Disclaimer: Death Note and related characters © Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Death Note: Another Note and related characters © NISIOISIN.
"The end justifies the means."
Does it? Stop for a minute and think about it. Think of something specific that would justify any means you might need to employ in order to achieve it. Do you have it? Can you picture it clearly? Feels good, doesn't it? To have something that you've longed for and believe you would do anything to get.
Now imagine yourself killing someone. And I don't mean by shooting a gun from twenty paces and then walking away. Who really ever feels they've taken a life by pulling a trigger? No, try stabbing them. Imagine needing to use your strength to force the blade through muscle, of feeling the metal scrape against bone, the tickle along your arm as blood begins to trickle. Here you're close enough to watch as they die. To see the pain, the confusion, the fear, perhaps even the betrayal as everything they were or might have been starts to slip away. You're close enough to hear the little noises they make, the half-whimpers and wet sobs.
The sight, sound, smell, and feel of their death are all yours. Maybe even the taste if you have begun to breathe through your mouth, fighting for breath as your heart beats too fast and your skin goes numb. The taste of iron and salt clinging to the roof of your mouth, sticking in your throat.
Was what you wanted worth this? If a death were the means, did the ends make it all okay? Was this person's terror and suffering justified?
Of course, not all examples are so extreme. Not all trinkets or ideals require bloodshed.
Theft, for example, can be used and is used quite often to get what one wants or needs and is perfectly justified in the eyes of the one doing the stealing, and sometimes those not involved, as well. A father or mother may rob in order to feed their children. A nurse might appropriate the drugs her boyfriend needs in order to deaden his pain, and would otherwise go without due to lack of funds. A store clerk may 'misplace' a few packets of cereal to see to it the beggar on the corner doesn't go hungry.
These are all examples of small harm being done to achieve a greater good. In these examples no one is hurt, or the damage is so diffuse it's hardly worth mentioning, and someone who was suffering benefits. Easy to justify, isn't it? But then again, these are small gains, as well. They may not seem small, and certainly not insignificant to those reaping the benefits of them, but in the big picture, they are. Little to no harm done to benefit one or two people for a short time.
What if the gain offered were larger? Would it be surprising to learn that the harm done to achieve it will correspondingly increase? It may be a little harder to justify what is needed to get to the reward at the end, now… but if the goal is important enough, if it's… precious enough… Well, then, what's a little pain on the way to a greater good? You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, right? Pff, another clichéd term to avoid responsibility.
And if the goal, the objective at the end is a safer, cleaner world where everyone would benefit? Of course, everyone wants that. A world where you can live not in fear, but in the assurance that you are safe and protected… there are any number of atrocities people would be willing to ignore to realize that dream.
Never mind that a safer world tomorrow means the suffering of innocents today.
We at the Wammy House, an institution posing as an orphanage when in reality it was a training ground for the homeless and gifted, we could be said to have been very lucky in our lot. Taken in from the streets, where we would have starved, frozen or fallen prey to the worst of human predators, we were given everything we could want. Homes, beds, food, warmth, education - the best education imaginable - and certain privileges no other orphan would think to even ask for. From the outside, it probably looked as though we had fallen into the gutter only to land on a golden lily pad. But anyone on the outside wouldn't have understood what it was we had to do to keep these things, what we had to suffer to keep our golden lily pad.
We were told we were the hope of the future, that we could become the saviors of tomorrow if we studied hard and trained our minds and bodies to become what would be needed. We were told that we were special, that we had a purpose. We, mere orphans with no families or homes or futures to speak of, were told these things. The clouds of despair or resignation that hung around us began to lift, and we hoped. We hoped and we dreamed of what we could become, and we threw ourselves into whatever it was the Wammy House asked of us.
We were led to believe that the institution cared for us as individuals. In a way, they did. We each offered something unique that the others did not, we were each a distinct source of potential. But we were still orphans. We were dregs, with no real attachment to the world around us. There was no family to retaliate or even answer to if something were to happen to us. And to the Institution, we were just experiments. The home and safety they offered, though it was never said in so many words, was conditional upon our performance. If we failed the Institution and what they were trying to achieve, that would all be taken away as easily as it had been given. It was never said, but it was demonstrated often enough, when one or more of us would drop too low in scores, and would disappear. Transferred to another facility, never to be heard from or checked on again, their fate once again relying on chance.
If you are drowning in the sea swarming with sharks, and a lifeboat miraculously appears to fish you out, you're not in any rush to try swimming again. We did what we were told to do, struggled through Wammy's programs, and endured. For us, it was the only choice, because out in the world lurked the monsters of our pasts. Monsters we were not in a hurry to meet again.
"The ends justify the means"? More like "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." It was all, in theory, a good idea. But the same can be said for the worst kinds of butchery humankind has ever experienced: that it all started as a good idea, or a good intention. Wammy's only cared for us as their preciously trained soldiers. When we were no longer progressing as they thought we should, we were shunted aside and replaced with more capable recruits. Our continued residence depended on our performance at things that most adults would have struggled with. Sickness was dealt with quickly because ill bodies made ill minds and ill minds cannot perform. The same with the occasional injury, and our psychological evaluations.
And, of course, with all this pressure to remain in the Wammy system, competition was inevitable. If anything, it was encouraged. It was believed, I think, that healthy jostling would bring out the best in us. A little added pressure to really kick us into high gear.
I don't think any one of us really realized how bad it was until A killed himself. He couldn't handle the pressure, and instead of admitting defeat and returning to whatever life he'd led before, or even dropping below 'perfect', he ended his life. Possibly the best friend I had ever known, and he was gone in an instant. All because of Wammy's insatiable drive, run on our sacrifices.
How did the Wammy House respond to A's death? They didn't. Life and the programs continued as though nothing had happened, with barely even a word to mark that A was gone. The pressure that had killed him, if anything, increased.
That was my final straw, the final piece of the puzzle I needed to see exactly what kind of place I'm living in, and what I'm paying to keep it. I've decided that it's too high, and I intend to get a little bit of my own back. I intend for the whole Institution to feel it, but mostly, I'm targeting the one at the center of it all. Wammy's is an organization, it's true, but it's all run by and catering to one man, and it's him I want to hit the hardest.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but the hell I'm choosing is edged out in self-aware conceit.
The ends I am reaching for do not justify the means I intend to use. The means I will use, there is no way to justify.
… It's a good thing I'm not looking for justification.