Thoughts on the Cost of War in The Book of Mormon: Alma 2-4

How much does a war cost?

There is the financial cost: armor, clothing, and weapons all cost money.  And there is the money lost from soldiers training, waiting, and fighting, where they could have been working in a productive way.  And of course war always results in destruction of property: buildings, homes, fields, roads, clothing, etc.

The more costly aspect is in lives.  War inevitably results in human deaths.  Soldiers are killed in battle (and perhaps in poorly conceived training exercises to a more limited extent).  Even more egregious, civilians are killed.  Modern-day missiles and bombs tend to spread and scatter destruction around, often resulting (inadvertently we are often told, or as part of unavoidable “collateral damage”) in civilian deaths, that is, deaths of non-combatants.  Deaths of women and children are especially shocking and egregious.

The horrors of war extend to nearly all times in world history and nearly all places.  Thus, war is expansive in its reach, historically and geographically.

War is a key societal element in the Book of Mormon civilization.  The same costs associated with our wars today were associated with Nephite wars.  For instance, consider Alma chapters two and three, where a dispute leads to an armed rebellion (essentially a civil war) between rival groups battling for control of the Nephite government.

Consider some of the losses that resulted from this war:

And it came to pass that the Nephites did pursue the Amlicites all that day, and did slay them with much slaughter, insomuch that there were slain of the Amlicites twelve thousand five hundred thirty and two souls; and there were slain of the Nephites six thousand five hundred sixty and two souls.  (Alma 2:19)

Later, we are told (Alma 3:1) that the fighting was so all-encompassing that those who had been slain were ultimately not numbered: there were too many to be counted!

We see the terrible destruction that affected non-combatants:

Now many women and children had been slain with the sword, and also many of their flocks and their herds; and also many of their fields of grain were destroyed, for they were trodden down by the hosts of men.   (Alma 3:2)

Destruction of lives and property was far-reaching.  How far-reaching?  Mormon repeats the theme:

But the people were afflicted, yea, greatly afflicted for the loss of their brethren, and also for the loss of their flocks and herds, and also for the loss of their fields of grain, which were trodden under foot and destroyed by the Lamanites.  And so great were their afflictions that every soul had cause to mourn; and they believed that it was the judgments of God sent upon them because of their wickedness and their abominations; therefore they were awakened to a remembrance of their duty.  (Alma 4:2-3)

Let me repeat the phrase: “Every soul had cause to mourn.”  Everyone was hurt and negatively affected by the conflict.  In a sense, everyone lost.  There were no winners.

In this patriotic time of war between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, how do we remember war?  Is it wonderful and heroic, a means to a desired end?  Do we remember the costs and tolls of war?


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