Pacifism Backfire YKTTW Discussion

Pacifism Backfire
When trying to avoid violence causes more of it in the long run.
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(permanent link) added: 2011-11-23 10:48:33 sponsor: HiddenFacedMatt edited by: DAN004 (last reply: 2015-01-03 12:28:57)

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A character insists on not exacting violence.... and he or she ends up causing more fighting in the long run than was at first avoided.

Perhaps s/he is a Principles Zealot, believing that no end justifies the means of violence, including that of preventing worse violence. Perhaps s/he is a Horrible Judge of Character, not realizing that avoiding such a fight would cause more of it. Or maybe s/he is a Dirty Coward who just wants to wash his or her hands of the situation.

A downplayed variant of this is when someone who is willing to fight but unwilling to kill refuses to kill someone no matter how dangerous he is. That someone ends up causing more trouble later.

Indeed, the moral (if you can call it a "moral") is that Violence Really Is the Answer.

A common (but not always) telltale of this trope is when someone says "I should've killed/stopped him when I had the chance/back then."

One of the many ways to Create Your Own Villain. May stem from Good Cannot Comprehend Evil. Compare Head-in-the-Sand Management, which sometimes overlaps with this, and The Farmer and the Viper (aka "Hospitality Backfire"). Compare also We Have Become Complacent when a community who has never experienced war for a long time is forced into a war situation and they are unable to fight back. See also No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, Suicidal Pacifism and Neutrality Backlash.

Contrast Badass Pacifist when a pacifist manages to stop the conflict/help others using entirely non-violent means.

There may be real life examples, but perhaps it's best if we don't go there. No Real Life Examples, Please!

Indices: Cynicism Tropes, Peace Tropes, Index Backfire


Anime and Manga
  • In Trigun, Vash the Stampede will *not* kill his enemies... nor hurt them in any major way... and the show takes great pains to show that it's a noble calling, but possibly misguided considering the Crapsack World circumstances (Vash's body is a mass of scars, the sixty billion double dollar bounty (until it's removed) means that anybody with a gun and a desperate need of money (which is practically the whole planet) is out to get him, he's constantly arguing with his companions (or at least Wolfwood) about the usefulness/futility of his Thou Shalt Not Kill code, the Quirky Miniboss Squad and the Big Bad are out to make Vash suffer by any means possible, which usually involves killing everything that moves and going the extra mile with anybody that Vash so much as gave the time of the day to, increasing in cruelty/kill count up to Apocalypse How levels as the series goes on...)
  • Rurouni Kenshin and Grenadier. The main character subscribes to a Thou Shalt Not Kill mentality backed up by impressive combat skills, and the Big Bad(s) sends outrageously powerful enemies that have absolutely no problem in killing anybody that gets in the way of their fight with the main character, and actually do so in order to unlock the full combat capability of the main character via Unstoppable Rage, while gloating that the pacifism and using non-lethal attacks (which require more finesse than simply slashing/shooting someone dead) has "made them weak".
  • Happens almost constantly in Naruto
    • Hashirama spares Madara, Madara becomes the Bigger Bad.
    • Sarutobi spares Orochimaru, many people die including Sarutobi himself.
    • Naruto lets Sasuke go, Sasuke ends up helping the Big Bad.
    • Naruto and Minato spares Obito, Madara gets revived.
  • One Piece. In Law's flashback, when Rocinante, after being beaten to near death, revealed his true nature to his boss and big brother Doflamingo that he's a Marine who's going to stop him, the two pointed their guns at each other. Doflamingo pointed out that Rocinante is too kind to actually pull the trigger note  and then the former killed the latter. And then Doflamingo went on to conquer the island of Dressrosa (something that Roci wanted to prevent) and caused a reign of sugarcoated terror there.

Comic Book

  • Mars Attacks!. The U.S. tries twice to make peaceful contact with the Martians. The first time, the Martian leader and his soldiers wipe out the U.S. Army forces at the meeting site. The second time the Martian leader asks to address Congress. While he's doing so he and his soldiers destroy everyone there. Later on the French government tries the diplomatic approach: not surprisingly it ends in a bloodbath.
  • In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, King Theoden's first impulse upon being freed from Saruman's magical influence is to kill Grima Wormtongue, the treacherous advisor responsible for said magical influence. Aragorn stays his hand, saying "Enough blood has been spilled on his account." But Wormtongue rejects the offer of absolution for his crimes and flees to Saruman. There, Wormtongue provides intelligence to Saruman (the path that the people of Rohan will take to reach Helm's Deep, and the weakest point of the walls at Helm's Deep), enabling Saruman's army to kill many more than they otherwise would have.

  • An important theme in Robert Merle's novel The Island, which is based on the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. English mutineers and Tahitians start a settlement on an island, but tensions quickly build up between them, because some of the English treat the Tahitians as inferior. The protagonist, Purcell doesn't allow his friends to kill the main troublemaker because of his pacifistic Christian beliefs. Eventually war breaks out, and all men on the island die, except for Purcell and a Tahitian. Purcell ends up blaming himself.
  • In the Babylon 5 novel Clark's Law, the station security officers try and break up a fight between the Narns and the Tuchanq using stun guns. Unfortunately, the Tuchanq's brains are wired such that any interruption in consciousness causes them to lose all their long-term and short-term memory and revert to base survival instinct, essentially making them Ax-Crazy. Fixing this problem requires even more violence, and of course, one of the still-crazy ones gets loose and accidentally kills a human, which sets the real plot of the book in motion.
  • In Island in the Sea of Time, Pamela Lisketter and her followers aid William Walker's betrayal in the hopes that his plot will hobble the Republic of Nantucket so that it can't intervene in the Alban War. Unfortunately, their plan is incredibly stupid (amounting to kidnapping the Chief's wife and shooting Marian Alston, the de facto commander of the navy) and is executed incompetently (the bullet grazes Alston), and their getaway plan involved travelling down to Mexico and hoping that the locals are friendly. Not only do they fail to prevent the Republic from going to war, but they also manage to start a war between the Republic and the People of the Jaguar God. And on top of that, Lisketter and her followers all die, but not before spreading mumps throughout Mesoamerica. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, indeed.
  • In the Thomas Dixon novel Fall of a Nation, A combined suffragette/pacifist movement not only keeps the United States out of World War One, but also slashes its military. The war ends in a negotiated stalemate...and then the combined armies of Europe invade the United States!
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. Eddard Stark refused to arrest Queen Cersei and her illegitimate children because he didn't want them to get hurt. This decision is one of the main causes of the War of Five Kings.
  • Harry Potter: Harry refuses to allow Peter Pettigrew to be killed, resulting in the return of Lord Voldemort. Downplayed because it was actually an act of Cruel Mercy and he expects Pettigrew to be put into Azkaban instead. Although Harry's mercy does get rewarded later, when Pettigrew remembers it and hesitates to attack Harry, giving Harry a crucial chance to escape.

Live-Action TV
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "The Fall of Night", a representative of Earth's Ministry of Peace visits the station to finalize a non-aggression pact between Earth Alliance and the Centauri—right after the latter use illegal weapons of mass destruction (mass drivers) to bombard the Narn homeworld back to the stone age, and show evidence of being on a dangerously aggressive footing in the galaxy. The minister even uses the phrase "peace in our time". Shortly thereafter, the Centauri begin conquests in the territories of many other races.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Classic). In the pilot episode the Council of Twelve takes all of the Battlestars to a peace conference with the Cylons, leaving the Twelve Colonies completely undefended. Naturally the Cylons decide to use Aggressive Negotiations: they take the opportunity to ambush not only the Battlestars, destroying all but the Galactica, but almost entirely wiping out the colonies as well. In a later episode it's stated that the colonies had planetary defenses, which were sabotaged by a confederate of Baltar's.
  • Parodied in the pilot of Jessie. In the first scene we see with the kids, Emma and Luke are fighting, with Ravi pleading with them to stopnote .
    Ravi: Luke, Emma, please! Violence is never the answer.
    Emma: [whacks Ravi with a pillow]
    Ravi: To heck with the nonviolence! I am on you like stripes on a tiger! [attacks Emma]
  • Doctor Who
    • In general, the Doctor has acknowledged this is a problem with his Technical Pacifism. His attempts not to hurt anyone may not directly have him going against his morals, but he "got clever" and has indirectly caused his friends and companions to fight pretty nasty battles for him or manipulated villains into killing themselves.
    • Had the Doctor not toppled the regime of Harriet Jones as revenge for her blowing up alien invaders in The Christmas Invasion she would have been still been Prime Minister and the Master wouldn't have been able to rise the power as Prime Minster Harold Saxon and assassinate the U.S. president or cause world wide devastation in The Year That Never Was.
    • If the Doctor had just killed the Daleks before they made off the planet Skaro when he had the chance he could have avoided The Time War and seemingly becoming The Last of His Kind.
  • Star Trek
    • In the original series episode "City on the Edge of Forever", the crew accidentally get sent back in time and prevent a woman from being killed by a car. It turns out she was a pacifist campaigner, and will go on to weaken the U.S. so that the world gets taken over by totalitarians and the Trek future never comes about.
    • In the Mirror Universe stories, started in the original series and continued in Deep Space Nine, Kirk manages to convince Mirror-Spock to get the Terran Empire to eschew its warlike ways... and it promptly gets overthrown by the Klingons and Cardassians.
    • In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation the crew comes across a Douwd, a near Q-level race. He just wanted to live in peace with his human wife, so he retired to a small colony planet. A group of Husnock (another alien race) attacked but the Douwd are all pacifists so he didn't join the fight. The attacking Husnocks killed everyone else on the planet, including his wife, so in retaliation he killed every member of the Husnock everywhere in the universe.
  • In one episode of Supernatural, the brothers find themselves trapped in a building with a small number of survivors and a huge number of demons trying to enter and kill them all. Ruby arrives and tells them about a spell that would save them all, but it requires a human sacrifice. The Sam and Dean refuse to do it, insisting that they must find another way. However, while the two of them end up escaping just fine, after they leave, the demons return and all of the survivors, including the intended sacrifice, are killed.
  • In Breaking Bad, this formed Mike's Start of Darkness. Back when he was a cop, there was one particular guy who he visited over and over on domestic violence calls. Eventually, he became so convinced that the guy was eventually going to murder his girlfriend that he kidnapped him to a deserted place to kill him. However, he backed out at the last minute, merely threatening the guy instead. Only a short time later, the guy did indeed beat his wife to death. He regretted his action ever since.
  • In Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle picks up the Idiot Ball more than a few times.
    • After her "innocence" is sacrificed by forcing her to stab a woman in self defense (because apparently bashing in people's faces and throats doesn't count), she gives birth to a Fetus Terrible that grows to term in a matter of days, and then strangles the Knight Templar who was watching it within hours of being born. Gabrielle refuses to believe a baby could be evil and fakes out Xena to make her think it's dead.
    • When Xena goes to assassinate a tyrant king, Gabrielle decides that this is somehow unacceptable. She goes to the king, warns him, gets Xena captured, imprisoned, and sentenced to death, all to find out that the king is a matricidal dictator.

Tabletop Games
  • Due to the Forever War nature of the setting, this is pretty much the status quo of Warhammer 40K. Anytime a world is isolated enough from the current conflicts to be at peace just means it'll attract the attention of Ork and Eldar raiders (for the plunder), Chaos (for their souls), Necrons (for being alive) or the Tyranids (for the biomass), and unable to defend itself.
  • Starfire, Nexus magazine #7 article "The Drolian Conquest". After Khanate of Orion warships attacked several Drolian ships, the Drolian "peaceful expansion" lobby prevented the Drolian government from expanding its space navy. Six months later the Khanate of Orion invaded in force and quickly conquered the Drolians. During the invasion the "peaceful expansion" lobby was lynched by other Drolians.

  • Tony suffers this in West Side Story. He goes to the rumble to stop it happening, and tries to resist Bernardo's baiting, but it backfires horribly and he ends up knifing Bernardo who has stabbed Riff.

Video Games
  • This is how Alan "Spam" Webster's mercenary career with A.I.M. ended in the Jagged Alliance series. Coming from the UN peacekeeping forces background, his MO was to negotiate enemy surrender first and only shoot if that fails. One of such failures led to the death of fellow A.I.M. member Johnny "Snake" Edwards, leading to Spam's dishonorable discharge.
  • Mega Man 7. Perhaps justified in that he's still a Three-Laws Compliant robot, but still, in the end of the game, when Mega Man finally has Wily at his mercy, he points his Mega Buster at him and charged it, but he hesitated for long enough for Bass to take Wily out of his castle. And of course, it leads to Wily being the Big Bad for the games after it.

Web Original

Western Animation
  • Adventure Time
    • In the episode "His Hero", the great hero Billy inspires Finn and Jake to practise non-violence at every cost... and of course, everything goes wrong.
    • In a later episode, "Crystals Have Power", Jake gets a flashback to when he was a kid, and his dad told him that he would hurt everybody if he got out of control. Jake vows to practise non-violence, which gets problematic when Finn gets kidnapped.
  • This popped up on two "Treehouse of Horror" episodes on The Simpsons.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, it was eventually shown that the good Avatar Roku and world-conquering Fire Lord Sozin had been best friends. Roku's spirit tells Aang that he was too-easy on his friend when he discovered his ambitions, and that his aversion to violence in the matter allowed for 100 years of war to reign.

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