War, Politics, and Power of the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon includes details and principles of war that would have been impossible for young Joseph Smith to make up.

Although the Book of Mormon was published by Joseph Smith, a young man with little education and no war experience, it is remarkably accurate in its portrayal of war and politics. Hugh Nibley (1910–2005), former scholar and professor at Brigham Young University, introduces us to a two-volume work by Karl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege (On War), published in 1833, three years after the Book of Mormon was published. “The Book of Mormon reads as if it were written by a diligent student of this work,” Nibley declares. “This is another case of Joseph Smith’s timing to the split second.”

If the Book of Mormon had been published after Clausewitz’s book, says Nibley, “you could accuse [Joseph Smith] of stealing the whole thing, because it’s right out of Clausewitz, who was very active in the Napoleonic Wars.”

Nibley discussed principles, or “great maxims,” of war that Clausewitz addresses in his book and shows how they are demonstrated in the Book of Mormon. Following are three examples:

War is a way to gain political advantage. When people form political groups, they often have ambitions for greater power. Examples of such people in the Book of Mormon include Amalickiah, Nehor, Korihor, and many others. Nibley points out that these figures “started out with political parties and ended up uniting bodies in war.”

Invaders claim to be peace-loving and defensive and want the other side to give up their weapons. But a war without fighting is the easiest war to win. For example, when thieves attacked the Nephites, the leader wrote, “I hope that ye will deliver up your lands and your possessions, without the shedding of blood, that this my people may recover their rights and government” (3 Nephi 3:10).

“War is nothing but a duel on a larger scale,” writes Nibley, quoting Clausewitz. Each side has leaders who personify the army. It isn’t just the Nephites versus the Lamanites; it’s Alma versus Amlici, Amalickiah versus Moroni, and Shiz versus Coriantumr.

Nibley draws additional parallels between On War and the Book of Mormon in topics such as escalation, soldier self-sacrifice, combat, destruction, revenge, and many others. These sophisticated parallels would have been impossible for young Joseph Smith, translator of the Book of Mormon, to invent.

Read Hugh Nibley’s full article “Warfare and the Book of Mormon.”

Source: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

—Austin Burton, Mormon Insights
Photo courtesy of LDS Media Library.

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  1. The “war chapters” of the Book of Mormon can be some of the hardest to plug through as a reader, and yet they can also be some of the most important. When one reads about war in our day, it is often senseless and depressing. THe same was true for the Nephites. But when you look at the details, you can see how faith can remain whole and even be strengthened amidst times of turmoil.

  2. I agreE with Daniel’s post. SometImes the war chapters are the hardest to get through while reading the Book of Mormon. But when we read those chapters and look for nuggets of truth, we can find it. Moroni goes so far as to claim that “there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi” than during this time filled with war because they drew close to the Lord (Alma 50:23).

  3. The war chapters are what interested me in the Book of Mormon. It was so true, to understandable, so frustrating. With the war chapters, you see the faith of families, the trust in the Lord, the fallacies of pride, the corruptibility of power. You see sacrifice, service, and true love. Were it not for the war chapters, I likely would not have gained my faith in the gospel.

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