Jewish World Review Dec. 22, 2003 / 27 Kislev, 5764
On feeling pity for evil
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's Justice and Peace department and a former papal envoy to the United Nations, is troubled by the images of a captured Saddam Hussein.
"I felt pity to see this man destroyed," the cardinal said Monday. Martino was particularly distressed by the pictures of an American military physician looking into Saddam's mouth "as if he were a cow."
I had a different reaction watching the press conference from Baghdad early last Sunday morning. I was euphoric that U.S. forces had apprehended one of modern history's most homicidal dictators. I was hopeful that his capture would mean fewer Americans and Iraqis would die, that Iraq's restoration as a free and peaceful nation had been hastened.
Looking at the videotape of Saddam in custody, I saw something beyond what Hannah Arendt, describing Adolf Eichmann, called "the banality of evil." Watching Saddam open his jaws, seeing his mouth light up blood red, it looked as if the doctor were illuminating the mouth of hell. I half expected to see fangs, for Saddam to lunge and seize the doctor's hand. I had seen this phantasmal image before.
In the Prado Museum in Madrid hang many of the paintings of the late 18th- and early-19th-century artist Francisco Goya. Goya is best known for his depictions of the horrors of conflict in works such as "The Shootings of May 3rd" and a series of etchings known as "The Disasters of War."
But it was another of Goya's works, "Saturn Devouring His Children," that invaded my thoughts. It depicts the mythological tale of the ruler of the Titans who, fearful that one of his children will overthrow him, eats his offspring at birth.
The haunted eyes, the tempest of hair, the bloody mouth of a god eating his own children were there on television, captured in a frozen frame. There is no greater metaphor for the tragic and horrific opus of Saddam's Iraq. How many thousands of victims had Saddam devoured? How diabolically had he consumed an entire nation?
"Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him," Martino said. "They could have spared us these pictures."
For too long, the world averted its gaze from Saddam's bloody mouth, ignored or hid the inhuman violence that Saddam etched into the people of Iraq. As long as the oil flowed and the contracts were paid and the weapons were mostly used against a common foe, there was no need to look into Saddam's mouth and see the cavernous hell it fed.
Perhaps Martino, at some point in the past, expressed similar compassion for Saddam's victims. If not, he is not alone. He is joined by the multitudes of the supposedly compassionate left who find George W. Bush more detestable than the butcher of Baghdad, by corporate and political leaders in Europe and the United States and fellow Arab potentates who shook his gracious and blood-stained hand.
Some fear what might come out of Saddam's mouth in his own defense, about who armed him and for how long, about those who may have encouraged his war with Iran or insufficiently dissuaded his invasion of Kuwait. Yes, some uncomfortable things may come out in Saddam's trial for crimes against humanity.
But we must not be spared these details any more than the details of machines that tore men limb from limb, of acid baths and mutilations and rapes and death by a thousand unimaginably horrible ways.
With reverence to Cardinal Martino, we must stare into Saddam's mouth, into the pit of hell so that again we may say anew as a civilized world, "never again."
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12/19/03: Behind the Iraq rhetoric, democracy starts to build