January 3, 2007

All Right, He Died Like a Man

Hatched by Dafydd

In the end, Saddam Hussein died like a man.

There, I said it. It's an interesting phenomenon: that a despicable scum may nevertheless go to his death with courage and grace. I first encountered the idea in William Shakespeare's MacBeth: at the end, with Birnam wood come to Dunsinane, confronted with the fact that MacDuff was "not of woman born," and now in full knowledge that he is doomed to die in this very duel... nevertheless, MacBeth neither cries nor whimpers nor rails at his fate, but calls out:

I will not yield,
To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet,
And to be baited with the rabble's curse.
Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane,
And thou opposed, being of no woman born,
Yet I will try the last. Before my body
I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff,
And damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'

MacBeth, Act V, Scene VIII

I tripped across it again in Mark Twain's wonderful book Roughing It, mostly reporting his trip out west with his brother Orion Clemens, who had just been appointed secretary to the territorial governor of Nevada.

In the section about the "road agent," John Slade, Twain (this is nonfiction) describes how the man was originally hired by the Overland Stage Company to run all the outlaws out of the territory near the stage line. Slade succeeded by astounding acts of bravery and brutality; eventually, outlaws avoided the Overland stage like taxes. But Slade grew bored and began terrorizing ordinary people in drunken shooting sprees through the town. He would rage and pick fights, once even burning a buliding. Later, when he sobered up, he was contrite and paid the damages... but it was just too much.

Eventually, he became such a bully and a menace that a hundred miners from the silver fields felt compelled to lynch him. But -- and here's the part this leads into -- when Slade's time came, he stood up, looked them in the eye, and put his own head into the noose. Slade died like a man, and folks remembered that.


I recently watched the cell-phone video of Saddam Hussein's execution. Now, I'm extremely squeamish about watching innocent people being murdered; I simply won't do it. I've never seen an al-Qaeda beheading video, and I never shall. But I have no problem at all watching guilty people being executed, whether by hanging, gas, lethal injection, or even Old Sparky. I've seen videos, and I would jump at the chance to witness an actual execution live.

So I watched with interest... and what I saw was a horrific mass murderer -- his bodycount a minimum of 300,000, perhaps as many as 5,000,000, depending on who you believe -- who nevertheless walked to his doom as a man, not a whipped dog. He must finally have understood that this was it: no last-minute reprieve, the Americans wouldn't save him, and his French, Russian, and Chinese pals cut him from their speed-dials. But as some grotesque Lefty I know remarked (broken clocks), the only person at that hanging to show any dignity or understanding of the solemnity of the proceedings was... Saddam Hussein.

For me, the capper was when Hussein heard that Sadrite idiot shouting "Muqtada! Muqtada!" The dictator sneered at the shouter and sarcastically asked, "Muqtada?" Then he says something that can be translated as "do you consider this bravery?" or "do you consider this acting like a man?"

He refused a hood or blindfold; he didn't struggle futilely or blubber like a baby. He didn't beg. He stepped forward calmly into oblivion.

I read an account by one of the execution witnesses who said he "saw fear" in Hussein's eyes; but I think that man was just whistling past the gravy train: I saw a man, standing amid a shriek of capering baboons.

I do not believe Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, would have died as well or as bravely in similar circumstances.


As I watched, I remembered I had seen this scene before! But where? Yesterday it came back... the second of Richard Lester's productions of the Alexandre Dumas classic the Three Musketeers (the movie is called the Four Musketeers) begins with the attempted execution of Cardinal Richelieu's spy, Rochefort -- played by the inestimable Christopher Lee.

He is in the course of being shot by a firing squad in the Huguenot city of La Rochelle, where he has been caught spying. They're taking forever at their task, having to prime their muskets, load their muskets, and so forth. A man comes up with a blindfold for Rochefort, but he is stymied by the fact that the spy once lost an eye and wears a patch. At length, Rochefort suggests, "I'll close one eye."

At last, the men line up, aim, and fire... and every shot misses. At this point, an exasperated Rochefort rolls his eye and says, "I could die of old age..."

I wonder if Hussein had seen the movie?


As I said, it's an interesting phenomenon: Saddam Hussein was one of the worst human beings ever to have lived, and if there is a God, as I hope there is, Hussein is right now burning in hellfire hotter than a thousand suns, breathing Cyclosarin gas and having his feet perpetually mutilated in a plastic shredder. But he was also a man; a despicable a man, but man nonetheless.

In George Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan, when Joan of Arc is put to the flame, one of the English soldiers steps forward and gives her a pair of sticks, tied into a cross, for her to hold. It was his one act of kindness in a life of brutish, thuggish, violence... and for that mercy, one day in every year, God allows him out of Hell.

Hussein was much worse a human being than that poor, vulgar soldier who was only following orders. But for the way he died, I believe Saddam Hussein will also get that one night of paradise -- perhaps only once each century.

I'm terribly glad he's dead, and I applaud the Iraqis for having the guts and good sense to string him up. Let's get on with the show trials for the rest of his atrocities. (I very much support show trials in cases like this; I mean, it's not as if Hussein could claim he had an alibi!)

Yet I cannot help but admire the way he went; and I hope, if my time ever comes, I can match the grace and dignity of that evil dictator.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 3, 2007, at the time of 2:44 PM

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The following hissed in response by: nk

He lived with death all his life. Being in danger of it and inflicting it. Why should he be afraid of it? Personally, I think he truly died when his sons did. What other "futurism" did he have? A belief in God or afterlife? I seriously doubt it? Was he so insane and stupid that he thought that he could live forever as the supreme ruler of Iraq? (My wife says that some of these people do have the delusion that they will live forever. That power blinds them to even their own mortality.) I doubt that even more. An altruistic ideal for his nation and his people? Let's not dream, ourselves. Whatever reason to live he had, died when his sons did.

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 3, 2007 4:39 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

This is not unusual. I am sure Stalin or Mao or Hitler would have faced death the same way. Evil men are not necessarily cowards. In fact I think many of them have little more respect for their own lives than they have for anyone else's. They say Tim McVeigh died like a man too.

so what?

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 3, 2007 5:33 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

BTW, there were 14 witnesses at the execution and one of them shouted Moqtada. Needless to say Sadr is a nasty little trouble maker but Saddam killed a lot of his relatives. So it was personal for these people. Calling all of them capering baboons seems a little harsh considering who we are dealing with here. Maybe they should have handled it like Italians handled Mussolini. That would have meant allowing a mob to kill Saddam and hang his mangled corpse upside down from a light pole or something.

I remember seeing a Kurdish lady on a news report. She was asked what they should do to Saddam. She said tie him and cut a strip of flesh from him every day until he dies.

Maybe the rest of us need to realize that this was up to the Iraqis and considering what he had done to those capering baboons he got off pretty damn easy.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 3, 2007 5:47 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E


I agree with your assessment and with Terrye's.

Another possibility: Maybe tranquilizing drugs helped keep him on an even keel. I understand they are used for executions in the US.

He didn't look drugged (not that my uneducated eye could tell). So I suspect that he had just come to terms with his fate and took it like a (despicable) man.

The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 3, 2007 7:25 PM

The following hissed in response by: Rod

I will always hate the illegal alliens who hijacked planes and killed over 3,000 American women and men on 911. But; I will alway admire their guts. The made the ulitmate sacrifice for what they believed in. I never killed a man that i did not think highly of if he fought hard. I have nothing but contempt for those who laid down their weapons and begged for mercy.

Mulsim Fascists are *not* cowards! They are evil and should die; but they are brave.

an old exJarhead

The above hissed in response by: Rod [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 3, 2007 8:26 PM

The following hissed in response by: velocette

Forget Saddam. He's old news already. The important thing in Dafydd's post was his mention of the marvelous three & four musketeer movies. Screenplay by george macdonald frazer should tell you all you need to know. For years it was unavailable on VHS or DVD because of some legal issues (The producer, Salkind, had made two movies from the stock and only paid the cast for one) but it is now available in a pretty darn good widescreen dvd version. Great extras, too.

The above hissed in response by: velocette [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 3, 2007 10:14 PM

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