watchmen and the Trolley Problem

Would you save a few to kill many? Does the end justify the means? This is a common theme throughout the novelĀ Watchmen. The trolley problem is a classic dilemma in which there is a train headed toward five people who are tied down on the tracks. On the other set of tracks, there is one person. You are standing at the fork where the lever is. You can either pull the lever and kill one person, or let the train continue toward and kill the five. There are two viewpoints or answers to this problem. One viewpoint is that pulling the lever and sacrificing the one person is morally right because it saves more people than it kills. The other viewpoint is that pulling the lever is morally wrong because there is no wrong being committed with the train naturally heading toward the five people, but interfering and changing the direction of the train makes you partially responsible for the death of the one person.

The first exemplification of this moral dilemma can be seen with the castaway. Though banished to an island with seemingly no way to get back, the castaway was determined to find and save his family. He built a raft and made his way to shore.

Upon seeing a couple, the castaway is concerned they will rat him out. In order to protect himself, the castaway killed the couple and continued on to try to save his family.

Though he was trying to save his family, the castaway's original intentions are all for naught, and he ends up killing his family and ruining his plan.

"It all worked out in the end"

This theme killing for the good of others is repeated throughout the novel, and the castaway story parallels the plan and actions of Adrian Veidt. Adrian fakes an alien invasion to end tensions between the US and Russia. He plans to blow up New York City and blame it on aliens, believing this will end the Cold War. Adrian had good intentions, but he took into his own hands something that was not meant to be handled by him.

"One more body amongst foundations makes little difference"

Rorschach is a complex character who will deliver justice at all costs. "Evil must be punished. People must be told," were some of his lasts words. Rorschach was killed by Adrian because he threatened to reveal his plan. "One more body amongst foundations makes little difference," he said as he urged Adrian to kill him. Just as the castaway killed the couple because he believed they would rat him out, Adrian killed Rorschach because Rorschach could not live without telling others of Adrian's plan.

"I did the right thing, didn't I?

Adrian killed three million people in order to save billions. Is this worth it? Does the end justify the means? This mirrors the trolley problem, where you can either kill five or pull the lever and kill one. Adrian chose to pull the lever and sacrifice one person instead of killing five. He meddled in business that was not his own, and quite possibly ended the situation with means far more drastic than necessary, which ended lives that probably didn't need to be ended.

"I leave it entirely in your hands"

The castaway story and the Adrian story seem to be perfect parallels, the only difference being the ending. We do not know what happens in the end of the Adrian story. We do know, however, that in the end of the castaway story, his plan was all for naught. If we assume the Adrian story is a perfect parallel, then that means these people were killed for nothing. Though Rorschach was killed, his journal lives on. Will his journal be published, revealing the truth and possibly re-sparking tensions between Russia and the US?

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