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December 29, 2006

Jim Henley speaks into the night
Posted by Patrick at 11:55 PM * 23 comments

Here:

[T]he US and its Iraqi allies chose to try Saddam on one of his relatively minor crimes because if they did so they could get him safely hung before they had to try him for the major ones, the gas attacks and massacres that happened during The Years of Playing Footsie with the United States. The Dujail reprisals were a war crime, no doubt about it, a bigger sham of justice than Saddam’s own trial, by two orders of magnitude. They were also the sort of war crime that people like Ralph Peters and a hundred other pundits and parapundits think the United States should be committing. Every time you read a complaint about “politically correct rules of engagement” you are reading someone who would applaud a Dujail-level slaughter if only we were to perpetrate it. Those are the people who are happiest of all about tonight’s execution. Smells like—victory! It’s the pomander they don against the stench.
Comments on Jim Henley speaks into the night:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2006, 10:51 AM:


When we do it, it can't be a crime;
when they do it, they're all evil men.
We're the ones who will win every time
(Excluding Vietnam which won't occur again).
So one bad man's dead, you should not rebuke
for one way trips to Gitmo are just fine;
we know our hypocrisy just makes you puke,
and we don't care however much you whine.
Only a traitor would call this act dumb,
for we know best and we know we will win;
to all humanity we've become numb,
and we can't tell the virtue from the sin.
It's good we hanged him, now he can't conspire
as we sink ourselves deeper in the mire.

#2 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2006, 01:33 PM:

I can't remember where it was--Harper's, maybe?--that when the buildup to the current war was going on ran an essay about "epic thinking" in wartime. That when a government has successfully instilled a feeling of total war in its populace, there is a dramatic shift from peacetime "I'm living my life" thinking to wartime "I'm living through history" epic thinking, like everybody's living in Middle Earth. It gave as examples the villifying not only of your enemies but of those who will not directly be your allies (Freedom Fries, anyone?), the unqualified adulation of the leader, and, most importantly, the kind of thinking described by Jim Henley.

An action undertaken by enemies is pure, soulless evil; the same action undertaken by "the good guys" is bravery or, at the very worst, what you have to do to fight the good fight. What I'm thinking may be even worse is that those who have been swept up by epic thinking view those (like us, I hope) who condemn evil no matter who perpetrates it as defending the enemy. "You think this trial was a massive farce? You love Saddam! You think the United States is committing atrocities? You're a terrorist!"

#3 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2006, 01:53 PM:

ethan @ 2 - That's an interesting observation. Looking back at WW II, for instance, it was easy to characterize the Axis powers as inhuman and ourselves as blameless because people were living through history, or at least a pivotal moment in history. If dehumanizing the enemy (and enemy is no doubt the right word) helped us win that war, then it was totally and completely appropriate.

Right now, enough people realize that the US government is attempting to use these techniques to justify their warmaking, rather than to help people face hardships to achieve a goal that must be achieved. That's why the language of the current war is so forced and so hollow - even the people propagating it don't believe it. They're just using words to try to frighten and control the masses. It might work for a while, but in the absence of a real threat to our civilization, it wears thin and eventually the people turn on those who misled them.

#4 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2006, 05:23 PM:

Larry - from your lips to the gods' ears.

#5 ::: Rebecca ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2006, 06:52 PM:

We are always living through history, and it would behoove us to think of how posterity will remember us.

#6 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2006, 09:57 PM:

Logging on, the Earthlink/AP wire had as the top line "Cheney Hails Ford's Pardon o". I muttered 'he would! and didn't look farther at it, even to scroll over to see the rest of the line. (I just ate supper and would like to keep it, thankyouverymuch.)

#7 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2006, 12:33 AM:

This justice might be said to sleep
And not to hold the even scale,
But Saddam's dead. I shall not weep

For him; The Lady, with a peep
Below her blindfold, didn't fail.
This justice might be said to sleep -

Yet as he sowed, so did he reap:
What else is justice? Life in jail?
But Saddam's dead. I shall not weep,

Not even though I daily creep
Towards his fate. All lives entail -
This justice might be said to sleep -

A death. Is that deserved? Too deep
For villanelle, and no avail -
But Saddam's dead. I shall not weep

For him, or me. I shall not keep
His crimes, or mine, beneath a veil.
This justice might be said to sleep,
But Saddam's dead. I shall not weep.


#8 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2006, 08:55 AM:

There is also the issue of this hanging as media event promoting worldwide bloodlust: the first worldwide public hanging, formerly the most popular form of public entertainment in places like England. The usual despots learn nothing from this, in that they expect to die violently. But the Internet Utopia has been offered the Forbidden Fruit of public execution in the village square and has eaten the whole bowl and been left hungering for a sequel.

I have a much longer post on this subject.

#9 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2006, 10:42 AM:

Dave Luckett #7: A good piece of verse, that.

Kathryn Cramer #8: The empire cannot provide bread, but circuses are cheap.

#10 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2006, 12:59 PM:

I have an additional post with further thoughts: Gerald Ford, Patron Saint of Republicans Threatened with Indictment.

It contrasts the celebration of Ford's pardoning of Nixon with the same people's enthusiam for Saddam's show trial and execution.

#11 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2006, 01:13 PM:

Kathryn Cramer #8: I had an image of the execution taking place at Times Square at midnight, with the crowd counting down. Small comfort, at least it didn't come to that.

#12 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2006, 03:00 PM:

Presumably, this works best with a well-timed guillotine. Though this requires coming up with a new Emanuel Goldstein every year.

#13 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2006, 03:32 PM:

#2 ethan:

I think this is kind-of a sliding scale--different people filter their government's actions (and those of their friends, employer, church, and political party) through different lenses, but usually in a way that's forgiving of a lot of evil. War mania, a sense of shared sacrifice, a sense of shared danger, a grand story that casts us as the heroes about to save civilization from the barbarians, all these shift more people toward a more forgiving filter.

One of the creepiest effects of this is that it pushes some observations and discussions beyond the pale. You're siding with the terrorists/communists/racists/witches/whatever, not with us. That is such a useful effect for people who intend to do unprincipled or evil things, that leaders always have a big incentive to bring it about. It can become almost impossible to have a conversation where you call into question some of our actions against them. I've had conversations with otherwise decent people like this--why the heck am I worried about these terrorists, anyway, they'd do worse to us. If those guys weren't bad guys, we'd let them go. Don't be so naive--you've got to break some eggs to make an omlette (Nobody ever makes this argument if they think they're an egg.)

#14 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2007, 03:23 PM:

If one uses the term liberally, this isn't the first internet execution. A number of people -- I don't feel up to searching out how many exactly -- have been "executed" by having their heads cut off on the internet. From that part of the world, too. Maybe not live as such, but nothing on the internet is really live.

#15 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2007, 01:55 AM:

#13 Albatross--I think you're right, I was a little too black and white with that stuff. It is a sliding scale, and I like the "filter" idea.

As for the "creepy" stuff...exactly. What I wonder is if it's a natural phenomenon that happens to come in handy for the warmongers, or if they've managed to successfully instill it in their subjects, or (I guess most likely) it's some combination of both.

#16 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2007, 12:54 PM:

I think the message it sends is "you really don't want to be the guy we install" which might work against other things we try to do.

#17 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2007, 01:08 PM:

"you really don't want to be the guy we install"

Much the same point was made by Tony Hendra in what may be the shortest ever entry on The Huffington Post.

#18 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2007, 01:00 AM:

Well, Saddam Hussein is dead. Nobody can undo that.

However, there's still the question of what happens next. Killing one person isn't the end of the war (and if it is, then what does that say about all the lives lost in pursuit of the death of that one person?) and killing Saddam Hussein won't change the nature of the chaos that is Iraq at the moment. So what happens now?

I hope it means that the US will step aside from this silly war in Iraq (and maybe ask for assistance from the UN, for people to find or bring some peace, and then keep it - police rather than troops; as happened in places such as East Timor). I doubt it, however. But it doesn't really matter what happens, to be honest. The people who wanted the war in all the nations which are participating are going to proclaim this as a "victory", and the people who will lose out will be ordinary Iraqis.

Happy New Year, everyone. May the gods grant we see at least some peace during it.

#19 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2007, 01:46 PM:

PNH #17: This fellow would seem to agree with you.

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