The Siege Mentality

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s  “The Return of the King,” Steward Denethor II is the leader of Gondor. He is described as a mighty and valorous man, like the kings of old. However, at the end of things, as the forces of Mordor threaten to destroy Minas Tirith, he gives into despair and attempts to kill himself and his remaining son Faramir upon a funeral pyre. It is only due to Pippin and Gandalf’s intervention that Faramir is saved, but the Steward himself is lost.denethors-pyre

To understand this, we have to go back before this, when we find out that Denethor has in fact been contending with Sauron in a battle of wills…and losing. The reason Denethor despaired at all was the fact that, through the Palantir, Sauron showed only that which the Dark Lord wished the Steward to see.

Denethor’s mind was filled with foul and frightening images.  Thousands upon thousands of orcs amassed on the plains of Gorgoroth. Mighty trolls marching out of the Mountains of Shadow. The vengeful men of the east and south, atop chariots and Mumakil, ready to lay the men of the west low. He was strong enough to resist these images, however. While he was prematurely aged by his battles with Sauron, he remained strong in the face of the deadliest of foes.

That said, it is safe to say that Denethor’s will was slowly eroded by that which Sauron showed him. His mind was slowly given over to the idea that Sauron’s forces were too great for him to overcome. He felt besieged long before the armies of Mordor ever left the Morannon or Minas Morgul. He was brave and valorous, to be certain, but still just a man, and men were ever inclined to fear. And fear for his own flesh and blood, for his only surviving son and heir, is what tipped him over the edge.

He only saw the images that were worthy of his fear and in the end they were his undoing.

It seems like the modern era is not much different.

Only today, Sauron is not the foe in question, but rather it is the media. The media which jumps on every single story where a black man is shot by police officers. It matters not what the circumstances are, only that the black community sees another “attack” on them. Time and time again, another story is brought up, portraying the black man as the innocent victim and the officer(s) as the relentless executioner.

And so, thanks to the media, the black community is much like Denethor was: afraid and besieged. The police are no more inclined to shoot black men as men of any other race, but the media shows us only those images which reinforce their narrative. Whereas the orcs of Mordor were a real and malicious threat, the police are being twisted to look like orcs, instead of our fellow citizens. The black community is being trained to see a villain where there is none.

If only we could come out of our chambers for but a minute, tear our eyes away from the Palantir that shows us nothing but grief and horror, and see the grander picture. Yes, there is true danger and corruption in the world, danger which ought to be rooted out. But this is not the whole story. It is not the whole of the reality.

Denethor saw the relentless armies of orcs arrayed before him, but what the Palantir blinded him to was the gleaming ranks of the men of Gondor. It is true that his home was threatened, but if he could raise his head up for but a minute, he would have seen that all was not lost, that valorous men would still fight to stem the tide of darkness. He would have seen that all hope was not lost; that if a single hobbit could have enough courage to swear fealty to him, then surely men twice that size could find it within them to fight back as well.

And so the black community must do the same. They must look away from their own Palantir and look to their own communities. They must reject the images that are impressed into them and see the world for what it really is, that the siege is really no siege at all. They must not burn themselves on their own pyre, but realize that, if they look beyond the here and now, there really is a world worth fighting for, and their enemies are not nearly as numerous as they think.

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