Franklin Pierce Holland: We're done for. I asked for a whole company and they've sent me one Ranger. Captain Bill MacDonald: Well, there's only one riot, isn't there?
A huge threat has raised its evil head. This threat is a danger to the entire nation/planet/galactic empire, and has already done a lot of damage. However, the government doesn't do the obvious thing to fight this oncoming hazard (rally the troops, send out the Marines, and use its full resources to destroy the threat once and for all). Instead they send in one man.
Now, the man might be a highly trained operative but he is still only one mannote (the ability to create clones or duplicates and summon monsters doesn't count). No one questions the government's choice in sending out one special guy, either. This is not a desperation move, as in Halo, where one guy is all the government has left... no, in cases like this, the choice is usually "send the entire fleet" or "send Joe".
A common handwave/justification for this trope is that a full military assault would draw unwanted attention to the operation. As in, if we send an army to attack the secret base, the villain will use his superweapon, and game over. If we send Joe then villain won't react so intensely, and we can get past his guard. More realistically, the entire army may be needed to hold the villain's army at bay, or slow them down long enough to give Joe time to stop the villain. In other words, this trope is when the government is Genre Savvy about a One-Man Army.
If Joe makes a habit of succeeding at these missions he'll get a reputation for Doing the Impossible.
This trope is most often seen in First-Person Shooter video games, though it's sometimes often seen in movies and television shows.
Related to It's Up to You and The Only One. It can involve Conservation of Ninjutsu. Contrast Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder, which is where a scrappy Ragtag Bunch of Misfits is sent out on an Impossible Task rather than an obvious Badass.
Similarly invoked at times in Hellsing; Alucard is the most obvious example, but certainly not the only one. That series runneth over with Badasses.
Points to Alucard for actually being a One-Man Army. At full release of his Restraining Bolt system, Alucard can spawn an entire army consisting of EVERYONE HE'S EVER EATEN. Suffice to say, that's a lot of minions. And he could already fight hundreds of enemies, other freakishly powerful vampires, and reform from grotesque dismemberment and decapitation.
Additionally, following a certain incident at the manor, the Hellsing Organization loses most of its rank and file soldiers and resort to hiring mercenaries. The mercenaries are also wiped out to the last man by the end of the manga. Basically, if a character in this series isn't a complete Bad Ass, he's a Red Shirt.
Kakuri in Bokko. When the small border city of Ryo is threatened by a large invading army, they send a request for help to the clan of Bokk. They send a single man to save the city.
Fullmetal Alchemist: In the Ishval war Amestrian soldiers had the upper hand on the Ishval troops but the Ishval priests could take down 10 men. The state alchemists, due to their status of living nukes, could wipe out whole areas. The response to trouble with Ishval insurgents was to send in Kimblee.
During the police-strike riots in Watchmen, the "One Ranger" was Dr. Manhattan. Yup, that'll definitely do it. But averted with the other heroes, who tried to calm the riots by themselves and failed utterly.
Rorschach managed to quell the riots in his neighbourhood just by appearing.
The Comedian....did his own thing. By that, see how Invader Zim handles fires.
It depends what you mean by "calm". They didn't "control" the riots - Rorschach caused everyone to flee in terror and beat up a few people horribly, and the Comedian suppressed his riot by using prodigious quanitites of tear gas. They stopped the riots, just not very...well.
Except for, as previously mentioned, Dr. Manhattan, who simply teleported the rioters back to their homes.
In one Judge Dredd comic after the "Judge Cal" arc, the Judges are trying to figure out how to clean up a district that had become totally lawless. The council wants to send in a small army of Judges. Dredd decides that they need to send a different message and convinces them to just send one. Dredd went into the district with nothing but his gun and a dump truck. He left, totally unharmed, with a dump truck full of criminals.
In fact, the very first Dredd strip portrayed Dredd going against a gang of criminals on his own for the same reasons.
Each of the Universe's designated sectors comprises multiple populated star systems, and in some cases whole galaxies. The guardians assign each sector one Lantern.
Earth is a special case. Given the number of attempted invasions, supervillains and cosmic crises it incurs, this one planet in sector 2814 needs up to 4 dedicated lanterns.
Occurs in Lockout when the president and his advisors send Snow to rescue the president's daughter in lieu of sending in the marines to try and save all of the hostages. One of the advisors even comments "or, we could send in one man. One man with one very specific order."
James Bond. He's regularly sent into situations the British government might more easily clean up by sending in a crack squad of SAS commandos. Somehow, despite the man-power shortage, he always ends up on top.
Man-power shortage? This is James Bond! He's too-much man for the bad guys to handle!
But Bond first has to investigate the situation, which is a task better suited to a spy. On several occasions he's backed up by an attack force for the Storming the Castle scene — never the SAS, but then again an army of modern ninjas looks more 'James Bondish'.
In the Star Wars films, Jedi Knights are sent out alone (or, occasionally, with their apprentice) to handle whatever problem happens to be occurring at the time. Of course, if the Jedi in question aren't the main characters, this is usually ineffective.
The Resident Evil movie Degeneration shows the government's wised up since the events of RE4. When the T-Virus breaks out in an airport, who do they send in to rescue survivors trapped inside? A "Specialist" by the name of Leon Kennedy.
In the fourth film, right near the beginning, there is an a choice between hiring an entire team of mercenary veterans festooned with guns or hiring Rambo with just a bow and arrows, and a knife. The employer chooses Rambo, and only hires the mercenary team when it looks like Rambo might not be coming.
At the beginning of Judge Dredd, two young Judges get caught in a shootout and call for backup. They get Dredd. Just Dredd. It's enough.
Judge Dredd: [standing tall amidst random fire] What are you doing down there, Judge Hershey?
Judge Hershey: [crouched] Waiting for back-up.
Judge Dredd: It's here.
And then there's Dredd, in which Dredd is locked inside an entire apartment complex full of criminals. The trope is somewhat subverted, as he's accompanied by a single trainee on assessment. And he does request reinforcements at one point. Then it ultimately turns out that what Dredd really needed wasn't more Judges, just more ammo for his Lawgiver, as he ended up running out of bullets before Ma-Ma ran out of Mooks.
Stated in the David Mamet film Spartan by Bobby Scott, who is sent in to recover the President's kidnapped daughter. The title of the film is a reference to a historical example: King Leonidas I (of Thermopylae fame) sent a single Spartan soldier to a neighboring city-state that requested aid.
The actual situation is actually more of a The Only One since the hero has gone rogue and is using his own resources for the mission. The people in charge are doing a cover-up and do not want her rescued. He tells her the story to give her hope and gain her trust.
Referenced in Running Scared. When the two Cowboy Cop protagonists start feeling Genre Savvy about being one month from retirement they ask for one car to help them bust a drug den. Events escalate and they end up taking apart the den before help arrives. As the dust settles, a dozen police cars arrive. The lead officer explains that as they had never requested any help before the department assumed it was a riot.
A variant in Pulp Fiction, when Jules and Vince need a lot of help for a mess they've gotten into:
Jules:(angrily) I don't wanna hear about no motherfuckin' ifs. All I wanna hear from your ass is, You ain't got no problem, Jules. I'm on the motherfucker. Go back in there, chill them niggers out and wait for the cavalry which should be coming directly. Marcellus:(calmly) You ain't got no problem, Jules. I'm on the motherfucker. Go back in there, chill them niggers out and wait for the Wolf who should be coming directly. Jules:(suddenly happy) You're sending the Wolf? ...shit, negro, that's all you had to say.
In Taken, Liam Neeson's character Bryan Mills lampshades the fact that the film involves this sort of story when he tells the criminals who have kidnapped his daughter that he has "a very specific set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you." The villain, being a villain, refuses to accept that he's a walking dead man at this point.
Remo Williams, the hero of the Destroyer series of action novels, is a tongue-in-cheek satire of the One-Man Army genre of adventure fiction, but he's also a perfect example of this trope. The authors even lampshades it in the several of the novels of the long-running series by having everyone note how ridiculous it is to only send one man out to stop the latest menace.
Although this may also be the result of Remo being so top-secret that only the President gets to know that he exists, or at least originally being so.
It's actually explained in the first book of the series. The secret organization CURE is allowed to lie, cheat, and steal, but not to kill. This is because the President is worried about creating an agency that could be a threat to the country. CURE finally persuades the President to agree to one man. When one CURE member laments that one man is not enough, the head of CURE replies that's all they are going to get, so he better be a Bad Ass. Luckily for CURE, he is.
Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 novel Brothers of the Snake starts this way — with a single Space Marine sent to clear an entire province of evil sadist space elves. This has been going on since the Imperium's beginnings in the Great Crusade, where at one point a single squad of Iron Warriors Astartes was left on a world with several million inhabitants.
Also used in one of the Last Chancers novels, where the titular team is sent in to destroy a hive city to contain a Genestealer outbreak. The "mass assault vs. single infiltration" justification is used explicitly.
"Sir, why send only one Arbitrator?" "Trooper, there is only one riot."
In Steven Erikson's Malazan Books of the Fallen series, the small island nation of the Seguleh rebuffs missionaries from the Pannion Domin, a massive theocracy practicing cannibalism and rape of dying enemies. After the Pannion Domin declares war on the tiny nation, the Seguleh respond by sending a punitive army... consisting of three brothers. The most dangerous of whom is only considered the third most dangerous Seguleh.
The Ranger's Apprentice novel series actually uses this phrase to describe the kingdom's group of elite archers, spies, and tacticians. It's not exactly wrong, considering this happens several times during the series.
In fact, there's a bit of backstory where the page quote is adapted to the (Araluen) Rangers, and the phrase is brought up several times.
At the end of the fourth book in Leo Frankowski's Conrad Stargard series, The Flying Warlord, Conrad suggests this trope. The actual reason he was there alone was slightly different.
Gets frequently lampshaded in the Discworld books, especially the City Watch books. Detritus (the troll) shows up to escalating situations with a crossbow/ballista that fires a bundle of arrows that, due to the power, shatter and turn into shrapnel. It doesn't take out doors, it takes out walls. Needless to say, Vimes calls on Detritus quite often, usually as just a threat to drive his message home. Usually.
The wizards at the Unseen University tap Rincewind several times in the same way, but mostly because they don't want to bother with it themselves.
David Drake's Northworld trilogy. The Consensus sent a fleet to investigate the disappearance of the newly colonized planet Northworld. The fleet vanished too, so they sent another one, and then a third when the second was lost — and of course, number three disappeared as well. And then they got serious and sent Nils Hansen, a police special operations officer. Subverted, because as of the end of the trilogy, he hasn't returned to the Consensus either. However, he has become a god.
Referenced in Friday after a riot started by a previously unknown pseudo-religious sect attacking Scientologists and Hari Krishnas in an airport. Friday herself mentions it took almost as many Mounties as there were rioters to stop it, as opposed to the usual ratio of One riot: One Mountie.
Space Cadet. Girard Burke is annoyed when the Space Patrol doesn't send a warship to put down the 'native uprising', only one rocketship which crashes injuring its commanding officer and leaving the space cadets to handle the situation. It turns out there is no native uprising, just a crisis caused by Girard needlessly antagonising the Venusians which is solved through diplomacy by the cadets, not gunfire.
In Fury Born has the principle that one company of the Imperial Cadre is enough to handle most situations. The number of exceptions to this rule can be counted on both hands with fingers left over. Near the end of the book, one character has a brief Oh Crap moment on the villain's behalf when he learns that the Cadre is planning to send a full battalion of drop commandos in after them.
Downplayed somewhat but still played straight in The Eagle of the Ninth, as the protagonist is travelling in disguise and under a cover identity.
Live Action TV
Doctor Who: The Doctor is called an army by River in the 'Time of Angels' Serial.
Father Octavian: You promised me an army. River Song: I promised you the equivalent of an army.
In fact, this could be considered the Doctor's Modus Operandi. As Lampshaded by Rory Williams in "Asylum of the Daleks".
The Doctor: You're going to fire me at a planet? That's your plan? I get fired at a planet and expected to fix it? Rory: In fairness, that is slightly your M.O.
24 skirts this trope. Even though Jack Bauer is backed by the CTU and an entire brigade of government agents that ought to be out there backing him up, somehow he always ends up going it alone. Sometimes at the direction of his superiors.
Eventually, the powers that be begin to realize both how good he is, and the fact that he can be trusted - sometimes your own people are Starscreamy and The Mole is somewhere in CTU. After a certain point, this once-a-season saying joins the series' Catch Phrase list: "Get me Jack Bauer."
The Pilot Movie of Walker, Texas Ranger was called "One Riot, One Ranger." However, in practice, Walker's almost always backed up by Trivette, and for larger operations a full assortment of law enforcement units help out. However, there are quite a few episodes where he does it alone because no one but Chuck Norris can do it.
Although the show could be considered a subversion, as it's often pointed out that the only reason Buffy has been the most successful and long-lived Slayer is that she's not alone. By working with a team, she is much more powerful than just a lone Slayer.
The Watcher's Council (before Buffy) seemed to employ a "We Have Reserves" concept. It didn't matter if a slayer died in an impossible mission, the next one would succeed. Or the the one after that.
Later in the series, they are able to send lone Rangers (or lone White Stars, the Rangers' ship of choice) to deal with problems, because everybody knows by then that they represent The Alliance. On occasion, it still doesn't help.
In Marty Robbin's "Big Iron", a town that has been run by an outlaw that has killed 20 men who came to arrest him is finally saved by a single Arizona Ranger.
In Skyrim this is how you get used by the Civil War factions. Simply joining the Empire faction requires proving you can do this: One fort of bandits, one dragonborn. You answer to General Tullius, who serves as this role on an international scale. He is a "troubleshooter" for the empire and seems to have arrived with a small force and recruited most of his men while in Skyrim.
Spartans in Halo are treated more as tactical weapons than normal soldiers. This is lampshaded in Halo 2 by a comment from one of the marine superiors.
The Arbiter is the Covenant's version of the trope. Because of the lack of honour involved, they tend to use it as a Uriah Gambit.
Mass Effect is all about this trope. There's even a pretty well-supported in-game explanation for it, too. The Citadel Council can't send their battlefleet to stop The Dragon because it would spark a galaxy-wide war, so they hand the problem over to their One-Man Army. They don't even provide a ship and crew, the Alliance has to step in and give Shepard their new Super Prototype stealth frigate.
All Spectres are One Rangers — literally; you don't get selected unless you're that sort of omni-competent badass and leader of men. The Council was savvy enough to stay on the lookout for those sort of people, give them a special designation, and use them appropriately. As force responses go, sending a single Spectre is considered one step below an entire warfleet.
On the other hand, up until the third game, other than Shepard him/herself every Spectre encountered was either actively working against the council, corrupt, or dead. The council gives them no oversight whatsoever, and would actively prefer not knowing what they're up to.
Also, this is deconstructed and subverted in the case of most Spectres. Shepard has an entire ship and crew at his/her command (including a team of six badasses who could each be a Spectre with a little training), along with several independent weapons developers contracting to provide them with arms and armor. Saren, meanwhile, has built himself into a major corporate power player and has an army of mercenaries, asari commandos and geth at his command.
FreeSpace and its sequel were somewhat notable for making the protagonist just a wheel in the cog of the army machine, particularly toward the end of the sequel, where you don't really win anymore... you just hope to survive. It speaks volumes about this trope that the games were actually criticized for detaching the player from the plot this way; people want to be the Guy. Not that one.
In general, any FPS game will have this situation, either by design ("We're sending in Joe the Bad Ass"), or by happenstance ("We're sending in a squad of marines, but they'll all be killed except for Joe the Bad Ass").
In many games, the player can respawn at the beginning of the level when they die. When the player is also a generic soldier, this allows for the interpretation that they're not really a One Man Army at all - just an endless series of expendable grunts. This is explicitly the case in the side-scroller Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?.
Lampshaded in Half-Life 2 when Breen notes Gordon Freeman's tendency to plow through enemy forces like a weedwhacker. At the moment of his apparent defeat, he reveals he's aware that somebody wanted Gordon to be there, and to do what he did.
Whether this trope actually applies is still an open question. Yes, the G-Man sent Gordon in alone to take down the Combine (presumably), but his perspective and resources are, well... unusual, to say the least.
Justified in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, where a Navy SEAL team is sent into Big Shell and promptly slaughtered by one of the villains. Even worse, the SEAL team was sent in as a decoy, so that Raiden would be able to infiltrate undetected. High Command didn't just know the SEALs were in danger, they purposely sent them to their deaths.
Actually subverted in Metal Gear Solid, at first, it may seem like the government's putting a lot of faith in Snake's abilities, but in the end, it's revealed the entire point of sending him was to spread a biological weapon and kill everyone.
Also done in the above-mentioned realistic manner in the final act of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots - multiple people are sent onto Outer Haven for the final battle, but overall the job of everyone other than Snake is to make sure he and the Metal Gear Mk III get where they need to go and keep any trouble that pops up off their backs.
This fits Samus Aran of Metroid to a T. The first time is a subversion in that the Galactic federation already tried and failed a large scale attack, so in desperation sent a lone bounty hunter. After she utterly annihilated everything, standard procedure became, "Send Samus first."
Not an exaggeration. In Metroid Prime 3, the Federation is Genre Savvy enough to hold off its entire space armada while Samus forges ahead on her own twice: The Space Pirate Homeworld first and then Phaaze immediately afterward. Even after the Federation's badass upgrade, they're not stupid.
Prime 3 actually takes this a step further: two planets that have had a leviathan impact and they need to find out what the pirates are up to on their home world. While Samus is out for the count they send your fellow hunters on solo missions to each location, figuring that their hard earnt statuses as People of mass destruction will mean they can get the job done. When contact is lost with them they send you to find out what happened to each of them.
Urban Chaos Riot Response. It's you, and, for the beginning mission, your superior. For the rest of the game, you get you, a riot shield, a gun, and if you're lucky, backup in the form of a beat cop, firefighter, or EMT.
Sadly, the "backup" you're speaking of isn't backup. They're guys who you rescued and are escorting to a safe location, and until then, they support you.
Geneforge 4 & 5, being set during an open war between the Shapers and the rebellion, repeatedly make the point that a skilled Shaper in the right place is effectively an army. In 4, one Shaper is perfectly capable of securing a mountain pass all by himself, and the five infiltrators sent into a rebel-occupied province soon have the rebellion in disarray.
This is in large part because Shapers shape, crafting mons from vats of goo or, in a pinch, nothing but sheer willpower. A Shaper is a One-Man Army because one man can create a small army of fire-breathing lizards. Or acidic zombies. Or telepathic helium-filled squid things. This is central to the plot of the series and how the Shapers try to maintain their rule.
But still true when the Shaper sent isn't a shaper by class. Agents operate alone but one agent may still be considered a sufficient response to a problem.
In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the protagonist is mandated by prophecy to become "Hortator", a warrior who unites the Houses in times of trouble, in your case by walking over there and hitting them with a magic sword. It's one step in proving they're the Nerevarine. Or possibly becoming the Nerevarine, the metaphysics involved are a bit peculiar. Interestingly, the description of what a Hortator is suggests they're usually leaders of armies — it's just that the specific problems you are faced with are ones better faced by one person or at most a small group (also, at that point you are pretty much a One-Man Army).
The backstory of Cave Story. An Artifact of Doom, granting its wearer insane magic powers, resides on an island bristling with dangerous wildlife. Several nations want this artifact, so they send entire squadrons of war robots to retrieve it and kill anything in the way. Meanwhile, some other, unknown party wants to prevent the artifact from falling into the wrong hands—opting for quality over quantity, they send a pair of robots to destroy the artifact. Said pair of 'bots succeeds (eventually), while the army robots all get destroyed. note In the Aeon Genesis translation, at least. The Nicalis translation implies the opposite, that Miakid gaining the Crown was success for the army of killer robots.
The Crusader games have the Silencer sent in on missions it would normally take an entire team of rebels to pull off. He's not entirely alone, with fellow Rebels doing troubleshooting from the base or taking out security measures not reachable from the game map, but you get the impression if they hadn't sent him for the meat of the mission they'd have to send at least five or six guys. In the final mission of the first game, he's supposed to command a squad of rebels, but due to complications they don't show up. He of course pulls it off anyway.
The Riskbreakers have an explicit policy of always working alone. Thus, Ashley is immediate suspicious when a second Riskbreaker, Rosencrantz, shows up.
Dawn of War II. The recruiting worlds of the Blood Ravens are under attack from a huge Ork horde. The defenders are Davian Thule, about 5 squads of SpaceMarines and 30 or so raw initiates. They need reinforcements. They get one guy. It's enough.
The backstory for the Fallout games explains that Power Armored soldiers weren't just good at fighting the Chinese, but also in subduing riots, with one being enough to pacify a small town.
Likewise, the NCR often takes a One Riot One Ranger approach in its use of its NCR Rangers. Given that a single Veteran Ranger is one of the toughest human unit in the game, barring in-universe Memetic Badasses like Lanius or Joshua Graham, this is quite justified.
And subverted too. While exploring Vault 3, you run into a Ranger sent to kill the fiends there. After killing a few dozen sneaking around, he gets careless and suffers a leg wound from a trap, and while he still gets out fine (albeit with a leg needing treatment) it's stated sending him alone was a bad idea.
Of course, the ranger sent into Vault 3 was simply a standard NCR Ranger, who are tough but generally serve the purpose of being the Redshirts of the Ranger corps. The Veteran Rangers wear a Badass Longcoat for a reason: They're the elite of the elite.
The player can develop this reputation throughout Fallout: New Vegas: They may not be Rangers, and they may not technically be associated with any particular group, but that doesn't mean that people won't recognize the Courier's Bad Ass status. Develop a high enough reputation with a particular group (especially the NCR), and rather than offering your services for hire, they'll beg you to help them out with their problems.
Ulysses, being a counterpart to the Courier, does a great many things on his own in his service to Ceasar's Legion as the best of his Frumentarii. Without giving away too much of the plot, lets just say that a big chunk of the plot elements are the Courier reacting to the events that Ulysses set in motion.
The first mission in Deus Ex. NSF terrorists have raided and set up a command post on Liberty Island, the location of UNATCO Headquarters. There are UNATCO troops and security bots on the island, but they are ordered to pull back and let the protagonist, JC Denton, handle the situation as a test of his abilities.
In each game of the Time Crisis series, one or two (for co-op play) agents with pistols are sent to fight wave after wave of terrorists and solve whatever time-sensitive crisis is threatening the world that week. Of special note is the first game, where Richard Miller is said to be the only agent with no partner due to no one else able to perform at his level.
The 1995 Space FightersimStar Rangers refers to this trope by name in the manual when discussing the proud history of the eponymous organization. As a Star Ranger, the representative of law and order on the final frontier, it is your job to single-handedly battle entire fleets of Space Pirates, including squadrons of fighters and giant capital ships, with your lone small starfighter, often jumping from one side of the (very large) playing area to another in moments to stop attacks from multiple directions. You can also choose to fly with a single AI-controlled wingmate, however — but given the state of game AI at the time, they weren't much help.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine: Similar to the literary 40K example above, three Ultramarines are sent to Forge World Graia to stop the Ork invasion, or at least slow it down long enough for reinforcements to arrive. Then the Forces of Chaos show up with Chaos Space Marines in tow.
In the Star WarsDark Forces Saga, Kyle Katarn, and later Jaden Korr, will almost always be sent in alone to deal with whatever is threatening the Rebel Alliance/New Republic.
One mission in Jedi Academy invokes this, with Wedge Antilles deliberately devising a plan for a single ground soldier, with Wedge giving fighter/bomber support, to single-handedly take over an Imperial tibanna gas platform. Naturally, that single ground soldier needs to be a Jedi.
In the Resident Evil-verse, one or two agents with occasional air support is considered an appropriate response to anything less than a country-sized biohazard. It isn't until 2009, chronologically, that we see the B.S.A.A. even has six-man teams. There is some justification that sending more, less-well-prepared soldiers against zombies just makes more zombies, and that the agents are usually there to investigate and possibly help survivors before the area is sanitized.
Occasionally applied to one of its Space Western brothers, too. Some Galaxy Rangers episodes only had a single one of the main characters present (the Supertrooper duology, featuring The Lancer Shane Gooseman, are the most prominent examples), and were usually split into teams of two.
In 414BC the city-state of Syracuse (on Sicily) was getting monstered by an Athenian invasion force of about 7,300 soldiers and 134 warships. Syracuse appealed for help to Sparta, which sent one man: Gylippus. The Athenians sent another 5,000 troops and seventy ships. Gylippus won. Not a single member of the Athenian force escaped alive.
To be exact, Gylippus was the general sent to lead the resistance.
T.E. Lawrence, a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia. The British government wanted to create a civil war in Turkey's Arabian provinces. He was originally intended to fulfill a diplomatic role and not actually involve himself in the conflict directly. When he started doing so with some success, the British sort of just went with it.
The slogan for the Texas Rangers, as noted in the TV section entry for Walker, Texas Ranger up above.
Makes a bit more sense when you think about the fact that the Texas Rangers are more like a state-level FBI rather than a state-wide police department (in Texas, that'd be the Highway Patrol). They're not supposed to send in a whole big force. They do the investigating and coordinating with different police departments, and when they need a whole bunch of manpower, they get it from the Highway Patrol or local police and sheriff's departments.
Interestingly though, as the other wiki's article details, in the actual trope-naming incident it was pretty well averted, with other Texas Ranger captains and the Adjutant General present, though many of them may have come originally with the intention of being spectators at the bout, not keeping the peace when it was stopped.
The Mounties (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) have a similar reputation. Their original name was the Northwest Mounted Police, and they were given responsibility of just about everything north and west of Ontario. When the Yukon gold rush occurred, the NWMP made sure is was the most orderly and civilized gold rush ever seen, especially when contrasted against the California gold rush a few decades before. The Mounties today service as the federal police investigation branch (similar to the FBI), and are considered polite, professional, elite, dedicated, and fearsome if crossed.
Commando raids were conceived with this trope in mind (although they usually involve a team rather than literally using one "ranger"); send in a small force to go in quietly, carry out a specific objective (e.g. sabotage, assassination, rescue a person of importance, gather intelligence, etc) and then leave (optional).
It is also notable that in reality, while commando raids are good for the morale of one's own forces, they are never the war winning element that they are in fiction. Major wars are won by major battles, not commandos. Even the literal sinking of critical components for (one of) the German nuclear weapons projects (there were several, all of which competedfor limited resources) made zero difference, as the Germans' under-resourced programs were far from producing anything resembling even a simple dirty-bomb.
It is also worth noting that sabotage and disruption behind enemy lines gives one an edge in major battles, as it can mess with the enemy's attempts to keep their forces supplied and reinforced. Operation Bagration, for instance, was won in part because Belarussian partisans (assisted by Soviet Commandos) basically shut down the entire Belarussian railway network - and most of the roads, too. This prevented the Germans from reinforcing their Army Group Centre quickly enough to prevent their forward elements from being totally bypassed and then encircled by the Soviets' armoured spearheads - and the German reinforcement-forces were also too weak to stop the Red Army's mechanised columns either and got surrounded as well, their attempts to withdraw meeting with dismal failure due to the aforementioned infrastructure shut-down. Thanks to the partisans, Army Group Centre was annihilated - with 'all' but a handful of its 500 000 combat-troops lost as KIA or POWnote By way of comparison the 'Battle of the Bulge', the biggest land-battle ever fought by The Allies, resulted in some 100 000 German casualties.
The above falls in line with the idea of "economy of force," which is a general military principle that tells you essentially to have no more Rangers than you really need for the Riot. Certainly, sometimes There Is No Kill Like Overkill, but using many more soldiers than you really need for a campaign or commando operation is wasteful, since those soldiers are not doing a job that they potentially could be doing elsewherenote Though of course, one's field-commanders will almost always aim for overwhelming (numerical) superiority at the point of contact/in-battle to minimise their (tactical) losses.
Léo Major. After singlehandedly liberating Zwolle, he was sought after when the Korean War broke out, and he and twenty-two soldiers were sent in to recon Chinese positions, and held off two entire divisions when US forces in the sector were forced to withdraw.