Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Our Indifference to Tyrants

Anne Applebaum, The Totalitarian Template: Saddam's place in the pantheon of modern dictators, Slate (Jan. 2, 2007):
...Saddam kept his people in a state of constant terror, as did Hitler and Stalin at the height of their powers. Iraqi writer Kanan Makiya, whose book Republic of Fear remains the definitive account of Saddam's Iraq, estimates that in 1980, one-fifth of the economically active Iraqi labor force was a member of the army, the political militias, the secret police, or the police. One in five people, in other words, was employed to carry out institutional violence.

[I]f Saddam's life and death prove anything, it is that in the 90-odd years since modern totalitarianism first emerged in Europe, neither the United States nor anyone else has ever learned to understand such regimes or even to recognize them for what they are. When Hitler first emerged, the outside world's first instinct was to appease him. When Stalin first emerged, Americans and Europeans admired his economic planning. When Saddam first emerged, our initial impulse was to ignore him—and then, since he seemed a useful counterweight to the Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran, to support him. During his horrific and unnecessary war with Iran, millions of Iraqis and Iranians died—and the United States, reckoning Iran the greater threat, backed Saddam with weapons and intelligence. Germany, France, Russia, and others also saw Saddam as a useful trading partner and, later, as a source of corrupt profits.

...

... Write that Saddam really was an evil man, and you'll be thought an apologist for George Bush. Write that Saddam's regime resembled Stalin's, and you'll be called a right-wing ideologue.

... Maybe someday Americans or Europeans will ... find ways to discuss Saddam as something other than a pawn in their own games or as a figure in their own political debates. But I doubt it.

Now and then we should all re-read Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. And before we in the West become too smug, we should recall how discomfited we were when Solzhenitsyn castigated us for our moral indifference. See Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Address, Harvard Class Day Afternoon Exercises, Thursday, June 8, 1978. We should despise dictators not only when they are our enemies but also when they want to befriend us.
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