Saddam Hussein

Look at this picture.

I personally thought he was going to be a total loose end. Frankly, I still think it's possible that this is merely some guy they found who's vaguely similar. I can't really tell with all that beard--and if you shaved him and cleaned him up, there's the risk that they'd have made him up for the cameras as well--which means it could be anyone.

But I'd just as soon accept it provisionally for a simple reason. He looks sad. Real sad. He's aged 2 years in 3 months and possesses the haunted languor of captured Hitler or frightened Stalin.

I make these comparisons for two reasons, first because our government (blessed is the office of homeland security and all it's avenging angels--feel free to roll your eyes) has made a case that this man is the most evil man in the world--ahead of Kim Jeong Il and Jerry Falwell. Similarly the two great threats of the 20th century were demonized beyond recognition by the time I was in school. Only years of obstinancy and investigation got me reasonably close to the idea that these supposedly evil men were noble in some certain sense. Not in the sense that their countries turned into giant death camps filled with terrorized citizenry, I'm sure we can all agree that miles of dead bodies on fire is bad. What I mean is that they weren't the two-dimensional comic book characters that wanted only to committ evil for the sake of it, or enjoyed power to such a degree that they couldn't find reality with both hands and a flashlight.

There was a somewhat more mundane lesson taught to me by a professor on south and central asian history when I was in a course on medieval Russian history. Was Ivan the Terrible named that way because he was a fiend, or was he merely responding to the burden of the times and circumstances? For the professor it seemed a kind of desperate battle to convince a room full of grad students (and myself, fulfilling an upper division requirement, and desperately hoping I could answer the questions that occasionally came my way) that this ancient Russian character of barely recognizable fame, was not, in fact, evil. More than a thousand years had passed since this man earned his nickname, and yet my professor was still trying to put him in a proper historical context--swimming up tide against a deluge of propaganda about the Russian king who was a monster.

The truth of the matter is the following; Hitler sacrificed the German people to the SS in order to rid Germany of the monarchy. Stalin sacrificed his people to a totalitarian state motivated by executions to drag them into industrialization. All the ideology and speeches were just tools. In the end these leaders were doing good for their countries.

Realistically, a country can be abused at any time. Millions of people can die for any number of reasons--and some of them are starvation, conquest, and disaster. In a certain sense, the Russians who died were only a proportionally high cost for something which could have happened in any number of ways. In the end, I'm sure, Stalin felt that sacrificing all those people was justified in some cases (the rotting remnant of monarchy still choking the system) and necessary in others (someone needed to work to death in order to build all the factories and material--and it may as well be people who he chose). It's not the most friendly way to go about doing something, but to bring a country out of the 17th century and into the 20th in half a lifetime is no mean feat. People continually resist the notion that they must be forced to greatness, but they continually prove it. No effort but in war. No sacrifice without gestapo. No dedication without threat. The ideal taught in saturday morning cartoons is that the good triumph because they motivate their members with comraderie and spirit, as well as shared goals and ideals, and therefore command a greater morale and loyalty. While true, this kind of thing can only be organized in small pieces. No leader could organized the entire population of the united states into the Navy SEALs. If you want something done, you have to apply pressure.

Of course, no human being but a serial killer could enjoy the process of sacrificing people in front of their families, and shipping them to hell to fuel an administration. No serial killer could get into such a position without losing their patience earlier and occupying and abusing some intermediate position. That is the nature of humanity. Our strength does lie in noticing what's happening--serial killers get noticed when they try to work their way up the power structure. Unfortunately most of us do nothing with the information we acquire. In the end Stalin and Hitler were prisoner to their own ideals or goon squads. Stalin couldn't release the pressure or the country would fall apart at a critical time. Hitler couldn't control the SS that had taken him so far in power. But, at the very least, Stalin could die reasonably happy. He'd brought Russia kicking and screaming into the 20th century, and kept its sovereignty, while eliminating the royalty, and if this process had turned his country into the subject of nightmarish novels, and sent the governmental structure into a tradition of paranoia... well, then at least nothing like that could last forever. The important thing was that when Russia finally dissolved the terrible government and replaced it with something softer, it would be independent and strong--in a good position to make something of itself. Hitler probably was somewhat less satisfied. He had sacrificed far more than anyone could possibly have intended to remove the monarchy from Germany, and had not entirely succeeded even in that.

All of this is driving at the sad expression on Saddam Hussein's face. I was never there to see what Hitler looked like before he shot himself. I was never there to see what Stalin looked like before he died. The look of deep sadness and humanity on this mans face sincerely touches me. I can see it written on his face--the realization of failure. The realization that all the abuses--all the destruction and oppression are meaningless. It's been wiped away. He's accomplished nothing. Iraq could have been another Germany. It could have reclaimed the population centers and territory of the ancient Persian empire and achieved some parity with Germany in the late 30's, or possibly even Europe as a whole. But he was played for a fool by the CIA--made to spend his time in fruitless wars, and then forced out of the selfish little fiefdom known as Kuwait when he tried to take its wealth so that he could feed a greater number of poeple with it (you realize, of course, that Kuwait is like a bunch of Texas oil barons walling themselves into their property and ignoring a nearly stoneage society around them--an inexcusable example of excess that would be more evil than genocide, except that we're a capitalist society and appreciate that kind of greed like a sadist appreciates the pattern of guts on a windshield at a traffic accident). Then, when he tried to achieve the only thing that could keep his country's sovereignty--nuclear weapons--he was attacked preemptorily by the US.

Incidentally Pakistan has nukes, and is the true source of the Taliban. Why didn't we attack there? Nukes. North Korea has nukes and is clearly in a better position to threaten our allies than Iraq. Why didn't we attack there? Nukes. It's the only way to guarantee your people's independence in the face of a super power.

To return to my main point, Hussein's haunted look is truly an epic tragedy. We consider all the terrifying stories we've heard of his behavior--having parliment members shot and so forth, but truthfully, if this country was a shambles and being run by idiots, wouldn't some of us wish we could go and execute Senators for their criminally insane and self-serving decisions? We sure fantasize about it alot. I remember caring more about the capital building being destroyed in the movie Independence Day than the implied death of its contents. We all know our Senators are corrupt and miserable excuses for humanity for the most part. What we don't know is what it would take for us to really shake things up and start over. Why? Because even with all our problems, we're filthy rich. Our lifestyle is just too pleasent on the whole. The people who have it really hard are living day-to-day, and the rest of us have an easier time sitting on our asses watching tv than actually participating. You weren't in Iraq when Saddam came to power. You don't know what it was like. The region has a history of stagnation and mindless Byzantine restructuring ad infinitum--to no purpose. The people were in a world of satellites and nuclear power plants and they were still worried about displaced natives starting rebellions on horseback. What's the breaking point? If America ever falls behind and becomes the latest prize of some new empire, wouldn't you give anything to have been present at the crucial moment, when we were poised precariously on the edge of becoming a third world joke, like so many of the great past civilizations? We're encumbered at this very moment by our upper class. How much longer before the Enron-type crap becomes crippling to us? If the first permanent base on the moon is made by the European Union, while we're still arguing about prayer in our school system, won't we be in desperate straits? Wouldn't you give anything at that moment--including mobilizing the truly psychotic white-supremacists or bible-thumping zealots, or down-home characters to be your private army--protecting you until you assumed enough power to gut out the corruption and force the US to modernize into the contemporary century of this imaginary exercise? And if your protestant hoard decided, again, that the Jews and the 'pagans' or whatever were the true cause of our sickness, and started an endless campaign of genocide that didn't stop until it had taken a heavy toll on Hollywood, Los Angeles, Miami, and New york, wouldn't you at least be satisfied that you'd accomplished the survival of a great tradition and country with powerful and wonderful ideals--knowing that no damage you could do could be permanent--that eventually these ideals would return? But what if, having caused all the damage, you'd not yet accomplished your goals, and the United states was still behind the times and incapable of its own defense when EU battle cruisers came down from low orbit and captured all our major cities--assisted by Chinese planet-side airforce units?

That haggard and haunted look would be in your eyes too.

I know that it's tenuous to assume this guy had noble ambitions. He might have been another fuckhead. So too with Hitler and Stalin. I merely propose that the humanity in that picture does not sort with the story I've been told of this man. That's the look of a sad father. Not a petulant bully.

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