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Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

The third Hobbit movie is the best of them all. It is almost as good as one of the Lord of the Rings movies. As the title states, it is almost entirely about the Battle of the Five Armies. There is fighting throughout; it is well done.

One implausible part of the movie was the fact that the orcs, who wore plate-mail armor, were often brought down by the slashing of swords. In real life, the edge of a sword cannot penetrate plate-mail armor. When fighting someone wearing plate-mail armor, it is necessary to either thrust the point of the sword with great force straight forward so as to puncture it, or find a gap between plates. In this movie, it seemed to me that the swords were able to slice through the plate-mail armor, which is not realistic.

As I watched it, I was impressed by the contrast between the quantity of the orcs, and the quality of the elves, dwarves and men. Each elf, each dwarf, and most of the men seemed capable of easily killing numerous orcs and goblins. Even the trolls did not seem very tough; they were big and strong, but their skin was exposed to any weapon that can pierce skin, and they moved slowly like dumb beasts. The forces of evil had only quantity on their side; they were more numerous than the forces of good. This is very medieval. During the Middle Ages, one knight was equal to many peasants. Please note that I shall use the word “knight” to refer to professional, armored, mounted warriors. The term “men-at-arms” might be more accurate, because not all professional, armored, mounted warriors were knights, but I choose to use the word “knights” because more people will understand what I mean, and also because the best men-at-arms were knights. A man-at-arms who never became a knight was lacking, and rather than look at those who were defective, I choose to concentrate on the best. Knights had the advantages of superior weapons, superior armor, and horses. They also had the advantages of training and physical size and strength. Knights during the Middle Ages spent their whole adult lives training for war, so they were very skilled at it. Peasants, on the other hand, not only lacked training, but also probably felt intimidated by the knights whom they believed to be far superior to them. Even though a small group of peasants might be able to fight together and thus defeat a knight, it would be unlikely that a group of peasants would do that, because they would be too afraid. Knights, on the other hand, were very confident and therefore brave. In addition to their training, knights were also physically superior to peasants. This was both because of their different diets, and because of genetics. Those in the warrior class of medieval society ate much meat, whereas medieval peasants ate almost exclusively grain, in the form of bread of porridge. If two men are born equal, but one eats large amounts of meat from early childhood until adulthood, while the other eats only grain, and often not very much of it so that he is malnourished, then the former will grow up to be bigger and stronger than the latter. Genetics also played a part; knights were usually the sons of knights, and peasants were usually the sons of peasants. Big strong men normally have big strong sons, and little weak men usually have little weak sons. That is the way things were.

The British and the Swiss began to change that situation in the fourteenth century with their Welsh longbows and the Swiss pikes. With a Welsh longbow, a peasant could shoot and kill an armored knight. A formation of Swiss pikemen, working together, could stop an attack of mounted knights. Much less training was required to be a pikeman, and purchasing a longbow or a pike was much less expensive than purchasing a horse, armor, and a sword. In the fifteenth century, gunpowder began to be used in European battles, and after a period when they learned how to control it and fire accurately, peasant armies armed with guns proved stronger than knights. In warfare, this is what distinguished the modern age from the Middle Ages. In the modern age, quantity beat quality. There have always been some soldiers who are braver or more skilled than others. During World War II, German and Finish soldiers were, man for man, superior to Italian and Russian soldiers. Despite their inferiority as individual warriors, however, the Russians defeated the Germans and the Finish, because they had more quantity. One German might be able to fight successfully against two Russians, but not against three, or four, or five. The weight of numbers defeated Germany in World War II. The same happened in the Vietnam War. American soldiers were better trained, better armed, and physically bigger than their Vietnamese enemies, but the Vietnamese were more numerous in Vietnam. The United States had a bigger population than Vietnam, but most Americans stayed in America, whereas all Vietnamese were in Vietnam, so they had numerical superiority on the battlefield, and in the end they won.

Now we are in the post-modern age, and I wonder if we are returning to the way things were during the Middle Ages. Now, maybe, because of technology, a small number of soldiers can defeat a very large number of enemy troops. Aided by drones, stealth planes, night-vision devices, and rifles that are accurate at two miles, a few American soldiers might be able to defeat much larger armies of enemy nations that lack such weapons. As far as I know, less than five thousand American soldiers were killed fighting in Iraq from the first attack in 1991 until now. As far as I know, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed fighting against the U.S. and its allies. Though the U.S. suffers from the loss of even one life, because every person is unique and irreplaceable, it cannot be denied that American losses have been very small compared to Iraqi losses. It can be surmised that the same ratio of deaths would occur in any war between a first-rate power with the best technology and a second-rate power without such technology. If there would be a war between the United States, or France, or any other nation with the best technology, against a third-world state, like maybe Mali, then the ratio of deaths would be even more extremely one-sided. So, now, again, a small number of highly-trained professional warriors with the best weapons a lot of money can buy are able to beat a very large number of soldiers with lesser training and inferior weapons. Once again, perhaps, quality beats quantity.