WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Having now witnessed the sympathetic treatment that so many world leaders accorded Saddam Hussein, especially at the United Nations, an unexpected thought occurs: Can Adolf Hitler's reputation, too, be rescued?
I would not have thought so until I witnessed the supportive treatment Saddam's regime has been getting. In France, fully a third of the populace is pulling for him in his war with the "Anglo-Americans."
Who are these Frenchmen? Possibly they are the descendants of those French who collaborated with the Nazis. Has anyone polled them on their present assessment of Hitler? How about polling them on Hitler if he were engaged in war with the Anglo-Americans? Such a poll might mark the beginning of Adolf's comeback in world opinion.
Actually, though Hitler's reputation is dreadful today, this has not always been the case. During the 1930s when French statesmen such as Edouard Daladier and the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain were engaged in negotiations with the Nazis, Herr Hitler inspired hope among Europe's peace-loving democrats. Back then it was the Czechs and that reckless man Churchill who alarmed the bien pensants.
Returning from signing the Munich accords with Hitler, Chamberlain spoke of him as though he were a gentleman of the finest breeding. Now, of course, Hitler's name is a term of abuse. Recently, the venerable Washington correspondent, Helen Thomas, lumped him into a category with President George W. Bush. Those who would resuscitate the German dictator's reputation are going to have their work cut out for them after Thomas' outburst.
Yet Hitlerites everywhere have reason to hope that better days are ahead. Hitler did play rough, but Saddam has played rough, too. And according to my readings of both men's biographies, Saddam has committed atrocities that even Hitler did not commit. Moreover, unlike Hitler, Saddam's personal habits include none of the progressive preferences that we now recognize as politically correct.
For instance, Hitler was a vegetarian and strict opponent of tobacco. Saddam is a raw meat guy and in the familiar film footage of him holding that antique rifle above his fedora, his nicotine-stained fingers really stand out. Hitler was a dog lover, so much so that in his Berlin bunker he personally administered poison to his Alsatian bitch, Blondi, lest she fall into Soviet hands.
Yes, Hitler was a tyrant, and he did perpetrate genocide. He did engulf the world in war. But Saddam did too, though his genocide and wars have been on a lesser scale. On the other hand, Saddam has actually killed people with his own hands, some being members of his family. Reputedly he has a film library of his torturers at work, and he takes great pleasure in the torture of his enemies and of those Iraqis who would not pay protection money to his sons. I have read half a dozen biographies of Hitler and cannot recall any instance of his killing anyone with his own hand. In fact after reading the most recent and thorough biography of Hitler by Ian Kershaw, I came away with the distinct impression that Hitler was made quite squeamish by the sight of blood.
One other point on Hitler's behalf -- he had no corrupt sons. Saddam has two, and one of them, Uday, actually maintained a prison complex under the offices of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, which he ran. According to Con Coughlin in his splendid recent biography, "Saddam: King of Terror," the prison was capacious enough to hold 520 prisoners -- I say was, as Bush's ruffians bombed it without any regard to the future of the Iraqi Olympic team. At his prison, Uday has been witnessed torturing prisoners himself for such offenses as refusing to pay ransom. Coughlin writes that the prisoners were "mainly businessmen or the children of wealthy families who Uday thought were ripe for exploitation."
Actually, though Hitler's barbarism has been on a grander scale, the barbarism of Saddam and his family does give one pause to wonder. Why is our war against him considered so controversial by supposedly civilized Western nations such as France and Germany?
As I have written before, once the Coalition of the Willing has access to Iraqi records it is going to be apparent that France and Germany along with others were willing business partners with this grisly regime. Two other causes have led to these pompous nations' obstructionism. They are procrastinators, even as they were procrastinators in the 1920s and 1930s when dictators rose to menace the values of civilized democracies.
Secondly they are spiteful. They have been revealed as shirkers and exploiters, and you would not expect such cads to respond with magnanimity and gratitude. Both nations in their own ways gave us a Hitler in the past and allowed a Saddam to prosper and to torture. In my esteem, they stand about as high as they did in 1945, when the Anglo-Americans liberated their wretched ancestors.