Saturday, December 30, 2006

One week, two deaths

I took the day off yesterday, and with my wife and children in Utah, along with our only car, I spent the day at home with little to do. But I had the TV on all day, tuned in mainly to the Fox News Channel and the day's dominant news story, the impending execution of Saddam Hussein. The other main story of the day -- the first of several funeral services for ex-President Gerald Ford -- provided a sort of low-key counterpoint to the stream of updates and commentary about Saddam, but the juxtaposition of the deaths of these two profoundly different men gave me much to ponder.

The first of many televised ceremonies for Mr. Ford took place at an Episcopal church in Palm Desert, California, where the Fords had made their home since leaving the White House nearly 30 years ago. He was a modest man, but dignified in his quiet way, and the established protocol for his funeral seems to strike the right balance between Mr. Ford's unassuming nature and the grandeur and dignity of the office he once held. The casket was carried into the church between two lines of servicemen presenting arms, as a band played "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" --which happens, incidentally, to be one of my own favorite hymns. Immediately after this brief ceremony, the church was closed to the media, and family and friends remained inside the church for a private service.

Meanwhile, Fox and other media outlets reported that Saddam Hussein's execution was imminent, and would take place within a matter of hours. The death watch continued until shortly after 8:00 p.m. Arizona time, when it was announced that the execution had taken place. Saddam Hussein, the so-called Butcher of Baghdad, the murderer of tens of thousands, a tyrant whose very name had made additional millions to tremble, had now met his own fate at the end of a hangman's rope, nearly four years after his overthrow and three years after his capture in a desert rat-hole. And unlike the thousands who had been shot, gassed, or shredded at his command, Saddam had been given a trial which, if not perfect by the standards of American justice, was at least fair, and adduced overwhelming evidence of his monstruous guilt.

Today the nation continues its affectionate and respectful farewell to Gerald Ford, who is remembered mainly for his steadiness and decency. Meanwhile, the media speculates on whether Saddam will even be buried in a marked grave, and apart from a few die-hard Baath Party fanatics, nobody grieves over his departure.


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