The bloody War against Terrorism

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The bloody War against Terrorism

Postby Aventia » 01 May 2011 20:28

The bloody War against Terrorism

or the ring can't be used to do good (an editorial published on the January 20. 2004)

The conservative and liberal elite has portraying G.W. Bush's war against terrorism as a sort of crusade of good against evil. They have even tried to enlist J.R.R. Tolkien for this endeavor. In their view, the coalition led by the United States is like the "league of the free people", who fight against Sauron at end of the second Age - that is, the Taliban and Bin Laden... or Saddam Hussein.

Actually, this comparison is deeply mistaken. The main character of Tolkien's trilogy is not a person but a thing - the Ring itself. What does this ring represent, and where can it be found in the current world? The Ring is absolute power. It makes its owner irresponsible, enslaves him, deprives him of his personality and free will. While making him absolutely powerful, it absolutely corrupts him. On the other hand, the Ring gives only the illusion of ruling and ordering the world and society. Tolkien would hardly have taken a position in favor of the war on terrorism. He no doubt would have found it hard to join the "New World Order" at the end of the Cold War.
Frodo, pursued by the Black Riders, is so frightened that to escape them, he puts on the Ring. But instead of becoming invisible, he becomes plainer to the Black Riders, the Ring having the same nature of evil as they have. Probably Tolkien himself would not object to the following concept: when one nation, convinced of the justice of its cause, employs a weapon of terror against its enemies, and in doing so becomes possessed by the very evil that it is fighting to destroy in the enemy."
Tolkien himself was horrified by war. On October 23, 1944, he wrote: "I have just been out to look up: the noise is terrific: the biggest for a long time, skywide Armada. I suppose it is allright to say so, as by the time that this reaches you somewhere will have ceased to exist and all the world will have known about it and already forgotten it... With regard to the blasphemy, one can only recall (when applicable) the words "Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do" - or say. And somehow I fancy that Our Lord actually is more pained by offences we commit against one other than those we commit against himself, especially his incarnate person."
Indeed, he defined Adolf Hitler as a "ruddy little ignoramus" who is "ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light." And he was caught by a deep and bitter hilarity when he heard "of that bloodthirsty old murderer Josef Stalin inviting all nations to join a happy family of folks devoted to the abolition of tyranny and intolerance!"
One might think that Tolkien opposed totalitarian regimes while appreciating democracy as the perfect form of government. Actually, not only was he a proud supporter of the English monarchy, he also strongly criticized democracy: "I am not a democrat only because humility and equality are spiritual principles corrupted by the attempt to mechanize and formalize them, with the result that we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride, till some Orc gets hold of a ring of power - and then we get and are getting slavery." With regard to the atomic bomb, he wrote: "Mordor is in our midst. And I regret to note that the billowing cloud recently pictured did not mark the fall of Barad-dûr, but was produced by its allies - or at least by persons who have decided to use the Ring for their own (of course most excellent) purposes."
In fact, it is clear from the very beginning that the Ring can't be used against the enemy. The Ring "is altogether evil" - explains the elvish lord Elrond - Its strength is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have already a great power of their own. But for them it holds an even deadlier peril. The very desire of it corrupts the heart. If any of the Wise should with this Ring overthrow the Lord of Mordor, using his own arts, he would then set off himself on Sauron's throne, and yet another Dark Lord would appear. And that is another reason why the Ring should be destroyed: as long as it is in the world it will be a danger even to the Wise." Elrond, Galadriel and Gandalf have recognised this danger, whereas Saruman as underestimated it.
Power can't be defeated by merely changing who holds it; indeed, a system that allows to dominate others should be eliminated, so that nobody could have such means to dominate their fellows. After all, Frodo's goal in "The Lord of the Rings" is to destroy the Ring, not to hide it or to give the Ring to somebody who is perhaps "good and wise." Since the Ring is evil in itself, it will always turn any action undertaken with it into evil, as a boomerang, whether or not its owner intended to do good.
Tolkien himself pointed out that one should always be sure to join the right party. He didn't believe a good end may justify evil means, nor that good means can make an evil end good. If evil were only the absence of good, for instance, then the Ring could never by anything other than a psychic amplifier; it would not betray its possessors, and all they would need do is put it aside and think pure thoughts. In Middle-Earth we are assured that it would be fatal. However if evil were merely a hateful and external power without echo in the hearts of the good, then someone might have to take the Ring to the Mount of Doom, but it need not be Frodo: Gandalf could be trusted with it, while whoever went would have only to distrust his enemies, not his friends and not himself.
Often, Tolkien has been accused of dividing people - or at least the characters of his novels - into black and white or good and evil. No grey zone may exist. This isn't true: Tolkien, as a Christian, strongly thought that good and evil do exist and are separate; at the same time, he knew that people are both good and evil. Good guys may be wrong, and bad guys may change their minds. The hero of "The Lord of the Rings" fails his mission and finally isn't strong enough to destroy the Ring - it will fall into the fire of Mount Doom only thanks to his past mercy in saving Gollum's life. On the other hand, in contact with Frodo, Gollum moves very close to repentance und healing.
Of course, this does not mean that one must choose every time between two alternatives, nor that choice is easy. "The utter stupid waste of war - wrote Tolkien - not only material but moral and spiritual, is so staggering to those who have to endure it."
However, JRRT did not share pacifist ideas, since they can't explain the reasons for war. "All things and deeds - he said - have a value in themselves, apart from their 'causes' and 'effects.' No man can estimate what is really happening at the present sub specie aeternitatis. All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labours with vast power and perpetual success - in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in."
From the perspective of "The Lord of the Rings", war does not decide the future of the world. Of course, battles are important. However, they are not decisive. Even if they can be won by the good, they have no meaning without the success of Frodo's mission. Indeed, the Dark Lord seems to be very likely to advance until the end, when the Ring is destroyed thanks to Providence. Such an unexpected end is among the deepest beliefs of Tolkien. In order to define it, he coined the word eucatastrophe: it is the sudden happy turn in a bad story that pierces you with a joy bringing tears. And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Hope, as it is for peoples that look in Galadriel's mirror. In spite that the whole Nature is chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death can be broken, and that triggers the feeling of a sudden relief like a lost limb had suddenly snapped back. Things in the World really work so, destruction is followed by reconstruction, life comes suddenly from dead.
If you accept such a concept, you will hardly find either aggressive nationalism or cowardly pacifism attractive. When one holds the hope that world goes on within a greater plan, therefore any action has to be judged in the context of the whole story, and one will not fall into uncertainty. In Tolkien's view, people are responsible for their actions before God, so that they must act according to His law, even though human laws are different, if they want to gain after their earthly existence. Sometimes we need to be able to change our minds or even to disobey authority, when that authority invites us to go against our conscience. This was the case for Luthien Tinuviel, which opposed to her Father, the King.
So, today's war on terrorism seems a war to own the Ring, rather than a war to destroy it. Neither G.W. Bush's nor Al-Qaida's supporters fight for liberty; they all fight to strengthen their own power. One can hardly choose to join one or the other - and should only ask whether there is still a place for common, peaceful people in the lands of the opposing war lords. Indeed, the only rational position is that of Treebeard: "I am not altogether on anybody's side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me... And there are some things, of course, whose side I'm altogether not on; I am against them altogether."
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