Ethics Quote of the Week: Charles Krauthammer

Let's see...nope! Still too good for Gaddafi!

“Under the normal rule of law, truth is only a means for achieving justice, not an end in itself. The real end is determining guilt and assigning punishment. But in war and revolution one cannot have everything. Justice might threaten peace. Therefore peace trumps full justice. Gaddafi could have had such a peace-over-justice compromise. He chose instead to fight to the death. He got what he chose. That fateful decision to fight — and kill — is the prism through which to judge the cruel treatment Gaddafi received in his last hours. It is his refusal to forgo those final crimes, those final shellings of civilians, those final executions of prisoners that justifies his rotten death.”

—- Charles Krauthammer, revered conservative columnist and pundit, in his column rebutting the complaints of human rights activists regarding the rebel execution that took Moammar Gaddafi’s life.

Krauthammer is right, and he is wrong. He is right that no one should feel any pity for Gaddafi, a brutal and inhuman despot who had it entirely within his own power to both save his own life and refrain from killing even more of his countrymen than he had killed already. He is wrong that Gaddafi’s crimes and cruelty suspend civilization’s principles of justice and ethics. The Libyan dictator deserved to die…indeed, he deserved to be tied down in a tidal pool where he’d be nibbled to death by crabs, like Tony Curtis in “The Vikings,” while being defecated on by flaming dysentery sufferers, to the ear-shattering strains of a Hannah Montana song played over and over again on a scratchy LP. But human beings are obligated to treat every other human being, even monsters, justly, fairly and without cruelty. Monsters do not give us leave to behave monstrously. Gaddafi was captured and helpless, and the war was over: the only ethical course was to take him into custody without beating a defenseless man, and give him a trial.

Sometimes an individual can get what he deserves, but get it in the wrong way. That was the situation here. The human rights activists were correct to remind us that Gaddafi’s treatment was wrong, and we should acknowledge that.

Now let’s party.

I do want to salute Krauthammer for parting company with many of his conservative colleagues over U.S. support of anti-Gaddafi forces. A disgraceful number of pundits on the right are pointing to reports that the new regime is likely to install a rigid Islamic theocracy as proof that we backed the wrong horse. As I have written before, this is an unethical and anti-democratic position. Gaddafi was a ruthless tyrant, and his people rose up to dispose of him. By core American principles, they had that right, and the U.S. had only one ethical choice, given its mission: support them. And if the new government makes poor decisions, or embraces values and policies that we deplore, that choice was still the correct one.


6 thoughts on “Ethics Quote of the Week: Charles Krauthammer

  1. If the radical Islamist party is duly elected, I see little difference between them and some of our leaders.. Sometimes I wonder if the constitution is the only thing from preventing some folks from trying theocracy in our country.

  2. Reminds me of the French Revolution… The French peasantry finally went crazy and guillotined hundreds of people, and not just the ones who deserved it, either. I think that after decades/generations of tyranny, those with the courage to rise up and put down the dictator should be forgiven at least some of their overzealous actions at the end.

    Not that that’s a great model, but eventually a republic was formed from that revolution.

    • Unfortunately, the First French Republic didn’t last very long. It became first a dictatorship and then an Empire in about 12 years.

  3. This is why so few revolutions accomplish more than to replace one tyrant with another. This is so often the case where the culture or history of a nation holds little in the way of an educated public or the institutions of free citizenship. The history of the world at large- well into modern times- is just one continuous round of this. Personally, it neither surprises nor distresses me that Khaddafi’s captors- being irregular fighters- took it upon themselves to inflict some “speedy justice” on this crazed killer. But what eventually replaces him is of very real concern. Yesterday’s tyrant is dust. If a new one is merely waiting in the wings to make his move, the bloodletting may have only just begun. And it may well not be confined to Libya.

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