Hail The Victorious Dead
I love the Lord of the Rings, both the book(s) and the movie(s). I respect Tolkien's demand that his works not be treated as allegory, but I also recall his characterization of their "applicability" in describing certain themes and thoughts.
One in particular came to mind again last night. After the Rohirrim return to Edoras, they have a feast to celebrate their victory. King Theoden begins the feast with a toast in which all the hall joins: "Hail the victorious dead."
What a foreign concept that's become to so many of us! "To hail" is to show honor and gratitude and deference, and a substantial portion of our populace appears incapable of doing that anymore, especially as regards our military. The closest some can come is some milquetoast version of "support the troops". What a strange deficiency in a country so defined by and indebted to military sacrifice and strength! What a great loss it would be if we forgot how to honor our heroes.
So hail the American soldier! Hail the liberators of Iraq and Afghanistan! Hail the defenders of life and liberty and happiness' pursuit! And hail the milbloggers like 2Slick and Greyhawk and Blackfive and Smash and all the others who remind us of what our warriors really are like!
King Theoden also calls them "victorious". It's almost an odd concept, that the dead may be victorious, at least if one considers the presence of life to be more significant than the character of a life. In today's "modern" age, it seems that some think that one cannot win a battle if one does not survive it. What a peculiarly individualistic and limited view! How fortunate we are that those who have given their lives were not so short-sighted and selfish to think that the world ended when their own did! Where would we be if we did not have soldiers who thought that the preservation and prosperity of their home's way of life mattered more than their own lives?
It is even more poignant that Theoden's feast is only a respite from the larger, almost certainly unwinnable war. Indeed, he later acknowledges that his people are in a battle they cannot win, but that will not stop them from fighting. What a contrast to those who cannot bring themselves to even declare any victory in Iraq, let alone celebrate it! Theoden's prospects against Sauron were far more dire than our own against terrorists and mullahs and Ba'athists, yet his people paused for a victory feast and then sallied forth once more against the foe. We ought to learn.
Finally, Theoden is saluting the dead. The hall raises a glass to their memory and their prowess and their deeds. They do not mourn for themselves as Theoden does when he comes out of his ensorcelment and grieves for his son. They do not gnash their teeth and wail about the waste and cost of the battle. To do so would belittle those who have died. It would be dishonorable.
Furthermore, they do not believe that the dead have ended. Rather, they have "gone to their fathers" and will be measured and viewed by their deeds, their bravery, and their sacrifice. Again, how so very removed from so many today who cannot see the dead of war as anything but victims and who think that nothing can be redeemed once physical life has fled!
Yet not all think so. Hail our honorable warriors! Hail our glorious defenders! And yes, hail the victorious dead!