The government of Iraq is not just another troublesome regime.
Saddam Hussein has gassed his own people. He has sent Scud missiles against innocent civilians in Israel. Now he is threatening eco-terrorism.All of this underscores some frightening facts of 20th-century life.
Despots start wars with others and kill their own people at home.
During this century, 119 million people have been killed in domestic conflicts, more than three times the number killed in wars between countries.
Moreover, only four million of these 119 million deaths occurred in democratic societies.
These are important findings from more than two decades of research on the causes and incidence of war by R.J. Rummel, a respected political scientist at the University of Hawaii.
Despots are unrestrained by the checks and balances inherent in the institutions of a democratic society - including, first and foremost, a free press that can blow the whistle on official outrages and otherwise facilitate public accountability.
Rummel closely examined both international wars and domestic conflicts, including revolutions, civil wars and other manifestations of civil strife where people are killed by the actions or acquiescence of government.
The results are astonishing and instructive.
According to Rummel, wars have killed about 35 million people since 1900 - including 24 million battle deaths in this century's two world wars.
There were nine million battle deaths in World War I and 15 million in World War II. The Vietnam War left 1.2 million dead on all sides, including 55,000 Americans.
What's so astonishing, however, is that domestic conflict has caused so many more deaths than conventional wars. And those tens of millions of people who died at the hands of despots in domestic conflicts in this century represent some examples of human civilization at its worst:
- Eight million Ukranians died, beginning in 1932, when Joseph Stalin's Soviet government used planned starvation to destroy Ukrainian nationalism and peasant opposition to forced collectivization of agriculture.
- Two million Cambodians - out of a total population of seven million - were slaughtered in the "killing fields" as the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, tried during the late 1970s to create a "utopian" communist agricultural society in Cambodia.
- More than six million Jews were killed by Hitler's Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, which began well before World War II.
We should heed the lessons in this pattern of 20th-century violence.
Saddam is a clear and present danger to civilization because of his capacity and demonstrated willingness to inflict enormous death and destruction - on innocent people (including his own), on places and to the ecosystem itself.
He must be stopped.
(Philip M. Burgess is president of the Denver-based Center for the New West.)