Colbert demolishes Rick Santorum's Lord of the Rings analogy

Die-hard Tolkien fan that I am, I was struck at how breath-takingly stupid an analogy this was, even for Rick Santorum. For one thing, as Lance Manion points out, the forces of good didn't start the war. For another thing, Frodo in essence failed. He succumbed to the temptation of the One Ring at the last minute and claimed it for himself. Only the greedy intervention of Gollum, still lusting for the Ring, saved the day. (Of course, if Frodo hadn't shown mercy to Gollum earlier in the story, Gollum wouldn't have been alive to unwittingly save the day, but that's another matter.) The most obvious problem with such an analogy, however, is that Aragorn and Gandalf knew that their mission to attack Mordor at the Black Gate (which is what Santorum is comparing to our invasion of Iraq) was very likely a suicide mission. If Frodo didn't succeed and the Ring fell into Sauron's hands, rather than being destroyed at Mount Doom, Mordor's forces, with overwhelming numerical superiority, would have easily wiped the armies of Gondor and Rohan off the face of Middle Earth. (In fact, Sauron's armies were in the middle of doing exactly that when Gollum fell into the fire at Mount Doom with the Ring, leading to the destruction of Sauron's fortress Barad-Dûr.) Aragorn knew from the beginning that his armies had no hope of defeating Sauron by force of arms alone and that he was walking right into the meat grinder. But he did it anyway to give Frodo and Sam a chance, however small, of destroying the Ring.

What Santorum seems to be implying by his analogy is that our soldiers in Iraq are on a similarly doomed mission and that they can't possibly succeed by force of arms alone. If we follow the analogy, they will be destroyed unless something very unlikely happens. The only question is: What is going to save the soldiers in Iraq? There is no One Ring to be destroyed and thus destroy the power of the enemy.

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And what's with some fundie like Sanctorum making analogies to heathen-witchcraft-laden-Wicca-loving-liberal-humanist-lesbian literature like LOTR anyway? Sure, he didn't seem to grasp the major plot elements, but I thought he wasn't supposed to be reading that trash in the first place. I must say that back in my day we were smart enough not to make public allusions to books on the Index, since it was, well, not too bright . . . oh, right. I get it now.

By Sister Chatterly (not verified) on 21 Oct 2006 #permalink

Um... May I point out that Tolkein was one of the Inklings which was a group of Christian writers. Obviously that made it okay, even if it was a bad analogy.

By Inquisitive Raven (not verified) on 21 Oct 2006 #permalink

I have a confession to make: I never actually read the LOTR books. I haven't even seen the movies. Do I have to turn in my nerd membership card, or will my MIT diploma and prolific science-blog commenting record redeem me?

Besides, even if I did pick them up, my experience would be inevitably distorted, because I read David Brin's essay "We Hobbits are a Merry Folk" first.

Now ponder something that comes through even the party-line demonization of a crushed enemy. This clearcut and undeniable fact. Sauron's army was the one that included every species and race on Middle Earth, including all the despised colors of humanity, and all the lower classes.

Hm. Did they all leave their homes and march to war thinking "Oh, goody, let's go serve an evil dark lord"?

Or might they instead have thought they were the 'good guys', with a justifiable grievance worth fighting for, rebelling against an ancient, rigid, pyramid-shaped, feudal hierarchy topped by invader-alien elves and their Numenorean colonialist human lackeys?

Picture, for a moment, Sauron the Eternal Rebel, relentlessly maligned by the victors of the Ring War — the royalists who control the bards and scribes (and movie-makers). Sauron, champion of the common Middle-Earther! Vanquished but still revered by the innumerable poor and oppressed who sit in their squalid huts, wary of the royal secret police with their magical spy-eyes, yet continuing to whisper stories, secretly dreaming and hoping that someday he will return... bringing more rings.

Oh, come off it, Inquisitive Raven. Next thing you'll be trying to tell us that that C.S. Lewis fairy was a Christian, too. (The Lyin', the Witch, and the Closet. It's right there in the title, people.)

Maybe there should be some equivalent to Godwin's Law regarding Iraq war debates, Sauron, and probabilities approaching 1.0.

By Sister Chatterly (not verified) on 21 Oct 2006 #permalink

Um... May I point out that Tolkein was one of the Inklings which was a group of Christian writers. Obviously that made it okay, even if it was a bad analogy.

Well, Tolkien was Catholic, you know. For some of these people, that's just as bad!

By Genevieve Williams (not verified) on 21 Oct 2006 #permalink

Actually most evangelicals have buried the hatchet with Catholics these days as they need them as extra support against those "godless liberals". I guess they think of them as auxilia foederati in the culture war.

Incidentally I notice that the Republican party has started to presure Bush to find a way to get out of Iraq. If the Democrats aren't paying attention they may find themselves completely outflanked in 2008 by a Republican candidate who wants the US out of Iraq fast.

Um, I didn't mean to imply that Sanctorum (genitive plural of "sanctimonious asswipe") is an evangelical Protestant by calling him a "fundie." He is a Catholic fundie. And really. Catholic fundies were out burning witches and banning books when these vulgar Protestants were in diapers. You'd think they could remember the rules by now.

By Sister Chatterly (not verified) on 21 Oct 2006 #permalink

Sauron's army included humans, trolls, and orcs, who were a mutated version of (elves or men, depending on which of Tolkien's notes is considered more important)-- and the mutation was caused by Sauron's boss.

The alliance against Sauron included hobbits, men, elves, eagles and ents.

Elves predate all other races except the valar/maiar (Maiar are on both sides of the war) and therefore cannot be alien.

Aragorn recognized the independence of other groups of men.

The Shire is a democracy.

Middle Earth is a *fantasy* world. Good and evil are under the author's control, and the Easterlings and Sothrons were shown to be victims of Sauron.

By Samantha Vimes (not verified) on 21 Oct 2006 #permalink

Yeah, you can call that fairy C. S. Lewis a Christian, but that won't keep his witch-laden Narnia books from being banned by numerous Christian schools. (Not making this up.)

Good point by James about the fundie ecumenical movement. Several years ago I toured a lot of websites to see what version they gave of Galileo and the Inquisition. The Catholic sites mostly gave the story that a Protestant might expect from that source. The Creationist sites actually gave an account in which the Inquisition didn't come out well -- who could have guessed that? -- and in fact, if you overlook a certain amount of bigotry that you'd expect from (e.g.) the Reverend Ian Paisley's site, a pretty accurate account. The point, of course, was to concede what everyone knew about how a church fucked it up way back then, and then argue, here departing far from reality, that the Evolution thing was entirely different.

But that has changed. Not only have the apologists for the Inquisition become rather more numerous (while John Paul lived, this was a true case of More Catholic than the Pope); the Fundies are now largely in the Galileo Got What He Deserved camp. The conclusion is hard to escape: they finally saw the need to snuggle up with their old hated enemies in opposition to the true common enemy.

Sorry, this turned into more of a blog posting than a comment. But now that it's written, might as well hit the Post button.

Well, I read and loved the "Lord of the Rings," and I am stunned to see Rick Santorum turning the Iraq war into the battle for Middle-Earth. Of all the ridiculous ideas I've seen in the last 20 years, that has got to be one of the dumbest.

The only way this could work is if the United States was Sauron's hordes. What...George W. Bush is Gandalf the White, and his father is Gandalf the Grey? Dick Cheney is Aragorn? Condoleezza Rice is Arwen or Eowyn? I guess Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan is Frodo...oh, wait, Jack Ryan is fictional, too.

Santorum ought to read some other books that say more about this mess in Iraq, like "Heart of Darkness," or "Richard III," "MacBeth," or even "The Caine Mutiny." We can figure out who stole Senator Santorum's strawberries later.

This is nuts.

Regardless of Rick Santorum's or Tolkien's religion--Rick Santorum is bad for Pennsylvania. He's a moron and incredibly racist and homophobic. I know, because I live there.

Am I the only person who noticed that Santorum has this backwards? Sauron is an industrial superpower (in a magical sense, okay?), being targeted by a lower tech enemy. The enemy sucker Sauron into a battle far from home, at which point a strategic, pinpoint act of destruction by a tiny band of infiltrators destroys the dark empire. Now, seriously, in our "war on terror" who is the plucky underdog engaging in distractions and pinpoint acts of infiltration, and who is the industrial superpower far from home?

"Am I the only person who noticed that Santorum has this backwards? Sauron is an industrial superpower"


I wrote that before I watched the clip. My shame is limitless. Carry on.