23 I am Ammoron, and a descendant of Zoram, whom your fathers pressed and brought out of Jerusalem.
24 And behold now, I am a bold Lamanite; behold, this war hath been waged to avenge their wrongs, and to maintain and to obtain their rights to the government; and I close my epistle to Moroni.
One thing Captain Moroni had little patience for was hypocrisy. He was a man of integrity, and he expected integrity from other people. When he received word that Ammoron, the king of the Lamanites, wanted to negotiate for an exchange of prisoners, he responded with an offer, but he made sure there was no question where he stood on the topic of this war. The Lamanite army had invaded Nephite lands. The Nephites were merely trying to defend themselves. They were not on equal moral ground; the Lamanites were at fault.
In Ammoron’s response, he agreed to Moroni’s terms but then made it a point to tell his side of the story. The Lamanites were not in the wrong to attack the Nephites. Why? Because 550 years earlier, Nephi led part of the family away from his older brothers, Laman and Lemuel. The older brothers, according to Ammoron’s reasoning, had the right to rule over the entire family. Therefore, their descendants had the right to rule over the Nephites.
This argument was calculated to appeal to the Lamanite armies and to energize them. They had been wronged. They weren’t taking something away from these innocent Nephites; they were claiming what was rightfully theirs.
But there was a significant problem with this argument: Ammoron was a Nephite, not a Lamanite. He and his older brother Amalackiah had been born and raised among the Nephite people. Only when Amalackiah was rejected in his attempt to become king of the Nephites did they defect to the Lamanite lands, where Amalackiah became king of the Lamanites through a series of deceptions and murders.
Ammoron explains away this inconvenient fact in the following way: he and his brother were not direct descendants of Nephi but of Zoram, the servant of Laban who Nephi had compelled to join the family in the wilderness (1 Nephi 4:30-37). Never mind that Zoram later became one of Nephi’s most loyal supporters (2 Nephi 1:30), and that his family chose to follow Nephi, not Laman and Lemuel, and to call themselves Nephites (2 Nephi 5:6). Zoram was wronged by Nephi just like Laman and Lemuel were wronged by Nephi, which made Ammoron an ally of the Lamanites. The argument sounded plausible enough, and it was apparently convincing to the Lamanite armies who followed Ammoron, but it was based on falsehoods and distortions.
Moroni was furious when he read this letter. “He knew that Ammoron had a perfect knowledge of his fraud; yea, he knew that Ammoron knew that it was not a just cause that had caused him to wage a war against the people of Nephi” (Alma 55:1). As a result, he refused to negotiate for prisoners and he immediately began crafting a plan to rescue the Nephite prisoners without an exchange.
I think Mormon quoted this letter for a reason. He wanted us to see for ourselves how convincing Ammoron’s arguments might have been to the Lamanites. He also wanted us to sense Moroni’s frustration with an opponent who pretended to be sincere and respectable but whose motives were corrupt and immoral.
Today, I will remember and seek to emulate Moroni’s commitment to truth. I will remember that Moroni’s sincerity and virtue were critical contributors to his eventual success, while Ammoron’s dishonesty and hypocrisy laid the foundation for his eventual defeat.