Addendum: ‘Thoughts on a Whig Approach to Qadhafi’s Death’

Your blogger outlined his general attitude toward the killing of Qadhafi before. The images and video of his capture and killing are, as others have said, in poor taste and the event is probably symptomatic of the broad challenges facing transitional Libya (in particular, as The Arabist writes, ‘the well-armed, adrenaline pumped youth who now rule the streets’). The attitude of many human rights groups won callous scorn from many people who were glad to hear about Qadhafi’s fate even as they recognized that it did not follow a legal route; and this blogger is still dubious as to its practical importance or effect going forward, as was noted last week. Still, one does feel strange having arrived at that sort of a place. In leisure reading your blogger came across this column (‘Atrocity Pictures’ from ‘As I Please’) by George Orwell from 1944, on the treatment of Nazi collaborators in post-liberation France. It seems relevant to that conversation, which is why this blogger is beating at the dead horse with this post.

Tribune, 8 September 1944

I have before me an exceptionally disgusting photograph, from the Star of August 29, of two partially undressed women, with shaven heads and with swastikas painted on their faces, being led through the streets of Paris amid grinning onlookers. The Star — not that I am picking on the Star, for most of the press has behaved likewise — reproduces this photograph with seeming approval.

I don’t blame the French for doing this kind of thing. They have had four years of suffering, and I can partially imagine how they feel towards the collaborators. But it is a different matter when newspapers in this country try to persuade their readers that shaving women’s heads is a nice thing to do. As soon as I saw this Star photograph, I thought, “Where have I seen something like this before?” Then I remembered. Just about ten years ago, when the Nazi regime was beginning to get into its stride, very similar pictures of humiliated Jews being led through the streets of German cities were exhibited in the British press — but with this difference, that on that occasion we were not expected to approve.

Recently another newspaper published photographs of the dangling corpses of Germans hanged by the Russians in Kharkov, and carefully informed its readers that these executions had been filmed and that the public would shortly be able to witness them at the new theatres. (Were children admitted, I wonder?)

There is a saying of Nietzche which I have quoted before, but which is worth quoting again:

He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you.

“Too long,” in this context, should perhaps be taken as meaning “after the dragon is beaten.”


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