The killing of Muammar Gaddafi causes Dalrymple to address the difficult question of how properly to punish brutal dictators: the balancing of the need for punishment with the immorality of answering brutal violence with brutal violence, and the practical considerations of precedents set and lessons taught to other dictators.
No one ever deserved a grisly death more than the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, but this is only a proof – if such a proof were needed – that justice is far from the only human desideratum. Gaddafi was responsible for untold misery, its amount limited only by the relative insignificance and impotence of the country in which he seized power; but when I first saw the photograph of him taken, lying bloodied but conscious, by a French photographer (a photograph that is surely destined for such immortality as the world can confer), I felt for him what I did not think I could ever feel for him – compassion. The fact is that no one should die as he died, or be killed as he was killed.…..There is, perhaps, no perfect solution to the problem of what to do with a fallen despot. To allow him to live in peaceful, and usually very prosperous, retirement seems unjust to the victims of his despotism, and is likely to embitter them. He will seem to them almost to have been rewarded for his deeds, for a prosperous retirement is the wish of any, rarely fulfilled. To treat him as a scapegoat, as if he alone were responsible for his despotism and he had no accomplices, is to create an abscess of hypocrisy and historical untruth that sooner or later will have to be opened, or will burst spontaneously. To punish not only the despot but all who co-operated with or benefited from his rule is to risk endless social conflict and violent reaction.