Why Iraqis Should Read The Book of Mormon: Terrorism, Secret Combinations, and the Surge

Iraq Map
Many people more qualified than I have commented on why the war in Iraq has been such a hard slog. I know honest people who believe that the war was at best a terrible mistake and at worst an evil conspiracy. However, I do not believe that the war was a mistake. I still think it was the right course of action. I was in favor of the war before it began and I had no illusions at that time that it would be easy, short, or wildly successful.

Aside from the debate over the motivation and justification for the war, there has been plenty of criticism about how the war has been conducted. Certainly there have been plenty of mistakes and bad decisions. However, realistically there is no such thing as a strategy or plan that can guarantee victory from the outset. Enemies are not automatons whose reactions can be perfectly calculated, anticipated, and prepared for. They are intelligent, creative people who are unexpectedly inventive and cleaver.

Winning a war is in some ways like writing a computer program. No matter how well you think you know the parameters from the outset, it is an ongoing iterative process of constant adjustment, learning, refactoring, rethinking—and it usually takes longer than you expect.

The change in strategy nicknamed “The Surge” that happened in Iraq this year appears to be working. The numbers of both civilian and soldier deaths have significantly dropped for a sustained period. That doesn’t mean that the enemy might not find a way to counter our strategy, but we have reason to hope that we can be victorious.

What has been the central obstacle to stability in Iraq? Thousands of well qualified pundits have analyzed this problem with many different answers.

I would like to offer a very Mormon perspective to that question.

Book of Mormon
Lately I have thought that the people of Iraq would benefit greatly from widespread reading of The Book of Mormon, not because of its theology, but because of what it teaches about government stability.

The central obstacle to stability in Iraq is the same as in the Book of Mormon: Secret Combinations.

The term “Secret Combination” is probably unfamiliar to non-Mormons. A Secret Combination is “an organization of people bound together by oaths to carry out the evil purposes of the group.”

The Book of Mormon describes one such group this way:

And they did enter into a covenant one with another, yea, even into that covenant which was given by them of old, which covenant was given and administered by the devil, to combine against all righteousness.
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Therefore they did combine against the people of the Lord, and enter into a covenant to destroy them, and to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.
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And they did set at defiance the law and the rights of their country; and they did covenant one with another to destroy the governor, and to establish a king over the land, that the land should no more be at liberty but should be subject unto
kings.

At least a portion of The Book of Mormon is given to demonstrating how Secret Combinations destroy civilizations and warning against them. In the book, the prophet Moroni writes :

And it came to pass that they formed a secret combination, even as they of old; which combination is most abominable and wicked above all, in the sight of God;
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For the Lord worketh not in secret combinations, neither doth he will that man should shed blood, but in all things hath forbidden it, from the beginning of man.
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And now I, Moroni, do not write the manner of their oaths and combinations, for it hath been made known unto me that they are had among all people, and they are had among the Lamanites.
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And they have caused the destruction of this people of whom I am now speaking, and also the destruction of the people of Nephi.
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And whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold, they shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of his saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground for vengeance upon them and yet he avenge them not.
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Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.
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Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up.
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For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people, for it is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies; even that same liar who beguiled our first parents, yea, even that same liar who hath caused man to commit murder from the beginning; who hath hardened the hearts of men that they have murdered the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out from the beginning.
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Wherefore, I, Moroni, am commanded to write these things that evil may be done away, and that the time may come that Satan may have no power upon the hearts of the children of men, but that they may be persuaded to do good continually, that they may come unto the fountain of all righteousness and be saved.

Because of this Book of Mormon theme of Secret Combinations, many Latter-day Saints are predisposed to believe in Conspiracy theories of secret cabals plotting to overthrow the U.S. Government. (I have mixed feelings about such theories. Read my previous thoughts on the subject: Conspiracy Theories).

Some months ago I was reading this excellent article written in June by David Kilcullen , who is a Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser, a civilian position, on the personal staff of American General David Petraeus, explaining the reasoning behind the new “Surge” strategy. I noticed a striking similarity between his description of the actions of the enemy in Iraq and the Gadianton Robbers (who are the primary example of a Secret Combination in the Book of Mormon).

He writes:

(a.) The enemy needs the people to act in certain ways (sympathy, acquiescence, silence, reaction to provocation) in order to survive and further his strategy. Unless the population acts in these ways, both insurgents and terrorists will wither, and the cycle of provocation and backlash that drives the sectarian conflict in Iraq will fail.
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(b.) The enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed. (The enemy is fluid because he has no permanent installations he needs to defend, and can always run away to fight another day. But the population is fixed, because people are tied to their homes, businesses, farms, tribal areas, relatives etc). Therefore—and this is the major change in our strategy this year—protecting and controlling the population is do-able, but destroying the enemy is not. We can drive him off from the population, then introduce local security forces, population control, and economic and political development, and thereby “hard-wire” the enemy out of the environment, preventing his return. But chasing enemy cells around the countryside is not only a waste of time, it is precisely the sort of action he wants to provoke us into. That’s why AQ cells leaving an area are not the main game—they are a distraction. We played the enemy’s game for too long: not any more. Now it is time for him to play our game.
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(c.) Being fluid, the enemy can control his loss rate and therefore can never be eradicated by purely enemy-centric means: he can just go to ground if the pressure becomes too much. BUT, because he needs the population to act in certain ways in order to survive, we can asphyxiate him by cutting him off from the people. And he can’t just “go quiet” to avoid that threat. He has either to come out of the woodwork, fight us and be destroyed, or stay quiet and accept permanent marginalization from his former population base. That puts him on the horns of a lethal dilemma (which warms my heart, quite frankly, after the cynical obscenities these irhabi gang members have inflicted on the innocent Iraqi non-combatant population). That’s the intent here.
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(d.) The enemy may not be identifiable, but the population is. In any given area in Iraq, there are multiple threat groups but only one, or sometimes two main local population groups. We could do (and have done, in the past) enormous damage to potential supporters, “destroying the haystack to find the needle”, but we don’t need to: we know who the population is that we need to protect, we know where they live, and we can protect them without unbearable disruption to their lives. And more to the point, we can help them protect themselves, with our forces and ISF in overwatch.

The Book of Mormon description of the Gadianton Robbers bears many similarities to the enemy Al-Queda thugs in Iraq: The live in the mountains and wilderness without permanent places to defend, making them fluid. They manipulate the people through attempts to gain sympathy, acquiescence, silence, or reaction to provocation by intimidation, murder, and secret plots. They seek power and wealth, and to topple governments and destroy freedom. These terrorist groups in Iraq are more similar to the Secret Combinations as described in the Book of Mormon in action and composition than anything U.S. Conspiracy Theorists describe.

Like the Secret Combinations of the Book of Mormon, the terrorists recruit among the people. In The Book of Mormon, the leader of the Gadianton robbers sends a letter to the leader of the Nephites that one can easily imagine being written by enemy terrorist leaders in Iraq to the citizens of one of the cities in Iraq, where he declares his cause just, and invites the people to join their combination or be destroyed.

Like the Book of Mormon, the secret combinations in Iraq have members in the various level of Government who use their positions to further the cause of the group.

If we are to be victorious in Iraq, the Iraqi people must recognize Secret Combinations, reject them, and protect themselves from them. The “Surge” strategy appears to be helping them do just that.

This topic could be discussed in greater detail, but this article is too long as it is. So a couple of closing questions:

I suspect that if the Iraqis were to be introduced to the Book of Mormon they would find much in common with the Book of Mormon peoples and their own experience with secret combinations in a way that American citizens cannot understand. Might that similarity someday open the door to introduce them to the Church and the Gospel?

If Mitt Romney were to win the U.S. Presidency, what role would the Book of Mormon’s teachings concerning Secret Combinations play in his approach to Iraq Policy and the War on Terrorism in General? I think that would be a more interesting question regarding how his Mormon religion would inform his policy than what has been heretofore discussed.

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8 Responses to Why Iraqis Should Read The Book of Mormon: Terrorism, Secret Combinations, and the Surge

  1. An excellent, thoughtful analysis. We’re back to Hugh Nibley’s famous quote: “Woe unto the generation that understands the Book of Mormon.” (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 1957.)

    If you don’t already have it, you may want to track down a copy of Warfare in the Book of Mormon (FARMS, 1990).

    [Actually, you’ll probably want to find a library copy or one belonging to a friend; Amazon.com lists 9 used copies at prices starting at $140 and going up to $300. Ouch! Looks like it’s time for FARMS to reprint this one; in the meantime, I’ll hold on to my copy.]

    Anyway, Dan Peterson has a chapter in there entitled “The Gadianton Robbers as Guerrilla Warriors”, and there are other chapters that touch upon your themes, but in a general sense. I think your fit to the specific situation in Iraq is dead on. ..bruce..

  2. I tend to agree, however one way we’re “winning” finally (and tentatively) is by supporting grass roots groups. Often local militias. However this might well be seen as merely picking one secret combination above an other.

  3. … I do not believe that the war was a mistake. I still think it was the right course of action. I was in favor of the war before it began and I had no illusions at that time that it would be easy, short, or wildly successful.

    That’s a good summation of my feelings on the war as well.

  4. Stephanie & Danithew: Thanks.

    Bruce: Thanks. I have heard Dan speak about Gadianton robbers and Guerrilla warfare. Fascinating stuff.

    Clark: Good Point about the Militias. For a facinating, and I think related look at Militias as Secret Combinations, check out this disturbing article in the Washington Post from back in March 2007 about Militias in the slums of Rio de Janeiro Brazil: In Rio’s Slums, Militias Fuel Violence They Seek to Quell

  5. While I agree there are many parallels between the terrorists and the Gadianton Robbers, I don’t think the Surge resembles the Nephite response to the Robbers at all. My impression is that the strategy (in the BoM) was almost entirely defensive. In fact, there’s that moment when the people want to go and seek out the Robbers and they are counseled that if they did so, they would be delivered into the Robbers hands.

    So I think maybe we could learn as well as the Iraqis.

  6. Kim Rowlands

    Thanks for your post. I am doing a paper on Insurgency and Guerrilla Warfare and came across this paragraph

    In latter-day scriptures, secret combinations are groups of conspirators who plot and initiate works of darkness for evil and selfish purposes. Secret combinations have existed since the days of Cain (Moses 5:51). Satan is their author (2 Ne. 26:22), power and gain are their motives (Ether 8:15, 25), and conspiracy is their method of operation (Hel. 6:22–24). Secret combinations may be brotherhoods, groups, societies, or governments. They operate in secrecy to perform evil acts for the purpose of gaining power over the minds and actions of people. Mormon Encyclopedia

    It supports the thesis you make and to be frank with you that the definition of insurgency is almost identical with secret combinations.

    Terrorism is a modus operandi used in insurgencies as well as guerrilla war such as Hizb’allah uses

    I think the Book of Mormon warning needs to be extended far and wide to all peoples, especially when it is these secret combinations tearing down good governments and it’s people everywhere

    Thanks again

    Kim R

  7. tim

    I studied this subject a little a couple years back and found some good references in “A Companion to your Book of Mormon Study” by Ludlow. From page 232, “Although the Nephites were commanded by the Lord not to begin a war, they were also counseled by him: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies. (Alma 43:46). The Lord further instructed the nephites: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. (Alma 43:47). Thus the nephites felt justified in resisting the invasion of the Lamanites, so long as the Nephites were fighting for their lives, their homes, and their liberty.” and from page 235, “Although the Npehites weree permitted by the Lord to fight for their rights and liberties when attacked by the Lamanites, nevertheless they had been warned by the Lord “never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives. (also see 3Ne3:20)
    So, from the context of the Book of Mormon, the Lord absolutely did support the Nephites in war they felt was needed to protect their liberties and families. The question for us becomes weather or not we think Iraq fits in this same context. I personally have wondered some about the whole Afganistan vs. Iraq thing, and still don’t know how to sort that out. I guess what we can say is that we can’t say definitely that Iraq isn’t more germane to our defense, as these kind of things tend to have many layers of secrets the general public will never know about. One thing that stands out in the verses directly dealing with war is the extent to which the Nephites concerned themselves with the fact that many of their enemies would be killed and thus stop their opportunity to repent in this life, should they change. From this standpoint, it makes it hard for me to justify Iraq based on the evils of their former dictator, Saddam, as some have tried to do. I don’t think it is the job of America to try to correct the wrongs of countries and dicatators around the world; as the Lord makes clear many times, these kind of things often bring to pass his purposes. How much pain and suffering would we stop without having the grand perspective of the Lord, and the ultimate effects these things bring to pass in the lives of his children?

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