Created By: zarpaulus on November 27, 2012 Last Edited By: zarpaulus on December 3, 2012
Troped

Corporate Warfare

Taking "Cola Wars" a bit literally.

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Trope
A common feature of Mega Corps, both real and fictional, is the possession of private armies and the ability to wage war.

A staple of Cyberpunk media. Megacorporations typically are depicted as having "Company Security Forces" which are often as powerful as the military of a small nation. Besides the option for open warfare, they also heavily indulge in covert operations against their business rivals, ranging from espionage to sabotage and "wetwork", meaning assassinations of key personell.

In Real Life the East India Trading Companies officially conquered and outright governed large areas of India in the name of their home nations.

Compare Mob War. Contrast to One Nation Under Copyright where the corporations literally are nations. May involve an Army of Lawyers.

Anime and Manga
  • Spice and Wolf: During certain arcs (namely the devalued coins one), there is a trade company that has enough men to do the thug and garrote routine without problem by sheer force of numbers. The other Traders had a nice Intel network of the city maps and then Lawrence has Holo. Considering the setting the idea of using men for pressuring and muting the lone merchant they scammed is logical from their point of view. Karma on the other hand...

Comic Books
  • Parodied in the Cursed Earth storyline in Judge Dredd. Gengineered mascot creatures battle each other for supremacy long after the corporations they represent have vanished. (Last I heard these chapters could not be reprinted due to trademark infringement.)

Film
  • In Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the antagonist faction was the corporate army of the Trade Federation, secretly controlled by Darth Sidious. In Episode II-III and The Clone Wars, the Separatist army was also created as an amalgamation of several corporate armies.
  • The English East India Company is featured in the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Not only do they have a private fleet and army with a worldwide reach, they also control the Flying Dutchman. The Company wages war on all pirates, intent to wipe them out.
  • The premise of the original Rollerball was that corporations had taken over for governments and waged wars on each other, until they decided wars were too expensive to their bottom line and instead invented the game of Rollerball where the companies could battle it out in the arena.
  • Robocop 3 has Omni Consumer Products (and it's new shareholders the Kanemitsu Corporation) hire a band of mercenaries to force out the inhabitants of Old Detroit. To combat this, the regular folks form a underground resistance. Oh, just to make sure their investment pays off, Kanemitsu sends robot ninjas to aid their hired guns.
  • The film Matewan involved conflict between a coal company which controlled most of a West Virginia town's economy, and local miners endeavoring to form a union in the 1920s. The company had contracted with a Pinkerton-style mercenary force called the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, which sent a platoon of gunmen into the town to suppress the miners' strike. Truth in Television: this film was loosely based on true events that occurred in Matewan, West Virginia at that time. And suppression of unions through such means was common elsewhere in the U.S. in that era, often involving the actual Pinkertons.

Literature
  • In Jennifer Government, the corporate alliances come to the brink of all-out warfare, and step slightly over the line a few times before coming to their senses due to John Nike's influence.
  • In John Van Stry's "Children of Steel" series wars between corporations over mines in distant systems aren't uncommon. Freighter crews (comprised mainly of indentured animen) are trained in combat and ships are easily converted into troop transports.
  • In Eoin Colfer's The Supernaturalist the term "paralegal" has come to mean commandos with law degrees.

Tabletop RPG
  • Classic Traveller supplement The Traveller Adventure. When Imperial MegaCorps decide to get rough they engage in "tradewars". They send out military forces to attack the other corporation's offices, factories, starships and other property. This can involve killing the other company's workers and management.
  • A staple (And the main source of employment of the PCs) in Shadowrun.
  • Cyberpunk2020 is a prime example, featuring a full-scale Corporate War between two of the biggest megacorps as a world-changing event.
  • Mutant Chronicles had several Megacorps duking it out for supremacy in the solar system before and after everything really went to hell.

Video Games
  • Corporations are the equivalent of player guilds in EVE Online, and they're able to go to war with one another.
  • Dark Orbit's Excuse Plot is that three mining corporations don't get along and your job is to kill everyone not working for your corp.
  • The Mega Corps of Tachyon: The Fringe each maintain a private Space Navy, theoretically to protect their supply chains from piracy. They're not above using them in inter-company squabbles, however, and the central conflict of the game is between one corporation, GalSpan, and the Bora settlers.
  • The whole plot of Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere revolves around a war between two megacorporations, General Resource Ltd. and Neucom Inc.; although there are two more sides in it (peace-enforcing UN and the terrorist conspiracy Ouroboros), they are much smaller in scale and influence.
  • The background of Team Fortress 2 is that the playable characters are mercenaries hired by one of the two corporations that secretly run the world to fight over gravel pits because the CEOs are idiots with an epic case of Sibling Rivalry.
  • Syndicate has corps warring over control of the planet, mostly via small teams of highly skilled agents.
  • Civilization series: Certain Greed events that go under "Our corporation wants X resource under rival civilization's border, go and get it for massive cash. The other variant is that "our generals want X resource in enemy land, go get it old chap".
  • Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri: Morgan Industries, like all the other factions, could just build a army and conquer everyone else. Then again, Morgan could easily win through economic means as well.
    • According to the background information, Nwabudike Morgan (leader of Morgan Industries) managed to get his start by hiring mercenaries to take over some diamond mines. Morgan's Earthly businesses also included funding "mercenary forces, U.N. escorts... and creating Morgan SafeHaven Hotel Fortress chain 'for the discriminating executive'."

Web Comics
  • The protagonists of My Life At War were hired by Mega-Fun Foods Inc to defend some newly acquired farmland from some nobles who think they still own it.
  • The Maytec Consortium in S.S.D.D has its own army but when the Anarchists jumped their mineral claims on Mars they manipulated the CORE into fighting the war for them.
  • Background to one arc of Exterminatus Now is a conflict between cola companies.
  • Parodied in one arc of Newshounds where AOL attempted a military takeover of Starbucks, which failed as their troops were no match for stressed out baristas.
  • The R&D wars of Sluggy Freelance in the "4U City" Alternate Universe between a number of weapons manufacturers with strong ties to organized crime. In the prime universe Torg has been trying to take them down, but all his efforts have done is consolidate them into Hereti-Corp against everyone else.

Real Life
  • The Dutch and English East India Trading Companies both fielded private armies for fending off piracy and putting down native resistance to their colonial monopolies.
  • Part of the initial Opium War between England, United States and China, for more information look for the Opium Wars (in the other wiki click here) trade benefits and all. For more if I don't recall wrong it is around the 1839-1842 period. Needless to say when Us got to sign their treaty in 1844 it made the Brits condition for their Mega corp seem saint in comparison. Given it was a Gunboat Diplomacy (not to mention the Curb-Stomp Battle that it was) at some points but the list included (the side of the Brits not the US one):
    • Indemnification for burnt opium.
    • Give Hong Kong to the Brits.
    • Give 5 Chinese harbors.
    • Excepting the Brit citizens to submit to Chinese laws.
    • Tax exemption just up to 5% of customs to foreign merchandise.
Community Feedback Replies: 48
  • November 27, 2012
    StarSword
    This seems awfully close to NGO Superpower.
  • November 27, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^Maybe a bit more specific.
  • November 27, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    One Nation Under Copyright is what ^^ is actually seeing here.
  • November 27, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^ So far I've got examples of both. Some of them are corporations acting like governments, some don't but employ enough Private Military Contractors to take on a government army anyways.
  • November 27, 2012
    SKJAM
    • Parodied in the Cursed Earth storyline in Judge Dredd. Gengineered mascot creatures battle each other for supremacy long after the corporations they represent have vanished. (Last I heard these chapters could not be reprinted due to trademark infringement.)
  • November 28, 2012
    Chernoskill
    A staple of Cyberpunk media. Megacorporations typically are depicted as having "Company Security Forces" which are often as powerful as the military of a small nation. Besides the option for open warfare, they also heavily indulge in covert operations against their business rivals, ranging from espionage to sabotage and "wetwork", meaning assassinations of key personell. Shadowrun and Cyberpunk2020 are two prime examples, the latter featuring a full-scale Corporate War between two of the biggest megacorps as a world-changing event.
  • November 28, 2012
    CobraPrime
    Description needs help.

    A staple (And the main source of employment of the PCs) in Shadowrun.
  • November 28, 2012
    StarSword
    Video Games
    • The Mega Corps of Tachyon The Fringe each maintain a private Space Navy, theoretically to protect their supply chains from piracy. They're not above using them in inter-company squabbles, however, and the central conflict of the game is between one corporation, GalSpan, and the Bora settlers.
  • November 28, 2012
    Koveras
  • November 28, 2012
    Gatomon41
    • The East India Company finally achieves this level in Pirates Of The Caribbean At Worlds End. Not only do they have a private fleet and army with a worldwide reach, they also control the Flying Dutchman. The Company wages war on all pirates, intent to wipe them out.
    • Syndicate
  • November 28, 2012
    ZombieAladdin
    Truth In Television: The chocolate companies Hershey's and Mars are at a secret war with each other. While they have not yet resorted to direct weaponry (at least on civilians), both companies have a network of spies, moles, codebreakers, and messengers that would make MI5 envious. Top people at both companies are always surrounded by a horde of armed (and armored) guards while in public, as they are in that much danger from the other company.

    You don't have to put this in the article if you don't want to, but this ridiculous level of security was what inspired Roald Dahl to write his masterpiece Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
  • November 28, 2012
    aurora369
    In Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the antagonist faction was the corporate army of the Trade Federation, secretly controlled by Darth Sidious. In Episode II-III and The Clone Wars, the Separatist army was also created as an amalgamation of several corporate armies.
  • November 28, 2012
    Mauri
    When the corporations are neck deep in something it is a thing that even writers take a jab on how serious business it becomes. Besides industrial espionage is pretty much a big deal in corporate culture.

    Video Games:

    • Wasn't it part of the stick with team fortress 2? (And before someone who manages it well retells me about the two sides being actually one big mega corp I admit I am not a player just saw the ideas of the game)

    • Certain online browser game whose name I don't recall went towards that concept (at least the espionage part). Not sure if it was "spy games" or another but there is one just around the concept that is corporate espionage.

    Real Life:

    • Apple just in the case you wonder the tip of the iceberg. And it gets worse when you get your hand on what more they do.

    • Coca Cola with the security around the current recipe can put KFC to shame, while KFC keeps a hard copy in the HQ and vials in case it gets wrecked badly the Coca Cola security has limited access to certain individuals to the recipe itself (not that the old one wasn't checked by the US government). The original Coca Cola formula included addictive items up to eleven.
  • November 28, 2012
    zarpaulus
    We might need to be a bit cautious about putting in Real Life examples of active companies.

    ^ "Up To Eleven", seriously? I know that Coca-cola used to put cocaine in their product (and still use coca-leaf extract for flavoring) but isn't that a bit much?
  • November 28, 2012
    Mauri
    Well just removing some of the ingredients for sanity's sake: Caffeine, Alcohol and Cocaine. Three addictive substances in one simple package and taking into account that due to some bans they had to change the cocaine in a legal problem with the US congress and the alcohol during the great prohibition). The change towards a similarly flavored nut is part of the ingredients if my memory isn't working poorly it includes the Kola Nut instead of the other options.

    And yes the real life examples can be dangerous specially on active companies. Well the case of the coke in the percentage is sitting around in one book I have around here but it is an old one.
  • November 29, 2012
    Arivne
    Tabletop RPG
    • Classic Traveller supplement The Traveller Adventure. When Imperial MegaCorps decide to get rough they engage in "tradewars". They send out military forces to attack the other corporation's offices, factories, starships and other property. This can involve killing the other company's workers and management.
  • November 29, 2012
    zarpaulus
    Organized by medium.
  • November 29, 2012
    JonnyB
    Compare Army Of Lawyers, which can often be employed to wage such wars, at least figuratively if not literally.
  • November 29, 2012
    Gatomon41
  • November 29, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^ Context?
  • November 29, 2012
    Gatomon41
    @zarpaulus Re: Mutant Chronicles

    Well, I'm not familiar with the material myself. But from what could find out about this game was that the Megacorps that were the result of merging of several national governments. In any case, the corps ended up fighting each other for resources. And even after the release of the Dark Legion (some sort of cosmic horror), the companies still haven't forgotten their rivalries.
  • November 29, 2012
    JonnyB
    IIRC the premise of the original Rollerball was that corporations had taken over for governments and waged wars on each other, until they decided wars were too expensive to their bottom line and instead invented the game of Rollerball where the companies could battle it out in the arena.
  • November 29, 2012
    chicagomel
    Er, the Dutch East India company one would be Real Life, not Web Comics.
  • November 29, 2012
    Mauri
    Recalled a couple of examples:

    Video Games:

    • Civilization series: Certain Greed events that go under "Our corporation wants X resource under rival civilization's border, go and get it for massive cash. The other variant is that "our generals want X resource in enemy land, go get it old chap".

    Real Life

    • Part of the initial Opium War between England, United States and China, for more information look for the Opium Wars (in the other wiki click here) trade benefits and all. For more if I don't recall wrong it is around the 1839-1842 period. Needless to say when Us got to sign their treaty in 1844 it made the Brits condition for their Mega corp seem saint in comparison. Given it was a Gunboat Diplomacy (not to mention the Curb Stomp Battle that it was) at some points but the list included (the side of the Brits not the US one):
      • Indemnification for burnt opium.
      • Give Hong Kong to the Brits.
      • Give 5 Chinese harbors.
      • Excepting the Brit citizens to submit to Chinese laws.
      • Tax exemption just up to 5% of customs to foreign merchandise.
    This is taken into the account that China in that time (1795) was reacting as a Mega Corp just for selling but was privy of buying stuff in the off chance that something bought ended up creating the rebellion.

    Historical and really old cases can be included. But then again they are edgy when properly documented.
  • November 30, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^^ Oops, forgot a folder.
  • November 30, 2012
    Mauri
    ^Seems I made a typo it is not Us but US. Still not as dangerous as others I might not see. Just in case for a fix.

    Also a note

    • Real Life: The whole reason why industrial espionage exists.
  • November 30, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
  • November 30, 2012
    Gatomon41
    Video Game:

    • Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri: Morgan Industries, like all the other factions, could just build a army and conquer everyone else. Then again, Morgan could easily win through economic means as well.
  • November 30, 2012
    TuefelHundenIV
    In order to keep this distinct enough from other related tropes I would keep this focused on the military/security force side of the equaition. Other then that it looks good in general.
  • December 1, 2012
    Koveras
    Compare Mob War.
  • December 1, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^ Good point, there is very little difference between a fight between corporations and a fight between organized crime.
  • December 1, 2012
    Gatomon41
    What about The Dark Knight Rises? In which Bane breaks into the Gotham stock market, and uploads a program that financially ruins Bruce Wayne. Bane was doing this under the pretense that he was hired by a rival businessman, and thus lead a hostile takeover of Wayne Corp. Or so the businessman thought. Seems rather radical to hire a mercenary to do that, let alone a infamous one.

  • December 2, 2012
    Chernoskill
    I think this single event is not enough to count as warfare; If such actions would be depicted to be the norm between Gotham's corporations, then yes.
  • December 2, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    Film

    The film Matewan involved conflict between a coal company which controlled most of a West Virginia town's economy, and local miners endeavoring to form a union in the 1920s. The company had contracted with a Pinkerton-style mercenary force called the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, which sent a platoon of gunmen into the town to suppress the miners' strike. Truth In Television: this film was loosely based on true events that occurred in Matewan, West Virginia at that time. And suppression of unions through such means was common elsewhere in the U.S. in that era, often involving the actual Pinkertons.
  • December 2, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
  • December 2, 2012
    Gatomon41
    @Chernoskill: If it includes gun, mercenaries, and cyberattacks, I think it would be considered Warfare.


    • Robocop 3 has Omni Consumer Products (and it's new shareholders the Kanemitsu Corporation) hire a band of mercenaries to force out the inhabitants of Old Detroit. To combat this, the regular folks form a underground resistance. Oh, just to make sure their investment pays off, Kanemitsu sends robot ninjas to aid their hired guns.

  • December 2, 2012
    Mauri
    Stupid stupid me I really remembered something that while stretching the trope a bit it fits:

    Anime and Manga

    • Spice And Wolf: During certain arcs (namely the devalued coins one), there is a trade company that has enough men to do the thug and garrote routine without problem by sheer force of numbers. The other Traders had a nice Intel network of the city maps and then Lawrence has Holo. Considering the setting the idea of using men for pressuring and muting the lone merchant they scammed is logical from their point of view. Karma on the other hand...
  • December 2, 2012
    Astaroth
    Also worth noting with regard to The Dark Knight Rises example: Bane first started working for the Corrupt Corporate Executive villain as a mercenary when he was hired to sieze control of an African diamond mine.
  • December 2, 2012
    Mauri
    While stretching on one of the few cases of it almost went real (the Edison vs Westinghouse) in the past: Real Life:
    • War of the Currents, Westinghouse vs Edison: Thomas Edison after breaking with the genius Nikola Tesla being robbed on the famous "You don't understand American humor." and the War of the Currents began it devolved on turning the electricity death trap onto the bystanders, which were criminals and an elephant. This goes onto the Warfare as Westinghouse fielding the propaganda and results while Edison fielded kidnapping teams (to pet owners' grief) and greasing his influences to do the bankruptcy towards Tesla (which was a bad business man but a godly inventor) just by bringing the warfare tools to reality. This basically goes on the propaganda and selected bystanders dying (by one of the few Edison's Finest workers, the Electrical Chair) and on the other just result working. In the end lawyers settled a lot in favor for Edison and Tesla got poorer in the end; Westinghouse survived via a truckload of Tesla's work.
      • Short version Edison fielded a truckload of resources as close on destroying the competition via death of animals (and the invention of the electric chair) and defaming as possible and on the verge of ordering hit teams to kill Tesla. He settled using the Army of Lawyers to deal the killing blow.

    It didn't go into employees killing each other but Edison was near it when considering that Pride and mostly Greed were so much into play. The idea is stretched on the field of publicity warfare so it might be another one of mine that won't fit.
  • December 2, 2012
    Gatomon41
    Speaking of diamond mines, the Alpha Centauri example has something similar: According to the background information, Nwabudike Morgan (leader of Morgan Industries) managed to get his start by hiring mercenaries to take over some diamond mines. Morgan's Earthly businesses also included funding "mercenary forces, U.N. escorts... and creating Morgan SafeHaven Hotel Fortress chain 'for the discriminating executive'."

  • December 3, 2012
    Koveras
    I think it's time to launch this thing.
  • December 3, 2012
    Arivne
    ^^^ @Mauri: I found your Real Life "Westinghouse vs Edison" example to be very confusing. Could you re-write it please?
  • December 3, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^ As far as I can tell the "War of currents" shouldn't count because there was no armed conflict between the two companies.
  • December 3, 2012
    Mauri
    Just on the propaganda side and collateral damage. Close to being on hitmen. Still it is just an example in the realms of propaganda. And mostly I guess it should be left out as just as it is stretching the flexibility of the trope given how it turned out. Given I think there is also the realm of the propaganda as well but then again it could be another trope related to this one.
  • December 3, 2012
    zarpaulus
    I'm planning on launching this evening.
  • December 3, 2012
    MetaFour
    • Silent Movie. Engulf & Devour intends to purchase Big Picture Studios, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Upon learning that director Mel Funn's upcoming film may save the studio, Engulf & Devour attempts to sabotage the filming. At the end, they send agents to steal the completed film reel, and this escalates into a chase scene and a fight using a Coke machine as a grenade launcher.
  • December 3, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^ That link goes to a genre page.
  • December 3, 2012
    bobfrank
    In Jennifer Government, the corporate alliances come to the brink of all-out warfare, and step slightly over the line a few times before coming to their senses due to John Nike's influence.
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