Two men died; one forcibly, the other died quietly in his bed. Yet it seems as foolish to revel in the execution of Saddam Hussein, as it is to revise history to put Gerald Ford on a pedestal.
Hussein's hanging will go down in history as yet another mistake in the huge series involving Iraq. Why? Writing in the second century of our era, the Christian writer Tertullian provides the classic explanation in another context. "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church," he wrote.
The word "martyr" comes from the Greek, meaning "witness." The early Christian martyrs gave witness to their faith to the point of death. Their example inspired the growth of the Christian movement to the point that it eventually took over the Roman Empire.
More to the point of Hussein's death, in Islam a martyr (shaheed) is also a witness, particularly when defending the Islamic world from an expansionist adversary. There is some controversy whether the suicide bombers could properly becalled martyrs, since Islam prohibits suicide.
No such obstacle stands in the way of the crown of Islamic martyrdom for the strongman ruler of Iraq.
You may object that Hussein ordered people killed and was despotic. Care to name mild and democratic leaders in the Arab world whom Hussein might have chosen to emulate? Which emir or pasha was elected? What Arab nation is renown for regarding the habeas corpus and due process devoid of cruel and unusual punishment as standard operating procedure?
What might Hussein be compared to globally that it warrants a U.S. puppet government executing him? Was Hussein's treatment of Kurds and dissidents worse than that of the secret SAVAK police under the CIA-installed Shah of Iran? Worse than that of Gen. Pinochet of Chile, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines or the Apartheid regime of South Africa, all of which received lavish U.S. support over the course of decades?
Was Hussein worse than the carefully cultivated Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia (whose rule Hussein's regime most closely resembles)? The gallery of cruel dictators aided by Washington is long. Why pick on this one?
The reverse could be asked concerning Ford. The man who told New York City to go bankrupt has now, in the words of Daily News headline writers, dropped dead. Why the gushing accolades?
Not mentioned in the Ford hagiography is that he opposed public housing, the minimum wage and called for the bombing of North Vietnam. When Congress blocked Nixon's attempt to appoint white supremacists to the Supreme Court, Ford launched an effort to impeach the liberal William O. Douglas.
As to Watergate, he is now presented as a visionary of healing, but in 1972, it was Ford's parliamentary maneuvers that prevented congressional hearings on the burglary of the Democratic Party's headquarters before the elections took place. In January 1974, Ford charged that “the AFL-CIO, the Americans for Democratic Action and other powerful pressure organizations [are] waging a massive propaganda campaign against the president of the United States.”
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has documented a meeting between Ford and Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig on Aug. 1, 1974, eight days before Nixon resigned, in which three options were presented to Ford, all involving pardons of Nixon. Ford later claimed no deal was made, but it's obvious that the quid-pro-quo was part of the fix that led him to his unelected presidency.
So what's to be gained by elevating Hussein to the status of an Islamic folk hero, when he could have been allowed into old age in prison for decades until his name and being became as thin and harmless a public memory as Ford's?