If you want to have an interesting life, travel abroad. There’s something about leaving your comfort zone and moving around foreign countries that exposes you to unique and extraordinary people. I have been to many beautiful places, but they aren’t half as memorable as the people that I met while traveling and living abroad. To anyone young enough to lack the ties of adulthood, I suggest doing this as soon as possible before your parents (or your own fear) talk you out of it.
Many years ago I worked in Kyoto Japan at a small branch of one of the largest English conversation schools in the country. A teacher I worked with was slightly older than me, a man from the UK who had spent years teaching in Eastern Europe just after the fall of the Iron Curtain. One of the places he taught was Romania. We’d often hold conversations conducted in a thick haze of cigarette smoke in the teacher’s lounge interrupted by 50 minute lessons. One story he related to me was of a little old Romanian woman that he had met while teaching. By that time he had picked up enough Romana, and she enough English, to have conversations beyond “Is this your pen? Yes, it is. Are these your pens? Yes, they are.” He told me about dropping by this old woman’s flat and sipping tea with her, and they would just talk about whatever came to mind. He had grown to like the woman, and found her to be charming and humble. But one day they discussed the revolution that had freed Romania from the serfdom under Nicolae Ceauşescu. She said that in the days after he and his wife had been shot, she had watched the video of their deaths over and over. “I could have watched that tape forever,” she confided to him, showing him an honest yet unexpected side that startled him. Ever since whenever my mind grasps for a reference to pure hatred, I remember my colleague’s story of this little old Romanian woman.
She came to mind again today as I watched the videos of Qaddafi’s capture and subsequent killing in cell phone videos posted to YouTube and forwarded to journalists by Libyan rebels. In the videos Qaddafi is injured, in a daze and panicked. The crowd is roughing him up, pulling him this way and that as if to tear him limb from limb. It must have been a nightmare for him, and I think it is a natural human reaction to pity him.
But then I remember the things I know he has done, like bombing a German disco. There are no videos of Nermin Hannay, a Turkish woman, and U.S. sergeant Kenneth T. Ford who were killed instantly at the La Belle disco in West Berlin. We didn’t see shaky, hand-held videos of their bodies or the crushing grief of their families. Nor are there videos of American sergeant, James E. Goins, showing the suffering from his injuries in the two months before he died. And there aren’t any videos of the scores of people permanently disabled from the blast whose lives were changed forever for no fault of their own.
That is only one atrocity committed by Qaddafi; there are thousands, from the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 to the torture and execution of countless Libyans under his brutal regime. There are tens of thousands of people who aren’t around to see the streets of Surte scoured with the blood of the dictator who murdered them. Their suffering is silent, as is that of hundreds of thousands of their loved ones.
More importantly we will never know the suffering of those who would have died had Qaddafi been left alone or worse, survived the civil war to lead terrorist attacks inside and outside Libya. We must not forget how close Qaddafi came to adding Misrata to the long list of places knowing atrocities such as Nanking, Srebrenica, and Katyn Forest. According to Roman Catholic doctrine inaction is a sin; I’m reminded of a case years ago where a man knew his friend was molesting and murdering a little girl in a bathroom, but refused to stop him or get help. He did not break any laws and never served time for his inaction, but according to Catholic doctrine which I am most familiar with he shares guilt for the heinous crime. Similarly we would have borne partial responsibility the deaths of tens of thousand Qaddafi would have killed because we had the ability to act to stop him and refused to do so. Had we failed in our mission to capture or kill Qaddafi, he would likely have turned to terrorism to strike back at us. How many would he have killed in these attacks? Qaddafi had quite a murderous track record, and he would not have refrained from violence. Hundreds, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people would have died.
But today they are alive, and they will never know the suffering that would have befallen them or their loved ones. Those faceless people should also be considered as we watch the dead man in the shaky, grainy cell phone videos.
I admit that I had mixed feelings about the civil war and still do. It is more likely Libya will turn into Pakistan than Portugal, and the precedent Obama has set is a bad one. But as I watch a disheveled man alive in one frame then dead the next, I remember what Qaddafi has done, and what he would have done had he remained alive. And all I can think as I click the video window closed is “Good riddance.”
For any civilized person the images of the former dictator wounded, beaten, bloodied and begging for his life were disturbing. I had to remind myself of the thousands of terrified, bloodied people stripped of their dignity, who must have begged for their lives in his dreadful prisons before they were murdered. (Apparently Gaddafi liked to broadcast videos of victims of his show trials urinating on themselves in fear before they were tortured or executed.)