I have been watching the first two episodes of HBO’s Chernobyl show and after that my girlfriend was translating some news bulletin made by the Russians 4 days after the accident.

The video, which we found in YouTube, was quite funny by today’s standard since it was blatant lying but we were discussing about afterwards:

The options were to tell the truth, risk a mass panic and more casualties resulting from it.

Or, lie to the populating and get some casualties while keeping the peace.

Panic could potentially hamper efforts to cause the problem by disrupting access to some resources, etc.

So, in this case, it could be argued that they lied for the greater good.

Are there documented examples where we know this happened for a fact?


I will narrow down the question:

By greater good, I mean helping their population and minimize harm and / or casualties. This doesn't mean avoid harm entirely, but the lie should help the outcome to be more positive.

Ideally, I'd like to find a few examples out of wartime since the context and what's acceptable are also very different in that case.

An example would be where an adult lies to a child about the monster in the well so they don't fall and drown. I was one time where an accident happened on the highway and a motorcyclist had lost at arm and was unaware of it as he was laying down. One of the people that stopped to help was a nurse and when he said he could just feel tingling in his arm, she told him "it's badly broken, don't look". She lied to him, but she prevented him from panicking.

I am looking for this kind of examples where politicians lied to the population for a 'good' reason.

  • 2
    You probably should be more specific about how we're defining "the greater good" here. You might want to explicitly exclude "keeping the peace" as an excuse, since there will be countless cases of that, and they'll likely be pretty ambiguous – for example, a lie that kept the peace (good), but allowed a possibly bad thing to continue for longer.
    – divibisan
    Jun 10, 2019 at 23:45
  • 1
    Surely there are such politics - which lied for what they understand as "greater good". Colin Powell with his "Iraq chemical weapons probe" in the UN. He lies to the whole United Nations, to justify Iraq war. Jun 11, 2019 at 6:06
  • 8
    A cynic would say "only when they speak"... I think.
    – grovkin
    Jun 11, 2019 at 7:29
  • The entirety of the second world war is full of examples of this. It's a bit harder to think of non-wartime examples.
    – pjc50
    Jun 11, 2019 at 13:04
  • I have narrowed down the question and put some examples.
    – Thomas
    Jun 11, 2019 at 14:29

2 Answers 2


"We don't negotiate with terrorists!" --except, yes, of course we do.

A specific example from “We Don’t Talk to Terrorists”: On The Rhetoric and Practice of Secret Negotiations:

In the summer of 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin went on Israeli television and brushed aside the prospect of negotiations between himself and leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), saying “forget about it” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1993). Rabin was reasserting the long-held official position of the Israeli government that, as Rabin himself had once put it, “the PLO is a terrorist organization with whom there is no point in even deluding ourselves into thinking we can negotiate” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1985). But meanwhile, thousands of miles to the north in a century-old mansion in a forest in Norway, Israeli officials were secretly meeting with PLO leaders to negotiate the terms of a peace agreement that would come to be known as the Oslo Accords (Fischer 1993). Rabin was fully aware of these negotiations when he went on television, yet he continued to condemn the prospect of negotiations with the PLO even as they were being undertaken.

Several more examples, spanning several countries -- including the USA and the UK -- are provided by a Wikipedia article on the subject.

  • That's a lie pretty much everyone tells, and lies about. Good call. Jun 11, 2019 at 17:14
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    I don't see where's the "greater good" in that particular lie. You completely failed to explain what "greater good" is being protected by this lie. PM's re-election? There would be riots if anyone found out about negotiation?
    – M i ech
    Jun 13, 2019 at 7:55
  • 1
    @Miech A reputation for negotiating with terrorists gets your people kidnapped for ransom.
    – Grault
    Jun 14, 2019 at 0:32
  • 1
    @Grault Then reasons like that should be included in answer (preferably by original author) as it's not immediately obvious.
    – M i ech
    Jun 24, 2019 at 7:06

The best recent example I can think of is the infamous September Dossier (also known as the Iraq Dossier), which Tony Blair's government used as a justification for involving the UK in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.

The dossier made claims that Saddam Hussein's government not only had weapons of mass destruction, but claimed the supposed WMDs could be launched within 45 minutes of an order to use them.

It is now widely believed to have been a blatant lie, used to manipulate the UK Parliament, as evidenced by the way in which the intelligence was 'massaged' (aka 'sexed-up') by the UK government and the fact that, following the invasion, no evidence of WMDs of any kind was found in Iraq.

In fact, an inquiry into the case for taking the UK to war in Iraq was conducted (the Chilcot Inquiry), the results of which were published in 2016:

The report – described by BBC News as "damning",[38] by The Guardian as a "crushing verdict",[5] and by The Telegraph as "scathing"[6] – was broadly critical of the actions of the British government and military in making the case for the war, in tactics and in planning for the aftermath of the Iraq War.[5][6][39] Richard Norton-Taylor of The Guardian wrote that the report "could hardly be more damning" of Tony Blair and "was an unprecedented, devastating indictment of how a prime minister was allowed to make decisions by discarding all pretence at cabinet government, subverting the intelligence agencies, and making exaggerated claims about threats to Britain's national security"

I suspect 'the greater good', from Tony Blair's perspective, was probably that he felt strongly that the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime would be a positive thing for the region (which is questionable in hindsight) and the importance of maintaining the UK's 'special relationship' with the USA, by supporting them militarily. However, this would appear to be a clear case of a deliberate lie 'for the greater good'.

Also worth noting is that the affair indirectly led to the 2003 suicide of the weapons expert David Kelly.

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