Created By: PoignardAzur on June 11, 2013 Last Edited By: PoignardAzur on August 24, 2013
Troped

Militaries Are Useless

When armed forces are particulary bad at their first purpose : dealing with menaces.

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Trope
In some shows, when a country is attacked by some enemy (alien, monster, evil overlord), their armed forces, which are probably made specifically to defend said country, show themselves rather bad at defending it : they use Hollywood Tactics (Five Rounds Rapid is a very popular one in those settings) instead of more efficient and logical ones, do evil stuff that just undermine their side for no reason, and refuse to cooperate with The Hero. The reason ? In these shows, the military is useless.

The aim, of course, is to make the Hero the only one who can defeat the bag guys : how can you save your world when it can defend itself thanks to its competent army ? That's why you often find this in Superhero settings. It's also quite frequent in stories about an Alien Invasion or a Zombie Apocalypse, because a war consisting of large open Curb-Stomp Battles is a quicker way to show how the enemy won than the long and complex battles that would have occurred had the military been competent. And of course, don't expect anything from them when Adults Are Useless : since most armies are made of adults, they're unlikely to help.

Note that this trope isn't about lots of soldiers dying : that's the Red Shirt Army. A military can achieve great victories by swarming the enemy with disposable soldiers, or loose everything while keeping a low casulaty record. This trope comes when the military as an institution has no use.

First cause of Easily Conquered World, though some countries in TV Land can have the worst possible army without being conquered. Can include Police Are Useless and No FEMA Response, where they don't even try to help. Often overlap with Conservation of Ninjutsu. Sister trope of Armies Are Evil.

Previous name : Armies are useless. Possible other names : No Armed Force reponse, Armies are incompetent.


Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Bleach. The Gotei 13 is a glaring example. Their military is comprised of roughly 6,000 soldiers, yet, their strength rests almost entirely on its thirteen Captains, thirteen Lieutenants and the seated officers, who're always sent to the front lines while the rest of their divisions stay behind. They also have an entire spy network (the Onmistukido), and a Kidou Corp. which never get used.

Film
  • In The Avengers, the army doesn't send any troops to help the titular heroes defending New York against the alien invasion. And of course, they don't think one second about sending a single missile to destroy the one building on which the phlobetonium supporting the invasion stands, or sending some nukes in the two-way portal to take down the exposed enemy spaceship. Nuking the city seems so far more sensible.
  • Godzilla
  • At the end of The Incredibles, when the Giant Omnidroid attacks some random cities, the army's response is basically "send some guys attack it with tanks and submachine-guns, then do nothing". EMI bombs, anyone?

Literature
  • In Animorphs, due to the Adults Are Useless setting, the military doesn't seem very worried about the Earth being invaded by aliens. Even after losing an aircraft carrier, the hometown of the animorphs being quarantined, and the governor of California (no, not this one) making an official speech about how the aliens are invading the world, they simply consider this as a hoax and don't bother investigate. Obviously, even after admitting that yes, aliens are invading, their only purpose is to send some Redshirts die to support the main cast.
  • The aurors in Harry Potter may qualify, depending on whether you consider them as an army or not. In the sixth book, they fail to kill or capture any Death Eater, put innocents in jail (where they are captured and Brainwashed by said Death Eaters) instead, and do nothing to prevent the ministry from being infiltrated by Voldemort.
  • In the first half of World War Z, every single armed force of the world (save for Israel and... that's all) holds the Idiot Ball until the world gets really screwed. For example, the Battle of Yonkers, where the military fails to bring enough ammo to wipe out the waves of zombies.

Video Games
  • While the soldiers of Half-Life are pretty tough, the guy who give them order is probably very, very dumb. The lab accident engineered an inter-dimensional alien invasion ? Let's kill the security guards to prevent them from doing their job ! A particular scientist seems pretty good at killing loads of aliens for us ? Let's put all our resources in taking him down ! Now because of all this mess we have plenty of witnesses to kill ? Let's shoot them on sight instead of gathering them (and then shooting them) ! And now our marines are slaughtered by the aliens that keep invading ? Let's send assassins kill the marines ! No wonder why they lost the following war in seven hour.
  • Left 4 Dead
    • In the comic The Sacrifice, the soldiers are quite bad at fighting zombies. If three civilians and a Viet veteran can kill hundreds of infected with hand-made weapons in the worst possible places (airport, hospital, church), do you think that trained soldiers in a base with twenty feet high walls, barbed wires, artillery, choke points and choppers can do the same ? Of course they can't, they're soldiers.
    • Left 4 Dead 2 is an aversion. While the CEDA is quickly overwhelmed by the zombie invasion, the military is both far more ruthless and more efficient at dealing with it; the evacuation points of the army are still operational, and for what we know of it, they do manage to save people from the zombie invasion.
  • Commented on in Solatorobo, where one character asks what the hell the army was doing when Kaiju were attacking his city.

Community Feedback Replies: 34
  • June 11, 2013
    Larkmarn
    Surely we have this? If not, then we definitely need it.

    It's a staple of kaiju and superhero stories.

    EDIT: Seems like Red Shirt Army would cover it. But it might be worthwhile to split off since there are instances where the army doesn't die, it just... is ineffective.
  • June 11, 2013
    PoignardAzur
    It's not about the army being weak, the soldiers easy to kill or the war being quickly lost. It's more about an army whose defeats are just... unrealistic.
  • June 11, 2013
    xanderiskander
    This may sometimes actually be because of Conservation Of Ninjutsu (despite it's name) which is about a meager amount of people being able to beat a gargantuan army that is reduced to cannon fodder to allow the main heroes to win.

    For example the Star Wars Storm Troopers are one of the examples there. Which it says they became infamous for being terrible shots, and unable to defeat the heroes despite their numbers.

  • June 11, 2013
    DracMonster
    Yeah I agree this is probably really Conservation Of Ninjutsu.
  • June 13, 2013
    AP
    Yeah, this really falls under Red Shirt Army (they don't always have to act like idiots) and Conservation Of Ninjitsu (with the army).
  • June 13, 2013
    Larkmarn
    I maintain there's a trope here in the sense of there's No Armed Forces Response akin to No FEMA Response.
  • June 13, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    ^Re the example of The Avengers: Actually the police and the army (or at least the National Guard) arrive to the scene and fight, but they get pretty curb-stomped by the Chitauri (at least those soldiers which appear on screen do). The rest of the example is OK-the World Council is rather.... quick to decide that NYC is It Is Beyond Saving and nuke it to hell-without even issuing some kind of retreat/evacuation order or... well, anything, really.

    I agree with Larkmarn in that this could work as something similar to No FEMA Response-it's either when the army response is too slow or is just plain useless beyond even being a Red Shirt Army-they actually hinder whatever plan the heroes have to solve the day.

    An example could be Evolution and the 'Alienators' animated series: because of the fact that the aliens can adapt to threats like, well, nukes and massive amounts of napalm, and the only 'leader-type' we see on the assignment to eliminate the alien threat is a Jerkass General Ripper who eschews the heroes' analysis of the threat and is all about using the WM Ds and conventional warfare against something that is *not* conventional, the might of the United States Army is... well... useless.
  • June 13, 2013
    MiinU

    Anime and Manga

    • Bleach: The Gotei 13 is a glaring example. Their military is comprised of roughly 6,000 soldiers, yet, their strength rests almost entirely on its thirteen captains, who're always sent to the front lines while the rest of their divisions stay behind. They also have an entire spy network (the Onmistukido), and a Kidou Corp. which never get used.
  • June 13, 2013
    Larkmarn
    ^^ If I recall correctly, the National Guard never shows up. The police say it'll take them an hour to show up and everything seems to end before an hour's up. I certainly never recall seeing them fight. And if we did, I can't for the life of me think of why they would get curb stomped considering the Chitauri fall pretty damn quickly to small caliber bullets.

    And as-is, the description sounds like a complain-y version of Red Shirt Army.
  • June 13, 2013
    PoignardAzur
    marco : nah, I don't remember the national guard helping. The cops actually help, but they need Captain America to give them orders before starting to organize themselves -and they listen to him without discussion, like "oh, he's killing scores of enemies, it totally proves that he's a great tactician and not just a super strong guy". And they don't fight the aliens a lot (and that's totally normal, they're cops, not soldiers, they're supposed to take care of civilians)

    Larkman : well, No FEMA Response is more about authorities doing nothing, so it's not a good comparison either ; this would be about militaries that fail even when they do something. But yeah, I think the title should be changed a bit.

    Miinu : added.
  • June 13, 2013
    Larkmarn
    The thing is, militaries that fail even when they do something? We have that. It's just Red Shirt Army. Your description even says "... a war consisting of Red Shirts being slaughtered in large open battles is a quicker way to show the aliens as an awesome menace" which is pretty much the very definition of Red Shirt Army.
  • June 13, 2013
    PoignardAzur
    No, because Red Shirt army is about, well, a group or an army or Red shirts. This is about, when the military is globally bad in what they do, even if they should do better : it's more a state of mind in the show. Like in the HL example : the marines are quite a Badass Army, they are very efficient at killing aliens (and at not being easily killed by you), but the global military is still completely stupid.
  • June 14, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Western Animation
    • The army battalion that engages The Iron Giant doesn't last long. An Abrams M1A1 tank gets disintegrated, and most other ordnance fares no better. Of course, The Iron Giant has Crazy Awesome weapons from an alien world, including Wave Motion Guns.
    • Though no army is seen or mentioned, the monsters created by the mad scientists of Malaria in Igor are implied to be more than other nations can handle. Thus, Malaria extorts whopping sums from the world as "protection" from these abominations.
  • June 15, 2013
    AgProv
    The Danish Army in WW 2 had not fought a war since 1815. It was small and largely geared to ceremonial duties in Copenhagen. Denmark also had the misfortune of sharing a land border with a hungry superpower, Nazi Germany. When war came in 1940, the Danes were pragmatic enough not to resist, knowing this would be futile, and the Germans were in Copenhagen within twelve hours. Danish resistance to the Nazis took more creative - and telling - forms.
  • June 15, 2013
    zarpaulus
    @Miin U: I kind of assume that the non-seated shinigami spend most of their time reaping souls while the captains and other officers are kept in reserve to deal with serious threats.

    @oneuglybunny: That wasn't an M 1 A 1, those were introduced 23 years after Iron Giant takes place.
  • June 15, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    ^ Hmm, you may be right. Haven't watched that one since it was released on VHS. Well, whatever tank it was, it didn't last long. :)
  • July 6, 2013
    Larkmarn
    @ Poignard Azur: My comparison to No FEMA Response is a suggestion because No Military Response would be a new trope, while this is a complain-y version of Redshirt Army.
  • July 6, 2013
    DAN004
    @ Poignard Azur: when the military is globally bad in what they do, even if they should do better, then it is an army of Red Shirts.
  • July 7, 2013
    Arivne
    Alphabetized the Examples media sections and corrected the Bleach example.
  • July 7, 2013
    1810072342
    We're going to need to clarify the differences between this and Armed Farces.
  • July 7, 2013
    MiinU
    ^@1810072342 - Armed Farces is mainly military humor about bumbling incompetent military personnel, whereas this trope is about straight examples of perfectly capable armies who either fail to do their job, or simply fail to show at all.

    ^^^@DAN004 - Sucking at their job, or simply failing to perform their duty does not make someone a Red Shirt. A red shirt is an unimportant character who exists solely to be killed off. This trope isn't about that.

    It's about instances where we're told that the army in question is skilled and capable of doing their duty. Yet, they still fail to do their job, whether it's due to being outmatched, being caught off-guard, or simply failing to show in the first place. Which is usually so The Hero or the Ragtag Bunch Of Misfits can save the day.
  • July 7, 2013
    Lumpenprole
    A mere six years after the end of WW 2, American troops stationed in South Korea made an appallingly poor showing when the North Koreans invaded. Admittedly Korea had been considered unimportant and the troops sent there second-rate, but it was shocking to a nation that considered itself a military superpower.

  • July 7, 2013
    Larkmarn
    ^^ So it's the an army playing The Worf? That's exactly what Red Shirt Army is.
  • July 7, 2013
    MiinU
    ^@Larkman - Red Shirt Army is about guys who get killed off, and all Worf ever did was get his *** beat. Neither has anything to do with this trope, though there may be some overlap.

    Failing to show up, has nothing to do with getting one's *** kicked (or killed). Neither does failing, due to being caught off-guard, as even the most skilled and capable soldier can be picked off with a single shot, if they aren't aware that they're being targeted. Or, if they didn't know there'd be an Alien Invasion that day. That wouldn't make them a red shirt, it'd be the expected outcome in such an instance.

    The point is: either writer doesn't have them appear, or the situation is always such that the army in question isn't allowed to handle it so that the hero, or ragtag bunch, can save the day. Which has the effect of making them seem useless, or pointless, in cases where they're not even used (as per the Bleach example).

    It isn't about them being killed off, or getting curbstomped.
  • July 7, 2013
    Larkmarn
    ... this trope is about the army being killed off or curbstomped. Hence the bit in the middle where it says "It's also quite frequent in stories about an Alien Invasion, because a war consisting of Red Shirts being slaughtered in large open battles is a quicker way to show the aliens as an awesome menace than a complex guerrilla with new tactics invented to deal with a new kind of enemy."
  • July 7, 2013
    MiinU
    ... okay, that part wasn't in the description when this YKTTW was first posted. It was originally that the army in question either failed to show, or simply weren't up to the task.
  • July 7, 2013
    PoignardAzur
    The main difference between Redshirt Army and this is that (IMO anyway) is a state of mind of the show, like "All armies are incompetent, we don't need these (we need heroes)", while the Red Shirt Army is, well just a group of Red Shirt. Three example that show the difference : - In Half-Life, the HECU is definitely a Badass Army, they're far more dangerous than all the other aliens (combine included), but the setting is still a "Armies are useless" one, because at the end they don't do anything good. - In Avengers, no soldier is show helping the heroes at the final battle, so there's no Red Shirt army. Still, it qualifies at this trope. - In Stargate, the Free Jaffas are clearly a Red Shirt Army because they often die, but they're still portrayed as a globally quite efficient army.

    Actually, the main difference bewteen this and RSA would be the same as between the Evil Overlord army and Armies Are Evil.

    But still, I agree that there should be a better title and a better description. No Armed Force Response isn't good because it doesn't cover everything they do (and is too close to Police Are Useless).
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    To me, this trope seems to be a signature of attendees of the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. It's not quite A Team Firing, since they might be taking one or two mooks down but completely failing to stem the bulk of the larger oncoming legion of mooks (they don't miss all the time, just most of the time).

    Stormtroopers in the opening of A New Hope did manage to hit a number of the good guys' mooks and take them out (just not any major characters), so why not call this trope Stormtrooper Tactics?
  • July 7, 2013
    PoignardAzur
    Because of the Trope Namer Syndrome. That plus it's not what that is about, and we already have a Hollywood Tactics page. ^^
  • July 7, 2013
    Darthcaliber
    How about the army in pretty much any Godzilla movie? The first time can be excused, but in every sequel Godzilla shows up and the army attacks doing nothing to him and actually causing just as much, if not more, collateral damage. Even the damage caused by Godzilla himself can be blamed largely on the army as the films have pointed out shooting Godzilla just makes him mad and causes him to advance and attack.
  • July 7, 2013
    PoignardAzur
    Darthcaliber : please be more precise ^^

    Anyway, description updated : it's more factual, less complain-y, with a more complete explanation of what make this soon-to-be-a-trope and the difference between this and Red Shirt Army. And some new examples.
  • July 7, 2013
    DAN004
    @ Poignard Azur: So it's the same way as Adults Are Useless or Competence Zone, then?
  • July 7, 2013
    PoignardAzur
    Chabal : added. DAN 004 : yeah, with the army instead of adults.
  • July 10, 2013
    Arivne
    Added Namespaces and capitalized the title.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=fb7b36o3aw6xrrcupxkm3z72&trope=MilitariesAreUseless