Another view on the capture of Saddam Hussein
Carlton M. Caves
2003 December 19

This short piece was originally an e-mail I sent to Paul Krugman in response to one of his columns in the New York Times.

Thanks for your column "Telling It Right." You must get a million pieces of e-mail, but you're my favorite columnist, so it's appropriate to thank you once in a while. In any case, composing an e-mail focuses my own thoughts, even if it never gets read.

Who's going to write a column about the inappropriate reaction to the capture of Saddam? The conservative press is full of joyful commentary about his humiliating capture: "The big, bad dictator didn't even fire a shot. So much for his machismo. How rewarding to see him humiliated as his hair was searched for lice and his mouth was explored with a tongue depressor." We now have him behind bars, so we can taunt him and bait him like a bear in an old-style traveling circus. Thankfully, we don't even do that to bears any more.

This is a triumph? To reveal his human failings and his very human dishevelment at the time of his capture? Don't they see this misses the point entirely? Anyone can be demeaned by showing them undergoing a medical examination, so it doesn't mean anything to do it. How would any of us, our leaders and conservative columnists not excepted, look if we were captured under similar circumstances?

Our objective should be to expose the evil inside Saddam, which spilled out of him to murder and maim thousands of people. That has to be done at a trial or other public forum, where, it is hoped, Saddam's crimes will be entered into a public record, available in perpetuity. Bear baiting is beside the point.

What a contrast to the treatment of the Nazi war criminals after World War II or of Adolf Eichmann when he was brought to trial by the Israelis. They were cut down to size, not by bear baiting, but by public trials that exposed both their evil and their utter banality. They turned out to be not the master race, but rather just plain thugs or amoral bureaucrats who acquired and used power to commit mass murder. We should cut Saddam down to size the same way.

   Index to CMC commentaries