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Month: July 2009

Of Excuses & Autocrats

The unregenerate human heart recoils from taking responsibility for its evil actions and moral failings. A recent book review unintentionally noted a practical example of this problematic but common attitude, citing many former officials from Saddam Hussein’s regime as examples. Like the Nazis who were put on trial at Nuremberg after the Second World War, the men interviewed by Wendell Steavenson tried to excuse their actions by shifting the blame to their superiors. In the words of the reviewer:
Perhaps most dispiriting of all, virtually none of those interviewed acknowledges responsibility for what was done. Most of their explanations are variations on ‘we were only obeying orders.’ ‘What could I do?’ ‘But I helped people, many people!’ ‘I suffered also, you know.’ ‘This was usual then.’ The gassing of 5,000 Kurds in Halabja was, concedes a seemingly upright general, ‘a political mistake.’
Steavenson comments: “I liked them. I joked with them. I sympathized with them. But not one ever looked me straight in the eye and admitted responsibility for the crimes of the government which they had served.” At this point, the reviewer interjects: “Even after the depredations of Saddam Hussein, many of those Ms. Steavenson talked to still hankered after someone like him. Iraqis, says one, are ‘an unruly mass of shirugi – slang for thickheaded Marsh Arabs – who need the rule of the rod, a strongman, to control them.’ ”i Indeed, if people are able to transfer the guilt of their actions to another, then they will cede total power to such a one in order to sin with impunity.
To read the entire article, click on the title.

Of Excuses & Autocrats

The unregenerate human heart recoils from taking responsibility for its evil actions and moral failings. A recent book review unintentionally noted a practical example of this problematic but common attitude, citing many former officials from Saddam Hussein’s regime as examples. Like the Nazis who were put on trial at Nuremberg after the Second World War, the men interviewed by Wendell Steavenson tried to excuse their actions by shifting the blame to their superiors. In the words of the reviewer:
Perhaps most dispiriting of all, virtually none of those interviewed acknowledges responsibility for what was done. Most of their explanations are variations on ‘we were only obeying orders.’ ‘What could I do?’ ‘But I helped people, many people!’ ‘I suffered also, you know.’ ‘This was usual then.’ The gassing of 5,000 Kurds in Halabja was, concedes a seemingly upright general, ‘a political mistake.’
Steavenson comments: “I liked them. I joked with them. I sympathized with them. But not one ever looked me straight in the eye and admitted responsibility for the crimes of the government which they had served.” At this point, the reviewer interjects: “Even after the depredations of Saddam Hussein, many of those Ms. Steavenson talked to still hankered after someone like him. Iraqis, says one, are ‘an unruly mass of shirugi – slang for thickheaded Marsh Arabs – who need the rule of the rod, a strongman, to control them.’ ”i Indeed, if people are able to transfer the guilt of their actions to another, then they will cede total power to such a one in order to sin with impunity.

To read the entire article, click on the title.