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Cannon Fodder
At least the uniform is stylish.
"Whoever has the most liquor to get the soldiers drunk and send them to be slaughtered... he's the winner."

In most wartime shows that focus on Ace Pilots and other Military Mavericks, there will be a point when these are contrasted to "normal" foot soldiers who wear red shirts for standard issue uniform. They have weak weaponry, little to no armor, their only strength are their numbers, and their only available tactic is Zerg Rush. And, of course, they die en masse. It is the latter fact that almost certainly gonna cause tension between them and said ace pilots and mavericks (who, at the very least, receive Plot Armor, if not better equipment and training), ranging from alienation to open enmity.

We Have Reserves is a related trope but, as often as it happens to Cannon Fodder characters, it is different. We Have Reserves is there to establish a military commander as a particular villain by having him give an inhumane order where it could have been avoided. Cannon Fodder has no other option but get killed and hope the reserves come in time. And yes, even the good guys employ Cannon Fodder in battle, as sad as it may be for them.

The term Cannon Fodder itself originated in World War I, where such high casualties were sustained for so little gain, that the infantrymen were joked to be nothing more than fodder (a term usually used to describe animal feed) for the artillery. The soldiers of WWI knew this trope well enough. However, its French equivalent chair à canon (cannon meat) was used a hundred years earlier by Chateaubriand (see Real Life) and a similar term from times when there was less field artillery, "food for powder" dates back to the 16th century at least; it is used by Falstaff in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1.

New Meat and Redshirt Army are also similar but here, everyone in the unit is expected to die not for drama but just because of the unit's nature. Read more in the Canonical List of Subtle Trope Distinctions.

If you're liable to be on the receiving end of a Wannabe Diss, expect to be cast as this too.

Conscription is the Trope Maker for Cannon Fodder. If the commanding officer treats his troops like Cannon Fodder, it is We Have Reserves.

For the classic video game named Cannon Fodder, see here. Not to be confused the the punny trope Canon Fodder.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 

  • During the joint infantry-air operation in Simoun, the Ace Pilot Floe grows close to a simple rifleman, only to painfully discover the enormous gap between them.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has the mass-produced Grappal Army as cannon fodder; the one-of-a-kind Ganmen and the Gurren Lagann, meanwhile, are the ones who do most of the ass-kicking. Gimmy and Darry, however, are Mauve Shirts and often receive Plot Armor.
    • And Kamina frequently shouted things such as "Outta the way, cannon fodder!!!" before destroying about a dozen beastmen gunmen with his drills.
  • Generally, this happens in most Humongous Mecha series; you know it's happening when the more important characters of the show are sporting unique mecha with customized specs or weapons and armor that outclass almost everything else. More regular, nameless forces will use mass-produced models that are destroyed by the dozen.
    • As with many other mecha tropes, Neon Genesis Evangelion turns this on its head, with the mass-produced models ultimately defeating one of the special prototypes.
  • In Naruto, Jiraiya sneaks into the Hidden Rain Village, and captures two people who come into the "bar" he sets up.
    Jiraiya: Judging from your seemingly low standards and mannerisms, you must be the bottom-most of the Fodder nins, right?
    • The whole of ANBU. Exceptions are named people such as Kakashi (former member), Tenzo/Yamato, Ibiki, Anko, Aoba, as well as Danzo, Sai, Fu and Torune from the Root.
  • The Pawn-ranked Chess Pieces from MÄR, unlike the higher ranks, wear identical outfits and masks, and are given very generic Arms to use. Only one in the entire series even gets named, and things go very bad for her.

    Fanfiction 

  • This is referenced by name in Oh God Not Again by the Sorting Hat. He was describing the Gryffindors.
  • In The Legend of Total Drama Island, Chris uses this term for the contestants whom he had expected to be eliminated early in the game. Subverted when Chris notes with mixed feelings that the "cannon fodder" is turning out to be more capable than he expected, for which he blames the profilers for not doing their jobs.

    Film 

  • Mobile Infantry from the first Starship Troopers movie is easily the most recognizable example.
  • The Taliban soldiers that come after the Navy Seals in Lone Survivor (2014)
  • Discussed by Charlie Chaplin in the famous soliloquy that closes The Great Dictator.
    "Soldiers! Don't give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder."

    Literature 

  • In Gordon R. Dickson's Childe Cycle series, the Friendlies provide this as their major export. Being a fundamentalist society and lacking any rare resources, the Friendlies could only serve as Mercenaries. However, the Badass Army market was already covered by the Dorsai, so the Friendly mercs' only advantage was that they were cheap and plentiful.
  • In Matched Aberrations are sent to the Outer Provinces as "decoys" to draw the fire of the mysterious Enemy.
  • The soldiers of the Spartan III program from Ghosts Of Onyx are meant to be this. Their sole purpose is to take the suicide missions that are beyond the skill level of the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers but beneath the potential loss of the Spartan II's.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire gives us... the Freys (and their hapless retainers). There are a lot of them, and the House is at least rich enough to equip them all fairly well. There are also a lot of factions willing to wield armies in the field, most of whom they have tried to ally with. They have, however, gone and made the mistake of getting generally hated by all sides for various reasons just as they've ditched their habit of turning up more than fashionably late to wars. Guess who has pride of place on the top of the list of those chosen for the front lines when any given commander wishes to reserve their best, most loyal troops? Go on... guess.

    Live Action Television 
  • Played with in the opening scene of the first episode of Blackadder, when King Richard III and his nephew talk about Edmund at the banquet on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth:
    Richard III: You're not putting him anywhere near me, are you?
    Richard, Duke of York: No, Uncle. He will somewhere with the rabble.
    Richard III: Oh. Arrow fodder?
    Richard, Duke of York: Precisely.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Anything fielded by Orcs or Goblins in any tabletop game, including tanks and Humongous Mecha. Dem humies (stunties, skinnies) just rilly cawn't kil us ladz all, can dey?
  • Warhammer Fantasy:
    • Bretonnian Infantry, as Knights are actual Nobles while their infantry are made up of dirt poor peasants.
    • Skaven units are this, given their culture. Skaven Slaves are this in the actual game, as you can fire into melees where only they and the enemy are, making them literal cannon fodder.
  • The Imperial Guard from Warhammer 40,000.
    • And for them, first conscripted troopers which have less training and only the most basic equipment. Then the Planetary Defense Forces which usually are even less skilled and have even less equipment.
    • For a bit of perspective, in terms of point value a single Space Marine Terminator costs as much as 10 Imperial Guard Conscripts. He can take them all together too, and will probably emerge unscathed unless the Random Number God is grumpy. Nevertheless, every round they spend slaughtering expendable troops is a round they're not killing something valuable.
    • The Tyranids have basic troops called Rippers that are sent en masse to enemy lines, causing them to waste ammunition for when the real attack begins with larger and more intelligent troops. The Rippers don't even have digestive systems - after they've consumed all the biomass they can, they are unfit for combat and return to reclamation pools to be consumed for the biomass they contain.
      • Practically all of the Tyranid's basic troops are used like this this includes the gaunt breeds.
    • Tau have a habit of turning their enemies into this repeatedly, provided they can stay at a safe distance to do so.
    • The Orks have their Grotz who are at the very bottom of the Ork hierarchy, their basic roles are cannon fodder, as well as used to clear land mine fields, emergency rations, and even used for football.
      • Ork Boyz are only slightly less expendable. One of the defining traits of the average Ork Warboss is the ability to view everyone but himself as totally expendable if it leads to a good fight, and one of the defining traits of the Ork mentality is that this is a positive trait for a leader to have.
    • Come to think of it, all armies employ Cannon Fodder to a degree. Even the Eldar, but Eldar lives are far too valuable to be spent in most circumstances, nevermind wasted, and so the Eldar prefer to trick some other schmucks, like humans or Orks, into being the cannon fodder for them.
    • In the game, the concept of "ablative wounds" is the game mechanic of this; Most infantry squads only have a limited number of units that can be upgraded to special weapons or heavy weapons, while the rest are stuck with their stock equipment (which range from comically ineffective to just a tad inefficent, with very few exceptions). Thus the only use for these models is to absorb incoming shots to preserve the heavy/special weapon gunners from harm so they can make the most out of their gun. The most prevalent of these are Tactical Squads; they must be at full strength to take a Heavy Weapon in the first place, meaning you're stuck buying at least 7 generic members (the other two can be upgraded to be a veteran sergeant and a special weapons) who have no other options. Since the Heavy Weapon guy will be firing at stuff far out of the range of the generic ones, all they can do is take hits.
  • Paranoia is that rare example where the players themselves are the cannon laser fodder.
  • This is the role that mortals play in Exalted, because their world just sucks that much. It's even codified in the rules: "extras" — usually defined as anyone without an Essence rating — have only three health levels where everyone else has at least seven. A Fan Nickname for mortals in Exalted combat is "Ablative People Shields".
  • Pawns in Chess.
  • Most linemen in Blood Bowl. Orcs, for once, avert their usual tendencies, as their players are very hard to hurt and even their linemen can end up as Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder with a few (randomly awarded) MVP awards.
  • BattleTech's Clans, nations of caste-based warriors, treat their "old" (over 35) soldiers as cannon fodder. They are transferred into "Solahma" units, which are mostly assigned in garrison duty, and are also sent out as shock troopers in outdated and decrepit battlemechs, combat vehicles, or armed with nothing more than an assault rifle and a flak jacket, and are expected to die in battle.

     Video Games  

  • Often used in strategy video games for baseline infantry units, whose basic tactic is Zerg Rush or just to stand there, fire at the enemy, and keep reinforcements coming.
  • Cannon Fodder. Eponymous trope, eponymous pixels. War Has Never Been So Much Fun!
  • When Peasants are a combat unit, they will always be cannon fodder.
  • In Star Wars Battlefront, the player that had the most deaths earns the title 'Bantha Fodder'.
  • In the Halo series, the Covenant uses the Grunt race as cheap labor, and in the case of the military, cannon fodder. Their fighting skills are laughable at best, as their combat strategy is usually nothing more complex than taking potshots at the enemy and hoping it dies. They also tend to run away when their squad leader is killed. However, Grunts can also be surprisingly dangerous in specific situations. Some variants carry heavy weapons, and even some that don't can overcharge their plasma pistols in Halo Reach, leaving the player without shields. In the first game, Grunts were the only enemy that threw grenades, and if they stuck to a vehicle that you were driving, the only way to survive was to get out of the vehicle and run, and in later games, Grunts led by Brutes will arm two grenades and run at the player if the Brute gets killed. Grunts are also quite formidable in large numbers, and when the entire Grunt race rebelled against the Covenant, it took an Arbiter and a sizable portion of the Covenant's fleet to defeat them.
  • Perhaps the most relevant example is Men of War: Condemned Heroes. The player goes into tough battles, in a series where you usually get a sufficient amount of men and vehicles, with nothing more than a squad or two - and usually with little ammo. The necessity of capturing enemy equipment is paramount to succeed. The game's producers, 1C, also added the original Orders No. 227, the famous 'Not one step backwards!' from Stalin, as well as a modern analysis of the use of penal battalions, pointing out that while they were brutally treated and suffered beyond heavy casualties, in the eyes of the contemporary Red Army, they were repaying their debt to the Motherland, either in heroism or blood.
  • The Cultists in Dawn of War are actually referred to as Cannon Fodder by their own unit description.
  • In the Strategy RPG iPhone Game Ravenmark, some battles sees you command Militiamen, in addition to your core Imperial Legion troops. Basically farmers and local constables with little to no training and basic equipment, pressed into service when an unexpected full-scale invasion stretched the imperial armies beyond capacity. Their most notable ability is that any enemy unit that kills a squad of them is slowed down to 1 move and low initiative in the next round. In other words, they're most useful when their piled-up corpses are impeding the progress of your foes. Of course, whether you use them as such, or try to keep them in reserve until things get truly desperate, is up to you.
  • In Xenonauts, it is a tactic happily employed by the aliens and sometimes the player too, to a certain degree.
  • In the X-COM series, it is the default modus operandi of the alien force. The reason: the aliens are effectively countless, they can be easily bred and they have little to no survival instinct.
    • XCOM: Enemy Unknown subverts this: the less-equipped aliens are still cannon fodder, but they're strategically-placed cannon fodder. The Etherial Faction, which rules over the other alien factions like a theocracy, is trying to find new forms of life, test and experiment on them, and determine their place in the hierarchy with the ultimate goal of finding a race that can surpass them - everyone in the hierarchy, Ethereals included, are considered failures by the Ethereals. You fight waves of Greys and Thin Men with ease in the beginning stages of the game because the Ethereals are testing to see if your race can survive their weakest, most inept soldiers. If so, great; have some more technology and harder enemies to fight. If not, get ready to beg and grovel before your current foes as their new thralls.
  • Pictured, a Tokay slave used as Cannon Fodder by the Labrynna Regime in Hyrule: Total War.
  • MechWarrior generally turns tanks, infantry, and aerospace fighters (all of which are deadly in the original material) into cannon fodder designed to waste your BattleMech's ammunition reserves upon before the enemy Battlemech force shows up. The only time they're dangerous in Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries, for example, is when the AI sics over 40 tanks onto your squadron. The trope is averted to a hilarious degree in Living Legends, where countless Mech 4 veterans were slaughtered by rampaging Demolisher mech-hunter tanks and angry battlearmor players swarming over their mech.

    Web Original 
  • D-Class Personnel at the SCP Foundation. These are the people that they shove through doors into deep space in order to see what happens.
    • They do have a fully functional moon base now...

    Western Animation 
  • Exo Squad had an on-going conflict between the Humongous Mecha pilots and the jumptroopers (basically, light paratroopers) who die like lemmings when things get hot.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: All the soldiers from the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom except the Dai Li.
  • The Monarch from The Venture Bros. regards his henchmen as basically disposable pawns and often sends platoons of them to be butchered by Brock Samson while he directs them from the safety of his flying cocoon headquarters.
  • Captain Zapp Brannigan from Futurama makes no attempt to hide the fact that he sees everyone on his crew as completely expendable. His notable "victory" over the Killbots was achieved by feeding them wave after wave of his own men until they reached a pre-programmed kill limit and shut down. He has claimed that when he's in command, "Every mission is a suicide mission!", and he considers clogging the enemy's cannons with the wreckage of his own ships to be a viable combat tactic.
  • Both averted and subverted in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The clones are often viewed as this even admitting it themselves, but to the Jedi (with the exception of Pong Krell) they are invaluable friends and kept alive as much as possible, not that it helps the Jedi in the end.

    Real Life 
  • During World War II, Japanese infantrymen were called 'senrin' by their officers, referring to the price of mailing a conscription notice: one sen, one rin, or about 1/99th of a yen.
    • Several Japanese officers who fought on Guadalcanal went further, calling themselves and their men 'teppodama', literally "bullets" in being that expendable.
  • According to The Other Wiki, the first documented use of the term "cannon fodder" appears in an anti-Napoleonic pamphlet by French writer François-René de Chateaubriand, published in 1814. In it, Chateaubriand lambasted Napoleon's battle strategy, particularly his treatment of new recruits: "the contempt for the lives of men and for France herself has come to the point of calling the conscripts 'the raw material' and 'the cannon fodder'."
  • The ugly truth is that this has been the purpose of infantry since WWI in conventional warfare. While some armies have embraced it and some haven't, ultimately the infantry's job is to go first and locate targets for the artillery, aircraft, and armored vehicles. That this is frequently accomplished by losing a few of them to fire from a concealed position is an unfortunate inevitability.
    • Napoleonic armies were raised by conscription, and any conscription armies tend likewise to be Cannon Fodder. Equipment and weapons are expensive, human life is cheap.
  • Red Army staff officers sometimes referred to lost soldiers as "material" or "wastage". Euphemisms such as "how many pencils were broken today?" were common. This is actually something of a subversion: it was not through callousness, but a coping strategy given the vast casualties the Russians suffered in WWII. Given how much as been written about the "Red hordes" (most of it nonsense), this may come as a surprise to some.
  • This happened a lot in the American Civil War. When Pickett's Charge was repulsed at Gettysburg, the retreating survivors were taunted with shouts of "Fredericksburg!" In that earlier battle, it was the Army of the Potomac that suffered frightful casualties in failing to break a fortified line. Almost one year later, one soldier wrote in his diary: "June 3, 1864. Cold Harbor. I was killed." Which he was. Many other soldiers pinned nametags to their uniforms before this and other battles so they could be identified if they were killed; ironically, the author of the diary omitted his name in the book, and it has been suggested that the diary entry is apocryphal.
  • How many hordes there are in a Chinese platoon? A sarcastic joke amongst the UN troops during the Korean War. The human wave attacks of the Chinese infantry produced an appalling amount of dead, implying the Chinese infantry were nothing but cannon fodder.
  • Devil is on the side of bigger reserves. A sarcastic remark on Napoleon's phrase "God is on the side of bigger guns."


Red Shirt ReporterThis Index Is ExpendableC-List Fodder
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