Skip to comments.Death is life in Saddam's regime
Posted on 04/04/2003 5:07:01 AM PST by knighthawk
CALGARY - Are Iraq's leaders losing their collective mind? Of late their propaganda has begun evoking those classic, too-many-hours-spent-in-the-bunker, Soviets-at-the-outskirts-of-Berlin Nazi compositions.
It's not the regime's inflated claims of battlefield successes -- like destroying enemy tanks in a sector where the enemy arrived by parachute. These things fall under the category of spin, wartime version. Nor the shameless exploitation of civilian casualties. This is fair game, since it's arguably factual and everyone agrees it's bad (the Americans far more so than the Iraqis).
No, there's far weirder stuff, ravings that are nothing short of delusional.
In the early days, the Iraqis managed to maintain an insouciant, taunting air. "Bush and Blair," boasted Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, "are welcome to come to Baghdad and we will receive them with the best music they have ever heard and the finest flowers grown in Iraq -- bullets." As propaganda goes, this was good stuff -- a nice mix of flair, bravado and menace.
Since then, it's probably grown too loud to compose such witticisms. As the coalition flew a record number of sorties and Republican Guard formations were being vaporized just miles from Baghdad, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the information minister, was moved to say, "With each day, the Americans, Britain wade into a quagmire, and the losses increase for those two outlaws."
Naji Sabri, the foreign minister, claimed the coalition was being "defeated on all fronts and retreating in the face of strong strikes." Sabri warned, "No one will be safe except for those who surrender." (Going by the Iraqi record, surrendering is about the least safe thing a coalition soldier can do.)
Sabri also warned that any invaders of Baghdad would face a "holocaust."
It's easy to dismiss this stuff as so over the top it's almost funny. If the coalition's soldiers are running for their lives, why are you fulminating about what will happen if they enter Baghdad? But is it possible the Iraqis are close to believing this stuff?
Nearly 50 years ago, leaders and propagandists of another regime were similarly pushing the rhetorical envelope, uttering statements that were as unrestrained as they were self-contradictory.
"Under the debris of our shattered cities, the last so-called achievements of the middle-class 19th century have been buried," wrote Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, in early 1945. "Now the bombs, instead of killing all Europeans, have only smashed the prison walls which held them captive."
And just weeks before the end, "A world is going down but we all retain a firm faith that a new world will arise from its ashes."
In his remarkable work, The Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, Canadian historian Modris Eksteins came to some startling conclusions about the mindset behind this propaganda.
The Nazi belief system -- a "cult" more than an ideology -- was based on "irrationalism crossed with technicism." In it, wrote Eksteins, "The theme of death exercised a powerful grip on the fascist imagination."
The Nazis' "reversal of norms" led them to find "death in life." Declared one Nazi leader without irony: "We ourselves are the war."
In the topsy-turvy metaphysical landscape the Nazis occupied, Eksteins argues, Goebbels and the other Nazis were not even consciously lying. In their dementia they had transformed the coming catastrophe into victory, purification by fire, catharsis through destruction.
Iraq's leaders sound like they're teetering over the same abyss.
Others have coined the term Islamofascism. This outrages their critics, who consider it mere sloganeering. Yet the similarities are eerie, and perhaps not coincidental.
Hitler considered propaganda an art form. He was obsessed with radio and film far more than literature. Iraq's Baathists make much of their ability to continue beaming television images into Iraqi homes.
By their own description, the Nazis were national socialists. The Baathists are socialists who are nationalistic. Each evoked their country's respective religion, but insincerely. Nazis murdered clergy who stood up to them, and utterly debauched Christianity into something pagan and primitive, mixing in a cartoon version of Norse mythology. The Baathists have demolished mosques and murdered imams; now Saddam demands Allah's blessing and calls for jihad.
Saddam awards posthumous medals to a suicide bomber, calling his act a "blessed beginning on the road of sacrifice and martyrdom," while Iraqi vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan promises "battalions" of Arab martyrs and suicide bombers, and vows to "turn every country in the Arab world into a battlefield." The Nazis reached for inspiration to the German "martyrs" of the First World War.
With their obsessive, almost 30-year-long quest for weapons of mass destruction, their record of invading other countries, their mass murder -- even their love of gadgets -- Iraq's Baathists aren't that different from the Nazis in either their tactics or their main interest, war. Or their death cult.
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