EDITORIAL | Saddam Hussein’s hanging, President Ford’s funeral depict opposing traditions

By Amanda Finnegan
February 1, 2007

Believe or not, while colleges had a nice long break, the rest of the world was still in session. Some monumental events took place since we wrapped up the fall semester.

The holidays are always filled with traditions- special dishes on Christmas leaving cookies for Santa, sparkly party hats on New Years. Yet, this winter break, we learned that the world has traditions of its own.

Within a week of Christmas, as people were indulging in traditions, the world also was witnessing the hanging of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and the death of the President Gerald R. Ford. Although the past leaders had similar roles, they left the world with a memory of traditions that differed greatly from one another. While family and friends celebrated the holiday traditions, past leaders reminded the world of century- old traditions marking the New Year with bittersweet memories.

Along with watching holiday movies, people worldwide were watching video bites on all news channels that displayed everything leading up to the actual hanging of Hussein. It didn’t take a genius to guess what happened next. While Saddam was being hanged for his crimes of humanity, ironically, his hanging was one of the poorest displays of humanity our generation has ever seen. Hanging is a custom that should have died in the Stone Age. (The last legal hanging in United States was in 1936, according to NPR.com)

Fast-forward to the next morning and Ford’s funeral was being run side by side with the grotesque video clips of Hussein’s execution. The differences between the two nations were as clear as day. Ford’s funeral was filled with patriotism and American customs. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times said, “How fortunate we are to live in a nation where this is political norm, built over generations.” If Saddam’s execution is any indication of Iraqi traditions, then we are really at a loss.

Reflecting on Ford’s passing during the holiday season was a time for Americans to set aside their politics and honor a man who brought healing to our country in a time when it needed it most. Perhaps the Iraqi government hoped Saddam’s death would bring healing and closure to a nation in turmoil. Instead, it only sparked more dissension, leading to Bush’s proposed “surge” of American troops. Once again, we are reminded that we are far from closure in Iraq and glimmers of progress are short-lived.

Although the two president’s funerals differed greatly, both were rich with tradition. The flag-draped coffin, the honor guard, the 34-hour public viewing in the Capitol Rotunda. Half way across the world, there was no honor guard for Saddam but instead two hangmen in traditional black masks escorting him to the gallows and jeering crowd.

Death has a funny way of forcing us to look back and reflect on the past in order to move on. In President Ford’s case, we are reminded of a time of reconciliation and how much our nation needs it today. In Saddam’s case, it made us reflect on how far Iraq has come and now we realize, it is in fact, not very far at all.

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Amanda Finnegan

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