Are the Orcs Winning?

Fantasy versus reality

by Victor Davis Hanson // PJ Media

Photo via PJMedia
Photo via PJMedia

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings [1] was sometimes faulted by literary critics for caricaturing the evil orcs [2] as uniformly bad.  All of them were as unpleasant to look as they were deadly to encounter. There is not a single good orc or even a reformed orc in the trilogy. The apparent one-dimensional assumption of men, hobbits, dwarves, and elves is that the only good orc is a dead orc. So the absolutist Tolkien tried to teach us about the enduring nature of absolute good and evil. Apparently he did not think that anything from his contemporary experience might allow him to imagine reforming or rehabilitating such fictive folk.

Tolkien’s literary purpose with orcs was not to explore the many shades of evil or the struggle within oneself to avoid the dark side; he did that well enough in dozens of once good but weak characters who went bad such as the turncoat Saruman the wizard, his sidekick Wormtongue, a few of the hobbits who had ruined the Shire, and, best of all, the multifaceted Gollum [3]. Orcs, on the other hand, are unredeemable. Orcs, goblins, and trolls exist as the tools of the even more sinister in proud towers to destroy civilization, and know nothing other than killing and destruction. Their reward is to feed on the crumbs of what they have ruined.

In the 21st century we are often lectured that such simplistic, one-dimensional evil is long gone. An ubiquitous civilization has so permeated the globe that even the worst sorts must absorb some mitigating popular culture from the Internet, Twitter, and Facebook, as if the sheer speed of transmitting thoughts ensures their moral improvement.

Even where democracy is absent, the “world community” [4] and a “global consciousness” are such that billions supposedly won’t let Attila, Tamerlane, and Genghis Khan reappear in our postmodern lives. To deal with a Major Hasan, Americans cannot cite his environment as the cause, at least not poverty, racism, religious bigotry, nativism, xenophobia, or any of the more popular –isms and-ologies in our politically correct tool box that we customarily use to excuse and contextualize evil behavior. So exasperated, we shrug and call his murdering “workplace violence” [5] — an apparent understandable psychological condition attributable to the boredom and monotony of the bleak, postmodern office.

But then suddenly along comes the limb-lopping, child-snatching, and mutilating Nigerian-based Boko Haram. What conceivable Dark Age atrocity have they omitted? Not suicide bombing, mass murder, or random torture. They are absolutely unapologetic for their barbarity. They are ready to convert or kill preteens as their mood determines for the crime of being Christian. In response, the Nigerian government is powerless, while the United States is reduced to our first lady holding up Twitter hashtags [6], begging for the release of the latest batch of girls.

Is the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab [7] worse? It likes the idea that it is premodern. In addition to the usual radical Islamic horrors of beheadings, rape, and mutilation, Al-Shabaab even kills protected elephants [8], perhaps thousands of them, to saw off tusks and fund their killing spree. They seem to make the medieval Taliban look tame in comparison.

Now we are glued on ISIS, the Mesopotamian killers who are beheading on video streams American journalists, as they murder, rape, and mutilate their way from Syria to central Iraq. One of the beheaders, Jihadi John, has a British accent, and seems to enjoy shocking Westerners with the fact that he is more familiarly savage than his fellow Arab-speaking masochists. Apparently his family immigrated from the Muslim world to the affluence and freedom of the United Kingdom for a more civilized life so that their pampered son could one day leave it to seek to destroy all that had enabled him [9] — and thereby find “meaning.”

If a British politician demanded to strip Jihadi John and those like him of their passports or an American senator [10] demanded that we not let in any more Tsarnaev-like jihadists, the outcry would be such that the crimes of beheading and blowing up people at a marathon might pale in comparison. Cutting off somebody’s head or blowing off a leg is one thing, but casting aspersions on the Other is quite another.

All of the above might once have been lumped under al-Qaeda affiliates, but now Osama’s remnants apparently find monsters like ISIS too “brutal.” In contrast, Hamas only drives Christians out of Gaza rather than beheads them. It alsoexecutes unarmed Palestinians [11] deemed insufficiently loyal. It maims those of rival Palestinian political groups. And it positions girls and boys as shields in places where their well-off elite commanders may well be targeted, rather than kidnap and take them out into the bush.

Although most of the savage violence that is plaguing the world today is the dividend of radical Islamists in Africa, Northern Africa, the Middle East, and, yes, Europe, state players are not immune. Bashar Assad has used the government apparatus of Syria to kill tens of thousands — some, in the manner of his old neighbor Saddam Hussein, through the agency of poison gas. He, too, is immune from an accounting — unless the even more evil ISIS catches up with him.

Europe and the United States are baffled by Vladimir Putin. He was supposed to be “reset” a long time ago. Or he should have at least reread Norman Angell’s The Great Illusion [12] years ago, and learned that in an interconnected financial world, starting a war (like World War I) would be so suicidal a business as to prevent its occurrence. Instead, Putin is following the path of Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, gobbling up borderlands, but for the idea of the greater glory of Mother Russia rather than the Soviet commune. His modus operandi is as predictable as our Western weepy responses. He eyes some new territory. He cites long historical affinities. He points to oppressed Russian speakers. He sends in paramilitaries. And then he talks of annexing only part of some previous Russian land. Obama compares him to a cutup in the back of the classroom or dismisses his actions as macho “shtick.” [13] Putin counters with talk about his nuclear arsenal or taking Kiev. If a journalist smarts off, Putin warns him of castration [14]. If Putin wishes to let off a nuke, he might well do it — if only for the hell of it.

We can stop the roll call of global orcs here, with the assumption that we all know the nature of the lunatic North Korea nuclear regime, what the Iranians are planning for the children of the Holocaust, or who the sinister sort who run Pakistani military intelligence and fund terrorists in Afghanistan are. As state powers, they all have ways of incinerating tens of thousands rather than beheading hundreds.

Evil is ancient, unchanging, and with us always. The more postmodern the West becomes — affluent, leisured, nursed on moral equivalence [15], utopian pacifism, and multicultural relativism [16] — the more premodern the evil among us seems to arise in nihilistic response, whether it is from the primordial Tsarnaev brothers or Jihadi John.  We have invented dozens of new ways to explain away our indifference, our enemies hundreds of new ways of reminding us of our impotence. I suppose we who enjoy the good life don’t want to lose any of it for anything — and will understandably do any amount of appeasing, explaining, and contextualizing to avoid an existential war against the beheaders and mutilators, a fact well-known to our enemies.

The Europeans are shrugging that Ukraine is lost and will soon sigh that the Baltic states are a far-off place not worth risking the coffee shops of Amsterdam to defend. Westerners lament beheadings but then privately mutter that journalists know just what they are getting into when they visit the Middle East. Murdering and abusing a U.S. ambassador on video is not such a big deal anymore and is worth only a second or so mention on Google News.

So we wait behind our suburban Maginot Lines, arguing over our quarter- and half-measure responses, refighting Iraq and Afghanistan as if they were the Somme and Verdun, assured that we can distract ourselves from the horrors abroad with psychodramas about Ferguson, the president’s golfing [17], his lectures on fairness, and which naked celebrity photo was hacked on the Internet [18].

Meanwhile the orcs are busy and growing and nearing the ramparts…


Article printed from Works and Days:

URL to article:

URLs in this post:

[1] The Lord of the Rings:

[2] orcs:

[3] Gollum:

[4] “world community”:

[5] “workplace violence”:

[6] holding up Twitter hashtags:

[7] Al-Shabaab:

[8] kills protected elephants:

[9] seek to destroy all that had enabled him:

[10] an American senator:

[11] executes unarmed Palestinians:

[12] The Great Illusion:

[13] macho “shtick.”:

[14] warns him of castration:

[15] moral equivalence:

[16] multicultural relativism:

[17] the president’s golfing:

[18] was hacked on the Internet: 

Copyright © 2008 Works and Days. All rights reserved.


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13 thoughts on “Are the Orcs Winning?”

  1. What do you think their next target in the U.S. will be?
    It seems they need to come after us at home before we will do anything.
    We didn’t do when they blew up our military bases or ships elsewhere under Clinton.
    We didn’t do it for our ambassador under Obama.
    Do people really feel safe in Obama’s kingdom?
    It’s like being a part of the mafia, you just never know do you.

  2. I regard myself as belonging to the Left, but definitely not to what predominates and calls itself the Left which with justice ought to be called the Quasi-Left. The reason is that I want an approximate economic equality, say what was proposed in a Swiss referendum, that the head of a concern should earn no more than twelve times that of the lowest paid employee. At this point there may be agreement between me and them. But they definitely fail as regards equality in power which I want equally strongly. While one might say that the Right wants to exploit the People, the Left (Quasi-Left) wants to train the people, “Sit!” “Paw!” “Lie Down!” (and the Centre does a bit of this and a bit of that).
    This is done by manipulation, cover-ups and misleading information, not a very hard task as the majority in the mass media sympathize with the Quasi-Left. Thus one might say that in our age the obscurantists are found among these quasi-leftists, and a very important countermeasure against them is to follow in the footsteps of what the very learned and thought-provoking Jonathan Israel calls The Radical Enlightenment – except no subject from investigation, and ensure that everyone who wants it, can get information about the results.

    1. Proudly Unaffiliated

      You want something that can never be. What you are advocating must inevitably lead to more tyranny, more fascism, more destruction of the individual.

      This will not fly. Not on my watch.

    2. Wherever there is a utopian outcome desired through government, there is a will to power, and giving more and more power to government is playing with fire.

  3. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”……Source POGO…. We are driven by political correctness and unwillingness to cal terrorism -Radical Muslim Terrorism – sadly my Alma Mater in Boston is a cauldron for “Antisemitism” and related malfeasance.

  4. release the river and have treebeard (Israel) work with you. Definitely not going to happen while Obama is in office

  5. The orcs will come here. My brothers, my son, and I saw what they did to each other in Iraq. There is a reason Israel is an armed camp.

    Professor Hanson, as a former infantrymen, I found “The Western Way of War” interesting but “A War like no other” was riveting.

  6. How bad does Obama want it to get?
    Will it get so bad that he makes an executive order to continue as president?
    He has control of all of the police (military, FBI, CIA, IRS, etc.)
    He has recently taken out 2 governors using the FBI and for lesser stuff than he and his have done.
    They just happen to be people who ran as Republicans or might run in the future. How may more?
    He went after an ordinary plumber.
    He went after the gov. of Alaska who was just a mom who felt she needed to do more. He wouldn’t let her go back to doing her job. He destroyed her family.
    He owns all media. If you ask questions he doesn’t like, you are out, i.e., B.Walters, Dianne Sawyer, and a lesser reporter who wanted to find out the truth about Benghazi. Gone!
    He was groomed in Chicago. Think about it.

  7. Tolkien wrote that the orcs, in their hearts, secretly, hated the source of their misery – Morgoth. In LOTR the author noted that Sauron’s evil will animated the orcs, and when his driving force was interrupted – when Frodo put on the One Ring in the very heart of Sauron’s realm [the Cracks of Doom], the orcs became disoriented, witless, and ran or some even killed themselves. They were a force of evil no more (that fell to men still under the persistent evil that remained, a remnant of Morgoth.

    Jihadists as Orcs? Tolkien himself disdained allegory – many sought to have him concede that Orcs were nazi storm toopers, or communists, whatever. But Tolkien demurred. No, Sauron was not Stalin…

    Remember that Orcs were corrupted Elves; corrupted in mockery of Elves, as Trolls were made in mockery of Ents. Jihadi John mocked Obama in the second video (“I’m back”). Putin mocks Obama. But sometimes mockery isn’t benign, sometimes its deadly in intent. The enemies of the West see a president that views Jihad not as an enemy, but as a rival. That is the real peril.

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