This article was written shortly after terrorists attacked the United States on 9/11/2001.
The tumultuous and tragic events of recent days have left Americans everywhere stunned and shocked. "How could this happen to us?" seems to be the question on most lips.
This author, like most of his fellow citizens, sat riveted to the television set on September 11th by the surreal events as they unfolded in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. However, unlike most, it came as little surprise to this writer. Because of his reading of similar events in Nephite history, only the timing of the terrorist attack seemed premature.
A slightly different sequence of events
As readers of Parallel Histories: The Nephties and the Americans know, this author has been predicting a drought-related economic collapse in the U.S. for several years, ever since the thesis was first published in 1989. This prediction was based on the great Nephite drought and famine, as related by Mormon in the book of Helaman.
In Nephite history, our blueprint for American history, Mormon recorded that a severe drought in Helaman’s time, which caused a total economic collapse and famine among the Nephites and Lamanites, immediately preceded the onset of the Gadianton’s terrorist reign. It appears that this sequence of events will not hold in our time. While a drought still clutches the states west of the Rockies, it has yet to reach the magnitude or proportions of the Nephite debacle.
The drought may turn out to be only a contributing factor in our time, or we may be called upon to endure a double dose of tragedy: global terrorism and famine brought on by drought. Only time will tell how these two primary phases of Nephite history will play out in American history.
It may be that this barbaric act of terrorism will precipitate the financial crisis in our time. Stocks, especially, seem very weak, perhaps signaling the onset of a deep financial disaster. Judging by the early reaction of the stock markets and the airline industry, these terrorist acts have staggered an already weakened economy. As the effects of this economic bombshell ripple out through our economy, we may well see our economy collapse as surely as the World Trade Towers collapsed in the wake of the airplanes' impact.
A review of recent history and its Nephite parallels.
In Nephite history, the drought came on the heels of a great political debate characterized by wicked politicians who gained control of the highest offices in the Nephite culture. This corruption was widespread and pervasive, according to Helaman.
The parallel histories thesis indicated that something similar was to happen in our time. Indeed, the Clinton administration saw a literal fulfillment of this parallel.
The Nephite debate saw a contest for the hearts and minds of the people, a struggle between Nephi and the corrupt judges that ruled the Nephites. The similarities were overwhelming to someone in our time who vividly understood the Nephite corruption and its counterpart in America’s government. The logic and the rhetoric employed in the Nephite government scandals, as recorded in Helaman, were virtually identical to those heard in the modern media during the Clinton administration. The same rhetorical parsimony and flawed logic that typified the Clinton impeachment scandal in our time prevailed in the Nephite scandal. (See “The Book of Mormon as Prophecy.”
The duplicity of the wicked judges is easily seen in Helaman, thanks to the inspired interpretation of a prophet of God. However, that same type of deceit went virtually undetected by most Americans during the years of the Clinton scandals. Had all Latter-day Saints clearly understood the parallel nature of the two cultures, they would have been able to easily detect the deception perpetrated upon them by modern politicians.
Those scandals brought on by corruption in Nephite government were followed by a severe drought that caused a devastating famine. The loss of life was significant. After a period of recovery from the famine when the Nephite society rebuilt, the renewed war with the Gadianton robbers plunged the country into a new kind of battle for freedom.
The parallel histories thesis calls for many more such terrorist attacks like those we have seen in the recent past. Seen as commonalities in Nephite history and their protracted battle with the Gadianton bandits, the modern struggle with terrorism is no different. As with so many of the parallels, this one differs only in timing and scope.
Testing the validity of the Book of Mormon as prophecy
In this author’s opinion, the events of the last half-century bear out the validity of the parallel histories thesis. The many, stunning similarities between Nephite and American history now include the advent of institutionalized terrorism. What was once speculation on this author’s part over a decade ago has now become historic fact: the two histories parallel one another!
This also makes an open-and-shut case for the theory that the Book of Mormon is as much prophecy as history. We and our Nephite cousins are nearly indistinguishable. Therefore, the history of one becomes the prophecy of the other. No wonder Mormon felt compelled to write his marvelous book. In his place, any of us who love the gospel and the work would want to do the same.
Make no mistake. This eventuality, too, will play out in our time much like it did in Nephite times. We are not carbon copies, but we are unmistakable reflections.
What happened to them, what may happen to us.
As pointed out in the original book, Parallel Histories: The Nephites and The Americans, the commonalities are remarkable, and the modern terrorists are easily recognizable in the reflection of the Gadianton robbers.
The Gadianton robbers "did commit murder and plunder; and then they would retreat back into the mountains, and into the wilderness and secret placed, hiding themselves that they could not be discovered …." (Helaman 11:25.)
The robbers had no formal government, nor were they located in one country with recognizable boarders. Today’s terrorists are virtually identical. They also have retreats where they hide to train for and plot more nefarious deeds.
The bandits preyed upon Nephites and Lamanites alike.
"Now behold, these robbers did make great havoc, yea, even great destruction among the people of Nephi and also among the people of the Lamanites." (Helaman 11:27.)
The U.S. and Western European nations, the Nephite counterparts, have not been the only target of modern Gadianton robbers. Russia and other Eastern European countries, the Lamanite counterparts that were once part of the old Soviet Union, have been plagued by terrorism.
The bad news for us, because we could suffer the same fate, is that no Nephite army could prevail against the robbers, "… who dwelt upon the mountains, who did infest the land; for so strong were their holds and their secret places that the people could not overpower them; therefore they did commit many murders, and did do much slaughter among the people." (3 Nephi 1:27.)
Eventually the toll taken by Gadianton terrorism became so great that two historical enemies, the Nephites and the Lamanites, combined efforts to eradicate their common foe.
"… the Gadianton robbers had become so numerous, and did slay so many of the people, and did lay waste so many cities, and did spread so much death and carnage throughout the land, that it became expedient that all the people, both the Nephites and the Lamanites, should take up arms against them." (3 Nephi 2:11)
The implication of the parallel histories thesis is that much the same thing will happen in our time.
The struggle in Nephite times drug on for years and was a painful, prolonged affair that seemed impervious to solution. To make things worse, the Nephites and their leaders apparently argued among themselves about how to defeat this powerful enemy.
"And in the fifteenth year they [the robbers] did come forth against the people of Nephi; and because of the wickedness of the people of Nephi, and their many contentions and dissensions, the Gadianton robbers did gain many advantages over them." (3 Nephi 2:18.)
The problem may be equally intractable in our time.
Battle after battle, the Nephites could not prevail over the robbers until their leader, governor Lachoneus, hit upon a remarkable, if not extreme, solution.
"Yea, he sent a proclamation among all the people, that they should gather together their women, and the children, their flocks and their herds, and all their substance, save it were their land, unto one place.
"And he caused that fortifications should be built round about them, and the strength thereof should be exceedingly great. And he cause that armies … should be placed as guards round about to watch them, and to guard them from the robbers day and night. (3 Nephi 13,14.)
Then, Lachoneus appointed a “chief captain” of the armies, named Gidgiddoni, who implemented the final steps in the stratagem to draw the Gadianton robbers out of hiding, making them vulnerable. After two battles, one of which was the greatest known to that point in Nephite history, the Gadianton robbers were annihilated.
The Nephite’s success over terrorism is heartening, but their prolonged struggle portends the same for us. We will overcome terrorism in our time, too, but not without tremendous sacrifice.
The Nephite record gives the name of the Gadianton robbers’ leader as Giddianhi. Terrorism also has a name in our time: Osama bin Laden. The Nephites called their nemesis the Gadianton robbers; ours is called the Taliban and the Al Queda.
Reading Helaman and 3rd Nephi, one cannot help but be stunned by the remarkable similarities between the Nephite and American terrorism predicament.
Setting the record
Lest any reader be inclined to minimize the specific predictive power of the parallel histories thesis, thinking that all these predictions are more hindsight than foresight, more rhetoric than fact, consider the original exposition of this thesis and the context of world affairs at the time it was first published. Parallel Histories was written near the close of the Cold War, so the mindset was still America vs. Russia, U.S. vs. U.S.S.R., West vs. East. Contrary to all expectations at the time, this author predicted that hostilities between American and Russia would cease forever, that the old ‘us vs. them’ situation, which had endured for decades, would vanish. Yet it did. We now live in a politically different, more complicated world. Yet, consider how accurate were this author’s words, written over a decade ago, in 1989, regarding today’s reality.
"The modern equivalent of the Gadianton band should now be present if our time is, in fact, parallel to the period of Nephite history in question. The question is, “Who are they?” (Parallel Histories: The Nephites and The Americans, pp. 83-84.)
The predictive power of the parallel histories thesis made the answer to that question relatively easy.
"While the Gadianton robbers originated from within Nephite and Lamanite society, it may be that because of the wider scope of modern political interplay today’s Gadianton robbers originate on the periphery of the East/West interchange. The Gadianton robbers injected a third element into the duality that had existed in Nephite/Lamanite history up to that point. So it is that they must also be a third party to East/West relations today." (Ibid., p. 85.)
This assessment could not have been more accurate. Modern terrorism was born in the so-called Third World Nations.
"The Gadianton robbers were a secret combination, to be sure; but they were much more than that. Their first appearance in Nephite political problems was as a small conspiracy to take over the government. Assassination was one of their hallmarks. They were hard to attack because they hid in the wilderness or among the populace of cities where they mixed with the crowd. They surprised their victims by striking, seemingly, from nowhere—out of a crowd or out of the wilderness. After destroying an individual or a city, they disappeared again into the wilderness or into the crowd. They also kidnapped at will, taking hostages when it met their needs." (Ibid.)
This characterization of the Gadianton robbers clearly anticipated their rebirth as terrorists in modern times. The next paragraph foreshadowed their appearance on the world stage in our day.
"As they grew in numbers, they became more overt in their action, waging war on Lamanite and Nephite cities. Their strength was their ability to move within the existing political structures to further their ends, and at the same time they were an autonomous group capable of taking what they wanted by military force, if necessary. Their stock in trade was fear.
"Where do we find such a group today? What conspiratorial group forms today’s third column and finds asylum in sympathetic third World countries? What group routinely resorts to assassination, kidnapping and the holding of hostages? Obviously these are the international terrorist groups, which match the description of the Gadianton band in every particular. Their principal weapon is fear, and they have added a new wrinkle to their modus operandi: hijacking and bombing." (Ibid., pp. 85-86.)
Once again, the perspective proffered by the parallel histories thesis allowed an extremely accurate forecast of the origins and tactics of today’s terrorists. However, the most chilling part of this two-decade-old insight sounds like today’s headlines.
"Struggle as they might, the Nephites and the Lamanites were unable to defeat the Gadianton robbers for many years. That leaves the modern world with the disagreeable prospect of a prolonged struggle with international terrorism.
"The prospects that this bodes for our time are truly remarkable. Will terrorism grip the world to the extent that no one will be safe? Will terrorist action assume the dimensions of full-scale warfare? Will the west and the East be forced by the growth of worldwide terrorism to cooperate to such an extent that they will stand as one people against this new menace? That appears to be the implication of the parallel history thesis." (Ibid., 86, 87.)
Interestingly, as this is written, the media report that Russia has formally offered to assist America in its fight against terrorism, completely fulfilling this part of the prediction.
Some things alike, some not
It is unlikely that events in our time will play out exactly like those of Nephite times. Still, the similarities are striking and well worth keeping in mind because they give us a cognitive lens that we can use to bring into focus the events of our time.
We may yet be forced to adopt draconian measures, as the Nephites did, to defeat this enemy. Recall that every attempt to bring the robbers to justice met with failure until the Nephites hit upon a seemingly harsh and radical strategy as enunciated by Gidgiddoni.
"… we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us …." (3 Nephi 3:21.)
As this new conflict in our time begins to drag out months and years from now, as it surely will, we would do well to keep the Nephite struggle with the Gadianton robbers clearly in mind by not letting ourselves become disheartened by the protracted nature of this struggle, nor should we allow dissention and contention to weaken our resolve.
A positive message for our time
Latter-day Saints should take heart and solace from the Nephite record, the Book of Mormon. The Nephites successfully prosecuted this conflict in their day; it will be so in our time as well. That is the promise of the parallel histories.
If, in the give and take of national and international debate, the rhetoric of politicians and pundits seems confusing, if it seems unclear what or who to believe regarding today’s terrorism and how to deal with it effectively, the Nephite story gives us an accurate and enlightening, prophets’ perspective of where our loyalties and efforts should lie and what we may expect in the ensuing months and years. In that regard, the Book of Mormon is truly a roadmap or guide for our times in more specific ways than any heretofore envisioned. We would be well advised to pay heed to its message.
Will you heed the warning? Or turn a deaf ear?
Since most Saints have never noticed the truly parallel nature of the two histories, theirs and ours, this assessment begs a difficult question. How much longer will we overlook Mormon’s message and warning? Will we continue to close our eyes to the effort and sacrifice of prophets — both ancient and modern — to bring us this crucial understanding? As Mormons, can we any longer afford to callously disregard this unspoken, but clearly accurate and valid, facet of the Book of Mormon story as we have in the heretofore?
More than ever before, the Book of Mormon — and Helaman in particular — is strongly recommended reading for Saints in these latter days.
© Anthony E. Larson, 2001