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In the hauntingly brilliant graphic novel by Alan Moore called Watchmen, there is an interesting philosophical question. What is for the greater good? It’s a question that can and should be applied to the real world as it is something that affects all of our lives.
Theresa May’s views on nuclear deterrents reflects a key belief that one character in Watchmen’s story (Ozymandias) has. And, by judging the results from his actions, maybe we can try to understand where Theresa May is coming from. Just a heads up, I’m not going to go into the full backstory of Watchmen because I would be doing it a huge disservice if I did. Not only is the novel incredible, but the film adaptation is a masterpiece of comic cinema. Watch/read Watchmen and obviously spoilers below.
The world is on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. Ozymandias, in an attempt to bring a stop to the total extinction of human life, orchestras a plan. He wishes to fake an alien invasion (comics right?) to attack major cities around the globe with nuclear weapons. This is to unite the nations of the world against one common enemy. The one caveat to his plan, however, is that it will result in the murder of millions of innocent lives. In the thrilling conclusion, Ozymandias eventually succeeds in his plan, millions of people are killed and the world unites in a nice era of new found peace. The question of Watchmen and that we must ask ourselves is, did Ozymandias do the right thing?
Of all the weapons of war, nuclear is seen as the “worst-case scenario” because of its mutually destructive nature. It’s the personification of the word “overkill”, the ultimate “hail Mary” “middle finger fuck you” to pretty much everyone on the planet. The problem of countries building nuclear arsenals is so bad that there are actually organisations dedicated to banned nuclear weapons. Check ican out, besides the stupid Apple style name, there’s some great info on the site.
To understand the weight of what going to nuclear war would be like, Robert Fisher, a professor of law at Havard Univeristy, proposed that the nuclear codes should be placed in the chest of a Presidential aid. The president would have to slice the person open, reach inside them and physically take their life in order to use nuclear weapons. I’d love to know who’d take that job in the first place. You’d either have to be impossibly sure we’d never go to war or the job must pay insanely well. Regardless of the reasons some poor bastard would take the job, it’s a great thought experiment.
This is the reason that many were shocked that Theresa May back in July, was so blasé about answering a question if she would kill 100,000 innocent men, women, and children with a nuclear strike. She answered the questioned like someone had asked her if she wanted a Papa Johns – which is always a strong yes. May has a very similar view to Ozymandias as she believes that the murder of innocent lives would send a message to the world.
Both May and Ozymandias, at least in part, are displaying a utilitarian response to the issue. This is the viewpoint that innocent lives can be sacrificed if the outcome is for the greater good. One different between Theresa May and Ozymandias (besides one being real) however, is that Ozymandias feels the weight of what he’s done, even though he believed it was the right thing to do. “I’ve made myself feel every death… see every innocent face I’ve murdered to save humanity.”
Perhaps it’s all for show and May wanted to establish herself in her new role, but there is a lack of humanity in her answer. And maybe just because Ozymandias feels a small sense of guilt for his actions, doesn’t make him any better.
This argument, like many, boils down to moral lines and risk. If Theresa May truly believes killing people she doesn’t know and will never meet would protect her family and her country, she will think it’s morally justified. And, if she believes there is minimal risk in using that kind of force, she will take it.