Two Wrongs Make a RightType: Red Herring
Consider that two wrongs never make a right,
Source: "Deteriorata", National Lampoon Radio Dinner Album
The operation cost just under $500, and no one was killed, or even hurt. In that same time the Pentagon spent tens of millions of dollars and dropped tens of thousands of pounds of explosives on Viet Nam, killing or wounding thousands of human beings, causing hundreds of millions of dollars of damage. Because nothing justified their actions in our calculus, nothing could contradict the merit of ours.
Source: Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers, from his memoir Fugitive Days, defending a bombing attack by the Weathermen on the Pentagon. Quoted in "Radical Chic Resurgent", by Timothy Noah, Slate, 8/22/2001.
This fallacy involves the attempt to justify a wrong action by pointing to another wrong action. Often, the other wrong action is of the same type or committed by the accuser, in which case it is the subfallacy Tu Quoque. Attempting to justify committing a wrong on the grounds that someone else is guilty of another wrong is clearly a Red Herring, because if this form of argument were cogent, one could justify anything―always assuming that there is another wrong to point to, which is a very safe assumption.
Subfallacy: Tu Quoque
Nicholas Capaldi, How to Win Every Argument: An Introduction to Critical Thinking (MJF, 1987), pp. 147-148.
This is a very clear example of the fallacy. The terrorists tried to justify bombing the Pentagon on the grounds that the Pentagon had unjustifiably bombed Viet Nam. The gist of the fallacy is contained in the last sentence, which claims that the wrongness of the Pentagon's actions justified a similar wrong: "Wrong + wrong = right."
Alert reader Ken Smith sent in the following correction of the National Lampoon quote:
The quotation from National Lampoon's "Deteriorata" that you list on your page is incorrect. The word "lefts" does not appear in the text at all. As spoken by Norman Rose on the album, which I have in front of me and playing, the words go:Consider that two wrongs never make a right, but that three do.
It's a shame, because the "lefts" version is more clever. Also, it puns on two meanings of "right", which is an example of a funny equivocation. Thanks to Ken, though, for the correction.