Why Mordor Failed
October 23, 2019 5:11 AM   Subscribe

Sauron’s hegemonic collapse holds potent lessons for the Trump administration. (Austin Gilkeson for Foreign Policy Magazine) “Oct. 21 is, of course, the 65th anniversary of the U.S. publication of one of the classic examinations of Mordorian strategy. Mordor’s downfall can be traced to three primary failings, all of which the Trump administration is also currently facing. The administration would do well to study the Red Book of Westmarch (now in the public domain), The Notion Club Papers, and other ancient texts related to Mordor.”

(Previously on MetaFilter in extended semi-satirical riffs on JRRT with Russian connections)
posted by mwhybark (28 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
(incidental h/t to Tehhund)
posted by mwhybark at 5:13 AM on October 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


History is always written by the victors...
Sauron's valiant attempts to form a Middle Earth that could find it's own way, free of the influence of the malevolently incompetent superpower to the West, were consistently undermined by a series of escalating covert ops that eventually broke into open warfare.
Embedded special ops teams (some of whom had been Sauron's colleagues previously); a divide-and-rule attitude to ME politics that lead to a region rich in resources being as poor as feudal Europe; a reliance on continent busting divine interventions to fix their most egregious fuck ups.
Sauron's program may have been a little brutal for some tastes, but his intentions were clear - a Middle Earth free of the influence of a distant, unaccountable and, quite frankly, very stupid superpower.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:38 AM on October 23, 2019 [13 favorites]


I'm exhausted by twee comparisons of fantasy novels to the very real emergence of fascism in the US - this isn't Harry Potter or the hobbits. Real people are dying and the mechanisms of democracy and governance in this country are being smashed. It is not cute, or a joke.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:22 AM on October 23, 2019 [61 favorites]


Well F, you just ruined the extended Dragon Lance/Fewmaster Toede riff I was going to do.
posted by Balna Watya at 6:29 AM on October 23, 2019 [9 favorites]


I think trusting a creepy bald little gnome with bad teeth who keeps wandering about spouting gibberish might have been one of Sauron's biggest problems.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:35 AM on October 23, 2019 [14 favorites]


My lengthy discussion of Valinor's blatantly discriminatory immigration policies will also have to wait for another time.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:36 AM on October 23, 2019 [6 favorites]


I'm exhausted by twee comparisons of fantasy novels to the very real emergence of fascism in the US - this isn't Harry Potter or the hobbits. Real people are dying and the mechanisms of democracy and governance in this country are being smashed. It is not cute, or a joke.

You're not wrong, but this country is full of people who know the history of Gondor better than they know the history of the United States, or are better informed about the workings of the Wizengamot than those of the Supreme Court. Sometimes you just have to meet people where their brains already are, and analogies to fiction have always been a good tool.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:46 AM on October 23, 2019 [36 favorites]


Also, sometimes you need to blow off some steam on a good lark just to keep from breaking down. It's ok if this particular lark isn't your jam.
posted by stevis23 at 6:52 AM on October 23, 2019 [40 favorites]


I thought it was a closer fit to the USSR than it was to the USA.
posted by Burn_IT at 6:59 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Has anyone ever read The Last Ringbearer btw?

It’s unlikely to ever see an official English publication as long as the zealous Tolkien estate is around and empowered to force people to speak of treants and halflings but there are gray market English translations available. I tried but couldn’t get into it. As interesting as the concept is, LoTR is just too special to me for me to enjoy a winners-write-the-history critique.

If anyone wants to chime in on it, it would seem relevant to this discussion.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:11 AM on October 23, 2019 [6 favorites]


... I tried but couldn’t get into it.

Same here. I couldn't say for sure, since I don't speak Russian, but it seems that the author is a scientist first and a writer second. His discussions about geography and politics are interesting, but his characterization and dialogue don't bear up.

I would normally agree with you, ryanshepard, but I make an exception for whatever Gilkeson writes; he's a Tolkien scholar and a genuinely insightful, funny writer who spends a lot of time thinking about politics, if his Twitter feed is any indication.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:19 AM on October 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


I think trusting a creepy bald little gnome with bad teeth who keeps wandering about spouting gibberish might have been one of Sauron's biggest problems.

James Carville kindly requests that you keep his name out your mouth.
posted by youarenothere at 7:51 AM on October 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


I think trusting a creepy bald little gnome with bad teeth who keeps wandering about spouting gibberish...

I thought you were beginning the Yoda hate.
posted by biffa at 7:57 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


twee comparisons

I think you mean "precious."
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:58 AM on October 23, 2019 [20 favorites]


It is not cute, or a joke.

Democracy and communism have articulable differences in ideology, and principled rational argument always was one important level of the conflict between them. In contrast, fascism is typically hostile to rational analysis; it is made of myth and unexamined emotion.

Rational argument (exposing the lack thereof) and military force have a good track record against fascism, but so does countermyth. Comedy in particular is democracy's immune system. Fascism is nothing without its grotesquely inflated pride. Charlie Chaplin as Hitler was a joke that was no joke.

Harry Potter is a story about how fascism is ugly, and weak if we unite against it. It partially immunized a generation of kids, and it's worth stirring up those sentiments again as adults.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:13 AM on October 23, 2019 [26 favorites]


I'm exhausted by twee comparisons of fantasy novels to the very real emergence of fascism in the US - this isn't Harry Potter or the hobbits. Real people are dying and the mechanisms of democracy and governance in this country are being smashed. It is not cute, or a joke.

Those fantasy novels were absolutely about the rise of facsism. They weren't being "cute" or "a joke" so much as they were a man's attempt to grapple with what he'd seen in war while also trying to tell a good story.

Which he did. And using his success to talk to people about the fucked up world we live in doesn't seem like even a venal sin.
posted by East14thTaco at 8:28 AM on October 23, 2019 [17 favorites]


"Mordor did little to win hearts and minds beyond its border, other than distributing exactly nine rings that turned its bearers into undead servants of the Shadow."
posted by kirkaracha at 8:49 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think you mean "precious."

I'm a former 90s indie pop kid - I meant what I said.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:52 AM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


OK, but instead of the Eye of Sauron, the tower of Barad-dûr is topped by a massive bullhorn (called "Twîttur" in the Dark Tongue of Mordor) blasting a continuous stream of whining and screaming that reaches all of Middle Earth. Frodo and Sam make to Mount Doom in half the time.
posted by PlusDistance at 8:52 AM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


did I miss something the nine times I read LOTR or is this whole thing kind of ridiculous? Everybody knows you can't negotiate with Sauron, don't they? He just swallows your soul. Which makes the whole idea of comparing him to Trump ridiculous. Because Trump's the acknowledged master negotiator. Everybody ends up winning when he's involved. Even when they lose, because they end better people for having shared oxygen with him. It says so in his book. Doesn't it?
posted by philip-random at 9:44 AM on October 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


Oh, sure- but Galadriel was the real threat.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:31 AM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


Can you imagine the sort of authoritarian hellhole Valinor was?
Eagles, everywhere, watching and reporting on all they see; border controls so strict that breaching them involves death going one way and exile going the other; anyone you spoke to could be a shape-changing informant; endless, endless rituals praising the unelected rulers; their only power source two wildly unstable radioactive trees.
It's '70's East Berlin but everyone has to wear flowing silk robes at all times.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 10:54 AM on October 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


MMGA.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:58 AM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


This is interesting, but I think of “The rule of Gondor was given to lesser men”; a once great nation that is in shambles because of vain ambition.

Mordor’s failure, to me, is tied to the consolidation of power into one central leader & geographic location. By doing that Sauron made himself the sole failure point for the entire venture, while having to balance a desire for offensive war against a need to defend a geographic Achilles heel. And when he overcommitted, a special forces strike was sufficient to topple him and destroy his movement at the same time.
posted by nubs at 12:00 PM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


also magic
posted by philip-random at 7:26 PM on October 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


None of the comparisons between Mordor and Trump's America make any sense. Twelve-year-old me could have torn that article a new one without breaking a sweat.

That being said, the fact that this half-assed attempt at geopolitical fanfic ended up in Foreign Policy magazine is... a thing that I would never have guessed might happen, four years ago. That's mildly interesting in and of itself.

2019: well, here we are.
posted by tivalasvegas at 7:57 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


Sauron's real problem was dropping the thin but workable Necromancer identity and coming out as that-skinny-kid-who-used-to-hang-out-with-Melkor before he took out Nienna's top wetworks specialist.
It was a dumb mistake.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 8:38 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


I knew Sauron. Sauron was a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Sauron.
posted by panglos at 10:03 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


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