The story of Helaman’s 2060 stripling warriors (the subject of Sunday School lesson #33) is another of the most cited and, I assume, the more beloved among young men and boys. However, the main idea broached in the lesson, that these young men were righteous and obeyed “every word of command with exactness,” could easily be lost in the midst of their military valor. The stripling warriors, like many of those who serve in military service around the world today, are indeed heroes—but, Eliza R. Snow observes that there are other, more valuable ways to be a hero:
The Hero’s Reward
by Eliza R. Snow
Well may the fire of glory blaze
Upon the warrior’s tread;
And nations twine the wreath of praise
Around the hero’s head;
His path is honour, and his name
Is written on the spire of fame.
His deeds are deeds of courage, for
He treads o’er gory ground,
Amid the pride and pomp of war
When carnage sweeps around;
With sword unsheath’d, he stands before
The foe, amid the cannon’s roar.
If such the meed the warrior gains—
If such the palm he bears—
If such insignia he obtains—
If such the crown he wears,
If laurels thus his head entwine,
And stars of triumph round him shine!
How noble must be His reward
Who, ‘midst the crafts of men;
Clad in the armour of the Lord
Goes forth to battle, when
The powers of darkness warfare wage,
And Satan’s host around him rage.
Who goes opinion to unbind,
That reason may go free,
And liberate the human mind
From priestly tyranny.
To sever superstition’s rod,
And propagate the truth of God.
Who wars with prejudice, to break
Asunder error’s chain.
And make the sandy pillars shake
Where human dogmas reign.
Who dares to be a man of God,
And bear the spirit’s sword abroad!
Above all earthly, his shall be
An everlasting fame;
The archives of eternity
Will register his name
With gems of sacred honour rife—
His crown will be eternal life.
The Wasp, v1 n47, 22 March 1843, p. 1
Millennial Star, 1 April 1846, p. 112
While the decision of how to serve, military or a mission or otherwise, is not always a stark, either-or choice, Snow is clearly suggesting that serving the Lord is of more value and more important than military service. And, she suggest that the reward for serving the Lord must be much greater than “the Hero’s Reward” for military service.
I also like a more subtle idea broached in Snow’s poem; found in her characterization of the war missionaries engage in. Snow sees this war as one on prejudice and error instead of a war on evil or against others. I like how she suggests that missionaries are those: “Who goes opinion to unbind, / That reason may go free.” Often we and they are both “bound” to our erroneous opinions, and in the process reason is imprisoned. I think that is exactly what happens.
* * * * *
One of the more interesting heroes in the Book of Mormon is Teancum, a figure who is left out of the current Gospel Doctrine lessons, although he is contemporaneous with Helaman and the stripling warriors. In particular, the story of his death, which is celebrated in this (IIRC frequently reprinted) poem, might be seen as problematic:
Death of Teancum
by Benjamin F. Cummings
Teancum, O Teancum! Is this thy form so cold!
Can it be true that thou art dead, O soldier, strong and bold!
Shall we thy comrades ne’er again fight side by side with thee?
And shall we ne’er again be led by thee to victory?
Teancum, O Teancum! How can we part from thee!
How can we spare thee from our ranks! Must such bereavement be!
O father, brother, leader brave! Thy valor never failed;
Though sword point pressed upon thy breast thy stout heart never quailed.
The wicked Lamanitish king, bloodthirsty Ammoron,
With all his dark skinned hosts were camped within walls high and strong.
Protected thus, they slept secure, the king within his tent,
When thou, Teancum, scaled the walls, on righteous vengeance bent.
Thy purpose was to end a war caused by a traitor’s schemes,
And by one blow to put an end to his ambitious dreams.
Thy thought was that the traitor’s death, encampassed by thy hand,
Would bring quick peace and happiness to thy distracted land.
‘Twas midnight’s hour and darkness did thy panther movement hide;
The tent where lay the sleeping king thy keen eye soon espied.
The tent door, yielding to thy touch, let in a star’s faint ray
That dimly showed the couch whereon the slumb’ring monarch lay.
Thou poised thy javelin with true aim above that wicked breast;
Another instant and its point within that heart found rest.
A single cry escaped the king, his servant heard the sound –
One shout – a thousand glittering swords the king’s tent did surround.
An eagle’s wings could not have saved thee from thy fate so swift.
E’er thou couldst move ten steps away thy heart in twain was cleft.
Thy courage rash had cost thy life, and now around thy bier
The Nephite soldiers bow in grief for one to them so dear.
Teancum, O Teancum, in battle’s dread array,
Where arrows flew and sword blades flashed and hate and blood held sway,
When comrades fell around thee fast, and foes fierce vengeance took,
Thy voice ne’er failed thy troops to cheer, thy true hand never shook.
Teancum, O Teancum, thou soldier, statesman, friend!
Within thy heart so great and brave did all the virtues blend;
A patriot, a leader, a champion of the right,
A tyrant’s foe, a friend of peace, a soul of lustre bright.
Teancum, O Teancum, the Nephite nation weeps
Around the grave where now in peace our hero sweetly sleeps;
And to our children we will tell, and in our scriptures write
The story of thy deeds and worth, and of thy last brave fight.
As digitized at Keepapitchinin
In some ways Teancum’s heroism includes some of the same ambiguity that we find on occasion in today’s heroes. Teancum acts out of anger against the Lamanite King, he uses subterfuge and assassination to accomplish his goals and gain an advantage over the Lamanites. His story is more espionage than military strategy in a sense, and the Book of Mormon story leaves me wondering whether or not Moroni, Helaman and the other Nephite leaders approved of his actions, which cost Teancum his life while benefiting the Nephites. Of course, war itself is morally ambiguous at best, which perhaps makes Eliza R. Snow’s poem the better example for use with this Gospel Doctrine lesson.