Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sic Semper Tyrannus, Baby

Our public intellectuals are struggling to explain Saddam’s demise to us folks in the bleachers. This is important to them, because they think that we believe everything they tell us.

Historical parallels with Nuremberg have been suggested. But Saddam’s situation was nothing like that of the Nuremberg defendants. They were tried by a multinational court (not an international court as it is often miscalled) which employed unique and unprecedented legal procedures. The Soviet members of that court were unabashedly prejudiced against the defendants, and voted to convict and execute nearly all of them – they even insisted on charging them with a crime the Soviets themselves had committed: the Katyn Forest Massacre. (Much to the annoyance of our gallant Soviet allies, the Nuremberg defendants were exonerated on that particular charge.)

Saddam, on the other hand, was convicted of pure and simple murder by a national court of his own countrymen. Although it is characterized as a “war crime” or a “crime against humanity”, those terms are mostly rhetorical. These abstract definitions were introduced by Nuremberg in order to establish an unusual culpability, but they were unnecessary in Saddam’s case. Saddam was convicted of the murder of specific people, for which he was directly responsible. No one can claim he was subjected to any kind of “Victor’s Justice”.

What makes Saddam’s case unusual is that a dictator was deposed, tried in a court of law by his own people, and humanely executed. This is far from being typical. Most fallen dictators escape into exile; if they are captured, they are dealt with in a summary and often brutal fashion. Mussolini and Ceausescu were shot after being sentenced by tribunals that convened just long enough to pronounce the death sentence.

Slobodan Milosevic was not a dictator of Saddam’s stature, but his fate was exactly what some liberals would have awarded to Saddam. He was trundled through an international trial at the Hague, which was magnificently bungled, and finally died in custody. Until the day they die, his partisans will believe that he was murdered in prison, just as Napoleon’s followers did. Just as radical leftists believed that the Baader-Meinhof terrorists were murdered in prison. There’s a lesson in that, boys and girls. You don’t get a single iota of credit from the enemy for coddling their heroes. Unless we had figured out a way to make Saddam Hussein live forever, we’d get blamed for killing him anyway.

Unfortunately, the most typical career trajectory of all for a dictator is this: kill your enemies, loot your country, bask in the absurd flattery of your foreign apologists, and die in your bed at a ripe old age. The number of dictators who manage to do this is obscene.

When historians look back on us, they won’t be shocked at the one dictator that got hanged, but at the scores of them that weren’t. How, they will ask, could we believe that the life of one brutal man is worth more than the life of an entire nation - decimated, enslaved, and robbed of decades of normal human existence? Could there be a greater crime than inflicting the living death of totalitarianism on millions of people?

Tyranny, lay thy foundations sure, for goodness dare not check thee – but maybe the times are changing.