Chiding the Hangman

Richard Dawkins, who seems to be everywhere lately (he’s even been spotted recently in a certain small town in Colorado), has an Op-Ed piece in today’s Los Angeles Times in which he laments the execution of Saddam Hussein, for some of the same reasons that I brought up in this recent post.

Dawkins, as usual, gets in a few digs about the current administration (he can’t even write a book about cladistic taxonomy without doing so, lately, it seems), but the main point of his argument is one that I touched briefly upon as well. The contents of Saddam’s mind, he argues, might have been of considerable value in the future — not only to prosecutors and historians, but also to psychologists and other scientists seeking to understand how such people are constituted. Dawkins writes:

He should have been locked up, by all means. Kept him in jail for the rest of his life, to be sure. But to execute him was irresponsible. Hussein could have provided irreplaceable help to future historians of the Iran-Iraq war, of the invasion of Kuwait and of the subsequent era of sanctions culminating in the invasion. Uniquely privileged evidence on the American government’s enthusiastic arming of Hussein in the 1980s is now snuffed out at the tug of a rope (no doubt to the relief of Donald Rumsfeld and other guilty parties; it is surely no accident that the trial of Hussein neglected those of his crimes that might — no, would — have implicated them).

Political scientists of the future, studying the processes by which unscrupulous leaders arise and take over national institutions, have now lost key evidence forever. But perhaps the most important research in which a living Saddam Hussein could have helped is psychological. Most people can’t even come close to understanding how any man could be so cruel as Hitler or Hussein, or how such transparently evil monsters could secure sufficient support to take over an entire country.

What were the formative influences on these men? Was it something in their childhood that turned them bad? In their genes? In their testosterone levels? Could the danger have been nipped in the bud by an alert psychiatrist? How would Hitler or Hussein have responded to a different style of education? We don’t have a clear answer to these questions. We need to do the research. …

Since my earlier posts about Saddam’s execution, we have all learned of (or perhaps even witnessed on video) the macabre and ghoulish circumstances under which it was carried out. This is often the way tyrants meet their end: jeered and mocked by those who once lived in terror of their glance. I’m reminded of the deaths of Mussolini, and of Nicolae Ceausescu. There is nothing here to make anyone proud, other than that the grip of these despots upon their people was finally broken.

Read the Dawkins piece in its entirety here.

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  1. gillesroy says

    Political designs behind Saddam’s execution :

    1. Saddam is clearly the scapegoat for an international war syndicate, which includes many in our current political leadership, both in front and behind the scenes. Evacuating due process, controlling evidence and terrorizing the defense team were all par for the course in Saddam’s trial. A key reason for the speedy road to execution, was to eliminate a prominent player and key witness of this international criminal war conspiracy, thereby avoid further indictment of members of our leadership, many of whom have been accessory to Saddam’s actual crimes.

    2. To « bookend » media fatigue and public indifference, re : Saddam’s trial. The whole point of the « trial » was to deliver a quick public execution, and thereby feed the hunger for blood so brilliantly cultivated in Western public opinion. An execution gives sense of heightened drama, and inaugurates the next round of intensified bloodshed in the region… and beyond.

    3. Lastly, to make Saddam a martyr for (gasp!) sympathisers, thereby deepening chaos in the middle-east over a longer period of time. Certainly, the US-led war in Iraq can be called a success insofar as its central purpose has been to aid the spreading of chaos in the Middle-East.

    Posted January 4, 2007 at 8:44 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hello Gillesroy,

    There is no question that we were in bed with Saddam decades ago, in pursuit of a counterweight to Iranian (and by extension Soviet) influence in the region. This loathsome propping-up of dictators for decades in the name of “stability” was a vile stain, I have always thought, on our nation’s history. And I do not doubt that there are those currently in power who are glad to see Saddam take his secrets to the grave.

    I do not, however, sign on for rubbish about the central purpose of the war being to spread chaos in the region, nor have I any interest in articles lionizing the bullying coward and murderer of children Ernesto Guevara, nor, for that matter, Saddam himself, who willfully slaughtered and tortured hundreds of thousands of his own people. I have met some of his victims, and regardless of how he rose to power, his ruthless cruelty was very real indeed.

    Yes, to our eternal shame, Saddam was a monster that we helped to create. To our belated credit, we have now destroyed him as well. As I wrote above, there is really nothing in any of this sorrowful and sickening chapter of history for anyone to be proud of.

    Thank you for your comment.

    Posted January 5, 2007 at 12:21 am | Permalink