Saddam execution: What have we learned from it?

January 9, 2007

This post compares the instant reactions posted on this site of Saddam Hussein’s execution, with stories which have subsequently emerged.

I posted my immediate and personal reactions to Saddam’s execution hours after learning the news. My intention was to compare them with subsequent reactions world-wide, and to incorporate discussion points raised on this site.

The World-wide reactions

Since that posting, two inter-related aspects of the actual execution have generated an enormous level of interest and violent reaction around the world.

The first of these were the unofficial and graphic images of the execution. These were rapidly diffused through the internet, with traditional news media following-up with varying degrees of censorship.

The second issue, indisputably revealed in the unofficial videos, was what has widely been judged as unacceptable conduct at the scene. This involved the taunting of someone about to die, by some witnesses at the execution.

Chuntering and churning

Much of the web traffic captured the way so many people are turning to the internet to find some comfort for expressing deeply held emotions. There is a sharing of anger, pain, indignation, frustration.

The pay-off is through instant release rather than any evidence that there will be much re-appraisal of ideas or beliefs. In another context (Management of change) this has been referred to as churning not changing. Perhaps this is more chuntering than changing. The web offers some therapeutic solace.

The messages on this site

In contrast, the messages posted to this site offered more scope for unearthing fresh perspectives. That sounds smug. If so it’s to do with the limited access to the posting. The quality of the comments has much to do with the way in which a new site has its earliest visitors through a quite small network of contributors, a high proportion of whom have been actively solicited and selected from the Bogger’s existing network. They tend to be selected as people who are respected for their capacity to make such contributions.

The discussion explored the dilemma facing ‘insiders’, who must have struggled with the possibility of creating a martyr. Moral issues were raised, including a 11th century moral principle of subsidiary and ‘stealing other people’s decisions’.

Other elements of the discussion touched on the social constuctivist argument that we create and ultimately destroy our heroes and anti-heroes. Poets from Donne to T S Eliot were invoked. One poet that might have been invoked was Oscar Wilde. During his famous stay in Reading Gaol there was an execution, and Wilde wrote movingly of imprisonment, in the Ballad of Reading Goal:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss
The brave man with a sword.

Note on comments

Further comments to this post are no longer being published.


Saddam executed: What will we learn from it?

December 30, 2006

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