Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Best dictator of the century

I like this column from John O'Sullivan. I can't really assess it for accuracy, but I like how he compares the policies and tallies up the dead of the 20th century's dictators to arrive at the conclusion that Augusto Pinochet was "the most successful dictator" of the 20th century.

He doesn't claim that the deaths are excusable, but simply compares a selection of the century's dictators and how they're perceived in the media.
It should be clearly understood that there is no connection between the 3,000 murders and Chile's economic success — any more than between the tens of thousands murdered by Franco after the civil war and the subsequent modernization of the Spanish economy. Murder and torture — contra Lenin — are not economic weapons. If murder and torture were employed in Chile, as they were by the forces of both Allende and Pinochet in its civil war, then an even-handed justice should have pursued both or an amnesty should have protected both. Pinochet cannot cite economic growth statistics in a murder trial.

Yet if that number of deaths had produced those results in Stalin's Russia or Mao's China or Castro's Cuba, we would be constantly assured that the murders were historically justified by the subsequent prosperity. Eric Hobsbawm, the distinguished British Marxist historian (who holds the high rank of Companion of Honour), goes to the extent of arguing that Stalin's murders were justified even though the prosperity never materialized. Uncle Joe's good intentions were enough.
If he's got his facts wrong, then he's got his facts wrong. I don't know enough about Pinochet to discuss that. What I like is his attempt to show that there's a double standard in how various dictators are judged. Even today there's been little effort to defend Pinochet while we are simultaneously sending best wishes to Fidel Castro. The passing of each is to be welcomed as far as I'm concerned.