UPDATE 11 January 2010: Kenny and Jake Ballentine, two brothers who make films together, have just announced the upcoming release of a new movie ‘Trouble in Zion’, a documentary on the Missouri Mormon War. Several years ago, Kenny Ballentine read the essay attached to the below posting and talked with me about it while making the film. Click here to find out more about their movie.
The 1838 Missouri Mormon War (see LeSueur’s great book) resulted in at least 22 fatalities, millions of dollars worth of property destruction and the displacement of 15,000 people. Fought in a context of fierce rhetoric, sectarian and paramilitary violence, weak governmental authority and a privatization of military force, it actually bears significant resemblance to what some security scholars (e.g. my former PhD supervisor Mary Kaldor) have called the “New Wars.” These contemporary conflicts in places like the Former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Columbia, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan are characterized by the targeting of civilians; powerful non-state actors; prolonged, seemingly intractable, hostilities; connections to organized crime; and exclusivistic ethnic, religious and sectarian ideologies.
In a previous posting, I have compared Joseph Smith to the religio-military commanders who sometimes arise in such conflicts, but I thought it would be worth thinking more broadly about the political and economic context. I have attached here an essay I wrote in graduate school comparing the Missouri Mormon War and the “New Wars.” In it, I explored the similarities between them, but also looked at how globalization — “intensification of global interconnectedness” — has transformed organized violence. On one hand, if the Mormons and Missourians had had access to global illicit finance, profligate arms traffickers, sophisticated weaponry and/or high-tech communications systems, the war could have been much worse. On the other hand, if the war had been covered by a global media, attracted the intervention of peace negotiators or led to sanctions against Missourian or Mormon leaders, maybe the situation could have been contained.
To read the essay, click here. I would be interested in people’s comments.