Ammaron declares the same thing that Jarom did (Jarom 1:9–12). There have been conflicts with the Lamanites and the promise of the land applies. The significant difference is that Jarom declares that the Nephites were sufficiently righteous to prevail due to the constant preaching of the prophets, priests, and teachers (Jarom 1:11–12). In Ammaron’s account, the negative promise has been applied: “the Lord did visit them in great judgment.” The final result is the preservation of the Nephites, but the contrast to Jarom indicates that along with the increasing warfare there are more times when the conflict is unfavorable to the Nephites.
History: The report is cryptic: The enemies of the Nephites (the Lamanites) destroyed the more wicked among the Nephites, but the righteous were preserved and the city was “deliver[ed].” It seems likely that a major Lamanite offensive attacked the city of Nephi, not just the surrounding territory and villages. Apparently they succeeded in penetrating into the city, killing a large number—more than the amount of casualties expected from an engagement between armed warriors alone.
No military action could have been precise enough to have singled out all of the “wicked” and spared the “righteous.” Casualties are inevitable, even among the righteous. If we return to the scenario constructed around Jacob’s discourse, he was addressing the city’s wealthy and probably politically powerful elite. While the religious pendulum had swung to righteousness at the end of Jacob’s life, social pressures away from righteousness were great. The typical integration of religion and politics makes it probable that the wealthy and powerful were espousing some other version of religion than that preached by Jacob, Enos, and the other prophets.
The true gospel’s disciples, however, were apparently not among the rich and powerful. Assuming that the elites occupied one section of the city while the poor occupied another suggests an explanation for the differential destruction visited upon them. First, it is unlikely that the wealthy would have been personally engaged in the fighting, which reinforces the idea that the Lamanite army had penetrated the city itself. Second, the target of Mesoamerican warfare was not destruction, but dominance—capturing community leaders and, if they were not held for ransom, subjecting them to public humiliation and ritual sacrifice. Killing or carrying away these leaders for sacrifice could legitimately be described as “destruction,” since they were no longer present, much as the removal of the leadership of Judah to Babylon “destroyed” Jerusalem, even though it still stood and people still lived there. Similarly, any booty taken from the city would more likely come from the wealthier sections. The inferior economic/political status of the “righteous” would have made them undesirable objects of capture. Thus, the social/religious distinction in the city of Nephi led to the divergent fates of the “wicked” and the “righteous” that Amaron recorded.
Predictably, after this devastation, the surviving “righteous” would naturally have recognized their salvation and increased in religious fervor while even nonbelieving survivors would have been strongly motivated to repent as part of recovering from the invasion.
Although this scenario is necessarily speculative, it seems that the Lamanites did not establish a permanent presence in the land or city of Nephi, but they would have reduced or broken the Nephite alliance with surrounding dependent towns. The Nephite political region would have moved into the Lamanite political sphere of influence. Combined with the fact that the Nephite population became significantly poorer and less powerful, the increasing numerical and political superiority of the surrounding Lamanite populations would have accelerated.
This hypothetical reconstruction will become even more important later in the book of Omni when Amaleki records the exodus of Mosiah1 and the righteous from that city.