Eye-raq: Santorum, Tolkien and terror

I am the first in line to enjoy a good Lord of the Rings analogy. But there is something distinctly off in Sen. Rick Santorum’s effort to recast the Iraq War in Tolkienian terms:

Embattled U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said America has avoided a second terrorist attack for five years because the “Eye of Mordor” has been drawn to Iraq instead.

Santorum used the analogy from one of his favorite books, J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1950s fantasy classic “Lord of the Rings,” to put an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq into terms any school kid could easily understand.

“As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else,” Santorum said, describing the tool the evil Lord Sauron used in search of the magical ring that would consolidate his power over Middle-earth.

“It’s being drawn to Iraq and it’s not being drawn to the U.S.,” Santorum continued. “You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don’t want the Eye to come back here to the United States.”

The trouble here is not that Santorum is daring to compare a bloody real-life tragedy to a fantasy novel — pace my colleague Tim Grieve, who brought this bizarre tirade to my attention, or the spokesman for Santorum’s opponent, who complains, “You have to really question the judgment of a U.S. senator who compares the war in Iraq to a fantasy book.” That doesn’t bother me. Myths and fictions offer us powerful ways of seeing and talking about the real world. Popular politicians — like Ronald Reagan, who borrowed his “Evil Empire” imagery from George Lucas — understand this.

No, the problem is that Santorum’s analogy makes no sense. I think the senator means to offer a Middle Earth version of the GOP’s “We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here,” but he’s messed it up badly. (Warning: Tolkienian geekery ahead!)

First of all, in Tolkien’s saga, the good guys are outgunned and outmanned by the Dark Lord, whereas in our world, the U.S. is a “hyperpower” whose military, in 2001-2, seemed to bestride the world. Second, in Tolkien, the good guys sent Frodo with the Ring into the depths of Mordor as a sort of last-ditch, bet-everything gamble; then they sent an army to the gates of Mordor as a diversion — to keep the Eye occupied and distract it from the hobbits headed for Mount Doom.

Santorum says the war in Iraq was meant to keep the Eye distracted. But what kind of diversionary maneuver keeps more than a hundred thousand troops fighting and dying for years? And what are we distracting our enemy from? Who are our hobbits? What secret plan is underway to break the power of Al-Qaeda once and for all? None, of course, because this is where the analogy dissolves into air: In Middle Earth, the Dark Lord’s forces are centralized and his minions are incapable of operating independently; in our world, our enemy is organized as a headless guerrilla network. There is no “Eye” to distract.

It’s hard, in truth, to find any useful Middle Earth analogy to the Iraq War: the parallels break down across the board. Still, you might think of Bush’s invasion of Iraq as the equivalent of a beleaguered Gondor, attacked by the armies of Mordor across the River Anduin, sending its army off on an expedition to Far Harad, after its leaders issued proclamations that the White Council had incontrovertible evidence of the Haradrim’s possession of Rings of Mass Destruction.

Something like that, anyway. But as you can see it really doesn’t work, even when you try harder than Santorum.
[tags]iraq, rick santorum, tolkien, lord of the rings[/tags]

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Comments

  1. Josef

    Actually, I think that the analogy works better if the roles are swapped. Bush is Sauron and the US is Mordor. That would make Al-Qaeda the hobbits. And while 9/11 didn’t completely destroy the US entirely, it will never be the same again, in analogy with when the One Ring was destroyed in Orodruin.

    But I don’t expect to hear that kind of analogy from an american and I will certainly not carry it any further for fear of being silenced by some agency (the Nazgûl?).

  2. Kelly Fineman

    It sounds remarkably like he’d rather keep the public looking at Iraq and not paying any attention to the erosion of our rights and the failures of our government here at home.

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