On my way back to Europe, I happened on the aircraft to sit near a man who turned out to be an investigator for Amnesty International. When I told him about what I had seen the Peruvian Army do, he looked like a man who had just been fed with a tantalisingly delicious dish, or a cat at the cream; it was, it seemed to me, exactly what he wanted to hear. He almost purred. But when I told him what I had seen Sendero do, his expression turned sour; and he looked at me as if I were a credulous bearer of tales about unicorns or sea-monsters. He turned away from me and took no further interest in my conversation. No doubt illogically, I lost a great deal of my respect for Amnesty after that; constituted governments do a lot of evil, but they are not the only ones to do evil. In this case, the government was the lesser evil, and by far.People like to collapse complex situations into a simple moral narrative of good vs bad with their own favourite cast of characters. But life is much more complex. The Dalrymple article is an excellent introduction into social/political complexity.
I am all for Amnesty International. They do wonderful things. But the individuals in the organization come with various mind sets that tend to simplify the cast of characters to make the world easier to deal with. Sadly, good and bad are sometimes very hard to disentangle.
It is interesting Dalrymple in on the right and I'm on the left, but I think we have a lot in common. He distrusts excess and favours traditional institutions. I distrust excess and favour the underdog. We both agree that life is complicated and that evil hides everywhere. He is a "compassionate conservative" and I'm what some would call a "Groucho Marxist". In other words, his label makes no more sense that my label.
Anyway, the article is good because it teaches some history and raises interesting moral qustions:
Is it permissible to commit a lesser evil to avoid a greater one? I am not a utilitarian, but it seems to me unrealistic to say that we should never depart from the ideal in order to prevent a much greater departure from the ideal; that, like Kant, we should tell a murderer where his victim is simply so that we do not commit the moral fault of telling a lie. On the other hand, the doctrine that the end justifies the means has been responsible for many horrors, large-scale and small.