The Hobbit and Refugee Law

This guest post was conceived of by Piyali Syam and authored by Eric Jokinen. Piyali is Managing Editor of LLM Info, where she occasionally writes about Middle Earth legal problems as well. Eric got his J.D. at the University of Southern California, and was an associate at Proskauer Rose in New York before branching out and becoming a full time freelance writer. Thereafter, he somehow got involved in attempting to analyze the legal problems of fictional characters.


The Hobbit and Refugee Law

With the recent release of the movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, we thought it would be interesting to offer a bit of legal analysis to go along with the film. The central story is one that involves the displacement of a group of dwarves from their homeland by a conquering dragon, and it made us wonder—what would happen to the dwarves under modern international refugee law? What about the dragon? And what of the dwarves’ treasure hoard? Below, I will attempt to answer some of these unique questions.

It’s tempting to say that this entire post is a flight of fancy, given that we’re talking about fantastical beings. But since it seems that just like real-world dictators, dragons don’t bother themselves with the dictates of international law, the parallels may be closer than you might think.

Background facts – the dwarves’ expulsion from the Lonely Mountain

According to Middle Earth lore, the dwarves were the first to inhabit the Lonely Mountain.  Originally, it was used as a mining colony. Over many years, however, it developed into a central stronghold of a major dwarvish kingdom.

The dwarves of the Lonely Mountain were a prosperous people, and their mining activity yielded an extraordinary amount of precious metals and gems. Unfortunately, this attracted the attention of Smaug, a fire-breathing dragon. One day, he attacked the Lonely Mountain, and killed and drove out the dwarves. The surviving dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, fled and went to live in exile in the Blue Mountains.

Back to reality – basic international refugee law

Refugee law on Regular Earth is governed mainly by the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1967, to which most nations are parties. The primary international organization tasked with facilitating the proper treatment of refugees is the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR).

So, who is a refugee under international law? A person who:

  • Is outside his or her country of nationality or if he or she doesn’t have one, outside his or her country of former habitual residence;
  • Has a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; and
  • Is unable or unwilling to return to their former country and attempt to avail him or herself of the protection thereof.

If a person meets this definition, he or she is entitled to a number of protections. Even if a person does not meet the definition, however, principles of customary international law generally still provide that person with some protection. For example, the principle of non-refoulement provides that a person should not be expelled or returned to the “Frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” There is also the 1984 Convention Against Torture, which prohibits the forcible removal of persons to a country where there is a real risk of torture.

So, where do the dwarves stand?

The dwarves are in an interesting situation.

Assuming that the Lonely Mountain was a sovereign nation under the control of the dragon Smaug, the danger is clearly too great for them to return there. The probability is quite high that, if they attempt to return home, they will be killed. And it can be argued that this danger is due to their race, nationality, or even political view. Thus, it seems that they might be entitled to protection as refugees under the laws of Regular Earth.

But the dwarves aren’t seeking asylum, and this changes things.

If the dwarves wanted to stay in the Blue Mountains, or the Shire, it would be a different question. But everyone knows that a soft life in a hobbit hole with a dozen meals a day doesn’t suit the pleasures of the dwarves.  They prefer to occupy themselves with mining and smithing. Instead of settling somewhere new, the courageous lot decided to retake their mountain—thanks in part to the persistence of Gandalf the Grey, who is a notorious troublemaker or one of the saviors of the world, depending on whom you ask.

They’re not asking anyone to allow them to settle within their borders. Instead, they mainly need material support and safe passage through various nations. Sadly, however, many of their actions on this quest, as detailed in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit, would probably lead to their lawful arrest.

Detention of the dwarves

Take, for example, the dwarves’ detention by the elves of Mirkwood. While it’s true that detaining a refugee is generally presumed to be inappropriate, this rule is fairly broad. It even covers refugees that enter a country illegally, provided that they’ve come directly from their homeland and present themselves to authorities without delay. There are certain exceptions, however. An authority may detain refugees if time is needed to make an asylum determination or to verify identity, to name a few purposes.

Unfortunately for the dwarves, by the time they reach Mirkwood, they’ve traveled through a number of nations (without so much as a single passport stamp). Accordingly, the elves of Mirkwood were probably within their rights to apprehend the dwarves after finding them in conflict with giant spiders. This provides them with an opportunity to control the situation while attempting to properly verify the dwarves’ identities and immigration statuses.

Voluntary repatriation

Okay, so the dwarves aren’t asking anyone for asylum. Amazingly, they actually want to return home. So what happens to those refugees who want to go back? Well, there is historical precedent for voluntary repatriation, but it generally requires the participation of the government of the country the refugees want to return to. And, like difficult regimes back here on Regular Earth, there are no indications that Smaug wants to pursue a repatriation initiative—which means that the dwarves’ only option to return home is war.

Could Smaug ever become the rightful “owner” of the territory of the Lonely Mountain?

Under U.S. real estate law, a person can become the legal owner of the real property of another by “adverse possession.” This requires the new owner to make use of the property for a certain period of time and meet a number of other requirements. In our hypothetical scenario, however, Smaug is a conqueror of a nation, so adverse possession may not be the right way to view the situation.

In the context of war, the so-called “right of conquest” once was a principle of international law that legitimized conquerors of nations. Now, however, “wars of aggression” (i.e., not for self-defense, but for territorial or other gains) are negatively defined in U.N. Resolution 3314, but are not illegal per se.

War crimes, however, are illegal. Murder is a war crime that Smaug is likely guilty of in connection with his taking of the Lonely Mountain. As a war criminal, he likely would not be allowed to remain in possession of the Lonely Mountain. This includes the loss of the masses of gold and jewels within it, along with the key symbol of dwarvish royalty, the Arkenstone.

37 responses to “The Hobbit and Refugee Law

  1. Considering that a state of war had existed between the dwarfs and Smaug, how is his killing of dwarfs murder? Were there any dwarven non-combatants who were not collateral damage?

    • Quite a few in fact. And that’s not even taking into account all the dwarf refugees who would have suffered (and likely died) from cold and starvation in the days after Smaug’s attack.

  2. This has been very interesting. I live in Guatemala, where thousands upon thousand of people fled to neighboring Mexico while our 36 year armed conflict between the army and the guerrillas took place. After peace was signed, repatriation occurred, and it was a messy affair, even if both the government and the people outside wanted the same thing.

    I do wonder, though, what kind of legal status all the other dwarves have, since they have been living “abroad” for 60 years.

    • Good point. The dwarves have worked as miners somewhere, which means they found gainful employment and established residency. Are they really still refugees?

    • U.N. conventions and protocols can lay a framework of advisable behavior (and not following it might lead to inter-state lawsuits) but very often these things are settled via inter-state diplomacy, something which can take a very long time to settle if the parties involved are disagreeing on key points and determined enough to argue it for years or decades.

      And I’d say that at least some of the dwarves can still claim refugee status. I don’t know the details, but I do know that Bhutanese refugees (Nepalis) in America work here, though many of them are seeking citizenship here as well which may change the matter.

  3. But the dwarves want to retake the mountain by force. And they are under the command of their leader. Doesn’t that make them an army? Thus if they cross alien territory without permission they must be an invading force.

    • Depends on what your politics and legal standards are. Admittedly this is Middle Earth, which clearly has different legal standards than 21st century Earth, but for the purposes of this discussion we have to treat it as 21st century Earth just because no real legal framework has been shown in canon works for Middle Earth.

      So the case of the dwarves. A head of state could declare with some accuracy that, whatever the dwarves’ intent might be, they are de facto not an army. They are barely armed, do not appear to have formal ranks or training and they are far too few to be a credible recognized army. Of course, the head of state might recognize Thorin as the legitimate leader of the Lonely Mountain government-in-exile* and that his band, small and pathetic as it might be, is the legal Lonely Mountain armed forces.

      However, even if they aren’t recognized as a legal force that isn’t necessarily the end of it. At least not in international law. I remember a lawyer at a conference telling an embittered Congolese man that being a rebel wasn’t a crime in international law, it was anything that a rebel might do that would be war crimes that would be illegal in international law. So even if Thorin isn’t recognized, his group isn’t going to be illegal just by existing. But then the law goes the other way. As you pointed out, entering Mirkwood could be considered an invasion by a rebel group or even a group of terrorists if not by a proper army. Nothing gives rebels the legal right to just cross borders whenever they want to. True, for a good deal of history borders on maps were more theoretical than enforced, but in 21st century standards borders are a bit more of a serious issue.

      So I supposed it might depend on what the legal extent of the elf king’s kingdom is. They say it is of Mirkwood, but Mirkwood is vast. Do the elves have sovereignty over all of Mirkwood?
      Personally I suspect that the description is more boast than legal claim, but at least the area that the dwarves stumbled onto seems to be the territory of the elves. So what the elf king does with the dwarves after that depends on politics. Are they the legitimate government-in-exile of a friendly power (at least friendly enough based on the last time that a dwarf actually ruled in Lonely Mountain) that is seeking to retake Lonely Mountain from an invader, are they an army or rebels that have invaded Mirkwood, are they simply civilians that crossed his borders?

      *Many such precedents exist on Earth going back thousands of years.

  4. Misha, I don’t think the length of time matters, particularly in this situation. Most of the dwarves are still first-generation refugees, with one or two exceptions among the company, and by their standards sixty years is not a very long time. In fact, that very longevity bolster’s Thranduil’s justification for holding them. A dwarf can easily afford to wait a few months while their proper status is worked out. Certainly Thranduil has plenty of cause for complaint given that the purported “King Under the Mountain” has brought a personal, albeit remarkably incompetent, military force into his territory for the express purpose of waging war against an enemy Thranduil knows is a serious threat to his people from personal experience. The logical course of action is to detain them for a few months or years while the case is adjudicated by a proper authority, such as the Council of the Wise standing in for the UN security council.

    • Thranduil didn’t lock them up because he objected to their ques (he didn’t); he locked them up because he offered Thorin aid and Thorin refused. And insulted him. In fact the point of locking him up was that “I can wait”- Thranduil is immortal and Thorin is not, so Thranduil thinks that if he locks Thorin up for long enough then sooner or later Thorin will agree to his terms.

      Passports don’t exist in this world; its not a quest of “nobody can enter my territory unless I say so” so much as “anyone who enters my territory without my say-so should accept that I can arrest them for any reason I like-even if they DO have my say-so, ’cause I’m the King, bitch”. I imagine the situation might have went a little bit differently if Gandalf had been with them.

      Its a mistake to compare the nations of Middle-Earth with the nation-states of Modern Earth. They don’t have any laws that say you can’t enter someone’s territory without permission (because that is unenforceable given the level of technology and population); rather, they just have the law that anyone who enters comes under the power of whoever is in charge and the laws of the land, and to accept that those laws don’t offer that much to protection to non-residents either.

      I mean, I get that its interesting to apply the laws of the modern world to a fantasy setting, but ultimately it doesn’t work. Its not like comics, where they (ostensibly) do follow our laws; they have completely different and far more primitive and basic laws. International law does’ not exist, although there are likely rules and customs that are generally agreed on. But it seems a bit disingenuous in this case to apply laws to Thorin and co. that not only do no apply, but that never could because such laws would be completely unenforceable in such a period and setting.

      • Suburbanbanshee

        Noooo, Thorin got locked up because he refused to explain his presence and motives for travel through Mirkwood. Thorin legitimately feared that the elves would glom onto any chance for treasure (IIRC, the dwarves still have a beef with Melian’s hubby’s refusal to pay for goods, back in the Silmarillion days) and thus refused to explain himself and tell the whole story. Meanwhile, Thranduil legitimately feared that Thorin had turned into a Bitter Dwarf Gone Bad and would run around getting people killed and cursed, as also occurred back in Silmarillion days.

        And a legitimate king’s group of housecarls and thegns and cnichts is a legitimate fyrd army, thank you very much. Territory doesn’t make the cyning; lineage and following does.

  5. What about the contrary position, that the coming of Smaug to Erebor is not like an invading military force which rules by occupation, but rather than the coming of a dragon is most akin to a natural disaster. Does it make a difference if the dwarves are fleeing, say, a volcanic eruption, rather than a big talking flying lizard?

    One other detail: The dwarves are traveling on a road maintained by the elves that passes through Mirkwood, and they are then led off the path. Does Thorin have any kind of promissory estoppel claim against the elves of Mirkwood?

    (I know we hit a lot of the topics regarding proper ownership of the hoard when the first movie came out a little over a year ago… Tolkien’s answer seemed to be that the lawful owner was whoever could hold on to it… but one question that was never answered to my satisfaction was proper ownership of whatever part of the hoard was Smaug’s BEFORE he took Erebor. Having now seen the hoard in the second movie, I still find it likely that Smaug has commingled assets from his hoard before Erebor, and the assets gained from taking Erebor, into one large hoard, and even though the movie never addresses this topic, the possibility that there is some treasure within the hoard of Smaug that was not properly the property of the dwarves puts Thorin’s opinion on the subject in a bit of a bad light. OK… that’s only very tantentially related to the question at hand… what ARE the rights of refugees to property. Can they be seen as having abandoned property when they chose to flee the onslaught of whatever it is they’ve run away from, whether it be dragon or other malevolent force(s)?)

    • Not sure why Thorin should be seen in a bad light since he wouldn’t have any way of knowing if Smaug had done so (nor am I sure how Smaug would have really done so considering the poor means of transportation) until an inventory could be done, something that the presence of multiple armed forces on his territory would inevitably delay.

      I’m also not sure why Thorin would have a claim against the elves. While roads are ideally kept easy to travel and safe, so far as I know there’s no international law that a road has to be open to everyone regardless of profession, rank and nationality simply because the road exists. Indeed, considering the spiders you might be able to argue that the Mirkwood elves are in a state of war.

  6. “Not sure why Thorin should be seen in a bad light since he wouldn’t have any way of knowing if Smaug had done so”

    Well, “no way of knowing” except A) the known behavior of dragons is to never abandon treasure, so the supposition that Smaug may have combined his prior hoard with the takings of Erebor is not exactly a stretch, and B) he’s been told that there is treasure in the mountain which has, at minimum, claims against it (AFTER taking Erebor, Smaug has raided both Mirkwood and Dale). Besides the fact that apparently we’re assuming that any property left in the mountain by persons still alive or with known heirs has escheated to the crown.

    Also, Thorin’s answer “no sharing, not ever, under any circumstances” differs somewhat from the “not until we get a chance to audit the books”, that you’re now putting forward.

    “I’m also not sure why Thorin would have a claim against the elves. ”
    The elves do not build and maintain the road for their own uses, because elves do not need a road to pass through a forest; rather, the elves build and maintain the road specifically for the use of others, so that they might pass through the forest doing as little damage to it as possible. This may be proactive self-interest, or it may be a result of treaty, I don’t recall and I’m working from memory. It doesn’t seem wrong to treat the road as an easement. (It seems Thorin may have a claim against Gandalf’s malpractice carrier, since he takes the road only after being counseled to do so.)
    So, look at it from Thorin’s vantage point. He’s intending to use the road to pass through the forest, avoiding contact with the elves and anyone else who dwells nearby. Instead, he and his party are drawn off the road and into the clutches of the spiders by the elves. Your “state of war” excuse would certainly apply had the elves taken Thorin’s company captive on the road and queried them on their intentions, but that’s not what happened… the elves led them off the road, and into the clutches of the spiders and only take them into custody later.

    • You could respond to me above in the original comments.

      On the points I’m not sure if it was ever established that Smaug had ever attacked Mirkwood or that he had done more than attack Dale.

      And the elves show no signs of welcoming guests or seeking trade along that road or any of the other regular activities associated with keeping roads open. Simply because a road was used in a certain fashion in the past doesn’t mean that the government is under an obligation to permit it to be used in that fashion in the future. Also the elves showed up and attacked the spiders, but I don’t remember anything suggesting that the elves had actually chosen to send the dwarves to the spiders.

      • James Pollock

        “I don’t remember anything suggesting that the elves had actually chosen to send the dwarves to the spiders.”

        In my copy, it starts on page 150 (your copy might have different pagination, but that’s a rough estimate of where to start.)

        They draw the dwarves off the path (both Beorn and Gandalf were clear that they must stay on it) and abandon them deep in the forest, such that they cannot find the path again.

  7. This might not be the best place to mention, but I thought that the creators of this site might be interested to know that the January 2014 issue of PS: Political Science & Politics includes a symposium on superheroes and politics with articles such as Spanakos’ Hell’s Kitchen’s Prolonged Crisis and Would-Be Sovereigns: Daredevil, Hobbes and Schmitt.

  8. I don’t get the claim that the dragon is not the rightful ruler of the land because he committed war crimes. Can you just say that someone has committed war crimes, and immediately make his rule illegitimate? Or do you have to have a trial or other sort of formal accusation? I don’t recall Smaug ever getting a trial, even a trial in absentia. Furthermore, does Middle-Earth really have international law that binds any third parties? (In the absence of third parties, you just have the dwarves and Smaug disagreeing over who owns the land and each individual country deciding which side to support, which is what you’d have anyway regardless of legal ownership.)

    Furthermore, would Smaug be able to get around this by creating a puppet government out of residents and claiming it’s legitimate? (Optionally then having a “civil war” between him and the puppet government where they all died.) Or could Smaug claim some historical connection to the land that would be enough to make this a “legitimate” dispute over ownership rather than just an invader?

    • War crimes and rightful leadership of a nation aren’t exactly clear for obvious reasons. It’s politics and law hitting each other head on.

      In any case I don’t think Smaug has really made much effort to actually rule anything, nor do I know of anything in the back story to give him a claim to the land. He showed up one day because he wanted the valuables there, killed anyone who didn’t run, and went to sleep. An American judge would have trouble stopping their laughter from that argument long enough to find the dragon guilty.

      As for trials, Thorin has a much stronger legal claim to the mountain than Smaug does and actually holding a trial with Smaug there would be impractical to say the least.

      • I think Smaug has made a perfectly good effort to rule. The land has a population of 1 (Smaug himself) and rules by majority vote among the population. He exercises sovereignty and defends the border (kills everyone who enters).

        The reason I asked about a trial is that it seems absurd to say that someone automatically is not a legitimate ruler if he committed war crimes, if there’s no need to officially determine that he committed war crimes. I understand that it’s impractical to try Smaug, but surely they can try him in absentia?

        Of course the real reason why trying Smaug in absentia is absurd is not that it’s impractical to try him, but that the dwarves don’t want to say that Smaug doesn’t own the mountain because he committed war crimes–rather, they want to say that he doesn’t own it period. Even if Smaug had taken care to kill only combatants, they wouldn’t concede that he owned the mountain. As noted in the original post, international law discourages conquest but doesn’t explicitly make it illegal, so Smaug would in fact own the mountain if he had killed only combatants.

      • Let’s say a person goes to one of the micro-nations on Earth and forces the residents out with bombs and automatic weapons and then claims sovereignty. Do they suddenly become the legal ruler of the nation? I’m fairly certain any nation that bothered to treat it as more than an oddity (before someone from outside shot him) would give a pretty definite ‘no’.

      • Ori Pomerantz

        That depends primarily on whether it is more useful to oppose this person, or accept the claim. Trade relationships and the ability (or lack thereof) to place military bases there play a big part in the decision.

        International law is not really law.

      • To Ori, pretty sure that if someone randomly entered a micro-nation and shot and blew up anyone who didn’t leave the response by America and the international community wouldn’t be “will this person be useful to us?”. It would be “you’re going to surrender or we’re going to demonstrate why micro-nations rely on their neighbors”.

        Revolutions are generally accepted. Victors of civil wars are generally accepted. Not always, but generally. Leaders from coups are sometimes accepted. That one depends on politics. But a random person just wandering in and shooting people?

  9. “Let’s say a person goes to one of the micro-nations on Earth and forces the residents out with bombs and automatic weapons and then claims sovereignty.”

    Why go to a micro-nation? It happened right here in the U.S.

    • Because we’re working with 20th/21st century legal standards unless the story is explicitly using the legal standards of another time. Why 20th/21st? Because Middle Earth has no defined legal standards matching any other time, so we’re defaulting to 20th/21st. It’s clear that there are some courts in Middle Earth, but how they operate and what their laws are isn’t known.

      • James Pollock

        Let me clarify… it happened here, and the results persist.
        Pretty much everywhere else in the world, colonialism receded in the late 20th century, and the former colonial powers switched to using economic power rather than direct colonial rule to obtain raw materials from the rest of the world. But not here… we continue to hold the Kingdom of Hawaii, for example. Is the desolation of Smaug that different from the treatment we offered to Bikini?

      • James Pollock

        To support the original claim upthread, I think there’s definitely an argument that successful invasion + time = legitimacy. To use some 20th-century examples, consider the postwar governments of Japan and Germany.

        Had Germany prevailed in Europe, I bet the French occupation government would be seen as legitimate… but they couldn’t hold France and so it wasn’t. And Israel is working on holding onto land taken by conquest… their “compromise” position is “OK, we’ll talk about giving some of it back” but the counter-offer of “1967 borders” seems unlikely.

        The problem for Smaug is that dwarves are both long-lived and greedy, so it takes a LONG time for them to get over having land (and gold) taken from them. Tolkien’s theme is “might makes right”… the early kings of Numenor CAN take a big chunk of Middle-Earth, so they get to have a big kingdom… IF they (and their descendants) can hold it, which is in doubt as the third Age is winding down. There’s a LOT of military tactics and strategy amongst the apocrypha of Tolkien’s writings. (although it seems odd that the castles and fortresses are designed like European middle age construction, which lacked defenses against air attacks for obvious reasons… but in Middle-Earth, you’d need more anti-air defense. Not just against dragons (and Nazgul on dragonback), but the Eagles are a factor, as well.

      • The U.S. doesn’t retain the Kingdom of Hawaii. The Kingdom of Hawaii doesn’t exist anymore and hasn’t for over a century. The process by which the queen was forced out of power and the new government sought annexation was dubious enough that President Cleveland refused to accept it, but the queen did legally declare the kingdom dissolved and after Cleveland left office the basic annexation (if not the specifics of it) did follow the U.S. Constitution. Further, with the current president of the United States born in Hawaii and Hawaii receiving the same legal representation as any other state I don’t think we can consider modern day Hawaii at all comparable to Vietnam, India or even Algeria.

        And I’m not sure what the point about Bikini Atoll is. It was, to my understanding, a case of gross carelessness in how the tests would impact the land and anyone living there, not an effort to cause massive amounts of damage to seize land. You might as well say that Chernobyl would somehow justify Smaug.

  10. “The U.S. doesn’t retain the Kingdom of Hawaii.”

    Sorry, apparently I wasn’t specific enough for your tastes. The U.S. retains all of the land formerly found within the Kingdom of Hawaii.

    Successful invasion + time = legitimacy. The invasion doesn’t have to be by the formal armed forces of another nation. (See also, Texas). Of course, the current United States is built out of land that was formerly English, French, Dutch, and Spanish colonies. Yes, the French sold us Louisiana, but they did it without consulting any of the people who actually lived there. Ditto with Russia/Alaska. Lands in the Northwest were taken by threat of war, ditto with lands in the southwest (plus an actual war) and the various natives were put down by American military forces as well as militia. The lesson is that if you can hold it long enough, you get to keep it… a lesson still valid in the 20th century, and into the 21st. For example, if you ask “what are the borders of Israel?”, you might get a different answer depending on where you happened to be standing at the time. And, although both agree on where their border appears to be right now, both India and Pakistan differ on where it REALLY is. China continues to hold Tibet, but doesn’t hold Taiwan. And so on.

    • You may not think so, but in law and politics the existence or nonexistence of a state is a pretty major issue. From that, the decision by the last queen of Hawaii to dissolve the kingdom is a significant point.

      And like I said, a random person just appearing and shooting people is not going to win anyone over based on anything. Whatever your opinions on Israel are (and no, I’m not going to get into a debate on whether or not Israel is justified, mostly because I don’t care) it at least had a large population by the time it declared independence, some extraordinary political events at that time and (from their view at least) an ancient historical claim to it. I know of nothing to ever suggest that Smaug had any related species in the vicinity, the only thing to change was Smaug’s arrival and I know of nothing that ever states or even suggests that Smaug lived there at any point prior the dwarves moving in.

      Whatever you might think of Hawaii, Israel, Taiwan or border disputes, Smaug presents none of the issues they do.

  11. “And I’m not sure what the point about Bikini Atoll is.”

    Smaug renders the area around Erebor unsuitable for life because he doesn’t care about the land, and he wants to send a message to people who live somewhere else.

    The United States rendered the area around Bikini unsuitable for life because we didn’t care about the land, and we wanted to send a message to people who live somewhere else.

    “[nuclear bombing of Bikini was] not an effort to cause massive amounts of damage to seize land.”
    Neither one is an effort to cause massive amounts of damage to seize land. In both cases, the desolation occurs post-seizure.

  12. “the decision by the last queen of Hawaii to dissolve the kingdom is a significant point.”
    Actions made under duress are often considered NOT legally significant. Her government had already been seized AND she was imprisoned by the rebels. I suppose all the native Americans had ALSO dissolved their governments when the (armed) settlers showed up.

    “I’m not going to get into a debate on whether or not Israel is justified”
    Me, either. I’m talking about the land it took by force of arms in 1967, and continues to hold today. Granted, they weren’t taken in a war of aggression, but taken they were and held they still are. It’s almost like you’re being evasive.

    “a random person just appearing and shooting people is not going to win anyone over based on anything. ”
    No, although historically, a bunch of random people just appearing and shooting people is how we got Texas. Today, a single person might be able to do it, if they had nuclear capability instead of ordinary firearms. At a minimum, that would present a significant challenge.

    “Whatever you might think of Hawaii, Israel, Taiwan or border disputes, Smaug presents none of the issues they do.”
    As I said above, I think the closest analog to Smaug’s arrival is that of natural disaster (because the current legal framework we’re trying to shoehorn a dragon into has no provisions for multiple different intelligent species).
    From Smaug’s point of view, non-dragons have no kind of rights, and so the slaughter of dwarves is of no consequence. Because of that, Smaug’s arrival at Erebor most closely resembles not a war of nations, but a slaughter of beings not recognized as significant or worthy of protection by the slaughterer… so, perhaps, to whaling.

    • Israel’s status as a country seems remarkably similar to the story of the dwarves/Smaug. Part of the Passover Sedar is, “Next year in Jerusalem” referring to the eventual return to Jerusalem for the expatriate Jews who had been forcibly killed/evicted from their homes. For generations, or roughly a single dwarvish lifetime, this had been the cry of Jews around the world. Compare the term “Abomination of Desolation” which some believe refers to the destruction of the Jewish temple around 70 AD, and the “Desolation of Smaug”, compare also the tree-cutting that the Romans did in Israel, where they specifically salted the earth so that trees would not grow there again, and compare what Smaug did to the area. Hadrian’s army specifically forbid Jewish people to live in Jerusalem, not to mention the vast majority of people who didn’t return to those areas after the Assyrians tore the place apart centuries earlier.

      Compare and contrast the Cuban (and other nationality) expatriates who still advocate to be paid for the land they lost in a war/rebellion, etc., although their children don’t usually hold yearly rituals where, among other things, they talk about how they will eventually return to their “ancestral lands”.

      • See? You’re supporting my claim, because the Jews arrived in Canaan as invaders who took the land from the people who were there before. Their invasion was successful, then time passed, so their claims on the land seem legitimate.

        Meanwhile, the Cuban expats’ invasion was NOT successful, so their claims on Cuba don’t. (Sorry, former Cubans, but I hope your new lives in the United States are a suitable consolation prize. For the most part, I think the second- and third- generation descendants think it is, although I lack firsthand evidence. Assimilation… note also that this is what happened to most of the 12 tribes when they were driven out of Canaan… they said “ah, well, this part of the Fertile Crescent is nice, too.)

      • Consider the Nazi art thefts. It’s been almost 70 years, but the stolen artwork still has to be returned, it can’t be kept by whoever has it. Possession for a long time doesn’t mean you get to keep anything that was originally stolen, since it’s still stolen.

        Even so, it occurs to me that the Israelites in the Bible did originally gain that land in much the same manner as Smaug did — they originally didn’t acquire Canaan because they happened to hold that land for a long time, Israel acquired the land because (Deuteronomy 7 & 20) they (or God) slaughtered all the original inhabitants of the land. The land then became theirs because there was literally nobody left to contest their claim. Hunh, I wonder how much you have to protest/fight to contest adverse possession. If you can’t physically make a person leave, and there’s nobody to appeal to, can they make their possession stick?

  13. Suburbanbanshee

    Smaug made the area around Erebor quite suitable for dragon life (ie, his) as well as making it more easily defensible. He was not engaging in ruining the environment, but rather in dracoforming it. And indeed, I’m sure that all that nasty parasitic plant life didn’t exist there when the Lonely Mountain was a more active volcano, so you could argue that Smaug was restoring vanished habitat.

  14. “Possession for a long time doesn’t mean you get to keep anything that was originally stolen, since it’s still stolen.”

    It does with land.

    “If you can’t physically make a person leave, and there’s nobody to appeal to, can they make their possession stick?”

    Ask any Native American (as opposed to native Americans).

  15. Since Smaug ended up dead and had no allies the only possible dispute at that point would be between the Dwarfs and the Men involved in killing him.

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