Violence Really Is the Answer
Now now Diggers, let's not lose our temper. Violence is not
the answer! Theodore:
You're right Gothwrain. It's not the answer. Violence is the question
. The answer
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. For some pacifist characters, it could be interpreted by some audiences that they will refuse to resort to violence until it is proven to them that their enemy has no qualms about using it and is shameless about doing so, which acts as a sort of Godzilla Threshold
to persuade the character that resorting to violence is a necessary evil. This moral is often proven by a Pacifism Backfire
A classic Family-Unfriendly Aesop
. Compare with Murder Is the Best Solution
, Violence Is the Only Option
, and The Extremist Was Right
. Guilt-Free Extermination War
is the ultimate extreme case. Related to Might Makes Right
and sometimes related to Right Makes Might
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Anime & Manga
- Vash of Trigun is quite similar to Jimmy Stewart's character in Destry Rides Again (see Film), 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 his opponent is too tired to continue — just do not push his Berserk Button.
- Muteki Kanban Musume: In a World full of Fighting Series that always say that Violence Is Bad but the protagonists always solve their problems through violence, this series is one of the few that averts this trope: Every problem the protagonist had could have been resolved without violence, and those who practice violence is because they are clearly idiots.
- Full Metal Panic! has the former child-soldier and career mercenary protagonist acting as the head coach for his high school rugby team, who had lost forty-nine of their past forty-nine games. By the end of his training, every one of the wimpy, pacifist team members have been turned into berserkers with burning-red eyes. One of them is outright disappointed that a tackle that carried him through a member of the rival team left said person trembling on the ground instead of dead. With that in mind, the substitute coach was literally reading an instruction manual that was inspired by the teachings of Drill Sergeant Hartman.
- 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.
- This has cropped up more often in recent years. His solution in Avengers vs. X-Men? Murder Hope Summers, a teenage mutant girl, for being a beacon for the Phoenix (though he can't go through with it). And in Age of Ultron? Murder Hank Pym so he can't make Ultron, who has successfully taken over the world. A Subverted Trope that second time, as it makes everything go From Bad to Worse in The Multiverse.
- 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.
- 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 one Atomic Robo story, the titular robot battles giant ants encroaching on Reno, Nevada. When interviewed afterwards about how he defeated them, he explains "I used my violence."
- Cassandra Cain often plays with this. Thanks to having Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training, she's essentially nonfunctional in anything that doesn't involve hitting people very hard, and though she tries her best at more traditional methods, she still tends to jump to her fists at the first opportunity. Being Cassandra Cain, this usually works.
- Subverted in The Badger. In one story the Badger debates this issue with a crippled street musician. After the Badger saves him from a mugger the busker, while remaining personally committed to pacifism concedes that the Badger has a point.
- Batman, despite his usual Thou Shalt Not Kill rule has resorted to this on a few occasions when the villain he's fighting cant be safely contained. Not counting several Early Installment Weirdness stories from the Golden Age where he killed several villains, the modern era has his original encounter with KG Beast whom he leaves to drown in the sewers (this is later retconned with the GCPD saving him), enraging Deacon Blackfire's followers into killing him in Batman: The Cult, and him shooting Darkseid during Final Crisis.
- 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.
Films — Live-Action
- In Warm Bodies, the zombies are redeemed by The Power of Love. The bonies, not so much.
- An example of surprising ease is the movie Destry Rides Again where the title character has renounced violence and is a real Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass but finds violence ultimately necessary.
- 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.
- In The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, seemingly everyone starts out feeling reluctant to take up arms and go to war. Everyone who actively resists the call to arms is presented as being either weak or being secretly manipulated by the enemy. Still, with a wrathful demigod on the loose who has an army of objectively evil minions at his beck and call, the only choices they really have are to fight or to be brutally slaughtered.
- 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 entire plot of the film Billy Jack.
- 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.
- 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". She was almost always tormented by the decision, and at least the first time it happened she spends the next few episodes pretty bitter about it and struggling to regain her inner peace.
- In The Young Ones, Vyvyan argues that violence is a necessity to create interesting stories when it comes to action narratives. He points out how incredibly boring Dan Dare and Batman comics would be if the heroes never threw any punches, and instead got along well with their Rogues Galleries.
- Doctor Who
- 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.
- 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.
- A notable example of this is the Doctor killing both of all the crazy Time Lords and Daleks at the end of the last great Time War. The moral is proved in the case of the Daleks throughout the show, and in the case of the Time Lords in "The End of Time, Part Two". This moral is then entirely inverted in the "Day of the Doctor" special. Talk about changing your mind.
- Notorious old-school examples are "The Daleks", in which Ian has to teach the Thals anger, and "The Dominators", which was deliberately written as a hippie-punching allegory of how pacifists are stupid cowards who will get exterminated by the first non-pacifists they meet.
- Tom Baker has expressed his misery about this in interviews fairly often, complaining that it was wrong for Doctor Who to idealise intelligence, love and pacificism, and yet so often end stories with the Doctor blowing the aliens up. He once even said, likely jokingly, he'd prefer it to be more violent to the point where it became obviously fantastical (the example he gave was a Gory Discretion Shot of him slaughtering 25 people with a sword) if the plots were going to use violence as a solution anyway.
- 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.
- In Family Matters, Steve Urkel would usually try to find non-violent solutions to problems. Once in a while, though, that wasn't possible, and he would have to turn himself into Bruce Lee.
- 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. For Example:
- Going to war against the Primordials and murdering them won Creation for humankind. But it also permanently broke the cycle of reincarnation.
- The Usurpation saved the world from the Solar Exalted. But while the Shogunate's warring states weren't as dangerous to the world as the reality-warping Lawgivers, they still weren't GOOD rulers, and the Terrestrial Exalted couldn't keep up the fantastic technology of the First Age
- And then the two combine: the wrathful dead primordials imbue the ghosts of murdered Solars with power to create the Deathlords, who to date have come the closest to killing everything in the world..
- Warhammer 40,000: say what you will about the Imperium being shortsighted, but everything REALLY IS trying to kill you and you CAN kill just about anything with enough brutal firepower. Can, but probably won't...
- Zig-zagged in most 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!
- It happens more often in battles with small splinter fleets. Major Hive Fleets so far were destroyed by concentrating all available space faring firepower from several (dozens, sometimes hundreds) of sectors, craftworlds, tombworlds, septs and/or Xeno Empires. Hive Fleet Leviathan was indeed lured away from it's path to Terra with the help of Science, but the exact effect of this operation is debatable. Sooner or later (most likely, sooner), Orks or Tyranids will emerge victorious (most likely, Tyranids) and stronger than ever. And whoever wins this fight, it is the Imperium that loses the most.
- 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.
- In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, one episode featured the Atom and Aquaman teaming up to save Batman. The Atom, a scientist, is off put by Aquaman's tendencies and tries to solve the problem with science and precision... until he gets sufficiently angry and punches cancer. This works.
- 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.
- The plot of Crystals Have Power revolves around Jake accidentally hurting Finn, which reminds him of a time where his father told him to hurt everyone. He decides that he doesn't want to use violence to solve problems anymore. Unfortunately, Finn is captured by crystal soldiers who will turn him into a crystal, and Jake is the only one who can defeat them. In the end, Jake gets a vision of his late father, who reveals that Jake wasn't paying attention to what he was really trying to say: Jake must hurt everyone who is evil. Jake then "snaps out of it" and easily beats the crystal men.
- 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 YouTube comments 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. One of the elders of the village refuses to listen and makes the argument that while violence might/would save their lives they would be sacrificing the very heart of who they are as a people by giving up pacifism. Then again, without their lives, who they were as a people is a lot less valuable.
- The Hero Factory: Invasion from Below special seems to at first play the "violence is bad" moral straight when Breez calms down the beast queen by offering peace. But, due to a misunderstanding, the beasts attack again, and this time the Heroes have no option but to beat them up, indirectly killing them.
- In Time Squad It's official from the start of the series that this is Buck Tuddrussel's go-to philosophy, punch first, ask questions later! Otto at first tries to intervene at every chance, trying to explain that most problems that the Squad comes across could easily be solved with their words and can be manipulated into an agreeable compromise. But eventually its shown that there's just some problems in life that can't just be "talked" into fixing, sometimes a little butt kicking goes a long way.
- Steven Universe invoked this trope, with a tragicomic subversion, in So Many Birthdays. Steven has lost control of his shapeshifting abilities and is dying because of the Rapid Aging that ensues. After everything else fails, Afro Asskicker Badass In Charge Garnet grits her teeth and violently shakes frail old Steven. When the other Gems pry her away, she is very lost and seems to be in a shocked daze. She explains her actions by invoking this trope: "I thought violence would be the answer." (To be fair, Violence Really Is the Answer to 99% of the problems in Garnet's life.)
- Handled really strangely in The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Dr. Henry Pym, the hero Gi-Ant-Man, is a strong believer in the ideals of being a pacifist and makes it very clear that he hates being a superhero because it means he not only cannot indulge his truest love, scientific research, but he is forced to fight super-villains, whom he would much rather focus on trying to rehabilitate after they are captured. In contrast, the rest of the Avengers have no qualms about fighting supervillains, viewing it as an immediate solution to the immediate problem of "this guy is trying to blow up the city". Things come to a header in the Ultron storyarc of the first season, where Dr. Pym tries desperately to stop a fight between the Avengers and the Serpent Society in the middle of a hostage situation; the end result is that Hawkeye gets hurt and several of the Avengers get mad at him — his Love Interest, Janet Dyne, The Wasp, outright chews him out for it. In response, he quits the team. Team leader Tony Stark, Iron Man, views it for the best, but he does not condemn Dr. Pym's decision, noting that he has never truly been happy with the life of the superhero and that it simply isn't a calling for him. In the second season, Dr. Pym temporarily returns as the far more violent vigilante Yellowjacket, having taken a severe level in bad attitude whilst he was gone.
- Malcolm X said, "I don't even call it violence when it's in self defense; I call it intelligence."
- Keep in mind, at the time, i.e. during segregation, for about a century or so whites openly slaughtered blacks with complete impunity and the tacit if not explicit support of the police, government and military. X lived in an era when the murder of black children was entirely, sickeningly common and open terrorism against blacks was effectively ignored if not outright praised by a large percentage of the population. Example: a case where civil rights advocates were nearly murdered investigating a black man's severed head displayed in a local tool shop window Down South. If that were in a sci-fi novel, it'd be justification for a Guilt-Free Extermination War against whatever alien species did it. So yeah, less "intelligence", more like "reflexive survival instinct evolved over hundreds of thousands of years".
- Notably, though, the greatest successes of the Civil Rights Movement were achieved with nonviolence, so the exact applicability of this trope is debatable.
- One should also remember that Malcolm X wasn't much a proponent of the Civil Rights Movement as he was of Human Rights in general. He didn't care all that much about the progression of "civil rights" (due to being beyond wary about dealing with the then current authority figures needed to make that change) as he cared about black people upholding their own civil liberties and ending the abuse of black people in general. This trope is definitely still applicable to HIS ideals, especially in his earlier career.
- Nelson Mandela, while he insisted that black people of South Africa use nonviolent protest tactics, acknowledged all along that violence was ALWAYS an option, albeit a last-resort. Once white Afrikaners demonstrated their shameless willingness to use violence against blacks, he refused to renounce the use of violence in self-defense. To this day, many white politicians, including several in America, insist on calling Mandela a terrorist, despite the fact that his wife's promotion of extreme retaliatory violence so disgusted him that he divorced her because of it.
- According to Osama bin Laden, "there is no dialogue except with weapons".
- Mao Zedong: "Political Power grows out of the barrel of a gun". He should know: his generals fought a four-year Civil War (in which ten million died) for it.
- A physical attack on one's person may require the use of violence to stop it.