Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ford, Saddam, and Shakespeare

I'm always annoyed when I hear the media reflecting the empty cliche that death comes in threes. I think the first time I heard this was when Princess Di and Mother Theresa died within days of each other. If I were editing a major newspaper I would have published a story a month later with the headline: "No one significant dies; Numerology dealt a serious blow."

Alas, with the passages of Gerald Ford, James Brown, and Saddam Hussein this week some moron somewhere on the blogosphere is probably trotting out this tired cliche for analysis. Double alas, that moron is me. Only I'm going to remove James Brown from the equation and bring in Augusto Pinochet, who died on 12-10.

I think it's interesting that three notable heads of state who rose to power in the 1970s all met their demise in the same calendar month. It's also noteworthy to trace the similarities between the two non-U.S. leaders. Saddam will no doubt be remembered by future generations of Americans as an enemy. I predict that very few people will know that he was a de facto U.S. ally at one time (this probably isn't a hard prediction to make because I think very few people know this right now).

Pinochet shares with Saddam the distinction of being a murderous dictator who enjoyed U.S. support under the enemy's enemy principle. Such a principle served these dictators well for a time, but the problem with relying on historical exigency is that when the winds of exigency shift, you are hung out to dry. There may be some benefits to being a dictator, but the job has a lousy retirement package. (Pinochet and his family actually tried to fashion a golden parachute and ended up crashing).

The fates of these men call to mind Richard II's speech in the eponymous play by Shakespeare, in which the Bard manages to make the most privileged worthy of pathos:

...within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!
Gerald Ford had one thing in common with the dictators: he too owed his political fortune to exigency. And like so many dictators, his political misfortune was tied to historical factors well beyond his control. Yet, the difference between Ford and the dictators is that while Saddam and Pinochet had a series of adventures and misadventures spanning decades, the former president was allowed to escape the curse of kings that Richard II lamented. The last thirty years of Gerald Ford's life may not have been very Shakespearean, but I don't think he would have traded them for a Middle Eastern or South American nation.


Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

Sun Tzu says that you have to have the support of your underlings to be a good leader, which is perhaps why Saddam went to pot.

This doesn't really have anything to do with your post. I just bought The Art of War and feel cool when I quote it.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Azor said...

Hey Sandwhich, I think that was a good purchase. Everyone gives Machiavelli credit for that observation, it's about time someone pointed out who said that first. Still, Machiavelli's point that it is better to be feared than loved bears mentioning.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

The Prince, right? That was my next planned purchase. Mom is scared because she thinks I'm planning to take over the world what with buying all these leadership/war books.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take over the world? haha, you guys are fools, i mock thee.

mock! mock! mock!


11:43 PM  
Blogger Tee said...

By the way, I too am in Becky Kelly's English class will you be so kind to add me to your mail list?
I left a comment in your post "What Tangled Webs We Weave".
Have a wonderful day. Tee

10:16 PM  

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