THE BEAST WITHIN. A few years ago - quite a few years ago, actually - Ted Koppel traveled to Cambodia for an incredible moment: the trial of Pol Pot, one of the great monsters of the 20th century. For two nights, Nightline showed Pol Pot being tried for his crimes against humanity.
Thought to have been responsible for the deaths of more than a million of his fellow Cambodians, Pol Pot was every bit as evil as Hitler, Stalin, or Mao, lacking only the means to project his horrors beyond the borders of his own country.
The trial, as I recall, was something of a farce, aimed more at getting his fellow mass murderers off the hook than at bringing Pol Pot to justice. Still, seeing him being brought to account, no matter how cynically, should have made a far greater impression than it did. But in the hyper-fast media cycle of 1990s America, so-called big stories - some of which weren't very big at all - began to blend together. O.J. equals Princess Diana equals Monica equals Pol Pot. It's only gotten worse since.
I was thinking about Pol Pot last night as I watched the arraignment of Saddam What an amazing thing to see this evil man, the cause of so much misery and torture and death, brought into an Iraqi courtroom to hear the particulars of his evil read against him.
He looked good, didn't he?
I'm sure Hannah Arendt's phrase "the banality of evil," which she used to describe Adolf Eichmann, will be bandied about quite a lot in the days and months ahead. I'm not sure if it applies. Perhaps to the flunkies who were led in after Saddam, corrupt, amoral little men like Tariq Aziz.
But to Saddam himself? Saddam isn't Eichmann. He's Hitler. Watching him snarl and snap on television, he didn't strike me as a bureaucrat dispensing death and torture like another might dispense rice and road improvements. No, this was the monster himself, and you could see it, see the evil, as he lectured the judge. Other than the gassing of the Kurds, he didn't even bother to deny anything, going so far as to say the Kuwaitis deserved it.
John Burns's article in today's New York Times is literary bordering on magisterial, and thus is what you should make sure you read.
But do we understand what's going on? Do we realize that this is a historic moment? Or will this blow by us, to replaced by another update from the Scott Peterson trial as soon as the novelty begins to wear off?
MORE ON MOORE. Media Log has such diligent readers. D.S. found the link to the Michael Moore quote that Joe Scarborough and Christopher Hitchens were kicking around on Wednesday. Here are the offending comments:
There is a lot of talk amongst Bush's opponents that we should turn this war over to the United Nations. Why should the other countries of this world, countries who tried to talk us out of this folly, now have to clean up our mess? I oppose the U.N. or anyone else risking the lives of their citizens to extract us from our debacle. I'm sorry, but the majority of Americans supported this war once it began and, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe - just maybe - God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end.
The transcript of Wednesday's Scarborough Country is now online.
This is much ado about not much, but it's MSNBC, so I'm being redundant. On the one hand, Moore is considerably to Media Log's left; though I think the war in Iraq was misguided, I can't imagine how anyone couldn't at least wish that it leads to a decent, stable new order in that country.
But the way I read Moore's piece, he's simply asserting that it's not going to happen, whereas Scarborough and Hitchens seem to accuse him of hoping that it's not going to happen. Two different things.
And how can anyone argue that French and German troops should lose their lives for our mistake? Mind you, I don't want to see anyone lose his or her life in Iraq. But this is our mistake, not theirs. Which, I think, is Moore's point.