To Win Without Fighting YKTTW Discussion

To Win Without Fighting
(permanent link) added: 2010-04-02 10:24:44 sponsor: GameChainsaw (last reply: 2010-04-02 10:24:44)

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Those who win every battle are not really skillful. Those who render other armies helpless without fighting are best of all.
Sun Tzu

Needs an Index

... Is greatest of all.

Colonel Badass has the Evil Army surrounded. Its a no-go situation for the villains. The Ragtag Bunch of Misfits have completely disabled their supply lines. The Big Damn Villains that were expected to have arrived have been distracted by La Résistance and have failed to arrive. They're low on ammunition, starving and exhausted. The Redshirt Army mounts the ridges on all sides of the Evil Army, just about ready to launch into a brutal melee in which many of the good guys soldiers will probably die, but after which the Evil Army will be utterly annihilated.

But the charge never comes... instead, a single soldier marches out of the allied ranks. The Hero gives the enemy a chance to surrender themselves, explaining that this is a Last-Second Chance and that failure to relinquish their weapons will result in their painful and bloody slaughter. And it works.

General Ripper is ignored as men throw down their weapons and surrender in droves to the good guys. Drill Sergeant Nasty desperately tries to restore order but is defeated and maybe even murdered by the soldiers he has been oppressing the spirits of for so long. The Evil Overlord screams in frustration and indicates for his Five-Bad Band to defend him, only for the Token Good Teammate to be the first to break ranks, followed shortly by the rest of the group and finally, to the Big Bads horror, even his faithful dragon. The matter is completely resolved and the Evil Army disbanded without anyone getting killed.

To summarise, this is a situation where one side wins by putting the other side at such a massive disadvantage that the issue of fighting it out never comes up. Named for Sun Tzus recommendations in The Art of War as indicated above, it is often the mark of a Badass Pacifist or Colonel Makepeace, and particularly of The Messiah, and it often can happen on a small scale as well with one group putting the other at such a disadvantage that they give up without ever coming to blows.

Related is Talking the Monster to Death, where a character lacks overwhelming tactical superiority but instead wins by diplomacy. This is opposite to Violence Is the Only Option, where any attempt to resolve the situation peacefully either fails or turns out to be a trick by the villains.



  • In Fail-Safe, a political scientist (Walter Matthau) recommends that the president (Henry Fonda) allow an accidental nuclear strike to proceed, since it will cause the Soviets to simply surrender as a matter of ruthless efficiency.
  • In The Last of the Mohicans-- as well as in the actual incident that inspired it-- the French commander offers the British fort a chance to surrender; they accept, knowing that they don't have a chance against the French mortars.


  • Trope Namer is Sun Tzus The Art of War of course. See the page quote. A big part of Sun Tzu's military philosophy is that fighting is a matter of last resort, and that it is far better to win by simply making it impossible for the opposing side to possibly win.
  • Inverted in the Discworld book Night Watch. Vimes' realisation that he cannot win and his decision not to fight saves them all by persuading the mob to not destroy the station.
  • The Foundation series lives off this trope. The protagonists use historical forces to achieve victory, instead of direct combat.
  • Frank Herbert's Heretics of Dune. In the Back Story, Miles Teg was a famous Bene Gesserit military commander.
Teg's reputation was an almost universal thing throughout human society of this age. At the Battle of Markon, it had been enough for the enemy to know that Teg was there opposite them in person. They sued for terms.
  • Subverted in the book Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf marches up to the Black Gate and demands that Sauron surrender; he wants Sauron to think that he has the Ring, and only someone with the Ring would be powerful enough to be so brazen. (This point is lost in the movie; despite that Merry and Pippin say that "the enemy thinks we have the Ring," there's no mention of Sauron later thinking that Gandalf or Aragorn having it-- only Aragorn having the sword of Elendil, which gives him no special power against Sauron's armies.

Live-Action TV

  • The end of Star Trek DS 9 is part this...though the Dominion is ready to fight to the death, an act of compassion from Odo to the lead female Changeling is enough to end the war.


  • Legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi grew weary of needlessly killing the younger samurai who kept challenging him, so he stopped fighting. One day, he was riding in a boat across a lake with another man, who revealed himself to be a samurai. He challenged the older samurai in the boar, where he couldn't escape, but the older samurai pointed out that it would capsize if they fought in it. He pointed to an island in the middle of the lake, and said that they should battle there. When the younger samurai got out of the boat, Miyamoto Musashi shoved off, leaving him stranded. As he rowed away, he called out, "My style is fighting without fighting." A variation on this story occurs in Enter the Dragon.

Video Games

  • Commander Shepard in the first Mass Effect game catches a group of armed storehouse workers who are armed during the storming of a crimebosses hideout, and both groups are caught in a Mexican Standoff. One resolution to this is for Shepard to simply convince the workers that this would be a good time to leave.

Real Life

  • During World War II the Japanese never intended to invade the mainland of the US, and were intending to invoke this trope after Pearl Harbour. They only intended to neutralize the US Pacific fleet to prevent American intervention while they secured a defensive perimeter of island colonies so they could continue their main goal of exploiting the resources of Southeast Asia. This however backfired horribly (for them) as they were ones whose Pacific fleet ended up being neutralized. The American carriers being out of town at the time didn't help the Japanese cause.
  • Operation Desert Storm, had many instances of this as most of the Iraqi army surrendered to the Allied forces-- despite predictions that they'd fight to the death, and that "body bags would be coming back full of American casualties."
  • Not sure how reliable the source of this was, but I read that in WWII some American forces from a series of art schools got some German units to surrender without resisting, by approaching them with a fake army (Inflatable tanks, speakers playing tank noises and radio sounds, inflatable infantry and even inflatable artillery).
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