"WHITHER THOU GOEST …"

Michael H. Glantz
15 April 2003

"WHITHER THOU GOEST …"

As I watch Iraqi people, ordinary people, vent their anger at everything that carries the portrait of Saddam Hussein, I wonder what Saddam would be thinking, or might have thought, if he were watching. Decades of the symbols planted everywhere by his regime reconfirming the omnipotence of his rule are being uprooted, toppled, burned, torn up, and defaced. Symbols of control have been turned into symbols of anti-government rage. But does he care?

Aside from the fact that he has been deposed, lost power, suffered humiliation if not from military defeat then from having his own people repeatedly smash his image with a shoe - an apparent Iraqi form of insult - and aside from watching the firebombing and looting of his numerous palaces, what might he feel? Maybe nothing.

He had a good life, from his perspective. He may feel that history will judge him favorably in the long run. Remember that Hitler was one of the images that he held in high regard (or so we were led to believe). Now his image is on the front cover of Time Magazine with a big red X across his face, as has been done only once before, with Hitler in 1945.

Stories have and will continue to emerge about the fear he instilled in his people, about his constant and widespread use of torture, threats, and murders as ways to keep millions of his citizens in line. The regime's rulers apparently lived very well at the expense of the rest of the Iraqi people. As jobs go, being the dictator for some decades was a good one. Now he is out of office and may be dead, but while he lived, he personally lived well. The truth is that he was respected, as well as protected, by other leaders in the region. now the Saddam era is over. What message does that send to other leaders who are seen as despots or even as benevolent totalitarian leaders?

The Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, among others, are probably concerned that they might be the next targets of a US government, pumped up and jingoistic as the result of a rather impressive rapid sweep through Iraq and the collapse of the Iraqi dictatorship. Castro's regime has tightened its already tight control over dissidents in Cuba, coming up with harsh sentences for those considered to be enemies of the regime. Kim has been rattling his nuclear sword to warn the United States not to think about trying to topple his regime. He appears to be copying a Mao statement about China from decades ago: North Korea may be a paper tiger in the eyes of the US military, but it is a paper tiger with nuclear teeth. These fears are obvious to those dictators who watched the fall of the regime of one of their ilk.

I wonder if they are also watching the toppling of their statues, the looting of their properties, the defacing of their symbols of power and control. Do they see this as a process likely to take place if they are removed from power voluntarily, by force, or as a result of their natural death? Will their roles in the history of their countries be tarnished and then erased by future, if not present, generations? Tito of Yugoslavia apparently paid little attention to political succession, and his country fell into pieces when he died. To what extent did he realize, or even care, what might happen after his death? And Franco in Spain, did he care that his form of government would be rejected after his death? I wonder if dictators in general care very much about what happens to their countries once they are gone.

Today's dictators are witnessing the revenge of a frustrated and poor population after decades of deprivation, threats, and neglect. Will their legacies suffer the same fate? I think so. Do they really care? I think not.

-Michael H. Glantz

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