Dictatorship: The Wave of the Future?

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.
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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.

4 thoughts on “Dictatorship: The Wave of the Future?

  1. B Kay

    I do often wonder about how desensitised, or indifferent I’ve become to things that I know should affect me.
    I didn’t feel compassion for Gaddafi… the images were brutal, disturbing but I barely felt any sympathy.
    Not least because I’d only recently seen footage where the rebels had a transistor radio and Gaddafi was broadcasting to his ‘followers’ something like “If you are afraid you will go to hell!”

    I’m sure he was quite mad, and frankly the spokesman for the regime inspired more of my contempt.

    There are things that catch me by surprise. About a year or so ago a young girl, maybe eleven or twelve, was walking her new puppy and some thugs apparently kicked it to death infront of her… that almost suggests that had it been her own Mum or Dad I’d have been less horrified… No, I’d have been more horrified but like I said, my reaction surprised me.

    About ten years ago I was a bit down and out (I wasn’t addicted to anything, just a bit of a low transition period as it were) I got to know someone in similar circumstances and he was given accomadation in a place shared with other people with drug problems etc.

    As you can imagine, this was extremely trying for the person who was responsible for the place, he didn’t live on site. What with people forgetting things on the stove, setting the fire alarm off, people constantly locking themselves out of their room… oh, and dying of overdose (there was one in the fairly short time this guy I knew was there); I got the impression this… landlord was actually a bit of a bastard.

    One day, a young lad (I never met or saw him) he’d done something, maybe locked himself out yet again.. anyway the guy in charge kicked him out; I showed up some time later that day, his stuff had been thrown into the front yard.
    The thing that really affected me – this guy I knew told me how his Mum and Dad had only just got him lovely new bed linen… (a new start)- and here it was just strewn in the front yard. That’s heartbreaking.

    by all means, of course, feel free not to add this comment… I just went off on one.

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  2. B Kay

    Not sure really why I said bed linen… it was his bedding… a duvet and pillow in particular (probably his belongings in general).

    That may seem a fairly trivial detail. Maybe it’s quite obvious but thinking about it some more I strongly associated it with my own loving parents and how devastated they would have been had I set out on a self destructive course.

    Who knows, maybe he got his life together… but so many just seem beyond help.

    just wanted to add that… I don’t know about dicators, what to do with them…

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  3. Seymour Clufley

    B Kay,

    I thought both the stories you told were very moving.

    It is despicable that thugs would hurt a defenceless animal. A few years ago two 14 year-old girls were in the news for burning a kitten to death. I don’t know what punishment I would give to someone who did that. A friend of mine used to say that such things weren’t terribly important – “they’re only animals”… well, let’s agree that animals don’t matter as much as humans. But they still feel fear, pain and agony, and to knowingly inflict that speaks, I believe of a dangerously unbalanced mind. It’s also a cliche (don’t know how true it is) that children who habitually harm animals often grow up to be psychopaths. I think that makes perfect sense.

    As for your second story, it is tragic. A fresh start, a bit of optimism, and then that happens. The thing is, as our Western welfare states have to run on ever less money, unscrupulous “problem solvers” like the guy in charge that you mentioned will get more and more “business” from the state and they will have more and more power. One can only hope that they are merciful, decent people.

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  4. B Kay

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply… I am sometimes concerned that I might be going too much off topic, or just not wording things properly etc

    “A dangerously unbalanced mind” indeed, if people can’t treat animals humanely that surely does not bode well for how they relate to humans. Fortunately there does seem to be a strong consensus on this issue (maybe over the top at times, but far better that way than the opposite)

    I have a real soft spot for cats and dogs… on my way to work, over the years, I’ve befriended a cat, he’s a real character.

    The really funny thing is that at the same place (quite a large building) I was speaking to the janitor, he mentioned that there’s another (ginger) cat “She’s a real bitch” he rather matter of factly said.

    I knew instantly the one he was talking about, I hardly see it. The first time I met it it was still very young, looked friendly enough so I patted her and I kid you not she latched on to my arm like something out of a horror movie.

    Talk about some primal memory of downing an Antelope; real over kill. Even so, whilst there was plenty of claw and a bit of tooth, it was essentially a mock attack – I know there’s always an element of risk, I certainly saw the funny side, my eyes were watering with laughter and pain in something like equal measure – I pity the poor granny who tries it though.

    As for the welfare state, unscrupulous ‘problem solvers’ etc It doesn’t really bear thinking about… though I certainly do more thinking and talking than actively trying to ameliorate the tragic state of affairs.

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