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Let This Be a Lesson To You
by Jonathan David Morris
18 December 2003

Saddam Hussein's sons, Qusay and Uday, went down fighting this summer, but Saddam would not be a martyr for his cause.


When they caught him, he was living in squalor beneath the Earth's crust -- unshaven, disheveled -- a poor excuse for the man who once pranced through lavish palaces around the sandy countryside. This was your brave, courageous leader. This was your conqueror of men. Here he was -- diminutive in pictures -- a life on the lam having caught up with him faster than his captors, a tongue depressor in his mouth.

Thousands have died at Saddam Hussein's command. Whole villages. Dissidents. Ordinary men. These are the people you thought about during all-day coverage of his arrest, the people who ran through your head while doctors checked his hair for lice. Look at him, you thought. Just look at him. Saddam Hussein, and they're checking him for head lice like gorillas in the mist.

Indeed, for months Saddam financed a guerilla-style suicide bombing campaign -- strapping explosives to teenaged boys -- treating foreign occupiers like Israelis at the mall. Yet, when his moment of capture came, he begged our soldiers not to harm him. Here was this butcher -- this tyrant, this madman -- reduced to groveling like a goddam bum.

Even his sons, Qusay and Uday, went down fighting this summer, but Saddam would not be a martyr for his cause.

It's telling, isn't it?

So what do we make of his surrender? Pessimists will be quick to suggest it doesn't matter. We went to war over weapons of mass destruction, they'll say, and to date we haven't found them. Optimists will counter Saddam is the only WMD we need, and to some extent that's true. It'd be foolish to go to either side's extreme, though. Hawks will cover their tracks by saying the fighting's not over yet. Doves will try to uncover those tracks by saying the exact same thing. Neither will address the true relevance of his capture, which lies not in today but tomorrow.

Knowing what we know about him now, we should ask ourselves: How did Saddam Hussein happen? And how can we stop Saddam types from happening again?

Armchair psychologists will tell you Saddam's easy capture proves he's a schoolyard bully -- the kind of guy who postures a bunch, fueled by insecurity. It's true. All of it's true. But there's another side to the old schoolyard story, and it's that bullies have no sway over those who won't be bullied. You can't push someone who won't be pushed around.

In his speech on Saddam's capture, George W. Bush specifically addressed the Iraqi people, saying, "The goals of our coalition are the same as your goals -- sovereignty for your country, dignity for your great culture, and for every Iraqi citizen, the opportunity for a better life."

Sovereignty is key. It's something we've talked about for months. It must go beyond state sovereignty, though. To avoid the rise of another Saddam, it must be a sovereignty of the self.

People aren't endowed by leaders but by their Creator with Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- these are unalienable rights. Iraqis haven't had this stuff in decades. They've long since earned self-rule. But it isn't something some U.S.-appointed council can give them. Self-rule is something they must personally maintain.

Of course, if the 1991 Kurdish uprising is any indication, the Iraqis have it in them to succeed in this regard.

Saddam's forces may have been bruised in the First Gulf War, but it's no surprise they made short work of that rebellion. The plain-clothes rebels were simply outmatched in '91 (though our hanging them out to dry sure didn't help). But this is the tragedy of unchecked power. Regimes have historically sought to disarm citizenries in order to control them. It's bad enough when the only armaments are guns, but leaders can harness the power of small pox now. They can use deadly gases to disinfect insurrections. Hitler did it. Hussein did it. They're anything but unique. In fact, as technology further sets the oppressed and oppressors apart, Hitler and Hussein seem but a prelude to the impossible revolutions of centuries to come.

Even as some Iraqis cheered Saddam's arrest, others were unimpressed. Reuters' Joseph Logan, for example, quoted a dentist named Ghazi, who said of Saddam, "It's great that he's caught, but it wasn't him who screwed up the petrol and the electricity," as he waited amongst hundreds of others for gas.

Hey, and folks liked Mussolini because he made the trains run on time.

But this is why Saddam's capture is relevant not only today but tomorrow, and not just in Iraq but throughout the world. While men like Saddam do the things they do because they're bad people, evil isn't what makes them possible. Evil's just a motivator. Big Gov't is the enabler. Let this be a lesson to you.

Smarmy anti-war types are fond of saying, "Regime change begins at home," an anti-Bush bumper sticker slogan that completely misses its point. Our civil liberties are at risk in America, but it isn't a George Bush thing. It isn't a Bill Clinton thing. It's a government thing. The worst part about it, though, is that when lawmakers make pork-flavored promises, we are the ones who dig in.

And we are what we eat, indeed.

Benevolence can become overbearing. Social engineering goes by many names. Big Gov't may be tyranny without the wood chipper, but when it sees fit to take your income, raise your kids, and throw you in jail for being an idiot, you've got to wonder if the wood chipper is really so far behind. Perhaps, in this way, totalitarianism is like the theme song to The Facts of Life: You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have it -- folks dealing with torture in exchange for affordable fuel. Such was the case in Iraq, after all. Sure, life wasn't easy, but for every pro rapist, a house had running water -- and to men like Ghazi, this was pretty good.

Unless we'd like to make similar tradeoffs, we could use a little self-rule of our own.

Big Gov't is a bully no different than Saddam. It, too, suffers from insecurities (see: America's borders), and grows by spreading fear. Even as it collects the best weapons, imposes new programs, and gains in overall strength, Big Gov't knows deep down it's wrong. Believing politicos when they tell us otherwise is a lot like listening to Baghdad Bob -- who, even now, no doubt thinks Iraq's got the infidels on the run.

As for the fate of our captive, Saddam: Hurt not a hair on his head. Rather, let's drag him through the mud in a made-for-TV trial, sentence him to life behind bars, and treat him well enough to keep him going for a while. He should wake up each morning asking, "Is this the day these crazy bastards finally kill me?" Let him live in fear of rape rooms, plastic shredders, and well-placed lead pipes for the next 30 years. Let it be a lesson to him.

Jonathan David Morris is a political satirist based in New Jersey. His website is Read JDM
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