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Does the End Justify the Means? sample essay

The ‘end justify the means’ is a philosophical maxim popularized by Niccolo Machiavelli during the renaissance era. This maxim is supposed to justify the actions of a leader or what Machiavelli calls ‘the Prince’, to do whatever is in his power in so far as the ‘end/s’ justifies the ‘means’ of attaining it. Machiavelli highlighted that the ‘end’ that a ‘Prince’ or a leader should focus on is the maintenance of his regime, authority or power. This theory is often mistaken as a standard principle usually by a few who rules a group of people, a community or a nation.

They always believe that what they are doing redounds to the benefit of the majority. This few will not accept that what they have done is evil even if it produced good results for many people. History will tell us that many events in the past have gained favorable comments from some individuals but different from the point of view of the majority. Take the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing by the American forces during the war to weaken the morale of the invading Japanese forces in the Far East, which resulted to a lifetime tragic memory for thousands of Japanese victims (Walzer, 2004).

If we are part of that era, perhaps we would simply say that it was the only way to stop the Japanese aggressors. For the Japanese and its allies, it was an evil act for the Americans to involve innocent Japanese civilians in the war. Leaping forward to the present era where people have become broad-minded and peace-oriented, many Americans have condemned the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a number of big organizations have initiated moves to restore America’s image to the world especially to the Japanese people.

But there are also sectors including the military who believe that the war would not have ended if the bombing was not done. Does the end justify the means in this case? Certainly not; according to Christine Smith in her article entitled, The End does not justify the Means, committing any acts of evil, regardless of any given circumstances, is always considered wrong. This writer may be right in saying this except that she fails to manifest the exact definition of evil in her statement. When the national interest is at risk to preserve democracy, the military is given a free-hand by the government to thwart rebellion.

After a series of democratic process with maximum tolerance and the rebels adhere to their hard-line principle of a “coup d‘etat,” the military has the ultimate option to use arms. On the side of the relatives and advocates of the aggressive movement this could be evil, but on the side of the government and those against undemocratic process of government take-over, this could be reasonable. Let’s analyze another case, the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 in Russia way back 1983 which carried 269 passengers including the crew where most of the victims were Americans and Koreans.

It was argued by Russia that the plane violated its airspace, with a hint that it was a spy plane, which led to its ultimate decision to shoot it down, while the U. S. quickly denounced the brutal act of Russia, justifying the cause of air space violation as an aeronautical miscalculation of the pilot. As far as the Russians are concerned, the end justified the means, but on the side of the Americans and Koreans, that was an act of terrorism. In this particular case, the element of ideology has to be refuted.

While the brutal act was considered by the Russians as a way to suppress any threat to their ideology, they did it in any way possible even if the world would condemn it as an evil act. Russians believed that the tragic end has justified the means involving the interest of the Soviet Union. Given that it was an aeronautical error to violate airspace, Russia should have instructed the pilot of the ill-fated airplane to follow an emergency landing for investigation concerning the alleged espionage instead of downing it, considering that it was a passenger aircraft and not a military one.

Even assuming that it was a language barrier between pilots that could have been the cause of the immediate military response, still it can never be justified. On the part of the victims’ relatives, the incident was intentionally done and Russians must be stiffly penalized. For a few who ruled the military, it was part of an exercise. For communist allies, it was the right thing to do, but for the rest of the world, it would be remembered as a massacre in the sky. Same is true for any kind of religion which has a great concern for human life; the act was inspired by the devil.

In cases of tortures, human rights abuses, military actions and capital punishments, the end may not justify the means. Even if the ultimate result is good for the majority or even to a nation, if the means was done in a vicious way, then, that could never be justified. But for soldiers who are engaged in war, it is entirely a different philosophy. A soldier has to follow orders from his superiors to protect the sovereignty of a nation, that’s his duty. When he goes to the jungle in search for the enemies, he carries with him a mandate from his superiors.

But when he is out there to engage in combat, a different scenario occurs. He becomes primarily concerned about his own life and to return to his family alive, the mandate becomes secondary. Very few want to be a hero and much lesser to be friendly with the enemies. A soldier is a military machine, that’s how he was honed and oriented; he has to kill the enemy before the enemy kills him. He has to execute a rapid action if his life is endangered. That’s the game of war, that’s the game of chance if he wants to survive.

But if a soldier is engaged in killing innocent people just because he could not identify the enemy exactly, then, his action does not justify his motive. If he tortures an enemy or a group of people in search for truth, it can be held unjust. If he is trigger-happy and involved in mass execution because he fails to identify the enemies exactly, he must be condemned and be subject to a court-martial. There can never be an excuse for killing people at an instant without concrete evidence backed up by reliable logistics, and in so doing, his conscience must be directly involved.

But how do we gauge and monitor his professionalism in the battlefield? A soldier is dispatched with a troop and a leader who keeps track of all his moves. There is a saying that “foul odor will always come out in the open,” especially when the victim’s relatives submit a complaint with corresponding evidence. Let’s take a look at Teresa M. Hudock’s article entitled, ‘The End Does Not Justify The Means’. She said that the best example of a credible perfectionist is one who does not use military force and violence in any given circumstances, even in self-defense, and he must be an advocate of human rights.

This might be an ideal scenario. War or no war, when life is at stake magnanimity will be a subject for legal arguments especially when self-defense is in question. No person will allow others to take his life without doing anything except for born-heroes. Therefore, justifying the end by the course of action taken depends on how people look at it and it varies on the standpoint of different sectors of the society. In essence, the end does not always justify the means.

Nonetheless, there are extreme instances or ‘supreme emergencies’ wherein the ends bring about the greater good which justifies the means of attaining it.


Hudock, T. M. The End does not Jusifies the Means. Retrieved on January 26, 2009, from http://www. usc. edu/dept/LAS/ir/calis/pdfs/171w. PDF Machiavelli, N. (1515). The Prince. http://www. constitution. org/mac/prince00. htm Smith, C. (2008). The End does not Justify the Means. Retrieved on January 25, 2009, from http://www. nolanchart. Com/ article4573. html Walzer, M. (2004). Emergency Ethics. New Haven and London. Yale University Press. P. 33-55

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