Ah, are you looking forward to the big push? Private Baldrick:
No sir, I'm absolutely terrified. Melchett:
Ah, the healthy humour of the honest Tommy! Don't worry my boy, if you should falter, remember that Captain Darling
and I are behind you. Captain Blackadder:
About thirty-five miles behind you.
Armchair Generals (and Admirals) are those persons who decide to critique and/or run military operations from the comfort of their - ah, well, chairs
. This shouldn't be a surprise. There are two interpretations:
- The Big Brass who enjoy the thrill of moving all the little symbols around the big maps and seeing the pretty colours change, (selectively) oblivious to the litany of human suffering their orders entail. Prone to saying "We Have Reserves" and being somewhat divorced from reality, especially when 'the book' contradicts common sense. Prone to hog any credit for success and slough off any blame, and often inordinately fond of Bling of War. They are almost by definition Soldiers at the Rear, yet have no sense for anything as unimportant, boring, and undignified as logistics.
- Noncombatants (with or without a military background) commenting on actual military operations (as professional pundits or otherwise) or wargaming past military operations with other enthusiasts. Often have trouble telling the difference between the 'paper'/theoretical and 'actual' strength and performance of forces. Particularly prone to obsessing over the specifications of weapons and equipment and championing their favourites. Despite their interest in the technical aspects of warfare, they usually don't have the time for anything as unimportant, mundane, and uncool as logistics.
While the idea of a General who valiantly leads his troops from the front line
has some basis in reality, in modern battlefields it is a common case of Hollywood Tactics
. If the guy in charge of your army dies in the first volley
, chances are you're going to lose.
And even if he doesn't die, fighting with the army is going to make it much harder for him to tell what's going on or relay orders.
If they are merely incompetent anyhow, compare General Failure
. If the commander isn't really doing much of anything, including giving orders, and just sits there waiting for the opposition to take him on directly, he's probably Orcus on His Throne
Compare Miles Gloriosus
. A common subversion to a character who first appears to be an Officer and a Gentleman
. The opposite of Risking The King
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Anime and Manga
- In Patlabor 2: The Movie, the civilian government and police act this way, undermine their control over the military, and allow the terrorists to attack Tokyo.
- In Maiden Rose, every administration that we see has its own armchair military. In Vol. 2 the brass from Taki's country are particularly obstructive and serve as a contrast to the type of frontline leader Taki is.
- Lelouch pointedly averts this trope in Code Geass. "If a general does not lead, how can he expect his subordinates to follow?" While he isn't necessarily on the front lines, he is personally present at nearly every battle he commands. He takes this philosophy to such an extreme that his chess strategies often involve the king being right out with the rest of the pieces, making offensive moves.
- Hilariously this doesn't or barely works since his troops are prone to threatening him and running if the battle isn't going in their favor. This is why Lelouch turns the Black Knights into a military force because in his second major battle his troops ran. In the third major battle? They would've ran beforehand but Lelouch the Magnificent Bastard that he is told them they had no choice but to fight and threatened to kill himself and leave them helpless when they threatened mutiny.
- Yuna Roma Seiran of Gundam SEED Destiny thinks he's a brilliant strategist because of his experience with war games. In practice, he makes General Failure Lord Djibril (who at least has a certain ruthlessness to commend him) look brilliant.
- Subverted in Gundam SEED by Captain William Sutherland, a General Staff officer notable for both his banality and Moral Event Horizon-crossing strategies. Sutherland seems like an armchair admiral who can only recommend the strategies he does because he's never actually seen combat. Yet in the final episodes it's Sutherland who leads the attack on ZAFT from aboard his flagship, the Doolittle; it quickly becomes apparent that he uses the tactics he does not because he is ignorant, but because he has no regard for human life.
- Muruta Azrael also counts he sits back and watches the carnage his forces unleash, but should things go wrong he starts throwing hissy fits to the one in charge, and he demands his forces to keep on attacking no matter what.
- General Damon from Valkyria Chronicles and his top brass commanders never take part of the fighting itself, show racism to Darcen soldiers, and overall are terrible commanders. It's no wonder that they are rather unpopular among fans.
- The original Mobile Suit Gundam plays with this in the form of Gihren Zabi, the son of Sovereign Degwin Zabi, and Supreme Commander of Zeon's forces. A definitive Non-Action Big Bad, Gihren has, unlike his brothers and sister, never seen combat. He's also a totally ruthless psychopath who has no problems with throwing away the lives of his soldiers. At the same time, however, Gihren is also reasonably competent, organising the war effort, leaving the tactical and operational decisions to his siblings, and holding the country together through his genuine skills as an orator. It's not until near the end of the war that some of his strategic mistakes actually begin to catch up with him.
- Most of Garth Ennis' works use this trope, especially in the WW2 stories. As these are told from the viewpoint of the frontline troops, high command generally shows a level of incompetence rarely seen outside the Imperial Guard.
- Tintin: In The Broken Ear, Tintin is made colonel-aide-de-camp by supreme-dictator-of-the-week Alcazar. When another colonel points out that maybe this is a bit hasty, as Alcazar's army has 3483 colonels for 27 corporals, Alcazar agrees... and retrogrades the colonel to corporal.
- Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Has a comment on this. While Optimus and Megatron often lead from the front (and tear both grunts and each other apart), a few cons talk of one battle where both of them were sealed inside rooms and had sensory feeds of every one of their soldiers fed directly into their brains to better coordinate the battlefield. One con remarks that thousands of lives were turned into statistics as the two leaders sat in their chairs (minds strained to the limit) directing everything. There is no further recording of this practice. Most bot and con leaders tend to avert this, and the one who comes closest to playing it straight is Prowl, who relies on lot's of behind the scenes manipulation to get tasks done (he even made a secret behind-the-scenes task force to eliminate threats), but he can normally be seen taking up arms and directing on the battlefield.
- By definition, the Battle Commanders in Tiberium Wars have to command in this way, standing far off from the battlefield and issuing complex, often micromanaging orders to their units in the field. Both of the Commanders, however, get brushes with front line action and are no slouches in personal combat, and the GDI Commander, Karrde, deliberately goes out into the field with his troops and commands close to the front to earn their respect.
- Fridge Brilliance kicks in when you realize that the way each Battle Commander handles his men reflects the attitude of their forces in-game: Karrde's hands-on A Father to His Men style inspires them to fight harder, as opposed to Rawne, who deliberately stays detached so he can apply We Have Reserves thinking to the Nod forces, who in a one-to-one fight get slaughtered.
- The Grand Pegasus Enclave of Fallout: Equestria once took nearly 2 days to authorize an assassination of the main character, which gave her the advantage in choosing familiar terrain. In one instance, a rescue mission for a downed Raptor was only carried out in time to rescue anyone because the crew mutinied instead of following protocol.
- In The Universiad, the failure of the First Incursion was in part due to these sorts "commanding" MILNET. Afterwards, GhanjRho had them deposed and replaced with properly able officers.
- Marshall Murdock in Rambo: First Blood Part II was an armchair general. Of course, he had direct orders that the mission was supposed to fail.
- Brigadier General Quintard (John Travolta) in The Thin Red Line.
- Some movies show generals in British High Command during World War II as heartless armchair generals.
- The generals are even worse in World War I films, such as Gallipoli and Paths of Glory. Paths of Glory especially focuses the disconnect that existed between the High Command and the men in the trenches in World War One, specifically among the French.
- Subverted in The Hunt for Red October. Jack Ryan is an author of books on naval history and a CIA analyst, but he winds up rolling up his sleeves and going face-to-face with Captain Ramius.
- Ramius also lampshades the trope when he learns what book Jack wrote and tells Ryan that his conclusions were all wrong.
- However, Ryan was actually in the military, a U.S. Marine. The novels and movies tell slightly different stories on how his career ended, but agree that his career ended right at the start when he survived a helicopter crash that left him partially disabled.
- In both the movie and the book, it is Captain Ramius and Captain Mancuso who do the submarine tactics in the battle at the end, while Ryan gets to turn the wheel whichever way they say and pray to God that he doesn't die.
- The overweight General Miller from In the Loop is frequently accused of being an armchair general because he has spent the last 15 years at The Pentagon and away from combat. Miller is appropriately insulted by the accusation. He actually does have combat experience in his past, and he's the one trying to prevent a dubious war. His hawk opponents, on the other hand, have no military experience and are trying to start a war for political reasons.
- In the 1979 All Quiet on the Western Front the protagonist is home on leave. When the civilians start spouting off their own theories about how to win the war, he tunes out of the conversation.
- Downfall depicts Adolf Hitler as this in the final days of the war, commanding divisions on his map which effectively no longer exist.
- About Face, an autobiography by Colonel David Hackworth, proposes that the war in Korea and Vietnam was undermined by academic 'experts' and military commanders with no understanding of what was happening in the field.
- David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest is about the decisions of America's military and foreign policy experts under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations that led to the US getting bogged down in Vietnam.
- In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Straight Silver, the high command is explicitly described as regarding the war as a chess game, with all the pieces having fixed moves. They were also incapable of seeing that their strategy had been tried three times and failed all of them.
- It's worth elaborating on this to explain why Gaunt is so pissed off about this: the armchair generals running the show aren't even Imperial Guard, they're essentially planetary politicians. Even General Van Voytz notes the stupidity of the situation.
- Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!): anytime Cain has to deal with the Planetary Defense Force high command they tend to be this (in one case, he concluded authority was attributed depending on the number of chins). That's right, the Imperial Guard, the worst-equipped army whose generals include a guy who sent troops under fire without armor or air support, have less Armchair Military than the PDF.
- The armchair military appears in Discworld a few times, where there's much general critique of this style of warfare. The disconnect is especially notable in Night Watch, which features several scenes of two officers discussing the situation in their tent while Vimes (and the rest of the Night Watch) are engaged in the real fighting.
- Strangely, the gods of Discworld themselves may be an example of the first type, most notably in Small Gods. They play games with humanity on a board, and have no concept whatsoever that the people down there are real, until the climax, when Om goes up to Cori Celesti, the home of the gods, and forces them to pay attention to him and call off the war.
- Played with in Enderís Game by Orson Scott Card. Ender realizes he was sending real pilots into battle while he himself stayed safe, thinking it was all a simulation. It's both a plot point and the basis of the sequel that, had he known, he couldn't have done it. Speaker for the Dead is spent trying to make up for what he has done.
- Admiral James Cutter in Clear and Present Danger is depicted this way.
- In Stark's War and its two sequels, by John Hemry, the entirety of the US military command being loaded with this type is what causes the title character and his fellow soldiers to mutiny, after deciding they were through with micromanagement using horribly broken war theories getting troops killed for nothing.
- Senator Arnos in the fourth Codex Alera book Captain's Fury is the first type. Despite being a figure of authority in military tactics, Tavi notes that Arnos doesn't see the soldiers he's commanding as "real", having only seen battles through strategy meetings or high above the air in an air carriage. This causes him to adopt We Have Reserves-style strategies and try to order the deaths of civilians who the Canim spared as "sympathizers to the enemy".
- Subverted in the semi-literal but not figurative case of the real-life General David Petraeus, US Army (most famous for overseeing "The Surge" in Iraq) who has a fictional version of himself portrayed in The Salvation War. He's never at the front lines of any battle and at first glance seems to simply be commanding from the back through monitors. However, he's not unaware of the cost of war in lives, and he is damn good as a commander. In fact, he ends up as commander of the Human Expeditionary Army, although this is because only the U.S.A. has the command/control capability to actually lead a force of its (nominal) size.
- John Simpson is originally portrayed as armchair military when he cites his service as, "having served in the Pentagon". In later books, it comes out that before he served in the Puzzle Palace, he commanded a riverine unit in the Vietnam War.
- Jeff and his friends are fascinated with military history. Of course they take to it like ducks to water.
- In David Drake's Hammers Slammers, many of the titular mercenary unit's employers are distant from the actual fighting, and often have their own ideas on how the Slammers "should" do their job.
- In David Weber's Honor Harrington series, "Armchair Analysts" cause problems for both sides of the Manty-Peep war. Most of the "Good Guy" characters are disgusted by them, including Queen Elizabeth- you don't usually get a knighthood for assaulting your own diplomat, but if the man in question is a pompous, know-it-all idiot who was well on his way to ruining an alliance and possibly starting a second war...
- In The Regeneration Trilogy, set in World War One, this idea is always in the background as the death toll goes up. The main character, British poet Siegfriend Sassoon, is very bitter about his superiors' ignorance of the soldier's suffering.
- The men responsible for organizing the Battle of Yonkers in World War Z were armchair military types. Their list of blunders included putting soldiers in hazmat suits that made it difficult for them to reload, not paying attention to the fact that they were fighting an army made entirely of infantry, therefore giving their tanks the wrong kind of ammunition, bringing bridgelayers, not securing the area or taking advantage of higher ground, digging trenches when they weren't needed, using a really big airstrike on just the front ranks of the enemy, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It's torn to shreds by the man being interviewed in the story, saying that most of the inappropriately chosen stuff was there for purely PR reasons.
- Worse than bridgelayers- they had Anti-Air and Electronic Warfare vehicles on hand to help battle the Zacks.
- What really put the nail in the coffin at Yonkers seems to have been the lack of ammunition for the infantry. The emphasis on deploying and providing for all the armour, artillery, anti-air, and electronic warfare units meant that the infantrymen were allotted just a handful of ammunition each. The contrast with the all-infantry clean-up forces deployed to take back the country - who use the only vehicles they have to transport a veritable mountain of ammunition for each and every trooper - is stark.
- War and Peace devotes several chapters to explaining how Russia's many losses during the Napoleonic Wars were thanks to various (mostly German) generals, who formulated complex plans based, on scientific/mathematical proofs of how wars SHOULD be fought, which served no purpose beyond turning their mob of poorly trained, poorly equipped, poorly led conscripts into a very tired and very confused mob of poorly trained, poorly equipped, poorly led conscripts. It doesn't help that they're all more concerned with earning favor with the Tsar and proving their pet theories than actually winning the war.
- While there is an element of truth in some cases, especially General Phull (who could not even be bothered to learn Russian despite living there for five years before the 1812 invasion), the somewhat xenophobic Leo Tolstoy does tend to tar all "Germans" (some of whom were actually from the Baltic provinces of Russia) with the same brush, even maligning some of those who made the sensible suggestion that the Russian army should retreat in front of Napoleon's until the latter was reduced through lack of supplies, sicknesses etc. Many of the germanophobe Russian officers on the other hand advocated trying to stop Napoleon's army in pitched battles, even in the early phases of the campaign when it heavily outnumbered and was better led than the Russian one.
- The British secretary of state Lord Chesterfield also criticized those in the Letters to His Son: "...as that pedant talked, who was so kind as to instruct Hannibal in the art of war." (letter 93)
- In the final book of The Wheel of Time, then-current strategists and warriors are worried about this becoming the norm of military affairs with the addition of Gateway "skyboxes" to see whole battles from tents.
- In the backstory, Ishamael officially held the position of chief captain-general of the Shadow's forces, despite being a scholar, philosopher, and channeler who'd never actually led troops in battle in his life. Justified in that Ishamael held his title owing to being the Dark One's favorite; he always had generals with actual military experience (most notably Demandred, Sammael, and Be'lal) to lead the Shadow's forces in the field.
- In Outlander Leander, unusual circumstances have led Nagdecht to have two generals. General Glaive is the new, younger general, and is shown getting personally involved in missions with his private unit. When asked where General Oske is, however, General Glaive states, "At the castle, where he always is", suggesting Oske is an Armchair General.
- Star Carrier: Grand Admiral Giraurd, a Pan-European battle group commander who is sent to Alphekka to reel in Admiral Koenig in Center of Gravity and pursues him to a refueling stop in Singularity. Koenig exposits that Giraurd had made it to admiral mostly on political and family influence and had never actually seen combat.
Live Action TV
- In Star Trek, almost anybody in Starfleet Command has been away from the sharp end for far too long.
- In the Deep Space Nine episode "The Maquis", Sisko complains that his superiors back on Earth will never understand the grievances of the Federation colonists because Earth is a paradise.
- Sisko manages to avoid becoming one when he has a major strategic operations role during the early Dominion War.
- In the episodes Homefront and Paradise Lost, an admiral who nearly topples the UFP government says politicians are armchair military.
- Some Expanded Universe novels do feature an admiral or two getting down and dirty when necessary. Even the stuck-up Admiral Arlen McAteer, whose grudge against Picard being made captain is entirely based on his own ideals for a perfect Starfleet (translation: Picard is too young to be a competent captain, despite his numerous successes).
- There is a fine example of one in Star Trek: Elite Force II, when a typical example of an armchair admiral disbands the Hazard Team as unnecessary in these "civilized" times. Along comes Picard and points out that this may be the case at the heart of the Federation but is definitely false on the outskirts. He promptly reassembles the Hazard Team despite the admiral's objections.
- In the Babylon 5 episode "And Now For A Word", Sheridan refers to armchair quarterbacking from the Senate. 
- A lot of the upper brass in Stargate SG-1 remain far behind the front lines. Subverted because they sometimes get down and dirty as well later. In the first couple of seasons nobody ever had to deal with a Stargate in the modern age for such a long period of time, leading to many mistakes.
- The best example, however, is the IOA. They make a lot of decisions that aren't logical at all, such as, in Stargate Atlantis, ordering a preemptive strike on the Replicator homeworld of Asura when the Replicators hadn't even made any hostile moves towards the Atlantis Expedition. This causes the Asurans to retaliate by sending a laser satellite that drives Atlantis off of the planet it's on, leaving it stuck in space for a while. And they repair the damage done to their cities very quickly, making the entire attack a waste of time and resources.
- It's frequently pointed out in later seasons of SG-1 and Atlantis that the IOA, when faced with a difficult decision, will deliberate until after the deadline so that someone else can make the decision and they can criticize it. While the operating principle behind the IOA is sound (civilian oversight of military operations), they are so incredibly ineffectual as to be criminally negligent.
- Well, the preemptive strike on the Replicator homeworld was to wipe out a war-fleet that was probably going to head straight for Earth and Atlantis when it was finished, making the attack justified.
- And that's nothing compared to the fiasco they pulled off in The Ark of Truth: To fight the Ori, which they already have effective weapons against, the IOA decides to secretly build a Replicator (Replicators being the race that was such a threat, SG-1 had to use a galactic reset button to destroy them in Season 8) to infect an Ori ship with. To top that, they remove its weakness to the ''only'' effective weapon Earth has against the Replicators. Naturally, the Replicator gets loose and starts taking over the ship. Because it was designed by the ship's computer, it takes over really fast. Using the computer to create it revealed the ship's position to the Ori (Oh, yes, this all happens deep in enemy space, with no backup possible). End result? The Odyssey dead in space, a Replicator Queen churning out little bugs, while four Ori cruisers take turns shooting it.
- Anyone perceived as armchair military by Mash character Hawkeye was in for an interesting time.
- Blackadder Goes Forth. Played horrifically straight in the Finale.
- Arnold Rimmer from Red Dwarf tries to justify his claim that he is a potential military prodigy despite his tendency of cowering in a corner whenever a fight happens.
- This trope is the entire point of the BBC game show Time Commanders, where random people off the street get to direct historical battles simulations (with help from historians and professional tacticians) to see if they can change the outcome of history. Just to mix it up, a few are given famous victories to try and reproduce.
- Courtney Massengale from Once An Eagle.
- Armchair General's name is probably a tongue-in-cheek reference to the trope, seeing as how it's a magazine mainly about tabletop and computer wargaming.
- Elite Agent French Fries in Dino Attack RPG certainly qualifies. In his first appearance he casually orders Zenna to expose globally a top-secret mission and remains totally oblivious after it causes massive riots and provides an opportunity for genocidal maniac Cam O'Cozy. The second time he tries to have two agents executed for conflicted charges based on second-hand accounts of an event he was not present at, and then casually remarked about his "brilliant" plan to have agents walk out of the Dino Attack Headquarters very slowly towards the mutant dinosaurs. He was even described having a handlebar mustache just to give his character this feel.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender , Zuko is thirteen when he attends his first war meeting, and is horrified at this type of military. Protesting gets him banished and a nasty scar.
- Subverted by Leon Trotsky, the Russian Bolshevik who founded the Red Army and ensured the survival of the Soviet Union against the Mensheviks, foreign invaders, monarchist forces, and pretty much everyone else who wanted to destroy the Bolshevik regime. Despite having no military training or experience before this, Trotsky proved himself to be a remarkably skilled organizer and commander, building the ragtag Bolshevik militias into a formidable fighting force.
- Actually played straight. Trotsky just took the credit for the sterling work of a dozen or so brilliant minds snagged from the former Imperial Russian Army's General Staff. It's much easier - especially for schoolkids - to just attribute their work to Trotsky, given that he was their boss. To be fair, he had wisdom enough to see their potential and let them get on with realising it.
- Prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq, the clash of ideals between General Eric Shinseki and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was like this. Shinseki's ideas were based on established military doctrine on how to control a country such as Iraq while Rumsfeld's thoughts were pulled out of his ass. Rumsfeld simply didn't understand that defeating Iraq's military was the easy part, controlling Iraq's people enough so Iraq could be rebuilt was the difficult part.
- Quite a large number of self-proclaimed "neo-conservatives" have been named "chickenhawks" for their support of war as a foreign policy tool while having gone to some length to avoid military service themselves. Liberal bloggers have also adopted the "chairborne" terminology, as well as referring to "the 101st Fighting Keyboards" and the like.
- As a lighter example of Interservice Rivalry, the US Air Force is frequently referred to as the "Chair Force" by the uniformed personnel of other branches. Airmen with a self-deprecating sense of humor have also been known to toss the term around themselves. Ironically, in the Air Force, it's only the officers who are supposed to get shot at - unless one is in Combat Control or Pararescue.
- Adolf Hitler is halfway to this trope. While he did have combat experience, he only made it to the rank of Corporal before taking the reins of the largest army in Europe. While Hitler did come up with some effective strategies, he greatly overestimated his military acumen. The fact that he had made a lucky guess regarding his disposition of forces during the French invasion gave him the impression that he was a closet military genius, which would color many of his decisions throughout the remainder of the war.
- President Dwight D. Eisenhower never actually served in combat. He did face criticism for that from military leaders at the time (including George S. Patton), but he's still one of the most decorated military leaders in modern history and served in the military for over forty years, both before and after his presidency.
- Douglas MacArthur had been described as such during his command in The Korean War, for never spending a night on Korean soil and issuing his orders from the relative safety of Tokyo. Ironically, during his previous 50 years of service in the US Army, he had been the opposite, the one to risk his life even unnecessarily, as in the scouting mission in Mexico and World War One in Europe. Enough to have impressed Patton in 1918.
- During the New Guinea campaign, he never went to the front lines, which resulted in him repeatedly sacking commanders who he felt were slacking off, when they were actually trying their damndest to get through the worst terrain in the world. On at least two occasions, this resulted in the replacement getting credit for a victory the previous commander had been on the verge of winning.
- US Army slang for this is "Chairborne Ranger," after the 75th Ranger Regiment's nickname of "Airborne Rangers" It's also used as a term for the Soldiers at the Rear, but it's more often used to derisively describe civilians talking about what the military "should" be doing.
- The more common term for Soldiers at the Rear is REMF. The first two letters stand for "Rear Echelon." The last two are a Precision F-Strike.
- In recent years, since around 2008, the favorite term, popular in Infantry and similiar units, is POG, said like "Pogue," person other than grunt.
- Bill Mauldin called them Garritroopers — "too far forward to shave, too far back to get shot."