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, he 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 the king.

King Greybeard ordered him: “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 prosperous again.”

But Simon reminded him: “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.”

King Greybeard scoffed. “The troll is a myth. Do as I have commanded.”

And so, Simon sent 50 men to Troll Mountain. 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 trees had been chopped 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 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 destroy the troll,” Simon urged him.

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

Simon waited, and then he said, “If you do not attack the troll, 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 destitute.

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?”

Simon hesitated, and then he suggested, “Buy the people bread. You have plenty of gold.”

“No,” King Greybeard said, clenching his fist. “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 nodded his head and smiled. “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 many more of his trees had been axed.

He fell to his knees and pounded his fists on the ground. Then chomped his teeth, and 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 massive, 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 strangled them, 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,” Simon urged him. “And you must destroy the troll.”

King Greybeard thought for a long 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 shook his head. “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 firmly. “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 hopeless. 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?”

Simon scratched his head, and then he said, “If you do nothing, 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. Your people will no longer be poor.”

King Greybeard sighed, and then he frowned. “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 many times 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 sadly, “You killed many of my friends.”

“Friends? We killed no one.”

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

King Greybeard vowed, “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 the king 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 because he was generous, the people loved him.

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

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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

The Sheep Who Refused To Fight: A Fable

sheep-goatA goat herder bought a herd of young goats and raised them in a field that he owned. But he was mean and cruel, and enjoyed yelling at them, and chasing them around the field. Then one evening, he left the gate open, and when he came back the next morning, the goats were gone.

The goats had fled to a grassy plain where they could graze. They enjoyed their freedom and had plenty to eat. However, one night, after the goats went to sleep, they were attacked by a wolf. No matter where the herd went, the wolf followed them, and every night the goats wondered which goat he would eat next.

A nanny goat decided to do something about the wolf. She waited until sunrise (when the wolf went to sleep), then she tip-toed away, and walked all day until she came to a flock of sheep.

“A wolf has eaten nearly half of my herd,” the nanny goat said to the sheep. “Can you send your strongest and bravest rams to help us?”

The sheep, both ewes and rams, all replied, “We are peaceful sheep and don’t believe in fighting. But if any goats want to come and live with us, they are welcome here.”

The nanny goat pleaded with the sheep; however, no matter what she said, they would not change their minds, so she kicked the ground and left them.

When the nanny goat returned home, to her great surprise, the young billy goats had grown horns.

That night, she gathered the billy goats together, and they rammed the wolf in the head until he dropped dead.

Several days later, a ewe lamb came to the goats and said, “A pack of wolves has attacked our flock. Can you send your strongest and bravest billy goats to help us?”

The billy goats shook their heads. “No; it’s not our fight.”

The nanny goat reminded her, “None of your rams came when we needed help.”

The ewe lamb pleaded with the goats, yet no matter what she said, she could not change their minds. So she kicked the ground and left them.

When the ewe lamb returned home, she bleated and cried. The wolves were gone, and all that remained of her flock was bits of wool and scattered bones.

When War is Justified: The Hunger Games Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

hunger_games_mockingjay__part_one_high-definition-mockingjay1-poster

In Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014) Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is unwilling to become the Mockingjay: the symbol for the rebellion. An important theme in the film is the morality of war. When a government murders and enslaves its own citizens, armed rebellion against that government is morally justified.

Katniss does not want to be the symbol for the rebellion for two reasons: She is angry that the rebels did not rescue Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and there is nothing personally at stake for her in the fight. Her mother and sister are safe; she does not know if Peeta is dead or alive; and she appears to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Katniss has neither the emotional strength nor the desire to be the Mockingjay.

Unless we are emotionally moved by other people’s suffering, we are unlikely to take action to help them. Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) understands this when he tells President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) that Katniss needs to “see what the Capitol did to 12.” Plutarch wants Katniss to witness the aftermath of the bombing because he knows the emotional impact it will have on her. She agrees to go to District 12 and is shocked by the death and destruction, falling to the ground in anguish. After seeing the human remains of thousands of innocent civilians, her heart is changed.

Katniss’s motivation to fight against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is strengthened further when she learns that Peeta is alive. On a television talk show, Peeta calls for a cease fire, but Katniss understands that peace with Snow is not possible: “There can’t be a cease fire, not after everything Snow has done.” After negotiating with Coin for Peeta’s rescue and pardon, Katniss agrees to become the Mockingjay. She now has something personally at stake in the fight against the Capitol: saving Peeta’s life.

The rebellion against Snow is justified because he is killing and enslaving the people of Panem. When he bombs a hospital, Katniss realizes the nature of his evil: “He’s never going to stop.” The nature of evil is that it will not stop unless it is resisted. After the hospital is destroyed, Katness addresses Snow and the Capitol in a video: “If we burn, you burn with us.” The evil committed by Snow motivates Katniss to become more than a symbol; she actively joins the fight.

What Mockingjay Part 1 says about war is relevant to events in the world today. The rebellion against the Capitol parallels the current war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). With Snow, there are only two options: submit to his rule or be destroyed. Similarly, ISIS leaves its victims with only two options: convert to their version of Islam or be killed. According to a UN report, “over 24,000 Iraqi civilians have been injured or killed by ISIS in the first eight months of 2014.”1 However, the limited military response—a campaign of air strikes—will not be enough to defeat the terrorist organization. Unfortunately, there is no political will among the American-led coalition to send soldiers to fight ISIS. Western leaders are emotionally impacted by the deaths of innocent civilians in Iraq and Syria, but there is nothing personally at stake for them in the fight.

Mockingjay – Part 1 has an important message for pacifists: There is a time when war is justified. Peaceful protests are unlikely to lead to freedom in a country ruled by an oppressive dictatorship. If a dictator is killing unarmed civilians, it may take more than international outrage and economic sanctions to stop him. When diplomacy fails, war is sometimes the only way to achieve a lasting peace.

Notes

  1. Samuel Smith, ” UN Report on ISIS: 24,000 Killed, Injured by Islamic State; Children Used as Soldiers, Women Sold as Sex Slaves,” Christian Post, October 9, 2014, http://www.christianpost.com/news/un-report-on-isis-24000-killed-injured-by-islamic-state-children-used-as-soldiers-women-sold-as-sex-slaves-127761/