Created By: tubefox on May 9, 2011 Last Edited By: tubefox on March 18, 2015

Murder By Failure To Commit Murder

When the hero's refusal to kill an enemy reaches the point where it's really entirely the hero's fault the enemy kills people.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Needs a Better Title.

I want to put the conversation in Marvel Civil War about Spider Man indirectly being responsible for the Green Goblin's murders due to not killing him here, but don't have access to it at the moment. If someone could produce that quote, it'd be great.

Superheros (excluding the antiheroic ones) and other stereotypical good guys frequently refuse to kill villains, no matter how horrific their crimes. This trope is what happens when the hero is pretty much the only person who could kill the bad guy, and his refusal to do so is pretty much the entire reason that the bad guy is still killing people. Basically, the hero is somewhat responsible for those killed by the villain simply because he holds his personal code of ethics above stopping the bad guy for good.

Now, this trope doesn't apply when the villain is spared once or twice and then goes out and starts killing again. This trope comes into play when the villain is spared so many times that the hero should know that killing them is the only way to stop them, yet still refuses to.

Usually caused by a Technical Pacifist.

Examples

Comic Books

  • The Green Goblin goes on a rampage. Spider-Man webs him up, and he's put in prison. A few months later, he breaks out and goes on a homicidal rampage again. Spider-Man webs him up, and he's put in prison. How many times does this have to happen before Spider-Man doing the same thing and expecting different results is the real cause of these people's deaths?
  • Batman has the Joker (Or just about any other villain) thrown in Arkham Asylum. Eventually, the Joker breaks out and starts wreaking havoc again. Batman has him thrown in Arkham Asylum again. Once again, doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Film
  • In Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi leaves Anakin Skywalker lying on the ground, missing multiple limbs. Apparently totally unfamiliar with the fact that technology exists to keep people who have been mortally wounded alive, despite having just fought General Grevious. Admittedly, Anakin hadn't been redeemed and then turned to the Dark Side again, but you'd think he'd figure out that leaving the guy who fell to the dark side over the course of about 24 hours and slaughtered the entire Jedi Order alive might not be the greatest idea. Quite a few bad things could've been prevented if Darth Vader had never existed.
    • Revenge Of The Sith has Anakin telling Mace Windu that "it's not the jedi way" to kill Palpatine. So, when Windu proceeds to try to kill Palpatine anyway, Anakin chops off Windu's hand to prevent this, then Palpatine proceeds to kill Windu with force lightning; and that's not even getting started on the rest of the evil Palpatine goes on to do in the series, which could have been prevented had Palpatine been killed. Of course, it's more of an "indirect mass murder by stopping someone else from committing murder against someone who was too dangerous to be left alive," and even then it might be a subversion given the role Anakin's self-interest played in his decision.

Live-Action TV

  • Multiple times during the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy has the opportunity to kill Angelus, but can't bring herself to do it as she still loves him. That's great and all, but a lot of people would still be alive if she'd killed him.
    • Again with Warren, Jonathon, and Andrew in the later seasons. Buffy realistically could've killed them, and a certain point it should've become clear to her that they weren't going to stop doing evil crap. If she'd actually offed them, Tara would still be alive, meaning Willow wouldn't have gone evil and tried to destroy the world. Andrew wouldn't have been alive to kill Jonathon, thus awaking the first evil, meaning that Xander would still have both his eyes and quite a few of the Potential Slayers wouldn't have died fighting off the Turok Han. Basically, a lot of bad things would've been prevented if she'd just killed them after the fourth or fifth time they did something evil.

Real Life

  • This is a common argument for giving the death penalty for certain crimes.
Community Feedback Replies: 24
  • May 9, 2011
    jaytee
    The Dark Knight Returns specifically discusses the Joker example.
  • May 9, 2011
    Hodou
    Some people are undoubtedly going to complain about the title being too long, but I like it. It's snarky and rolls off the tongue. It's the type of trope I'd see in a page and instantly have to open in another tab.
  • May 9, 2011
    neoYTPism
    ^ Indeed.

    The current Star Wars example might be this, but it strikes me more so as Honor Before Reason, because even if Obi-Wan expected Anakin to die from burn wounds, just chopping off his head then and there would have been a lot quicker and less painful for Anakin. Apparently, the jedi code forbids killing someone who would probably otherwise die soon anyway, even if one is killing out of mercy to the one being killed. Either that or ol' George just didn't think it through. That Obi-Wan's failure to kill Anakin led to Vader's role in the empire isn't the only aspect of Fridge Horror to that scene.

    For a more obvious Star Wars example, Revenge Of The Sith has Anakin telling Mace Windu that "it's not the jedi way" to kill Palpatine. So, when Windu proceeds to try to kill Palpatine anyway, Anakin chops off Windu's hand to prevent this, then Palpatine proceeds to kill Windu with force lightning; and that's not even getting started on the rest of the evil Palpatine goes on to do in the series, which could have been prevented had Palpatine been killed. Of course, it's more of an "indirect mass murder by stopping someone else from committing murder against someone who was too dangerous to be left alive," and even then it might be a subversion given the role Anakin's self-interest played in his decision.

    Hmm... perhaps we could use something like "too dangerous to live" or something like that? If we limit this to killing person X to prevent person X from killing others, wouldn't they just be different ways of framing pretty much the same concept?

    Also, I'd suggest you note that this might belong on the Depressing Tropes list if/when it is launched. (It is a pretty depressing concept.)
  • May 9, 2011
    randomsurfer
    When did the Trio on Buffy do anything that in any way deserved death? (Prior to that stuff you have spoilered out.) It'd be like killing Hitler as a baby because it would grow up to become Hitler.
  • May 9, 2011
    TwoGunAngel
  • May 9, 2011
    MC42
    Good idea to mention that supporters of capital punishment often justify it by bringing up this trope.
  • May 9, 2011
    neoYTPism
    ^ Perhaps not such a good idea, though, given Rule Of Cautious Editing Judgment.
  • May 9, 2011
    MC42
    ^ Seen It A Million Times in cop shows, detective shows, CSI, Law And Order and any other conversation where justifications for the death penalty are presented. Keeping it to a non-biased sentence in the description should be fine enough and it does deserve some mention.
  • May 10, 2011
    Treblain
    This is going to be bait for Alternate Character Interpretation about how the main characters are terrible people for not killing their enemies. Maybe if characters point it out in the work and the ramifications are explored, but otherwise it's just complaining about plot decisions you don't like.
  • May 10, 2011
    Glucharina
    There is real psychological research that says that people tend to be sorry for their actions more then for their inactivity. Not killing murderer while you still have chance is this. I think we should explore this.
  • May 10, 2011
    peccantis
  • May 10, 2011
    Ryusui
  • May 10, 2011
    valbinooo
    I like Murder By Proxy.

    Of course, personally I think capital punishment should be banned. But let's not get into that here.

    This trope has merit.

  • May 10, 2011
    Elihu
    Related to: Joker Immunity, Cardboard Prison, Kill Him Already, among others.
  • May 10, 2011
    LosingStreak
    Also may be related to Nice Job Breaking It Hero.
  • May 10, 2011
    SilentReverence
    Murder By Proxy is too broad a name for the trope IMHO (it reads simply as "kill A through B" where B can be anything). An extra qualifier might do good, perhaps something like Murder By Murderer Proxy.
  • May 11, 2011
    Scooter007
    I like the original working title except for... the "commit murder" part sounds a little harsh toward the hero who has to commit said "murder". How about simply Murder By Failure To Kill?
  • May 11, 2011
    Rolf
    Dead Because I Didnt Kill

    Very clear, but way too long.
  • March 18, 2015
    Gowan
  • March 18, 2015
    DAN004
  • March 18, 2015
    crazysamaritan
    If this gets revised as an Audience Reaction (because there's no objective metric to determine when the acts of Character A are the fault of Character B when the two oppose one another), I might feel able to support it. As-is, this is a magnet for complaining.
  • March 18, 2015
    nielas
    ^ Yeah. This is a definite YMMV. For many of the examples one can just as easily argue that it is the fault of the citizens of the city, state or country where the story takes place for being too cheap or lazy to properly imprison their most dangerous criminals. It's artificial stupidity that is needed to reuse the same villains over and over.
  • March 18, 2015
    CrypticMirror
    This feels like would become nothing more than a page full of complaints. MTD.
  • March 18, 2015
    DAN004
    Again, we already have this.

    Not to say that Pacifism Backfire wouldn't be problematic, but I've put Rule Of Cautious Editing Judgment in it.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=8hvdy1b8jgqgd4iso54lmblu