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Author Topic: The Totalitarian Template: Saddam's place in the pantheon of modern dictators  (Read 409 times)

mvpel

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Slate: The Totalitarian Template: Saddam's place in the pantheon of modern dictators

Hitler shot himself before capture, Stalin received a grand state funeral, and Pol Pot died while under house arrest. In late December, the brutal leader of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, died of natural causes. In fact, when the noose tightened around his neck early Saturday morning, Saddam Hussein became one of a surprisingly small number of modern dictators actually executed by their own people: Benito Mussolini, Nicolae Ceausescu?and now the man who once called himself Iraq's president for life. Of those three, Saddam is the only one who had anything resembling a trial.

Other than that, though, there is no reason to view Saddam as an exceptional or unusual heir to the 20th-century totalitarian tradition. He saw himself as part of the pantheon of modern dictators. Allegedly, he boasted to KGB agents in Baghdad of his personal admiration for Stalin. Certainly, he took their advice: Historians who have worked on Iraqi documents captured during the first Gulf War have told me that they show how Saddam's secret police force was clearly organized along Soviet lines.

More to the point, Saddam kept his people in a state of constant terror, as did Hitler and Stalin at the height of their powers. Iraqi writer Kanan Makiya, whose book Republic of Fear remains the definitive account of Saddam's Iraq, estimates that in 1980, one-fifth of the economically active Iraqi labor force was a member of the army, the political militias, the secret police, or the police. One in five people, in other words, was employed to carry out institutional violence. The result was a country in which the families of political victims received their body parts in the mail; in which tens of thousands of Kurds could be murdered with chemical weapons;

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