A character who firmly believes in Thou Shalt Not Kill ends up being presented with a situation extreme enough that despite much compunctions and reservations, they are compelled to resort to violence — and it works. It makes everything all right. It was the right thing to do all along.
The character is usually, but not always, a Technical Pacifist or something to that extent. If they were an Actual Pacifist they would never resort to violence under any circumstances at all; if they were a Nineties Anti-Hero they would have no problem with it to begin with. In some versions, they will be (self-)tortured after making this choice, but in others, it is surprisingly easy, and it really seems like the message is that pacifism is laughable, or at best impractical.
A classic Family Unfriendly Aesop. Compare with Murder Is the Best Solution, Violence is the Only Option, and The Extremist Was Right.
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Vash of Trigun is quite similar to Jimmy Stewart's character in the above, but his ultimate need to use (lethal) violence is shown as very traumatic. Since the series ends right after the choice, it's hard to tell what his future will be.
Kitano from Angel Densetsu is an Actual Pacifist that always gets dragged unwillingly into fights. Normally he just stands there dodging every blow until is opponent is too tired - just do not push his Berserk Button.
The "Old Man Logan" arc of Wolverine turns out this way. 50 years after becoming an Actual Pacifist, a cross-country errand to earn enough money to save his family leads Logan into a confrontation where violence is unavoidable, as he's locked in a room with someone trying to kill him. Unfortunately, after he defeats his foe and returns home, it turns out he should have resorted to violence much earlier.
A Golden Age Comic Book story featuring the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion had them interact with two pacifist brothers who'd isolated themselves in their house for years because of the world's warlike ways. Enemy spies break into the house for some reason (possibly to use it as a hideout, or to steal the brothers' stashed money to fund their spy ring) and it's only by the Guardian's use of applied force that the spies are defeated. The brothers grasp the intended Aesop, that if you don't confront evil, it will eventually come in after you.
The original run of Hawk and Dove had this as a message. Of course, if you're going to be a crime-fighter, it's implied that you have to fight people, Dove.
Both played straight and inverted in Transmetropolitan. By the end of the series, Spider has personally killed more than a dozen people (mostly in self defense) and has committed assault on hundreds, if not thousands. But he also carries around a mostly nonviolent, if uncomfortable, weapon (the Bowel Disruptor, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin) and almost all real change is effected through the written word rather than the alternative.
Franchise.Superman, in his early Post Crisis years, infamously killed several (depowered) villains who'd killed their worlds and threatened to get their powers back and do the same to Earth-DC; Supes was left tormented as a result. It strengthened his resolve to always find another way from then on, to the point that when later confronted with Xenomorphs in Superman / Aliens, he is still reluctant to kill them.
A crossover between The Punisher and Deathlok (a pacifist man in the body of a killing machine) feature this. The climax of the story has Frank killing a man threatning the life of Deathlok's son. Deathlok initially objects, and Frank says that he didn't have a choice. Deathlok gets ready to argue, but then decides that this time, he was right, and thanks him for saving his son's life.
In The Wizard In The Shadows, Harry's default response to most problems is to blast his way through them. Or, for instance, use an unhelpful guard as a battering ram.
In High Noon, the main character's wife is a Quaker, and against violence. She leaves her husband when he wants to fight with his enemies instead of escaping, but finally returns to him, and shoots one of the bad guys.
Batman is a type who has no problem with brutal fights but a code against killing. Often, villains (especially the Joker) will test this commitment.
The movie Batman Begins presents an example where he has no choice, as his mentor turned enemy explicitly states that he feels no gratitude that Bruce previously saved his life and vows to kill Bruce if he doesn't join his cause. Ultimately, the movie flirts with The Dog Shot First, since Batman doesn't kill the villain but rather declines to save him, which is still at odds with Batman's code of ethics, at least the one established in the comics (especially as it was Batman's plan to stop the train that put the villain in a position which threatened his life). OF course, he was just starting out. It should also be noted that the villain was likely capable of saving himself, if he so wanted to. He seems to have solidified his moral code by the time of The Dark Knight—when the spring-loaded razors on his gauntlets cut the Joker and causes him to fall off the building, he still catches him. It could also be argued that since he survived the fall, he might not have expected Dent to die when he prevented him from killing Gordon's son. Batman can be excused for Dent's death, considering he was exhausted and shot, he only tackled Dent off the ledge to save a small child, and there really wasn't any way for him to know that there would be a fall that would kill Dent. Dent's death was an accident that Bruce can't really be held accountable for.
Burton's Batman, on the other hand, never had this problem, and just killed without much thought.
The missionaries in Rambo find out the hard and painful way that violence only understands violence and when your opponents' goal is mass genocide, pacifism just makes their job easier. Rambo himself has no such illusions, and has no choice but to unleash a world of hurt on the Burmese military junta to save what's left of the naive missionary team. It appears that cold, harsh reality backs this one up; the monks who attempted peaceful protests against the Burmese S.P.D.C. have been all but wiped out.
One of H. Beam Piper's stories subverted Asimov's maxim, stating that violence is the last resort of the incompetent because "Only the incompetent wait until the last extremity to use force, and by then, it is usually too late to use anything, even prayer."
This trope was inverted in In the Presence of Mine Enemies by Harry Turtledove, when the quiet programmer is mocked by his supervisor for not having the conviction to go join the riots against a coup... and then once he's left alone changes a geneological database and anonymously alerts the "good guys" to the "discovery" in a move which does far more to undermine the coup than any individual bottlethrower could imagine (and the POV characters who are protesting physically do little violence but simply shame the coup mooks into not killing them for hours until the mooks are EAGER to surrender to the "good guys" military forces).
He went one step further in his Worldwar series, suggesting that violence is not only the answer, but our salvation. Humanity's constant strife and warfare has made it so "perfidious" and battle-ready that we continually take the technologically advanced but strategically stagnant alien invaders by surprise with our double-dealing and resourcefulness. For example, pissing on a sensor and freaking out an analyst, who swore up and down that "4 billion Big Uglies" were coming right at them.
This was a big theme of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, particularly Naked Empire, in which the pacifist Bandakar Empire had to be persuaded to fight the invading Order soldiers. In fact, it has become a well known fact to even those who have never read the series that the protagonist massacres pacifists "armed only with their hatred of moral clarity".
Essentially the point of Starship Troopers. The book was about the question of what a citizen owed in exchange for his political privileges, as Heinlein points out that Americans do not earn their citizen status. Violence wasn't the answer provided society was well-governed, but violence was the ultimate, final way in which disputes were settled. Hence, all authorities ultimately must be backed by force or they are toothless. Heinlein's novel featured a Mary Suetopia Earth where nearly everyone was law-abiding, rights were extended to all regardless of race and gender (revolutionary in his time), and civil society was idealized. He contrasts this with a much-more-violent post-war collapse of civil order. Violence against the Bugs was inevitable because neither humanity nor the Bugs would cede their unlimited expansion throughout the universe. Violence is also used to convince the Skinnies to switch sides in the war. The point that violence is a means to an end, and not an end, is frequently brought up, only a bit less than the whole citizenship issue. Heinlein was preachingClausewitz, not carnage. In fact, citizenship could be earned by any form of civil service. Military service was simply the quickest and most prestigious route, with the much more chance of rising to political office later.
Redwall. No matter how much the Abbot insists that Violence Is Wrong, Cluny's horde ends up being defeated by... violence. In fact, pretty much every book in the series has the message "violence is OK if you're killing evil creatures", and even among the normally peaceful Redwallers, only a few characters are ever bothered by having killed an enemy. And the ones that are bothered are usually instantly rounded on by the other characters, chastised for their softness/naivete.
Many L.E. Modesitt novels end up with the protagonist reluctantly using their magic or technology to become a Person of Mass Destruction and completely destroying an enemy city, nation, or entire planet, because they need to make sure there is no way that the enemy will be able to start another war, ever again, no matter what.
Being a Technical Pacifist (albeit one who fights dirty), Sam Vimes in the Discworld books frequently finds himself in situations where he is pressured to have to kill his enemies but tries to avoid it. The Fifth Elephant presents a good example, where Lady Margolotta, the mentor and/or pupil of Magnificent Bastard Lord Vetinari, shows her cunning credentials by aiding the villain so he will go after Vimes' wife, putting Vimes in a situation where it is apparent that he has no choice but to kill, knowing that the villain (a werewolf with Nigh Invulnerability) will always come back against the ones he loves. Vimes does end up killing, fully aware of being set up by Lady Margolotta, and notes how he won't deliver a Bond One-Liner because he believes that it's the only thing separating self-defense and murder.
Subverted for once in The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. The narrator spends most of the story rationalizing his killings, but through therapy realizes he was really just followinghis own psychoses.
The moral of nearly any Vince Flynn book.
As expected, an integral part of The Art of War. However, Sun Tzu famously states that war with an enemy is the least favorable, last resort to achieving victory.
Used in The Two Towers, both book and movie. In the movie, the Ents initially decide to not fight, but they change their minds after finding that Sauruman had clear-cut a large section of the forest. It received lots of complaints about being pro-war. It was more subtle in the book, with Treebeard's line, "It is likely that we march to our doom, but if we stayed home and did nothing, doom would find us anyway".
Note that Tolkien was writing this during World War II, a war pretty much universally declared to be completely justified, in stark contrast to World War I in which Tolkien himself had fought. It's likely his intended message was that fighting is okay, if it's in a cause as justified as stopping the Nazis.
George Orwell remarked in one of his essays that, "Those who 'abjure' violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf."
In the novels In Death Ground and This Shiva Option by David Weber and Steve White, the invading aliens are an implacable hive mind. No negotiation was possible and the aliens had no desire to coexist. The aliens, in fact, didn't understand coexistence as a concept and were not interested in learning. The violent solution turned out to be the correct one.
In the Anita Blake series this is a recurring and controversial theme, especially as it's had a steady presence throughout the series as each new line Anita's willing to cross cuts her off from more of the "normal" world, and slowly pushes old friends and associates further away from her. The author's made comments to the general effect that while she likes and admires idealism enough to write it into characters, she can't manage enough personal belief in it to avoid this trope in her writing.
The Sarah Jane Adventures has a variant on this in Enemy of the Bane. Sarah Jane tells Clyde "There are better ways to solve a problem than guns", only for two of the Bane to get killed by Kaagh's blaster and the Brigadiers gun-cane. Seems like having a gun around might have its uses...
Bully Beatdown. Someone messing with you? Let's put him in a cage with a Mixed Martial Arts fighter.
"The Peacekeeper Wars": Our heroes try to run away from the conflict and when they realize they can't do that, they spend the bulk of the miniseries attempting to facilitate a diplomatic solution. In the end, though, the only thing that can stop the bloodshed is more bloodshed — a wormhole weapon destructive enough to force the two sides into accepting the diplomatic solution.
Also many of the Zhaan spotlight plots have her succeeding through physical or psychic violence despite her pacifist ideals, especially the Maldis episodes and "Look at the Princess".
In the episode "Midnight", the Doctor spends the first part of the episode trying to prevent the creature that has broken into the bus being thrown out of the airlock. He ends up almost being thrown out of the airlock himself and is only saved when the person originally possessed by the creature is thrown out by the hostess.
Actually, the Doctor very frequently ends up killing lots of people/creatures to solve problems, (to the point that some fans have started using "genocide" as a verb because it happens so often,) but, with a very few exceptions, he gives them a chance to withdraw peacefully first, and is much happier if a problem can be solved without anyone getting hurt. If his warnings are ignored, however, he shows no mercy, and afterwards seems OK with the ethical implications of wiping out a species in order to protect others.
In Chinese Paladin, Elder Shi is seen as a Knight Templar because of his insistence that nothing will be gained by diplomacy with Bai Yue; various characters, including the Nanzhao General, take the time to privately advise Ling'er differently. Elder Shi is later proved right, and there is a beautiful scene at his funeral where each of the dissenting characters apologizes and pledges to give the battle their all.
The Kenny Rogers song "Coward of the County".
Exalted has something of a theme that most problems in Creation can be solved, at least temporarily, by punching the right being in the face. The main risk is that today's necessary puncher becomes tomorrow's punchee. Exalted also tends to assert that violence can "solve" problems, but will often create bigger problems in the process.
Surprisingly enough, Warhammer 40000 could be argued to have an example of this in some of the stories around the Tyranids (and Tau). Usually, violence is utterly futile against the Tyranid (Space Bugs/Mammals/Reptiles/Something numerous enough to take down the armies and navies of entire systems just by clogging vehicles with their corpses), which forces anyone hoping to stand against them to produce alternate methods. Of course, these "alternate methods" usually consist of either poisoning them or diverting their attention. Still, Science Really is the Answer!
Mega Man X had always tried to be a pacifist, but he quickly concluded (or at least, decided before the first game) that fighting was necessary to bring about peace, to the point that he states that he is not afraid to fight his best friend Zero to stop him from getting corrupted in X5, and his enemy Sigma if he keeps showing up to stop the reconstruction of the world in X6. Then he suddenly made a decision to become an Actual Pacifist in X7, which everyone else (including the players, who were given Axl as a result) hated him for. Once you save enough reploids or beat all 8 mavericks however, X decides (again), that yes, Violence is necessary. Then he becomes playable.
His reasoning is somewhat sound: he doesn't want to fight anymore because he's tired of killing (he's spent four of the last six games fighting without any direct correlation to helping people that he can see). Given his power, he's very good at killing, and he decides that his abilities and hesitance are better used in more of a leadership role (where he plays the devil's advocate more often than not, arguing that violence is not the answer). After you rescue enough reploids, he realizes there are a lot of people in the line of fire in what's essentially a custody dispute gone nuclear, and decides to fight to save them, not to stop the fighting (that's incidental).
One wins U.S. Men's Hockey Team Olympic Challenge!, an Interactive Fiction game, by vandalizing the Olympic Village. The motto of the game is literally "Violence really is the answer to this one," a parody of a traditional error message stating the opposite.
Pretty much any video game with any sort of combat will go into this. To paraphrase the list of console RPG cliches: "All the world's problems can be solved by finding the right guy and beating the crap out of him." It's rather rare to find a game where the major conflict isn't resolved by some variation on "Beat the hell out of this guy."
Suikoden II is probably one of the best examples of an exception. In most endings, the major conflict is resolved just by successfully seizing an important location. In the best ending, the more personal conflict for Riou is resolved by confronting Jowy at the stone where they promised to meet back up at the beginning of the game and allowing Jowy to beat him to death. He gets better.
There's also Phantom Brave, where the Big Bad Demon Sulphur is pushed out of the dimension by the Power of Friendship, sacrifice, tears and blood. Then he just comes back at full power as a Bonus Boss and it turns out Level Grinding and hitting him really, really, really hard works better.
In Dragon Age II, this is averted. Killing Orsino and Meredith does secure the survival of Hawke and his/her True Companions, but it doesn't prevent the Mage-Templar war.
Ultimate!Spider-Man: Violence is never the answer. Unless the question is 'How do I beat the bad guys?'
A big theme of Schlock Mercenary — when it comes down to it, the galaxy is best protected by heavily armed (and vaguely sociopathic) mercenaries who laugh at collateral damage. Some of the Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries discuss the subject.
Maxim 6: If violence wasn't your last resort, you failed to resort to enough of it. Maxim 13: Do unto others. Maxim 27: Don't be afraid to be the first to resort to violence.
The "That Which Redeems" arc in Sluggy Freelance has a morally complex take on this. When the demons of the Dimension of Pain invade the ridiculously pacifistic Dimension of Lame, nobody is willing to violently oppose them except for Torg, who is from the main story dimension. It is pointed out that left to its own devices, the DoL would be a paradise, but the invasion makes violence necessary.
Phase of the Whateley Universe comes from a super-wealthy family where violence is never the answer, because they have security forces and lawyers and layer after layer of protection from the real world. But then Phase manifests as a mutant and gets kicked out of the family, at which point he has to live in a superhero universe where the appropriate response is often an energy blast to the face. He still has trouble with this, although in stories like "Ayla and the Networks" he demonstrates that sometimes the answer is months of scheming and sneakiness beforehand.
Avatar The Last Airbender zig-zagged this in the last few episodes: Aang speaks with his past lives and each one tells him, indirectly, that killing Ozai is justified—even a fellow monk pacifist tells him that as Avatar, the well-being of the people supersedes his own spiritual needs. Then Aang goes into the Avatar State, beats the ever living snot out of Ozai, and refuses to complete the finishing move. THEN Aang uses energy bending to save the day without killing.
Adventure Time takes this trope and runs with it. A lot of times, Finn and Jake just solve something by beating or threatening to beat the crap out of it. It's even the aesop for the episode, "His Hero", when Finn is unable to learn the opposite of this. The hilarious part is that "Sometimes violence can solve all your problems" is the secondary Aesop for the episode. The big lesson that Jake and Finn learn is "Never listen to old people," taught to them by a little old lady whom Finn rescues with his fists of righteous anger.
Animaniacs did this in the episode Bully for Skippy. Slappy Squirrel's nephew is being horribly bullied at school, and his counselor keeps suggesting all the "solutions" Real Life counselors give: ignore the bully, try to befriend them, inform the bully that they've hurt your feelings, etc. Skippy just gets beat up worse and worse until he teams up with Aunt Slappy and breaks out the Cartoon Violence and dynamite... which oddly reforms the bully into a good citizen.
It seems people agree that this may be Truth in Television, since most of the YouTubecomments say that the counselor's offered approaches rarely work and often only make the bully worse, as seen in the cartoon. For those who haven't seen the particular episode, the solutions, such as "Ignore the bully," "Be a friend to the bully," and "Try to invoke the bully's empathy," are based mostly in quite discredited Freudian Excuses used to explain bullying, such as low self-esteem. Bullies actually tend to have high self-esteem.
One episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars was spent mostly trying to convince a tribe of Actual Pacifists that the Separatists were about to test a new superweapon on their planet whether the villagers were there or not (although the village was something of a bonus), the Jedi did not lead the Separatists there, and politely asking the Separatists to leave was not going to have any effect.
Malcolm X said, "I don't even call it violence when it's in self defense; I call it intelligence."
A physical attack on one's person is generally best responded to with violence.
With those where a refusal to use violence is seen as a weakness, this is what you start with—and then be open to being convinced to not beat anybody else up once you've established that it's not because you can't.