Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It
Concerned readers will be pleased to know that the cartoonist is fully recovered from his illness, as is hopefully evident from this week’s return to form.
Poor old Saddam! Last week’s execution achieved what one might have thought was impossible: it made us feel sorry for Saddam Hussein.* Which is ridiculous, like feeling sorry for Pinochet or Idi Amin. The fate of Saddam epitomizes the clusterfuck we have made of every single aspect of Iraqi occupation. Hussein’s trial was a farce, he was convicted of what was, for him, a relatively minor massacre, and he was executed in bloodthirsty haste before he could be held to account for any of his more infamous crimes, like the gassing of the Kurds. And then there was the execution itself, which the Iraqis handled with the efficiency and decorum that distinguish all undertakings in the Arab world. (I still fondly recall the ghastly emaciated corpse of the Ayatollah Khomeini being tumbled naked out of its coffin and flopping among the raving mobs of mourners like a punk surfing a mosh pit. I can only hope my own bereaved are as deeply affected.) I personally am opposed to the death penalty (a position to which, as a near-murder victim, I did not come out of knee-jerk squeamishness or naïveté) and I would have thought the idea of carrying out an execution "with dignity" was a grotesque hypocrisy. An execution is a barbarism; why bother trying to turn it into a dress-up affair and make it seem civilized? (Interested readers are referred to George Orwell’s unforgettable eyewitness account of a hanging: http://www.orwell.ru/library/articles/hanging/english/e_hanging) But now, having seen what an execution handled without dignity looks like, I can appreciate the value of a little professional competence and discipline on such an occasion. There may or may not be any moral difference between a state execution and a mob lynching, but there is, at the very least, an aesthetic one. For far more eloquent damnations of this grisly fiasco please see Christopher Hitchens (http://www.slate.com:80/id/2156776/) and Matt Taibbi (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/13061298/the_low_post_hussein_in_the_membrane).
I can’t help but feel almost sorry for the neoconservatives who masterminded this invasion. They finally got everything they ever wished for, and it all turned into a nightmare--a world-historical Monkey’s Paw. Although many of the hacks and apparatchiks who advocated this war were academics, none of them seems to have learned the lesson that utopians and revolutionaries and would-be world-conquerors have learned over and over throughout the centuries, mostly at the cost of other people’s deaths; that history never turns out like it’s supposed to. It’s always stranger and messier, and it never, ever ends.
I still can’t believe Saddam is gone. I miss him like I miss Donald Rumsfeld; he was just too good a character to lose. Remember "the mother of all battles," that creepy photo-op with the terrified hostage boy, the softporn science-fiction-novel-cover paintings that decorated his sleazy bachelor-pad palaces? That freeze-frame of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam back in the Reagan years seems more and more the equal of that iconic photo of Nixon shaking hands with Elvis. I’m starting to realize that someday, after this whole surreal and terrible time is over, we’re actually going to miss these days. We’ll be like those aging hippies who long for the golden age when they had Strangelovean villains like Nixon and Kissinger in the White House to hate. We’ll shake our heads as we reminisce about the unbelievable Dick Tracy rogues’ gallery who filled our daily headlines: the blustering tinpot megalomania of Saddam, the bureaucratic word salad of Rumsfeld. What cartoonist could have invented the insane hair of Kim Jong Il or the carven sneer of Dick Cheney. Most of all, we’ll look back with something like wonder at the routinely jaw-dropping, imparodyable imbecility of the smirking boy-king George W. Bush. As Crazy Earl says in Full Metal Jacket: "When we rotate back to the world, we’re gonna miss not havin’ anybody around who’s worth shootin’."
I just could not let Saddam die. I know the man was a brutal dictator and a butcher and I ought not to celebrate him as a figure of fun. Partly it’s just that perverse impulse in me that refuses to take seriously what everyone else regards as unassailably sacrosanct or taboo. I am inexplicably cheered by the idea of his surviving, Elvis-like, in our imaginations. Perhaps he lives on as a symbol of the ineradicable authoritarianism and brutality in the world, a reminder that as long as human beings are cringing hierarchical animals that defer to authority, the sociopaths among us will inevitably rise to the top. Wherever there is a country held together by fear, wherever people are raped and tortured in secret prisons and buried in mass graves, Saddam is there. Wherever we bankroll dictators and look the other way from atrocities, whenever we smile and shake hands with devils for the sake of political expediency, Saddam is there. Wherever there is misguided and hubristic American bungling, wherever we turn brutal dictatorships into chaotic bloodbaths, Saddam is there. HeSaddam is with us always.
Oh my God. I’ve often said that the main challenge facing political humorists these days is staying ahead of the absurdity curve as each day’s news outstrips the previous day’s attempts at parody. Well, this just in: the day Saddam Hussein was executed, Iraqis claimed to see his face in the moon. Also, Saddam Hussein’s sister is rumored to have hired a sorceress to render Saddam invisible. So now there is an invisible Saddam Hussein at large. You see what I have to contend with? Holy Jesus. I am shamed by the paucity of my imagination. There’s no way I could ever have made up anything that bizarre and hilarious. Rest assured you will be seeing Invisible Saddam frequently in The Pain in the future.
Thanks to Jim Fisher for suggesting Willow’s girlfriend Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
* I did not actually view any of the videos showing Saddam Hussein’s hanging. Nor have I watched any of the gruesome videos of beheadings, gassings, stonings, or burnings that are apparently available to us on the bottomless cornucopia of atrocities that is internet. I haven’t watched a second of 9/11 footage since the day of the attacks. I am a sensitive person and must be extremely cautious about what I allow into my head. Nonetheless my readers seem to assume that I am a connoisseur of horrors and frequently send me links to disturbing images--and, worse, disturbing items in the mail.