I’ve been wrestling with the idea of the orc killing in LOTR, and I have to wonder -- ARE orcs being treated as automata there, or are they simply the enemy? Or more specifically, representatives of the Enemy. Either way, they are a force that must be stopped at all costs so that the Enemy himself can be stopped. Same as the Haradrim, or the Easterlings, or the Wild Men of Dunland.
Yes, it does seem to be that the orcs in particular are targets of relentless slaughter, and of a casual attitude when it comes to their killing. But this doesn’t eliminate the fact that they MUST be slaughtered to get to the greater good. This is war, after all, and just as a fighter pilot might mark the sides of his plane with kills recorded, so too might a dwarf and an elf have a friendly competition over how many deaths they have racked up. Those numbers are just symbols, after all – one less enemy left to trouble the unhappy world.
In other circumstances -- that is, in quieter moments on the battlefield -- someone (even Legolas or Gimli) could think as Sam does in Ithilien -- what a dead orc’s name was and if he really was evil of heart, and what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home, and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace. Of course, this is harder to do when the enemy is as “corrupted” looking as orcs are – the fear of the other at work there – but it’s possible.
As for the souls of orcs, perhaps Melkor cannot destroy them, but he surely can make the orcs think that they have none at all – which is the most perfect way to lead someone to embrace a wicked side. Just as Melkor put a shadow over the gift of Iluvatar to Men (aka death), he could also have done the same thing to the orcs. All the better to keep them under his thumb.
If they do have souls – and why not – and they are indeed capable of redemption – and what slave isn’t, since I think the orcs often fit the definition of slave quite well – then redemption is something the best of them can hope for. Somehow. Yet, is it wrong to say that probably isn’t the norm? They may live in fear -- but surely there are many, possibly even most of the orcs, who delight in the role they play – wicked creatures in love with their own wickedness. They enjoy causing pain, they revel in ruin – just as, dare I say it, a few of the hobbits of the Shire went over to the other side when the ruffians came.
Again, though, easier for Frodo to say no hobbits should be killed, even the bad ones. They are not other – they are his kind. Orcs are nobody’s kind – and all they do – or seem to do -- is hate. It’s hard to feel for something like that, in any context. And the fact that no one could possibly have compassion for an orc should probably be added to those vile deeds of Melkor, since he would be responsible for that too.