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I Did What I Had to Do

In all the years that Rome has stood, the Gates of War have only been shut twice. In my reign, the Senate ordered them shut three times.
Emperor Augustus

Sometimes good people have to do bad things because if they don't, worse things will happen. At its heart, this is a post-facto justification for morally questionable actions presented to those who would question the necessity or rightness of said actions. Perhaps The Hero has saved the villain, or surrendered the MacGuffin to save a hostage, or abandoned innocents/friends to their fate to save others. Or the Noble Demon has saved The Hero while just passing through. Or the Anti-Hero (usually a Pragmatic Hero) has shot the dog. Their comrades (particularly The Heart) are baffled, stunned, and angered. They ask "What Were You Thinking?", and exclaim "What the Hell, Hero?"

The questioned character turns to them and says just one thing: "I did what I had to do." And nothing else. Except possibly "And It Worked."

The character may later be somewhat humanized by showing that he regards it as Dirty Business, or giving him Bad Dreams, or Drowning My Sorrows, but he may not, and other shows of guilt, grief, or weakness are very unlikely. (Nastier sorts may express such sentiment only in the context of self-pity: their grief is that they were the ones who had to do such horrible things, or that no one else understands why it was necessary.)

This is also used sometimes as an explanation for Lawful Neutral or Lawful Stupid actions. Compare Well-Intentioned Extremist. Contrast It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, which does the same as in this case, but for Chaotic Neutral or Chaotic Stupid actions. Often a plays a part in the weight of The Chains of Commanding.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  
  • D.Gray-Man has Cross Marian who can convert Akuma—to assist the Exorcists, or help with a mission, but programs them to self-destruct should they attempt to kill anyone, thus destroying their souls forever. And a few other instances. Later, he outright asks "Do you always have to sacrifice something to protect something else?" So, contrary to belief, he's not heartless, and doesn't do these things without some form of regret—as the Author states, he's a man with hardships and hides bitter things.
  • Light tries to use this to justify his murders in the finale of Death Note after Near finally proves he's Kira, claiming that the world had to be fixed and that no one else would have the guts to keep going as long as he did. No one buys it, and Near proceeds to call Light on his bullshit, claiming that Light is just another petty serial killer. This just pushes Light even further into his Villainous Breakdown.
  • Hughes Gouli from Overman King Gainer belief in Exodus is so much that he states that he will do anything so that they can reach Yapan. During an attack that causes people's thoughts to be broadcast he reveals to Sara that he killed Gainer's parents for being against exodus.
  • Neptune and Uranus from Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon (seasons S, Stars and the SuperS TV special) consistently fail to learn from their mistakes and are willing to sacrifice lives—both innocent civilians and their own fellow soldiers—on the basis that the end (destroying the enemy) automatically justifies the means. Given that in the realm of Sailor Moon, what consistently defeats the villains is the power of unconditional love and not ruthless strategy, their failure to adjust to her strategy (which actually WORKS) marks them out for the Stupid Sacrifice category. Also, see end of SailorStars for a classic example of this trope dovetailing with Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
  • Itachi Uchiha from Naruto practically embodies this trope, though it's a long time before this is revealed. He killed his entire clan, save Sasuke, to prevent a civil war that presumably would have resulted in even more death.
    • Then there is the guy who ordered him to do it, Danzo. Who turns out to actually be a badass in his own right, though he is on the "extremist" side of Well-Intentioned Extremist. He does get to lecture Sasuke on betraying Itachi's will.
    • Also Tobirama Senju, the second Hokage, who feels no guilt regarding how he treated the Uchiha clan. Which, to elaborate, was giving them a position of control in the Leaf's police force. Some time later, his suspicions turn out not to have been completely unwarranted.
  • Lelouch from Code Geass when he loses control of his Geass, and makes Euphemia kill the Japanese. He then proceeds to do what he has to do—and says as much—and kills Euphemia. Then later on he pretty much tells Suzaku that as well.
    • There's also Lelouch and Cornelia in the Geass Directorate. You don't take chances with those people. Even though what Lelouch and Cornelia do is considered by most, if not all, of the people who have half an idea on what happened as disgusting, you simply don't want to risk that. Cornelia gets away with it, though—Lelouch pays for it.
      • Though, rather ironically, none of those people who think that it was disgusting realize that it was a hive of Geass Users, who are Britannian assassins, who have done terrible things, murdering Shirley and a crucial role stopping the Black Rebellion amongst them. (Though that was entirely Rolo and V.V., the only ones with names). They then attempt to kill Lelouch using the same reasoning.
    • This is Charles zi Britannia's view on exiling Lelouch and Nunnally to Japan in order to protect them from his brother V.V.—somewhat subverted by the fact that, ultimately, he didn't care about whether or not they survived in the end, something Lelouch deftly points out in their final confrontation, and something that Charles doesn't even bother to deny, unlike Marianne.
  • More or less King's justification for having turned Demon Card into a criminal organization in Rave Master
  • There is a lot of this from the villains in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Generally, it turns out that they didn't, although since the Distant Finale stops somewhat before the destruction of the universe, we're not quite sure about the last set.
  • Windaria: Alan's justification for flooding Lunaria to stop the war and save The Valley from being a warzone.
  • In Saint Beast, Zeus considers killing the old gods a regrettable but necessary action.
  • Bleach:
    • When Ichigo tries to confront Ukitake and Byakuya at Rukia's prison, Yoruichi intervenes and stabs her hand into Ichigo's wounds to insert a tranquilizer into his body so she can carry him away from the location as quickly as possible. When Ichigo comes round and demands to know why she did that and why she didn't try to save Rukia, Ganju or Hanatarou, she explains that she had to do it this way because Byakuya was too strong for Ichigo to fight and too fast for Yoruichi to be able to escape if carrying more than one person. She also knew Ukitake would protect the others from any consequences of being associated with Ichigo.
    • Mayuri has a confrontation with Yamamoto over taking a very important decision without first consulting Yamamoto and his response is that he had to do what was necessary because the problem required an immediate response and couldn't afford to be tied up by Celestial Bureaucracy. The decision concerned was to kill twenty-eight thousand residents of Soul Society to stabilize the cosmic balance of souls that exist to prevent the universe from breaking .
    • Katagiri was asked to keep a secret but felt forced to reveal it because she believed the secret would threaten the Ishida family's future. The secret was that Masaki had saved a shinigami, but Katagiri noticed Masaki received a Hollow-tainted wound. She acted based on Ryuuken's earlier statement to her that the future of the family depended on their bloodline remaining untainted. Katagiri's decision was the correct one, as Masaki's tainted wound would have destroyed her had she not received treatment in time.
  • Ryo Narushima of Shamo uses this to justify killing his own parents (of all things!) in the first chapter of the manga. After that... well, let's just say he gets a little too used to this trope.
  • In Girls und Panzer, when Miho asks Maho about shooting the German flag tank when it went to rescue one of Maho's teammates, she coldly says "...Miho. What I did was Nishizumi-style Panzerkraft. I gave the order to shoot". However, when she first hears about what she did, she seems shocked and almost hurt, and when her mother tells her it was a good decision, she looks displeased.
  • Kycilia Zabi in Mobile Suit Gundam uses this to justify killing her older brother and supreme commander of Zeon, Gihren Zabi, in the middle of the final battle. Given that he had just confessed to murdering their father and chief of state with the opening shot of the battle just as he was negotiating an armistice, she's justified.
    "Get rid of the body! Even a supreme commander can't get away with the assassination of his own father. If any of you disagree, then file charges against me after the battle's over!"
  • Erwin Smith is a primary example of how successful commanders think in Attack on Titan, with all the unpleasant implications that come with it. Though he cares about his men, he is perfectly willing to sacrifice them (or himself) if doing so provides a possible victory. He uses this to justify allowing a battle between two Titan Shifters within a major city, causing considerable destruction and loss of life in the process.
    • Bertolt Hoover states it had to be done when confronted about committing mass murder by kicking in the gates at Shiganshina and Trost.
  • YuYu Hakusho: In the original, uncut script, Dr. Kamiya taunted Yusuke about the fact that in order to save the people in the hospital made ill by his power, Yusuke would have to kill him: something that would challenge his qualification as a Spirit Detective. KO was not an option since Kamiya had full control of his bodily functions and could keep himself from passing out. Ultimately, Yusuke does deliver one hard punch that sends Kamiya flying out a window and ultimately stops his heart with the trauma. Yusuke mentally justifies himself with the trope, and Genkai later concurs out loud. She also revives Kamiya with a chest compression to further relieve Yusuke's guilt.
  • This was Reinhard's excuse to Kircheis in Legend of Galactic Heroes as to why he didn't save the 2 million civilians from being nuked by the corrupt nobles. Though the real reason was that Oberstein orchestrated that the nobles actually do what they did to boost Reinhard's position. After this event however, he decides never to make any excuses again.

     Comic Books 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Nine: Buffy repeatedly justifies her destroying the source of Earth's magic to stop Twilight the previous season this way. However, Willow insists that she will eventually have to deal with the consequences, but Buffy dismisses it; naturally, Willow turns out to be right when Dawn falls ill and starts to die without magic.
  • In The DCU, this is Amanda Waller's raison d'être.
    • Waller is odd in that she has a tendency to surround herself with idealists in an attempt to curb her pragmatic tendencies. When she (invariably) alienates these people, she REALLY starts to fall into this trope.
    • In the Elseworlds story Kingdom Come, the U.N. Director invokes this trope when he gives the order to drop nukes on the big superhero brawl. "The only way to make certain future generations will know this was our only hope... is to ensure there will BE future generations." He is later shown in his office, looking rather regretful.
  • Marvel Comics's Cable might as well have this monogrammed on his towels as as often as he says it in his early appearances.
  • Magog from Kingdom Come uses this one too, which isn't surprising as he was inspired by Cable.
  • Wonder Woman ends up having to say this a lot after killing Maxwell Lord (with the whole thing recorded and broadcast to boot), who was controlling Superman (and who could've killed everyone present in the time it took to come up with a better plan). The whole thing sets off the Crisis Crossover, Infinite Crisis.
  • This is Batman's tacit justification for every time the Justice League finds out his plans to take them down should it be needed. Interesting because Batman helps undo them anyway. He also encourages this state of mind in his protégés, especially Tim (among others, in the form of a Dangerous Sixteenth Birthday worthy of the greatest Manipulative Bastards).
  • In The Long Halloween, Harvey Dent says that he did what needed to be done when he kills Falcone.
  • Ozymandias from Watchmen killed millions to save billions. Possibly. The ending deliberately leaves it ambiguous as to whether his gambit ultimately succeeds. Regardless, he certainly believes his actions will save billions, at least until Dr. Manhattan leaves him with the words "Nothing ever ends, Adrian".
  • Cyclops has spent the last decade giving up everything he believed in, from his own moral code to his own happiness and the relationship between himself and his friends, resulting in many supervillains and psychopaths being put down, causing him to be compared to Magneto, but all so he could keep the last of his kind from extinction.
    • He kinda succeeds after the events in Phoenix Five. Kinda.
  • During a comic book crossover between Witchblade and Tomb Raider, Sara Pezzini, a cop, calls Lara Croft to task after witnessing Lara cold-bloodedly kill two men. Lara's response is basically "sentence given, judgement passed".

    Fanfiction 
  • Shows up the in kalash93 story, How It Was. In it, the protagonist uses it as his explanation for why he killed an enemy who had surrendered. The other characters do not buy it. This trope is a running theme in the story on multiple levels, as the story is an interestng look into PTSD.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami features this a few times, when Ami has to make hard moral calls, usualy involveing a cost/benefit tradeoff of some kind. She is (technically) a designated villain, after all. Some of her minions are more willing to take the risk on her behalf, instead.
    • More recently, Morrigan's cheif warlock, Monteraine, defected to Ami's forces upon capture. This enrages Eline and Venna, who reveal that she was the one who implemented Venna's conditioning for Morrigan. Monteraine immeadiately offers to do the same again for Ami's minions, and it is only when it is clear that Ami is seriously considering not hiring her that Monteraine admits she had little choice in the matter.
  • In Stairway To Equestria, Celestia banishes the main protagonist, Midnight Blink to be judged in the Griffin Lands after he attacked an ambassador of that land in self-defence. Celestia's main reasoning was that she wanted to preserve the already shaken diplomatic ties between the two kingdoms, as well as to keep her protegee safe from what she thought Blink would do at some point.
  • The North Korean Digidestined in most Digimon fanfics end up in situations like these, as do China's Digidestined. Their governments force them into doing various horrifying things and the kids rationalize it with 'I did what I had to do, because otherwise they'd kill my family'. Since they're kids, this comes across as more desperate and terrified than villainous. Fandom's is fairly good about not making them evil because their countries are - at least, fandom's good about that now. There's some Dead Fic from five or more years ago where they're straight up For the Evulz lunatics.
  • This quote from the Villain Protagonist of the Mass Effect fanfic The Council Era says all that is needed to be said. "I will pay for taking the low ground after I die, but there always has to be someone who is willing to make such a sacrifice, for the sake of something far greater than themselves. It's part of the order of things." Keep in mind that his "taking the low ground" was committing genocide. It is likely that in the second part of the storyline, when he's expected to decline further into Chaotic Evil, that he'll still try to use the "I Did What I Had To Do" card, even if his motivation becomes Despotism Justifies the Means.
  • This the reasoning of the Big Bad in The Man With No Name, as well as Zeke, the leader of a town plagued by Reavers when he blackmails the heroes into helping him.
  • Of all people, Helen Belden in Trixie Belden fanfic Ambiguous. She's not sure of the relationship between her son Mart and his friend Dan, both teenagers, but she recognizes that Mart has romantic feelings for him. Unwilling to suffer the repercussions of losing her family's good reputation by having a bisexual son, she deliberately drives Dan away, which might have lead to him allowing himself to be captured by criminals.
  • Ace Combat The Equestrian War has Black Star who, as told by Firefly via Flash Back, was ordered to prevent a possibly mutiny against the Griffin Kingdom. Believing that Firefly's parents would be behind it, he killed them. When the young filly asked him why he did, this is his reason.
    • The kicker? The rumor of their involvement and the whole mutiny thing were false.
  • In Poke Wars: The Subsistence Ash has Pikachu use Thunder on a sinking ferry overrun by Sharpedo and Tentecruel. He regrets that he had to kill everyone on the ship but the Pokémon swarming the ship were too dangerous to leave alive.
    • Hiiro in Fool's Paradise has his Ampharos unleash Thunder in a harbor filled with Tentacruel and their victims, killing everyone in the water so the boats in Olivine City can head out to sea. He calls his plan "a horrible, despicable, but ultimately necessary idea" and he explicitly states "You won't like it" to an Officer Jenny who asks him for a plan.
    • Alex says this word for word to Katrina back on the caravan's encampment after rescuing her from a Hostage Situation.
  • The Powers Of Harmony: This is the justification used by Libra and his Echo Blair for breaking the taboo on the use of Lifeforce magic. It was the only way to stop Nightmare Moon's undying army in the War of the Sun and Moon.
  • A Mighty Demon Slayer Grooms Some Ponies: Megan resents a lot of the things she had to do as the protector and more-or-less-leader of Ponyland, including killing a whole lot of villains, as well as having to e.g. crush Heart Throb's dreams of having a monogamous romance straight out of a fairy tale. She had no choice, though.
  • A common refrain of the Office of Special Resources from The Universiad whenever someone baulks at their The Unfettered ways.
  • In Tizenot, Austria intentionally tried to act like an aloof Jerkass to Hungary following their divorce in an attempt to make it easier and quick for them. He would come to regret that.
  • In Tails Of The Old Republic, a crossover/ Fusion Fic between Sonic the Hedgehog and the videogame Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Tails the fox has a very strong Thou Shalt Not Kill philosophy, but when he's unable to keep it, this trope is how he rationalizes killing to survive or to save his friends.
  • In The Conversion Bureau: The Other Side of the Spectrum, the king of the dragons, Spykoran, in an effort to keep the Bag of Tirek from corrupting and controlling anyone else again, destroyed all of Dream Valley, killing any ponies that remained there along with the Six Princesses (as they'd all been corrupted), and buried it all under ash and lava. When the bag was found by an Equestrian archaeologist, he destroyed the ship as it was returning to Equestria. He does have massive guilt and regret for killing several people, but maintains he did what had to be done.
  • In Boys Und Sensha-do, Shiho says this in regards to her decision to disown her younger daughter Miho, saying that it's as much for Miho's own good as it is for the family's, in that it allows Miho to practice her own way of tankery. However, many other characters disagree, including her husband and older daughter, the Sakai family, which includes Miho's boyfriend Akio, and the Sensha-do Federation (which is considering forcing Shiho to resign over this).
  • In The Tomorrow Series fanfic "Taking Care of Business" Homer Yannos uses this as the mantra he needs to keep himself sane after he kills Lee's enemy girlfriend to prevent the group's discovery.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Prince of Egypt: Subverted. Seti expresses regret in regards to ordering his soldiers to slaughter the Hebrew newborns. However, his following remark makes his real feelings about the matter even clearer.
    Seti: Sometimes for the greater good, sacrifices must be made...Oh my son. They were only slaves.
  • Aladdin: Aladdin justified his stealing by only taking what he needed to survive and nothing more. On the one occasion where he did take more than he needed, he was devastated to see how much he hurt someone and returned the money.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • This is Felicity Shagwell's excuse for sleeping with Fat Bastard in the second Austin Powers movie. However, Austin's not so much bothered about the ethics as the physics.
  • Any Scifi horror movie where people who are infected by The Virus have to be killed or risk having them turn on the uninfected cast. Closely related to most zombie and werewolf movies. Contrast What Happened To Mommy.
    • Inverted in the first Resident Evil movie. The infectee even receives the cure... and still turns into a zombie at THE WORST POSSIBLE MOMENT.
  • Star Trek:
  • A light-hearted version in Running Scared (1986). The two cop heroes are in a hostage situation with a gunman who doesn't have any pants (long story). He orders them to take off their pants and give them to him so (a) he'll have a pair and (b) it will be harder for them to follow him. They do so. Later in the station house they're asked how they could give up their pants, and one of them says "We did what we had to do."
  • X-Men:
    • In X-Men: The Last Stand Professor X tells Wolverine he did what he had to do in suppressing Jean's powers and her violent Phoenix personality.
    • In The Wolverine, during a dream sequence, Wolverine tells Jean Grey that he had no choice but to kill her because of all the death and destruction she was causing.
  • In 30 Days of Night, after Eben has turned himself into a vampire in order to fight off the vampires who've invaded the town
    Stella: What did you do to yourself?
    Eben: What I had to do.
  • Played straight to the letter by Ozymandias of Watchmen who not only goes to ridiculous lengths to dupe the world into think they're under attack (and killing millions in the process), he also kills his beloved Bubastis in a vain attempt to kill Dr. Manhattan.
    "A world at peace. There had to be sacrifice."
  • Featured prominently in the second of many speeches in V for Vendetta.
    Lewis Protero: We did what we had to do. Islington. Enfield. I was there, I saw it all. Immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals, terrorists. Disease-ridden degenerates. They had to go.
  • In a more comical direction, the entire premise of John Waters' Serial Mom is a suburban woman who feels morally justified in offing people for bad manners, not recycling and fashion faux pas, like Patricia Hearst's white shoes after Labor Day. Though funny, John Waters has stated that he feels very strongly about all these grievances (especially the last).
  • Carriers. In a world where there's an infectious virus that kills people, pretty much everyone is forced to kill people who are infected but not yet dead. On some occasions our 'heroes' kill some non-infected people when they refused to give up gas in their car. They needed this gas to survive.
  • The Operative in Serenity.
    Mal: I don't murder children.
    The Operative: I do...if I have to.
  • Royce from Predators is willing to sacrifice his fellow humans and abandon the wounded in order to survive, and often invokes this trope when Isabelle calls him out for it.
  • In The Battle of Algiers Mathieu delivers a speech on this theme to the French press, justifying his use of torture in combating the Algerian insurgency.
    Mathieu: Should France remain in Algeria? If your answer is "yes", then you must accept all the consequences.
  • In Dr. No, James Bond invokes the trope after he knifes a guard and Honey Ryder gives him the What the Hell, Hero?? treatment.
    • Some latter-day reviews of this film point out that there is actually little plot justification for Bond killing this particular man, other than continuing to establish the "licence to kill" aspect of 007 in a way Ian Fleming never did in his books. (According to Word of God this is why Bond is shown murdering Dr. Dent earlier in the film, again an event never depicted by Fleming.)
  • In the The Dark Knight Rises, this is done by Jim Gordon when he is called out by John Blake over hiding the Two-Face murders by blaming it on Batman. An interesting take, however, as this is suggested by Batman himself, he is never seen as a villain or a Knight Templar, and since the audience has seen the exact decision process behind it, is does seem like the best idea at that point in time.
  • In Dangerous Beauty, this is Veronica Franco's justification for why she became a courtesan: "I repent there was no other way open to me. I do not repent my life."
  • In Zombi 3 D when Dr. Holder and his assistant, Norma, confront General Morton as the infector's body is burned, Morton uses this as an excuse.
    Dr. Holder: Who told you to burn the body of the man infected with Death One?
    General Morton: ...I had to close an episode.
  • In Tell No One, this is how Jacques justifies helping Margot fake her death and not telling Alexandre about it; he was trying to keep Margot away from Gilbert, since she had killed Gilbert's son.
  • In Dracula Untold, this is Vlad III Dracula's reason for becoming a vampire, as well as his reasons for the impalings earlier in his life.

    Machinima 

    Music 
  • A few lyrics to "My Way" go as thus:
    I did what I had to do
    And saw it through without exemption...
  • The song "Pancho and Lefty contains the following example:
    Pancho needs your prayers it's true
    but save a few for Lefty too
    he only did what he had to do
    and now he's growing old...

     Tabletop Games  
  • Warhammer 40,000. All of it... at least the "good guys". The bad guys just enjoy their work. The kicker? For the sake of surviving, they really DO have to do it.
    • Well, they don't HAVE to, and the brutality of their methods backfires as often as it helps. Other races, notably the Tau and the human splinters Horus dealt with before his corruption, have much greater success fighting chaos with more surgical (or at least less exterminatus- and mass brainwashing-based) methods, they just haven't caught on in the Empire because the climate of fear and absolutism is also necessary to keep the imperium in power.
    • Warhammer too. Burn down an entire village because of possible chaos taint? Had to be done. Burn the Witch! definitely had to be done. And this is just the humans, the other 'good guy' races are just as bad.
  • Exalted from White Wolf Games has the Sidereal Exalted, who masterminded the Usurpation that overthrew and murdered the Solar Exalted rulers of the setting. The Solars of the First Age were rapidly becoming mad and wicked tyrants, and the Sidereals saw two options: a Million-to-One Chance to save Creation by redeeming them, or a near-certain chance to solve the problem by killing them all, destroy the magitech infrastructure of the First Age and save what they could of Creation. They chose the latter, and the Bronze Faction maintain that their actions were correct to this day and are still correct. Whether they're right is fuel for endless disagreement, Flame Wars and Natter.
    • This is especially true for Chejop Kejak. While he maintains he did the right thing, the memories of the Usurpation still haunt the old Seer thousands of years later. It is to the point that according to his character sheet in the Sidereal Exalted manual, his Motivation (which means his main objective in life) is "Justify the sacrifices of the past", and his defining quote is: "It was necessary."
    • More generally, this kind of situation is what the Conviction virtue is for. According to the first edition rulebook, someone with a legendary convition (level 5) has whatit takes to put a whole nation to the sword, if it is really necessary.
  • Dungeons & Dragons had a version of this for PALADINS in the "Complete Scoundrel" 3.5e sourcebook: the Gray Guard Prestige Class, which basically allows the paladin to violate the code of conduct for the class with a minimal penalty if he does so in pursuit of a greater good.
  • There's a reason the Forsaken are called such — because they killed their father deity when they saw that he was getting weak and was unable to hunt down the spirit entities that threatened primordial Earth. As a result, they pretty much dashed Paradise to pieces, alienated their mother deity for millennia, and earned the undying enmity of their cousins, the Pure.
    • The Hunters say this a lot, too. Living in the World of Darkness and fighting the eponymous darkness not only requires cast-iron balls, but all too often demands a willingness to accept innocent casualties as inevitable in the name of fighting a greater evil.
  • Urza in Magic: The Gathering practically had this printed on a shirt. Let's put it this way: his plan to wreck the biomechanical hell of Phyrexia involved recruiting eight planeswalkers. One of said planeswalkers was a sociopathic murderer who Urza knew all along would try and kill the other planeswalkers; he let said murderer kill two, then hit the kill command for that murderer's powersuit and used his life energy to prime the bombs. While ranting about how everyone kept underestimating him, no less.
    • He did a lot more than that. Let's begin with the earlier years of his four thousand year life. He rose to power as a talented Artificer in Yotia. Soon he came into conflict with a neighboring desert nation led by his brother. The following war saw entire forests cut down for wood, seas poisoned, deserts burned to glass and the earth blackened. The Brothers' War devastated Terisaire and killed most of the continent's population, all to save those that did survive from his brother, who was even worse. In order to win his war, Urza used the sylex at Argoth, which was pretty much a magic nuke that changed the shape of Dominaria forever. After that the list gets even longer. He unintentionally lead the Phyrexians to Serra's realm, which was destroyed. He sacrificed friends as if they grew on trees, all in the name of revenge. In order to combat Phyrexia, Urza began a century long eugenics project to breed a savior that can defeat them. He built a school for mages only to abandon its students when the academy was trapped in time dilation. Here is a man who sacrifices friends and nations, a man to whom no price is too high to defeat Phyrexia and Yawgmoth. In the end, he even sacrificed himself to that end. All of this made his betrayal of his own cause that much worse. After all of the terrible things he did to fight Phyrexia he was seduced by its power and majesty and pledged himself to Yawgmoth at the moment of truth. He only got back on track after Gerrard chopped his head off.
  • Firewall in Eclipse Phase do what they have to do. This doesn't make it any easier on their operatives when they have to shoot a child out of an airlock to keep him from infecting others with a virus that's raw Body Horror.

    Theatre 
  • Odysseus argues along these lines to Neoptolemus both for what they are about to do (abduct a man against his will), and for leaving said man stranded on the island in the first place in Philoctetes.

    Webcomics 
  • Dr. Schlock from Sluggy Freelance lives and breathes this trope, always betraying someone or another in order to keep a different someone or another from killing him. Reaches its peak in this strip.
    • Also in 4U City. Alt-Riff agreed with him to the extent that he grew into his philosophy and methods.
  • Said verbatim by Anakin in this episode of Darths & Droids, after deliberately destroying Sebulba's pod (and possibly Sebulba) to win the pod race.
  • Krunch's comment to Cale on this page of Looking for Group.
    • While the most poignant example in the comic, not the first. Played seriously and then for laughs on this page.
    • Later Pella uses it after she kills innocent gnomes to force the rest to evacuate from their fortress. This makes Cale unhappy because at that point she was the only member of his party he was sure would not use that excuse.
  • In Harkovast, Shogun views killing wounded, surrendering opponents as perfectly reasonable, and angrily defends this concept when questioned by the other characters.
  • In No Rest for the Wicked, when November wonders if there was another way, Red tells November that the woman was dead; she just killed the monster inhabiting her skin.
  • Invoked by Solaris in Aikonia.
  • What it Takes shows this all too well, here and here
  • Maxim 20 from Schlock Mercenary: If you're not willing to shell your own position, you're not willing to win.
  • In Homestuck, Vriska Serket justifies mind-controlling an army of ghosts and sending them all to the post-death slaughter because the threat of Lord English is far bigger in the grand scheme of things than her actions. Of course, her own ego might also be a factor in this. Recently, Aranea Serket decides to steal John's ring and come back to life in order to stop English before he could ever become a threat in the first place, which involves her lying, stealing and potentially dooming the timeline and herself if her plan doesn't work; all of which she justifies this way as well.
  • In ''Girl Genius, this is Baron Wulfenbach's justification for conquering Europe. The only way to stop the Forever War was to win it himself. And It Worked. During the comic itself, he continues in that same mindset, but having only partial information leads him to confrontation with the protagonists while the true villains escape his grasp.
  • Billy Thatcher in morphE pulls this card on Asia when he cheats on their magic trial to win a phone call to his loved ones outside of captivity. The only reason cheating is even a concern is because of Asia's extreme honesty and good morality. Billy is intent on not allowing her naive belief system ruin their better shots for freedom.

    Web Original 
  • The 6th episode of the TV Tropes original webseries Echo Chamber has Tom claim that, when he dumped his ex-girlfriend, he was just doing what he had to do. For once, it seems like he's telling the truth.
  • PreGame Lobby parodies this trope... With a giant blue duck.
  • Survival of the Fittest villain Bobby Jacks' entire justification for 'playing the game'. (The full statement being: 'I did what I had to do to survive')
  • An extreme example: The SCP Foundation's SCP-231 project. Pregnant girl of undetermined age carrying what appears to be some monster that, if birthed, will be The End of the World as We Know It. The only way to prevent the birth? Procedure 110-Montauk, which (while never actually described what it entails), must be carried out once every 24 hours by 6 Class D Personnel who are also convicted sex offenders. Yes, it is as bad as you think. No, the girl cannot be put out of her misery. No, the girl cannot be drugged into amnesia or unconsciousness. She has to be fully awake for the procedure to work. Yes, it is just as horrifying a prospect as you could imagine. A hidden message on the page claims the Foundation has no intention of trying to save the girl and want whatever is inside her right where it is.
  • In Big Red, a story in The Wanderer's Library a village offers children's hearts to a monster attacking them.
  • In Worm, Alexandria justifies abducting innocents from other worlds, most of whom were about to die, and then experimenting on them in order to better develop Cauldron's super serum with this.
  • In Friendship is Witchcraft, Applejack apparently committed one or more war crimes during the backstory. Applejack insists, "I did what I had to to protect the Apple family!"

    Western Animation 
  • Ra's Al Ghul says this line verbatim in Batman Beyond. he HAD placed his mind into his daughter's body in order to cheat death.
  • Kids Next Door:
    Number 1: You do what you have to, and I'll do what I have to.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, this is used by Zuko twice; once in his second fight against Zhao to justify becoming the Blue Spirit and springing the Avatar, thus rendering himself a traitor to his own nation, and then again in season 3 to Iroh as his excuse for his actions during the season 2 finale. It's pretty notable that while the first is said with utter conviction, the second time it's used it more or less fails to even convince Zuko himself.
  • This was Ultra Magnus' justification for creating Person of Mass Destruction Omega Supreme in Transformers Animated, showing that he was (and still is) willing to do nearly anything to end the war. Ratchet didn't agree.
    • Ironically, Ratchet says the exact same thing later when Omega questions the point of war. Then again, Omega was on the verge of dying, and Ratchet probably wanted o make him feel good in what could have been his last moments.
  • In the finale of Beast Machines Optimus, Rattrap, Cheetor and Botanica were barricaded inside Megatron's fortress while Megatron and his Vehicons were trying to get in, but were unable to as long as the shields were up. Stalemate. However, being separated from the soil meant Botanica (Rattrap's love interest) was losing her life energy. Rattrap opened a small hole in the shields in order to get Botanica out and back to the ground - which worked, but which Megatron immediately picked up on and used to destroy the base. Optimus and Cheetor flipped out at Rattrap, who used this as his justification.
    • Optimus ended up dropping the issue while noting that the shields would have failed sooner or later after the initial flip out.
  • Again, in Transformers Prime, Optimus says this when he finally realizes that the war will never end until he kills Megatron. Since it's Optimus, he obviously doesn't go through with it. He get's interrupted when the literal Transformer Devil wakes up
    • Also in "Darkest Hour", when Optimus had to destroy the Omega Keys which would have revived Cybertron to save Jack, Miko and Raf.
    Ratchet: All of our struggles and energon spilled and countless sacrifices, for NOTHING!?
    Arcee: Right decision or wrong, what's done is done...
  • In one episode of Futurama, a character says this to Fry after removing Bender's brain.

    Real Life 
  • Ronald Reagan said, on the bombing of Libya in 1986, "Colonel Qadhafi is not only an enemy of the United States. His record of subversion and aggression against the neighboring States in Africa is well documented and well known. He has ordered the murder of fellow Libyans in countless countries. He has sanctioned acts of terror in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as the Western Hemisphere. Today we have done what we had to do. If necessary, we shall do it again."
  • Harry Truman stood by his decision to use atomic bombs against Japan, saying "I knew what I was doing when I stopped the war... I have no regrets and, under the same circumstances, I would do it again." In private diaries, however, he expressed some regrets and uncertainty.
    • Paul Tibbets, the pilot of Enola Gay that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima said in 2005 that "If you give me the same circumstances, I'd do it again". Crew members of Enola Gay and Bockscar (the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki) said similar things, except Robert Lewis, co-pilot of the Enola Gay, who had a My God, What Have I Done? moment.
  • This is actually the law whenever an aircraft of any stripe has an emergency. The commander of the craft is authorized to do what he has to do to minimize the harm and prevent catastrophe, and any property damage or deaths that happen as a result of this are legally just collateral damage.
  • Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in The Prince that a Prince should not let his morals impede the running of a state.
  • As with pilots, firefighters will try to minimize damage but if they have to break things in order to do the greater good, they can and will without hesitation. Someone parked in front of a fire hydrant? You'll see a hose running through the busted-out windows. Can't get close enough to the side of a burning building because there's a car dealership lot with a row of brand new cars in the way? Get a nearby bulldozer to plow a path through the cars.
    • This is one of the reasons why fire trucks are so large and powerful. They can ram cars, brick wall or doors out of their way if necessary.
  • Perhaps no real-life instance of this trope brings the point home more than "the policeman's dilemma" concerning the use of deadly force. A police officer is instructed to avoid the use of deadly force whenever possible, but if the officer or an innocent is under immediate threat of life, then the officer needs to take whatever action is necessary to end the threat. For those instances where it's proven to be justified, counselors will help the officers to accept they were performing this trope, helping them to get through the emotional shock.
  • There are morality tests that function on the standards of action vs inaction. The first situation proposed is that there is a plane with 100 passengers on that is going to crash, but the test-taker can prevent it by pushing a button. The button will kill 10 people instead. Those who opt to push the button would fall under this trope. The second situation is similar, but now there is also a lever. The lever will also prevent the plane from crashing, and it will only kill one person: the test-taker. The answers are interesting, especially to the test-taker.
  • Emperor Augustus used this as the rule by which he ran his entire life. One wonders if he ever slept well at night, but it's hard to say Rome didn't benefit.
  • "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it." The quote (usually recalled as "We had to destroy the village in order to save it") came from a US commander talking about what happened in Ben Tre in February 1968, where the town was shelled by artillery with little regard for civilian casualties in order to weed out Viet Cong.
  • Josef Stalin was (in)famous for using this as justifying his actions. Along with the general claim that he was creating a new socialist utopia, Stalin also specifically said that the USSR had to industrialize, and quickly, or else it would be overwhelmed by the rest of the world.
  • After World War I, Italian general Luigi Cadorna, best known for his draconian discipline measures, inability to conceive a different tactic from the frontal attack, practically establishing a dictature in everything but name and getting crushed at Caporetto before being sacked, wrote a book in which he justified almost all his actions with necessity. Doing only frontal attacks? There was no time nor resources to retrain the soldiers for different tactics, and he still managed to partly doing it and create the most feared special forces of the war. Retiring most troops and all airplanes from Libya, thus crippling the efforts to crush the Senussi rebellion while it's still weak? He needed them to fight Austria-Hungary, and they could reconquer Libya relatively easily once the war was won. The dictature? Necessary to fight a war without being crippled by Italy's Obstructive Bureaucrats that caused the Italian Army to enter the war underequipped, and he could have taken over and established an actual dictature whenever he wanted (he actually got some flak from Mussolini for backing out of a coup attempt). That draconian discipline? It had to be done. What's worse, is that, aside for the draconian discipline, he was right.
    • To clarify: the Royal Italian Army was trained in Napoleonic Wars-era tactics that the war had just proved would fail against the combination of reticulate, trench lines and machine guns, and while he didn't have the time and resources to retrain the peacetime army and the recalled soldiers he could give better training to the newest batches of conscripts, and in fact had the idea of calling the new classes one year early to give them all the necessary training before sending them to the front; for all the strength they managed to cumulate, the Senussi remained embarrassingly outgunned and were no match for even an half-serious counteroffensive (and in fact the remaining Italian garrisons casually spanked the Senussi during the war), and when Fascist Italy decided it was time to reconquer the country the Senussi were quickly reduced to guerilla, before crushing it when the rebel leaders refused to compromise (and made clear in the process they could have wiped out the entire population, had they wished so); Italy's Obstructive Bureaucrats had single-handedly made sure the Italian Army wouldn't have the equipment they needed (particularly egregious being the missed adoption of an indigenous machine gun comparable to the legendary Maxim because the guy who had designed the [[ReliablyUnreliableGuns infamously bad FIAT Mod.1914 machine gun was on the commission]] and was backed by the FIAT corporation and paying in advance a large batch of Maxim guns that ended up with half not being delivered due the start of World War I and Italy being nominally allied with the Central Powers at the time, leading to the adoption of the Mod.1914) and caused Lybian rebellion due a combination of sabotage of the efforts to defeat the last remnants of resistance, antagonizing important tribal chiefs (including those of the Senussi), sabotaged the expedition that could and should have crushed the rebellion with ease (the expedition commander's arrogance played a part, but had he been given what he had asked he would have won with ease), and had Cadorna not established that dictature the Royal Italian Army wouldn't have had the weapons to fight the war. The discipline ended up lowering the troops' morale (to the point that at Caporetto many decided to just walk and return home upon hearing of the Austro-Hungarian breakthrough, making the situation much worse than it should have been, before they decided the Austro-Hungarians had no right to invade Italian soil and started fighting like demons), but he was rightly infamous for that even before becoming the chief of staff, and that was the only one of his measures that his successor Armando Diaz did not adopt.
  • Following Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974, his successor Gerald Ford gave him a pardon for any and all wrongdoings he may have committed as president, saying "Our long national nightmare is over." This proved to be a very controversial decision, and he knew it, but now many say he did the right thing as Nixon's trial would have further divided and weakened the country, especially on the eve of its Bicentennial. As Ford put it in his 1979 autobiography A Time to Heal:
    Ford: America needed recovery, not revenge. The hate had to be drained and the healing begun.
  • Very common in war veterans who have killed people up close, especially if they killed many people, especially if they killed people who really didn't deserve to die, especially if they killed people who didn't even have to die. This is one of the few ways you can knife a struggling teenage kid to death as he cries for his mother without either giving into becoming a monster by enjoying it, or letting the natural psychological consequences break you completely. Broadly speaking, think of this trope as mental damage control.


I Am Big BonedExcuse of an IndexI Have No Idea What I'm Doing
Hit-and-Run TacticsPragmatism TropesIt's Not You, It's My Enemies
Orcus on His ThroneSliding Scale of Leadership ResponsibilityWe Have Reserves
I Didn't Tell You Because You'd Be UnhappyStock PhrasesI Do Not Drink Wine

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