Missing The Point

The New York Times has a piece on The Two Towers and propaganda. Oddly enough, Viggo Mortensen, the actor who plays Aragorn in the films seems to show up to every interview wearing a shirt that says "No Blood For Oil".

Although he opposes the Bush administration’s prospective invasion of Iraq, Mr. Mortensen said he wore the shirt to protest something that hit even closer to home – the interpretation he keeps hearing of the new movie, which opens Wednesday, as both an allegory and an endorsement of the invasion.

"I don’t think that ‘The Two Towers’ or Tolkien’s writing or our work has anything to do with the United States’ foreign ventures," he told Mr. Rose, "and it upsets me to hear that."

I will give Mr. Mortensen some credit in that Tolkien never wanted the Rings trilogy to be an alegory, and vigorous defended it from any charges that it was. The Ring is not the atomic bomb, and Sauron was never meant to be Hitler, Stalin, or Saddam.

However, that does not mean that there is no message to the trilogy or the film. On the contrary, the message of the film is quite clear (and delivered in two moving speeches by the hobbits). Some things are worth fighting for, and once war is upon you, one cannot simply ignore it and hope all goes well. The message is that we all live in the same Earth, be it Middle Earth or today’s Earth, and when evil threatens one of us, it threatens all of us.

On the intentional level, "The Two Towers" is a grand adventure tale, in which good and evil are comfortingly clear. But even without the accidental echoes — evil or "Evildoers?" Sauron or Saddam? And how many towers? — the movie would have its own double edge. Dehumanizing the other guy is the first step in training soldiers and fighting wars. The danger is that this is what makes not just warfare palatable but extermination itself.

The goal is not extermination, the goal is to prevent evil from destroying everything. As one of the characters in the film notes, they cannot simply go back to their idyllic Shire and expect the war to pass them by – if they do not fight now, there may not be a Shire for very long.

In many ways, America wants to be that Shire, that place diembodied from the evils of the world. But after the last year, we must now realize that the situations in an Afghanistan or an Iraq are not disconnected from us. As Eowyn states in the movie, in one of Tolkien’s best lines – those who do not take up swords can still die upon them. It’s a lesson that the anti-war crowd has yet to learn, despite the 2,800 dead who proved it over a year ago.

5 thoughts on “Missing The Point

  1. “Some things are worth fighting for, and once war is upon you, one cannot simply ignore it and hope all goes well. The message is that we all live in the same Earth, be it Middle Earth or today’s Earth, and when evil threatens one of us, it threatens all of us.”

    Ah, yes, you’re halfway there. But you’re forgetting that part of living in the same Earth is actually having some respect for the other people on this earth. Fighting terrorism is one part of this- disease, famine, ozone depletion, global warming- these all have the potential to kill thousands of times as many people as the most heinous terrorist acts we’ve ever seen. Twenty-five million people in Africa are suffering from AIDS- and we’re doing very little. We haven’t signed the Kyoto protocols and our output of CO2 continues to increase (we’re at over 5 tons per person per year). We haven’t signed the international treaty banning land mines- along with such luminaries as Syria and North Korea- that’s some leadership. Warlords still control most of Afghanistan and al-Qaeda’s camps are once again operational- when are we going to go back and finish our job there? And when are we going to quit patting the House of Saud on the back and actually get serious about cleaning their house?

    Why aren’t we doing any of this? Because our token efforts to “help the world” are simply those which benefit us- being the US, and occasionally one of our lapdogs. Why do we want to spend billions of dollars fighting Saddam when we could spend it fighting AIDS?

    #1- War with Saddam is glamourous, and lets us use all those fancy (read: worthless) millitary toys we’ve paid billions for when we should have been worrying about putting together a better intelligence agency and anti-terrorism forces. We get to mop up the floor with his army, and once again beat our chests about how great the US millitary is as we broadcast the war around the world.

    #2- Iraq has LOTS of oil. Now that we’ve got a deal cut with the Russians, we get a share of it- thus we can continue to enjoy gas prices a fraction of those that the rest of the world sees.

    #3- It lets us crow about our great “humanitarian” action, even after we kill thousands with our bombs and missiles and level the infrastructure of an entire country. Sure, Saddam has killed an estimated 130,000 people- but that’s less than a fifth of the number that will die of AIDS in africa next year, and less than 10% of the number that will die of famine worldwide. Not to mention that the alterations of world wide weather patterns that are already occuring are resulting in storms that have had a devastating impact in Asian costal regions. I can go on all day, but I think I’ve made my case.

    If we really want to liberate Iraq, here’s how we do it-

    We don’t bomb civilian targets. Period. I don’t care if there’s a missile silo next to the day care, we aren’t going to hit it, and that’s that.

    We send in troops. I’d rather see 10,000 American troops bite the dust than 10,000 Iraqi civilians (and one of my best friends, Tom Lunde, is in the infantry and is getting ready to be shipped). Professional soldiers who sign up for the job have volunteered to put their life on their line. I think that the US millitary should have a higher mission than merely the defense of the US- the defense of all the people of the world from tyranny. We should look upon the death of an Iraqi as we would the death of an American- they’re both humans.

    We all live in the same world, after all.

  2. To add another comment- no, the anti-war crowd, with the exception of a few rabid leftists, realizes that America is not disembodied from the evils of the world. But it appears that the Bush administration hasn’t. They continue to ignore numerous evils, and refuse to take on the burden of leadership- which requires making compromises. If we want the European community to support our war, we’ve gotta sign their treaties, and that’s that.

  3. The message of the Two Towers may be clear but it does not follow that it is necessarily applicable to the present conflict in the manner you prefer.

    After all, the “two moving speeches by the hobbits” don’t tell us, in the present connection, what is worth fighting for and who against, do they? Perhaps what is worth fighting for is liberty and not nationalism and war, peace and justice and not more power for the US and Israel in the Middle East. Perhaps the evil that threatens us is subtler and closer to home than Iraqi dictators and Islamic madmen. Perhaps, as Mortensen has insightfully stated, Bush is a Saruman and not an Aragorn.

  4. To me the key question that the Lord of the Rings – both book and movie – poses is the allure and temptation of absolute power, as represented by the one ring.

    In our current real world of the US as the single one superpower, we have to question whether our leaders have fallen to the seduction of this near absolute power. How has Clinton used this power? How has Bush used this power? Has one been restraint and acted in conjunction with other nations? Has one been acting like he can dictate to other nations?

    Like many of us, Tolkien and the movie makers understand, that the temptation to use power to take and dispossess others is strong, and many of us do succumb.

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