Where is ‘the West’ on a ball?

The Earth from space

‘The West’ is one of the many charged words the media are using, words that feed into social media conversations about what’s going on in Ukraine, and what we should do about it.

This morning, I saw a post from a bloke who’s off to join in the war and ‘fight for the West’ and it reminded me of an old, old tub-thumping topic – when I was younger, people used to have lengthy debates about whether Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ was an analogy of the First World War. It certainly added a lot of romantic attachment to terms like ‘the West’, so I thought I’d go back and see what Tolkien thought about all that.

In this comment, he calls the story in the Lord of the Rings ‘the legendary war’ and the First World War ‘the real war’:

The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.

— J R R Tolkien

So there we have it – if you trust people who try to ‘win’ wars by power-games, strength of arms and subterfuge the way our current bunch of ‘mutually assured destruction’ statesmen try to, Tolkien reckons you end up as slaves at best, but probably, you end up dead.

Let us not take sides by nations or directions. Let us not treat the warring countries like football teams, or opportunities for frustrated young men to have adventures. Let us support the people everywhere who are the victims of war, and let us think very hard about how to *end* wars, rather than *win* them.


I am reminded of the time our politicians were debating whether to go to war in Syria. For the Conservatives, David Cameron’s speech in particular was thrumming with a desire to try out some ‘Brimstone’ missiles we happened to have in Cyprus and for Labour, Hilary Benn went off on an impassioned, Romantic epic about the Spanish Civil War.

Here in my town, the anti-war group asked a local doctor who was Syrian to come and talk to us. Someone asked him whether we should be defending Assad. His reply: “if you ask my wife, she’ll say Assad is our saviour. Personally, I don’t like him. He’s a liability.”

If you’re taking sides, think very carefully about on whose behalf you might be doing it, and who you are therefore ‘against’. Who told you what those people wanted? We can’t possibly prove that something as large and varied as a nation is entirely ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and we should not waste brain-power trying. There is no point in personalising a nation. Putin is not Russia – statesmen are removable, persuadable and replaceable. We should be applying all our energy and attention to how we can best help to protect those now at risk or displaced, and we should be thinking hard about how to keep those over-excited statesmen – all of them, any of them, from triggering an escalation to nuclear war – the end of everything.


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