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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 (Five Rounds Rapid is a very popular one in those settings) instead of more efficient and logical ones, do evil stuff that just undermine their side for no reason, and refuse to cooperate with The Hero. The reason? In these shows, the military is useless.

The aim, of course, is to make the Hero the only one who can defeat the bad guys: how can you save your world when it can defend itself with no problem thanks to its competent army? That's why you often find this in Superhero settings. It's also 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 competent. And of course, don't expect anything from them when Adults Are Useless: since most armies are made of adults, they're unlikely to help.

However, 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 : after all, it's not very interesting to follow the story of someone making bad decision after bad decision, while having the army make good ones 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. The point is: 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, or the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, can save the day. Which has the effect of making them seem useless, or pointless, in cases where they're not even used (as per the Bleach example below).

Often overlaps with Artistic License - Military. Contrast Armed Farces : that's mainly military humor about bumbling incompetent military personnel, whereas this trope is about straight examples of perfectly capable armies who either fail to do their job, or simply fail to show at all.

First cause of Easily Conquered World, though some countries in TV 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. Often overlap with Conservation of Ninjutsu, and Tanks for Nothing. Sister trope of Armies Are Evil.


Anime and Manga
  • Bleach. The Gotei 13 is a glaring example. Their military is comprised of roughly 3,000 soldiers, yet, their strength rests almost entirely on its thirteen Captains, thirteen Lieutenants and the seated officers, who're always sent to the front lines while the rest of their divisions stay behind. They also have an entire spy network (the Onmistukido), and a Kidou Corp. which never get used.
  • Gundam (various). 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.

  • Lucky Luke is an Affectionate Parody of the Western genre, so of course the cavalry is always either critically late to the action, or completely useless despite anything they might attempt.

  • The army in pretty much any Godzilla movie. The first time can be excused, but in every sequel Godzilla shows up and the army attacks doing nothing to him and actually causing 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.
  • A memorable aversion is Shaun of the Dead, 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 The Avengers, 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. 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.
  • At the end of The Incredibles, when the Giant Omnidroid attacks some random cities, the army's response is basically "send some guys attack it with tanks and submachine-guns, then run!".

  • 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 (no, not this one) 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 die to support the main cast, and give them heavy weaponry to toy 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.
  • 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. For example, the Battle of Yonkers, where the military fails to bring enough ammo to wipe out the waves of zombies. While the zombies 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- doesn't help, armies still make most bad decision that caused the apocalypse. Part of the reason is that the story seems to take place in an Alternate Universe that isn't quite so obsessed with Zombie Apocalypse-themed media, making a real zombie apocalypse an Outside-Context Villain. They really get better once the situation has become critical, though.

Play-by-Post Games
  • We Are All Pokémon Trainers:
    • In the AU 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.

Tabletop Games
  • 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.

Video Games
  • 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.
    • The soldiers in the first game were far more competent, sending a whole company sized force, supported by Blackhawks, to clear the area. Which they did efficiently. Too bad they were also evil, and trying to kill all the survivors to cover up the government's involvement.
  • 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 incapitated four minutes (maybe seconds?) after Bowser/the Big Bad and their forces arrive and show as much knowledge of tactics as a rock. Almost turned up to eleven in the remakes of Super Mario Bros. 3, where 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.

Western Animation
  • 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.
    • Their leader Shining Armor has a story-breaking defensive ability that can hold off entire armies (with a Power of Love boost, he took out the entire Changeling force with one shot), but as a consequence is taken out of action immediately by every villain he faces.
    • The Royal guards also desperately lack a decent hierarchy : when Celestia and Luna disappear, their first reaction is to ask the new girl with no experience whatsoever for orders, and not, you know, to try and figure out what happened.
    • Also, they couldn't handle recovering Princess Celestia's pet bird.

Real Life
  • The Danish Army in WW2 had not fought a war since 1864. 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.
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alternative title(s): Armies Are Useless; No Armed Force Reponse
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