Ding-dong, Saddam is dead.
From The New York Times
Boy, they didn't waste time nixing him after the sentence was passed.
Now, I'm against the death penalty in theory. If I could vote on it, make a policy decision as a leader, or somehow otherwise affect the laws, I would do everything in my power to get remove that power from the state. That is, in my "state", which is the United States of America.
But as an individual, if someone raped and murdered my wife, or some serial killer did the same to my kid before saving parts in his refrigerator, I'd want him drawn and quartered, made to suffer without an ounce of mercy.
But that's my individual reaction, and the state is supposed to stop individuals' murderous impulses, whether justified or not. It should not be within the realm of individuals' choices to end the lives of other people, and the state has to make laws to mediate conflicts of interests and people – or murderous incidents that might cause others to murder – and maintain order.
For me, the moral valence on the matter isn't as important to me. It's about structure, and reasonable means of governance, and social justice. For example, the gross and obvious inequalities and inadequacies of the American criminal justice system are just too great to allow the state to make such final choices and argue them to be just. There are a million reasons I think so, and just as many cases I could point to, but that's another conversation. Suffice it to say that there are a lot of reasons why I am against capital punishment as it is applied to as punishment to individuals in even reasonable, democratic states, let alone ones despotic or demonic.
However, as applied to symbolic figures, such as former despots and dictators, their deaths mean something different. The moral, legal, and political "guilt" of a Hitler or a Hussein is beyond question. And in the latter case, here was a dictator who murdered just about anyone, even his "own" people. And in the case of Nicolae Ceauşescu, an uprising and overthrow resulted in him being executed in an alley to the ringing of machine-gun fire. Symbolically, the Romanian people spit on his grave and were better able to move on. It's not nice, but it's necessary.
I think the Iraqi people, for better or for worst, were wise to do away with him quickly, publicly, and cleanly – even Hussein had no chance of being actually given a "fair" trial. It's the price you pay for exercising absolute and brutal power – you lose power and find yourself in front of the people you terrorized and persecute, you're gonna hang. So it's not about "fair." It's payback time, and as they say, it's a bitch.
When you're Saddam Hussein, you're no longer a person, no longer an individual, but rather the figure who made policies that affected whole populations – without their consent, and usually beyond the bounds of any semblance of law, morality, or anyone's notion of decency.
And in the case of an entire population held in control by the power of the gun, once they're out from under it, you are literally history. And that's what this is about – starting a clean slate, in terms of history, identity, and being free from the shadow of the past that a still-living dictator inevitably casts. As long as that man lives, you can't really be free of him.
From The Washington Post
So the question is – why is Chun Doo Hwan alive and well, free and comfortable, living high on the hog in one of the richest neighborhoods in Seoul? When I asked that question to a few Korean friends, the responses were variations on, "Come on – how can you kill a former president?"
My American response would be, "Umm, with a firing squad, lethal injection, hanging, or being dragged to death by wild horses. Choose one."
If the guy was held responsible for all kinds of crimes against the nation and its people, and was given the death sentence by said state, why is he chillin' like a veritable villain in his house in Pyeongchang-dong?
Well, maybe the collective memory of Korean folks is like they say it is – like a thin, tin ramen pot – in that even national indignation cools down as quickly as it heats up. The fact that Kwangju is still remembered as a crime against the Korean people – along with the denial of basic human rights and democratic freedoms that was continuous from the time of Pak Chung Hee, no matter what economic development he did indeed bring – and the man tried, convicted, and given the death sentence for giving the order is living the high life while thousands of unarmed civilians continue their eternal dirt naps, is cause for pause.
Has "Korea" really gotten over its national demons? Or better posed, has "Korea" really looked squarely into the face of the past? Or is the seeming national amnesia about the crimes committed against the Korean people being dealt with as a type of coping mechanism, since there have been so many moments of pain that they became too numerous to face?
I tend to think the latter. Whether the technique is simply ripping down the Japanese-built National Museum rather than preserve the history of South Korea – for better or worse – or having a selective memory of former dictator Pak Chung Hee, or no one seeming to know what happened with the Sampung Department Store fiasco, or people being OK with Chun Du Hwan popping up in the news from time to time no only alive, but alive and chillin', one has to wonder why no one seems to hold group grudges for long.
Kwangju was pretty fucked up, as we all know. And it brings up one of those snarky little questions about "responsibility." Yeah, the United States had operational control of the military, as it does now. The question of who knew what and when still remains, and is an important one. But the fact still remains that a Korean military commander ordered the protesters to be deep-sixed, period. To the extent that the main culprit is alive and declared "guilty" and considered culpable for that massacre, and the present Korean government is able to deal as they wish with the man, I find it hard to believe that he's kicking up his heels and, by merely still continuing to draw breath, laughs at the memories of the people that he, by his command, murdered.
And people accuse me of being "anti-Korean." Sheesh.
People seem to have forgotten even all the obviously bad aspects of North Korea, choosing to think only of them in terms of "us" and as a poor, afflicted, and misunderstood version of a "Hermit Kingdom", and not the country that had tried to assassinate South Korean leaders, kidnapped South Korean citizens, blew up South Korean planes, sent terrorist commando units all the way to the Blue House, and even were sending such raids into the South as late as the 1990's, in specially-made mini-submarines.
But back to Kwangju – South Koreans are either extremely forgiving or extremely amnesiatic. You be the judge.
The way I see it, anyone in power who gave the order to commit this atrocity should have been swinging high and wide, or dying an ignominious death by firing squad a long time ago.
Hussein was hanged having been convicted of ordering the murder of 148 people. I guess the lives of hundreds (or thousands) who died in Kwangju were worth less.