Militaries Are Useless
aka: Armies Are Useless
In some shows, when a country is attacked by some enemy (alien, monster, evil overlord), their armed forces, which are probably made specifically to defend said country, show themselves rather bad at defending it: they use Hollywood Tactics instead of more efficient and logical ones, with a particular reliance on the Five Rounds Rapid, do evil stuff that just undermine their side for no reason, and refuse to cooperate with The Hero. The aim is to make the Hero the only one who can defeat the villains: how can you save your world when it can defend itself with no problem thanks to its competent military? This is a staple of Superhero settings, and is quite frequent in stories about an Alien Invasion or a Zombie Apocalypse, because a war consisting of large open Curb Stomp Battles is a quicker way to show how the enemy won than the long and complex battles that would have occurred had the military been competentnote . This tends to be averted when the story follows at least one character in the military, especially when they're the one(s) giving orders, as it's not very interesting to follow the story of someone making bad decision after bad decision, while having the army make good decisions without being an important part of the narrative can take the tension away from the actual characters. In some cases, a middle ground is reached: the military does help the characters, and thus aren't completely useless, but since they aren't the main part of the story they don't take actual initiatives, and let the protagonists do most of the job. Note that this trope isn't about lots of soldiers dying: that's the Red Shirt Army. A military can achieve great victories by swarming the enemy with disposable soldiers, or lose everything while keeping a low casualty record. This trope comes when the military as an institution is of no use. Either the writer doesn't have them appear, or the situation is always such that the army in question isn't allowed to handle it so that the hero(es) can save the day. Often overlaps with Artistic License – Military. Compare Armed Farces, which is mainly military humor about bumbling incompetent military personnel, though tends to lack them failing at some specific objective. First cause of an Easily Conquered World, though some countries in Fiction Land can have the worst possible army without being conquered. Can include Police Are Useless and No FEMA Response, where they don't even try to help. Don't expect anything from them when Adults Are Useless, since (most) armies are made of adults. Often overlaps with Conservation of Ninjutsu, The Worf Effect and Tanks for Nothing. Sister trope of Armies Are Evil.
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Anime and Manga
- Bleach. The Gotei 13 contains roughly 3,000 soldiers, yet its strength rests almost entirely with its thirteen Captains, thirteen Lieutenants and a couple of over-powered seated officers. As a result, these individuals are always sent to the front lines while the rest of their divisions stay behind. There is also an entire spy network (the Onmistukido) and a Kidou Corp which never get used.
- In numerous Gundam series, the military units are composed of weaker "grunt" mobile suits that are largely ineffective and are destroyed in large numbers by the much more powerful Gundams and other "hero mechs", which are always piloted by the main characters (protagonists and antagonists) of the narrative. The "grunt" mobile suits are always piloted by characters who don't have major narrative roles, assuming they are ever seen at all.
- Subverted in Fullmetal Alchemist: at the very beginning, Edward Elric confronts the Head of the local Corrupt Church without any help of the army. He later explains that, after dealing with the leader, he sent a report to his superiors in the military, who reacted by sending troops to deal with the trouble created by the collapsing of the church. It's then revealed that those troops were sent to replace those of the General in charge of the region, because they were dealing too well with the population, while his superiors needed bloodshed.
- In Blue Gender, this is combined with Show, Don't Tell, as it is mentioned that humanity's militaries were defeated off screen, but we are never shown or told exactly how. The humans show themselves capable of defeating the Blue without tremendous difficulty in the series, and if they were to use modern day military tactics, the humans should, by all accounts, have been able to win pretty handily.
- Par for the course in Dragon Ball, where by the Z era the weakest of the villains is a One-Man Army. The last time they even bother to mobilize is in a filler episode of the Z anime in which Nappa amuses himself by blowing up airplanes and battleships. By the Cell saga, they've apparently gotten Genre Savvy about the relatively efficacy of lone martial artists versus modern militaries and send Mr. Satan instead.
- Played largely straight in Aldnoah.Zero. Outside of our main characters, the greater United Earth military is incompetent to the point of hilarity when they face Martian Kataphrakts. Most of the time, UE Kataphrakts just stand in one place shooting uselessly at their enemies and not even bothering to use even the most basic of evasive or flanking maneuvers.* The story tries to justify this by claiming that everyone is a New Meat to the war thanks to Heaven's Fall killing off so many veterans.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- The army in pretty much any Godzilla movie (with the sole exception of the 1998 film, which annoyed long time fans). The first time can be excused as they had no idea what they're dealing with, but in every sequel Godzilla shows up and the army attacks do nothing to him and actually cause just as much, if not more, collateral damage. Even the damage caused by Godzilla himself can be blamed largely on the army as the films have pointed out shooting Godzilla just makes him mad and causes him to advance and attack.
- Godzilla (2014). As per usual for these films. However, they eventually realize this and decide to just dismantle their plans to kill all of the kaiju (which might not have even worked at all) and just do their part to distract the MUTOs so Godzilla can kill them. Though to his credit, Lieutenant Ford does succeed in taking out the MUTOs eggs which not only stopped the world from being overrun by the things, but also pissed and distracted the MUTO long enough for Godzilla to get his Heroic Second Wind.
- A memorable aversion is Shaun of the Dead, as part of its Affectionate Parody of Zombie Apocalypse films, where the military just comes in and mows down the zombies in less than a day, with complete ease and not so much as a single casualty. They rescue the protagonists and peace is quickly restored.
- In Aliens, the Sole Survivor of LV-426 predicts that the presence of the Colonial Marines "won't make any difference." When the aliens show up, the Marines get overpowered very quickly and become a Dwindling Party. This leaves Ripley —a civilian— doing most of the heavy lifting.
- In The Avengers (2012), the military is explicitly stated as being unable to stop the Chitauri invasion in New York City, even though the Chitauri soldiers and aircraft can be readily destroyed with modern weapons (notably, two of the Avengers are simply a spy with pistols and a guy with a bow and several varieties of Trick Arrow, both of whom have no issue mowing down legions of the Chitauri). While the National Guard does arrive to fight the invaders, it falls to the Avengers to hold the line. The World Council quickly decides that the military can't win and decides to nuke NYC rather than risk the Chitauri breaking free.
- An aversion of this trope (and its combination with The Cavalry Arrives Late) provides the punchline for the Cruel Twist Ending of The Mist.
- This Trope is played straight so often on Zombie Apocalypse stories that it probably would be easier to find out the stories where this is subverted (if not flat-out averted). Sometimes it also overlaps with Armies Are Evil (with the military being brutally Trigger Happy on top of ineffective, to not mention being the ones responsible for the Zombie Apocalypse).
- Played straight in most of Animorphs, due to the Adults Are Useless setting. The military doesn't seem very worried about the Earth being invaded by aliens. Even after losing an aircraft carrier (and everybody on it), the kid's hometown being quarantined, and the governor of California making an official speech about how the aliens are invading the world, they simply consider this as a hoax and don't bother investigate. Downplayed when they finally admit that aliens are indeed invading; they send some Redshirts to die in support of the main cast, and give them heavy weaponry to save the world with, but don't have a very important role in the end.
- The aurors in Harry Potter may qualify, depending on whether you consider them as an army or not. In the sixth book, they fail to kill or capture any Death Eater, put innocents in jail (where they are captured and Brainwashed by said Death Eaters) instead, and do nothing to prevent the ministry from being infiltrated by Voldemort. Even after he (more or less publicly) takes over, none of them seems to resist him, even passively.note The only known exceptions are three named characters who in addition to being Aurors have also been moonlighting as members of Dumbledore's secret anti-Voldemort militia for the past several books, and even they have virtually no effect on the plot. And that's before two of them get killed.
- In the first half of World War Z, every single armed force of the world (save for Israel and... that's all) holds the Idiot Ball until the world gets really screwed. While the zombies are being protected by solid Plot Armor (only headshots seem to affect them, and things like napalm and high caliber explosives that should transform them into liquid bits of corpses are ineffectual) armies still make bad decision after bad decision that caused the apocalypse. They get somewhat better towards the end, but not before the situation becomes critical because of their errors, most damningly at the Battle of Yonkers.
- We Are All Pokémon Trainers: The Pokepanese military in Kanto more or less held in Vermilion and let Lanius' forces run roughshod over Celadon and Saffron after they attacked, though this changed once Lt. Surge came back and rallied them into fighting back. They also proved mostly useless in the initial portion of the RtAU arc, though this was because the dragons were using Lost Technology they were ill prepared for, and monification created mass chaos.
- In Sentinels Of The Multiverse, regular militaries are unable to do anything to stop the more powerful, overt villains like Baron Blade, Citizen Dawn, or Grand Warlord Voss, so it falls to the heroes to defeat them. In the case of Warlord Voss, if he has more than ten minions on the field by the start of his turn, he wins automatically as his armies overrun Earth.
- While Warhammer 40,000 doesn't feature this as a whole, it does in a hierarchical manner, where militaries considered inferior to that of the main character(s) have no effect on the story. In stories featuring Space Marines the Imperial Guard are useless, while in stories featuring the Guard the PDF are useless. In the latter's case it's a minor meme in the fandom that the PDF is only mentioned in a footnote that's some variation of "The PDF responded but were killed to a man".
- While the soldiers of Half-Life are pretty tough, and individually competent, the guy who gave them orders is probably very, very dumb. The lab accident engineered an inter-dimensional alien invasion? Let's kill the security guards to prevent them from doing their job! A particular scientist seems pretty good at killing loads of aliens for us? Let's devote all our resources to taking him down! Now because of all this mess we have plenty of witnesses to kill? Let's shoot them on sight instead of gathering them (and then shooting them)! And now our soldiers are being overwhelmed by the aliens that just keep coming? Let's send other soldiers to kill these soldiers! In the end, they evacuate and just nuke the complex to end the resonance cascade, leaving Freeman alone to go to the alien dimension and stop the invasion.
- Left 4 Dead
- In the comic The Sacrifice, the soldiers are quite bad at fighting zombies. If three civilians and a Vietnam veteran can kill hundreds of infected with hand-made weapons in the worst possible places (airport, hospital, church), do you think that trained soldiers in a base with twenty feet high walls, barbed wires, artillery, choke points and choppers can do the same ? Of course they can't, they're soldiers.
- Left 4 Dead 2 is an aversion. While the CEDA is quickly overwhelmed by the zombie invasion, the military is both far more ruthless and more efficient at dealing with it; the evacuation points of the army are still operational, and for what we know of it, they do manage to save people from the zombie invasion.
- Commented on in Solatorobo, where one character asks what the hell the army was doing when Kaiju were attacking his city.
- The army in Dead Rising 2 decides for some reason to send two ten-man-teams to clear out the ENTIRE zombie infested Fortune City... which has tens of thousands of zombies. Surprisingly, they fail. They immediately decide that the 'new' zombies can't possibly be beaten (even though they're only on par with normal, unarmed, stupid humans at best), again, all because those two squads with no air, armor, or artillery support at all failed, and proceed to just firebomb Fortune City rather than send in a properly equipped force.
- A single necromorph in Dead Space is enough to take out the entire crew of the USM Valor.
- As mentioned on Easily Conquered World, the Mushroom Kingdom's 'army' in Super Mario Bros. is pretty much beyond useless, consisting of a bunch of Toad guards who usually get incapacitated four minutes (maybe seconds?) after Bowser/the Big Bad and their forces arrive and show as much knowledge of tactics as a rock. In the remakes of Super Mario Bros. 3 the entire 'defence' for each of the world's kings is one Toad guard who charges Leeroy Jenkins style at one Koopaling and immediately gets knocked out on contact. And that's the proactive ones. The others just run away scared the minute trouble shows up.
- The Hyrulian army in The Legend of Zelda is pretty useless when they appear, with the ones in Ocarina of Time getting completely wiped out by Ganon's forces when trying to defend the castle and town, and the ones in Twilight Princess just getting utterly massacred by Zant's shadow beasts ten minutes after they walk through the front door. Keep in mind that this is the entire batallion vs maybe two shadow monsters, the former of which are supposedly armed and the latter who aren't. Twilight Princess goes far enough to actually make fun of this with several characters pointing out how useless and cowardly the army is, and with the way the soldiers tremble with fear and keep their distance (and don't impede you at all) if you charge through the castle town in your wolf form.
- It's noted right at the start of Lufia & The Fortress of Doom that the Alekian army has grown soft and useless over nearly a century of peace, to the point that barely any soldiers even show up to drills anymore, and when a nearby town is suddenly annihilated by monsters, the army is too tied up in red tape to do anything despite fears that the same thing could happen to them. Similarly, though the leader of the Lorbenian army becomes a party member, the Lorbenian army itself apparently has no interest in thwarting a quartet of Physical Gods that nearly destroyed the world almost a century ago.
- The volunteer army in Sin and Punishment that was organized to fight the Ruffians are apparently so supremely bad at their job that the La Résistance movement that Saki belongs to was put together just to take both of them out. The game then starts with the resistance movement getting completely wiped out down to three people.
- Star Fox are usually required pull the Cornerian Army out of trouble, and usually arrive late for the Corneria Defense Force (especially in Star Fox Assault, when they end up having to kill most of the Aparoidified CDF soldiers left alive on Corneria).
- When Hadriex finds the other peacekeepers he spends a good minute sarcastically mocking them for their complete and utter uselessness.
- Worm manifests this in three ways, albeit all justified:
- Endbringers won't even notice anything less than a vehicle-mounted heavy weapon, so infantry are right out. Tanks and artillery don't have the maneuverability. Each of the three have their own ways to deal with aircraft and their pilots - Behemoth can zap them with lightning, Leviathan can just ground them by summoning storms and Simurgh... well, you'd be lucky if she only destroys them.. The only time they are ever mentioned directly combating an Endbringer (in Scarab 25.4) is so throwaway one can easily overlook it. Even nuclear weapons aren't powerful enough to kill the things note so the only viable strategy is to have hundreds of capes Hold the Line until Scion arrives.
- For the roving bands of supervillains like the Slaughterhouse Nine, take the usual difficulty conventional militaries have with tracking down guerillas or insurgents, then add in the difficulty of taking them down. How do normal ground forces deal with a Mad Scientist like Bonesaw whose definition of dead man switch is "biological WMD", a pyrokinetic who teleports through fire like Burnscar, becoming ever more mobile the longer the fight goes on, or a silicakinetic like Shatterbird who has citywide ability to turn your sniper scope or phone screen into deadly shrapnel? Then there are the Nigh Invulnerable monsters like Crawler or Siberian who could tank an airstrike or cruise missile. That's just the current composition of the Nine; some late members with even more exotic powers would be even worse to handle.
- Then some are just wild cards. The conventional military could, in theory, get rid of Nilbog, but no one knows how many aces he has hidden up his sleeves as contingency plans, and since he's content to stay in the area he's taken over, no one's bothering to go to the trouble of trying to uproot him.
- The Royal Guards from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic are beyond useless to almost tragic levels. Granted, nobody expected them to stand up against Nightmare Moon, but even with warning of a potential attack and being fully mobilized and ready, they were subdued by Queen Chrysalis' changeling army in about ten minutes. On the other hoof, the six main characters, without weapons or The Elements of Harmony or any kind of formal training, took down about a hundred of these guys practically effortlessly before finally being grossly outnumbered and surrendering. And they couldn't handle recovering Princess Celestia's pet bird. It gets even worse in the Season 4 premiere, where both Princesses Celestia and Luna go missing, and then in-command Princess Twilight Sparkle instructs the Guards to continue the search. Of course, Twilight and friends end up finding Celestia and Luna themselves. Even their captain Shining Armor, despite being allegedly powerful, is a gender-flipped Faux Action Girl at best who spends every major threat incapacitated and whose Crowning Moment Of "Awesome" was throwing his exhausted to the point of collapse wife at the threat so she could deal with it instead.
- The Wonderbolts have a similarly bad track record. Once again, nobody expected them to stand a chance against Tirek, but getting defeated by flying straight into a water tower that was nonchalantly held in their flight path by Spikezilla certainly didn't win them any points, and failing to save a single falling pony as well as ultimately needing to be rescued themselves after the attempt was just sad. With a horrible track record such as this, its a head scratcher why Rainbow Dash even wants to be one in the first place.
- The Danish Army in World War II had not fought a war since 1864 (which it lost). It was small and largely geared to ceremonial duties in Copenhagen. Denmark also had the misfortune of sharing a land border with a hungry superpower, Nazi Germany. When war came in 1940, the Danes were pragmatic enough not to resist, knowing this would be futile, and the Germans were in Copenhagen within twelve hours. Danish resistance to the Nazis took more creative - and telling - forms.
- Ironically, the order to surrender to the German forces took a bit of time to pass down the commando lines, so around the German/Danish border, some Danish Army units temporary attempted to resist the invasion. When the order to cease resistance finally got through, the Danish losses was 16, while the Germans could count 203 fallen men, so in the short time it happened the Danes indeed did put up one hell of a fight.
- France got this reputation after World War II, where they were the first major power to capitulate to Nazi Germany. The reality is a lot more complicated of course (including a lot of the French higher ups wanting to be a part of Germany), but that didn't stop Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys from become a global reputation.
- Not to forget that the French (particularly the Free French and La Résistance) continued their struggle, often with insane valour. All in all, France's armies always had a pretty good track record of winning wars before that (as in: they won more than they lost).