Interpreting the Fall of a Monument
By Jürgen Habermas
[Editor\'s Note: This essay originally appeared in German in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 17 April 2003. We are grateful for the English-language translation prepared by Max Pensky] On April 9th, the entire world watched as American troops threw a noose round the neck of the dictator and, surrounded by jubilant throngs of Iraqis, pulled him off his pedestal. The apparently unshakeable monument tottered, and then finally fell. But before it crashed satisfyingly to the ground, there was a momentary pause before the force of gravity could overcome the statue\'s grotesquely unnatural, horizontal posture. Bobbing gently up and down, the massive figure clung, for one last moment, to its horror. Just as an optical illusion, looked at long enough, will \"flip\" into a new form, so the public perception of the war in Iraq seemed to perform an about-face at this one scene. The morally obscene – the \"shock and awe\" inflicted on a helpless and mercilessly bombed population – morphed into the image of joyful citizens freed from terror and oppression in the Shiite district of Baghdad. Both images contain an element of truth, even as they evoke contradictory moral feelings and attitudes. Must ambivalent feelings lead to contradictory judgments? The matter is simple enough at first glance. A war in violation of international law remains illegal, even if it leads to normatively desirable outcomes. But is this the whole story? Bad consequences can discredit good intentions. Can\'t good consequences generate their own justifying force after the fact? The mass graves, the underground dungeons, and the testimony of the tortured all leave no doubt about the criminal nature of the regime. The liberation of a brutalized population from a barbaric regime is a great good; among political goods it is the greatest of all. In this...