Alma chapter two describes a dark time in Nephite history: a civil war erupts between the legitimate government led by Alma the Younger (the freemen) and an illegitimate but power grabbing faction led by a man named Amlici (the kingmen), who, we are told, was motivated by priestcraft.
How were the freemen victorious in their struggle? The Book of Mormon teaches us.
The biggest key is preparation, both temporal and spiritual.
From Alma 2:12, we read that the freemen “were aware of the intent of the Amlicites,” and this knowledge led them to prepare all sorts of weaponry: swords, cimeters, bows, arrows, etc. Alma 2:13 tells us that “thus they were prepared to meet the Amlicites at the time of their coming.”
Note that awareness of intent was crucial, and such led to temporal preparedness. Also note that even in civil war, the freemen seemed not to be the aggressors, but instead, waited, as the record indicates, for the Amlicites to attack them. This is the Book of Mormon model of a defensive war.
These are powerful keys with diverse application. First, our current political situation: in Vietnam, did we understand the intent of the enemy? Bob McNamara, one of the leading figures in the planning and execution of the war, indicates that we did not. The Vietnamese largely saw the Vietnam conflict as part of the continuing struggle against Western imperialism and colonialism (so Bob McNamara discovered in the 1990s) which had defined much of Vietnamese history. We saw it as a struggle against communism, as a civil war, where we were defending and supporting the good guys.
Do we understand the intent and motivations of our enemies? Do we even understand who our enemies are? These questions have applications in both the current political sphere and also in our personal landscape, in our struggles against tyranny, oppression, and wickedness of temporal and spiritual varieties. Understanding intent is key to preparation.
From a political standpoint, we were completely unprepared for the attacks of 9-11. It was (and still is largely) a critical misunderstanding of intent. Yes, we understand Al Qaeda is waging war on America, but we misunderstand the motivations, as Bin Laden stipulated in his fatwa of 1996: our unfettered support of Israel, our staging of troops in lands holy to Muslims, and our brutal treatment of Iraq in the 1990s, including bombings and sanctions. This misunderstanding persists to this day. Until we understand the intents and motivations of those who seek to destroy us, we largely fight in vain. This is a lesson we should have learned from Vietnam.
Much could be said of intent from the perspective of spiritual conflict. Do we not today, as in Alma 2:2, see powerful figures, like Amlici, who draw many away after themselves? Do we not today, as in 3 Nephi 11:29, see the adversary, the father of contention, stirring up hearts to anger? Do we not today see his plans to make men miserable?
Alma 2:28 provides another critical key for conquering in battle. The Nephites encountered a numerous enemy, “as numerous almost,” the scripture says, “as the sands of the sea.” The odds were stacked against them. But the scripture tells us
The Nephites…prayed mightily to [God] that he would deliver them out of the hands of their enemies, therefore the Lord did hear their cries, and did strengthen them, and the Lamanites and the Amlicites did fall before them. –Alma 2:28
Mighty (one may say powerful) prayer was a key factor in the Nephites’ deliverance. Despite being outnumbered, despite being caught crossing a large river, in perhaps a strategic weak spot, the Lord delivered them because of their spiritual preparation. Note that the spiritual preparation occurred before the attack: they had prepared themselves spiritually as they were preparing temporally.
So it is with us: we need concurrent temporal and spiritual preparation to combat the enemies of our day, be they people, organizations, movements, philosophies, or ideologies, and to be victorious. Both are necessary to win the day.