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TWO LITTLE BOYS - SADDAM AND BUSH

06-01-2007

Top Birmingham psychologist Dr Mike Drayton reflects on the execution of Saddam Hussein, and the hidden bonds uniting the former Iraqi president and the current US head of state.

In the video of Saddam Hussein's hanging, he walks calmly towards the gallows. Despite being jeered and taunted,he seemed to show little emotion or feeling. This was seen by some, as a sign of courage and dignity. Don't you believe it.

The reason Saddam didn't display emotions is that he probably hasn't felt them for a very long time.He probably brought the same level of feeling to his own death, as he brought to the thousand of other deaths he was responsible for.

One of the reasons that he survived as a ruthless genocidal dictator was that he wasn't unduly bothered by feelings. Emotionally he was an empty shell. What was it that made him like that? What makes any of us the way we are? The roots of our personality are to be found in our childhood experiences.

Poor Saddam did not have the best start in life. When his mother was pregnant with him, she saw her husband die from cancer, and within a few months also lost a twelve year old son to the same illness. This double trauma left her so profoundly depressed that she tried to abort Saddam and kill herself.

When he was born, she rejected him and he was looked after by his uncle. When Saddam was three, his mother remarried and he returned home. Unfortunately, he was then physically and psychologically abused by his new stepfather. Eventually when he was about eight he returned to live with the uncle. His uncle was a devoutly religious and an Iraqi nationalist. Saddam soon joined the Ba'ath party and took on the role of assassin.

So there we have it. An early life characterized by severe trauma, loss and maternal rejection. Most people with a background like that would grow up to be insecure and troubled adults. A few however, go the other way and become terribly angry with the rest of the world as a way of managing their hurt and anxiety. That was, as we know, the route taken by Saddam with tragic consequences for thousands of innocent people.

The real Saddam Hussein did not die on the gallows on New Years eve. He died in 1940 in Tikrit when, as a small boy his mother sent him away.

What about the other main actor in this drama, George ‘Dubya' Bush? Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died because of his and, of course, Blair's decision to invade Iraq. Of course neither Bush or Blair are Saddam. Nevertheless they have taken decisions that have led to many deaths.

What about Bush's childhood? Was he raised in a stable environment, protected from life's traumas? Well…no actually. He also had a pretty poor start in life. In fact there are a number of remarkable similarities between Bush's early life and Saddam's, and, indeed, Blair's.

George W Bush was born into a wealthy privileged family in Texas, being the first child of George Bush senior. A successful and charismatic Republican politician, George senior had a glowing war record and a busy life that frequently took him away from home. He was a blustering extrovert man made in the image of John Wayne.

George senior was frequently working away in Washington DC, a long way from the Bush home in Texas, and Dubya was essentially raised in a one parent family. His childhood was always overshadowed by a father whose success must have seemed impossible to live up to. When George was seven, tragedy struck the home. His three year old sister contracted leukemia and died just two months before her fourth birthday.

His sister's illness, understandably, took over his mother's life, leaving George on his own. When his sister died George's mother became depressed making her even less emotionally available during a crucially important developmental period of George's life. One indication of the distress that George's mother suffered following her daughters death is that her hair turned completely white (she was still in her twenties).

How did all this affect poor George? Did he get depressed? No…err...he got angry.

Apparently as a child George particularly enjoyed putting firecrackers into frogs, throwing them in the air, and then watching them blow up. Interestingly, cruelty to animals is a common antecedent to later criminal violence. No matter how he tried, he could never live up to his father's expectations.

George started drinking heavily, ending up an alcoholic by the age of forty when he was born again into the Evangelical church. Eventually he did succeed, more by opportunism and political manoeuvrings, to become President.

Here we have two men with different pasts but common emotional themes. Early loss, a rejecting or emotionally absent mother and father, a belligerent domineering father or father figure.

Sounds familiar?

It would if you remember my earlier article on Tony Blair. (read this here).

Two emotionally damaged little boys acting out their hurt and anger using chemical weapons and bunker busters.

It's a shame for all of us, only slightly emotionally damaged people, caught up in the middle.

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