A friend was drawing comparisons between the Ramayana and Mahabharata wars saying that Rama did not use any means of deceit to defeat Ravana, and that He fought and won the war by fair means. The Pandavas, however, won the war on the basis of deceit. Could you help me understand how to answer this?
I understand your dilemma. I was saved from these problems when I discovered a book on Maha-bharata written by the great Madhvacarya. In that book he clearly says that the Sanskrit text of Maha-bharata that we have now is “thoroughly corrupted by interpolations, extrapolations, and transpositions of text.”
So the brief answer is that, in my view, the Pandavas and Krishna were not always lying, cheating, and tricking. Further evidence is found in the Bhagavatam, an uncorrupted text. The Bhagavatam many times gives all the “headlines” of the Mahabharata and we find a very different version. The Bhagavatam does not speak of this cheating and lying and tricking. So the Bhagavatam, which Lord Caitanya and Jiva Goswami declare to be our primary text, give a much more satisfactory version.
I believe there are discernible reasons for these corruptions but that is another story.