Representatives from many places and races, representing all the free peoples, gathered together at Imladris. There they sat to have a council of War. Chief among their concerns was what to do with The Ring. The Wise among them, those with many centuries of experience dealing with Sauron, spoke strongly of the need to destroy the Ring--to take it to the very heart of Sauron's realm and throw it into the fire. Only then would the evil be defeated.
Among those who were gathered was a man of Gondor. For his whole life, and many lifetimes before that, his people had been at the forefront in the battle with Sauron. Realizing the potential value of the Ring as a weapon, he stood and advocated that it should be used as such. There were many, he said, with the power to use this weapon to full effect. Then Sauron could be crushed, all his armies and fortifications destroyed. Why throw away such a powerful weapon?
Indeed there were many with the power to use the Ring. Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, Aragorn could have easily taken it, called it their own, and vanquished. But they saw the error of that logic. They knew that to use the Dark Lord's weapon would, in the end, turn them to the Dark. The victory would be hollow and meaningless, and many good things would be never seen again. One cannot use the weapons of the Enemy without being changed.
I find in the Council of Elrond a parable for modern times. 4 years ago we heard a repetitive chorus from leadership. That chorus said that "if we do (or don't do, depending on the example) A then the terrorists will have one". The terrorists, they said, hated our way of life. The terrorists, they said, wanted to change and destroy our way of life. They hated our freedom, our liberty to say what we wished, to gather with who we wished, to be different from those around us.
In the past 4 years we have seen many regrettable things. We have seen captives get heads cut off. We have read innumerable stories about suicide bombings and insurgent attacks. But we have also read about abuses of captives at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, about secret interrogation centres run by the CIA, about NSA officials spying on US citizens without the need for a warrant, about members of the US Administration openly arguing that torture is sometimes needed. Just recently, when members of the Senate scuttled a quick renewal of powers under the PATRIOT Act President Bush accused them of putting the country's security at risk. And I am forced to wonder if maybe the terrorists have already won.
Maybe the "war on terror" has led us to a terrible place. Maybe in our zeal to protect ourselves we have become too much like the enemy we fight. WE have backed away from ideals of freedom and equality and justice in favour of "win at any costs". We have forgotten our shared humanity with the enemy and treated them like a sub-group lower than ourselves. It matters not how they would treat us when captured--we still have the power to choose how we will act. We cannot act like the enemy acts without being changed into the enemy ourselves.
The Wise won out in Imladris. Despite the temptation of almost certain victory they chose the harder path. They turned their backs on the Dark road, in favour of one that seemed darker and futile. What path would the Wise choose for us today?
NB: In the foreword to LOTR Tolkien states clearly that the War of the Ring was not an analogy to WW2. Had it been, he said, the West would have used the Ring. And that would have been disastrous.