Discussion: The Downfall of Númenor – Part 3

The Pyre of Denethor

This article continues a series of discussions (Part 1, Part 2) about the modern world through the lens of Tolkien’s legendarium. For those seeking game-specific subjects I encourage you to check out Vision of the Palantir, where you will find a wealth excellent content. In the mean time, a bear has thoughts and is not too shy to share them.

For a multitude of reasons, Mrs. Beorn and I are looking at living abroad for a few years. We want to find a country which fits our sensibilities, and also stretches us outside of our comfort zones so we can continue to grow and learn. I have long held the personal philosophy that growth is essential. There is always more of the world and ourselves that we can discover, and to better know ourselves and others is as good a life aim as I can espouse. To that end, we started an extended visit to Ajijic Mexico, to see if it is a place where we could see settling down for a few years.

I have lived in the United States all of my life, and there a many things that I love about living there. Like any country, it also has its flaws, and living there has given me a particular insight and a specific awareness of some of those flaws. In my travels, I have enjoyed the different way of life in many other countries, noticing distinct advantages over my experiences in America. Many cultures are specifically taking steps to address and ameliorate problems common to modern living, problems which America seems unwilling or unable to even talk about.

A view of Lake Chapala

About a week into our stay I happened to look down to my phone to see a notification about an active shooter event in Uvalde, Texas. For those who don’t know, I’ve called Texas my home for the past 17 years. As details of that event came to light, my heart was broken by the indescribable horror. Nineteen children between the ages of 9 and 11, slaughtered while attending school. Two teachers, senselessly killed trying to protect their students. This kind of tragedy cannot be described in words. The heartbreak of the families and friends of the victims is incomprehensible.

Thoughts and prayers without action only compounds evil of this nature. These shootings are now the status quo in America: 269 mass shootings in the US this year, as of this writing. Since the tragedy at Uvalde prompted me to start writing this article, there have been 30 more mass shootings. Thirty! Day by day, we are destroying ourselves from within.

This should not be normal

Among US states, Texas has the dubious distinction as a “champion” of gun rights. This means that it is easier for me to legally acquire a handgun than it is to drive a car. At 18, children can buy a gun when they are still too young to purchase alcohol or cigarettes. Yes, I say children because I do not believe that an 18 year old is in fact an adult – either emotionally or intellectually. This is not to absolve monsters of responsibility for their heinous actions. Rather, we as a society have to recognize that younger people are not yet capable of making sensible decisions when it comes to something as powerful as a gun. To be fair, many adults lack the maturity to responsibly own and carry a gun, but that is an even more difficult problem.

While we’re on the subject of guns, let’s talk about second amendment purists. The second amendment of the US constitution grants every citizen the right to bear arms. The founding fathers built this into the very fabric of the country because we were a colony fighting for independence from an empire which spanned the globe. Since its founding, America has fought wars against Spain and Mexico, a quasi war against France, and various other (often ignominious) conflicts around the world.

America participated in the two World Wars which defined the 20th century and reshaped the entire global political landscape, eucatastrophe-style. Especially in the context of these earlier conflicts, while America was still in the process of defining itself, an armed populace makes some kind of sense. However, the nature of our place in the world has changed dramatically since the 18th century. I have one simple question for every American who insists that guns are still among our most fundamental rights.

Did our forefathers intend civilians to be armed so that we could kill each other?

– Second Amendment Intent

I ask this question not rhetorically, but with the most strident sincerity. Like many empires enamored with the glory of past accomplishments, we have lost sight of our own identity. Particularly as our place in the world has changed, we spout anachronisms about our founding tenants when the reasons for those tenants have changed or no longer exist. America has fielded the largest military in the world for decades. No foreign power is going to invade us, not with physical troops, so the need for an armed populace to hold off foreign invasion simply does not exist. Why would an enemy need to invade, when we are doing a far more efficient job of tearing ourselves apart?

America has been great at various times in our history. War is the ugliest side of humanity, but America’s involvement in the World Wars of the 20th century was both necessarily and ultimately for the good of people beyond ourselves. This does not excuse mistakes we’ve made, but we have been a force for good. It cannot be denied that Europe and Asia would look very different today if the United States had remained neutral during the Second World War.

In these moments of greatness, what made us great? I contend that an armed populace has never contributed in any significant way to American greatness. In earlier centuries there was a very real threat of invasion by a foreign power, civilians with guns made sense in those times. In the 21st century, an armed populace is clearly a contributing factor in our decline. At the current rate, there will be over 640 mass shootings in the United States by the end of 2022. It is well past time that we critically examine what matters most to us, and act accordingly.

Those moments in history when we did what we knew was right, even when it was difficult and came at deep personal sacrifice

– American Greatness

The heroes in The Lord of the Rings all made real sacrifices. Any definition of heroism which does not include the concept of sacrifice is fundamentally flawed. To fight evil without is to first look inward, and face the demons that live inside. This might sound like so much romantic poetry but it is foundational to Tolkien’s stories, and central to the mythology of many cultures.

Some characters lose this internal battle, and fall as a consequence. In the Lord of the Rings, Boromir succumbs to the temptation of the Ring and finds redemption only when he gives his life to defend Merry and Pippin from the Uruk-hai. Even Aragorn, the idealized protagonist, makes very real sacrifices. He wanders the wilds of Arnor for decades – a king without a kingdom and a misunderstood vagabond with a broken sword in his scabbard. Greatness does not come from strength of arms or bold words spoken in front of followers who already agree with you. Greatness comes from profound personal sacrifice and a willingness to do what is right, despite the cost.

Elendil with Narsil

Frodo beings the story of the Lord of the Rings a naive happy young Hobbit, content to live in peace among his people and largely unaware of the dangers all around. Indeed, this ignorance was precisely the gift that Aragorn and the Dúnedain were giving to the Shire. The rangers protected the borders of these havens of peace and prosperity, while the very inhabitants being protected could remain ignorant to the ugliness of the wider world. This theme is repeated often in Tolkien’s stories, and one needs only to look at characters like Frodo to see Tolkien’s point.

We may start naive and innocent, but evil exists without our knowledge or consent, and we must one day face it. Frodo of the Nine Fingers understands this better than perhaps anyone else in Middle-earth. When the time came to face his inner demon, he balked, and the corrupting power of The One Ring was too great for him. If not for the fickle hand of fate and one misstep by Gollum, all would have been lost. This understanding lead Frodo to remain apart during the events of The Scouring of the Shire. His only involvement was to minimize bloodshed.

I contend that the pacifism exhibited by Frodo at the end of the Lord of the Rings was not weakness, but strength. There is a kind of toxic aggressiveness which exists in every culture, particularly those in the United States who advocate the loudest for the primacy of gun rights. Why are we so eager to unleash the weapons of destruction, especially on our own people? A far more noble goal is to protect those who are weakest, to preserve the things of beauty which can only exist when we exercise restraint.

Frodo saw the devilry of Saruman, the destruction of all of the beauty of the Shire, and he wept. Then, he played his part to right the wrongs and return to The Shire to its former glory and beauty. The Hobbits who became sycophants to Saruman and Gríma were certainly culpable for this destruction. All the more so, responsibility lay with the men who wrought much of the Shire’s destruction. By any sense of justice, Frodo could have urged his companions to kill any men and Hobbits who had sided with Saruman.

One of the enduring lessons of The Lord of the Rings is that it is far easier to take a life than to protect one. What makes one a hero is not the sudden sword thrust which ends the life of an enemy. What makes one a hero is sacrificing the things we value most, in order for others to live in peace and prosperity. To protect and preserve the innocent, in Tolkien’s world as in ours, is the greatest form of heroism.

In the 21st century, America is faced with an existential crisis. We can blindly hold on to traditions which were created for another purpose, hundreds of years ago. Like Denethor on his pyre, we are immolating ourselves at the altar of a dead idea. We are addicted to the myth of our former greatness, which never existed in the perfection of story and song. Or, we can take a lesson from Frodo and reexamine what it is that truly matters to us. Surviving trauma gives us keen insight into what is actually necessary to save our country and our way of life. Heroism cannot be the easy path, the one based on fear and mistrust of others. Heroism and greatness only comes with the willingness to sacrifice to protect those more innocent than ourselves.

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6 Responses to Discussion: The Downfall of Númenor – Part 3

  1. Martijn N. says:

    One of the most thought-provoking, balanced and thoughtful pieces I have read in a long time. Living in a part of the world that indeed would have looked very differently if it had not been for American sacrifice, which will not be forgotten, I wholeheartedly agree with you, and the current situation in the US pains me very much. Thanks ever so much for this fine post.

  2. Jay says:

    I live in Europe where access to guns is not as easy as in the U.S. Always feel very sorry to such tragic events in your country. Stay strong, stay safe!

  3. Andy Cox says:

    Thank you for writing this. From my perspective in the UK, I find US gun violence awful and those who defend gun ownership bewildering. I have children of the same age as those killed at Uvalde.

    Stay safe. Lake Chapula looks beautiful, you should go for it!

  4. Paul Crow says:

    “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” -Faramir, The Two Towers

    I’m personally unsure whether I agree with your definition of greatness (to me it sounds more like heroism), but semantics aside, beautifully written. A hero isn’t a hero because they take lives but because they save them. The 2nd Amendment’s intentions, providing citizens with security from a tyrannical government, are good, but the means by which it accomplishes them in our modern world are creating a worse problem, one where citizens can’t trust the government to provide them with adequate security. What you’re doing here is crucial; asking “Why?”, looking beneath the surface of America’s stories. To take an example you used, Denethor worked under the assumption that Gondor was great, but by not questioning his assumption (namely, asking what made Gondor great), he proved unable to take the actions needed to maintain Gondor’s greatness. He accepted Gondor’s traditions because they were traditions, not because they made sense for Gondor. We must do the same: we need to reinvigorate America’s greatness (heh, truly Make America Great Again) by examining what made us great and by working on incubating that, even if, as you suggest, it requires some sacrifices. Democracy gives us great power, and, as any pop culture fan can tell you, with great power comes great responsibility.

  5. Lost Cajun says:

    Hello, fellow Texan, longtime reader, and father here. Thank you for sharing how you feel, I’ve used your site for some years and really enjoy opinions on cards and decks. I’ve recently gotten my oldest son into the LCG and so read more frequently, I really enjoy playing with him!
    I was saddened by the tone and characterization of this article. It seems to show no context or citation of historical argument from our founding and no understanding around the second amendment or gun culture in America.
    I’d like to answer your question with equal strident sincerity, no. But that is a strawman question. What sane person who has studied our founding would say yes? In fact the actual text of the second amendment reads:
    ‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’
    And thus, to steelman your question, I would preferred you ask something along the lines of ‘Did our forefathers intend for citizens to have the most advanced weapons available?’ or ‘Did our forefathers intend gun crime to be a domestic scourge?’

    I believe the answer to first is yes, and the second is no. Quite simply, the amendment itself reads ‘shall not be infringed,’ and one of those founding writers, John Adams, said: ‘Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.’

    The sad reality is that mass murders are perpetuated against soft targets. Case study after case study shows us that the people that want to kill lots of people find soft, highly populated targets. Case studies further show us that when they guess wrong, and attack a defended target, they don’t get the notoriety and the kill count they intended. We now know that when the gunman arrived at the school in Uvalde there were multiple failures that would have hardened the target against an aggressor. The arriving police not only didn’t pursue him immediately after opening fire outside the school, but failed to engage him while he shot children who were calling them. There was no guard at the school, and the teachers were defenseless.

    I’d like to point out something else that only obfuscates this discussion, you stated “Since the tragedy at Uvalde prompted me to start writing this article, there have been 30 more mass shootings. Thirty!”
    Ok, with no context, that may make a naive reader think 30 events like Uvalde happened in less that 2 weeks, and I believe that is misleading. ‘Mass shootings,’ depending on the person citing the statistic (and I’d be glad for you to share yours), often use very low numbers such as 3 or 4 deaths per incident, and then lump then all together for fear mongering. What I mean by that is it is typical for US media companies to look at a TERRIBLE event such as Uvalde after a period, such as two weeks, and say something akin to ‘There have been xxx mass shooting since then!’ What they mean is that our major cities have extremely violent events regularly, such as New York and Chicago, where small numbers of people are shot. These are called mass shootings and lumped into events like the Uvalde to create a narrative like the one that I feel inspired your article. Gang violence in Chicago and Police failure in Texas are not the same.

    And finally, can you help me understand how moving to Mexico is somehow an upgrade in safety, security, and freedom?

    Sincerely,
    A Lost Cajun in TX

  6. Pingback: Discussion: The Downfall of Númenor – Part 4 | Hall of Beorn

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