The Troll Who Went To War: A Fable

Theodor_Kittelsen_-_Skogtroll,_1906_(Forest_Troll)Long ago, a troll lived in a cave on a mountain. He had a head shaped like a pumpkin, a nose like a banana, skin as hard as a rock, and he was ten feet tall. His name was Thug, and he loved one thing more than anything else: He loved trees.

After the sun went down, Thug came out of his cave and talked to the trees. He ate the acorns on the oak trees and said, “You make me feel smart.”

He touched the soft bark of the birch trees and said, “You make me feel gentle,” and he smelled the needles of the pine trees and said, “You make me feel calm.”

Thug didn’t have a friend in the world, but he treated the trees on his mountain like friends.

If a tree had any dead branches, he pruned it by biting the branches off with his teeth. If a tree looked unhealthy, he peed on it to give it nutrients to grow. And if he felt lonely, he hugged a tree and didn’t let go until sunrise, when he went back to his cave to sleep.

Many miles from Thug’s mountain, there was a kingdom ruled by a man named Greybeard. The king had long grey hair, a long grey beard, and he wore a grey robe and a silver crown. When he needed to think, he sat on his throne and pulled on his beard.

King Greybeard felt sad because his people were poor. His land was barren, and the people barely grew enough crops to survive. But one day, King Greybeard was sitting on his throne when he had an idea.

He summoned Simon, his Right Hand, who carried out his orders and gave him counsel. Simon was a bald man, 20 years younger than him.

Greybeard said to Simon: “Send men to Troll Mountain, and cut down the trees. Pay the men well, so they can provide for their families. We will trade the wood with other kingdoms, and increase our store of gold. I will make my kingdom great again.”

But Simon said, “Many men have gone to cut down the trees, but none have returned. It is said a troll lives on the mountain, and he eats men.”

“The troll is a legend,” King Greybeard said. “Do as I have commanded.”

And so, Simon sent 50 men to Troll Mountain, and after they arrived, they worked until sunset, cutting down many tall trees: oak, birch, and pine.

When Thug woke up, he came down the mountain, and to his horror, dozens of his beloved trees had been cut down.

He fell to his knees and wept. Then he said, “Men kill my trees. I will make them pay for what they have done.”

Thug returned to his cave and picked up his hammer. His hammer was huge, twice the size of his head. He waited until midnight; then he came down the mountain and smashed all the logger’s tents while they were sleeping. However, one logger managed to escape.

The following morning, the logger appeared before King Greybeard, and told him what the troll had done. The king was shocked and greatly dismayed.

Soon after, the families of the dead loggers gathered outside the castle, and demanded that the king kill the troll.

King Greybeard summoned Simon to his throne room and asked him: “What should I do?”

“You must attack the troll and destroy him,” Simon said.

“I do not want war,” King Greybeard replied. “If we attack him, many more men will die.”

“If you do not attack the troll,” Simon said, “he will surely attack us. It is better that we fight him on the mountain before he comes here.”

King Greybeard thought it over, and pulled on his long grey beard. Finally, he said, “No, we provoked him by cutting down his trees. He killed the loggers to deter us from coming back. If we leave him be, he will leave us alone.”

A year went by, and the troll did not attack as Simon predicted. However, there was a drought, and the people became even more poor.

Every day, hundreds gathered outside the castle and demanded bread to eat.

King Greybeard summoned Simon to his throne room and asked him: “What should I do?”

“Buy the people bread,” Simon said. “You have plenty of gold.”

“No,” King Greybeard said. “If I give them bread, they will become dependent on it. The people must create their own wealth. I only spend my gold for the defense of the kingdom, and to build roads and bridges.”

Simon thought for a moment, and then he said, “Troll Mountain has the best trees in the land. “They are by right your trees, for you are a king and can take whatever you want. Put men to work cutting down the trees, but also send your army to protect them. The troll will not attack an entire army.”

King Greybeard said, “It is a good plan. Carry it out.”

And so, Simon sent 50 more loggers to cut down the trees on Troll Mountain, and he also sent the king’s army of 100 men to protect them.

When Thug woke up, he came down the mountain, and to his horror, he saw that dozens more of his beloved trees had been cut down.

He fell to his knees and pounded his fists on the ground. Then he said, “Men have no respect for my trees. I will make them pay, so they will never cut down my trees again.”

Thug returned to his cave and got his battle axe. It was a massive axe, twice as big as his torso, and sharper than any sword. He waited until midnight; then he attacked the king’s army. The soldiers fired arrows, but the troll’s rock-like skin was too hard, and the arrows fell to the ground. Thug killed every man with his axe, chopping off their heads or cutting them in two.

As the loggers came out of their tents, Thug stomped on them and snapped their necks, but half of them escaped.

The next morning, when word reached King Greybeard that half of the loggers and all the men in his army were dead, he was filled with great sorrow.

Soon after, the families of the dead gathered outside the castle and demanded that the king kill the troll.

King Greybeard summoned Simon to his throne room and asked him: “What should I do?”

“You must raise another army. And you must destroy the troll.”

King Greybeard thought for a while, and tugged on his long grey beard. Finally, he said, “Raise an army. But do not attack the troll. He slaughtered our army to deter us from cutting down his trees. If we leave him be, he will leave us alone.”

But Simon did not agree: “If you do nothing, the troll will see it as weakness. You must kill him before he attacks us. You must protect your people.”

“These are my orders,” King Greybeard said. “Follow them.”

Simon did as the king commanded. He raised a new army to defend the kingdom, but he didn’t attack the troll.

Another year went by, and there was another drought. The people became even more poor. Hundreds gathered outside the castle and demanded bread. They demanded justice for the dead loggers and soldiers. Finally, they demanded that if the king could not give them what they wanted, he should abdicate the throne.

King Greybeard summoned Simon to his throne room and asked him: “What should I do?”

“If you do nothing,” Simon said, “you will lose your throne. Therefore, you must send your army to destroy the troll. When the troll is dead, you can cut down the trees, and make your kingdom great again.”

King Greybeard sighed, “Many men will die, but I see no other choice. Send the army.”

Simon sent the army to Troll Mountain, but Thug was ready for them. After the sun went down, he ran down the mountain with his battle axe in one hand, and his hammer in the other, and he smashed half of the soldiers with his hammer, and the rest he beheaded with his axe.

After slaughtering the entire army, Thug went to the king’s castle and stood outside the defensive wall.

“I demand your king come out!” he thundered.

King Greybeard and Simon came to the balcony and saw the troll standing beyond the wall.

Thug raised his hammer and yelled, “I am Thug! You cut down many of my trees, but you will not cut down any more!”

Thug struck the wall over and over again until he made a hole in it. And then he stepped through the hole, walked to the castle, and stood below the balcony.

King Greybeard was trembling. He put his hands together and pleaded, “Great and mighty Thug! Have mercy on my people. It was I who ordered men to cut down your trees. Do not punish them because of me.”

Thug said, “You killed many of my friends.”

“Friends?” King Greybeard asked. “We killed no one.”

“The trees are my friends. You destroyed them!”

King Greybeard said, “I promise you, I will never send any men to your mountain again.”

Thug stared at the king, and scratched his head. And then he said, “I will make sure of that.”

Thug smashed his hammer against the castle, cracking the foundation, and then he smashed it again, and again.

King Greybeard said to Simon: “Evacuate the castle.”

Simon left and did as King Greybeard commanded. Then Greybeard tried to reason with the troll.

“Great and mighty Thug,” he pleaded. “Do what you will to my castle. Do what you will with me, but do not harm my people.”

“Never again!” Thug yelled. “You will never attack my trees again!”

The troll went on smashing and cracking the castle until the foundation was destroyed, and when the balcony fell, King Greybeard was buried in the rubble.

Victorious, Thug raised his hammer in the air and roared. Then he turned and trudged back to his mountain.

After the troll was gone, the people gathered outside the ruined castle, and mourned for King Greybeard. He had saved their lives by sacrificing himself.

The king, who had no sons or daughters, had named Simon his heir, and he was crowned king.

With Greybeard’s store of gold, he bought the people bread. And Simon was loved by all the people.

He also raised a new army to defend the city. But he didn’t send any soldiers to attack the troll. And he didn’t send any loggers to cut down the trees. He knew what would happen if he did.

The troll would destroy them all. And because of that, there was no more war.

Image Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=225211

Illegal Immigration and the Risk to Public Health: Panic in the Streets (1950)

Panic in the StreetsIn Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets (1950), Kochak (Lewis Charles), an illegal immigrant, is patient zero in a potential outbreak of pneumonic plague, a deadly disease that can kill a person “within four days.” An important issue in the film is illegal immigration and the risk to public health. Because illegal immigrants do not have the same access to health care as American citizens, if they are carrying a communicable disease, the disease can spread more quickly throughout the general population. The film also shows how American citizens without health insurance are equally at risk for contracting and spreading a communicable disease.

One difficulty in stopping the outbreak of a communicable disease is finding everyone who is already infected. The individual who is sick may not go to a doctor or a hospital, believing they will get better without treatment. After Kochak’s body is cremated, Dr. Clint Reed (Richard Widmark) and the police try to find Vince Poldi (Tommy Cook), the second person to be infected with the plague. The longer Poldi moves freely among the general population, the more likely the plague will spread. Whether American citizen or illegal immigrant, an individual who has a communicable disease needs to be treated and/or isolated.

In 2016, there were an estimated 11.3 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.1 Illegal immigrants face a greater risk of contracting and spreading a communicable disease because they don’t have the same access to health care as American citizens. In the U.S., under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), illegal immigrants “are either explicitly barred from accessing federal benefits or face significant restrictions on Medicaid and other programs for the poor.”2 Health care options are limited, and vary widely from state to state.3 Even when health care options are available, illegal immigrants may not access services because of “fear of deportation.”4

When access to health care is a privilege, and not a right, it is not only illegal immigrants who are at risk for carrying a communicable disease. In 1950, the year Panic in the Streets was released, the United States did not have Medicaid for low-income earners.5 It is almost certain that Poldi, who is poor and unemployed, doesn’t have health insurance. His only likely option is “charity care”6, which is why a nurse is “sent for” when he is sick in bed. Blackie (Jack Palance) later pays for a doctor to examine him, but there is nothing the doctor can do. Poldi needs to go to a hospital.

In Panic in the Streets an illegal immigrant is infected with pneumonic plague, and, tragically, two more people contract the disease and die. If there were a possible pandemic in the U.S., it is likely measures would be taken to inoculate illegal immigrants, if the disease were treatable. However, this does not change the reality that illegal immigrants are in a precarious position when it comes to accessing health care. Add to this the fact that over 28 million Americans do not have health insurance,7 and the entire population is at risk if there is an outbreak of a deadly disease.

Notes

  1. Jens Manuel Krogstad, Jeffrey S. Passel, and D’Vera Cohn, “5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S.,” Pew Research Center, April 27, 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/27/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/
  2. Keegan Hamilston, “Obamacare Bars Illegal Immigrants—and Sticks Hospitals With the Bill,” The Atlantic, December 18, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/12/obamacare-bars-illegal-immigrants-and-sticks-hospitals-with-the-bill/282444/
  3. Lisa Zamosky, “Healthcare options for undocumented immigrants,” Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2014, http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-healthcare-watch-20140420-story.html
  4. Ibid.
  5. Josh Hicks, “Ron Paul’s claims about life without Medicare and Medicaid,” Washington Post, February 1, 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/ron-pauls-claims-about-life-without-medicare-and-medicaid/2012/01/31/gIQAedy5hQ_blog.html
  6. Virgil Dickson, “Medicaid a lifeline for the poor and disabled,” Modern Healthcare, May 23, 2015, http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20150523/MAGAZINE/305239941
  7. Dan Mangan, “The rate of uninsured Americans hits a record low as Obamacare’s future remains a question mark,” CNBC, February 14, 2017, http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/14/the-rate-of-uninsured-americans-hits-a-record-low-as-obamacares-future-remains-a-question-mark.html

Three Traits of a Naive Person: The Brides of Dracula (1960)

the_brides_of_dracula_12A naive person is “deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgment”1, “too willing to believe that someone is telling the truth,” and “that people’s intentions in general are good.”2 In Leo McCarey’s The Brides of Dracula (1960), Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) is naive. She lacks knowledge of threats to her safety, trusts everyone she meets, and presumes that people are good until she is convinced otherwise.

Marianne’s lack of knowledge is ironic given that she is a French teacher who has an education. She has moved to Transylvania, yet has never heard of the “cult of the undead”. Her lack of knowledge of vampires puts her in grave danger when Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt) offers her a place to stay. The Baroness brings young women to her home so her vampire son can feed on them.

Marianne is quick to trust and believe strangers. No one has to earn her trust; they are given it freely. Upon meeting the Baroness, she immediately accepts her offer of hospitality. She tells Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) that the Baroness “seemed so kind.” However, when Marianne meets her son the Baron (David Peel), who is bound by a chain, she believes he has been mistreated by his mother. Believing him to be good, she helps the Baron escape.

Marianne believes people are good based on mere appearances. She believes the Baron is a good person because he is handsome and soft spoken, but she is deceived. He is a vampire, and after releasing him from his chains, he turns his mother into a vampire. However, when Greta (Freda Jackson) shows Marianne the dead body of the Baroness, Marianne does not believe the Baron killed her. Marianne is in denial because she loves the Baron. She believes that the way he acts outwardly is a reflection of who he is inwardly. She does not realize that appearances can be deceiving.

Marianne presumes that people are good until she has evidence they are bad. When Van Helsing tells her that the Baron has turned three women into vampires, she says, “No; I won’t listen to you.” It is not until she sees the Baron’s fangs that she accepts he is a vampire. Marianne’s error in reasoning is presumption, believing something is true until it is proven false. We shouldn’t judge anyone as evil without evidence, but neither should we presume that everyone is good.

A naive person fails to recognize bad people who will take advantage of them. Marianne’s lack of knowledge and experience makes her naive, and because of that, she misjudges people, believing both the Baron and the Baroness to be good. Before moving to Transylvania, she never faced any real threat or danger. If she had, she would have exercised greater caution when meeting strangers.

Notes

  1. Merriam Webster, s.v. “Naive,” accessed April 26, 2017, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/naive
  2. Cambridge Dictionaries, s.v. “Naive,” accessed April 26, 2017, http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/naive

The Doctrine of Proportionality: Star Trek “Balance of Terror”

balance of terrorIn Star Trek “Balance of Terror” a Romulan ship destroys four “Earth Outpost Stations” that border the Neutral Zone, a demilitarized region of space. The Captain of the Enterprise, James T. Kirk (William Shatner), must decide what to do after this “unprovoked attack.” Kirk’s response to the Romulan attack is based on the doctrine of proportionality: “a state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered. “1 An important theme in the episode is a proportional response to an unprovoked attack can prevent a full-scale war.

Following the Romulan attack, Doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is the voice of pacifism. He is against attacking the Romulans, suggesting that it will violate the peace treaty and lead to war. However, a non-response would only increase the likelihood of war. By refusing to use military force in response to an unprovoked attack, a lasting peace is rarely achieved. Having paid no price for their act of aggression, the aggressor is emboldened to attack again.

In contrast to McCoy’s pacifism, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Mr. Stiles (Paul Comi) both want to attack the Romulans. Stiles tells Kirk: “We have to attack. If we don’t … they’ll report we saw their weapons and ran.” If the Enterprise does not respond, the Romulans will send more ships and destroy more Earth Outpost Stations. Spock says, “Weakness is something we dare not show.” After considering the viewpoints of Spock and McCoy, Kirk attacks the Romulan Bird of Prey and destroys it. The Romulans pay a high price for their act of aggression—the loss of their flagship—which dissuades them from attacking again. Kirk’s proportional response does not lead to war. On the contrary, it restores the balance of power between Earth and the Romulans and ends the conflict.

Taking military action after an unprovoked attack is a deterrent against future attacks, and the stronger the response, the greater the deterrent. “Balance of Terror” reminds us that to stop an aggressor from attacking again, there will often be a cost. In the battle between the Enterprise and the Romulans, Robert Tomlinson (Stephen Mines) is killed. Kirk comforts the grieving widow by telling her, “There was a reason.” Tomlinson died in the line of duty for a noble reason: to prevent future attacks by the Romulans. This is the goal of any just military action: to save the lives of innocent civilians, not only in the present, but also in the future. If Kirk hadn’t destroyed the Romulan ship, the Romulans would have sent more ships and started a war.

Notes

  1. Lionel Beehner, “Israel and the Doctrine of Proportionality,” Council on Foreign Relations, July 13, 2006, http://www.cfr.org/israel/israel-doctrine-proportionality/p11115#p0