Allied troops liberated a children’s jail today.

I wish that sentence made no sense.

Someone had to decide there would be children’s jails. Who? Saddam? He had more important things to do. Children matter as much to his world as dogs, or lamps. He may have signed off on the idea of creating a youth brigade, and put a gold star in the dossier of the sweating toady who proposed the idea. When someone put forth a proposal for jails to hold the children who resisted joining the brigades, he may have felt that spasm of impatience that shoots through the dictator’s heart from time to time: why are you bothering me with this? Build them; I don’t care. You think this is the path to advancement? You want my ear and my eye, kill someone who matters.

Would Uday care? He feeds on fear, but there’s no power or satisfaction in the fear of a child, because the truth of death and the horror of rape is really quite beyond their boring imaginations. They have to know what you can do, really understand what’s coming for it to be fun.

Qusay would care, inasmuch as children are useful. People who might resist you will do anything if you bring their children into the matter. He learned that from his father, no doubt. Some things his father doesn’t quite grasp; he’s old school. Where he grew up all children were expendable. This is a different world, a world of the big city, a world of politics, a world of men who went to school and learned to build bridges, design hotels, construct sewer systems. Men like this are remarkably pliant when their children are involved. Children’s jails: ahhh, now why didn’t he think of that.

There was a general who fought in the war against Iran - fought well, cared for his troops, put down the cowards when required, but had a reputation for no-nonsense honesty. He understood the men. Not one of those Baghdad bastards with the slogans and the phony medals, but a real soldier. He had no ambition. The purges passed him by. His lungs were never the same after that glorious offensive no one celebrates, the one where the wind suddenly shifted and his men fell in waves, weeping and puking - but they gave worse than they got, so he kept his commission. Dull, dependable: Ba’ath to the end. Nothing he had done in his long career had troubled him much; war was what it was. You did what you did. One afternoon he opened the envelope and read of his new duty - overseeing the children’s jail. The emotions rose and demanded a hearing: Shame over such a pitiful assignment. Fear that this meant he was in disfavor. Annoyance at the thought of a prison full of whimpering children who would never learn the proper lesson until they’d been beaten a dozen times. Jealousy of an old comrade he’d seen on the news the other day, inspecting some facility, his uniform clean and creased.

The end result of a fascist regime is always this: a man who seeks advancement by proposing a children’s jail; a smarter man who sees the political advantage of building one; the men who lock the doors and make the gruel with dead empty hearts, and the man who worries what will happen to him if the jail is found wanting.

The children, of course, don’t matter at all. In fact they matter least of all, and after a while their jailers come to hate them for what they make the jailers do.

A daisy chain of snakes biting their tales. Look up at the portrait hanging on the wall. Ask yourself what he wants. Bite harder.

Last night I watched one of the more depressing movies ever made - 1984. How sick and thin does John Hurt look? Put it this way: he looks better than Richard Burton, and Burton died after they wrapped the movie. The main reason I bought the DVD was to capture the National Anthem for Oceania, a stirring tune that manages to sound English and Soviet at once. No mean feat. It first occurs at the start of the film during a Hate Rally; its opening fanfare calms the crowd, and they all stand silent with their hands over their heads, joined at the wrist as if submitting to invisible shackles. I remember watching that the first time and thinking: this is all exactly right. The dank hall, the beaten people, the sepia-toned newsreel, the giant telescreen, the expert propaganda, and one potent piece of beauty that cements the lie together. The film never disappointed, either, and when it ended you realized that there were worse things than the end of the world.

That said, don’t buy the DVD. For one thing, it’s in frickin’ MONO. And the soundtrack is different than the video or theatrical release. Everything by the Eurhythmics has been removed and replaced with what I presume to be the original orchestral score. Big mistake. The score contributes nothing, and the film suffers from the loss of Annie Lennox, more than I might have imagined. The producers may have thought the mid-80s score dated the film, and that’s valid worry - people who haven’t seen “Nighthawke” for years, and who remember it fondly, are often dismayed to watch it again and confront all those cheesy synth-drums. But the Eurhythmics score was timeless, and without it some key scenes are doubleplus unbellyfeel.

Spellchecking this bleat, the computer choked on Uday and Qusay. Did I want the program to learn these words, in case I used them again?

No. And no.
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