Now the problem is that Saddam Hussein is not like Hitler.
Were he like him, we would know he would not survive this war. But because he might survive, he still might emerge victorious, in spite of -- in a sense, because of -- U.S. military superiority. Thus the importance of U.S. threats of war crimes trials. This threat clarifies, and by clarifying, enlarges, U.S. war aims.
President Bush reportedly has read Martin Gilbert's history of the Second World War, which included a vignette about Hitler's Jan. 15, 1945, train trip back to Berlin from the Western Front, where he had conducted the Ardennes offensive. The Russians had already overrun his headquarters in East Prussia, and, Gilbert writes, an SS colonel joked in Hitler's hearing: "Berlin will be most practical as our headquarters: We'll be able to take the streetcar from the Eastern to the Western Front!" Hitler, writes Gilbert, laughed.
Hitler's laughter is an interesting datum. What was going on in that mind at that apocalyptic moment? The question is germane to today's problem of anticipating how the Gulf war may end. Suppose Saddam intends to survive and, merely by surviving the U.S. onslaught, to emerge as an enlarged figure?
The laughing Hitler disdained the role of survivor. By January 1945 he had long since anticipated perishing in the immolation he had brought on Germany. Suicide is the suicidal person's way of killing everything there is. Thus it can be the supreme act of anger. Hitler's adult life can be seen as a protracted suicide, a long courtship of annihilation.
On the eve of his 1923 Munich beer hall putsch, he put a pistol to his head and exclaimed: "If I am not victorious by tomorrow afternoon, I shall be a dead man." In his Sept. 1, 1939, speech declaring war, he wore a soldier's tunic: "I shall not take it off until victory or -- I will not see the finish." On Nov. 23, 1939, he said, "I shall stand or fall in the war. I shall not survive the destruction of my people."
He repeatedly wondered why particular people, such as Gen. Von Paulus in Stalingrad, did not shoot themselves. On March 18, 1945, when Albert Speer blanched at Hitler's order to destroy Germany's life-sustaining infrastructure (bridges, power plants, etc.), Hitler said Germany deserved extinction.
On April 26, 1942, he required the Reichstag to declare that "the German people are battling over the question of existence or nonexistence." And he meant it, such was his fear and loathing of "international Jewry" and his other demons.
Saddam cares no more for Iraqis than Hitler did for Germans, but Saddam has no ideological fuel for self-annihilating fanaticism. Thus his plan probably is to take punishment from the United States, then inflict some, then seek an armistice. He already is receiving help from people claiming that protracted attacks deep in Iraq constitute an attempt to destroy the regime and hence exceed the U.N. mandate, which only authorizes restoring Kuwait.
Desert Storm's patina of internationalism is important, but it is primarily an American undertaking, and America should have primacy in shaping the war aims. Furthermore, war aims often are shaped by the fighting of the war. The Civil War in the United States was begun to subdue insurrection, but that minimal aim was changed by the tactics that were brought forth by the ferocity. Emancipation of the slaves was a way of winning the war, so it ("a new birth of freedom") became a reason for fighting the war.
Destroying Saddam is a tactic to facilitate the restoration of Kuwait -- to speed the disintegration of his army -- but it also is a strategic war aim with the aftermath in mind. This may be why the administration is raising the specter of war crimes trials.
Such trials may not be threatened merely to deter the mistreatment of prisoners of war. Trials were implicit in the origin of this war, which was approached with the orderliness of a lawyer's brief, with frequent invocations of international law. The president mentioned war crimes trials last autumn, when the Hitler analogy was much on his mind.
War that began that way acquires, in the waging of it, momentum for an end that is punctilious about international law, as believers in international law understand it. For the president's generation, particularly, a bright thread runs from the Hitler analogy to a Nuremberg outcome.
Even if mistreatment of POWs stops and chemical warfare does not start, Saddam has waged unprovoked aggressive war against Kuwait and Israel. Waging aggressive war (at Nuremberg, not a war crime but "a crime against peace") was one of the main counts against leading Nazi defendants at Nuremberg.
If war crimes trials are entailed by the rationale for this war, then something like unconditional surrender also is entailed. A larger, longer military operation may be required than would be required to achieve less emphatic and less legalistic war aims.
It may be wise, and it certainly will be consequential, if, with war crimes trials in mind, the U.S. war aim becomes: Saddam dead or in the dock.