Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Lying for the greater good

June 25th, 2012 by Vader

My previous post got me thinking. When are we justified in lying?  

2 Nephi 9:34 is pretty blunt: “Wo unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell.” There doesn’t seem to be any qualification.

Another one that should make undercover cops nervous: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, wo be unto him that lieth to deceive because he supposeth that another lieth to deceive, for such are not exempt from the justice of God.”

And yet …

I cannot imagine a just God sending a man to Hell because he looked the Gestapo agent in the eye and said, “No, there are no Jews here”, as the family of Jews hidden in his attic trembled in terror.

I recall reading Laura Schlessinger write that in Orthodox Jewish tradition, it is morally acceptable to lie to protect an innocent life (include one’s own) from imminent threat of death. This is based on the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Pharoah in Genesis, but it covers the righteous-among-the-nations scenario. Not a bad standard, at least on the surface. But how far can it or should it be pushed?

There is convincing evidence clearing Brigham Young of immediate complicity in the Mountain Meadows  Massacre. However, there is pretty good evidence Brother Brigham became aware rather quickly that Mormons were involved in the massacre, and chose not to share his knowledge with Federal authorities. I have seen attempts to justify this on the grounds that, had knowledge that Mormons perpetrated the Massacre come out at that time, it would have shattered the fragile truce ending the Utah War and resulted in rather a lot of bloodshed, a good bit of it innocent. Does that really wash?

How about deception in warfare? Mormon apparently felt a need to explain at some length why Captain Moroni was justified in setting up an ambush of an invading army, instead of fighting them right out in the open like honest men. It would be interesting to have Mormon’s evaluation of Operation Fortitude.

None of these justifications apply to Obama, of course, whose motivation was political advantage masquerading as literary license.  I suggest the proximity of the threat is a major consideration in evaluating the acceptability of lying for the common good. In the Gestapo example, the threat was immediate and obvious and there seemed no other way to preserve life. The military examples may also fall into this category. Lying to promote a political agenda seems too detached from the threat or the good that is being promoted; with so much distance, there is too much ground for unintended consequences.

His Majesty: “Lord Vader, you think too much. If it weren’t for the mask, you’d be hopeless at poker.”

Comments (2)
Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: , ,
June 25th, 2012 12:59:38

Pecos Bill
June 25, 2012

You ain’t no good at poker nohow. Your tell is your heavy breathing.

June 26, 2012

Leaving aside the first question, about lying for the greater good, I would say that it is impossible to wage war successfully without secrecy and deception. Recall the Nine Principles of War:

Mass: Build up the greatest possible reserve of men, supplies, etc. to strike the foe with the greatest possible force when an opportunity presents itself.
Offensive: Seize the initiative and make the enemy react to you, rather than merely reacting to enemy action. Attack at every opportunity, by every means and method available, to keep the pressure on. If you’ve lost the initiative, you’re losing the fight.
Objective: All actions must be directed toward a clearly defined and achievable result that advances the war effort
Surprise: Strike the enemy suddenly and without warning at a place, time, or in a manner for which he is unprepared. Seek out all possible information about your foe, in order to learn his habits and his weaknesses.
Economy of Force: Use the minimum possible force to hold the line and for rear area security in order to free up more resources for offensive action
Maneuver: Place the enemy at a disadvantage through flexible application of combat power. Attack where the enemy is weak, not where he is strong.
Unity of Command: At every level there must be one and only one commander with final authority to decide upon a course of action. War cannot be waged by a committee.
Security: Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage. Deceive the enemy in every possible way about your intentions, the strength of your forces, their disposition in the field, the status of your supplies, the capabilities of your weapons. Strive to appear strong where you are weak, and weak where you are strong.
Simplicity: The simple plan is the flexible plan. When the unexpected happens on the battlefield–and it will–complex plans requiring intricate movements according to a strict timetable guarantee defeat.

From this we see that the idea of waging war without deception is a bit like the idea of waging war without violence. It is very nearly a contradiction in terms, I think.

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