Demonizing your enemies - Ed Brock

It's easy to kill an orc. They're ugly, they have very poor manners and they seem to have no greater joy in life than providing elves and dwarves with points in their body-count game.

This was my reflection upon my 50th viewing of "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" this weekend. Turns out I'm far from alone in seeing the orcs as a prime example of the human need to demonize our enemies.

Yes, it's been written about before. Even Tolkien himself was influenced by World War I, or some say, in presenting his orcs as a mindless force for destruction. He seemed more intent on demonizing the new role of technology in war, according to an essay I read on the web.

But the appeal of such stories as "The Lord of the Rings" is that they present conflict in the simple manner that appeals to most people. There are good guys (and gals) who are demonstrably good, almost flawless in their compassion, physical beauty or inner beauty.

And the bad guys are just monsters, near animals in both appearance and attitude. They are "the enemy," and as such are not worthy of understanding or mercy. They must simply be destroyed.

Like I mentioned previously, any number of people have used Tolkien's work as an analogy for the human desire to demonize the enemy, to remove the humanity of the enemy and make killing them more emotionally palatable.

The reason I'm bringing it up again is the recent real-life example of demonization presented by Marine Lt. Gen. James Mattis and his now infamous quote.

This is the quote in question as printed in "Time" magazine.

"Actually, it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people."

Yes, actually thinking about who you're killing can take the fun out of war.

Allow me to make clear that I understand the feeling Mattis is trying to express. There are some people out there I think I would enjoy shooting.

The problem with war is that everybody gets shot. Some of the Afghan and Iraqi people to whom Mattis was referring probably were wicked creatures who had it coming. But just as many of them are probably just farmers and peasants recruited by the bad guys, and even the bad guys are really just men fighting for what they believe.

In the end the only difference is that they believe something different from us.

I don't intend to criticize the military in general with this column. Considering the horror in which our soldiers are currently embroiled I can certainly cut them some slack for feeling what they feel.

But back home we should have the benefit of detachment. And as a person who has traveled in the land of at least two of our former enemies, Vietnam and Japan, I do have personal experience of another kind that forms my own perspective.

Also, I'm certain that many of our soldiers have a little more understanding of the reality of what they're doing than Mattis seems to have. I've heard front line soldiers quoted as saying that, if they were in their enemies' shoes, they would probably be doing the same thing.

That is the more mature attitude, I think. The ability to do what has to be done while still respecting the humanity of those against whom you are fighting. It is that understanding that allows for peace following war, and the loss of it leads to the kind of eternal conflict that divides parts of the world.

War should never be fun. It should never be glorious. It should be waged only when necessary and always with some regret, if only because it was necessary.

The enemy is rarely evil, even when they are led by evil men.

Ed Brock covers public safety and municipal governments for the News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or at ebrock@news-daily.com .