by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and the Boston City Paper, January 2006
Paradox and parallels.
This past Friday evening, the entire world was glued to the coverage of the execution of Saddam Hussein. The dictator’s hanging is a true historical event, putting a firm end to an unimaginable rein of terror and hopefully bringing some small measure of closure to Hussein’s hundreds of thousands of victims.
That same night, one channel up from CNN, was C-SPAN, covering the solemn image of the flag draped coffin covering the body of former president Gerald Ford. People filed past the coffin slowly and respectfully as Marine Guards kept watch. On any other day, this memorial of a former president would have been the lead story.
Saturday morning, news and images of Hussein’s execution were justifiably the top and sole story, and coverage only broke periodically to cover the moving ceremony as President Ford’s body was ceremoniously carried to Air Force One for the state funeral in Washington.
Two lives, two world leaders, diametrically opposite in every belief, two men who so profoundly affected history — their bodies and deaths being handled in such very different ways.
Such a paradox.
I was 10 when President Richard Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford — a man who never sought the highest office, assumed the role of our new Commander-in-Chief. Ford, by all accounts, was a rarity in Washington — a decent, moral, honorable man. He was not dynamic, he was not a superstar and some called him mediocre. But he had a profound love for his country. The only man who was never elected to the vice presidency and presidency was the right man at the right time. For 29 months, Ford served this nation well, to the best of his abilities. Many historians argue that his election loss to Jimmy Carter in 1976 was a direct result of Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon — and that’s probably true. Many supposed a deal had been made between Nixon and Ford for the pardon.
But Gerald Ford was not the type of man to be involved in backroom deals and insider politics. I believe — as many do — that his pardon of Nixon was his own decision, his own choice to try to bring healing and closure to a nation that desperately needed it at the time. To that end, he succeeded brilliantly.
And unlike George H. Bush and Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford presidency ended and he quietly returned to the life of a private citizen, speaking at times, avoiding the public eye, and always a statesman. In fact, he mandated that the interview he gave describing his criticisms of the Iraq war would not be broadcast until after his death. Such a statesman. Always putting his love of country first.
His death is the end of his life, but it was his actions for those brief 29 months that brought healing to this nation.
Contrast that to the execution of Saddam Hussein — a vile, evil creature whose resume of atrocities need no listing here. Defiant to the end, Hussein at last is no more, and the world is a better place already.
I will not debate capital punishment here, especially since Hussein was convicted in a country not our own. But perhaps now his hundreds of thousands of victims may finally know some small level of closure. Perhaps the entire world will know some healing from this execution. Violence in his name will probably continue in some forms — the evil that men do does indeed live after them — but I cannot imagine people viewing him historically as a martyr.
The biblical phrase of, “an eye for an eye” is not about revenge, but proportional justice — an eye for an eye — no more. In that sense, Hussein got off easy, his personal murder and torture of countless innocents can never be “balanced” by his single life. But his execution ensures that he is finally gone from this world, a clear message that there can indeed be justice and retribution.
The same day. Two national leaders, two aftermaths of their deaths — so very different. Gerald Ford, a statesman to the end, brought healing and a sense of decency back to this country and healed this Nation when it needed it most. May he rest in peace. Saddam Hussein, defiant and evil, the devil incarnate, brought violence, murder, torture, oppression and evil to his country. His execution will bring healing to humanity; his soul will be judged by his creator.
The same day, two leaders, two deaths, two aftermaths — a paradox, a coincidence, and a crystal clear contrast of good and evil in the world. May we take notice of this point in history, and learn from it.
And may we soon see an end to the violence and the war.