when it rightly belonged unto them.
The problem here is differing ideas of what the right to government should be based on. In the Lord’s economy, the right to government is based on righteousness, so as soon as righteousness is gone, goodbye to authority. However, the Lamanites persisted in believing the right to government is based on family seniority. They didn’t even consider all the Biblical cases to the contrary, such as Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, none of whom were the firstborn.
18 And now behold, if ye will lay down your arms, and subject yourselves to be governed by those to whom the government doth rightly belong, then will I cause that my people shall lay down their weapons and shall be at war no more.
Ammoron asserts the war would end if the Nephites would just subject themselves to be governed to the rightful government, according to his determination. The thing is, he’s been arguing the Nephites should have been governed by Lamanites. One problem: the succession of Lamanite kings had been usurped by Amalickiah and Ammoron, who were Zoramites (they claimed). Yes, Amalickiah and Ammoron were the real usurpers. So even if the Nephites decided to be governed by a real Lamanite successor, they would still have to fight Ammoron to bring that man to the throne. So this argument of Ammoron’s is a fraud.
19 Behold, ye have breathed out many threatenings against me and my people; but behold, we fear not your threatenings.
20 Nevertheless, I will grant to exchange prisoners according to your request, gladly, that I may preserve my food for my men of war; and we will wage a war which shall be eternal, either to the subjecting the Nephites to our authority or to their eternal extinction.
Ammoron makes a Lamanite advantage out of exchanging prisoners according to Moroni’s skewed exchange rate. After all, it would help his war effort.
Also, realistically, if the Lamanites are so determined to war against the Nephites, what kind of governors would they be if the Nephites had agreed to submit? Can you live peacefully with people who have been trying to kill you? Can you feel safe ruled by people who have had an ancient tradition of hating you?
21 And as concerning that God whom ye say we have rejected, behold, we know not such a being; neither do ye; but if it so be that there is such a being, we know not but that he hath made us as well as you.
Ammoron dismisses the idea of a God existing, but says that if God did exist, He made the Lamanites as well as the Nephites. Clearly he means this as a bid for human dignity, but what he doesn’t realize is the implications. If God exists, then Ammoron really was sinning by rejecting the God who made him.
God does exist. Those who offend him most will tend to be most interested in wishing His existence away. But try to please Him by repenting and keeping His commandments, and an astonishing certainty and tender little signs of His existence will reappear.
22 And if it so be that there is a devil and a hell, behold will he not send you there to dwell with my brother whom ye have murdered, whom ye have hinted that he hath gone to such a place? But behold these things matter not.
This is Ammoron’s attempt to deflect guilt by pinning it on Captain Moroni too. “You say I’m going to hell because I’m a murderer? Well, you’re just as bad!” The reality is no matter the sins, we’re all in danger of hell unless we escape by applying the atonement of Christ and repenting.
Ammoron ends what he no doubt considers speculation with the dismissive statement of “But behold these things matter not” as if it is all useless mythology that has no practical application to life. From the unbelieving point of view, talk of God and the afterlife and the state of the soul doesn’t matter in the here and now if one thinks one can’t know one’s state. But the actuality is that we can know our state and it matters very much because our beliefs determine how we act. The faithfulness of now determines how our eternity will be spent, and the test of it is whether we can keep the faith even when the greatness of the reward is not yet seen. We have the words of some prophets who have seen what the righteous can look forward to, but mortal tongue can’t full express it. We must take it on faith.
“Pressed” implies “forced,” as if Zoram were kidnapped or drafted at sword-point. This sounds like Ammoron and others of the wicked Zoramites began to modify their narrative about the beginnings of their people to fit in better with the Lamanite narrative of being wronged by the Nephites, even though Zoram’s status was probably improved by going with the Lehites. If we didn’t have Nephi’s record of what really happened, we might believe this side of the story.
24 And behold now, I am a bold Lamanite; behold, this war hath been waged to avenge their wrongs, and to maintain and to obtain their rights to the government; and I close my epistle to Moroni.
Again, unless Ammoron proposes to have the Lamanite people rule the Nephites, he will be the one governing, and he is the usurper.
Ammoron’s letter reveals his character and how far he has fallen from the truth since leaving the Nephites. Though he claims justice, his hypocrisy stands out everywhere. He styles himself “wronged” when he’s only wronged himself by going over to the Lamanites and forgetting all the gospel he’d once been taught, even those stories about how his first father came to the land so long ago.
So why does Mormon include the full letter from Ammoron in his abridgment? He could have just summarized it by saying Ammoron was not intimidated, that he agreed to Moroni’s request in order to get back fighting men, and he promised eternal warfare so that the Lamanites could get back their supposed rights to government. Yet this is not what the Mormon put in. He thought a copy of apostate Ammoron’s full letter could be of use to future generations.
One thing I notice is that Ammoron harps on his personal grievance that his brother Amalickiah was murdered. Yet we know it was a legitimate act of war because we have the story of Teancum’s actions.
Consider, if we didn’t know anything about the conditions of Amalickiah’s death, we might wonder if maybe Ammoron might have a point. But because we understand the truth, we can see Ammoron is trying to manipulate and induce guilt with blame that actually should fall on himself for dissenting from the Nephites in the first place with his brother.
How can this help us today?
This letter shows us that there will be people who defect and join the ranks of the church’s enemies out of personal grievance against the church, yet if the full truth were known, it would be clear that their own wrong behavior brought down the actions against them which offended them. They will make claims that will sound legitimate to those who don’t know the whole story, and they will sound as if all they want is justice and their rights. But if the full story was known—and frequently it can’t be publicly known because the church keeps information about individuals confidential on its side—it would be clear that these individuals want injustice and usurpation, not justice.
This story provides us with a pattern to use to discern those with false-yet-likely-sounding grievances so that we don’t waste time questioning and doubting our leaders or the church.