Forum: Prospective Challenges

Discussing: Pacifisim in Middle-earth

Pacifisim in Middle-earth

Heck no! We won't go! Heck no! We won't go! I was sitting at a patriotic music concert tonight and having the mental conversation with myself I have about this time every year. You see, I'm a pacifist in most situations -- a fairly moderate one, but I do find myself uncomfortable around all those songs that glorify the armed forces. But this year there was a different ingredient in my mind: Tolkien. I got to thinking about what form pacifism would take in Middle-earth. Obviously when orcs are pounding at your gate you don't lay down your sword. But what about scenarios where someone disagreed with the direction their government was taking? For example: * Gondor -- Did some people want friendlier relationships with the evil men? Trade routes with Harad and Umbar, perhaps? * Rohan -- On the road to Gondor the Rohirrim learn that orcs are attacking the strongholds? Do some struggle with whether to turn back? Do some oppose the whole idea to go to Gondor and prefer to make their stand in Rohan? * Erebor -- For those dwarves who never met Bilbo, how did they feel about the whole decision to not tell the Nazgul about where the Shire was? * Fangorn -- Were there some Ents who perhaps didn't want to attack Isengard? * Northern Rangers-- They guarded the Shire and Bree for years. Did any ever doubt whether this was a worthwhile cause, given how little respect they got for it? And then of course we havethe conversation between Shagrat and Ugluk who don't necessarily seem pro-war. I don't think I'd call them pacifist (since they're not opposed to violence per se), but they don't 100% support their country's push toward war. Basically I'd be interested in seeing a story where someone's country is going to war (or *not* going to war), and some individuals doubts the wisdom of this decision. How would it play out? Would they act on their conviction and refuse to go to war? Go to war any way but do so half-heartedly? Try to argue for the country to change its direction? Marta

 

 

Re: Pacifisim in Middle-earth

ooh! Interesting idea, Marta So, how 'bout it people? I see nuzguls abound in this idea! One more I thought of....what about the Haradrim? There must have been some who disagreed with constant warfare and skirmishes with the men of the West... Cheryl *throwing her own fanged creature into Marta's Hutch....*

 

 

Re: Pacifisim in Middle-earth

Hm, an interesting idea. I doubt that true pacifism would exist in Middle Earth, but varying degrees would undoubtedly manifest into cultures so consumed (and wrecked) by war. A writer could look for a peaceful nature in elves, ents, wizards (minus sweet Saruman) and the older beings, perhaps. Men and women from Gondor and Rohan would be bred for no purpose if not fighting, so pacifism would be unlikely to flourish in such cultures (that value honor and bravery). An example would be Eowyn’s desire for death; multiply such by every young man in Middle Earth and rule them out. Women, by nature, are more peaceful than men, but when raised in cultures that are centered on war heroes and victory, their opinions tend to lean toward that of their male counterparts. I would be interested to see a story in which one of Boromir’s aristocratic classmates decides, in concurrence with “enlightened” elves, that war is pointless in every aspect. Boromir might then accuse him of being a coward and suggest they catapult the boy into the next band of orcs they come across. ;-) Lady of Tremaine

 

 

Re: Pacifisim in Middle-earth

I, too, have my doubts that a true pacifism would emerge in M-e, if by "pacificsm" one means a fundamental opposition to the concept of defending values with force. This simply seems unlikely, which is why when I wrote "The Making of Boys", I couldn't give Ioreth a straightforward, modern pacifist position but had to embed her opposition to taking up arms, for herself or the boys, in the context of there being no time to do what needed to be done to transform herself or anyone else into a warrior proper. Ergo why make the attempt and impose such suffering when it's an impossible task? Ioreth is probably the easiest person to give a quasi-pacifist worldview to, given her exchange with Éowyn, yet even so, it's not something one can just transplant. When push comes to shove in M-e, there is no clear example of someone refusing to strike back that I can think of—even Frodo allowed that killing might occur in the Shire, but he wished to minimize it as much as possible and did not personally go armed after a certain point. It is not clear that this is a decision of conscience or whether this is the result of war-weariness and trauma that requires Valinor to overcome. There may be personal cases of refusing to lift a hand in one's own defense, but there is no repudiation of the principle that either force can be justly employed against injustice *or* that peace is the highest value, to be pursued even if it means surrender in the face of the enemy. Elves, too, live in a world of force, and as Haldir notes, "our hands are more often on the bowstring than the harp". Elves accept that force may be necessary and justified in the defense of values; ergo, they are not pacifists as a group. I do not know of any particular Elf who explicitly espoused pacifism on a personal level, either. As a sort of example of how a refusal to strike back against injustice might still allow for the use of force, take a look at this quote: "[A]mong so many arguments this one alone survives refutation and remains steady: that doing what's unjust is more to be guarded against than suffering it, and that it's not seeming to be good but being good that a man should take care of more than anything, both in his public and his private life; and if a person proves to be bad in some respect, he's to be disciplined, and that the second best thing after being just is to become just by paying one's due, by being disciplined.... So, listen to me and follow me to where I am, and when you've come here you'll be happy both during life and at its end.... Let someone despise you as a fool and throw dirt on you, if he likes. And, yes, by Zeus, confidently let him deal you that demeaning blow. Nothing terrible will happen to you if you really are an admirable and good man, one who practices excellence...." (Gorgias, 527b-e). Notice that force is not ruled out—discipline may be imposed, and among the excellence (virtues) practiced in the common ethos of Athens at the time, courage in battle was the manly virtue par excellence. This makes it unclear whether war can be a means of disciplining a people that has wronged another population, but certainly it does not rule out using force against an individual in the form of the correct disciplining of that individual. But this is not pacifism as we know it, nor is Socratic civil disobedience what we would mean by that term. So it's not to say that in a certain sense, one might be deemed more pacifistic than not, but the sort of thing we mean by that term seems unlikely to crop up very frequently as it requires one to say that force of any kind absolutely perverts the very values one seeks to defend, and so, in the end, cannot at all defend them and so certainly cannot *legitimately* defend them. What you seem to be talking about, Marta, is more along the lines of "selective conscientious objection", whereby a person objects to a specific war on the basis that it is not just, rather than on the basis of pacifism per se. This, I would think, would be much more common in all ages—there have always been people who objected to a particular war because it was unjust or because they personally felt the cost was not worth the gain, or they disputed that there would be a real gain.

 

 

Re: Pacifisim in Middle-earth

What you seem to be talking about, Marta, is more along the lines of "selective conscientious objection", whereby a person objects to a specific war on the basis that it is not just, rather than on the basis of pacifism per se. This, I would think, would be much more common in all ages—there have always been people who objected to a particular war because it was unjust or because they personally felt the cost was not worth the gain, or they disputed that there would be a real gain. Yes. Thank you, Dwim, for putting a term on what I was struggling to articulate last night. I agree with you and everyone else that pacifism per se might not have existed in Middle-earth. We just don't have examples of anyone opposing the use of violence. What you're suggesting is much more in line with what I'm talking about than pacifism. I'd be happy with the challenge taking the direction you're proposing. As for the rest of what you're saying I'll comment on that tonight, but I have to run to work. I just wanted to comment on this one bit right now. Marta

 

 

Re: Pacifisim in Middle-earth

Well, whether this gets to be a challenge or not, it's certainly a fascinating discussion! The concept of "just war"is definitely one of the themes in LotR. It's also a major theme of the Silmarilion - are the Elves justified in making war against Morgoth to recover the Silmarils? I see plenty of Silmfics being written here, as well as LotR-era ones. There's also potential for Second Age stories around the Numenoreans' rather "imperialistic" and "colonial" attitudes to the "lesser Men" of Middle-Earth . And even The Hobbit has Bilbo trying to prevent the war between Thorin and the Elves and Men escalating. I've pulled out some quotes from LotR. Theoden says to Saruman: "Even if your war on me was just as it was not, for were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired -- even so, what will you say of your torches in Westfold and the children that lie dead there?" (Voice of Saruman, Ch 10, Book III) In response to Frodo reluctantly conceding they must fight the ruffians, Merry says "You won't rescue Lotho, or the Shire, just by being shocked and sad, my dear Frodo.'" (Scouring of the Shire, ch 8, Book VI) There are certainly interesting stories to be told about the attitudes of the "aggressor" sides (the Dunlendings or the Haradrim). Sam (to whom Tolkien seems to have given the qualities of the ordinary "everyman" soldier in the WWI trenches), after all, "wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace." (Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit Ch 4, Book IV) It also strikes me that what we are talking about here is not just Is it right to fight this battle/war? but - especially for the "good guys" - Even if we're justified in fighting, what methods is it right to use to achieve victory? Marta knows I couldn't possibly get to the end of a discussion of anything without quoting Faramir and Denethor, so here it is... Faramir's attitude is that, even in a "just war", it's better to fail and die than to betray your core principles: "I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No. I do not wish for such triumphs." (The Window on the West, Ch 5 Book IV) Later on, Denethor, the pragmatist who actually has responsibility for all those people who are going to die, takes him to task for this attitude : "Ever your desire is to appear lordly and generous as a king of old, gracious, gentle. That may well befit one of high race, if he sits in power and peace. But in desperate hours gentleness may be repaid with death." (The Siege of Gondor Ch4, Book V) Anyway, I think there's real potential for this challenge - not least because I have a story written already in which Denethor and Faramir argue over how to prosecute the war. So you can count me in Cheers, Liz

 

 

Re: Pacifisim in Middle-earth

It also strikes me that what we are talking about here is not just Is it right to fight this battle/war? but - especially for the "good guys" - Even if we're justified in fighting, what methods is it right to use to achieve victory? Actually, just war theory as it is known in the west encompasses both. In order to judge war just, there are two criteria that have developed over the many centuries of thinking on the topic. For war to be just, it must: 1) Have just cause, right intention, and be declared by the appropriate civil authorities ("jus ad bellum") 2) Be conducted rightly during hostilities, assuming (1) has been fulfilled ("jus in bello") Lately, there has been a proposal to add a "jus post bellum" restriction (Michael Schuck), which would require warring parties to end the war justly, although the burden is essentially on the victors and concerns their conduct towards the vainquished. I could be wrong, but I believe there was already an argument for this laid out earlier in the tradition(s), but it's escaping me where I might have read that. Anyhow, "just war theory" encompasses both those components of conducting war, as well as (depending on whom one looks to) how to conduct oneself after the war has been won (if one is the victor). In fact, the Catholic Church has been one of the biggest players in keeping this tradition of thought alive and in refining it; I would not at all be surprised if Tolkien had, as a part of his own explorations of his faith, studied the theory at some point.

 

 

Re: Pacifisim in Middle-earth

Anyhow, "just war theory" encompasses both those components of conducting war, as well as (depending on whom one looks to) how to conduct oneself after the war has been won (if one is the victor). In fact, the Catholic Church has been one of the biggest players in keeping this tradition of thought alive and in refining it; I would not at all be surprised if Tolkien had, as a part of his own explorations of his faith, studied the theory at some point. Given how clearly all those points are laid out in various places in Tolkien's works, I wouldn't be surprised either. Plenty of opportunities for post-War fics here as well, then? Cheers, Liz

 

 

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