In The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy trilogy, the center of evil in Middle Earth is the land of Mordor, a desolate and evil country. From there Sauron, the Dark Lord, sends out his spies and agents in pursuit of his goal: the conquest of the world of men, hobbits, elves, and dwarves. The most fearsome of these servants are the Nazgûl, otherwise known as the Ringwraiths or Black Riders, ghostly creatures who had once been men, great kings who had fallen under Sauron’s power. As Tolkien describes them:
"And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thraldom of the ring that they bore and of the domination of the One which was Sauron’s. And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Úlairi, the Enemy’s most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death."
In short, the Ringwraiths are Sauron’s drones – soulless slaves who roam the earth in search of enemies, whistling through the air with a sound like the voice of death itself.
It’s not at all surprising to find premonitions of America’s drone war in The Lord of the Rings, for Tolkien’s masterpiece is all about the nature of evil: how it gains a foothold and expands its power outward, filling the soul and eventually enveloping its victims in a shroud of irredeemable malevolence. The Ringwraiths, in a telling detail, are invisible except to Sauron, who directs their movements and sets them on the trail of his enemies, as they relentlessly move in for the kill. It’s our drone war, all right, even down to the moral corruption that brought it forth. Only
Sauron the President knows their exact movements, and they are as deadly as anything Tolkien could have
imagined: these airborne assassins have racked up between "556 civilian killings and at most 1,128," although the US government admits to much less. This murder spree has aroused the conscience of some liberals, although not of the nation – which supports the drone war in excess of 80 percent.
And no wonder: it’s all so very American – a "clean," distancing, low-cost hi-tech "solution" to the question of how to deal with terrorism. Machines directed by "soldiers" sitting in a room somewhere in the US take out our alleged enemies with scientific precision – except "precision" is not a word I would use to describe the accuracy of our strikes, as this New York Times report makes all too clear:
"Late last August, a 40-year-old cleric named Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber stood up to deliver a speech denouncing Al Qaeda in a village mosque in far eastern Yemen.
"It was a brave gesture by a father of seven who commanded great respect in the community, and it did not go unnoticed. Two days later, three members of Al Qaeda came to the mosque in the tiny village of Khashamir after 9 p.m., saying they merely wanted to talk. Mr. Jaber agreed to meet them, bringing his cousin Waleed Abdullah, a police officer, for protection.
"As the five men stood arguing by a cluster of palm trees, a volley of remotely operated American missiles shot down from the night sky and incinerated them all, along with a camel that was tied up nearby."
Could there be a more dramatic illustration of the boomerang effect, otherwise known as "blowback"? The very means we are utilizing to fight "terrorism" are literally destroying our chances of success – but, then again, what else did anyone expect? The methods of evil are always its ultimate undoing. To wear the Ring of Power is to be drawn, ineluctably, down into the abyss.
The confirmation hearings of John Brennan as CIA director have brought a new focus to this sinister aspect of our endless "war on terrorism," and it is interesting to see how its defenders are faring: liberal ideologue and Obama apologist Michael Tomasky avers we’re just going to have to get used to the fact that a President can order – in secret – the execution of an American citizen by drone. The best we can do is to make sure the President is a Nice Guy, unlike that awful person George W. Bush. Glenn Greenwald begs to differ, but amongst those voices who fancy themselves "liberal" he appears to be in a distinct minority.
Every week, on "Terror Tuesday,"
Sauron and his orcs our President and his advisors gather in Mordor Washington to determine who is to be placed on the Death List, and this is done in total secrecy. There is no oversight from Congress – not that they would prevent the Dark Lord from carrying out his death missions – nor is there any official indication of the sort of evidence required to execute an American citizen – or the citizen of any other country – in this way. We have only a leaked memo describing the Secret Memo (or memos) that exist which justify this profoundly authoritarian practice. In what has to be the apotheosis of the kind of moral corruption involved here, there is talk of setting up an Assassination Court – to be conducted in secret – to "oversee" and provide a "check" on this unlimited Sauron-like power.
Quite aside from the destruction and ill will sowed abroad, the consequences of the drone war underscore their subversive character, which grants an unaccountable executive with the power of life and death over anyone and everyone on earth. To say this is incompatible with our democratic system and the liberal values we supposedly hold dear is a bit of an understatement. The establishment of such a power sounds the death knell of these values in the West.
Yet that note was sounded long ago, the moment we took upon ourselves the task of eradicating "terrorism" from the face of the earth – only to discover that we must become terrorists in order to do so. This is the key to understanding the moral corruption that has undermined and finally overwhelmed the system of checks and balances set up by the Founders. For even Sauron, in Tolkien’s mythology, was motivated, in the beginning, by a "desire for order and coordination." As Elrond points out in The Lord of the Rings: “Nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so."
The source of Sauron’s power was over the minds of his enemies: the One Ring gave him an incredibly subversive influence, which eventually conquered the will of his antagonists. By appealing to their pride, their vanity, their dormant hubris, he was able to not only survive several deaths but prosper and eventually threaten all of Middle Earth.
As America’s Ringwraiths roam the earth, visiting death and destruction at the whim of our leaders, Tolkien’s haunting refrain indicts us for what we have become:
"One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all
and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie."
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Forward by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).