Lying and Deception about Questions of War and Peace: Case Studies

Thomas L. Carson

in Lying and Deception

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780199577415
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191722813 | DOI:
Lying and Deception about Questions of War and Peace: Case Studies

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This chapter examines cases in which political leaders and public figures told lies or engaged in deception as a pretext for fighting wars. The examples given here include William Randolph Hearst, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney. The chapter devotes particular attention to the case of Bush and Cheney and argues that they lied and attempted to deceive the public. Although this claim will strike many readers as obvious, it has not been adequately defended by those who make it. The journalists, public officials, and commentators who have accused Bush and Cheney of lying and deception do not offer careful definitions of lying and deception, much less a careful application of those definitions to the cases at issue. Certain features of my definition of lying are salient in these cases and help to show that Bush and Cheney lied and attempted to deceive the public – they strongly warranted the truth of claims that they knew were open to serious doubts. In most of these cases, lying and deception led to disastrous consequences and were morally wrong. However, the chapter argues that Franklin Roosevelt was morally justified in his lying and deception in order to aid Britain during the early stages of WWII. The chapter also discusses cases in which Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, and Dwight Eisenhower may have engaged in lying and deception in order to avoid wars. These also seem be to cases of justifiable lying/deception.

Keywords: deception in politics; lying to justify war; deception to justify war; deception to avoid war; George W. Bush; Richard Cheney; Plato's noble lie; Franklin Roosevelt; Lyndon Johnson; Dwight Eisenhower

Chapter.  12020 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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