The verdict of death for Saddam Hussein reminds us of how satisfying it would have been if "the new Germans" could have put Hitler on trial, making his monstrous crimes a matter of undisputed public record, sentenced him to death and exacted a token payment for his crimes, paid at the end of a rope. Making comparisons to Hitler has become a cliche, but in many ways they're similar in their monstrous evil, differing mostly as a matter of scale.
In his last hours this side of eternity Hitler was confined to a bunker beneath Berlin, deprived of natural light and fresh air, wandering through tunnels and cramped rooms but with the comforts of water, electricity and even air conditioning. Saddam huddled like a cornered rat in a tiny hole in the ground. Hitler was surrounded by his evil helpmates and their families. Saddam was alone with the spiders. Hitler grew ever more mad in flights of temper, the rantings of a thin, trembling, diseased man rather than the vigorous Fuehrer who had terrified the world. Saddam showed similar symptoms at his trial. Hitler killed himself. Saddam clung to a life much diminished.
Both men nursed until the very end the illusion of final triumph. On his 56th birthday, April 20, 1945, celebrated in the bunker, Hitler called his bunkermates around him to declare: "You will see -- the Russians are about to suffer the bloodiest defeat of their history at the gates of Berlin." Saddam had never thought the Americans would attack Iraq. He thought George W. Bush and Tony Blair were bluffing. Hitler left behind followers who couldn't believe their leader could be defeated, and continued to follow the Fuehrer's orders to fight to the death. The allies obliged them. Saddam's followers continue to fight to the death. So far the coalition of the willing is obliging them.
Both tyrants showed utter contempt for their own. Both not only killed anyone suspected of conspiring against them, but killed their families to exact revenge and reprisal. After the assassination of SS Leader Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler ordered the massacre of every man and boy over 16 in the Czech town of Lidice. Saddam was found guilty of ordering the murder of 148 civilian men and boys in reprisal for a 1982 attempt on his life, and unless he is hanged first he will go on trial for the massacre of 100,000 Kurds. (A terrorist group named for Qusay, one of the two monstrous Saddam sons killed by American bombs, continues to target Iraqi officials and their families.)
The war in Iraq is not going well, but the trial of Saddam shines a light on what it's about. Saddam was a deadly threat to the Iraqi people and a threat to the world. We didn't find the weapons of mass destruction everyone knew he once had, weapons that he intended to have again. But we knew he was a mass murderer who would use them once they were restored to him.
If the world had been more attentive to the atrocities of Hitler against his own people, and confronted his evil early on instead of appeasing him with compromises, enhancing and extending his power, millions of lives would have been spared. Wars must always be fought reluctantly, but history teaches that sometimes there is no choice but to go to war. We see up close the vicious tactics of the insurgents who were once Saddam's men, whose only aim is the perpetuation of a culture of death to embrace us all.
The trial of Saddam Hussein with all of its flaws is a new model for the Middle East, and shows aspiring democrats under the heel of despotic power in other nations what they could have if they will make the sacrifices that come with fighting for freedom. The death penalty for Saddam is questioned by Europeans who as a matter of principle do not believe in capital punishment, but the verdict of the court finds approval nearly everywhere. The verdict should give a lift to those in Iraq who have worked to create a new system of justice. The trial and the verdict will give other tyrants pause. It wasn't Nuremberg, but it wasn't bad.
As long as Hitler lived, he emboldened his followers; like Hitler, Saddam Hussein remains a hero to Ba'athist insurgents who took to the streets in protest when the verdict was read. When the sentence is carried out, few will grieve, and Iraq and the world will be better for it. Suzanne Fields is a columnist with The Washington Times. Write to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Suzanne Fields and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE