I read from Donald Kagan’s On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace last night. Nothing cheers you up quite like reading about hideous wars that could have been easily prevented with a mote of resolution and a troy ounce of planning.
In the Hannibal section, Kagan discurses a little bit on Rome’s foreign policy tendencies. Specifically he argues that the Roman patron-client relationship deeply influenced how Rome understood foreign affairs. They thought of their allies as their “clients” and often acted accordingly, both in bossing them around but also in feeling morally bound to protect them even if the clients were at fault. This insight illuminated aspects of Roman history for me that had been previously been dark. For instance, until later in its history, the Roman Empire was not technically one state. Instead, it was formally and juridically a system of alliances in which Rome took the leading role (hence all the confusing stuff in the bible about Pilate and Herod Whatshisnamia and all that). In other words, Rome made the whole Mediterranean world its clients.
The West has cultural tendencies in war and diplomacy too, most of which we probably take for granted. Victor Davis Hanson has made the argument about the Western way of war. Multiple scholars have pointed out how unique the Westphalian system is. There is even a good argument that the Anglosphere culture includes a distinctly traceable Anglosphere approach to warmaking and grand strategy that the United States and Britain have both shared. Think how odd it would be for a stranger to read about Western demands for unconditional surrender followed by deliberate efforts to remake and free the surrendered society. Even the actions of the totalitarian USSR in forming the Warsaw Pact out of its puppet states are hard to understand outside the Western context.
I’ve read some decent scholarship about Lehite (Book of Mormon warfare and diplomacy) in light of Meso-American culture and internal clues from the Book of Mormon. You can’t just assume that the Book of Mormon peoples in war and peace were up to exactly the same thing we’re up to when our countries fight and when our countries negotiate.
This morning I read chapter 2 of Mormon. The last two verses are about a treaty between the Nephites and the Lamanites. The details of the treaty stick out.
And in the three hundred and fiftieth year we made a treaty with the Lamanites and the robbers of Gadianton, in which we did get the lands of our inheritance divided.
And the Lamanites did give unto us the land northward, yea, even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward. And we did give unto the Lamanites all the land southward.
How odd. I can easily imagine a treaty in which the powers recognize each others claims to certain territory, or in which a defeated power gives the victor some land. But what to make of a treaty where the victor “gives” the defeated power the land the defeated power continues to occupy? One could conceive of a power so arrogant that it claimed that everything already belonged to it, but then why would the power allow other nations to give it land that it believed it already owned? Imagine a Versailles Treaty where the Allies graciously donate the German territory to the Weimar Republic and in return the Weimar Republic cedes the North American landmass to the United States. Imagine that, and you’ll see how odd this treaty is. Cultural assumptions and practices that we don’t share are clearly at play. Wherever we may be in the Book of Mormon, we’re not in Kansas anymore.