Saddam Hussein has been hanged to death for his crimes committed
against humanity. He was responsible for killing hundreds of
thousands of innocent people, with estimates upward to two million.
How and why does one man become a cruel dictator? Why do some
people willingly follow the leadership of a dictator? Why do
others allow a dictator to take over their country? Today I will
offer a few of my impressions based on post-9/11 observations.
Some people seem to
be consumed with a lust for total control and power. If we put
this desire on a continuum, it would probably range from the
strict employer to the abusive husband and onward to the ruthless
dictator. Perhaps the ultimate proof of and the most intense
feeling of raw power is the ability to kill anyone, anytime,
anywhere. Whether committing the murder oneself or ordering
someone else to do it, the power is evident. It can start with
one's own countrymen and then expand to worldwide nuclear
malevolent dictators may derive perverse satisfaction from
identification with another's political power and from a system of
government which provides license and justification to torture and
kill. Dictators and their followers are incapable of empathy, yet
very aware of the fear and intimidation which their actions
inflict on the average citizen. If a dictator smiles and waves,
or if he pats a child on the head, it is only for
self-glorification and to manipulate the tender feelings of the
A dictator can take
over a country when people are focused on day-to-day survival.
People need food and housing. The immediacy of these needs can be
exploited. Some people will succumb in a self-serving manner: so
long as their needs are met, they do not care who has political
control or about any horrible injustices done to their neighbors.
Others will succumb because they feel alone and defenseless, and
because they have dependent families. Still others may have goals
that can be pursued only under the dictator's eyes, such as
state-sponsored sports or arts.
seem not to have the aggression required to overcome bullies,
whether on the school playground or in the seat of government.
Self-preservation or the pursuit of victory seem to require
saturation of personal tolerance for the negative. Suffering is
difficult, but facing psychopathology or outright evil seems more
What happened to
Saddam after his hanging? Did the mouth of hell open up? Did he
undergo a last-minute repentance known only to him and God? Does
it matter? We cannot know the present location of Saddam's spirit
and, for the purpose of building a peaceful future, it does not
matter. What matters is that extreme psychological damage has
been done to the country of Iraq over a number of years. Many
Iraqi citizens have never known daily life without danger.
Getting a grip on this opportunity for freedom will be a new
Some Iraqis will
feel relief and closure with the impossibility of Saddam ever
returning to power. Speaking as one American, I felt that the
earth was favorably altered when the news of Saddam's far-away
execution reached my house. I do not celebrate anyone's death,
and I leave judgment to God, but Saddam's departure from this
earth seemed literally to clear the air. I could breathe deeply
again. I lacked grief or even sentimentality. Whether or not
this reflects the limitation of my own humanity, I do not know.
But I know the blood of our American military was shed to bring us
all to this moment. For the soldiers and for the victims, I
mourn. (Written 12/31/06)
Until we meet