Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Why did the Nephites have confidence in Mormon as a commander?

And it came to pass that I did go forth among the Nephites, and did repent of the oath which I had made that I would no more assist them; and they gave me command again of their armies, for they looked upon me as though I could deliver them from their afflictions. (Mormon 5:1)

It is interesting that the Nephites thought Mormon could deliver them from their afflictions. It is hard to know whether they thought he could make everything better, or whether they thought military victory was the be-all-end-all of success, or whether they hoped victory could give them breathing room they needed to fix other things.

Another question came to me too here: What evidence is there that the Nephites’ confidence in Mormon’s military leadership was well-placed? There is so much written about Captain Moroni in the Book of Alma, so what record is there of Mormon’s skill as a commander? The Nephites would not have resorted to him if he didn’t have some skills.

As I looked for the answer to this question, I realized that Mormon really downplays his own role as a military leader and any credit in Nephite victories. While he went into great detail as a historian on the clever tactics and practical hows of Captain Moroni and Helaman and Teancum in the past, he is very self-effacing about his own victories. Here and there he might drop a few words about fortifying or gathering or protecting key points or hint at a motivating speech, but otherwise he’s very brief, saying simply, “we beat them” or “we withstood them” or something of that sort, preferring to wrap his efforts in with the army at large.  And usually at the same time that he notes a victory, he also makes mournful spiritual observations about the wickedness of the people.

Considering the pride of the Nephites, Mormon’s style of leadership would have been hard to take. They probably felt he was a bit of a downer. It is extraordinary he was given command by these people in the first place; he wasn’t the type to draw attention by tooting his own horn.

Now here’s an odd thought: Mormon observed the Nephites put him in charge of the armies at the beginning because he was “large in stature” (Mormon 2:1) in his sixteenth year. The way he puts it, we get the sense that the Nephites were incredibly shallow to put that much trust in Mormon’s callow youth just because he was a big guy.  You also get the idea that Mormon wasn’t qualified for the position, but did his best anyway. This angle takes a dim view of both Mormon and the Nephites.

But if we take into account Mormon’s humility, it might be he was downplaying it. Turn it around and we could easily imagine a proud Mormon saying, “The Nephites cleverly chose me to lead their armies when I was only 16 years old—younger than Captain Moroni—because my observations suggested I would be excellent at military strategy and my large stature made me a poster child for men of war.”

It is probable that Mormon downplayed himself deliberately to keep himself humble when he could have let his position go to his head.  In the end, his humility allowed him to see the impending doom of the Nephites coming closer, even while that doom may have seemed sometimes on occasion to be masquerading as triumphant victory.

This suggested me that humility is a skill to practice even in victory or opportunity. Mormon’s life essentially proves to me it is necessary to spiritual survival. It will enable us to see the truth, piercing the comfortable illusions of society. It will also put us out-of-step with those around us, and we have to accept that.


Frank Pellett said...

I think much of Mormon's military career came at the same time he was abridging the records of the wars of Capt Moroni, and in that time he lost any good thoughts he had toward it. Even toward the end of the Capt Moroni account, it devolves into "just another pointless war", so by the time he gets to his own account, he'd rather just get the facts out and as much good spiritual stuff as he can find.

Michaela Stephens said...

That's possible. But I would think the records of how Captain Moroni fought honorably and led a righteous people would highlight to him the sad state of those in his own day.
I'm curious about what parts of the Alma war chapters strike you as written with an attitude of "just another pointless war."

Thanks for stopping by.