The Man Who Would Be God

railroad tunnel

© Dawn M. Miller

Fanatic time traveler Michael Robert Obe knew only murder could change the future. “Sorry, kid. This is the only way.” The eccentric (or insane) physicist held the bound five-year-old boy by the collar of his shirt while standing on the railway trestle.

“I loved this view when I was a kid. That’s why I brought you here. Too much at stake in my future world to let you live.”

The child looked up at his captor in terror.

“Good-bye, Freddie.”

Obe rolled Fredrick Christ Trump into the Colombia River to drown.

“Now to see what sort of world I’ve created.”

I wrote this for the Rochelle Wisoff-Fields photo challenge. The idea is to use the image above as the prompt for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 100 words long. My word count is 100.

As you may have guessed, Fredrick Christ Trump was the father of our current President Donald Trump. I know this harkens back to the old time travel paradox of whether  or not you would kill Adolf Hitler as an infant in order to prevent the Holocaust. I’ve written stories like that before, but given that (at least in social media) any action that would inhibit, stop, impeach, erase, Donald Trump (or anyone conservative, or anyone suspected of being a Trump voter or at least not a Democrat) seems justified, I decided to take it one illogical step further. Would you murder Trump’s Dad when he was five years old to prevent a Trump presidency? In other words, would you kill an innocent little boy in cold blood because you think it’s the greater moral good?

Interesting question.

To read other (kinder, gentler) stories based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.com.

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73 thoughts on “The Man Who Would Be God

  1. Good one. The guy I’d put a hit on is Alfred Sloan, who’s twenty-year plan for GMC essentially rid the US of light rail and ushered in this car culture which is destroying the planet and our lives. But Freddie Trump was a bad bad guy all right.

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    • It appears to me, “J”, that you have some animus against the individual empowerment that personal transportation vehicles represent. Light rail is less efficient of space usage than the “car culture”, and collectivist in its cultural influence, also fostering dependence rather than independence. And if you wish to tout the energy efficiency of electrified light rail, you could argue instead in favor of electrical cars. Even more, one could argue for greater emphasis on developing vehicles for point to point aerial transportation, eliminating the need for spaces devoted to both railways and roadways. Who is to say that Alfred Sloan didn’t contribute an impetus toward these better developments, albeit indirectly? Technological development does not always produce the desired improvements directly or immediately. Sometimes interim stepping stones must be tried first, in order to produce examples from which lessons may be learned for better future results.

      And now it seems that it is not sufficient to demonize Donald Trump, himself. The demonization must be extended to his father, and maybe even to his grandfather, and based entirely on superficial judgments about unproven accusations regarding a few events during their lives, which were not so different from hundreds of other businessmen in their era. One needn’t employ time travel to exercise the impetus to play G-d in order to condemn.

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      • You disagree on every point, do you — technological, political, and moral? Seldom do I encounter such a thoroughly disagreeable response. I don’t suppose you’d care to elaborate?

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      • I don’t want to argue with a dogmatist like yourself. I get my fill of logical fallacy on Facebook posts. I have seen your responses and they are chock-full of etymological tactics that would earn you a D in your average 101 level rhetoric class. Pass.

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      • BTW, pursuant to the matter of the ineffectiveness of trying to wash a donkey — how do you feel about trying to wash Republican elephants?

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      • You prove your point, sir. I remind you that this is a creative writing blog, not a storm front thread. Please respect the author and desist from this type of discussion. It is both unwelcome and unpleasant, at least to me.

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      • I seem to recall an old show, I think it was Twilight Zone, where a time traveler went back and tried to kill Adolph while still an infant. In standard TZ fashion, it didn’t work, the Hitler family adopted a child (Jewish, iirc) and raised him as their son. History remained unchanged.

        So maybe going back far enough to take out Adolph’s father would bring about that change?

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      • It’s something of a double-edged sword. Go back five or ten generations just to be sure by wiping out an entire line, and who knows, going forward how much else would have changed? Ray Bradbury’s 1952 short story A Sound of Thunder ultimately coined the phrase “butterfly effect,” whereby making even the tiniest of changes far enough in the past can result in a profound change to the present.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This put me in mind of Rav Shaul’s classic observation in his letter to the Roman assemblies (ch3:v8): “And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come’? Their condemnation is just.” Those who think an end result justifies any means necessary to accomplish it are not among those who fear the heavenly Judge or respect the definitions He prescribed for a characteristic human morality. They conveniently ignore what happens on a grand scale when everyone ignores that prescription, and how it may turn back upon them very unpleasantly as individuals. Those who violate the human social contract are just asking for life to become “nasty, brutish, and short” (as the 16th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes expressed it).

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    • I agree, but I fear we live in an age where Donald Trump is seen as such a tremendous threat to just about everything, perhaps the greatest threat to “civilization” the world has ever known, that people will feel empowered to commit any evil for the sake of what they see as goodness.

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  3. Good philosophical question. For me, killing a five year old innocent is never a solution to anything, especially when the consequences are unknown. If not Trump, then probably someone similar would have taken his place – so how many 5 year olds to sacrifice until you get the future you want?

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    • You see, beyond the obvious moral implications, this was my point. Even if you “undo” Donald Trump, you have no idea what the ramifications might be if his Dad died at age 5 (rather than age 93) and if none of his children existed. There’s a good chance my character will return to a present he doesn’t recognize in some part or even in a large part.

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      • If you’re talking about Matthew 2:16, I quickly looked up this website which states in part:

        According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The Greek Liturgy asserts that Herod killed 14,000 boys (ton hagion id chiliadon Nepion), the Syrians speak of 64,000, [and] many medieval authors of 144,000.” However, this number of children is greater than the entire population of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth.

        Professor William F. Albright “estimates that the population of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth to be about 300 people. The number of male children, two years old or younger, would be about six or seven.” Other scholars claim the number was between 10 – 20 male children in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.

        So apparently, the number is under contention, but I must say it’s so good to be able to discuss science fiction themes within a Biblical context. Not too many places where that’s tolerated or even allowed.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, that’s one way to change the future! But no, I couldn’t do it. Like some commenters have said, Trump isn’t the only problem. If he weren’t alive, there would another “Trump” in his place. Still, this was an intriguing story!

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    • Thanks, Jade. Obviously, I wrote it both as a general commentary on that age-old question about time travel and to address how far what seems to be “Trump-o-phobia” has gone in the world. Yes, at age 5, Freddy Trump was no more guilty of doing anything worthy of death than any other kid. Same with the Donald for that matter.

      It reminds me somewhat of how the slavewoman Hagar and her son (by Abraham) Ishmael were sent away by Abraham’s wife Sarah after Ishmael was seen to be mocking the young Isaac. They went out into the desert, and after running out of water, were at the verge of dying of thirst.

      When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, “Do not let me see the boy die.” And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept. God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink. –Genesis 21:15-19

      What many Bibles translates as where he is is translated by the Stone Edition Tanakh as in his current state. Ishmael’s descendants became the Arab peoples who have historically been the enemy of Israel, the modern day Jewish people and state, but as a child (in his current state), he was innocent, and thus God chose to save him rather than condemn him for what his descendants would do to God’s Chosen people.

      It think we can apply this to Fred Trump, his son Donald, and yes, even Adolf Hitler. It would not be just to murder Hitler when he was five years old.

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      • Actually, the English translation “mocking” to describe the adolescent Ishmael’s behavior toward his 13-years-younger half-brother Isaac is misleading, because it fails to indicate the life-threatening severity of the behavior that impelled Sarah to demand that both he and his mother be exiled. Consequently, the later reference to “his current state” cannot be interpreted as “innocent”, though certainly he was not yet guilty of murder. Even a caravan of his grandchildren rescued the adolescent Joseph from a pit in the desert, though they shortly thereafter sold him as a slave in Egypt. [Nothing personal; it was just business as usual, you understand.]

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      • I thought, James, about whether I would or would not bring up another translation/interpretation of what “mocking” actually was (or how it could be better rendered in that story). I had decided on no. But I’m glad it was addressed (in mild form) anyway. At the same time, what you wrote about a “current state” (minus the mistaken innocence) was fun to read — for the metaphor of a place in time or life versus a place on the planet.

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    • I’ve only sparingly been sampling the news, but I assume you mean because the President and his wife were present at George HW Bush’s funeral along with many other former Presidents and First Ladies. I think the Obamas may have felt uncomfortable as well sitting right next to the Trumps after the former has been laying down a heavy barrage of criticism about the latter recently.

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  5. We are trying to play God when we think it’s acceptable to kill one person in order to prevent something we see as evil in the future. No man has the right to assume such power. The old saying is that it’s never right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right. If we had that liberty, we’d have already eradicated the human race because we all seem to think we know what is right for everyone else, and anyone who disagrees with (me, you, us) is to be reviled, assaulted, removed, replaced, killed, his family tormented, and endless accusations made against him.

    Honestly, I’m not a person who worships at any man’s feet, including Mr. Trump’s. He’s done a lot in his life that is unsavory, to say the least. But who among us is so pure that we can lay a charge against anyone else and demand he should never have lived?

    If you look at your history, the John F. Kennedy clan had a pretty unsavory start, too; and JFK himself was unfaithful to his wife. I do not approve of his assassination. It was foul, wrong, murder. Just trying to say, I think, that we need to strive for some balance before we totally lose our minds in this country.

    And just by the way, Obama used gas at the border at least 13 times. Why isn’t anyone foaming at the mouth about that? Seems to me we need to come down from the Olympus of our own infallibility and try to be just a little more even -handed. Murder is never okay. Never.

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    • Linda, when you say “no man has the right,” that assumes a just and all-knowing rights giver who is above and outside of humanity, that is God. Even accepting an infinite Creator who is concerned about the lives of everyone in Creation, the temptation to take things into our own hands is enormous. After all, we’re only human.

      That said, we aren’t expected to be passive bystanders in the world, but agents of justice and righteousness. If that weren’t true, then no righteous Gentiles from among the nations would have stepped forward to help Jews escape Hitler’s Holocaust during the World War Two era, directly disobeying Nazi authority and threats.

      However, there is a profound difference between resisting and defying injustice and murdering children, even if you know they or their descendants will eventually commit such injustice.

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    • That’s the thing about time travel, you can’t change just one variable. Killing Fred Trump in 1910 at the age of 5, 108 years ago, would prevent him from doing all the stuff he would have done over the next 90 some years of life, not just fathering the Donald, but everything. He wouldn’t meet his future wife and she wouldn’t give birth to any of the Trump kids, but who knows what else would have changed. Also, in the 2016 elections, who would have run against Clinton? Would she even have run? Even if she did, would she have won or lost? What would be the result of her winning (I know a lot of people presume it would be Heaven on Earth, but really)? If her opponent win, who would he/she be and what would they do? It would be a roll of some pretty big dice with absolutely no way to predict the outcome. All that plus, the person who did it, no matter how they justify their motives, would be a heinous child murderer. I have grandchildren three and eight years old. Suppose some deranged maniac believes he/she could see into the future and that one of my grandchildren would parent a dictator (or whatever) and felt he/she had a moral obligation to murder my grandchild? I assure you, I would spare no effort to protect those children, none at all. I know these situations are hypothetical, so there’s no real danger that a child would die, but it does test our moral compass when we answer, even under such circumstances.

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      • The world is a complicated place to live in. So many “what if’s” to consider. In my case I think of leaving Michigan in 1980 with a solid and secure future and moving to AZ with no job. Had I not moved would I be still working for the railroad and celebrating 50 years of service. I would never have joined IBM and worked all over the US. Would I have remained single and not as it turned out married at the age of 5. Decision we make, either voluntary or involuntary, make us as we are now. What if……well you get the point. Do we have free will? Or not!

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      • I firmly believe we have free will Danny, but so does everyone else, and even if one variable changes in our lives, the ultimate results aren’t particularly foreseeable. I suppose that’s why time travel isn’t possible in real life.

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  6. If a person has the means of going back in time, and effectively change events, why do murder? If change is what is needed, perhaps, it would be more humane to raise the child to care about others and to hope that he would pass it on. I know this sounds a bit silly, but so is the alternative–the world has a way of breeding ruthlessness (and goodness, too), one is removed and a handful more are born.

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    • While your suggestion sounds humane and compassionate, it is even more dangerous in the framework of temporal mechanics, because the invader from the future would be spending a lifetime in the past, making innumerable changes that would destroy the original timeline. You also seem to have ignored the fact that instead of murdering the child in question, the time-traveller would apparently be kidnapping the child from his parents, instead, in order to raise him differently. That crime could be much harder to hide than a murder where the traveler disappears immediately afterward to return to his own time to enjoy the results of the change. Now, you do have a good idea about making some alternative change, such as talking with a problematic person at some vulnerable moment, to influence his decisions to take a different path than the one which led to future problems. If one is even more clever, one might even influence a change in some other circumstance which affects the target person’s decisions. But one would need much more detailed knowledge about the target’s history, and not merely the knowledge of when and where to find him. If one wishes to use the ability to time-travel to play the god, one needs to be as knowledgeable and wise as a god; because, as it is rightly said: the devil is in the details.

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    • That’s very true, Magaly, but let’s consider the current problem. If you wanted to have a future with a better, kinder, more reasonable 45th President, how could you use time travel to make that happen with any certainty. Let’s assume a universe where history tends to “resist” change. In Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, the protagonist finds a time portal that puts him in the year 1958, and through a complicated set of circumstances, he finds himself living in the past between then and November 22, 1963 trying to prevent John F. Kennedy’s assassination. However, the closer he gets to that even, the more “random” occurances work to prevent him.

      Since a time traveler wouldn’t have much opportunity to change how Donald Trump and his siblings were raised, it might be more effective to “rig” the election somehow, which would be difficult for a lone time traveler, and most other means of changing the result might not work. Even in King’s novel, he had to make sure Lee Harvey Oswald was acting alone. If Oswald was stopped, but he wasn’t the only assassin, then Kennedy would still have been killed.

      Changing history is complicated, but your suggestion certainly is more humane. In a way, it’s more like the premise of Gene Roddenberry’s 1974 pilot film The Questor Tapes where the last of a long line of androids placed on Earth by aliens is programmed to help humanity evolve into a peaceful society, sometimes just by encouraging a child to be a teacher or influencing a future world leader toward a path of peace.

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      • Well… spoiler alert, James! I’m watching 11/22/63 (just got Hulu) with one of my sons. (No, in fact, you haven’t said too much.) It’s been a bit of a curiosity to see (time travel can be more fun to view when there are sentimental feelings about a somewhat accessible time). And, really, I would never read a Steven King book. Noticing King’s name had me second-guessing whether I should proceed. But I did… proceed.

        Besides the interest in the time period or window, I had a teacher in [my Lutheran] high school who would use extra moments (when she had completed the syllabus) to inform us all of various theories on the killing of President Kennedy. So, how could I skip a visual presentation of a story with “the grassy knoll” and all the rest?

        Anyway, I really liked what Magaly brought up. It has the most to say about how life is to be improved rather than fully approached in reactive mode (or ruthlessness, as she said). At the same time, when someone is fully grown and powerful…

        … there were people who wanted to murder/assassinate Hitler (in real life) even as most were against the thought. While it wouldn’t have been bad to kill him

        … would that have taken care of the matter? There was a whole system in place. Still, there is such thing as a cult of personality.

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      • I’ve never seen the miniseries, but the book strongly suggests that time resists change, but if you’re successful, the bigger the change, the more chaos you create. I hope you enjoy the show.

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      • Yes, it does strongly suggest that.

        (There’s some gruesome stuff in it, it’s not only about
        the Kennedy assassination — not primarily historical or even primarily
        historically speculative to me — so I’m not fully sure. But I do think I will see it on through.)

        There is always the tension, it seems, in response to fictional blogging, between how much we’re talking about fiction (and even the history of fiction [of fiction] rather than history in fiction) and the space made for escapism and how much we’re talking about our own morals and about what is true or real. There have been times when I say something about things that are true — to be greeted with “It’s fiction” (like, get over it). And then there are times when I see someone who has been immersed in the otherworldliness “corrected.” It’s maybe comparable to when people who are convinced of their own level-headedness reprimand others for being “emotional.” This has been a good conversation.

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      • King’s works are always laced with what I consider to be “uncomfortable and creepy violence.” For the novel, he and a research assistant did copious amounts of investigating around the Kennedy assassination and the time period in general. In an interview, he said he wanted to write the novel decades ago, but he didn’t have sufficient researching skills and resources at the time.

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      • Just for one little taste of history, there is a scene where one person is asleep in a car and another person wakes him by dripping what would look like water onto the person in the car from the window squeegee [is that what such a tool were called back then?] in the gas station. I was like, ewww; in my experience, that wasn’t plain water back in the sixties. I said this out loud, and my son said it was in the middle of nowhere (not the word he chose) — maybe it could be plain water anyway, even if people in big cities would put something it.

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      • I did work briefly for a gas station in the late 60s, in a large east-coast city in the USA; and windshield washer sprayers were generally filled with plain water, though it was permissible to mix in a little alcohol in colder weather to inhibit freezing. For cleaning windshields by hand with a squeegee we used water with a little detergent, like liquid dishwashing soap. None of these fluids seem to me a justification for an “ewww” response if they should drip onto someone, unless we’re talking about fluid from a standing/hanging bucket near the pumps, that has already been used repeatedly to clean numerous windshields and is dirty from road-grime. For that I’ll grant you an “ewww” and maybe even a “blech” — and that would be just as much applicable to remote rural locations as big-city locations. I don’t recall exactly how often we changed the water in those buckets each shift. It probably depended on whether we found it too dirty to be effective in cleaning a given windshield without leaving streaks about which a driver might complain and demand that we do it again. Thus there was a limit to how dirty the water could be allowed to become, but still one might not appreciate being dripped with it.

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      • The guy who got dripped on didn’t seem bothered by it to any further degree than someone might for having a cup of water poured while sleeping on a couch indoors. However, it was the sleeping guy’s car, and it was a dirty old car (so reactions can be relative). As for my own experience, I remember so many fumes in old-time gas stations (worse than now). And I remember being told there was something more chemical-ridden than alcohol in the windshield liquid there. Maybe it wasn’t a properly accepted practice.

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    • Now you really ought to be ashamed of yourself, Abhijit, for that gratuitous slap against physicists. Scifi literature is full of time-travelers who are criminals or detectives or law-enforcement officials or anthropological or historical scholars, or even tourists — none of whom were even remotely like the physicists who might have helped to develop the capability of time travel that these travelers employed. So, while you are quite correct to call the protagonist of the above story a monster, nothing suggested that he was a physicist or even pretending to be one. [This message brought to you by the joint task force of the Formulaic Identity Defense League and the Physicists Anti-Defamation League “FIDL-PhADL.] [:)]

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      • Yes, but we’re talking about sacrificing the life of a five year old child who hasn’t done any harm to anyone. I know hypothetically, we think it would be relatively easy, but for most people of good conscience, looking into the eyes of a terrified little boy and then pushing him into a river to drown might be harder than it seems.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I think Bjorn hit the head on the nail. While one can credit the overripe pumpkin in office for providing a climate where evil is happy to work more overtly, the fact that he has so many followers and that similar nationalistic movements have sprouted up like toadstools all over the globe show that there is no shortage of would-be leaders to take up this work.

    Though if we are discussing a sci-fi solution, then yes, I agree with Magaly. She didn’t say kidnap. I think back to a quintessential sci-fi favorite, Dr. Who, and how he visited Madame Pompador at several key points in her life. Clearly, she wasn’t in danger of rearing a despot though. And as for knowledge of when those important points where, well, we are in the realm of sci-fi so perhaps said traveler could have access to that knowledge. That was how it worked on Quantum Leap, another sci-fi favorite of mine (though their knowledge was vague). There are many ways to go within the parameters set out.

    Then again, killing is easy. Addressing the deep and systemic issues that affect humanity is not. That is something the tangerine tyrant does understand, which might be why he too errs on the side of violence so often.

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    • Yes, killing is easy, and relative to time travel and changing history, it has a higher probability of success than other means (not that I justify murder, since I certainly do not). That said, there’s an oft quoted line from the 1986 film “Aliens uttered by Ripley (Signorney Weaver): “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

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  8. Sounds like a bad idea to me. Good timing for a discussion about playing God, during a week with news about the well-intentioned manipulation of the genes of the embryos of actual birthed human babies!

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  9. What a terrific spate of conversation your story has unleashed. Well done!
    My opinion would be that the only answer to evil that ever works, is love. Murder, whether of a 5 year old or a 95 year old, is the antithesis of love and would never work.

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    • The question of “does the end justify the means” is answered by whether or not we would be required to sacrifice our high sounding morals in order to end what we see as an unsavory situation or person. That said, given that Pearl Harbor Day has just passed, there are sometimes good reasons to go to war, even though the innocent will suffer.

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