"Burn it! Until it smolders. These people are traitors and must be made examples of."This is for when the benefit of what you do to someone isn't so much in and of itself as about the message it sends to others, about what could happen to them. As is implied from this, what happened needs to be known in order for it to work. While the most common "example" is death, more cunning punishment forces realize this can backfire, and will go for the Fate Worse Than Death. It is often associated with governments, especially the more tyrannical of them but not exclusively; see also the deterrence argument for use of this in the context of more democratic societies. Also, even forces outside the law, like terrorists, criminal syndicates, and Serial Killers, apply this as well. It's also very common with revolutionary forces; with prisoners, stringing up or dumping their mutilated remains serves as a warning to soldiers of the current regime, while population centers that they suspect of being in league with the regime or even just not being supportive of them are likely to be brutalized as a "stand with us or else" message. Often combined with You Have Failed Me, when an underling is punished brutally for failure "to encourage the others". Note that the "example" is usually more severe than the "normal" punishment, making this Disproportionate Retribution.
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Anime and Manga
- Tokyo ESP has the female main protagonist subjected to a complete No-Holds-Barred Beatdown until she's literally killed to show what happens to those who try to be heroes. They were able to restart her heart, but the damage was extensive.
- Lupin III: Island of Assassins: Shortly after arriving on the island, Lupin witnesses one of the Tarantula's "manhunts", where they chase down and brutally kill one of their former members. Ellen tells Lupin that it's the price any of them pay if they fail to carry out an assignment.
- Judge Dredd: During the Apocalypse War, the defending Judges execute a batch of Sov-Block collaborators and leave their bodies out in the open as a message to any would-be traitors.
- A Crown of Stars: Jinnai tells Shinji and Asuka he shot a general was planning to depose him so that no one else thinks of trying a coup d'etat.
- Big Bad Sben threatens to string up the spinal cords of some scientists who might delay his operation, as a "motivational tool" to the others. He doesn't follow through with this, but he does end up killing one via eye stabbing.
- Peva murders Sips to make the Yogscast cooperate. It only makes them hate him more.
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act II: When Fairy Tale is occupying the Snow Women Village, Miyabi decides to have Mizore's mother Tsurara executed to teach the other snow people their "place." It also doubles as a big Kick the Dog moment because mere moments before giving the order, he'd extorted Mizore for sex in exchange for not doing so. Fortunately, Tsukune and the others put a stop to it.
- In Couriers Mind Rise Of New Vegas, Vulpes Inculta explains that this is why he had to massacre the town of Nipton as brutally as he did. The Courier, after getting over his disgust, makes a point to give them a taste of their own medicine whenever he kills other Legionnaires later in the game, going out of his way to hack off their limbs or throw their corpses into fires as a big middle-finger to Caesar.
- In The Ultimate Evil, after the Dark Hand's failure to retrieve the Talismans from the Living Statue of Lo Pei, Shendu decides to make Valmont more motivated to avoid further failures by burning his secretary to death in front of him.
- After Shendu (now possessing Valmont's body) discovers that Hak Foo nearly killed Valerie, he punishes Hak Foo painfully in front of the other Enforcers to make it clear for all of them once and for all that Valerie is not to be harmed. Hak Foo is allowed to live only because he's the least incompetent of the Enforcers.
- In the rewritten reality, Nat and her family tried to rebel against the Demon Sorcerers' rule. After killing them all, Shendu placed Nat's body on the wall in the outskirts of Hong Kong as a warning to humans never to defy the demons.
- In The Commission, Blake prefaces a late night visit to Velvet by nailing Cardin to a wall. Velvet notes after that that their entire conversation was had with Blake's hands slick with Cardin's blood, likely to make a statement.
- In The Witch of the Everfree, After Sunset Shimmer hits her hard enough to visibly burn her mane, Nightmare Moon banishes Sunset to the dark side of the moon with Celestia.
- In The Havoc Side of the Force, Harry Potter has HK-47 make an example of Cad Bane after the latter kidnaps two of his crew. HK promises to "make every bounty hunter in the galaxy terrified of attracting [Harry's] attention."
- He does similar with Gardulla the Hutt, though that was more taking advantage of a situation. He'd shrunk Gardulla down and let her former slave stomp her to death then undid the shrinking, resulting in pieces of Hutt being plastered all over the room.
- In Code Geass: Lelouch of Britannia, though he doesn't kill them, Charles has the two princes who sold out Lelouch to the EU stripped of their nobility (allegedly for their incompetence) which he then grants to Lelouch. It's noted in-story as being a reminder that the fate and fortune of every noble, even the princes and princesses, lay in the emperor's hands.
Films — Animated
- This tactic is often featured in Disney movies, and often associated with (or at least more explicitly mentioned by) the villains:
Scar: The future is littered with prizes,And though I'm the main addressee,The point that I must emphasize is:YOU WON'T GET A SNIFF WITHOUT ME!
- The above page quote, of course, refers to the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The context of the quotation (trying to justify burning down a house with a family trapped inside.) is not the only example; Frollo whipping the previous captain of the guard in front of the next one, apparently to show what happens to captains who disappoint Frollo, is likely also an example of this.
- In The Lion King, Scar's Villain Song is punctuated at one point by him backing one of his hyenas into an open fissure in order to assert his dominance over them in his master plan ( which makes his later death at their hands as a result of his exploitation of them all the more ironic).
- Pixar villains also tend to use this tactic, and a theme that often comes up with them is that they are trying to deter their victims from thinking.
Hopper: Let this be a lesson to all you ants: Ideas can be very dangerous things.
- Hopper, from A Bug's Life, uses this tactic often. He gives a speech to the other grasshoppers about how if "you let one ant stand up to us, then they all might stand up," and to drive the point home, even uses a demonstrated analogy involving grains that results in several of his henchmen getting buried; it's twofold in involving him applying it to his own henchmen in the context of a speech made to get them to apply it to the ants. Later on, it's revealed that he plans to squish the queen so as to "remind [the ants] who's boss," and also tries to find out whose idea the bird was so as to make an example of him or her.
Films — Live-Action
- Paths of Glory. During World War I, an entire division of French soldiers refuse to go on a suicidal mission. Three soldiers are chosen at random to be tried & executed for cowardice.
- While the incidents themselves were fictionalized to the point of being almost unrecognizable, the events in the movie (and the novel it was adapted from) were based on real incidents.
- Pirates of the Caribbean provides the page image. Though it's notably ineffective, as not only does piracy run rampant through the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow removes his hat and salutes the hanging bodies of the pirates, presumably in honor of their "noble sacrifice".
- Mentioned in V for Vendetta by Chancellor Sutler towards the end (later averted as the military personnel guarding the Parliament refuses to shoot the marching civilians):
- In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 President Snow has people caught with the Mockingjay symbol shot publicly through the back of the head at the beginning as an example to the District uprising.
- The original Total Recall (1990) seems to feature this on Cohaagen's part, although being Cohaagen, it is likely there is some spite added in there as well.
Technician: Sir, the oxygen level is bottoming out in Sector G. What do you want me to do about it?Vilos Cohaagen: [as if obvious] Don't do anything.Technician: But they won't last an hour, sir.Vilos Cohaagen: Fuck 'em. It'll be a good lesson to the others.
- In The Shawshank Redemption, Byron Hadley beats an emotionally-overwhelmed inmate to death on the prison floor for complaining out loud that he shouldn't be in prison. It is strongly implied that he is doing this to scare the other inmates into keeping their mouths shut.
- In A New Hope, Tarkin makes an example of the entire planet of Alderaan, after first rejecting Dantooine (where he was told the Rebel base was) for being "too remote to make an effective demonstration."
- Expanded Universe material state that Tarkin's plan backfired and the rebellion used Alderaan to recuit thousands.
- Turkey Shoot. A scene which impressed even Quentin Tarantino is Ritter (played by 6ft, 3" Roger Ward) shadowboxing and then beating to death a tiny female inmate, picked at random as a 'lesson' to the New Meat.
- Unforgiven's Little Bill, after savagely whipping Munny's friend Ned to death, puts his body out on display at the saloon as an example of how he and the others deal with "assassins." Unfortunately, this proves to be Little Bill's biggest mistake.
- In WarCraft, this is how Gul'dan controls the Horde when it starts to lose respect for him.
- When some orcs try to abandon him after he wins with Durotan by cheating, he vaporizes them on spot.
- Several members of the Frostwolf Clan are slaughtered and crucified to show what happens when you defy Gul'dan.
- In The Young Messiah, the Romans routinely crucify rebellious Jews by the side of the road, for everyone to see, and it's implied that they are not above punishing completely innocent people to keep them all submissive.
- In Voltaire's Candide, the title character witnesses the execution of an admiral which is explained to him with the famous line: "In this country they find it necessary to kill an admiral from time to time, to encourage the others (pour encourager les autres)." The scene is based on the Real Life execution of the British Admiral Byng, whom Voltaire had met, for alleged cowardice in battle.
- In the Deryni novel Camber of Culdi a tyrannical Deryni lord is murdered and dismembered, with his body parts left in various places. Fifty peasants are taken hostage and all but one executed when the killer(s) fail to turn themselves in.
- In Wyrd Sisters, the Duchess has a thing about having underlings punished as an example to the others. The Duke remarks that if she keeps it up, eventually she'll be having the last remaining guard cut his own throat as an example to himself.
- Visser Three uses this tactic, or *thinks* he is, on the runaway Hork-Bajir in Animorphs "The Change". Only, the real Hork-Bajir are somewhere else, and the two 'dead' ones and the wolves 'eating' them are morphed Animorphs. He intends to do this with Aftran in "The Sickness", but Cassie rescues her before it can happen.
- Randall Flagg in The Stand crucifies people, particularly drug addicts, in the desert outside Las Vegas, as an example to the others not to break the community's rules.
- Our Miss Brooks: Part of Principal Osgood Conklin's modus operandi at Madison High School. There is, after all, a reason Miss Brooks considers Conklin to be Madison's dictator:
Miss Brooks: Having expected a one way trip to Devil's Island, I thought the punishment Mr. Conklin meted out was comparatively just. However, it was just after 7:00 that evening when I got home.
Mrs. Davis: Why Connie, I was getting to get worried about you! Where in the world have you been all afternoon?
Miss Brooks: I was doing a little writing, Mrs. Davis.
Mrs. Davis: Writing? What were you writing?
Miss Brooks: Oh, I don't think you'd be interested, it's not your type of stuff.
Mrs. Davis: I'm interested in everything you do, Connie. Please, tell me all about it.
Miss Brooks: Well, if you insist, Mrs. Davis. But you'd better sit down, this may take quite a while.
Mrs. Davis: Alright. (sits down) There. Now, what did you write?
Miss Brooks: I wrote "Our principal is the best principal that any school ever had. Our principal is the best principal that any school ever had. Our principal is the best principal that any school ever had . . ."
- In The Wire, the Barksdale Organization that controls the West Side of Baltimore starts out as the most dominant and ruthless drug syndicate in the city. When Omar and his two stick-up partners steal from a Barksdale stash, Avon Barksdale quickly declares he wants an example made. Within days one of the partners is found dead (his Bulletproof Vest not having done much good against the 46 shell casing found around his body) while the other is brutally tortured to death, then left on display in the projects as an example.
- Spoofed on Arrested Development.
Gob: I had to fire them. I had to make them an example to the others.
Michael: There are no others. You fired everyone.
- On one episode of Friends, Monica starts working at a restaurant as the head chef, but can't seem to gain respect from her staff. (They were very friendly with the guy she replaced.) Joey suggests that she bring him in and fire him just to prove she means business. She does, but given that this is Joey we're talking about, it doesn't go as planned.
- A perfect example of this happens in a 2009/2010 storyline of General Hospital; Michael attacks Claudia Zacchara to protect his mother Carly and newborn sister, but accidentally kills her. As a result, Carly, Jason, and Sonny all opt to ship Michael out of Port Charles and for Sonny to take the fall, but just as the jury is about to announce their verdict at Sonny's trial, Dante Falconeri, Sonny's recently discovered firstborn and a PCPD detective, discovers the truth and gives Michael up, expecting that the judge will let Michael off with a suspended sentence. Instead, the judge, furious that Michael's family had been lying for months and fed up with the constant Courtroom Antics, decides to make an example of Michael for all those who try to twist the law for their own ends by sentencing Michael to two-to-five years in the Pentonville Adult Correctional Facility.
- An unplanned version at the end of the Firefly episode "The Train Job". Mal tells Crow that he's giving him back all the money Adelai Niska advanced them for the job and that they'll stay out of his way from now on. Crow tells Mal that the last thing he'll see is Crow's blade. Mal kicks him into Serenity's engine intake and brings over the next guy, who falls over himself to agree before Mal can finish offering the deal.
- Star Trek: Voyager. In "Resistance", several crewmembers have been captured by an oppressive government. Janeway is helped by Caylem, an insane old man who believes Janeway is his missing daughter, and they're going to rescue his wife, also held by the government. Later when they're captured also, the evil Third Magistrate Augris reveals that his wife and daughter have been Dead All Along.
Augris: I must say I'm impressed, Caylem. You never made it this far before. (to Janeway) Every so often he goes on one of his missions to rescue his wife. She's been dead for twelve years.Caylem: Lies! Lies! Lies!Augris: Sometimes he gets all the way up to the front gate. We send him on his way and allow him to serve as a reminder of just how futile it is to challenge us. I thought you'd learnt that lesson when you lost your daughter. She made it as far as the tunnels before she was shot.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: During the final arc that sees the Federation invade the Dominion stronghold on Cardassia Prime, the Cardassian resistance (led by Kira, Garak, and Damar) is becoming an irritating bother for the occupiers when Weyoun suggests to the Female Changeling the idea of leveling a city of a million people to show the Cardassians what happens to anyone who betrays the Dominion. This has the exact opposite effect when almost the entire Cardassian fleet defects to the Federation-Klingon-Romulan forces.
- In the second episode of Doctor Syn ("The Scarecrow"), Syn learns that one of his smuggling crew plans to sell him out to the authorities. Since being arrested and unmasked is the greatest threat to him, Syn decides to put on a display so terrifying that nobody else will even think of turning on him and, as the Scarecrow, stages a Kangaroo Court and hangs the traitor. Or so it appears; in reality Scarecrow fakes it and then tells the man to flee the county because he'll surely be killed if discovered alive.
- In Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, after being thoroughly beaten and captured by the Zangyack, Captain Marvelous was sentenced to a Public Execution to show the world that there was no hope left for them. Fortunately, Doc managed to thwart the execution and save him.
- The Man in the High Castle: In season 2 when the Nazis prepare to invade the Japanese Empire, Obergruppenfuehrer John Smith's post is reinforced by SS troops from Germany to deal with the mounting resistance movement on the east coast. His new subordinate Gruppenfuehrer Keller advises to raze a town of 80,000 people where resistance activity is highest. Smith says he'll take him up on his suggestion, then immediately countermands the order when Keller leaves the room.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Ganondorf, as a warning to those who would oppose him, tries to feed all the Gorons to a dragon in the fire temple.
- In Twilight Princess from the same series, Zant executes the Zora queen when he shrouds the Lanayru Province in twilight. This later sets up a subplot when her son, Ralis, falls ill on his way to Castle Town to get help.
- Early in Dragon Age II, you're given the choice between helping a group of mages flee the Kirkwall Circle or turning them in. If you pick the latter, Knight-Commander Meredith has three of them hanged as a lesson to others (picked at random, at that). It's a good indicator of how she operates.
- In The Order of the Stick, the Thieves' Guild has a tendency to be very harsh with people who break their rules. Guild members who try to leave are usually killed, while guild members who sell secrets receive harsh punishments, like, say, having any body part they're nicknamed after removed.
Old Blind Pete (formerly "Eagle-Eyed"): A word of advice: If you're going to do business with criminals, don't pick a nickname based on any body part you can't afford to lose. *sigh* I shoulda listened to Appendix Steve when he tried to warn me.
- A common police tactic to break up protests is by arresting a few people. This video of the Occupy Wall Street protests is a good example.
- This was explicitly involved in the trial of hacker Aaron Swartz (that led to his suicide), the Department of Justice arguing for a disproportionate sentence to, in their own words, "send a message".
- Maggie Thatcher did this to Thames Television towards the end of The Troubles. The 1990 Broadcasting Act which instigated the franchise round that destroyed the original Thames? That was Thatcher's not-so-subtle way of punishing Thames for broadcasting "Death on the Rock".
- Similarly, Ronald Reagan used this trope against the Air Traffic Controllers union in 1981 by invoking the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Once he'd broken the back of that Union (summarily firing over 10,000 workers who'd refused to resume work), it became a much more common practice for companies to avoid giving in to the various labor unions.
- This is actually the main gist of two Chinese proverbs- "Kill one to warn a hundred", and "Kill the Chicken to Scare the Monkeys".
- After Admiral John Byng was defeated at the battle of Minorca (1756), he was arrested, court-martialed, and executed for "failing to do his utmost". His fate put the fear of God into the Royal Navy's Officer Corp as they now realized that "not trying hard enough" is a capital offense. And some historians considers it a reason why Britannia would go on to rule the waves. This episode caused Voltaire to comment, "In this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others" (Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres).
- This was employed by various conquering empires, such as the Romans or the Mongols. Those who surrendered were treated leniently, but those who dared to resist were mercilessly put to sword or worse and stories of their grisly fate were deliberately spread widely by the conquerors themselves:
- During the Second Punic Wars many Sicilian cities rebelled to Rome, with the indecise joining Hannibal's side when the survivors of Cannae engaged in this and, after Rome's greatest living general Marcellus was put in their command, became too sadistic even for Roman standards. Then the imprendible Syracuse fell to the Romans and the conquerors did them unspeakable things, and the Sicilians fell back into line... And bribed the Senate to have Marcellus and the survivors of Cannae sent anywhere but back to Sicily (the Senate gave back the bribe and sent Marcellus to fight Hannibal and the survivors of Cannae to Spain anyway);
- After the Third Servile War, the Romans crucified six thousands of the rebel slaves. It apparently worked, because the Third Servile War was also the last;
- When Genghis Khan sent a diplomatic caravan to the Khwarazmian dinasty of the Persian Empire, the Persian border governor decided to kill the ambassadors and steal the caravan. Genghis demanded restitution, but the Khwarazmians humiliated his ambassadors. Genghis decided to take his revenge... And now you know why you never heard of the Khwarazmian Empire;
- Although, to be fair, with Genghis you could never know. If you chose to betray your lord to him to prevent the rampage, he could just as well execute you for treason.
- Later the Abbasid Caliphate of Bagdhad refused to fully submit to the Mongols and become a vassal state. Before the Mongols, what is now Iraq was a fertile land.
- In The Napoleonic Wars, Denmark possessed a huge naval fleet, but tried to be neutral in the whole war against Napoleon. Britain didn't take kindly to that. Not at all.
- Blizzard Entertainment sued a Private Server Owner for a whopping $88 million, you can't help but think that this trope is invoked.
- Petrus Killings in Useful Notes/Indonesia back in the '80s. Long story short, local thugs and gang ringleaders would be hunted down, executed without trial, and their bodies left in sacks for the masses to find and scare the others. Whether this heavy handed method actually worked or not is a discussion for another time and another place.