Monday, December 15, 2003

Schadenfreude blog.

Between my office and the train station I ride into and out of every day is the South Branch of the Chicago River. Connecting the street on the either side of the river is a bridge, one of a dozen or more sturdy steel drawbridges that cross the branches of the Chicago River, making the street grid uninterrupted by the river. The bridges are suitable for car traffic and pedestrians too, and as a result homeless people station themselves at the edges of the bridges, or sometimes in the middle of the bridges, the better to beg from a steady flow of passersby.

That was the first thing I thought of when I saw the photos of the unshaven former tyrant of Baghdad yesterday. Yeah, I've seen him, begging on the bridge.

Heh-heh. Sometimes, Schadenfreude is just the thing.

Normally, I don't editorialize here, but I have to make exceptions. The capture of Saddam Hussein has me thinking again about the nature of dictators, the modern sort in the mold perfected by Hitler and Stalin. Fortunately, none today are so big as they were, unless you count the party dictatorship in China, but dictatorship is still a scourge on the Earth -- worse, I would argue, than war, since the former generally instigates the latter. If all the dictators of the world were suddenly beggars on bridges, how much war would there be? It would be foolish to say none, but completely realistic to say a lot less.

Of course, we could argue all day about what constitutes a dictatorship. But on the whole, the worst of them are clearly recognizable by the murder and torture they commit. When the United States takes it upon itself to overthrow a dictatorship as awful as Ba'athist Iraq, it acts as a positive force in the world.

I would take this year's antiwar voices a good deal more seriously if they were as adamant in their denunciation of tyrants as of war. Not many are. "Saddam's bad, but war is worse!" As if he were a philandering husband. Why be against war? Because of the death and suffering involved. And what about dictators? "Well, they cause a lot of death and suffering too... but... it's different." Indeed. The violence of war is (sometimes) easily seen on TV. A dictator's violence usually behind closed doors.


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