Saddam executed: What will we learn from it?

Saddam Hussein was executed a few hours ago. But what will be learned from the unfolding tragedy in the Middle East? Perhaps that complex problems are not equatable with the power or evil of one leader. Eliminating a leader never eliminates the problems

This is my first post-Saddam note. I will keep editing to a minimum required for site hygiene, to bracket off the posting from subsequent developing news, views, and comments.

I learned the news a few minutes ago via the BBC. I did not want to get into this leadership issue. It seemed too big to make any sense of, without a great deal more time and effort than I can find for it. But maybe instant impressions are worth recording.

One more death in Iraq

Last night it was clear that sentence on Saddam Hussein was going to be carried out. I had a surprising reaction: Whether you are for the death penalty or not, it seemed better to me that such an act be swift rather than drawn-out. It did not involve decades of additional languishing on Death Row. But better for whom? For the executed prisoner? For family? For political opponents? For political supporters commited to make capital of a single symbolic action?

I set aside the mighty issues of capital punishment, legitimacy of the legal system passing judgment. Whatever. This is one more death in Iraq.

Maybe poets can offer understanding more than politicians. There is a three-thousand year legacy of drama which reminds us of the consequences of human ambition. Shakespeare, from Macbeth to Hamlet ,remains one source of deepest insights. John Donne, Ernest Hemingway and more recently the Bee Gees remind us for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for us.

The leaders we deserve

The story remains one of society’s beliefs about its leaders. Saddam’s obituaries have been prepared for months, maybe years. Now we can learn what is in Saddam’s obituary.

For some while I have grappled with the deeper meaning of our leadership stories. Increasingly I am drawn to the notion that we create the leaders we deserve, just as we create other superheroes and super villains. So we create our leaders, and cast on to them our greatest fears and needs. They rule our thoughts by our consent, sometime unconsciously given, sometimes more consciously.

If we find time to reflect on this, maybe some legacy of hope will come from the death of one more Iraqi, earlier today.

To follow

A further examination of this story, the world-wide reactions to the release of video accounts of Saddam’s execution. See What have we learned from Saddam’s execution

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4 Responses to Saddam executed: What will we learn from it?

  1. PC says:

    I have to say I felt somewhat shocked when I read the news this morning and even more shocked at the photographs of him with the noose around his neck.

    As tyrannical and wicked as Saddam was, I honestly can’t say whether I believe he should have been executed or not…grappling with it. It is, as you say, one more death in Iraq and each and every one is a tragedy in its own right.

    If we create the leaders we deserve, Saddam was a creation of many influences, not least himself and his immediate cohort, but also the factional nature of the country he ‘led’ and the pressure exerted upon the region by outsiders.

    Have we all played a small part in creating Saddam and his legacy, through the creation of our own leaders and their actions?

  2. Peter says:

    Yes, great reading Tudor; we have to reach for the poets. We all lose, “it tolls for thee.”

    Would I have signed the papers for Saddam’s execution? No. Categorical.
    Would I have signed the papers for Saddam’s execution if I were an Iraqi, tied into the history of that people? I hope not. I really hope not. But now I am less sure.

    You see my own family history comes into play. For many in Iraq, Saddam was what Hitler and Stalin were to Poles or Jews.

    In short, as a boy my Dad was imprisoned in Siberia and, upon release, trekked from there to Egypt (see http://www.aforgottenodyssey.com/ ). This is the reason that my Grandfather, then a young man, lies buried in Tehran.
    More famous now is the case of my Uncle, Tadeusz Witkowski, who came into the family about 1980 after the death of my aunt’s husband (a Polish Sfighter pilot) in the 1970s. After Tadeusz’s death, this story made the news across the globe (my cousin was featured in a German documentary):
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A06EFDC163AF934A25757C0A9659C8B63

    So, with the clamour of suffering around my head, would I have signed the warrant for the execution of Hitler or Stalin? I still hope not. But I waiver. Had the scenario arisen, would it really be feasible for the Poles/Russians/Jews/whoever (London Blitz victims?) to accept that the ‘mercy’ shown to Hitler or Stalin was somehow symbolic of the cultural supremacy of the west?

    Nuremburg?

    I think that maybe the principle of subsidiarity comes into play. As it is related by Charles Handy this is a moral principle, based upon a Catholic (11th Century, I think) position that “stealing other people’s decisions is wrong.”

    So, maybe it is not up to us. Maybe it isn’t.

    Would we have accepted the opinion of the shias, sunnis etc. upon what we should do at Nuremburg?

    Maybe we stay out of it & regret our media coverage for that is the only element we can control.

  3. Tudor says:

    PC, Peter,

    First, for balancing a rational take with such deep and evocative personal sharings.
    Many thanks. The comments are far too rich to be given the instant reaction treatment. I’ll reply, but will be thinking of them long afterwards.

    The images of Saddam’s end, reminded me of Ceausescu ‘s very public execution. ‘Oh, right, well that’s OK then’ I thought, trying not to ask the hard questions like Peter did, either for Ceausescu or Saddam.

    An image that did get to me was the black and while photograph of the execution of a young Vietnamese by an officer during the Vietnam bloodbath. It’s stayed with me, and perhaps helped shape my feelings, beliefs, and my stumbling philosophic stance ever since.

  4. Peter says:

    I think my point is simply that the moral principle and the context are interwoven.
    We may aspire to uphold our moral principles but this becomes harder and harder the closer one comes to the maelstrom of the suffering.
    In some ways the reverse of this is the soldier who fights a war and commits terrible deeds but then returns home and becomes a regular shoe salesman, or whatever.

    However, through this, we all lose, as the poets point out. Indeed I am reminded of TS Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral, who explores the origins of the word ‘martyr’ as ‘witness.’ We have all witnessed recently and maybe have all lost a little …

    I do think that your piece is one of the best of the many I have read on this, another one being the recent BBC article on the Bush/Hussein ‘family feud.’ I’ll try to locate the url

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