On February 7, 1968, after US military forces rained rockets, napalm and bombs on the village of Ben Tre, South Vietnam, killing hundreds of civilians, Peter Arnett, then a reporter for the Associated Press, cited a military official’s justification for the event.
“It became if necessary to destroy the city to save it,” said a US major.
Arnett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who would become one of the last Western journalists in Saigon until his capture in 1942, never revealed the source of the quote, which some American officials doubted was authentic. However, the quote — which eventually became the phrase “We had to destroy the village to save it” — became a symbol of absurd military strategy in a failed war.
While the reasoning is absurd—destroying a city is not a way to save it—the ethic underpinning the quote is surprisingly common and conveys a simple and popular idea: a wrong, bad, or unjust action can be morally justifiable because, ultimately brings about the greater good.
“You have to do something draconian”
The last employee public to employ such reasoning is Dr. Anthony Fauci, who recently offered this justification for the government’s response to the pandemic, which has included lockdowns, widespread business closures, and other “draconian” public policies.
“You have to do it. something that is quite draconian, and sometimes when you do draconian things it has negative collateral consequences,” explained the director of the National Institutes of Health. “Just like when you close things down, even temporarily, it has deleterious consequences on the economy, on school-age children, you have to strike a balance.”
Fauci, who in August he announced his intention to retire before the end of the year, he continued:
“We know the only way to stop something is to try to turn things off. If you turn things off just for the sake of it, that’s bad. But if you do it for the purpose of regrouping and opening up in a safe way, that’s the way to do it.”
Fauci’s phrasing in this last part — that the lockdowns are the only way to “stop something is to try to turn things off” — it’s weird because it’s clear that lockdowns didn’t do that. Official data clearly shows that the virus circulated and people died, regardless of the presence of lockdowns and other interventions Not only has the virus not stopped abruptly, but an abundance of research shows that lockdowns do little to reduce the spread of the virus and Covid mortality.
set aside the empirical results of lockdowns and analyze the ethics that Fauci uses to justify them, particularly his use of the word “draconian”, which means “excessively harsh and punitive”.
The word goes back to the Greek lawgiver Draco (or Dracon) who in 621 BC established the first th written Athenian constitution. As you can probably imagine, these laws were pretty harsh. Those who went into debt were forced to be slaves to their creditors, for example (unless they were of noble origin), while those caught stealing were put to death, even if it was something as simple as a head of cabbage from the market.
“It is said that Draco himself, when asked why he had fixed the death penalty for most offences, replied that he considered these lesser crimes deserving, and that he had no greater punishment. for the most important,” wrote the historian Plutarch.
One can see how Draco earned the title of an adjective meaning “excessively harsh and severe”, which is what makes the invocation of this term by Fauci so disturbing. Draco’s treatment of petty criminals was harsh and excessive, but at least punishment was meted out against people convicted of crimes.
Fauci, on the other hand, advocates “draconian” public policies. that harm innocent people. During the pandemic, people were arrested for leaving their homes, driving their cars, rowing a boat or going to a park. Furthermore, Fauci admits that these draconian policies also had other “deleterious consequences”. These included deteriorating mental health, record overdoses, systemic taxpayer fraud, millions of lost jobs, increased self-harm (especially among teenagers), and much more.
Despite these consequences, the Dr. Fauci has consistently championed lockdowns, insisting that draconian policies served the greater good.
The danger of pursuing ‘the greater good’
Justifying actions not on the basis of their morality but on their potential results is a dangerous philosophy for individuals because it allows humans to rationalize their actions—even bad ones. The great Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky demonstrates this well in his classic novel ‘Crime and Punishment’, which centers on an idealistic young man named Raskolnikov who justifies killing an unprincipled old woman who works as a pawnbroker because it would lift him out of poverty and allow him to become a great man, and accomplish great deeds for mankind.
While pursuing a greater good rather than acting ethically is a dangerous individual philosophy, history shows that it is much more dangerous collectively.
“Many of the most monstrous deeds in human history were perpetrated in the name of good—in pursuit of some ‘noble’ goal,” observed Leonard Read, the great thinker and founder of FEE. .
Read was right, and examples are ubiquitous.
When Franklin Rooseveltt issued the Executive Order 9066 in February 1968, which led to the hospitalization of more than 100.000 Japanese men, women and children Americans, virtually everyone admitted that it violated the Bill of Rights, including FDR’s own attorney general, Francis Biddle. The order was carried out anyway, however, because it was seen as serving a greater good: winning World War II.
Forced sterilization policies and government experiments on prisoners and unsuspecting subjects, including the notorious Project MKUltra and the Tuskegee Study, were also clearly unethical, but were carried out anyway because each served a “greater purpose”—scientific progress and the creation of purer gene pools.
It is an objective truth that many of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century — from Hitler’s Final Solution to Mao’s Great Leap to the Cambodian Death Camps — were introduced by governments that violated individual civil rights for the greater good: a supposedly better society.
This is precisely why Read said that one of the biggest philosophical mistakes people make is judging the ends they seek, not the means they use.
“End, goals, object tives are just the hope that things will come… They are not part of reality,” Read explained in ‘Let Freedom Reign’ [Deixe a Liberdade Reinar]. “Carefully examine the means employed, judging them in terms of right and wrong, and the end will take care of itself.”
This is Dr. Fauci. Failing to distinguish ends from means. Like the Army Major who told Peter Arnett that it was necessary to “destroy the city to save it,” Fauci rationalized draconian action to pursue the greater good — and as a result caused irreparable harm to the American people and the Constitution.
It’s never too late to learn from a mistake, however.
In fact, even the people of Ancient Greece saw that the Draco’s constitution was deeply flawed, and most of its laws were repealed by the Athenian statesman Solon (630-560 BC) in the next century.
Hopefully Americans learn a similar lesson.