PERSPECTIVE ON SADDAM HUSSEIN : Like Hitler, His Enemy Is the World : Germany then, the Arab masses now, mirror one another in dynamics that can be turned to war.


When Adolf Hitler perished in his bunker on April 30, 1945, most of the world that survived him believed him a unique figure who seemed not to invite comparison with other malevolences in history. This conviction, which paired horror with hope, has proved illusory. Hitler was not one of a kind. As long as millions of people passionately long for his return, it is only a matter of time until their wish is fulfilled.

The postwar period, with good reason, has insisted on the singularity of German criminality and made any comparison with other state terror taboo. All too often such reasoning has served only to further the purpose of exonerating such criminals.

I would like to demonstrate that talk of Saddam Hussein as an heir to Hitler is no journalistic metaphor, no propagandistic exaggeration, but rather goes to the heart of the matter.


We do not do justice to the “Fuehrer” of Iraq if we underestimate his dangerousness, if we portray him only as a traditional despot or a modern dictator. Contrary to figures like Franco, Marcos, Pinochet and dozens more like them who still are in power all over the world, it was not enough for Hussein to oppress his people, to dominate and exploit them, and to enjoy all this as long as it lasted. Autocrats of this kind are part of history’s repertoire, one is tempted to say, a part of the normal state of the world. There is nothing mysterious about these monsters; their guideline is self-preservation. As such, their behavior obeys their self-interest, and that makes them predictable.

Like Hitler, Saddam Hussein does not fight against one or another domestic or foreign political enemy; his enemy is the world. A resolve for aggression is the primary drive. Objectives, causes and justifications will be found in any set of circumstances. Whoever winds up as the first target, whether Iranians, Kurds, Saudis, Palestinians, Kuwaitis or Israelis, depends only on which opportunity arises first. Even his own people are not exempt; their destruction is only the last act of the mission Hussein feels is his calling. The death wish is his motivation, destruction his method of rule. All his actions serve his end. The rest is planning and organization. He, himself, desires only the privilege of dying last.

The parallels to Hitler are evident. The German Fuehrer was not only the mortal enemy of the Jews, the Czechs, the Poles, the Britons, the French, the Dutch, the Belgians, the Scandinavians, the Balkan peoples, the Russians and the Americans, but finally also of the Germans. We should label him, without demonizing him, but rather descriptively, as an enemy of humanity. The obscene pictures of Hussein patting the heads of children whom he had made his hostages are identical down to the smallest detail of the body language Hitler employed with children 50 years earlier.

Historically, a Hitler or a Hussein can emerge only when whole societies desire their coming. Their power comes not from the barrel of a gun but from the limitless love and readiness for self-sacrifice of their followers.

Every comparison between Hitler and Hussein thus, of necessity, requires a second comparison between them and their masses. “The Germans were the Iraqis of 1938 to 1945.” This is not just some tabloid headline, even though it has logic on its side; it also immediately illuminates and makes understandable the inner dynamic of the Gulf War. Today’s Germans hardly recognize themselves in the Arab masses. And yet there are certain hidden continuities, residues of fascism that no German wants to think about. German industry never apologized for its loyal service to Hitler; it has served his successors with the same zeal. And when a significant portion of German youth more readily identifies itself with Palestinians than with Israelis, when they prefer to direct their protest against George Bush rather than Saddam Hussein, one cannot explain that away as naivete.

The Germans’ experience qualifies them like no other people to understand what is happening in the Arab world today. Every other interview done between Rabat and Baghdad has to seem like an echo of the Germans’ own voice droning in their ears: “We’ll keep marching, till the world is in ruins.” The obliteration of cities, the fanatical hate, the “greatest fight of all ages,” “a final struggle,” “a final victory.” What German cannot remember the frenetic jubilation with which these slogans were greeted, and which were used by the masses in answering that famous question, “Do you want total war?”


What thrilled the Germans was not solely license to kill, but the prospect of being killed themselves. Just as ardently, today, millions of Arabs voice their wish to die for Hussein. “Our people will smell Saddam Hussein’s gas and die,” said a Palestinian Muslim preacher in Jordan. The Fuehrer would do everything in his power to fulfill this wish of his people. “The German people do not deserve to survive,” Hitler said at the end. Hussein thinks the same of his people.

Today, experts are heard (to argue that in the Gulf) one is dealing with something different, a culture that is not comparable, a mentality that has to be deciphered, and with religious conditions that an ignorant outside world cannot comprehend.

These are comforting hypotheses because they give the impression that this problem could be easily localized. If one could simply have reduced the death wish of Hitler and his followers to some characteristic of the German people, it would have been sufficient to place a cordon sanitaire around their territory and subject them to a long-term control, and thereby the rest of the world would have been able to live undisturbed. One would only have to do the same to Hussein and his population if this determination for genocide were a cultural or religious specialty to the Iraqis.

It is time such illusions were put to rest. This new enemy of humanity does not act any differently than his predecessor. Irrespective of the totally different preconditions, the emotions of his devotees are identical to those of our (German) fathers and grandfathers and they have the same goal. This survival proves that we are not dealing with an Arab or a German, but with an anthropological reality.

Norbert Elias in his studies of the Germans explains how and why, since the Thirty Years’ War, Germans have thought of themselves as eternal losers. This feeling of humiliation became quite virulent after the Versailles Treaty and became an all-encompassing obsession during the crash of 1929. It’s easy to see the parallel to the people of the Middle East. When a people no longer see any chance to correct their real and imagined humiliation themselves, they use their total psychological energy to store up immeasurable amounts of hate, envy, resentment and desire for revenge. Such people see themselves as victims of circumstance and reject all responsibility for the situation in which they find themselves. A search for a guilty party can now begin.

Now the hour of the Fuehrer has come. The enemy of mankind can draw on the combined energy of the masses. He has an ability that borders on genius to understand his followers’ unexpressed emotions. Therefore, he does not operate with arguments, but with emotions.


Consequently, all attempts to understand him ideologically or even to refute him will fail. His project advances not through ideas but through obsessions. Of the ideas he exploits, the closer they come to craziness, the more powerful they become. This paranoia, which can explain real events only through terms of conspiracy and betrayal, is therefore not an individual sickness of the Fuehrer, but both the necessary precondition of his agitation and its echo. For this, hatred of Jews is the ideal vehicle, an emotion that consumed Hitler and his followers as it does their modern-day counterparts.