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I Did What I Had To Do / Literature

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  • In A Brother's Price, Cira says this a couple of times while rescuing Jerin from kidnappers, some of whom she kills. She would, of course, normally not have exposed a delicate young man to such cruelty. In the backstory, some princesses, after seeing a play about a civil war, at the end of which toddlers were executed, reason that their ancestors did what they had to do, as any survivors would have led to a You Killed My Mother situation.
  • In the fourth Codex Alera book Captain's Fury, the First Lord Gaius Sextus has one of these moments when he deliberately triggers a volcano over the city of Kalare, wiping out everyone in the city. He's forced to do this because High Lord Kalarus was planning to wait until hundreds of thousands of people, refugees and Legion troops from both his army and the loyalist Alerans had entered the city before triggering the volcano to kill everyone. Thanks to Gaius, only the city was wiped out, instead of the region. It did destroy all of the smaller towns and steadholts in within the ring of mountains surrounding Kalus, but it was still far less than would have happened if Kalarus had had his way.
  • Inverted in Lois McMaster Bujold's Barrayar: newly-made Regent Aral Vorkosigan is faced with either upholding the rule of law, or sparing the life of a boy who accidentally killed someone in a duel—a crime punishable by death. He eventually chooses the law, but feels miserable about it. Even knowing that he Did What get the idea...doesn't comfort him much.
  • Robert Wingrove's Chung Kuo series
  • Subverted in Terry Pratchett's Night Watch, where Vetinari suggests that a monument be erected to the watchmen who died in the Glorious Revolution of May 25th, engraved with the phrase "They Did the Job They Had to Do." Vimes angrily replies, "No! They did the job they didn't have to do, and they died doing it, and you can't give them anything."
  • In Dragon Bones, this is the justification Ward gives for working together with the villain, which includes giving the villain the eponymous dragon bones. Oreg doesn't buy it. They take a third option in the end.
  • Colonel-Commissar Gaunt leaving Tanith to burn at the beginning of Warhammer 40,000: Gaunt's Ghosts. Tanith could not have been saved no matter what he did. It is the act of not letting the Tanith soldiers stay behind and die for their planet that invokes this trope. He made them 'ghosts' because that is what he had to do as a loyal officer of the Imperium.
  • Raj Whitehall's computer mentor, a Well-Intentioned Extremist if ever there was one, and his wife Suzette are always telling him this one in The General. To Raj's credit he never quite accepts it.
  • In Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett, "a man's got to do what a man's got to do" is favorite phrase of Noonan the chief of police. Ironically he uses it any time he does something that would benefit him — such as manipulating a witness to convince her that her husband's killer was the man he had a grudge against. The Continental Op repeats the phrase before searching a dead lawyer's pockets for potential blackmail materials.
  • World War Z had the Redeker Plan. Which is basically a strategy for using refugees as zombie bait while government forces regroup. Despite the horrific inhumanity of the plan, the world's governments get so desperate that they use it anyway... and the plan arguably saves humankind (or, at the very least, prevents said governments from collapsing and leaving the world in anarchy).
  • Halo:
    • In Halo: First Strike, Haverson shoots a perfectly nice Engineer who had just voluntarily fixed the Chief's armor. When questioned on it, he states that he'd have rather not done it, but he couldn't risk the Engineer being captured by the Covenant and providing it with information on said armor. Later, when the Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice is forced to abandon the Eridanus Secundus rebels to the mercies of the Covenant, Chief asks Whitcomb if they did the right thing; Whitcomb replies that it probably isn't, but that they have a duty to the people of Earth, not "a pack of privateers and outlaws". That said, he still clearly regrets it and mentions that there'll be a place in Hell for him for this.
    • In Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, Halsey actually invokes this; she asks Kurt why he added a bunch of illegal and dangerous modifications to the Gamma Company Spartan-IIIs, with Kurt replying that he did it so that Gamma might have a chance of actually surviving their battles. Halsey then says that they're not so different, and goes on to explain why she summoned him and the other Spartans to her.
    • In Halo: Shadow of Intent, Shipmaster Rtas 'Vadum gave the orders to quarantine and sterilize Flood-infected High Charity in order to prevent the highly-virulent parasite from spreading, despite the fact that a lot of civilians were still stuck there. Prelate Tem'Bhetek seeks revenge on him for this, as his wife was one of the victims. When the two finally have a chance to talk; Rtas reveals to Tem that he only gave the order after all his efforts to rescue High Charity's remaining citizens had failed, and it's clear Rtas wishes he could have saved them all.
  • In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files:
    • In Summer Knight, Aurora says that she must stop the interchange between the Summer and Winter Courts, and it's horrible but she didn't set the price.
    • In Changes this is what Harry does. He'll go all out to do anything for his goal to save his daughter's life, including taking the position of the Winter Knight, killing the old one in the process, getting all his friends at risk of death, even destabilizing the White Council and most of all, killing his lover to use the very dark magic his enemies sought to use on him right back at them.
    Harry: I used the knife. I saved a child. I won a war. God forgive me.
  • In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40,000 novel Chapter War, the Inquisitor Thaddeus lied to get aboard a Howling Griffons' ship. When they came to a head, and they try to imprison him, he kills one to escape. He once "would have never accepted the death of a good Imperial servant as a necessary evil. But he was much wiser now."
  • This is a major theme in The Wheel of Time with the three male main characters forced to act progressively more brutal as their responsibility grows and the situation worsens. Includes such gems as using friends like pawns, executing friends, torture by way of dismemberment, allowing bad guys to enslave hundreds of women in order to secure a temporary military alliance, creating an army of superpowered men who will eventually go insane, and purposely destroying your own humanity in order to be up for the job of saving the world.
    • Inverted in that Rand's inability to kill any woman, even when she's a villain, causes his mentor to die.
  • The witch Senna Wales of Everworld, as mentioned above, occasionally says something to this effect to the other main characters in reference to her schemes, which often involve some poor sap being bewitched.
  • Brent Weeks' The Night Angel Trilogy is full of these, usually from Logan. When newly made King Logan flips a table, breaks a leg off and brutally smashes in the arms and legs of his best friend Kylar, who is slowly dying a torturous death on 'the wheel'. He then gives an ultimatum to the Laeknaught,shattering his "good boy" image. He also says this verbatim to Count Drake after he bends knee in allegiance to Terah Graesin.
  • In Hero by Perry Moore, Goran uses this exact phrase when Thom asks him how he got himself and his little brother out of their war-torn homeland. What makes it chilling is that that's all he says; we never find out what he actually did.
  • This is a running theme in David Drake's Hammer's Slammers stories: in war, you can't keep your hands clean unless you want to lose. The Slammers are well aware of this. Some of the groups that hire them are shocked to find it out — the hard way.
  • Mr. Sellars in Otherland, the Mysterious Informant for the good guys, is very much The Chessmaster and shamelessly manipulates people in order to advance his schemes, the most disturbing of whom is an innocent six-year-old girl. In the end, his justifications ring hollow even to himself, especially once his dark secret is revealed and it turns out that his core motivation was entirely selfish.
  • Livia in I, Claudius ruthlessly manipulates and kills family members and anyone else close to them to ensure her son becomes emperor and Rome does not return to being a Republic, convinced this is the only way for the city to remain great.
  • The Children Of The Star trilogy by Sylvia Engdahl meditates on this concept in detail.
  • Both Dumbledore and Snape from Harry Potter. Also implied when describing Crouch's decision to allow aurors to use the Unforgivable Curses during the first war with You-Know-Who. And Harry himself doesn't come away all squeaky clean in The Deathly Hallows either, throwing around Imperius-curses left and right, not to mention when he uses the Cruciatus Curse against the death eater Amycus Carrow.
  • When George shoots Lennie in Of Mice and Men. After Lennie kills Curley's wife, George is forced to shoot him so the other men don't. He does it in a way so Lennie doesn't realise, which the other men would not have given the courtesy of doing.
  • In Death: Eve and Roarke have had to defend their actions more than once and they have even said this trope practically word for word to each other.
  • Discourses on Livy talks about how necessity must sometimes "President" trump what is good for the sake of preserving liberty.
  • In Poul Anderson's "The Burning Bridge", when a message from Earth is causing people to want to turn back, The Captain fakes a more imperious message to inspire them to go on — and when he's caught, makes it appear that the crewmember had gone crazy and has them put him into deep sleep.
  • In the Indian novel The White Tiger, Balram believed that the only way he could become an entrepreneur and break out of the coop was to kill Ashok. Hell, when you look at how things work, he was probably right..
  • Star Wars:
    • The rulers of Kegan in a book of Jedi Apprentice made their planet into a Stepford-Smiling mess, but feel justified in not just doing it, but preserving the status quo.
    "Everything we have done is to protect our citizens from a fate they cannot imagine. Perhaps some of our measures seem harsh, but they are only for the General Good."
    • Oddly they do seem to have actually made correct predictions about the rise of The Empire. However even though they were correct, it wouldn't have done them any good as even isolated there was nothing to stop the Empire from coming after them.
    • In Battlefront: Twilight Company, the Rebel Alliance infiltrates Sullust and captures a facility on a volcanic mountaintop. In preparation for the Imperial counterattack, they place scouts and ambushers in spiderholes on the slopes and base of the mountain. However, when the enemy cavalry arrives and begins to overrun the forward lines, the Rebel commander is forced to mortar his own troops.
  • Trapped on Draconica: Taurok hates every single order Gothon gives him over the course of the story but follows them to keep his family safe.]]
  • In The Foundation, one of Salvor Hardin's mottoes is "Never let your morals prevent you from acting correctly".
  • Adventure Hunters: Both Ryvas and Marcus are fully aware of the vileness of their actions but believe them to be necessary to save the kingdom.
  • A common trope invoked in so-called "men's adventure" literature of the early 1970s that featured heroes (usually spies, or soldiers) committing de facto murder in order to finish their missions, such as Mack Bolan (aka The Executioner), Death Merchant, and COBRA. In at least two COBRA novels, the "hero" (Jon Skul) kills police officers and innocent bystanders in order to complete his missions. When called to task for the former, he more or less invokes the trope while actually criticizing the person for being upset about cops being murdered.
  • A common theme in the Animorphs series. The main characters (who are only 13-16, mind you) are forced to do some terrible things to prevent both humans and countless other alien species being enslaved by a Puppeteer Parasite species. This includes trapping another kid in a rat's body because he turned traitor, killing sentient beings so their bodies can't be used as hosts, manipulating an Actual Pacifist to go against their nature to the very last book they kill tens of thousands of unprotected yeerks. When they're put on trial for war crimes, this is their justification.
  • One of the main themes of God-Emperor of Dune. Leto II has the ability to see the future to a (not entirely) unprecedented extent, and has seen that humanity, as a species, will die somewhere down the line if civilization is not altered from its present course. This leads him to turn himself into a tyrannical God-Emperor who ruthlessly and callously manipulates and uses everyone around him, and also includes limiting technology and a eugenics program. This state of affairs lasts over 3,000 years, and throughout it all Leto II is shown to hate what he's doing, wishing that things could have gone another way... but his future sight has determined that only through this despotism can he prevent the death of humanity. Eventually, his plan reaches its Byronic conclusion. The chaotic fallout from Leto II's assassination and the end of his oppression eventually triggers the Scattering: a galaxy-scale diaspora that eventually causes the human race to diversify, which is what Leto's visions had shown to be the way to save humanity.
  • In This Immortal, this is what Conrad's excuse for having founded Radpol as Konstantin Karaghiosis and engaged in prolonged guerrilla warfare, reducing the number of uncontaminated areas on Earth even further, boils down to. When Hasan points out that none of what they did changed anything in the long run, Conrad counters that at least their actions prevented the situation from getting worse.
  • In Warrior Cats, Hollyleaf gives this as a reason for killing Ashfur in order to prevent him from spilling the secret of her and her siblings' parentage.
  • Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River: The bomber knows that blowing up Glen Canyon Dam will result in casualties, but knows it is an unavoidable consequence of restoring the river.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has several characters who will give this reason for their actions, but none can compare to the sheer lengths that Bloodraven went to to exterminate House Blackfyre and their claim to the Targaryen throne. He broke every taboo in Westerosi society, up to and including murdering Aenys Blackfyre under a flag of truce and diplomacy, in the pursuit of his goals. The murder of Aenys was considered heinous enough that his favorite grand-nephew, King Aegon the Unlikely, the direct beneficiary of that action, exiled him to the Wall for it. But this may well be a case of The Extremist Was Right, because Aegon's reign is largely untroubled by the threat of another major uprising by the Blackfyres.
  • In the Imperial Radch series, the empire of the Radch fervently believes in the interdependent values of "Justice, Propriety, and Benefit", and Lord Anaander Mianaai claims that all of her actions, however heinous, are intended to benefit the Radch. Breq counters that when every individual Radchaai citizen knows that they could be killed on her whim, Mianaai's not doing a very good job of being Just or Proper and has a pretty self-serving notion of Benefit.
  • 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.
    • Later, Khepri tells Contessa that, while she would have taken other actions given the choice, she does not regret what she's done.