We Have Become Complacent
"Five years ago, I lost thirty thousand men in the blink of an eye...and the world just
fuckin' watched. Tomorrow, there will be no shortage of volunteers, no shortage of patriots. I know you understand."
Sometimes directly pointed out by a war veteran or someone with a lot of experience in life, this trope is about some society growing complacent with peace and reluctant to think anything bad can happen. Little do they know that The Empire
over there is gearing up for the war that will slaughter thousands, if not millions, of civilians. Sometimes done anviliciously
, sometimes it's just part of the plot. Don't be surprised if the society heavily frowns upon violence, even in self-defense.
The Wide-Eyed Idealist
trope applied to entire civilizations
. Expect the heroes to try to stop the evil plan, either by alerting the populace or by fighting behind the scenes. If they fail, expect their country to be a Soiled City on a Hill
or an Easily Conquered World
. If there is an epilogue, expect And Man Grew Proud
This is also frequently a motivation of villains who want to keep their people "strong" and "pure" - they are often The Social Darwinist
Avoiding this is one of the main points of Japanese Spirit
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Anime and Manga
- In Attack on Titan, most of humanity got comfortable after a hundred years of peace and were completely unprepared for the first titan attack. Eren even chewed out Hannes and the Garrison troops for drinking on duty since they thought titans wouldn't be able to breach the wall. Afterwards, the Garrison was somewhat more capable at dealing with titans. The only group that didn't slack off during this period was the Survey Corps and that made them the most experienced and prepared to deal with titans.
- The Ur Example is from Herodotus's Histories, written in the fifth century BCE. King Croesus note asked Solon whether he was not the happiest man on Earth. Solon answered "Count no man happy until he is dead", and cautioned that fate could change for him. He pooh-poohed this idea... until after he had his empire utterly destroyed by Cyrus the Great.
- This is part of the premise of the Man/Kzin Wars. Humans have used a combination of social programming and chemical cocktails to remove humanity's collective balls. We get them back, though.
- Saki's "When William Came".
- Mentioned several times about the United States and Britain in The Winds of War/War and Remembrance.
- A theme in Curse of the Wolfgirl is that the leaders of the werewolf clans have become complacent about the idea of Scotland being a fortress against werewolf hunters. Naturally the big set-piece battle of the book is in Edinburgh.
- In Spirit Fox by Mickey Zucker Reichert and Jennifer Wingert, the nations of a continent make peace after a war, going so far as disbanding their armies and having the priests announce that their respective gods have combined into a new pantheon and declared a new era of peace and prosperity, and that henceforth military preparations are unnecessary and an evil in the sight of the gods. Twenty years later, when nearly everybody's become comfortable, an invasion force shows up from the next continent over. After that, things happen just as the trope description says.
- Society in Codex Alera had become complacent due to dependence on furycrafting. The power a person possessed determined their place in that society, with the most powerful becoming the High Lords while the least powerful had no place in the citizenry. Naturally the people without strong furycraft would develop strong minds that could enhance society, but because they didn't have strong furycraft they were always ignored. The people with strong furycraft were content with where society was and had no drive to enhance it, which promoted stagnation. Tavi recognized this problem and convinced Alera to reassign furycrafting to anyone based on merit, giving strong furycrafting to those with strong minds to use it productively.
- It also applied to the army. The Legions had fought and destroyed a number of hostile races over the centuries, but because of all those victories, it was entirely possible that you could go through a tour of duty in the Legions without fighting a single major engagement if you weren't serving on the Shieldwall, because the other regions no longer bordered any enemies. This costs them dearly in the initial battles against the Vord.
- In the Honor Harrington series this is the job of the Solarian League. Over 80% of human space is dominated by the League, with slow outward growth giving new systems entry via the Office of Frontier Security. No fleet battles fought for 300 years, with no real wars fought since the League was founded. They boast ten thousand superdreadnaughts. The Solarian League is the Biggest, Most Powerful Star Nation Man ever saw. But the political mechanisms running the league are ineffective. The politicians have no real power because the founders didn't want a real central government (think something like the US under the Articles of Confederation mixed with the EU and older Polish laws). The Bureaucracy has the real power, but even that is still pretty limited. The power is conserved mainly within families, subverting the democracy and merit requirements for politics. Any member system can veto actions of the elected government, so the Bureaucracy endeavors to make nothing real come up for votes. Because they are big and impossible no one minds this, despite this meaning their Navy is split in two, with the light elements mostly part of Frontier Fleet whose job is to suppress pirates and those who'd rather not join the Solarian League, and the rest in the corrupt Battle Fleet whose positions are on patronage. So bad is it, that sending out any report challenging any assumption the fleet runs on is career death. Of those 10,000 SDs, only 2,000 are in service, 8,000 are mothballed (and some sold off piece by piece) and nearly all are several hundred years old and only periodically updated. A few are made each year mostly as politics and keeping the skills around. In their first real fight they lose dozens of SDs to light fleet elements due to incompetent commanders and their intended victims having been continuously upgrading their hardware for over twenty years. Oh Crap.
- Baron High Ridge and Edward Janacek started pushing the Manticoran Navy down this path between Oscar Saint-Just's death and the restarting of the Manticore-Haven War, despite Honor and Earl White Haven's best efforts to the contrary.
- "So be it--" That was Lugard once more, but he sounded very tired. "'And when Yamar lifted up his voice, they did not listen. And when he cried aloud, they put their hands to their ears, laughing. And when he showed them the cloud upon the mountains, they said it was afar and would come not nigh. And when a sword glinted in the hills and he pointed to it, they said it was but the dancing of a brook in the sun.'"
The Cry of Yamar! How long had it been since anyone had quoted that in my hearing? Why should anyone on Beltane? Yamar was a prophet of soldiers; his saga was one learned by recruits to point the difference between civilian and fighting man.
- Humans on Earth in Dan Simmons's Illium. It's taken to the extreme by the fact that they're not even in charge, but rather being baby-sat by a bunch of robots, so that they don't have to know how to do anything. By the end, they're having to learn how to fight again.
- According to the Muqaddimah, a 14th-century Arabic text by historian Ibn Khaldun, this is an important factor in civilizations' decline. The theory is something like this: Early generations of a city have a strong sense of community and an ability to defend themselves, because they're not far removed from dwelling outside a city. The later generations become complacent, relying on the city instead of each other, and either don't see a threat coming or can't deal with it. Changes in the rulership of Islamic Spain, in which a decadent dynasty of Umayyads was replaced by a group of religiously zealous desert dwellers from North Africa, were almost certainly an influence on Ibn Khaldun's theory.
- In Harry Potter, Harry has trouble convincing the Wizarding World that Voldemort has returned because the Wizarding World really doesn't want to believe it. They spend a great deal of time and effort smearing Harry and Dumbledore, time and effort they could have spent preparing for the Death Eaters. By the time the Ministry finally can't deny the reality of Voldemort's return any longer, it's far too late.
- In Vladimir Vasilyev's Wolfish Nature duology, the Alternate History dog-humans are masters of genetic engineering. In distant past, they have managed to breed out the so-called "wolf gene", which allowed one to kill without remorse. Now, killings are so rare that cops aren't prepared to deal with murderers (who are deranged psychopaths). Anyone who kills is likely to go insane, and nations, no longer able to wage wars, have taken the spy game Up to Eleven. Special agents are the only ones trained to kill, and even then extensive psychological therapy is necessary after the fact. Then the world finds out about an isolated enclave of unmodified "wolves". The wolves reveal that they were abducted by an alien empire prior to the Bio-Correction (the removal of the wolf gene) to be used as mercenaries in interstellar wars and have returned after the end of their tour of duty to find a world of pussies, totally unprepared if Earth happens to become the target of an alien race. The ending reveals that the Bio-Correction was the cover story for a massive PR campaign to convince people they're incapable of killing, making it a case of Clap Your Hands If You Believe.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation was a good example of this. In the words of sfdebris, the Federation had grown arrogant in its beliefs; exploration was their main goal and they believed that they were prepared for anything. Then Q appeared and put them in their place, introducing them to the Borg, forcing Picard to acknowledge that they're not ready for everything that's out there. Picard even tells Guinan at the end of the episode that the Federation may have needed "a kick in our complacency".
- In the original series Doctor Who episode "The Invasion Of Time,'' the Time Lords take their indestructible force field so much for granted that they really have no other defenses (or at least none that are up to fighting Sontarans.) Naturally, the force field gets breached.
- Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined): Commander Adama believed this of the Colonials, forty years after the Cylon War. And he didn't just mean in terms of military strenth and readiness to fight: he meant morally, as the Colonies had forgotten the reasons behind the war and their responsibilities to the Cylons. You know how this ends.
- Andromeda starts with a Nietzschean rebellion with a fleet of 10,000 warships attacking the Commonwealth. While the High Guard fleet numbers ten times that much, those ships are spread out all over the three galaxies that are part of the Commonwealth. Additionally, the Commonwealth hasn't had a real war in over a millennium. In fact, Hunt not using Nova Bombs to obliterate the entire Nietzschean fleet is seen as further proof that the Commonwealth softens people. By the time the final big battle of the rebellion takes place, the Commonwealth is down to about 100 warships.
- The Star Wars: The Old Republic has this pointed out at least three times in Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2.
- This is also what Darth Malgus tells the viewer as he narrates the Deceived trailer for The Old Republic. Given how absolutely unprepared the Republic and Jedi were for the Sith Empire's reemergence and assault on Coruscant, he seems to have a decent point.
- This is a major element of the Mass Effect saga. The Citadel races desperately want to believe everything's still going fine - the Rachni are a memory, the Krogan are irrelevant, the Geth have been defeated... and they refuse point-blank to acknowledge the return of the Reapers. Only the humans, energetic newcomers to the galactic scene, are prepared to acknowledge the existence and terrible threat of the Reapers... And that only lasts until the sequel, when humanity's increased influence on galactic affairs has led to them becoming just as complacent as the others.
- Following the centuries that have passed between the Fourth Blight and the Fifth in Dragon Age: Origins, most people of Thedas have forgotten the dangers posed by the Darkspawn. As a result, the public support of the Grey Wardens has deteriorated and the new Blight catches almost everyone with their pants down. In a subversion, however, the Fifth Blight is ended by the Player Character's efforts within a year after it began, before it even has a chance to affect more than one nation, going down as the shortest one on record. Whether this will lead to even more complacency regarding Darkspawn remains to be seen.
- Alpha in Akaelae comments that due to the council whittling away the space navy, he can't do anything to help Celina escape. Not that it stops Celina returning on her own. Expect there to be further repercussions in the future as well.
- The First Dalek Empire has a serious issue with this (increased dependency on computers and genetic engineering to make the race more subservient to the will of the Golden Emperor), to the degree their top Military Maverick is willing and able to defect and ultimately steal away two complete armies by sheer force of charisma and brute intellect to create his own Empire to challenge the stagnation of the First - the Second Empire of the Daleks...
- Often mentioned, especially during the 1960s and later, how the United States has become weak and decadent thanks to the "dirty hippies", so now we are in danger from the Dirty Commies.
- This argument is coming into sharp focus once again due to America's repeated humiliations on the world stage (real or imagined). It was also part of the reason that Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother caused such a stir in the US of A, with reports of declining education standards vis-a-vis the Far East.
- In fact, this concept is ingrained in the Chinese's view of their own history. At the beginning, a particularly talented warlord carves out a petty fief and, after much hardship, unites all of China under the banner of his dynasty. The first few emperors remember the hardships of the warring era and the fate of the tyrant of the previous dynasty, and so apply themselves to governing wisely. From this, the dynasty develops and reaches its zenith. But Slowly, the following emperors let the power gets to their heads and becomes soft or tyrannical, corruption and rebellion sets in until the dynasty falls apart. And in the ensuing chaos, some other talented warlord can rise, starting the cycle all over again.
- This was pretty much a hallmark of the history of Central Asia, where a virile dynasty of steppe warriors would take over a corrupt or effete civilization only to become decadent themselves and be kicked out later by a fresh batch of nomads.
- This trope is actually a rather accurate representation of typical human behaviour during eras of economic bubbles. For a simplified example, in Irelandnote , the 'Celtic Tiger' boomed from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s on the back of a quickly-expanding property market and the increase of professional workers spawned by the growing 'knowledge economy'. For the first time, Ireland was no longer considered a Third World country, and, in fact, had skyrocketed to becoming one of the world's wealthiest countries. However, in spite of the warnings of economists across the country, the bubble burst hard as it emerged that corruption was rife through both the banking institutions and property developers in the duraion of the boom, causing Ireland to fall billions of Euro in its national debt (which, although coinciding with the then-emerging global economic crisis, was nonetheless a separate issue entirely). Lower-level workers in both the private and public sectors, having grown accustomed to their new, more affluent lifestylesnote , were now facing mass pay cuts across the boards, while the toxic banks were being bailed out with money that would never be seen again (and, judging by the reluctance of the higher-ups to change their ways, to little effect). In short, the people (and, to a more worrying extent, the government) had grown reckless and careless with money, over-relying on credit for payments and making foolish purchases, only for it all to bite them later in the face of the current recession/depression.
- Anti-racism advocates often argue that focusing on past advancements in race relations (i.e. the statement, "Martin Luther King fixed racism, we don't have to worry about it anymore.") can blind people to ongoing and persistent obstacles to racial equality.
- Sometimes the attempt to avoid complacency sort of creates complacency. Cry wolf (put out accuses of racism at the drop of a hat all the time) too many times and people are less likely to listen to you when you actually have a legitimate point to make.