A common punishment for police officers who screw up big time, but just short of Turn in Your Badge big, especially if firing them would draw too much attention. An example would be reassignment to crossing guard duty or some other menial police task where the unreliable officer can't do much PR damage.
Irish politician Seán Doherty, when caught drinking in a pub after hours, once infamously asked a garda (policeman), "Do you want a pint or a transfer?"note Doherty was Minister of Justice at the time, so he was in a position to make good on his threat.
San Francisco police officers who screw up badly are often said to be sent off "to walk a beat in the Farallones" (a rocky island group that is technically part of the city of San Francisco, but 27 miles (43.5 km) off the coast and inhabited only by research teams).
In the Denver Police Department, reassignment to Denver International Airport security detail is as low as you can go and still be on the force. It's said that an officer who goes to the airport is "on their way out".
Every nation's military has at least a couple highly undesirable bases or postings said to be dead-end assignments for problem soldiers.
In the US Air Force, two such locations are the surveillance station at Thule in Greenland and the refueling base on Shemya Island in Alaska.
Thule is above the Arctic Circle and remains icebound throughout the winter. The few local inhabitants mostly speak Inuit or Danish, so there's not much entertainment to be found off base. Soldiers stationed there have very little to do besides 8-hour shifts staring at a radar screen for incoming missiles... and in 60 years of operation there have never been any incoming missiles.
Shemya Island is considered to be a worse posting than mainland Alaska, due to constant high winds (rarely below 30mph), temperatures that never rise above 50F, and omnipresent fog. At the tail end of the Aleutian archipelago, Shemya is closer to Eurasia than the North American mainland. Primary duties consist of clearing the runway of obstructions and running the radar station. Legend has it that every time someone leaves, they take a rock with them so someday there will be no more island and no one will ever have to go back.
The United States Marine Corps has 29 Palms, a remote training base located in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Although it's not as isolated as it used to be, and is a fairly prestigious posting (the third-largest Marine Corps facility in the nation), it's still in the middle of the Mojave Desert...
Canadian soldiers make this joke about Cold Lake, Alberta, because it's a small isolated town that gets nasty winters. Even new recruits from Basic Training, who can pick three posting preferences, jokingly claim that no matter what they pick they'll get "Cold Laked" for lack of seniority.
The Canadian Airborne Regiment was oddly enough, seen as such a posting in the Canadian Land Forces. It is also a cautionary tale of what can happen if too many undesirable persons become concentrated in one unit. Too many other regiments got rid of problem soldiers by reassigning them to the Airborne, and the problem became so acute that the Airborne Regiment's home base degenerated into a hotbed of hazing, white supremacist activity and criminality. Things came to a head when the Airborne Regiment was sent to Somalia as part of a UN Peacekeeping force, and they perpetrated the atrocity known as the Somalia Affair. This eventually led to the regiment being disbanded.
A proverb that originated in the Soviet officer ranks conveys the typically Russian philosophical approach to the problem: "They can't send you further than Kushka [a town in Turkmenistan at the Soviet Union's southernmost point] and they can't give you less than a platoon to command." (The wartime version of the proverb substitutes the frontline for Kushka.)
The threat to "send someone to Coventry" has become an idiom for Reassignment To Antarctica. During the English Civil War, the highly pro-Parliament population of Coventry refused to talk to Royalist prisoners of war who were being held in the city and thus acquired a reputation of hostility towards the military.
In World War II, each of the combatants had at least one theater they particularly reviled.
The Japanese hated the Burmese front the most: it had minimal strategic worth, the British had them outnumbered and outgunned, and the dense jungle strained supply chains to their limits. Japanese staff officers in Tokyo would joke "I've upset Tojo, it's Burma for me."
The Western Allies felt the same way about the CBI (China-Burma-India theater) for all the same reasons. In the US Armed Forces the number one threat was "You fuck up one more time, I'll have you sent to CBI!" The broader Pacific theater was also viewed this way: Europe's Western Front was much more fortified, yes, but it wasn't nearly as hot and disease-ridden, you still got some of the comforts of civilization, and enemy troops would at least consider surrendering after defeat. The opposition in the Pacific might be short on men and resources but their fighting style was fanatically bloodthirsty and dedicated.
Similarly, the Eastern Front was this for the European Axis Powers. German, Italian, Romanian, and Hungarian troops hated the Eastern Front, due to the brutal fighting, urban combat,muddy summers and frigid winters, guerilla warfare, 'collective drastic reprisals' against civilian communities, and relatively harsh Soviet treatment of POWs (as compared to the Western Allies — Nazi POW policies were even worse).
While the Soviet Union only ever had one formal theater of war, there were certainly better and worse areas along the frontlines — the siege of Stalingrad was nobody's preferred assignment. There was also the undeclared Far East theater in Siberia and Mongolia, the frozen ass-end of the USSR where the Soviets were trying to discourage the Japanese from attempting a full-scale invasion based out of occupied Manchuria. Iosif Apanasenko, a successful field commander with a tendency to overstep his authority and talk back to high-ranking party officials, was eventually transferred there.
In Italian, a common threat for a troublemaker is to "send them to Sardinia". Sardinians are notoriously distrustful of outsiders and the island is much less developed than mainland Italy.
Camillo Cavour (the Italian Bismarck) was such a troublemaker during his time in the military that he was reassigned to a remote post.
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was caught embellishing some of his stories to make them more dramatic. After serving a six month suspension, he lost his position as the anchor of the top-rated network news show and was transferred to ratings-challenged MSNBC to become the cable channel's "breaking news anchor", with no guaranteed air time and all his appearances subject to the discretion of network executives. He's stuck with it, however, and there are now talks of giving him regularly-scheduled appearances if not his own broadcast.
Through the late 19th century, Ambassador to Russia served this function for US Presidents looking to get troublesome members of their own party out of the country for a few years. Russia was at the time the weakest and most distant of the major European powers, with few colonial ambitions in North America, giving the ambassadorship prestige but no influence. It wasn't until after the First World War that US strategic interests in Russia required more diplomatic competence from ambassadors.
In the 1830s, Andrew Jackson appointed James Buchanan to the post, allegedly saying, "If we kept a ministry at the North Pole, I would have sent him there." This backfired spectacularly: later presidents thought this indicated an aptitude for foreign policy and sent Buchanan on many diplomatic missions despite lackluster performance. His extended absences gave him few political enemies and even fewer strong opinions or principles for voters to object to, and in the tumultuous 1856 election that was enough to win him the Presidency. Buchanan then completely failed to address disputes over slavery, territory, and secession that would break open in The American Civil War just weeks after he left office, having given the nation exactly what it asked for throughout his term.
In 1862, Abraham Lincoln had had enough of Simon Cameron, his corrupt and incompetent — but politically indispensible — Secretary of War. So he decided to appoint him ambassador to Russia, famously quipping "I know of no further place I could send him." Ironically, Cameron's entry into national politics had been as successor to James Buchanan's vacant Senate seat, suggesting that perhaps his fellow Pennsylvanians could think of no place further to send him than Washington.
The United States Vice Presidency was also used as a political Antarctica from the colonial era through the early 20th century. (Secretary of State, not VP, was the Heir Apparent job in early American history.) In ordinary circumstances, the VP's only real duty is casting a tiebreaking vote in the Senate, so politicians that party officials wanted out of the way but couldn't just ignore were nominated to the Vice Presidency to prevent them from running for any other office — most famously, Theodore Roosevelt. Of course, the problem is that if the president dies or resigns that dead-end job just turned into Leader of the Free World — most famously, Theodore Roosevelt. This wasn't even that uncommon an occurrence: there were 4 VP successions in the course of the 19th century. Yet it took until Harry Truman assumed power after FDR's death and immediately dropped two nukes that Americans really appreciated the importance of scrutinizing VP candidates before they were elected.
Russian governments from the Czars through the Soviet era have used Reassignment To Siberia (or some other remote corner of the empire) to quash dissent. This was particularly effective given Russia's massive yet sparsely populated land area. Josef Stalin used appointment to ambassadorships or other obscure bureaucratic posts as a punishment for opponents who didn't warrant execution, assassination, or The Gulag.
In Czarist Russia, troublesome aristocrats were often sent to Siberia to live in permanent genteel exile (their standard of living was still far above commoners, who went to straight-up prisons). A popular euphemism for this was "to be sent to count trees", as the exile might be explained away as a bureaucratic posting or scientific expedition. In some cases, counting trees was almost literal. Russian Prince Pyotr Kropotkin — an anarchist philosopher, army officer, and trained biologist — developed his perspective on evolution based on the principle of mutual aid for group survival while on a "science mission" in Siberia.
Alexander Pushkin was exiled from the imperial court in St. Petersburg to Kishinev (now Chişinău, the capital of Moldova). Kishinev, which had a large Jewish population, was proverbial in Yiddish slang for "very far away" — if a child was gone for awhile, their parents would ask if they had been in Kishinev.
Georgy Zhukov became a decorated Soviet general on the Mongolian frontier after waging an undeclared war against Japanese-occupied Manchuria, and gained influence and name-recognition as a prominent and successful commander during World War 2. After the war, Stalin saw Zhukov as a big enough threat to his leadership to reassign him, first to southern Ukraine and then to the Urals, far from Moscow's power politics.
Stalin's first and second attempts at neutralizing Leon Trotsky were reassignment away from Moscow and then exile from the Soviet Union. Unfortunately for Stalin, Trotsky turned out to be just as much of a loud, troublesome pain-in-the-arse dedicated to causing grief for Stalin regardless of where he was. Unfortunately for Trotsky, Stalin eventually got so fed up with him that he decided on a more permanent solution to the problem... permanent as in an icepick through the skull.
Khrushchev used this as his preferred method for disposing of political enemies. After former premier Georgy Malenkov and foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov unsuccessfully plotted to kick him out in 1957, Khrushchev appointed Malenkov as a manager of a hydro-electric plant in the grim Kazakh industrial city of Ust-Kamenogorsk, while Molotov was appointed Ambassador to Mongolia. Nikolai Bulganin was likewise sent to Stavropol when he fell from power.
Alexander Yakovlev, head of the Communist Party's Department of Ideology and Propaganda, published an article criticizing anti-semitism in the USSR and was reassigned to Canada. Quiet, boring, faraway Canada. This may have ended up coming back to bite the Soviets in the end: While there, he had an opportunity to meet and strike up a friendship with a visiting Soviet official, one who was willing to listen to Yakovlev's ideas on reform... an official by the name of Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.
In the French colonial empire, deadend postings were most often in the barren North African desert.
Félix Éboué was a trailblazing Afro-Frenchman who achieved high office in France's 1930s colonial administration, including the post of Governor in the valuable Guadeloupe colony. However, he ultimately pissed off the wrong people and was reassigned to what is now Chad, a sparsely populated desert colony with only the south under de facto French rule. This backfired when World War II started and, perhaps to some extent out of spite, Éboué became the first French colonial governor to refuse to recognize the Vichy regime and throw his support behind Charles De Gaulle's Free French government.
When French Lt. Colonel Georges Picquart uncovered evidence that fellow officer Alfred Dreyfus had been framed for the crime of high treason in 1896, he was hastily reassigned to Tunisia in order to keep the matter quiet. It didn't work.
Low-ranking Catholic priests who incur the wrath of the Vatican may be sent away to remote "contemplative monasteries" (formerly known as "monastic prisons") or assigned to impoverished rural parishes. Fictional portrayals of this may be seen in Father Ted and The Thorn Birds. Senior church officials may receive a more subtle version of this punishment: Jacques Gaillot's liberal views made him unpopular with the Church hierarchy, so he was demoted from Bishop of Évreux, France to Bishop of the "titular diocese" of Partenia, an Algerian city destroyed in the 5th century. Titular dioceses are usually only assigned to Curia officials who carry the rank of bishop but have no pastoral responsibilities. Similarly, Pope Francis removed the young and healthy Cardinal Raymond Burke from his powerful post as Cardinal Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura and reassigned him as the Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a purely ceremonial position usually given only to elderly retired cardinals. This reassignment is presumed to be a response to the conservative Burke's criticisms of Pope Francis's relatively liberal reforms.
The Emperor Augustus dealt with potential scandals — including within his own family — by banishing the perpetrators to remote outposts of the empire.
He exiled the Roman poet Ovid to the Black Sea port of Tomis (modern-day Constanţa, Romania). For a Roman citizen born on the Italian peninsula, Tomis was, if not Antarctica, then at least Alaska.
Augustus exiled his daughter Julia (and his granddaughter, also called Julia) to the minute and previously uninhabited island of Pandateria, with no access to men or wine (what he found embarrassing was her constant partying and numerous alleged affairs, including rumors of liaisons in a temple).note Bear in mind that "she had sex in a temple!" was a standard Greco-Roman slur for women deemed to be sexually inappropriate; this was the offense that brought Athena's curse on Medusa in classical mythology.
When Napoleon was first exiled from France, the Sixth Coalition sent him to the island of Elba, a popular tourist destination right off the coast of Southern Italy. When he returned to France to retake power, the British exiled him again within just 100 days, but this time to St. Helena, a small volcanic island in the South Atlantic, about halfway between the coasts of Southern Africa and Brazil.
General Douglas MacArthur, famous for commanding Allied forces in the South Pacific during WWII and UN forces during the Korean War, was first sent to the Philippines as a Brigadier General in 1922 by General Pershing. Rumors at the time attributed this either to his involvement with a woman that the higher-ranking officer had been pursuing, or to a response to his attempts to reform West Point during his two years as superintendent. FDR purportedly kept MacArthur in the Philippines through the 1930s and into the 40s to avoid having to talk to him in person. This turned into a Reassignment Backfire when war broke out with Japan and MacArthur was in the middle of the action. However, MacArthur was such a Miles Gloriosus that he considered his command of the entire South Pacific Theater to be a Reassignment To Antarctica, because he thought he should have been put in charge of the whole war. Fortunately for the whole civilized world General Marshal knew better. But this also ended in Reassignment Backfire as MacArthur's role in defeating Japan (and his greater skill with the press than the other generals and admirals involved, making MacArthur's role better known to the public despite many of those others having a larger role in the victory and having displayed greater military skill than MacArthur) and resulting fame gave him a lot of clout he probably shouldn't have had. This in turn led to MacArthur's well-publicized confrontation with President Truman over the use of nuclear weapons against China during the Korean War. When Truman had had enough, he prevented further Reassignment Backfire by just firing MacArthur outright.
After one too many clashes with Henry Ford II, Lee Iacocca was reassigned from president of Ford Motor Company to some impressive job title — with a run-down office in a parts warehouse in a rough part of Detroit (mind you, this was in The '70s, before "rough part of Detroit" became tautological). A job offer from Chrysler made this a Reassignment Backfire for Ford, as he pulled their ailing competitor back from the brink and became the first modern "celebrity CEO".
TBS tended to use WCW (the backstage administrative part) as Antarctica. For complex reasons that can be summed up very very loosely as "too many egos and not enough common sense", WCW was a horrible place to work. Most of the people assigned there were either Kicked Upstairs, put out to pasture, or unsuspecting newbies who had no idea what they were in for.
In 1977, a Russian oil tanker ran aground on the Swedish coast. The Swedish Maritime Administration blamed the captain, but an employee discovered that the maps didn't include that particular shallow. He brought it up to his superiors, but when they ignored it, he took the information to the press. End result? He was reassigned from "cartographer" to "engineer" at a desolate lighthouse◊.
In 1940 the SS and the Nazi Foreign Ministry were both planning todeport all the European Jews to Madagascar. Earlier Nazi deportation plans had targeted marshy, unproductive areas of Poland for resettlement, but the governor of the occupied territory objected. The French colony of Madagascar was seen as a more desirable destination because it was further from lands the Nazis coveted for their own use and its tropical climate and diseases would result in a higher death rate for deportees. France's refusal to accept deportees and Germany's growing food and labor shortages eventually convinced the Nazis to abandon resettlement in favor of mass enslavement of all able-bodied "Undesireables" and extermination via the Death Camps for the rest.
Although he headed the development for the hugely successful Game Boy, Gunpei Yokoi was given a "window job" after its disastrous follow-up, the Virtual Boy. Without any direct influence in the company, he left to develop the Wonderswan with Bandai.
Actually, he had already planned on leaving after the Virtual Boy was released, and only stuck around because of it's failure, as he did not want people to think that Nintendo had fired him because of the Virtual Boy's failure.
Apple did this to Steve Jobs in 1985, moving him to an office that was even nicknamed "Siberia" before he got tired of the abuse and quit. Reassignment Backfire set in during the following decade, as Apple steadily lost marketshare to Microsoft until Jobs was brought back in 1997; his successful turnaround of the company gave him near-dictatorial authority for the rest of his life.
Near the end of the Cultural Revolution in China, this was the fate of many in the Red Guard, whose rampages were becoming counterproductive and embarrassing the Communist regime. Mao hit upon the idea of sending the mostly urban, intellectual Red Guard youth out to the remotest regions of China to be "reeducated" by the peasantry. The program ended up creating a "lost generation" in China, made up of young people sentenced to internal exile for doing Mao's will too well. Needless to say, many Red Guards felt betrayed and lost their revolutionary ardor.
Historically, China has a long tradition of using this trope. Imperial officials who fell from favor were often reassigned to posts in Guangdong — or worse, Hainan — at the extreme south of the country: high levels of malaria, a subtropical climate that people coming from Northern China couldn't stand, and tasked with "securing the Chinese fortress so that the indigenous peoples won't rebel" all made this kind of assignment disagreeable indeed. "Exile to Xiamen Island" was an idiom for suffering hardship in a faraway place during the Tang and Sung Dynasties. Not much of a punishment now, as Xiamen is one of the richest parts of the country.
Post-Chinese Civil War, the Republic of China (a.k.a. Taiwan) had its share of these kinds of "promotions" as well. One notable example is General Wang Sheng, who served as Director of the General Political Warfare Department near the end of the life of "President"/dictator Chiang Ching-Kuo (son of Chiang Kai-Shek) in the early eighties. Chiang sought to shift authority and power within the ROC government away from mainland refugees who fled following the Communist victory and towards the new generation born in Taiwan. When Wang visited the United States in 1983 to seek support for his own succession to the presidency, Chiang seized upon the trip as "secret" and "unauthorized". By that November Wang found himself the ROC's ambassador to Paraguay (which is literally the furthest country away from Taiwan), allowing Chiang to pick Taiwan-born Lee Teng-Hui as his new Vice President and successor. (Lee went on to lead Taiwan's transition to democracy.)
The former Edward VIII of Great Britain, a.k.a. the Duke of Windsor, was living in France when World War II broke out. He was known to have fascist sympathies and had visited Germany against the advice of the Prime Minister before the war. After a German diplomat accused him of leaking plans for the defense of Belgium to the Nazis, the British government began to see the Duke as a major liability. When Germany invaded France, Edward moved to Spain and Portugal and continued to associate with Nazi sympathizers. Fearing that the Nazis would either subvert or abduct the Duke and set up a puppet monarchy, Churchill had him forcibly removed. He spent the rest of the War as Governor of the Bahamas, a non-job thousands of miles from any potential entanglements in Europe.
The ruling Kim dynasty of North Korea has a history of sending sons not in the line of succession out of the country on diplomatic missions, to prevent a power struggle from arising.
After the Boshin War that paved the way for the Meiji Restoration, the Aizu domain lords — better known as the The Shinsengumi's masters — were displaced to Tonami "Just south of the Big Dipper" Domain, which occupied the eastern half of today's Aomori Prefecture. There's a good reason why that nickname stood — it's the northernmost point of Honshu, relatively underdeveloped compared to the rest of Japan even today, and (at a time when Hokkaido/Ezo was more like an autonomous client-state than a province of the empire) as far away from the centers of Imperial power and influence as you could get without actually leaving the country.
It was in the Arctic, not Antarctica, but being sent to a DEW line station surely felt like this.
The American Civil War saw this in spades, as militarily ineffective but politically connected generals were moved where they could do the least damage to the outcome of the war. In very loose terms: successful generals tended to move east and north, to the high-profile battles around Washington, D.C. and Richmond; unsuccessful generals moved west and south, to the disorganized fighting on the sparsely-populated frontiers.
For the Union, Irvin McDowell started the war commanding at the First Battle of Bull Run, was demoted to corps command, then wound up in the Department of the Pacific, hundreds of miles from any fighting. John Pope lost the Second Battle of Bull Run and spent the rest of the war fighting Indians in Minnesota. Nathaniel Banks moved from the Virginia theater to Louisiana, where he still managed to botch the Red River Campaign. Ulysses S. Grant, by contrast, exemplified the Reassignment Out Of Antarctica: starting from an Illinois militia unit, he steamrolled Confederate armies in Kentucky and Tennessee, restoring Union access to the Mississippi shipping lane, a massive tactical gain that earned him command of the entire war.
The Confederacy typically exiled washouts to the Trans-Mississippi theater, encompassing Arkansas, Louisiana and Eastern Texas. These included Sterling Price (failed invasion of Missouri), Earl Van Dorn (loser at Pea Ridge and Second Corinth, demoted to cavalry command), Theophilus Holmes (supremely incompetent division commander under Robert E. Lee) and Henry Sibley (failed invasion of New Mexico). Two of the best generals in the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, Richard Taylor and Edmund Kirby-Smith, are the exceptions that prove the rule: they were successful field officers back in Virginia, so promotion to general was a reward even when it meant reassignment to a more obscure unit.
Just what is considered "Antarctica" can and will change over time — this is one reason for Reassignment Backfire, after all. From the time the US acquired it in the Mexican-American War through to the construction of the transcontinental railroad, California was seen as a remote deadend where no one in their right mind would want to go. Ulysses S. Grant is often portrayed as a purposeless washout prior to the Civil War because he was posted first to a small town recently renamed from Yerba Buena to San Francisco and then to Fort Vancouver in the Oregon Territory. Today many people born in Ohio would give a lot for such postings; back then, not so much. With nothing else to occupy his time, Grant took to the bottle and gained his reputation as The Alcoholic.
While many people think that the Second Spanish Republic was caught unawares by the 1936 coup d'état, the government had already realized that Generals Franco and Mola and the exiled General Sanjurjo were likely co-conspirators. So the conspirators were separated by reassigning Franco to the Canary Islands, more than 2000km away from mainland Spain. This was not, however, the best laid of plans as it put Franco only a short flight away from Morocco and control of the Army of Africa, the best, most prepared and most modern troops the Spanish Army had.
According to an infamous 2015 report by the Nikkei, Konami punished developers (for lack of productivity or committing infractions as petty as liking a former coworker's Facebook announcement that he had gotten a new job) with reassignment to positions as security guards, assembly line workers in pachinko machine factories or janitors in Konami fitness clubs.
In the Indian Army, the most inhospitable place a soldier could be assigned to, is actually a plum posting, thus providing a subversion of this trope. The Siachen glacier has important strategic implications, and it actually costs a lot of money to acclimatize a soldier to the high altitude low pressure low temperature environment there, so they generally don't send malfunctioning numbnuts there.
During the 14th and early 15th centuries, the Archbishop of Canterbury was one Thomas Arundel, who fell prey to a particularly nasty variant of this trope. Arundel was a fierce opponent of King Richard II, and when Richard eventually tried to purge his more persistent enemies in 1397, Archbishop Arundel was banished from England to Florence. It was then Richard pulled a particularly cruel stunt on the Archbishop. He convinced the Pope in Rome that Arundel would make a superb Bishop of St Andrews in Scotland. There was just one snag: this was the height of the Great Western Schism, and the Kingdom of Scotland, unlike neighbouring England, had aligned itself with the Antipopes in Avignon. In short, Arundel had been appointed to a Bishopric in a hostile country, aligned with a hostile Pope, which refused to recognise the authority of the Pope who had appointed him. It's perhaps unsurprising that Arundel became one of the staunchest allies of Henry IV, who eventually overthrew Richard.