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The military (Army, Navy, Air Force, whatever) is portrayed as being evil, misguided, or just plain warmongers. They're eager to commit to massive attacks which would leave massive casualties on all sides, including civilian, chalking it up to "necessary losses" or some other such excuse.
Furthermore, they pay no attention to the infinitely wiser and more moral civilian experts, who are in the right and are vindicated in the end when they fix the military's screw-ups.
Note: this trope is not when a heroic army is struggling against an obviously evil one (like, respectively, most World War II stories that pit the Allies against the Axis), but rather when the military as an institution (regardless of factional allegiance) is portrayed in a negative light.
This trope is a relative of Ancient Conspiracy, Government Conspiracy, and Nuke 'em, and is often the mirror image of Science Is Bad, unless the Science in question was a military research project to begin with. It is often commanded by General Ripper, and formed of Sociopathic Soldiers. This Army will sometimes, in relatively rare circumstances, make use of Human Wave Tactics ... rare because while civilians are cheap and expendable, good soldiers are not. At least, to the Army.
If a Real Life military is portrayed in this light, expect the film not to be Backed by the Pentagon. For right or wrong, most institutions generally prefer to not be party to their own disparagement. Considering the inherent Unfortunate Implications of this trope, it can be a Berserk Button for those who have served in the military, especially if it was the one being portrayed as evil. As of late, Private Military Contractors are becoming a popular alternative in fiction, allowing a writer to employ this trope's usual conventions without offending any real-life armed services in the process.
Ironically, it has been remarked by several commentators that in the Real Life USA, the rulers and high-ranking officials who have been in the military often have less warlike policies than other politicians with the same political beliefs. This has been explained by the fact it is easier to send an army to war when you don't really know what an army is than when they are your old colleagues.
An increasingly common variant of this trope draws on Democracy Is Bad; Soldiers try to do their job, which most of them view as "defend my home from threats" as opposed to "smash the enemy at all costs". They may have incomplete information or bad judgment, but most of them want to do the Right Thing, and are willing to sacrifice themselves to that end at the drop of a hat. They just run smack dab into Sturgeon's Law—for every superior that is A Father to His Men, an Officer and a Gentleman or even just a plain old Reasonable Authority Figure, there are dozens if not hundreds of General Rippers and/or Neidermeyers looking to pull a fast one—and as soldiers they are supposed to obey all of them. This is sometimes called "Hate The War, Love The Soldier".
Finally, there's the counter to the prior argument; being a soldier doesn't make you a robot, and that means they still deserve all the hate they get when they cross the line—Just Following Orders is not a justification for committing crimes.
Historically, the English-speaking world has been highly suspicious of standing armies, especially as opposed to local citizen militias. Standing armies were seen as the tool of distant and oppressive centralizing despots, while local militias defend the rights of the people. As a result, Britain subjected the Army to very tight budgetary scrutiny and tended to keep it small and largely overseas; the US did much the same thing upon independence. This is part of why Britain has a Royal Navy, but not a Royal Army. Eventually, both Britain and the US were forced by the circumstances of history to adopt the conventional model of large standing armies; however, while suspicion of the military has all but disappeared, traces of the old attitude remain in the form of the US protection of the "right to bear arms", and the tradition in both countries of organized, state-supported but locally-controlled militias lives on in the form of the National Guard in the US and the Territorial Army in Britain, as well as the British tradition of tying military units to specific locations. Also historically, people in South America may well see militaries in this light due to the many, many, MANY military dictatorships that were set up during the Cold War. Turns out setting up a Day of the Jackboot in your own country isn't good PR.
See also War Is Hell and Rape, Pillage, and Burn. The (mostly) opposite of Straw Civilian. Not to be confused with the army ofTeam Evil.
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Anime and Manga
This trope is an extremely common in post-war Japan. The sad truth is that it was Truth in Television during Japan's imperialist age, and as a result Japan neutered its military and constitutionally forbade offensive warfare. Most Anime and Manga reflect this mentality by portraying the government in general and military in particular in an extremely negative light.
Subverted by Fullmetal Alchemist, while High Command is full of General Ripper types, the generals that remained uncorrupted are moved to dead end positions in the East, or North. The soldiers themselves are honorable, brave men who only wanted to protect the civilians but are instead forced to kill them. The general result is that as soon as the soldiers find out the truth they quickly join the resistance group within the military.
It still kinda makes you feel weird when you realize that every one of those goofy soldiers who work with Ed participated in the Ishval Genocide, and have individually killed more innocent people than most of us will ever even know by name. And that's just the rank and file — State Alchemists such Mustang and Armstrong have personally torched and crushed several thousand people each.
And were left with serious emotional scarring. War Is Hell, and this war seemed pointless.
So just like the rank and file Nazi soldier they are not so subtle expies of.
Rather subtle as far as Nazis go. They're actually supposed to be expies of Japanese Imperial Soldiers, with the Ishvalans being Ainu expies. The similarities with the Germans are cosmetic as far as the European-expy countries go, and because Japan and Germany were both Axis Powers.
The army of which the protagonists are part of in Pumpkin Scissors is this. The war that tore the continent apart has been over for a while, but there's no shortage of corruption and decadence that it's a wonder Alice can still be the Wide-Eyed Idealist that she is.
The Red Ribbon Army in Dragon Ball. They want to Take Over the World, and every one of their officers is an amoral killer at best and a cackling monster at worst. The RRA arent part of a nation though, and appear to be more like a splinter militia, but the Trope still applies.
The military in Genesis of Aquarion performs some pretty nasty experiments on Dark Angels they capture.
The JSSDF in End of Evangelion To be fair, the JSSDF were more like misguided than evil. The only reason that they attacked NERV was because SEELE had manipulated them into doing it, and they all died when SEELE initiated Third Impact. Although their take-no-prisoners attitude does cause one to call their morality into question.
The Britannian Military from Code Geass qualify. They have soldiers who have deliberately killed civilians in several notable instances, they're willing to purge entire districts if a member of the Royal Family orders it, the Royal Guard willingly tries to kill a student for simply getting caught up in the whole mess, and they're notoriously bigoted towards conquered subjects. Granted, the whole society is like that, but the military are the ones conquering and killing them. One faction in particular, the Purists, are completely against Honorary Britannians joining the army and have no problems with framing people for murder in order to reap the political benefits.
Subverted with Yomigaeru Sora Rescue Wings where the main characters are all JASDF soldiers and portrayed entirely as heroes and rescuers. Quite very much the shining exception that proves the rule...
Subverted as well with Zipang - the portrayals of the 1940s era soldiery is somewhat sympathetic, though the upper officers strongly tends in this way for good reason. Subverted by the Mirai's crew. Also notable is that the Americans are also portrayed as sympathetic and tenacious in spite of the superior firepower of the Mirai, avoiding the all-too-easy pitfall of turning alternate history into a revenge fantasy.
Played pretty straight in Hellsing: the Last Battalion and the Vatican Army are unquestionably evil. The later so much that father Anderson ends up killing Maxwell.
Subverted with the Wild Geese. They are all around good guys and lost souls, but will kill for whatever employer who offers coin.
In Clockwork Planet the Army is willing to let 20 million people die than reveal their mistake, and then bring in the Meister Guild who they brought in with no time or information to the problem just to use them as Scapegoats. Even when the mistake is fixed they still try to destroy the city and everyone in it to cover up this mistake.
Especially any Syfy Channel Original Movie. Even if there's no real logical reason the American military would be involved in the slightest, they will find a way to take an antagonistic role. One had them with a secret base near Stonehenge just so they could pounce on any poor, innocent unsuspecting scientists who happened to be around when weird stuff started.
In the Made-for-TV MovieLocusts, General Ripper wants to use VX nerve gas to wipe out the locust swarms, despite their hovering over heavily populated areas.
Miller: This is the trouble with civilians wanting to go to war - once you've been there, you never want to go again unless you absolutely have to. (Beat) It's like France.
Parodied in the film Mars Attacks!! where General Decker's warmongering instincts ("We have to strike now, sir! Annihilate! Kill! Kill! Kill!") prove to be entirely well founded.
Played out on a small scale in It Came from Outer Space (1953) with the sheriff who wants to go in with a posse and the amateur astronomer who's willing to trust that the aliens are telling the truth. It does however subvert this trope in that both aliens and humans are paranoid about the others intentions, yet in reality both are reasonable — the humans just want their friends (who are being held hostage by the aliens) returned unharmed, while the aliens just want to repair their spaceship so they can leave Earth.
The Irwin Allen disaster film The Swarm (1978) attempts this, with the military wanting to use pesticides that would damage the environment while Michael Caine keeps suggesting other methods. Unfortunately the threat of the killer bees is so over-hyped (at one stage they cause the explosion of a nuclear power plant) that Caine's continuing refusal is hard to justify.
The military branch of the RDA (Resources Development Administration) in James Cameron's Avatar ("Give us more time and a peaceful solution is possible." "There is no time!") It was mentioned once in the first part of the movie these guys aren't properly military, more like very well equipped Private Military Contractors (although they are stated to be ex-Marines in the intro).
Note, said ex-Marines seem to be disabled (like the protagonists) or dishonorably discharged (everyone else, even Quaritch).
In Short Circuit, NOVA Labs keeps a standing army for any... malfunctions. They're portrayed as dumb and trigger-happy, and the lead NOVA scientist fires the head of the army at the end of the movie. On the other hand, Number 5 was, as far as anyone knew, a robotic war machine gone rogue and potentially hazardous. So one can excuse Captain Skroeder being eager to pull out all the stops to eliminate the potential threat (and PR disaster).
This trope tends to pop up frequently in the works of George Romero. One of the best known examples is The Crazies, where the soldiers are idiotic and trigger-happy (not that the armed civilians resisting them were much better though), threaten a scientist with violence when he asks for better facilities, and apparently don't even know the faces of their own men (a scientist that manages to develop a cure is put in a quarantine area while trying to deliver said cure).
Day of the Dead had this in spades, with Captain Rhodes being portrayed as an Ax-Crazy and cowardly scumbag, Steel and Rickles as violent, crude thugs, Miguel as a barely functioning wreck, and the other soldiers as apathetic stoners. Played with slightly in that its clear they (like the rest of the cast) have been driven slowly insane by the Zombie Apocalypse and isolation, and many of them have humanising moments.
Land of the Dead saw them treated slightly better and they try to protect the poor folks outside Fiddler's Green along with the rich people inside. Both examples have the military as incompetent more than evil
The US Air Force in Super 8. Their is to recapture the escaped cargo from the train, but they go to many length to make sure it's caught in secret, such as torturing the former scientist who freed the alien, and starting a wildfire so that the entire town evacuates and lets the Air Force occupy the place.
Inverted in Tom Clancy's work. Being in the military is usually a reliable sign that a character is good - sometimes this is taken to ridiculous extremes, where a character who is introduced only for one scene is given a service background simply to make them slightly more sympathetic.
In the Stephen King novel The Stand, the military is portrayed as being willing to gun down civilians with no compunction. In the Complete and Uncut edition, one group of heroes encounters a group of ex-soldiers who've banded together as a rape gang.
The first point is somewhat justified, though - having a disease like Captain Trips going around would make anyone paranoid, especially when it's causing civilization to collapse around them.
Slaughterhouse-Five contains a depiction of a straw-man general espousing the bombing of Dresden as a victory of military planing and ingenuity. This also seems to be Kurt Vonnegut's understanding of the military in general.
Slaughterhouse-Five can also be considered a vicious deconstruction of the belief, at the time of the novel's writing, that the Allies were righteous, just and committed no atrocities, unlike the Nazis. Vonnegut was a POW being held by the Nazis at the time and was forced to participate in the cleanup in Dresden.
While the Animorphs novels play with the idea of Always Chaotic Evil races, the Yeerk Empire, the primary antagonists, are highly militaristic, and the Andalite military is full of proud Colonel Kilgore types and brutal General Rippers. The final book even notes that, upon meeting Andalite civilians for the first time, they are much kinder and humbler than the stereotypical racist, sexist, ableist "arrogant Andalite" they'd previously encountered.
In 1632, the Catholic army at the Battle of the Crapper is portrayed as a combination of murderous and violently lecherous criminals, and slave soldiers who defect almost right away. In contrast, the Poles in 1635: The Eastern Front are a Worthy Opponent.
Likewise, the Malwa army in Belisarius Series is composed of enslaved peasants herded around by steppe savages. But the Malwa vassels, the Kushans and Rajputs are honorable as well as effective warriors.
The In Death series: Nora Roberts seems to believe in this trope. Just check out Purity in Death, Survivor in Death, and Creation in Death if you want proof!
Blackadder Goes Forth subverts this: Armies are not evil per se, the men who lead them on the other side...
Doctor Who: Under Russell T. Davies, and spinoffs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures (also both under RTD) occasionally veered into this, particularly in Torchwood such as in the Children of Earth miniseries where they were depicted rounding up children to be fed to alien drug dealers. The level of demonisation was usually tied with the level of Anvilicious political messages. However In most of their appearances the British (and UNIT) military forces are depicted fairly positively either aiding the Doctor or combating the various alien incursions.
JAG wasn't Backed by the Pentagon for the first two seasons because the Navy, following the Tailhook incident and the controversy of introducing females on combat ships and fighter planes, were in a hyper-sensitive mode and didn't want to be associated with a TV-show dramatizing crimes committed in the service.
Played straight with the Royal Ulster Constabulary in an episode taking place in Northern Ireland, mostly so that the IRA could be portrayed as heroic freedom fighters. For some strange reason this line of reasoning was not used Post 9/11 with regards to US forces and various islamic terrorist groups with similar claims of being "freedom fighters".
Revolution: Everyone knows what happens when the militia comes to call. The episode "No Quarter" has Miles saying that you don't fight the Monroe militia... he says this because he was the one who trained them that way.
Stargate Universe: Divides the characters into military and civilians, who are constantly at each other's throats. And both of the leaders are Jerkasses.
In Helix Major Balleseros is ostensibly the USAMRIID/Army Corps of Engineers liaison to a CDC rapid response team that's been dispatched to Research, Inc. to contain an outbreak of The Virus. But Balleseros' cryptic conversations with Arctic Biosystems' lead scientist Dr. Hatake and blatant sabotage of some of the CDC's efforts imply the Synthetic Plague from which the virus originated is government-funded, and he's been sent to help keep it secret at any cost. In spite of this, he's out of the loop enough to be taken aback when he witnesses various disturbing happenings at the base, including stumbling onto a group of frozen monkey corpses in the artic snow.
Surprisingly enough for the setting, the Imperial Guard mostly avert this trope (yeah, you heard) because generally speaking your average Imperial Guardsman is just a normal human soldier doing his duty to protect the Imperium. Occasionally the bureaucratic and theocratic elements - civilian rather than military - like the Administratum and the Ecclesiarchy (the organisations that direct the Guard) sometimes fall under tyranny, but it's not universal. In other words, the Guard are usually treated as the victims of those running the show, as a way for the reader to experiencethe full weight of the grim darkness. Of course it all depends on who is in charge of the regiment focused on when it comes to the Guard being evil.
The Praetorian Ministry of Mage: The Awakening is a faction of the Ancient Conspiracy called the Seers of the Throne who invoke this trope to scare Sleepers (Muggles) away from Awakening as a Mage. After all, when war becomes atrocity, seeking enlightenment is the last thing on anyone's mind.
The intro for Fallout springs immediately to mind. An American soldier is seen murdering a man (almost certainly a Canadian P.O.W) execution-style while his buddy laughs, before waving for the cameraman, in an ad for U.S War Bonds.
In Half-Life, the surviving scientists are overjoyed by the arriving United States Hazardous Environment Combat Unit... who immediately commence a savage purge of the facility of everything that moves, alien or human.
This gets double ridiculous when you play as one of the Marines in an expansion pack and despite the fact that you never go rogue, other government agents try to kill you anyway. Ostensibly, it's to cover up the incident... but that's what you were sent there to do in the first place, so it's not like the government has any problem with HECU troops knowing about it. There's basically no reason for them to shoot you, yet they do.
Besides, that side effect was due to increasing desperation to cover the events up at Black Mesa: the HECU Marines fail to contain the situation and so pull out; therefore, Black Ops rolls in to wipe out everyone left behind, including HECU stragglers.
In Prototype, the United States Marines are presented as Punch Clock Villains whose primary goal is to contain the Infection. Meanwhile, the Blackwatch organization controlling the occupation are the real villains, and have no qualms with massacring civilians and nuking Manhattan. Their Badass Creed even goes so far as to point out that "nothing is sacred" and "we will burn our own to hold the red line." To be fair, despite their gung ho appearances, Blackwatch isright. Only the random fluke that a particular strain of the blacklight virus that thinks is Alex Mercer is not bent on destroying all humans (though it is an unrepentant murderer, it doesn't want to destroy the city) makes them villains. The rest of blacklight is an unstoppable plague bent on destroying humanity and Blackwatch are the sole thing that can stop it, as far as they know. What makes Blackwatch monsters is their willingness to experiment on people (which started this whole mess). The marines, while presented as most definitely gung oh, are almost shown sympathetically, being used as meat shields by Blackwatchs (ultimately left on Manhattan when Blackwatch plans to nuke the island, being woefully unprepared and uninformed about what they are facing.
This attitude doesn't work well when a shapeshifter is your enemy. When impersonating a Blackwatch member Alex can freely kill anyone without suspicion so long as he loudly announces that he thinks it's him in disguise and can call Blackwatch airstrikes on their own men and bases because of this attitude.
They get worse in the sequel. Heller can collect audio logs left by Blackwatch soldiers and every single one is a recording of some kind of puppy-kicking evil perpetrated by them. It's like sociopathy is a required personality trait for joining Blackwatch.
The majority of the antagonists of Xenogears are members of the Gebler Special Forces, the state army of the Sacred Empire of Solaris. Some of their highlights include: Staging a suicide attack on the power plant of an enemy capital knowing full well it would kill thousands of innocent civilians. Menacing women and children with 30 foot tall Humongous Mecha. Attacking a pacifist nation with virtually no standing army of its own. And sicking a gigantic autonomous weapon on the capital of a recently liberated puppet state in order to eradicate it. Interestingly enough, every member of Gebler eventually Heel Face Turns except for two: Vanderkaum and Miang. Vanderkaum is an idiot and dies early on in the game, and Miang is actually the Big Bad.
Lampshaded somewhat late in the game, when one of the characters points out that the Solarian army is fighting and killing literally for no reason as Solaris itself has long since been destroyed.
In Beyond Good & Evil you have the Alpha Section, a shady group who always seems to arrive too late to be any good to anyone. And for some reason they've set up barriers all around Hillys. And they don't seem to be doing anything to stop all the recent abductions...
This is inverted by Hillys' regular army though, who actually are good and decent, but are being done away with by the Alpha Section.
Played straight and subverted in both F.E.A.R. games. The protagonists in each game are members of highly specialized military forces and are decidedly the good guys (F.E.A.R. team in the first game and Delta Force in the second). The soldiers that they fight, however, are either cloned killing machines in the case of the Replicas, or irredeemably evil corporate mercenaries.
Many Final Fantasy games have this, starting with the Palamecian Empire soldiers in Final Fantasy II, the Red Wings in FFIV, the Imperial Army in FFVI, the Shinra army and SOLDIER in FFVII, the Galbadian army in FFVIII and PSICOM in FFXIII. All of these engage in various atrocities including razing population centres, terrorizing civilians, deforestation, theft and pillaging, scorched earth tactics, abuse of prisoners of war, summary execution and general acts of oppression. Interestingly, the regular Shinra soldiers and the Galbadian army share almost identical uniforms including the 3 eyed visor helmets despite being in different universes.
Assassins Creed II and Brotherhood, provide us with the Borgia army which happens to be the official army. The good guys Ezio can ally with are the Condottieri and Merccenari.
Revelations subverts this with the Ottoman Army - whilst they will still (try to) kill you and bully the citizens of Konstantiniyye, they are serving the lawful authority and hate the Templars. After you kill their commander, it is revealed that he was good all along. Played straight with the Byzantine Army.
Dead Rising, featuring the standard "scary guys with assault rifles and gas masks who try to kill you to cover up everything" depiction of the U.S. Military that appears in countless other works such as Prototype, Half-Life, The Crazies, etc.
Subverted with the Ancient Minister and his R.O.B. Squad. While they do side with the Subspace Army initially, it becomes clear as the plot is revealed that they are being forced into doing so. The villains (Ganondorf, Bowser, and Wario) under the guidance of Tabuu, have essentially enslaved them, and the Ancient Minister joins the heroes as R.O.B. for the rest of the game, essentially making him and his kind Tragic Anti Villains.
The original Grandia featured an insanely corrupt private military, the Garlyle Forces, which are comman by a infectee of the bug-like Big Bad. The Forces were set up to protect archaeologists as they excavated ruins, but they wound up stockpiling all of the excavated technology for themselves. They've also suppressed information, most notably that there is no "End of the World", and are busy making mischief in defenseless foreign lands. A bunch of tools all around. They do turn face near the end of the game, but only after the mad General has slaughtered many of them.
In Skies of Arcadia, the imperial armada is the tool of conquest for Empress Teodora. Unfortunately, the armada is led by a highly-charismatic Grand Admiral who tires of taking orders. He eventually proposes a coup, and nearly all of his lieutenants greenlight the plan without hesitation. (One abstainer is Thrown from the Zeppelin, and another runs home to tell the Empress and become a Grand Admiral himself.) Said plan entails blowing their home kingdom to smithereens, just to show the rest of Arcadia that they're more powerful than even the Empress.
In Metal Walker, this happens in the backstory. In contrast to the peaceful Professor Eriko, Professor Xenon wanted to use Cores for military purposes. Cue an explosion and a ruined landscape.
In Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, New Team Plasma has changed its outfit from Knight Templar style to paramilitary, with what looks like body armour and military style berets. Obviously, they're not very nice.
Sword of the Stars: In-Universe, the Utilitarian sect has this opinion and does not support SolForce or condone its adherents enlisting. On its part, SolForce is quietly patronising of their disdain.
The Khadaganian army from Evil Islands definitely falls here.
Beyond: Two Souls has this in the form of the US government. Despite multiple experiments that have shown that the Infraworld (the game's term for the spirit world) has inhabitants that are actively malicious and will kill anyone they can get their hands on and no one can stop them, for some reason the military thinks it's a good idea to try and conquer it.
The Pigmask Army in MOTHER 3 serves as the antagonist group of the game. While a lot of them seem to be decent people when they're off-duty, the goals they're working toward are anything but moral. However, it's implied that they might not actually even be aware of what it is that their leader is trying to ultimately accomplish, that is, destroying the world.
General: There are basically two divisions in the collective we call "The Military." There is the heroic military, as represented in most of your early war movies, and the conspiratorial military (filled with subterfuge and deception), as represented in bad sci-fi films and The X-Files.