I agree with Rich that the Iraqis botched the execution of Saddam. It was not the American way, it was the traditional way. In the course of writing a book about Naples, I read scores of accounts of hangings, and there’s a copious English-language literature on such things as well, from which it emerges that Saddam’s treatment–the insults, the jibes, the jokes, all those things that offend us–have long been part of the ritual. Remember the final scene in “Braveheart”? When the torturer has the crowd laughing with him about the agonies to which Mel Gibson is about to be subjected?
Along with that I had another thought, not yet fully elaborated, but maybe it will interest someone. It’s a commonplace in the study of mass murder–especially the Holocaust–that it’s a lot easier to kill lots of people in a relatively antiseptic way (bombs, usually) than to kill an individual one-on-one. It’s not easy to find an executioner, it’s easier to find a guy who programs a bombing run on a computer. And it’s easier to find a technician to run Nazi gas chambers.
Technology made it easier to set up these antiseptic killings. It separated the killers from the killed, the killers didn’t have to watch or even inflict actual death, they didn’t have to harden their hearts as their enemies suffered death agonies. If you dropped a lot of bombs on Germany and Japan in the war, you knew innocents would die, but you never really faced those people, and it was, after all, part of war, wasn’t it?
But then the wheel turned once more. Weapons became amazingly accurate, and “precision bombing” became possible. And when that happened, it suddenly became necessary to face all kinds of very complicated targeting decisions. Lawyers were brought in to approve each and every target. And when the technology failed, or some guy at a computer or in an airplane or on the battlefield failed to get it exactly the way the lawyers had stipulated, there was suddenly hell to pay. War crimes, etc.
So paradoxically technological advance made mass murder easier, and now it’s made it much harder. Which is to say, even the most lethal technology isn’t either all good or all bad. Sometimes it pushes us in one direction, sometimes in another.
Unintended Consequences, Chapter 2007, I guess.
Anyway, it’s interesting, don’t you think?