Itachi Uchiha is the elder brother of Sasuke Uchiha and considered by many fans as one of the best characters in the manga and anime. It is revealed in part one that Itachi murders the entire Uchiha clan, sparing only Sasuke, making the latter hate him and wanting to kill his older brother who he once looked up to.
The portrayal of Itachi as a cold blooded killer who wiped out the entire Uchiha clan, one of the strongest in Konohagakure, spoke volumes about his ability and established him as a formidable foe early on in Naruto.
Itachi tells Sasuke that he massacred the Uchiha clan to just check his own abilities, making his little brother and fans of the anime and manga hate him alike. However the real reason behind Itachi killing his clan was revealed much later, and mind you it certainly was a big twist.
Why did Itachi Uchiha Kill His Clan really?
Long answer short,
Itachi killed the Uchiha clan acting on orders from Danzo Shimura and the elders of the hidden leaf village (Konohagakure) to end the coup planned by the clan to take over the village.
Danzo and the other elders deemed that the Uchiha clan had to be brought down, after it was revealed that they were planning a coup d’etat to take over the Hidden Leaf Village.
Itachi, who was very fond of his little brother Sasuke, negotiated a deal with the elders to spare him while he massacred the Uchiha clan. Unbeknownst to many he was helped in the Uchiha clan downfall by Tobi, who claimed to be Madara Uchiha.
The reality behind Itachi killing the Uchiha clan was not his cold-blooded desire to test his own ability, it was in fact a heart wrenching mission forced on him by his superiors in the village for the sake of peace of Konohagakure.
Let’s delve into some of the details to get a better understanding of why he did it.
Rising tensions between Uchiha Clan and the Hidden Leaf Village:
From the initial days, when the village hidden in the leaves was newly formed, the members of the Uchiha clan were feared and deeply mistrusted by many, including Hashirama’s brother Tobirama Senju. Madara Uchiha’s revolt against Konohagakure also played a part in most of the village fearing the Uchiha’s.
For the Uchiha’s the main cause of concern was their clan being forced into the sidelines, with the Second Hokage Tobirama Senju and other elders who followed playing a major role in it.
After the Nine-Tailed Fox attacked the Hidden Leaf, the superiors in the village, especially Danzo Shimura and the elderly advisors became wary of the Uchiha clan. They harbored doubts that the Uchihas were behind the attack, unaware that it was orchestrated by Tobi. The superiors restricted Uchihas to one part of the village and were put under surveillance secretly.
The isolation and the lack of trust shown by the others further infuriated the Uchihas, who felt something had to be done to counter this situation. The Uchihas, led by Fugaku Uchiha, Itachi’s father and the leader of the clan conceived a plan – a coup d’etat’ – to overthrow the leadership who marginalized the Uchihas.
They began the preparations for the coup by inserting Uchiha spies into the main hierarchy and structure of the village administration.
Itachi’s involvement in Uchiha Coup
Being a prodigy and having exceptional knowledge for his age, Itachi was placed in the Anbu Black Ops his father Fugaku, who was masterminding to coup, to act as a spy for the Uchihas.
To convince Itachi to take up the Uchiha cause, Fugaku reveals his Mangekyou Sharingan and tells Itachi about his desire to carry out the Uchiha coup without any death. Fugaku didn’t tell anyone about his Mangekyou Sharingan as he feared they will force him to take control of the Nine Tails and wreak havoc in the village in order to take control.
Itachi, backed by his friend Shisui Uchiha, tried to find a peaceful resolution to the problem by appealing to the Third Hokage. However peace talks began breaking down and Danzo began pressurizing the superiors to eliminate the Uchihas with the least bloodshed.
Shisui Uchiha, who too was against the idea of a coup decided to use his Mangekyou Sharingan and force the Uchiha leaders to rethink their decision. However Danzo, still intent on eliminating the Uchihas, interfered in Shisui’s plan. Shisui eventually commited suicide with Itachi as a witness, which helped him awaken his Mangekyou Sharingan.
The Burden On Itachi’s Shoulders
To completely understand why Itachi took the decision, we need to look a bit into the situation from his POV.
As a child, Itachi was traumatized by the incidents of the Third Great Shinobi War, which made him hate bloodshed and violence. He was also aloof and stayed lonely most of the time. It could have been because of the trauma that he experienced while he was a kid, but the only real friend he seemed to have was Shisui Uchiha. His beliefs were looked down upon by his father making him distant from his family.
Tasked with an important duty of spying on Konoha at the age of 13, Itachi, who was a pacifist, realised that a revolution would result in a lot of deaths, something which he didn’t want. His view was shared by Shisui, prompting the latter to notify Hiruzen Sarutobi about the impending coup.
Both Itachi and Shisui, along with the Third Hokage, looked for a peaceful resolution, but they were not able to deter the clan members from their planned coup. At the same time Danzo, who was averse to the idea of negotiating with the Uchihas, began manipulating Itachi and convince him that eliminating the Uchihas was the best option.
And how did he manage to do that? He used Itachi’s trauma and his love for his younger brother Sasuke to change his mind. Danzo’s intentions were to protect the village. He thought that if left unchecked, the Uchihas might carry out a similar revolution against Konoha in the future. His suspicion of the Uchiha clan was so high that he even stole Shisui’s eye, to prevent him from using his Mangekyou Sharingan to stop the coup d’etat without any bloodshed.
So as the peace talks failed, and Shisui committed suicide so that Danzo couldn’t take his other eye, Itachi became truly alone not knowing what to do and whom to trust. His dislike for his clan grew even further as some Uchiha leaders suspected Itachi for Shisui’s death.
Thus Itachi was now in a perfect position to be manipulated by Danzo. He told Itachi how eliminating the Uchihas was the only solution to prevent a revolution. He explained how the revolt could bring upon another Great Shinobi War, resulting in the deaths of number of innocent people. A 13 year old boy’s anxiousness and trauma was being used against himself. Danzo presented the idea to him, as though there was no other option.
Also, Itachi loved Sasuke with his whole heart. He wanted to protect the innocence in his brother. It is possible that Itachi feared his brother would be influenced by the elders and turn out the same as the very clan members he despised. He feared the innocence in his brother would be tainted. A similar line of thought is presented by Itachi when he tells Naruto that Sasuke is a clean slate and that he is influenced by people around him.
Killing a clan, which according to Itachi himself had become so hollow and so lost in its own pride, would allow the innocence in his brother to bloom, being able to be a better person and restoring the Uchiha clan to new heights.
Danzo leverages this side of Itachi against him too.
There are many who say that Itachi was brilliant enough to know if he was being manipulated or not. However, the very fact that he was vulnerable to being manipulated based on his trauma and his love for his little brother is the single most important fact that makes Itachi imperfect or more human. Danzo pulls off the ultimate trick by using Sasuke’s life as a bargaining tool to push Itachi into doing his bidding.
So, in the end, Itachi gives in to Danzo’s paranoia, partly because he does not want more innocent lives lost, and partly because he intends to protect his brother from everything that was bad about his clan. He is confused, he is under a lot of pressure and he is burdened by expectations placed on him but he decides to carry out the act anyway, eventually taking help from a masked Tobi, who claims to be Madara Uchiha, and killing off the Uchiha clan.
It is tough to judge whether Itachi is right or wrong in following Danzo’s and the elders orders. Considering the circumstances that the shinobis lived in, ‘killing a few to save many’ seemed like a plausible logic. Also, Itachi truly understood the concept of a village, as Hashirama explained to Sasuke and Orochimaru. Itachi was loyal to Konoha, and realised that as a leaf village Shinobi, it was his duty to eliminate any threat to the village, regardless of whether it was family or friends and one’s own clan.