Saturday, December 30, 2006

Meditations on a Hanging

Briefly on line, I received this from Chris about the hanging of Saddam, an event covered with grisly ghoulishness by all the media I have been able to see.

What was your immediate reaction to the hanging of Saddam Hussein? My stomach turned over. Why? If anyone 'deserved' 'capital punishment', I suppose he did. Surely no sane or decent person would regret his disappearance from the ranks of the living. And yet - how does another act of violence, another grisly, sordid killing make the world a better place? It certainly won't help the scores of Iraqis who die every day as they shop, walk, drive, live. However I suspect that's a rationalization. There is something very immediate and sickening, in the Sartrean sense, about the details of a state killing: and if one opposes justice that embodies killing in its armoury then why draw a line in the sand that excludes a murderous dictator?


  1. If the ultimate decree of justice by the state is murder, then all its claims to represent meaningful moral order are utterly eroded.
    At least it wasn't the utterly ghoulish death by lethal injection or electric chair variety of state murder. Cold-blooded killing accompanied by the simultaneous attempt to wipe one's hands of the act.

  2. We differ on this, Bryan. Saddam not only killed thousands of men, women, and children, he did so wantonly and cruelly. I no more regret his excution than I regret the executions imposed by the Nuremberg trials. Why show mercy to the merciless?

  3. Hanging Saddam Hussein will be as good for Iraq as hanging PW Botha would have been good for South Africa.

  4. I felt exactly the same. Sympathetic almost. Wierd.

  5. My reaction is that it's another reason to be ashamed to be British. No one should doubt the inhumanity of the americans, but I suppose I deceived myself that we operated by a different code.

    It's also the hypocrisy of Blair and Bush. Saddam's trial was a disgrace. It was clear that the americans wanted to put to death the dictator they had created in the first place but who had outlived his usefulness. (Watch out Tony!) They should have had the moral courage to do it openly and honestly without the falsehoods and sham trial which they set up to try to make an act of expediency look like they were doing God's work. It revolts me.

    By the way, did anyone read Robert Fisk in the Indy today? Is he alone amongst British journalists in telling it like it is. I'm surprised the CIA hasn't been instructed to suicide him.

  6. Chris is right. It is barbaric. I don't know why exactly, but I felt shame just watching it. I suppose it had something to do with the inhumanity of it. As I watched, I beheld the man, not his deeds.

  7. What was your immediate reaction to the hanging of Saddam Hussein? My stomach turned over. Why?

    For the same reasons you state, Bryan.

    Have a happy New Year, nonetheless.

  8. We should see the results of our own creation however. Craven hiding of the realities by the BBC et al serves no purpose other than to provide excuses for the weak of spirit. We invaded to be rid of him, now we are. No point in denial now.

  9. Are you then also opposed to war in every case - since that also involves State killing? Of course it will take a lot more than the execution of Saddam to "make the world a better place" - it would be nice if it were so easy. But I don't think personal revulsion at seeing an execution should be the yardstick. I suspect many of us prefer to turn our heads away from things that we just want other people to do for us - like slaughtering cattle, for example. My personal view is that yes, it should be possible to say about certain people that they have forfeited the right to life. The implementation might not be pretty, but that does not make it wrong. For example, as a Jew and Israeli I believe it was right to execute Eichmann.

  10. I would argue his crime is qualitatively different from others.

    Crimes are those acts which have been proscribed by a state, ie an entity which is created by a society to rule over that society. To commit a crime is to offend against the justice of a society.

    I agree that states, created by individuals as a group, should not have the power of death over their members - killing by the state is wrong.

    But dictators and tryants abrogate to themselves the person of the state. L'etat, c'etait Saddam. He had placed himself outside the framework of human justice.

    Thus his crime is in truth different from all others, which take place within that framework, and is for that reason more heinous than anything else that anyone could do.

    In the same way, the trials of all those hanged at Nuremburg broke a fundamental rule of law - no retrospectivity of laws. But IMO this doesn't matter, because they were not being tried for "crimes", for "breaking the law" - ultimately they were being tried for destroying the possibility of law itself. Iraq should be allowed its catharsis.

    Of course there's also the aesthetics - "Death to tyrants!" is far better than "A valid and internationally monitored trial followed by long term incarceration in the Hague to tyrants!"

  11. It was a very foolish thing to do considering Iraq's circumstances. This will look like a shia lynching to the sunnis.

  12. Hello Mr Appleyard, excuse me.

    Frank Wilson - you ask "why show mercy to the merciless?" Because it serves as a useful reminder of one of the reasons we allow ourselves to believe we are better than the merciless. I remain uncertain that aping the actions of a killer sets us apart from them in any meaningful sense.

    Kind regards etc

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