Helaman 1:8 he...was tried according to the voice of the people, and condemned unto death
Paanchi's punishment seems harsh. He is condemned to death for his intent to commit treason in stirring up rebellion among the Nephites. However, in light of recent events among the Nephites, such a crime threatened the very fiber of their society. The decades of warfare had been because of those who had rebelled from the Nephites: the Zoramites, Amalickiah, Morianton, the kingmen, etc. Paanchi's rebellion could easily have led to a treaty with the Lamanites and more costly warfare. His sentence was necessary to cleanse the inner vessel. Unfortunately, his death was not enough to cleanse Zarahemla from wickedness.
Helaman 1:9 Kishkumen...murdered Pahoran
The entrance of Kishkumen onto the stage of Nephite history marks the beginning of the end for the Nephites. Mormon's commentary is as follows, in the end of this book ye shall see that this Gadianton did prove the overthrow, yea, almost the entire destruction of the people of Nephi (Hel 2:13). Kishkumen is the first of the Gadianton robbers and his murder represents the first crime which was supported by secret combinations.
Helaman 1:11 swearing...that they would tell no man that Kishkumen had murdered Pahoran
Many are the characteristics of Gadiantonism, or secret combinations, but one of the most typical is the covenant not to disclose wrong-doing. If any group covenants to conceal the wickedness of another member, the group qualifies as a secret combination. They have combined to be secret. Such covenants of secrecy are part of Satan's imitation act. He thereby imitates the covenants of sacredness which are part of the Lord's plan.
Helaman 1:12 Kishkumen and his band...did mingle themselves among the people
"Thus they became an underground organization, whose members' identity was 'not known unto those who were at the head of the government' (Helaman 3:23). And that explains how it was possible later on, in the midst of great peace and prosperity, for the chief of state, Cezoram, and after him his son and successor, to be murdered in office in such a way that the assassins were never discovered (Helaman 6:15). It is significant that the times of great prosperity and abundance were also the times when murder and intrigue were the order of the day, 'for behold, the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world that . . . they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murder . . . that they might get gain' (Helaman 6:17). The sequence is a natural one: with easy wealth comes the feeling of superiority which makes people status-conscious; and with a feeling for status comes a desperate need to acquire the one thing that will give status; and with the recognition of the all-importance of that one thing, any scruples that may stand in the way of its acquisition are pushed aside, even murder being permissible as long as one is not found out." (Since Cumorah, p. 363)
Helaman 1:16 the king of the Lamanites, whose name was Tubaloth
Tubaloth was king of the Lamanites but he was not a Lamanite by birth. As Ammoron's son, he was of Nephite descent. A common mistake is to assume that all the Lamanites were dark skinned and all Nephites were light skinned, but a careful review of Book of Mormon history indicates that there was all sorts of mixing between the two. This is particularly true at this time. The division between Nephite and Lamanite was based on religious grounds not race or geneology. And apparently, there was no prohibition to a Nephite's ascendancy to the Lamanite throne.
Helaman 1:18 because of so much contention and so much difficulty in the government
At the risk of wearying the reader, we should not belabor the point, but the only time that the Lamanites were ever able to make significant progress in their battles with the Nephites was when the Nephites were in the midst of internal strife. Internal strife naturally came only in times of Nephite wickedness but this problem had plagued Moroni for his entire career. Now his son Moronihah inherits the legacy of internal instability and its costly consequences.
Helaman 1:25 this march of Coriantumr...gave Moronihah great advantage
This chapter is as much a character study of Mormon as it is a history of Nephite battles. Mormon's personal history as a military tactical strategist colors the commentary. His focus is on the fatal error of Coriantumr's bold attack not on the tragedy of Nephite loss. Mormon was apparently a careful student of military history and his interest in the subject matter is evident.
Helaman 1:32 thus had Coriantumr plunged the Lamanites into the midst of the Nephites
Coriantumr's military strategy was at the same time boldly brilliant and fatally flawed. He had made great progress in attacking the center of the enemy's territory but by doing so had become surrounded. Following Mormon's example of how to be a student of military history, we can turn to other military campaigns which have made the same mortal mistake.
The most obvious is the Battle of the Bulge, which occurred as the Allied forces closed towards Germany near the end of WWII. In an incredibly bold move, Hitler ordered an all out offensive in the middle of the Allied line at Ardennes. His offensive was very successful, pushing Allied forces back for miles, costing thousands of Allied lives, and placing doubt and frustration into the hearts of many soldiers. But Hitler had made the mistake of getting his forces surrounded on all but one side. From a strategic standpoint Eisenhower saw this attack as Mormon viewed Coriantumr's-as a terrible mistake (See Citizen Soldier, by Stephen Ambrose). There are few military situations worse than being surrounded by the enemy. After the failure of the German forces to hold the line on three sides, their army was methodically pushed back to Berlin.