July 29, 2003

Killing Fields Without Borders

Shallow Grave in Iraq

In an extended essay entitled "The War in Iraq" on the weblog of Norman Geras, Mr. Geras notes, in passing:

Here is one approximate measure of the barbarities of the Baathist regime I have just referred to. It comes not from the Pentagon, or anyone in the Bush administration, or from Tony Blair or those around him. It comes from Human Rights Watch. According to Human Rights Watch, during 23 years of Saddam's rule some 290,000 Iraqis disappeared into the regime's deadly maw, the majority of these reckoned to be now dead. Rounding this number down by as much as 60,000 to compensate for the 'thought to be', that is 230,000. It is 10,000 a year. It is 200 people every week. And I'll refrain from embellishing with details, which you should all know, as to exactly how a lot of these people died.

Had the opposition to the war succeeded this is what it would have postponed - and postponed indefinitely - bringing to an end. This is how almost the whole international left expressed its moral solidarity with the Iraqi people. Worse still, some sections of the left seemed none too bothered about making common cause with, marching alongside, fundamentalist religious bigots and known racists; and there were also those who dismissed Iraqi voices in support of the war as coming from American stooges - a disgraceful lie. [Emphasis added]

Geras then goes on to other arguments that buttress his main theme of how the Left has failed to respond well to any of the global moral issues of the last few years. It is an excellent analysis and I commend it to your attention.

However, I was struck by the gruesome mathematics of the phrase: "It is 10,000 a year. It is 200 people every week." Horrendous enough to contemplate. The small town of Laguna Beach where I live has a population of around 25,000. That would mean, in terms that I can comprehend, that every man, woman and child in this town would be wiped out in 2.5 years. And they would be killed in some of the most awful ways we can imagine, and many that we cannot.

Pre-emption Too Much for You? The Hussein Clan Was Just Getting Warmed Up

Still, had we not taken this monster down, that would have been the least of it. Hussein was not a one-off, he was building a dynasty.

If we have learned anything in the past century it is this: The longer genocidal tyrannies are allowed to exist the more lethal they become. When they can they expand their territory and export their virus of sadistic killing to any country that cannot stand against them. They feed on expanding populations. When they cannot expand, they turn inward and gnaw at the bones of their own people.

Once the killing begins in earnest, it does not decline. It increases, with small time-outs, to that the population pool can refill. What is 200 executions week this year becomes 225 next year and 250 the year after. It must. The logic of despotic killing states that for every person you kill wantonly, you create 2 to 5 others that hate you for what you have done. In order to keep yourself secure, these friends and family must be killed as well. In order to keep yourself and your heirs in place, you must grow the fear in order to control the hate.

Compared to the masters of genocide, Saddam was a lightweight. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao: These are the heavyweight champions of Hell on Earth. ( If you doubt this, please spend a few minutes roaming about Detailed Death Tolls for the Man-made Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century )

Saddam, however, had a secret weapon with which he was determined to try and break the records of genocide and death of the previous century. He had money and a plan and the Will (Remember the old Hitlerian "Triumph of the Will," the old Stalin "Steel," that "Great Leap" of Mao? ). Yes, he not only had the Will, he had his carefully raised sons as instruments of his will; as the means to carry his plan forward should he not be able to see it through. They were his legacy and they were, in every sense of the word, ready, willing and able. Until, of course, they were shot to ribbons.

But suppose, in some alternate universe where understanding leftists and deep-thinking citizens of the world hold sway, that the sons of Hussein had not been killed, that Iraq remained inviolate and untouched in its internal despotism. Suppose Saddam's plans for conquest had gone forward and his ability to create weapons of mass destruction was unhindered.

Not a few science-fiction writers and even some scientists assure us that this is just one of many worlds, each a little different. So let us think a bit about an unconquered Iraq in a Hussein-friendly universe. This year, 200 a week. Next year, 225 executed in a week. The year after that, 250 a week killed in order to feed the monster. And on it goes in this universe, year after year, decade after decade. And then the bomb is made and then the alliances with other evil men also bent on genocide is made. And the whole thing grows exponentially.

Is that the universe you want to inhabit? They say it is just next door. Bon voyage.

I will wait here for you.

Posted by Vanderleun at July 29, 2003 4:50 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Nicely put - but one thing you should consider is that Geras' numbers are very conservative. He rounds down to 230,000 from the Human Rights Watch estimate of 290,000, which, I believe, does not include victims of "regular" state terror, but instead mainly concentrates on victims of ethnic cleansing and punishment among the Kurds and Shia, and buried in mass graves. It also leaves out the very large numbers of Iraqis and others who died as a direct result of war or as economic victims of Saddam's larceny and misrule.

See for instance, from Steven Hayes' report on the Abu Ghraib prison: "The assembly-line killing that took place within these walls accounts for a far lower death toll than the 300,000 estimated to lie in the mass graves now being dug up at scores of sites around the country. Still, "as many as 30,000 were executed here in this prison," Irvine explains. "There are reports--unsubstantiated reports--but there are reports of at least 100,000 people killed in this prison."


Posted by: KymarFye at July 30, 2003 4:58 PM