It's Not History Until It's History (CS)
the man who experienced one of the most humiliating and public falls in world historyHyperbole is par for the course in the blogosphere, but I couldn't help being a bit irked by this. I don't entirely mind the linking of Hussein's death to the ongoing war in Iraq. I don't even mind speculation that Saddam might have been quickly silenced to keep certain information from coming out that would villanize America. But I'm always a bit wary of when editorials try to historicize and many of the editorials on the execution leaned toward exactly that.
Executions are inextricably linked to justice. The historical record is also considered a matter of justice. If history held no importance in this regard, it's unlikely historical or archival ethics would ever be a concern. Through this sense of justice, history becomes terribly relevant to how we choose to set up our world. For example, Israel's existence is predicated on the history of the Jewish people and particularly the history of the Holocaust. A recent attempt in Iran to discredit Israel's right to exist was enacted through an (alleged) historical conference.
It's no wonder, then, that with its relevance to current politics and foreign events and policy that writers would try to situate this event into a much grander scheme. I would argue that placing something into "history" is far more complicated and will take a measure of distance to understand.
Some might ask why I wouldn't let The President off the historical hook, but it's a bit different in George W's situation. We're well aware of the decisions he's made and well aware of the effect they've had on the world. For him to indicate that historians will decide his place within history is ironically ridiculous. The way history pans out may see great things come out of Bush's screwups. Or it may see further terror and strife out of them. But we do know that his actions, in themselves, have been failures. As far as his quality as a President goes in his own time, history has little to do with judging George W. Bush.
With something as specific as Saddam Hussein's execution, however, the fallout of history is less specific. The event is too singular. Even the life of the man and its place in history will not fully be understood until the region settles down and we can hear, marshal, and analyze the voices that were coming out of it.
That's part of why it's difficult for me or any American to evaluate Hussein's death itself, right now. Honestly, I would leave that to Iraqis and maybe even Iranians. With this sort of temporal immediacy to the event, it's their geographic and tangible immediacy to the actions of the man that make their voices valuable.
What I can say, however, is that Hussein's death has revealed the classic faux pas historians must find frustrating in journalistic and editorial writing, that being historical favoritism for one's own era and a lack of historical perspective, generally.
Brendan's ending note, that "Saddam Hussein is only the latest casualty in Iraq. Not the last," is more reasoned than his opening. As much as we want to make our claims on history and privilege our present, the history of the world continues to move on. New presents change our old pasts and will continue to do so. And yet how conveniently we forget our privileged presents past.