17 May 2004

Which is the greater evil?

By Moshé Machover

It may sound like a strange question: which is the greater evil: the US empire, or the Saddam Husain regime toppled by the former?

But I think it is a question that needs to be answered. To refuse to compare "amounts" of evil is a cop-out.

In my opinion, evil has at least two dimensions: intensity and scope.

By "intensity" I mean the degree of evil deeds committed. Clearly, some crimes are worse than others; this is recognized by all legal and moral systems.

By "scope" I mean the size — in area and population — directly affected by the evil deeds.

The "amount" of evil is measured by the product of intensity and scope.

Let us compare the US empire with the Saddam regime.

As far as intensity is concerned, the comparison is difficult. Saddam's methods of murder, torture and terror were arguably worse even than those employed by the US. Also, he used poison gas on a large scale against the Iranians and "his own" Kurdish population.

On the other hand, even ignoring the fact that the US supported the Saddam regime until quite recently, we must take into consideration the fact that the US is the only state to have ever used real weapons of mass destruction, nuclear bombs; and it has used them against civilian targets. Remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But as far as scope is concerned, there is simply no contest.

Saddam's evil was confined to Iraq (a country the size of California and population of some 24 million); and it was also deployed against Iraq's immediate neighbours, Iran and Kuwait.

The US empire is global. Its gulag of concentration camps and chambers of abuse and torture is spread over several regions of the planet. It acts in a lawless way, violating international humanitarian law, refusing to accept the jurisdiction of international courts. It has abducted tens of thousands of people in many countries and holds them illegally — for an indefinite and unspecified terms — in conditions amounting to torture, without any recourse to legal aid or family visits. All these prisoners abducted by the US are presumably innocent, for they have not been proven guilty of any crime.

And we must presume that the reason they are held incommunicado is that this enables their US abductors to subject them to abuse and torture.

Remember: any one of us, wherever we are can in principle be abducted by US government personnel (including "civilian" mercenaries regularly employed by the US) and held indefinitely, at the whim of our captors, in one of the US's many prisons and prison camps, where we may be abused and tortured without any recourse to any form of law or justice. [In this regard, see Guantánamo abuse same as Abu Ghraib, say Britons by Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington, Tania Branigan and Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, 14 May 2004]

So, taking both dimensions of evil into account, there is no doubt whatsoever that the US empire is by far and away the greater evil.


Dr. Moshé Machover, a professor emeritus of King's College, London, is an Israeli-British mathematician and a life-long left-wing activist.  He was a founding member of the anti-Zionist, socialist and internationalist Matzpen group in Israel in 1962.

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