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That Colossal Wreck


The execution of the dictator Saddam Hussein calls to mind “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley:

“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Written in 1818 as a meditation on the desert ruins of temples exalting Pharoah Ramesses II of Egypt, commentators also note obvious metaphors for other tyrants — Napoleon’s demise in Shelley’s frame of reference. Many notorious 20th Century dictators could have first built those “vast and trunkless legs of stone.” Even recent history is littered with the decaying colossal wrecks of the malevolent abuse of power: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Marco, Amin, Milosevic, Pinochet, Hussein.

Hussein’s execution is a classic case of retribution, the ultimate punishment for unspeakable crimes against humanity. Whether it leads the way to some resolution of the mess in Iraq remains to be seen.


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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
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