Jack Bauer: The Solution to Dirty Hands?

December 19, 2011

Dirty Hands, Military, Political action


By now there have been many posts on the topic of dirty hands, offering various scenarios where the writer proposes the question “is this a case of dirty hands?” But few if any have offered an actual solution to this problem. I am here to do just that.

If you do not know who Jack Bauer is, I strongly urge you to get a Netflix subscription and give the show a try. Jack Bauer is a fictional character on the hit Fox television show 24, who is tasked with saving America from terrorist attacks in only 24 hours. Because of this unreasonable time frame, often times Jack must resort to using highly immoral tactics that would definitely get him locked up at the very least in the real world. But in order to save the world, it must be done. As a viewer, we often find ourselves siding with Jack. From our perspective, he is doing what is necessary for the good of the people. So while we may cringe at and not agree with what he’s doing we give him a pass because, well, he’s Jack  Bauer.

Hollis describes dirty hands as when an immoral act is done by a political leader for the common of the people. I believe I will receive few protesting to me affirming that Jack Bauer in 24 is a clear case of dirty hands. The main difference between Jack Bauer in 24 and political figures in real life, aside from the over-dramatized threats, is our perception. As I stated, we give Jack Bauer a pass because he’s Jack Bauer. So the issue of dirty hands here is simply overlooked. What if we were to apply that same perspective to real life political leaders? Do we give Obama a pass for an immoral act because, well, he’s the President? It is the Presidents and other political figures job to protect the good of the people, so what if that involves some sort of torture to get information on a possible threat? Will it be as easy to turn a blind eye on to an immoral act done by political leaders as it is on Jack Bauer?

When I first made this comparison for my second essay in class, I thought that it would be somewhat easy for me to change my perspective knowing it is for the common good of us. Then the National Defense Authorization Act was passed and it made me challenge my perspective yet again. Under this act, which was passed by an overwhelming margin, the military is allowed trial-free, indefinite detainment of anyone, including Americans, suspected of terrorist activity. So something as simple as me writing this blog post could very well be considered terrorist activity, and I could be detained indefinitely. But hey, they’re doing what’s necessary for the good of the people right?

So could a simple perspective change really be a solution to the dirty hands problem? Do we trust our political figures are truly working for our good to give them free reign in acts like the NDAA? Or like Hollis states, is dirty hands simply an unavoidable feature of politics?

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