The Skyrim Civil War and How All Wars Defy Easy Morality.

One of the greatest questions among Skyrim fans is “Imperial or Stormcloak?”  From the very moment you start the game, you are faced with the horrors of simple Stormcloak soldiers being sent to the execution block.

Allow me to supply some background information. This will prove important later. Skyrim used to be ruled by the powerful Empire of Tamriel.  Yet, the Empire got into a particularly perilous war for survival against the genocidal Thalmor, the government of the High Elves.  The Empire won a few victories but it eventually came to a treaty called the White Gold Concordant with the High Elves in which they agreed to ban all worship of Talos, the first emperor who ascended to godhood in the lore of the Elder Scrolls series.  Many of the Nords of Skyrim, particularly Ulfric Stormcloak became enraged with this decision and its effects of worshipers being executed by Thalmor agents.  Thus, Ulfric Stormcloak killed the High King of Skyrim in a duel and declared himself High King.  Now the land of Skyrim is engulfed in a viscous Civil War between the Empire and the Nords who support them and Ulfric Stormcloak and his army.

At first, this would seem to be a clear cut decision.  The Stormcloaks are fighting for religious freedom, so surely we should support them.  But we learn there are other complexities.  According to the Imperials, none of them are happy with the Thalmor and they barely enforce the ban on Talos worship.   The crackdown by the Thalmor came about as a result of Nords reacting violently.  Many Imperials argue that the Empire needs to be unified now more than ever if they hope to stand a chance against the Thalmor in the future wars to come. Also, the Stormcloaks are extremely nationalist and racist against other races such as the lizard like Argonians and Dark Elves.  Many of these other races are harassed, banned from cities, assaulted, or banished to ghettos.  Also, even more disturbing, Ulfric Stormcloak once gathered an angry militia to attack a group known as the Forsworn and executed their men, women, and children.  Yet, the Empire does not respect Nordic traditions or culture, and it does practice draconian executions and torture.  Also, giving in to the demands of the genocidal Thalmor is morally questionable all on its own.


I gave this long explanation to show that the situation in the Civil War is complicated.  It is difficult to say which side is the good or bad side.  The same goes for real wars going on today.  Think for example of the situation in Ukraine as Russian and Ukrainian backed militias battle for control of the country.  Or even better, think of the situation between Israel and Palestine.  It is strange that so many admire the more powerful Israel over the rebel Palestinians, but the fear of fundamentalist Islam and its influence in Palestine and regions around it seems to convince many that Israel is in the right, although both sides have committed atrocities.  With all this complexity, how do we pick sides in such a conflict?  Making the moral decision here is not easy in the slightest and should not be made without intense thought.  It requires a careful weighing of both sides of the conflict and an examination of the root causes.

Often the best decision is to not take sides at all, but rather attempt to work towards some form of reconciliation, but in many cases such peace would require one side or the other to be pacified or lose some of its former power.  For example, if Israel abandoned its Jewish only settlements on Palestinian land, this might start the process of peace, or perhaps if Hamas agreed to stop sending rockets towards Israel and dedicated itself to nonviolent resistance.  War is a terrible occurrence.  In truth, I can only stand behind focused military action against a very dangerous evil in the world, but it is rare to find such a thing in our world history.  When the Bible called us to be peacemakers, this was not a simple task, both in personal relationships and in war.  It is the path of most resistance, but perhaps the most rewarding.
Unfortunately Skyrim does not let you solve this issue without a fight.  You can bring about a temporary truce, but this truce ends as soon as the dragon Alduin is defeated.  Yet, real life gives us an opportunity to strive for peace or for conflict.

There is no such thing as easy morality in these matters.


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