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Lies for peace?

Exercise in ethics for you, dear readers. For the purpose of the exercise, you need to suspend disbelief in the practicalities, and assume that the things I suggest as assumptions will actually work. Also, I'm not going to give an answer until I get four comments (minimum). I would particularly like comments from (in alphabetical order) Mum, Richard, Rev and Todd, but anyone else who reads this is encouraged to play, too (and please invite others to respond as well).

Ok, assume you are the leader of one of the bigger, more powerful countries in the world. Along with your colleagues in the security council, you decide that you are sick of war and fighting and the like. The suggestion is made that if there is an external threat - an alien invasion, for instance - that humanity would unite and the world would have a chance at internal peace.

Quietly, an investigation is made that shows that a series of "alien attacks" can be "neutralised" at a relatively low cost and without human casualties (no alien casualties either, given that they don't actually exist). Rupert is quietly asked and his permission is granted. You decide to go ahead.

Making the assumption that the practicalities will all be sorted without any particular problems, no one will find out within a timescale which will allow a blossoming peace to retrospectively justify the actions (and after everyone at the table is well and truly dead), and that you are reasonably certain that the plan will actually be successful, I have three-four questions for you:

  • Is it ethically acceptable to do it?
  • Why/Why not?
  • Would you do it?
  • Under what conditions would you tell the public?
  • And, as a bonus for anyone who feels inclined to play, assuming the practicalities of the plan are successful (i.e. the world genuinely believes that there is an alien threat), do you think the world would be a more peaceful place? Which commentators or journalists will say that the aliens attacked because of humanity's imperialist colonialist attacks on the aliens and we asked for it?


    Comment from Jason

    So what happens when aliens really turn up?

    Comment from Bob

    In this case, the greater good (world peace) would outweigh the bad (lying about the existence of aliens).

    All practical aspects aside, I would do it.

    It would not be difficult to convince the world that aliens do exist. Most people acknowledge the possibility and many already suspect that contact has been made. Eg. Chariots of the Gods was readily accepted.

    The primary backlash would come from the 'alien sub-culture' - The people who believe aliens do already visit earth, and that the gov covers it up. These people would declare that they had been right all along. They would extend their claim of 'being right' to every hair-brained conspiracy theory that was ever proposed.

    I doubt I would ever tell the public the truth. I'd leave that to the following generation of global leaders.

    Comment from gelfen

    this sounds a bit like that movie "Wag the Dog".

    Comment from Gillian

    Even accepting your basic assumptions that it would engender world peace, which I doubt, I have trouble with the 'end justifies the means' positions. I accept that this form of argument underlies most of the wars etc that we are currently engaged in, but it is morally suspect. And if you aren't convinced that this is wrong, what about the 'slippery slope' argument. If the PTB are going to lie about alien invasions, what makes you think they won't lie/aren't lying about a whole bunch of other things?

    Would I do it? No-oo. I don't think so. Which isn't to say there aren't cases where lying isn't justified. I wouldn't tell an axe murderer that his potential victim is in my house. At least I think I wouldn't.

    But, as Jason says, what happens when the real aliens turn up? Does our world govt then tell eveyone it's all based on a lie? And anyway, human nature being what it is, as soon as we've turned the swords into ploughshares, people will use the ploughshares to bop other people on the head. If you look at the reactions of people during wars you see them all pull together while the current crisis, but as soon as it's over they go back to fighting their own particular little wars.

    I respond


    Isn't it obvious what happens when the real aliens come? We've nicely developed the infrastructure and weaponry so that we can destroy them!

    What?! You think we want to treat them as if they come in peace? What in the history of humanity leads you to expect anything other than a "shoot first" approach? Or we could just say that they are different aliens.


    They would extend their claim of 'being right' to every hair-brained conspiracy theory that was ever proposed.

    They already do. They are largely marginalised as nut cases, and will continue to be so. Actually, by the Government admitting "straight away" that there are aliens, they may actually take the wind out of their sails.


    The concept isn't a particularly new one. The question is one on different people's ethical responses.


    How can someone with such a large distrust of authority expect her children to accept "Mummy said no" as a reason? Besides that, we can absolutely discount the "if they lie about this what else will they lie about" argument, for the simple reason that they will lie about whatever suits them anyway. I have very, very strong doubts that they will say, "oh, well, we lied about that so that means we can lie about this as well".

    And anyway, human nature being what it is, as soon as we've turned the swords into ploughshares

    Who said anything about turning swords into ploughshares? Military funding and expenditure would increase. This would hopefully extend into global research initiatives. More importantly, it may just take the heat out of some local issues for long enough for them to be resolvable.

    If you look at the reactions of people during wars you see them all pull together while the current crisis, but as soon as it's over they go back to fighting their own particular little wars.

    An alien invasion can take a very long time. A faked alien invasion can take even longer...

    My response:

    I see the two basic positions as "weighing up potential outcomes and choosing the lesser of two evils" (as demonstrated by Bob) and a "end doesn't justify the means - we shouldn't do the wrong thing regardless of outcomes" (more Mum's side). Both arguments have merit and problems, and really any position that I can see will have some balance of the two.

    Given the balance between the two, the question then becomes one of "how much good will you do" or "how bad is the wrong you must do to achieve it" or "what is the difference between the two". In this case, providing you think the lies have a very reasonable possibility of achieving peace, I think the lies are acceptable. Particularly if the rhetoric quickly changes from a "we must DEFEND OURSELVES" to one of "ALL peoples of the world must UNITE to defend ourselves".

    I think I would probably accept it being done, simply because I don't see any significant downside in the lies (I'm from the cynical generation - I take it for granted that the Government lies to us on a regular basis. They may as well try to get some good out of it.) I don't know whether I would do it myself, but I wouldn't rule it out.

    I'd only tell the public if I had a severe deathwish. I don't think telling the public would achieve any good - in fact, the opposite. I think telling the people would result in pockets of severe bloodshed.

    I think the plan, if executed properly, would work, but it would take a lot of effort and international co-operation. Despite this, I still think it would work.

    I reckon it will be a race between Pilger and Fisk as to who can sell out humanity first.

    And as follow-up ethical questions, is it acceptable to knowingly exaggerate the threat of climate change to spark action to reduce emissions? What about to attempt to effect global social justice?

    What about: if you find out about the lie, despite knowing the good that has been achieved, are you obliged to go public?

    And on the other side, what if you needed to take a number of human lives to "prove" the aliens are a menace: How many lives are an acceptable cost of peace?

    Comment from gelfen

    there's two series of books by Harry Turtledove, "Worldwar" and "Colonisation", which explore the response of the human race to alien invasion - although in his case he was looking at what might have happened during a real alien invasion in 1942.

    in short, and i tend to agree, the human race may unite at large, but there will still be enough factions pursuing their own political agendas to make "world piece" an unlikely outcome in a universal sense terms.

    Comment from Richard

    I think it may be a good plan to create world peace but it will only last as long as there is a common enemy. A few years at best.

    The money being made in the creation and conduct of real wars should not be sniffed at. Where are we going to hide all the munitions supposedly used on the aliens? I know, I'll sell them to some cranky minority to pursue their war of liberation. I'll be rich and war will continue as it always has.

    I am sure that the developments in science increasing with the true competitive spirit a real war engenders would be far more appreciated than the fake war when it came out.

    I also do not trust the Powers that Be to run it well. At least they could wipe out our enemies at the same time as the aliens.

    I respond


    there will still be enough factions pursuing their own political agendas

    Traitors...they can be dealt with quickly and efficiently. The hardest part of the whole thing is getting France to unite with America (and/or getting France to take the side of peace)


    Where are we going to hide all the munitions supposedly used on the aliens?

    Hide them? We fire them into the sky, having set them to self-destruct harmlessly outside the atmosphere in a spectacular fireworks display (we have successfully intercepted an alien missile...)

    Comment from gelfen

    i just noticed my inadvertant pun - "world piece". oh good grief for the ability to spell!

    Comment from Bob

    A couple of observations:

    If real aliens turn up, they'll be different aliens to the ones we've been fighting.... No problem there.

    The 'war', being a lie, can go on for as long as we want or need it to go on... It's still alie.

    Any faction that continues to act aginst global unity can be declared by the majority to be acting with the aliens, and forcibly contained.... or simply ostracized with copious numbers of 'white feathers'.

    There will be no physical munitions to be hidden. After all the nukes are fired into space (to detonate harmlessely on contact with target drones and other space targets... Haley's Commet?), we will use our newly developed energy weapons - Pretty light show. Ridding the world of nukes will be, in and of itself, a great step toward world peace.

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