Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Cardinal Martino - a case of misplaced sympathy?

Cardinal Martino's controversial reaction to Saddam's capture:
"I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures," he said. "Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him . . ."

A number of reasons for making images of Saddam in captivity public make sense to me. The first and most obvious being simply to provide televised proof that we'd gotten him. Recall that Iraqis up to this point had been living with the persistent fear that, until Saddam was captured, they would never truly be safe. That is why so many literally wept with relief when they saw him in custody. But more importantly, as a commenter on Amy Welborn's blog (Victor-Morton) put it:

I think some sort of offense against Saddam's dignity (in the broadest, secular sense of that word) was absolutely essential. This was a man who built a cult of personality, capitalizing on the Arabs' honor-based culture, that held his country in the grip of fear for decades, and even right to that very day from hiding. That "spell" (and yes, I do intend the connotation of magic), that aura of godhood (and yes, I intend those connotations also) HAD to be broken -- not primarily for the sake of demoralizing Iraqi guerrillas, though hopefully it will do that too, but for the sake of the possibility of building a decent society in Iraq. So, not only did we have to take pictures of him, those pictures had to show him as a mere mortal -- dirty and disheveled, a "coward" who allowed himself to be taken prisoner, a man who gets his teeth examined like anyone else. Obviously, there'd be such a thing as too much offense to his dignity as a human (I guess ... a prostate exam), but given that his mouth DOES have to be checked for immediate security reasons (cyanide pill and all), this seemed like a reasonable choice.
Regarding Martino -- I would be more willing to accept his empathy if he had also expressed greater acknowledgement and sympathy for Saddam's victims.

Mixed reactions from Amy Welborn; Mark Shea; Irish Elk; Michael Novak; Deal Hudson (via e-letter, thanks Amy), and Bill Cork (who manages to add a dash of Tolkien into the mix).

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