Note: If the font is too small for you to read, press control + for Firefox to enlarge it.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
I was born and raised in Japan. The waves of Westernization brought the great writer, J.R. R. Tolkien and his epic saga, Lord of the Rings to the shores of Japan. Tolkien’s masterpiece epic fantasy was translated into many languages and cherished by children around the globe. It planted a seed in the heart of young readers for a kind of moral imagination to be developed later. Recently the story has found a new audience with the blockbuster release of the film version.
As many fantasy stories, this legend depicted a battle between the two forces of dark and light. This trilogy of the Lord of the Rings was most successful in illustrating this archetypal battle. In the story, the dark forces led by Sauron were spreading across Middle-earth. He created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of power and it was the smallest creatures, the Hobbits Bilbo and then Frodo that were chosen to carry the ring to Mordor and destroy it in the fire of Mount Doom.
This task could not have been carried by Frodo alone. A fellowship among the species living in Middle-earth: Elves, Dwarfs, Wizards, Hobbit, Trees (Ents) and Men was needed for this common purpose. What struck me the most as a child was how the presence of evil contrasts with good and how the dark forces try to dominate the world. I grew up in postwar Japan, a country that rapidly gained economic power as it marched toward becoming a first world nation. As industrialization rapidly changed the country’s landscape, one could have the sense that Japan was going through a quick recovery from the devastation of war. At least for many in my generation, the reality and horror of the war faded as something of the past, more an abstract fact talked about in history class.
One morning in school this seemingly peaceful scenery was interrupted. My history teacher with a sense of urgency showed us the Gulf War on the TV saying that this is most important for us to witness. The wrenching reality unfolded before my eyes affected my young impressionable mind. My teacher’s intense face and heightened tone of voice accentuated the marching armed soldiers, sparks of missiles and tanks driving across the desert on TV. War all of a sudden had become so much more real for me.
There have always been wars, as the history books showed. My grandmother would tell us how World War II shaped a whole generation in Japan. The reality of war is as strong as it ever was. Yet, living in a relatively rich part of the world, in this industrialized nation I enjoyed the stability of economic prosperity. War had appeared rather abstract, occurring somewhere very far away, likely never reaching my home.
Now I live in the United States, where weapons are manufactured, ultimately fear is used and war sold to bring profit to large corporations. Living in the Bay Area, one of the more affluent parts of this country, I still see vestiges of the American Dream, big SUVs on the freeway, nicely dressed women on Bart, fancy restaurants and bars, people smiling, enjoying the privileged life. For a moment I forget about wars and horrible conditions and real people’s poverty, dismemberment and death. It seems that such darkness in the world could never reach here.
But I must admit somewhere beneath my consciousness, the presence of war and injustice always exists. It never goes away no matter how much I try not to think about it. At times I was overcome by a sense of anxiety that I could not understand. I might go to a movie or engage in mindless talk with my friends and forget about it. Yet, no matter how much I tried, the heaviness of the increasing darkness that I felt just below the surface of my daily comfortable American life pressed upon my heart, and I could not simply breathe easy.
The battles I witnessed in childhood fantasies unfolding in Tolkien’s Middle-earth has really become more alive and real. I am beginning to remember the increasingly dark force trying to bring the entire Middle-earth under its power. Frodo could have remained innocent, not knowing what is happening out there or getting involved in changing it. But the simple happiness of the Hobbits was about to be destroyed and they might not ever return to the sweetness of the strawberries, the purity of water, and chirping bird’s joyous songs of the Shire. Sooner or later they had to confront this dark force and fight against it for the world that they all loved.
The Ring that one day came to Frodo is the power that each has that can be attained when one uses it for others, not for one’s own selfish gain. Sauron’s power represents the urge to abuse and control its sacred power and this force is also working inside each person. In the story, when one wears the Ring, one is brought down to the level of a dark force, exposed to the abyss of greed and lust for power. Victory is not to be attained through engaging the forces at their level, but only by treading the higher path, giving up the Ring to transform its power for the good. Destroying the Ring could subordinate the lower, fallen nature of man to the higher being of humanity.
I see how this story is a metaphor for our current world. The US government might be under the spell of Sauron. Many problems of the world seems to be emanating from what can be seen as a kind of US-corporate empire carrying a covert colonial mentality. Military and economic forces are the tools of the empire spreading across the world. The forces of imperialism are ever more powerful, attempting to rule all Rings. Institutions such as WTO and IMF and an interlocking banking cartel have put economical shackles on countries and peoples that oppose the empire’s unilateral order of commercially driven globalization. These are like the Dark Riders that will do anything to attain the Power of Rings. They send private mercenaries like Black Water to exploit resources and steal the power of the Rings.
The illusion of the sanctity of national borders is sustained with the rhetoric of national security. In large part this is simply control of the populace through fear. Many feel these wars are far away and that they will not ever come to their home. Yet, while people come to believe a false parable of nation-state and trumped up terrorists out there that we must defeat, the dark force that aims to monopolize state and economic power grows stronger. The life that so many take for granted: laughter with friends in the afternoon, seeing a grandchild’s first walk, running in the green grass with the dog, and putting the children to bed at night; such security and comfort are rapidly being taken away. It has already happened in the Middle East. Iraqi mothers who lost her children experience an agony that cannot ever be healed. Innocent civilians are killed, displaced, their lands destroyed. Lord Sauron of the empire is moving quickly to find the last Ring and conquer the whole Earth.
After the collapse of the Twin Towers and Building Seven on 9-11, the US was swept up with the narrative of patriotism, fear and revenge. As a result of this pivotal event an increase of executive power and dirty politics in the US has reached a peak, threatening many activists and those that oppose to it, particularly colored, immigrants and Muslim descent in this country.
The eye of Sauron is watching all the time for whoever challenges the regime’s doctrine of market fundamentalism and unending war. With the enactment of the Patriot Act, the US quickly began moving toward a police and surveillance state. The imperial war machine and Wall Street barons have learned about and countered strategies of the activists, in many cases successfully neutralizing and silencing them. The Corporate media complicity with Jackboot thuggery at every major party convention or G8 summit is testimonial to the global nature of this burgeoning police state that attacks any who organize resistance movements. This trend is still going strong. Recently Monsanto hired Blackwater to spy on Anti-GMO activists and the FBI raids on antiwar leaders. I remember once my activist friend told me how after 9-11 he almost gave up his work for justice. He told me with a sense of defeat that nothing can fight this powerful regime. I saw him overcome by cynicism and pessimism and focusing on his personal life instead. This is not an isolated case. Political apathy is more present now than before, especially after the complete failure of the Obama administration to be anything but an Uncle Tom for the Military-Industrial-Wall Street Complex.
After immigrating to the United States, I have over the years learned to adjust myself to this new land and call it home. The truth of the matter is, like many people I too have long been a citizen of empire. Surrounded by the narrative of the American dream and privilege and illusions of empire, we have lost touch with the fact that this world needs all of us to steward and cherish it.
It was in a climate of ever increasing decline of civic power that a small unknown organization called WikiLeaks emerged. This bold act of WikiLeaks was like the fight at the Black Gate. In the final volume of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Aragorn and Gandalf led the army to the Black Gate to siege Sauron’s army in order to distract the Eye of Sauron so that Frodo and Sam might have a chance of reaching Mount Doom to deliver the ring to the boiling fire.
The Collateral Murder video that WikiLeaks released confronted me again with the reality of modern war. It revealed a window onto the beast that makes a killing off of the killing. A moment of sunshine blazed through the power of the abstract construct of the nation-state that works to break apart the new fellowship. It cut through the dark cloud of apathy and ignorance that the false powers depend on from us and perhaps for some, it has helped to deliver a new strength like Frodo to carry on the task.
WikiLeaks cast a last line of hope to reveal that the battle is still going on and that the lines that separate cruel reality of war over there and my privileged comfortable life are illusory; that our lives are indeed deeply intertwined. Becoming aware of the atrocity and misery of life across the border, my life here can begin to appear surreal. It is easy to remain numb to the reality of war. We put the armament of national boundaries around us and forgot our fellowship because we were told it is too dangerous to remember. This awakening was not empty rhetoric of hope and change brought by politicians. WikiLeaks effectiveness in fighting with this powerful force actually effects change rather than offering false promises.
What was depicted as a violent battle in the Fellowship of the Rings story is a picture of what is actually happening inside each person. It is an inner battle each must grapple with. Through confronting oppressive forces that dehumanize us, we may be able to gain strength to claim our humanity. By transcending what divides us, we will restore our feeling toward one another and reclaim a rightful fellowship. This imperial machine power can only be truly met with what makes us human, with such qualities as creativity, empathy and love. Like Frodo, we might say “I wish the Ring did not come to me”. But the Ring knows where it belongs because it is only ordinary people who can fight this dark force and transform its power. No one will do it for us.
Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West! ( Speech by Aragorn – The Return of the King)
Time is running fast. I feel the same urge and tension preceding the nearing era of darkness. It is not just in the other side of the border. It is right where our shared home reaches within us. As the house of cards economy rapidly crumbles the middle class begins to disappear.
Maybe we have come to realize that we have no choice but to confront the darkness that is out in the world and within each of us or else it will take over. Each person needs to decide to embark on this quest, like Aragorn and his friends chose to risk their lives in the battle without knowing if they would ever prevail. They saw hope in the self-determining action of a small Hobbit, like the deeds of the ordinary person’s striving, fighting for a just society. They chose to align themselves with that tiny hope and actively engage. We fight for something precious, for the Frodo that lives within each of us, our father, mother and children, our friends and most of all our tie to this living planet.
This struggle is for each person to find something higher within themselves, the Constitution of the Heart that they submit themselves to. The oath is not a loyalty to just one’s own country and nationality, because the highest law of the land is rooted in a shared ground that sees no boundaries. Frodo casting the Ring into the fire of Mount Doom was the gesture of yielding oneself to the higher within. In that moment our struggle becomes a labor of love that gave birth to the Fellowship of the Earth.
The quest is not for a promise of victory or some fixed goal, nor any ideology, but the courage to meet the darkness itself within that gives us meaning. Awakening to this fellowship, as something important enough to die for is perhaps the love we may have been searching for all our lives. At least it was for me.
Jackson, P. (Director). (2001). The lord of the rings: The fellowship of the ring. [Motion Picture]. United States: New Line Cinema.
Jackson, P. (Director). (2002). The lord of the rings: The two towers. [Motion Picture]. United States: New Line Cinema.
Jackson, P. (Director). (2003). The lord of the rings: The return of the king. [Motion Picture]. United States: New Line Cinema.