Insane Admiral

aka: Pointy Haired Military Boss
"I'm proud to say I've written another insane admiral. They must put something in the water at Federation Headquarters."
Ronald D. Moore

In fictional military settings, the brass tend to be a bit unstable. Frequently they become so obsessed with their own pet projects that they endanger national security. Other times their brazenness and/or paranoia almost leads to wars breaking out between rival superpowers. They may be a Conspiracy Theorist with authority investigating the heroes, an Obstructive Bureaucrat making hell for the heroes, or they may be covering up for their own wrongdoings. These are the ones most likely to send the heroes on a dubious mission. They could be a General Ripper obsessed with the enemy, or they could be cowards who fear public exposure of their own wrongdoings.

All this insanity might make their organizations look incompetent, but presumably the Insane Admirals are just the ones we see... 95% of the brass in any given organization are probably decent folk, but spend their time rubber-stamping military contracts and attending state functions, and never do anything 45-minute drama-worthy. Please note this applies only to officers who are at command level, no one below the rank of Naval Captain/Army Colonel/Airforce Group Captain applies here, see The Neidermeyer and Sociopathic Soldier for those.

The unfortunate combination of Bad Boss and We ARE Struggling Together. General Ripper is a major Sub-Trope of this. And see also Kicked Upstairs, which is frequently how they end up getting to be Insane Admirals instead of insane forty year-old ensigns.


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    Anime and Manga 


  • Colonel Quaritch in Avatar shoots at anyone who non-lethally leaves his faction, and he goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the protagonist after his plans have been completely foiled.
  • Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now
  • The General in Z
  • From Dr. Strangelove, General Jack D. Ripper.
    • General Buck Turgidson, while much more grounded than Ripper, definitely has his moments as well.
  • General Leland Zevo in Toys
  • Played for Laughs in Hot Shots! with Admiral Benson, an amicable kook who tries to order the whole fleet to turn around and go back when his Admiral's hat blows off while on deck.
  • Subverted in Mars Attacks!: General Decker seems like a raging whacko, but he turns out to be right about the Martians from start to finish. (He's still wrong about how to beat them, though.)
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: In grand Trek tradition, Admiral Marcus is really a Blood Knight seeking to start a war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. He has no compunction about murdering loyal Starfleet officers in cold blood.
  • Played for laughs with retired Admiral Boom in Mary Poppins.
  • In Little Big Man, as well as the novel it's based on, George Armstrong Custer is portrayed as a monomaniac whose delusional self-confidence blinds him to the very possibility of defeat.

  • Anyone with the rank of Colonel or above in Catch-22
  • Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny, both the original novel and the Film of the Book. His bizarre behavior eventually causes a subordinate to relieve him of command.
  • Captain Sawyer from the Horatio Hornblower books.
  • General Patton in Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 series
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe isn't short of crazy senior military officers. The vast majority are in the employ of the various Sith run empires throughout history, but that isn't surprising given the Sith not only bring their own level of crazy to anything they get involved in, but encourage it in others.
    • Admiral Natasi Daala in the Jedi Academy Trilogy series. She returns in the Fate of the Jedi series as a crazy head of state. It's eventually revealed that she suffered from a traumatic brain injury decades earlier and never fully recovered, which explains a lot.
    • Captain Joak Drysso in the X-Wing Series novel The Bacta War
    • Most of the various Warlords that broke away from the Empire following the Emperor's death in ROTJ tended to be a bit extra crazy as well. A bunch of them get out crazied by Daala who gets them all to a peace summit and then gases them to death when they can't come together to present a unified front. ironically, this ends up ensuring the Imperial Remnant's survival, as by the end of that particular crisis its leadership ends up in the hands of Admiral Pellaeon, the Imperial Only Sane Man par excellence.
  • Admiral Bell in Varney the Vampire, while protective of his family and a generally decent guy, acts like a complete lunatic in most situations.
  • The Vorkosigan Saga gives us Vice-Admiral Ges Vorrutyer, who combines dangerous military adventurism with a brutally manipulative attitude to his companions' lives, and in his spare time is a serial rapist.
  • The Drowned Cities: Colonel Glenn Stern of the United Patriotic Front is a Knight Templar madman who believes he is saving America (something he barely understands the concept of) by chopping off the hands and feet of those he takes prisoner, and turning children into soldier boys. His archrival, General Sachs of the Army of God is implied to be just as crazy, as are the leaders of Taylor's Wolves, Tulane Company, the Freedom Militia, and all the other groups in the story.
  • This is the default mindset for Yeerk Vissers in Animorphs, most of whom are shown to be motivated more by their personal agendas rather than military objectives. The standout is Visser Three (later Visser One), the Big Bad of the entire series. A dim-witted egomaniac with an unquenchable thirst for violence and a questionable grip on reality, Visser Three finds every excuse he can to butcher his own subordinates, spends the rest of his time playing politics with his superiors, and reacts to defeat like an angry child. His fanatical subordinate, Visser Two, is even more crazed, if that's possible to imagine. He also gets bonus points for taking an actual admiral as his host.
    • Interestingly, Visser Three actually shows far more effectiveness, restraint, and... well, sanity, in the prequel Chronicles books. He gets a narrating role in The Hork-Bajir Chronicles in which he's downright the Only Sane Man among the Yeerks invading the Hork-Bajir homeworld.
    • Subverted by the original Visser One, who seems to have taken Esplin's role as the Only Sane Man in the Yeerk Empire in the present day.
  • In Star Trek: Serpents among the Ruins, Admiral Aventeer Vokar is the Romulan Arch-Enemy of Captain John Harriman of the USS Enterprise-B. While Vokar doesn't fit this trope, the main plot of the novel involves portraying him as one while setting up the now-infamous Tomed Incident, in which Vokar's flagship Tomed performed a suicide run at a Federation sector and deliberately destabilized its quantum singularity while at high warp. The resulting Earth-Shattering Kaboom destroyed a number of outposts and a Federation starship, costing the lives of tens of thousands of Federation citizens. However, this was actually a Starfleet Intelligence operation, involving Harriman, to infiltrate the Tomed and set up the suicide run, while the outposts and the Federation starship were actually empty. The only casualties of the operation were Vokar himself and his crew.
  • In the Honor Harrington series, the Solarian League Navy is an entire navy of this. It... doesn't end well for them. Repeatedly.
  • The Flashman novels generally give this view of 19th century British brass. Lord Raglan (his commander in the Crimea) and Major General Elphinstone ("Elphy Bey," his commander in Afghanistan) are portrayed as basically senile, while the British aristocracy that produced the Empire's generals is as eccentric as in any other literary portrayal.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 'Allo 'Allo!: Those Wacky Nazis, with any officer above the rank of Colonel really (resident cast members are Colonel Von Strom and General Von Clinkerhoven). Again, the insanity is Played for Laughs.
  • Babylon 5: Colonel Ari Ben-Zayn.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) (2000's): Admiral Cain, of course.
  • Blackadder Goes Forth: General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay "Insanity" Melchett, whose determination to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin inspired many a "Big Push".
  • Doctor Who: In the Tom Baker episode The Ribos Operation (part 1 of the Key to Time adventure), the Graf Vynda-K is the perfect example.
    • In the last part of the Key to Time adventure: "The Armageddon Factor", the Marshal of Atrios is another fine example, obsessed with achieving victory in an interplanetary war with Zeos, which has so far devastated Atrios to the point that its surface is virtually uninhabitable due to the radiation fallout.
  • Fawlty Towers: Major Gowen (although a retired officer), doesn't know what day of the week it is. Then again, how much of this is simply due to the Major being frequently inebriated, we're not entirely sure.
  • Horatio Hornblower: Captain Sawyer from this Mini Series adaptation. His case is Played for Drama. He starts as viciously critical and unjust, continues to be extremely paranoid and ends up genuinely mad. His lieutenants are in an unenviable position, especially when the ship's surgeon is Captain's friend, an alcoholic and unwilling to pronounce him unfit for command. Whatever steps they consider to take would be ultimately a mutiny.
  • M*A*S*H: Major General Bartford Hamilton Steele from the episode "The General Flipped at Dawn". He is promoted at the end to boot, after dancing a jig to 'The Missisippi Mud' out of a court-martial. On rare occasions, his lookalike Potter showed signs of a crazy edge—but considering the camp he ran, he can be forgiven.
  • Mission: Impossible: In "Submarine", the IMF have to stop a U.S. Navy admiral who sank one of his one subs as a demonstration of a weapons system he was planning to sell on the black market. He did this because he felt betrayed by the government conducting weapon limitation talks with the Russians, which stopped his computer virus attack system ever going into production.
  • Revolution: Bass Monroe in turns this Up to Eleven as an unhinged military dictator of the Monroe Republic (formerly the northeastern US and parts of Canada). As the show goes on, it becomes a Deconstructed Trope, with loyal officers Mile Matheson (revealed to have been one in episode 3) and Tom Neville (occurred in episode 13) betraying him, because he would have had them killed. His paranoia and insanity causes a lot of competent officers to be killed off, including Colonel John Faber (episode 8), a militia captain who worked under Neville (episode 14), and Jeremy Baker, who calls him out on his behaviour before his death in episode 17. In fact, by the first season finale, Tom Neville takes over the Monroe Republic and Bass Monroe is left to run off on his own.
  • Sharpe: This trope tends to turn up in this series, probably the most extreme (although far from unique) example from that series is Sir Henry Simmerson.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series:
      • "The Doomsday Machine" - Commodore Matt Decker is driven mad after watching the titular machine kill his entire crew, and commandeers the Enterprise in a vain attempt to destroy it. When that proves unsuccessful, he commits suicide, flying a shuttlecraft into it. That was an attempted Taking You with Me though.
      • "The Deadly Years" - With Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise senior staff incapacitated, Commodore Stocker takes command of the Enterprise and orders the ship into the Neutral Zone, against Star Fleet regulations.
      • "Whom Gods Destroy" - Garth of Izar, a former Starfleet Fleet Captain who develops megalomania and ends up in the asylum on Elba II.
      • Star Trek VI - Several Federation and Klingon brass conspired to assassinate each other's heads of government.
      • Even Kirk veered towards this trope in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock — technically he did steal valuable Federation property to go to restricted space in order to complete a pet project, it just happened to be the right thing to do and a rather reasonable pet project.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • Admiral Jameson violated the Prime Directive by providing weapons to the leader of one side of a war in exchange for the Federation hostages he was holding, only to provide weapons to the other side in an attempt to maintain the balance of power. Granted, he was only a captain at the time, but decades later, the now-retired and infirm admiral took a massive overdose of a de-aging drug in order to be strong enough to face his former adversary again, in what turned out to be a revenge plot against Jameson for having helped perpetuate that war.
      • Retired Admiral Norah Satie ruthlessly investigated the crew of the Enterprise-D, believing that there was a traitor among them. When her investigation proved fruitless she became rather unhinged, causing the saner Admiral proceeding over the events to excuse himself immediately and halt the investigation.
      • Admiral Kennely conspired with Cardassians to attempt an assassination of a Bajoran terrorist, blind to the fact that the there was no way the man could have committed the crime he was accused of.
      • Admiral Pressman conducted secret, dangerous, and illegal tests involving a Federation cloaking device and lied to other officers about it. Like Jameson, he was a captain at the time of the initial tests, but as an admiral he wanted to start them up again.
      • Star Trek: Insurrection - Admiral Dougherty is conspiring with an enemy power to remove an indigenous population from its homeworld in order to gain access to valuable resources. Possibly a subversion, since he was acting under direct orders from the Federation Council and tried to back out when things turned nasty.
      • In Star Trek Expanded Universe, it's revealed that Dougherty was working with Section 31 on this.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
      • Admiral Leyton convinced the Federation President to declare martial law on Earth, carefully maneuvering his way into launching a coup. He was the Knight Templar General Ripper type. This even included setting up two starships to fight each other to keep one of them from exposing him.
      • At least the more or less regular appearances of Admiral Nechayev earlier (though she still had her Obstructive Bureaucrat tendencies); this was actually part of a Dominion simulation, and her other appearances tended to center around the Maquis. Admiral Bill Ross in the later seasons in the series presented Star Fleet's brass in a better light. As a big part of the Dominion War Arc, he practically became part of the Deep Space Nine crew, and the audience got to know and trust him.
    • Star Trek: Voyager: Even future Admiral Janeway manages to get into this in the series finale, deciding to wipe out 25 years of what looks like a very rosy history because a couple of cast members didn't make it back. There's a reason even Janeway's actor considers the character bipolar at best.
    • Star Trek Into Darkness: Admiral Marcus deliberately revived Khan in order to exploit his brutality and created a number of terrible weapons systems with his help. Marcus planned to start an "inevitable" war against the Klingons preemptively. He even went so far as to secretly build himself an unmarked, black starship twice the size of the Enterprise and designed purely for combat.
      • In the non-canonical Star Trek: Khan comic, it's implied that most of these development were already underway before the "enhanced" were found. Khan did, however, take them Up to Eleven, even building a portable transporter capable of sending a person to another star system, meaning it could be used to leapfrog pretty much anywhere without a ship. Why did Khan do all this? Because Marcus's people gave him Laser-Guided Amnesia, making him think he really was Agent John Harrison of Section 31.
    • Really, the list of admirals in Star Trek who are not either insane or talking heads giving generic orders off a viewscreen is awfully short.

  • Played for Laughs in The Navy Lark with a parade of insane Vice-Admirals, and Commodores over the years. However, the actual Admiral in charge, while being a bit out of date and overbearing, was more often than not a Benevolent Boss and on more than one occasion the Only Sane Man.
    • That and his alcoholism dulls his interest in what's actually going on...
    • Varied by episode, really. On at least one occasion - well into the 1970s - he was portrayed as not knowing that World War Two had ended.
  • Major Bloodnok in The Goon Show has some insanity revolving around his gastric problems.
    • Doesn't really fit here, though, being a) below Colonel and b) pretty savvy, just a lecherous crook with IBS.

  • French Fries in Dino Attack RPG. Where to begin? Remaining completely oblivious to the mounting tension between the two sides, he escalated what was once a debate between realists and idealists to whole new levels of violence (and didn't get punished until long after it was over). His favorite strategy is to send the men out of Dino Attack Headquarters walking very slowly toward a hoard of mutant dinosaurs. He tried to murder a Half-Human Hybrid who was working with the team for no reason other than being a hideous abomination, and he proudly boasted about killing one of the commanding elite agents' tamed mutant dinosaurs.

     Tabletop Games 
  • These turn up from time to time in Warhammer
  • Many if not nearly all the officers of the Imperial Guard in Warhammer 40,000. Inquisitors (especially Radicals) also fit the description.
    • It's actually kind of hard to tell when one is insane or just ruthless. While individual regiments may differ, standard Imperial Guard policy is that the life of a soldier is worth less than the weapon he was carrying. "Losses are acceptable; failure is not".
  • Szuriel, Horseman of War, and Angel of Desolation is what happens when you combine the worst traits of a General Ripper and a Colonel Kilgore with Psycho for Hire, We Have Reserves, War God and Archdaemon. It isn't pretty.
  • Many occasionally appear in BattleTech: a good example is Khan Raina Montose of Clan Ice Hellion; she lead the Clan in their invasion of Clan Jade Falcons occupation zone. She orders her Clan push on their invasion even though their supply lines have been intercepted by the Falcons.

    Video Games 
  • Kefka from Final Fantasy VI was made conspicuously insane after an experiment Gone Horribly Wrong, and becomes obsessed with acquring personal power at all costs. Emperor Gestahl still trusts him as his right-hand man long enough for him to successfully usurp the power of the Warring Triad and set off The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Admiral Greyfield (Sigismundo in the Europe version) in Advance Wars: Days of Ruin.
  • The Valuan admiralty of Skies of Arcadia has a problem with this. Admirals Galcian, Ramirez, and De Loco are all nuts (and evil), while Alfonso is incompetent (and evil) and Vigoro is... eccentric (and not so much evil as amoral). Small wonder the only two competent, sane admirals come off as the sympathetic villains of the lot...
  • One of the personalities your generals can have in the Total War series is this trope.
  • In Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, your CO, Admiral Akkaraju, plans to use the Kato cannon against Avernus, disobeying High Command. In one of the two paths offered in the game, you can choose to stop him.
  • Admiral Han'Gerrel from Mass Effect is of the General Ripper type, while his colleague Admiral Daro'Xen is this combined with Mad Scientist.
  • Did I hear Star Trek? How about Admiral B'Vat in Star Trek Online? He wants to continue the war between the Federation and the Klingons by going so far as to find and unleash a second Doomsday Machine on the Federation just so that they have a reason to keep fighting. His past self from the Star Trek: The Original Series era is so disgusted with this, he tells the player character to go kill him.
  • In Wing Commander, Geoffrey Tolwyn is initially a Jerkass who doesn't get along with the Player Character. In the fourth game, he becomes the Big Bad, trying to manipulate the Confederation into a war with a splinter government and preparing a eugenics program.
  • Godzilla Unleashed has Admiral Gyozen go insane due to exposure to Spacegodzilla's crystals, exacerbating his already irrational hatred of the kaiju. He realizes it, but then decides to attack anyway. even without the crystal on board his ship, he was still off his rocker due to seeing an Unknown Rival in the Big G. Meanwhile, the King of the Monsters just wants to protect his turf.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Sith Warrior companion Malavai Quinn formerly served under one Moff Broysc, an insane and senile Moff to whom he had to play the Hypercompetent Sidekick and win his battles for, only to be court-martialed and had the credit taken away from him. Eventually he starts contacting the Sith Warrior and starts raving about "Admiral Malcontent" (which he actually believes to be Quinn's actual rank and name). When it becomes clear that his rank and connections protects him from Imperial High Command, Quinn simply abducts him and has him killed.

    Web Original 
  • General Bowe in the SCP Foundation.
  • SF Debris treats Kathryn Janeway of the USS Voyager as a supervillain while she's only a captain, but in his review of Star Trek: Nemesis, she gets the full treatment, with a nearly three-minute monologue detailing how the entire plot of the movie including half the plot holes was a part of her plan to take over the entire Alpha Quadrant.

    Western Animation 
  • Captain Matthew Marcus from Exo Squad, who is a Blood Knight and The Neidermeyer, costing Exofleet and, by extension, the human race severely with his tactical blunders and overly aggressive "tactics". It's telling that after he leads The Mutiny and starts making for Earth at top speed, even Phaeton notes that if this upcoming attack is what it looks like, then the Exofleet's leader must be insane.
  • Admiral Zhao from Avatar: The Last Airbender. He tried to kill the moon, for crying out loud.
    • Give him some credit, he successfully killed the moon. Which does not mean it was a good idea or anything.
  • The General and the lieutenant from Courage the Cowardly Dog are humorous examples of this.
    The General: Good thing the money we paid that farmer with was made from experimental rocket-fuel! *Detonates cash*
  • 25-star general Zapp Brannigan from Futurama.

Alternative Title(s):

Mad Brass, Pointy Haired Military Boss