If there’s one thing that I know for certain about the Book of Mormon, it’s that there is no shortage of seemingly miraculous events. Even Homer himself would have difficulty creating such improbable story lines as are seen regularly on the pages of this volume of Latter-day Saint scripture.
Two such scenes depict a series of events which I like to call the ‘All or Nothing Wars’. The first can be found toward the end of Alma, in which an unlikely band of warriors miraculously defeats their opponent without suffering a single fatality among their own ranks. The second is a tragic tale from chapter 6 of Mormon, in which the good guys fall from grace, followed by their entire civilization being wiped from the face of the earth.
After reflecting upon these two tales, I wondered, “What are the odds of an army marching into battle, and either (A) coming out unscathed, or (B) becoming entirely annihilated.”
So I decided it was time to do some research. I launched into an investigation in which I would study one civilization and the history of war throughout their existence. For this study, I selected my own nation, the United States, as the subject of inquiry.
Since 1775, American forces have been involved in at least 65 different wars and conflicts throughout the world (to arrive at the figure of 65, battles/campaigns within each war are not counted individually, only the total war itself). As I reviewed the list of conflicts, one glaring statistic surfaced. In no case has the US ever participated in a war in which not a single life was lost.
In the process of examining casualty counts, I also discovered another fascinating trend. When I compared the number of troops that fought in each war, and the duration and intensity of the conflict, to the number of total casualties in the war, I discovered that the rate of casualties significantly decreased over time. What this means is that in the early days of American history, more soldiers died more frequently; whereas in recent battles the troops are being killed fewer and farther between.
I created a formula for determining the rate of troops dying in wars. It goes as follows: Take the total number of deaths and divide that by the total duration of the war in days. Then take that number and divide it by the total number of troops who served in that particular war. Then multiply the final number by 100 which renders the number as a percentage.
The following are the results of plugging my formula into the data for several of the most significant wars in American history.
American Revolutionary War – April, 1775 to September, 1783 (3,060 days total) – 134,500 American troops (estimate), 50,000 American casualties and 25,000 American deaths (estimates)
This is equivalent to 0.006074% of all combatants to die per day of war (therefore, the ‘death rate’ of this war is 0.006074%).
Civil War – April 12, 1861 to June 22, 1865 (1,519 days) – 3,164,000 total troops (estimate), total casualties unknown, total deaths 625,000 (estimate)
Civil War death rate: 0.013004% (highest of any American war on record)
World War I – (US involvement) April 2, 1917 to Nov. 11, 1918 (589 days) - 4,743,826 total American troops, 320,518 total American casualties, 116,516 American deaths
WWI death rate: 0.004170%
World War II – (US involvement) Dec. 7, 1941 to Sep. 2, 1945 (1,366 days) – 16,596,639 total American troops, 1,076,245 total American casualties, 405,399 American deaths.
WWII death rate: 0.001788%
Viet Nam – (US involvement) Nov. 1, 1955 to Jan. 15, 1973 (6,286 days) – 536,100 total American troops, 211,454 total American casualties, 58,209 American deaths
Viet Nam death rate: 0.001727%
Gulf War – August 2, 1990 to February 28, 1991 (210 days) – 697,000 total American troops, 1,231 total American casualties, and 294 American deaths
Gulf war death rate: 0.000201%
Latest Iraq War – March 20, 2003 to August 31, 2010 (2,721 days) – 1,400,000* total American troops, 36,395 total American casualties, 4,432 American deaths
* - Unable to locate total number of American troops to serve in Iraq – 1,400,000 is a conservative estimate based on 2007 figures of 1.3 million. By fall 2007, the U.S. had already begun troop draw downs.
Iraq war estimated death rate: 0.000116%
With the exception of the huge spike during the Civil War, the rate of American deaths in war has dropped exponentially over 235 years. I believe this is largely due to advances in warfare technology. As our weapons become more powerful and more advanced, we also become more efficient and safe in the way we fight our wars. Advances in science and medicine have also greatly increased recovery rates for those critically injured in battle. Someone who might have once died from an infection in a bullet wound may now return to a normal healthy life.
Nowadays humans are battling each other from thousands of miles away with pinpoint precision. A couple of decades ago, humans were capable of attacking from several miles away. A couple of centuries ago, humans could hit each other from only a few hundred feet away. But anciently, before the days of remote control drones, nuclear bombs, or any form of firearm for that matter, humans were forced to meet face to face in combat. As a result, casualties and death in battle would have been exponentially higher than they were even during the days of the American Revolution.
This leaves one puzzling question—the Book of Mormon miracle conundrum: How could anyone expect a makeshift army of 2,060 inexperienced youth, facing a veteran force that has supposedly dedicated their lives to destroying this particular race of people, to not only defeat their opponent, but escape the battle without a single fatality?
The Book of Mormon does mention in Alma 57 that 200 of the “stripling warriors” suffered significant injury to the point that they “had fainted because of the loss of blood,” and that every warrior had “received many wounds.” Are we to assume that every one of these 200 warriors that lost significant quantities of blood were all able to survive until they received proper medical treatment? And what would qualify as “proper medical treatment” in America more than 2000 years ago? After they had lost enough blood to faint, how were they able to recover without the aid of transfusions? If these young men had lost enough blood to faint, at least some of them would be reasonably expected to continue bleeding out until they died.
And what’s with all of the absolutes in the Book of Mormon? EVERYBODY had many wounds, but NOBODY died. Realistically, what are the odds of such an occurrence?
Speaking of absolutes, we now come to the second half of the discussion—Mormon chapter 6. Roughly 400 years after one group of Lamanites displayed such ineptitude as to not be able to kill a single child while meeting in battle, another group of Lamanites proves so efficient in war that they managed the total annihilation of an entire race. These warriors not only pulled off the complete genocide of the Nephite civilization (with the possible exception of Moroni), but in doing so they were also able to obliterate any trace of their existence on the continent—bones, weapons, and all.
At what point do some of the leftover Nephites say to themselves, “Gee, it looks like these Lamanites are pretty serious about destroying every last one of us. Perhaps we should get the hell out of here and find a safer place, free of these bloodthirsty savages”? How could one group of people manage to pull of such an absolute victory without making a few mistakes, allowing some of the population to escape, seeking refuge elsewhere?
After seeing the extreme improbability of a civilization being involved in even ONE ‘all or nothing war,’ using the modern United States as an example, one can only imagine the odds against the same civilization, using primitive technology, taking part in TWO ‘all or nothing’ battles, and both of them against the same opponent no less.
Even the United States, which most Mormons believe to be the “promised land” and the government established for the express purpose of ushering in Christ’s millennial reign, in more than 200 years has never been the beneficiary of such divine intervention. Not once has an American military campaign resulted in zero fatalities. Likewise, no American army has ever succeeded in completely annihilating another nation. The Civil War, by far the bloodiest conflict in US history, resulted in the death of only 2% of the nation’s population. Even the Japanese culture survived after the US struck them with the most powerful display of force ever deployed by man. And look at Japan now—enough said.
If God does not produce similar miracles today, why should anyone believe that this sort of intervention was commonplace anciently?
The only probable conclusion is that the Book of Mormon is complete fantasy—the product of a wild imagination—based on the war scenes alone. And I haven’t even mentioned any of the several anachronisms of the Book of Mormon associated with the battle sequences. That is another story for another day.