Spinning Saddam in his Grave
The twenty-three members of Tupac Amaru
were probably not
all killed in a fair fight.
One hundred percent fatality rates are the provence of airplane crashs and suicide bombers, not gun battles. So when Peruvian special forces tunnelled into and then stormed the Japanese Embassy in April 1997, ending a four-month hostage crisis and a political embarrasment for President Alberto Fujimori, it’s certainly conceivable that Fujimori, no friend of the rule of law, made it clear that he preferred not to be bothered with survivors.
It was not, as we say, a nice thing to do. But a week or so later, I got into a chat with one of my more liberal classmates in law school. He pointed out and, ultimately, I had to agree that it was likely that any members of Tupac Amaru still alive after the operation were lined up in the basement and executed. I was impressed with the mission – I think only two hostages died – one of wounds, one from a heart attack – and said as much. But if the guerillas were all killed in the firefight – or even executed after the fact – that was too bad, and not a great moment for the Peruvian judicial system, but I couldn’t work up a great deal of sympathy.
It seemed to me that one assumes a certain risk when you kidnap, among others, the President’s brother along with the Ambassador of your country's largest donor of foreign aid, that you might not get a trial. He was adamant that some cosmic injustice had been done to these folks and I just couldn't see it.
“They could have shot their hostages but they didn’t.”
“The guerillas didn’t shoot their hostages even when they had the chance – but the government saw fit to shoot them without a trial.”
If he wanted me merely to agree with him on the principle of the matter, I might have. But his underlying point that Tupac Amaru was "kind' and "humanitarian" for not shooting their hostages alluded me. My point, I suppose, was that these fellows assumed the risk of a less-than-perfect system of justice and that, to a reasonable observer, it might be predictable that the Peruvian government would shoot them without, I dunno, Benefit of Clergy
. I’m not sure this fellow liked me, and he clearly thought he was smarter than me, but it struck me as terribly odd that a fellow of such intellectual gifts could think that it was “kind” that the hostage takers didn’t shoot anyone. This might have some traction on the giant kharmic treadmill – and even on a simple one-bounce-of-this-mortal-coil morality, he may have had a point.
But such a calculus does require discounting the rather glaring fact that the hostage-takers held hundreds of people hostage for months and certainly threatened them with death (even though, of course, Tupac Amaru denies it
: “The goal of the MRTA [Tupac Amaru] commando was not to murder the embassy prisoners. They were determined to have their demands fulfilled while providing the maximum protection for the lives of their prisoners.”
) (This explains all of the AK-47s and hand grenades). This is not a discount I’m willing to provide and, to this day, I’m just not very teary eyed about how these folks met their doom.
It’s possible a flash of kindness stayed their hand at the last moment. It’s possible. But Tupac Amaru were cowards, not men. Certainly not soldiers.
There are plenty of stories of Luftwaffe pilots escorting battered P-47s back to the English Channel so they could fight – no doubt to the death – another day. There’s the Christmas truce of World War I
. As far as I’m concerned, soldiers have the right to stay their hand – and to expect some chance that their enemies may treat them with mercy, too. A chance meeting at a prefered pissing tree in the Ukraine or the jungles of Vietnam, soldiers have the right to let the moment pass – to let their enemy live. Those random mercies between soldiers, however rare, earn all soldiers, at all times, the chance of one for themselves, and the men and women who wear a uniform are nobler for it.
But the “men” of Tupac Amaru didn’t display any nobility by not killing their civilian hostages – they did kill two of the Peruvian hostage rescue team – they did only what is required of all men, at all times, in all wars – to fight the enemy soldier, and to avoid killing civilians, but they were not soldiers themselves. Their ultimate death may have been, shall we say, extra-judicial. But they had done nothing to earn the mercies my classmate wished them.
It may be a few weeks before Saddam Hussein makes a run for it, and while I’m hoping him to go like Moussolini, I’m guessing he goes down swinging in Tikrit. But when Baghdad falls and Saddam Hussein swings from a lamp post – and if no chemical agent worse than tear gas is used – the rehabilitation of Saddam Hussein will begin.
I don’t know who’ll do it first, but one of these folks on the anti-American, anti-war Left (N.B.
: You can be patriotic and anti-war, I’m not suggesting otherwise), the Robert Fisks and Margo Kingstons, is going to start praising Saddam Hussein for not using chemical weapons, even when “his” country was being attacked. They’ll sing high and proud about how Saddam Hussein didn’t use his cutting edge weapons – World War I-era mustard gas – while we used weapons designed in the last two years, and George W. Bush has the blood of hundreds of civilians on his hands, Saddam Hussein didn’t
kill tens of thousands, and is therefore - at least a bit - cleansed of his sins. We used the best weapons. Saddam didn’t use the worst.
See? They’ll ask, Saddam stayed his hand and didn’t kill all those civilians. He was bad, sure, but not the monster George W. Bush and Don Rumsfeld made him out to be. Sure, Saddam was bad. But America and Britain and its “EBay” allies killed hundreds, but look what Saddam Hussein did not
do. Look what Saddam could have done. That will be their moral calculus. And you don’t have to guess how George W. Bush will measure up. To the Robert Fisks of the world, even then, and even years from now, George W. Bush will come up short even to Saddam Hussein.
And they’re going to start wondering why everyone has stopped listening.
In eight months or a year or three, Robert Fisk is going to go back to Iraq. And he’ll find a sympathetic looking crowd and he’ll proclaim to anyone who listens that George W. Bush is worse. America is worse. Look what America did to you. And look at what Saddam Hussein didn’t do when he had nothing left to lose.
And Robert Fisk is going to get his ass kicked, again, by the Arab street. And he’s going to blame himself for their anger.
And for the first time in his sad little America-hating life, he’ll be right.
As I woke up this morning, I saw armour* pouring into Baghdad and it is clear that the end of Saddam Hussein is near. If you’re in command of an Iraqi artillery battery in Saddam City and that’s dust churned up by the United States Marine Corps – not smoke from your own oil trenches or the smoldering metal of your armoured divisions – that mutiny you are thinking about – to refuse that order to fire the mustard gas or the VX, is the small payment on your chance. That mutiny you are contemplating may just buy you the mercy that is all the right of all soldiers. But you, at least, are a soldier. And I hope you remember the nobility that can be yours, and that mercy can be yours, even as you fight for an unlawful regime. Our men and women will give it to you, because for all of our many faults, we’re still the good guys.
Death may soon come to Uncle Saddam from a 7.62mm rifle cartridge or a 2000 pound JDAM. But somehow I hope Saddam’s death comes late at night, years from now, in exile in Egypt, when the Mossad awaken him from his first good night's sleep in months. Mossad will announce themselves, just long enough so he knows he’d been bested by Israel. He'll curse the Jews and he'll die in a sputtering, pneumatic hail of silenced .22s. He wears the uniform of a Field Marshall, but he’s no soldier. He’s earned no mercy. Not even the chance of it.
That Saddam Hussein will die without a ruling from a court of law may not be the perfect world -- but he created a Rule of Man and shunned the Rule of Law. And now he is most likely to die and the hand of man, untempered by even the chance of mercy. He made no payment on his chance. He's got nothing coming to him. And I won't pause over it even for a moment.
He’s done nothing but storm the gates and keep a country hostage for twenty-five years.
* Commonwealth spellings here at Pathetic Earthlings, until the end of hostilities, in honour of our British and Australian allies.