Christopher Hitchens: "It's the most extraordinary live show of a real for keeps political purge that you'll ever see. And then there's the second half which has been seen by much fewer people and was not shown on PBS where the surviving half are told to go out in the yard and are given guns and are told to shoot the convicted half. Now they're in the plot. Now they are cemented to the leadership.
Now Kanan Makiya in his book says correctly, he says Hitler wouldn't have thought of that. Stalin didn't even think of that, and he thought about these things a lot, about how to get one member of the Central Committee to betray another member and keep them all guessing, so that you're the ultimate beneficiary but this is that added little touch of sadomasochistic genius, this is the adding of The Godfather and The Sopranos to the mixture of Nazism and Stalinism that was in fact the birth of Baathist ideology to begin with. In case you don't know or haven't studied it, the Iraqi Baath Socialist Party was modelled in large part on admiration for European National Socialist and Fascist movements, hoped to emulate them especially in their nationalism against the West. But mutated by Saddam Hussein it became also one that very, very much admired, he had a great admiration for and grew a special moustache in admiration of the work of Yosif Vissarionovitch Dzugashvili, the great Georgian known to us historically as Stalin. So you had him in modern Iraq, a regime in our own time, that was openly, directly modelled upon the two most extreme examples of European totalitarianism.
When I used to go there in those days, it's often very difficult when you come out of a country like this, to explain to people quite what it's like when you're there; the atmosphere of terror, the look that comes into people's eyes when you mention the name of the leader, the absolute look of flash of panic, 'anything could happen to me now'. The person who spills their cup of coffee in the morning on a copy of the party paper that has the leader's picture on it, and everyone in the café goes completely quiet. He just desecrated a picture of the leader; the police are on their way now. You've just made the biggest mistake of your life, and it's very likely that your family will go to prison with you, and maybe they'll have to watch you being tortured, and if they do, they'll have to applaud. And if they have to watch you being executed they'll be later sent a bill for the bullets that were used to be fired into the back of your head because no-one's exempt.
It's often I think very, very hard for people who live in civilised countries, democratic countries, to understand what it would be like to live even a day under a regime that was like this. I used to find in arguments about Iraq that I knew right away when someone didn't know what they were talking about. The dead giveaway would always be when they would say, 'All right, I agree, Saddam Hussein is a bad guy', I'd say, 'Now that means you don't know, you don't know anything about him, if that's what you think. You don't know what it would be like to be sitting at home wondering where your daughter was and finding out because the police came around, banging on the door, handed you a video while they stood there, of her being raped by their colleagues, just to show you who was boss.'
The word 'evil', which I began with, I think does need a bit of justification. Many people think that to even use the word 'evil' is sort of naïve or morally too judgmental or, you know what I'm driving at, too simplistic. And yet it's somehow a word without which we cannot do. Hannah Arendt in her study of totalitarianism borrowed from Immanuel Kant the concept of radical evil, of evil that's so evil that in the end it destroys itself, it's so committed to evil and it's so committed to hatred and cruelty that it becomes suicidal. My definition of it is the surplus value that's generated by totalitarianism. It means you do more violence, more cruelty than you absolutely have to to stay in power. You've already made your point, you've done everything you need to do to make people realise that you're in power, but you somehow can't stop, there has to be a special appetite that must view special prisons for rape, there must be special mass graves just for children. There must be the desire to see how far you can go, and even if you knew this will in the end bring retribution, it's worth it in some sense, for its own sake. Maybe that's the only redeeming thing about it, maybe the irrationality is the one saving grace of it, but at any rate it's not a word it seems, that we can abolish from our vocabulary. If you doubt me, just ask any liberal how they're going to vote at the next election and they'll always say it's for the lesser evil. Somehow the word is necessary even in relativistic terms.
I haven't started with Iraq; I haven't begun to tell you what it's like. The nearest I can come from personal experience would be I suppose being present when a mass grave in a district of the south, was being opened, near Babylon, just after the intervention in 2003, and I was there; I'd gone with a group of my fellow reporters and the temperature in Iraq at midday around that time goes well above 100, and you have to be coated in sunscreen at all times, and you're coated in sweat anyway, and it gets in your hair and in your clothes and on your face, you're sort of covered in slime in effect, protective slime, and that's fine until the wind gets up a bit as the mass grave is being excavated, and you find that you're being covered in a coat of powder. Grey powder, which is made of people. It's the filth and the smut of people who'd been buried en masse for a long time and were just being dug up and are being now blown around in it in a grave. If you want to feel dirty, if you want to feel dirtied up by the experience of fascism, try finding that you're 12 hours away from a shower and you can't get dead person out of your hair, or off your face, there's nothing you can do about it, you're stuck with it, you're tainted, you're polluted, and you're living in a country or visiting a country in this case which is digging itself slowly out of a generalised mass grave."