Let no Crisis Go to Waste

Prof. Harold Hill: Now, Marcellus, I need some ideas if I'm gonna get your town out of the serious trouble it's in.
Marcellus: River City ain't in any trouble.
Hill: We're gonna have to create some.

When one turns an unfortunate and unexpected set of events into a positive and/or fortuitous outcome.

Note that the Chinese word for "crisis" doesn't actually translate as "a dangerous opportunity", but that doesn't stop heroes and villains alike from seeing one when this trope is invoked.

A crisis occurs. It might be quite serious or be a relatively minor event, and it might even be deliberately manufactured by a character in order to bring about this trope. Either way, the crisis makes things harder, scarier or tougher for everyone except one or more characters or groups of characters to whom it's not necessarily a bad thing, and who seem to not only persevere in the face of the adversity, but outright triumph. Sure, they may have to make sacrifices too, but that's an acceptable loss. Because now they finally have the chance they've been waiting for. Rather than respond appropriately to the crisis and nothing more, the character or group decides to use the situation to their advantage in some way.

While this tactic is commonly used by the Big Bad or Magnificent Bastard, it can also be played positively. The idea that meeting and overcoming a crisis can pave the way to greatness is a pretty common one.

Compare Xanatos Speed Chess.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Code Geass, Lelouch accidentally orders Euphemia to commit genocide, and mere minutes later, grabs the opportunity to use the incident to start a war.
  • In episode 2 of Gate, the Empire attacks the JSDF forces with an army of over three hundred thousand troops. Unfortunately they suffer heavy losses in Curb-Stomp Battle after battle, within a matter of days. The Emperor however, sent none of their troops into battle; instead they had tributary nations send their troops to their deaths. Turns out the Emperor purposely did this to whittle his allied nation's military strength, lest they decide to turn on the Empire itself. He later orders a Salt the Earth policy in the surrounding regions to further quell any attempts at rebellion under the guise of denying the enemy JSDF forces resources.

    Comic Books 
  • This is the basis for a major plot in Watchmen. It was the one by Ozymandias.
  • In Astro City, the time-traveling villain Infidel used to go to various historical crisises and ask which of the victims were willing to survive impending doom as his slaves. As it turns out: a lot of them.
  • One storyline in Exiles shows an Earth that suffers disaster after disaster, a superhuman war, a horrific plague, Doctor Doom trying to wipe out the government, and a series of natural disasters, all deliberately engineered by Tony Stark so he could become the uncontested ruler of the world.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Vultures in The Phantom are a criminal organisation devoted to doing this trope in the most cynical way possible: they watch for other people's crises and show up to rob everyone when they're vulnerable.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Frozen, Prince Hans's original plan was to seduce Princess Anna, and then arrange an accident to eliminate Queen Elsa, so Anna would become Queen of Arendelle (implying that he would then have Anna eliminated so he would become king). When Elsa's ice powers were revealed to the public and Elsa accidentally froze Anna's heart, he chose to leave her to die, tell the cabinet that he and Anna said their vows before her untimely death, and have Elsa condemned for killing her sister.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Senator Palpatine uses fear of the Separatist movement to gain emergency powers a la Julius Caesar. Although he more or less created the Separatist movement in the first place.
  • In Super 8, the kids take advantage of a train crash and the soldiers in town in order to increase the "production values" of their film.
  • Dr. Strangelove, General Turgidson suggest to capitalize on an underway unilateral first strike ordered by General Ripper -who anticipated Turgidson's response- and commit to a surprise full scale nuclear attack, but he is overruled by President Muffley.
  • In Oliver Stone's W., Cheney and Rumsfeld view the aftermath of 9/11 and the subsequent War On Terror as a unique chance to end business left unfinished by Bush Sr.'s administration and start a policy of Empire-building in the Middle East.

  • This is the primary tactic Petyr Baelish uses in A Song of Ice and Fire, by his own admission. He creates crises to upset the status quo and to take advantage of whatever opportunities then present themselves in the resulting chaos. The scale of this is hard to grasp in the earlier books, but it soon becomes apparent that his destabilising actions could very well be said to be responsible for the entire war, at least in aggregate; just to name three of his numerous plots, he had Jon Arryn poisoned, he framed Tyrion Lannister for the attempted assassination of Bran Stark, and - perhaps most catastrophically - he put the Iron Throne over twenty million gold dragons in debt to the Iron Bank.
    Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, are given a chance to climb. They refuse, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.
  • The Exiled fleet from Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky plans to play this straight but with good intentions, but then Manipulative Bastard Tomas Nau exaggerates it even further, with terrible intentions. A large part of the book is dedicated to exploring the inevitable patterns that always arise in intelligent civilizations; namely, that they self-destruct, especially when they develop nuclear weaponry for the first time. So when the Exiled fleet in secret orbit around the Spider planet almost annihilate themselves in space warfare, they decide that they'll need to conserve their remaining resources until the Spiders inevitably start a nuclear war amongst themselves. Then they can Save The World and use that act to foster positive relations with the Spiders, to trade, and to rebuild their own technology as well as improve that of the Spiders. Things get complicated, and much darker, when it is revealed that Nau's actual plan is to wait for the war to start, then black out communications across the planet, hijack and redirect the nukes to cause as much damage as possible to population centers and seats of government, nearly annihilate the Spiders and blast their technology back to the Stone Age, then enslave the survivors.
  • A core problem in Myke Cole's Shadow Ops; After The Magic Comes Back, the chaos of humans unused to possessing Magic and Powers enables every government in the world to remove many civil liberties - especially those of "Latents". The catch is of course that their goal is merely to control the crisis, and in fact take every step they can to extend and even exacerbate it - When a Fantastic Drug is developed to help Latents control their abilities, they nationalize it and use it to enhance their Mage Killers and imprison/kill every Latent who won't submit to being enslaved.
    Grace Lyons: That's what's so tricky about these systems. You're right, of course, but that doesn't change the fact that you use being right to seize and hoard power. And when you concentrate that power in the hands of a few bureaucrats, they get stingy with it.
  • Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart is set in a former Soviet republic whose two major ethnic groups are long-divided by a rather unimportant issue. It turns out the ethnic leaders, actually quite good friends, stir the ethnic hatred in order to profit from oil.

    Live-Action TV 
  • If anything happens in Star Trek, the Ferengi will attempt to carry out this trope.
    Rule of Acquisition #34: War is good for business.note 
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation this is a recurring theme with Starfleet Politics where more than once Picard clashes with ranking officers who are taking advantage of a current crisis to get away with their misdeeds. In the aftermath of Admiral Sati demonizing Simon Tarsis for being part human and part Romulan, Picard points out that people like her will be waiting for the right time to flourish, spreading fear and ignorance to keep themselves in power.
  • In Kamen Rider Wizard, the secondary Rider, Beast, completely believes in this trope to the point where it has become a Catch Phrase for him.
  • Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish gives a great Motive Rant on the subject in Game of Thrones: "Chaos is a ladder..."
    • Tyrion sarcastically remarks on this trope re his own Magnificent Bastard father, Lord Tywin. Tyrion has been thrown into prison for regicide, and Tywin convinces a Dornish prince who hates him to stand as an 'objective' judge, thus forming an alliance of convenience with a potentially troublesome House.
  • In The Flash (2014), the Earth-2 version of Harrison Wells is a particularly blatant example considering that he caused said crisis. After an experiment of his accidentally unleashes a bunch of villainous metahumans on his earth, he decides he might as well make some money off of it and starts selling anti-metahuman technology to scared civilians. This enrages his earth's Flash, but Wells just denies responsibility when that Flash attempts to call him out on it. When one of the metahumans kidnaps his daughter, he finally gets serious about helping to stop them.

    Video Games 
  • As it turns out in the Soviet victory scenario in Command & Conquer: Red Alert, the entire Russian war effort was a plan by Kane to expand the USSR, then topple it, and use the ensuing chaos to strengthen the Brotherhood of Nod.
  • In the original Starcraft terran campaign, Mengsk uses the zerg invasion to help himself gain power.

    Web Comics 
  • In Girl Genius, the incapacitation of Baron Wulfenbach (and ensuing chaos throughout his empire) and emergence of a Heterodyne were entirely unexpected, but several factions lept on the opportunity to take advantage of them (including one group who'd been planning a rebellion for years, and were just forced to accelerate their schedule). Interestingly, just about everyone KNOWS this will happen.

    Web Original 
  • In Worm, this is for the most part averted in relations between supervillains and superheroes. In the event of an S-class threat, it's common practice to band together and take it down, to the point that it's standard procedure for when the Endbringers-massive Kaiju-like creatures that have destroyed entire nations-attack. When Armsmaster sabotages this truce for a shot at personal glory, therefore, it is both a perfect example of this trope and a Moral Event Horizon.
  • Twig takes a different path. The Lambsbridge Gang have a small tendency to deliberately make things significantly worse before they can get a handle on making it sort-of better. Justified because they're usually thrown into badly chaotic situations and crises in order to do their jobs to start with, and directing part of the can of crazy gives them a way to control some of it... And, because Sylvester.
  • In The Fate Of Paul Twister, Paul mentions the Chinese word for "crisis" to Aylwyn. She has a slightly different take on it:
    She gave a short laugh and glowered at me. "That sounds right. Itís usually some fool trying to turn a dangerous situation into an opportunity for personal gain that causes things to degenerate into a crisis."

    Western Animation 
  • The Legend of Korra: This is revealed to be the reason as to why Tarrlok is taking such extreme actions against the Equalists and unaffiliated non-benders. He's only using the Equalist crisis to further his own goals of cementing his power over Republic City, which is why he shoots down any other more reasonable actions to take against them.
    • Varrick essentially tried to do this while opposing Unalaq. Once Unalaq's arrival angered the Southerners, it gave him the opportunity to start a war to make a lot of money from. After the war starts in the Southern Water Tribe, he wanted to magnify it on a global scale by instigating false flag terrorist attacks in Republic City that would implicate the North. However, since the Water Tribe crisis involved Vaatu's return, it wouldn't have benefitted Varrick in the long run.

    Real Life 
  • Both Hitler and Mussolini rose because their respective countries were in shambles following WW1. The infamous Reichstag Fire is the most famous individual example, as well as the Trope Codifier for Day of the Jackboot.
    • This is also how the revolution of 1917 came to pass - if not for World War I's devastating effects on the country, it would've been much harder - if not impossible - to pull off.
  • The British government got a lot of flack for "burying" the release of some bad news about the economy in the aftermath of a train crash.
  • Infamously paraphrased by Rahm Emanuel around the time Barack Obama was elected.
  • Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is a non-fiction doorstopper of a book about people doing precisely this. A sample quote:
    Hurricane Katrina has just hit New Orleans, what do you do? If you said "privatize public schools", you might just be a conservative.
  • Honestly, this happens a lot in politics. Any sort of disaster, tragedy or public outrage will inevitably prompt opportunistic lawmakers to use it as a springboard for their pet legislation, regardless of whether or not it would, or even could, actually help fix the problem. Specifics are not necessary.
    • Political advocacy organizations frequently capitalize on related tragedies or news, because they tend to prompt an increase in donation spending.
  • According to both myth and historical record, Cao Cao - the King of Wei most known for his starring role in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms - was assessed by a renowned sage, who was famous for always being able to tell someone's true potential. He stated that Cao Cao would be 'A decent administrator in peaceful times, or a blood-stained hero in chaotic times.' A few years later, the long period of civil war known as the Three Kingdoms Period got started, and Cao Cao lived up the prediction by turning the crisis into his opportunity - eventually outmaneuvering both Wu and Shu, and seizing control of all China with the formation of a new Dynasty (it didn't last more than three generations before his trusted strategist, Sima Yi, pulled an Evil Chancellor and seized power for himself - but by then, Cao Cao was several years in the grave, so you can hardly blame him for that).
  • After the Fire of London, that effectively destroyed the center of London, Christopher Wren (and scores of others) proposed new plans with wide streets making up simplistic shapes to create a bold looking city. In the end, however, it was decided that London should be rebuilt the way it was with winding small streets.
  • Tony Blair's Labour administration in the UK was infamously busted for an email that was allegedly sent on September, 2001 to various departments, encouraging them to get any press releases they didn't want to be front page news out and that the 9/11 terrorist outrage was the perfect opportunity to "bury bad news". It backfired spectacularly when this email came to light, and "bury bad news" became a popular turn of phrase for a while in the UK for the act of using some big news event to hide some other news you don't want to be so big.
  • Large charities such as the Red Cross often put out new advertising campaigns when a major disaster strikes - in response to sudden increase in need, but also because donations skyrocket in the aftermath of disasters.