The March and April war in Iraq produced some remarkable images, memorable for all the wrong reasons. The most terrible, which we shall not reproduce here as real tragedy has no place among the grotesque, was of little Ali, the beautiful Baghdadi boy who lost both arms in the bombing. He stands for all those who have died or whose lives have been shattered by the war. The other images on this page must be measured against his experience.
First, we go to collectiblestoday.com, where we find the “Lord Bless this Defender of Freedom Figurine”, meticulously handcrafted in sparkling cristalline. The caption reads, “As the brave members of the US military head out to defend our freedom, it’s comforting to know that each is sheltering in the loving hands of God”. A limited edition, of course, so please hurry to order now, at only $19.95.
Then, to demonstrate that kitsch is not the monopoly of the heroic victors, we go to Saddam Hussein’s love nest in one of his Baghdad palaces, where US soldiers found murals apparently by one of those artists who does the covers of sci-fi paperbacks. And look what it suggests about Saddam’s psyche.
The girl’s a blonde—so far, so unremarkable, as Southerners have lusted after Northern maidens for as long as anyone can remember—but so is the Teutonic hero. And what would Freud make of the snake shooting out of the girl’s finger and wrapping our young Siegfried in bondage coils?
This is not so much a case of the banality of evil—Hannah Ahrendt’s memorable phrase about Adolf Eichmann—as the bad, bad taste of evil.
It also demonstrates yet again that absolute rulers have definitely degenerated as patrons of art since the days of Louis XIV or Julius II. It’s acres of shiny marble, Louis-Farouk chairs, round beds, band-stand size crystal chandeliers and satin sheets that turn them on.
Remember how disappointing the Ceausescus’ mammoth living quarters turned out to be? And Hitler liked paintings of Mädchen with pert little breasts, while the Shah of Iran’s palaces look like over-done hotels.
The image of Saddam’s statue being toppled was a godsend for the propaganda machine, especially in the States, where TV channels have all been unthinkingly triumphalist. Let’s not spare a thought for Khalil Khamis Farhan, who is now unemployed. He had been producing a statue of Saddam every six months since the Gulf War in 1991. This year he was expected to produce no fewer than nine, the largest 26 feet tall.
And, finally, we come to what should be the end game for Saddam and close friends. Packs of cards with the faces of the tyrant himself and all his cabinet, chiefs of staff etc. have been distributed to the troops in Iraq. These are strictly not for sale, which has not stopped them going for $250 on ebay.
Question: what is a good boy from Iowa or Watford supposed to do when he spots one of the wicked band? We rang up the US military press office in Qatar and asked whether it was a case of “wanted, dead of alive”, as President Bush said of Osama bin Laden. Oh no, said a shocked Lieutenant Lukson. If not, then what, we asked. “They will be treated according to the Rules of Engagement”, she said. And what might they be? “Sorry, that’s classified.”
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Grotesques of war'