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Cavalry Refusal

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"In 1936 it was clear to everyone that if Britain would only help the Spanish Government, even to the extent of a few million pounds' worth of arms, Franco would collapse and German strategy would be severely dislocated... Yet in the most mean, cowardly, hypocritical way the British ruling class did everything they could to hand Spain over to Franco and the Nazis."
George Orwell, Looking Back on the Spanish War

Our heroes are in trouble. They're being slaughtered by the Big Bad's Legions of Terror, who are obviously too strong for them... but wait! There is a large regiment of cavalry in the area. Let's just call in these guys and the Big Bad will be easily defeated.

Or so you'd think.

In fact, the cavalry doesn't feel like rushing in to save the day at all, and stubbornly refuses your desperate call for help. Perhaps they have some kind of Obstructive Code of Conduct forbidding them to intervene. Perhaps the Big Bad has powerful friends whom they don't want to get into trouble with. Or the Cavalry are organised more or less democratically and some of them are opposed to helping the heroes (or they all agree about that, but argue endlessly about the details). Whatever the reason, the Cavalry refuses.

This trope is in play when the heroes need help, and there is an entity which could and/or should provide it but says 'Screw you'. Can lead to the heroes (and, if the unwilling Cavalry's excuse is particularly poor, the audience) exclaiming 'Why don't you do something?' or 'What The Hell, Hero?' If the heroes looked up to their supposed protectors, this will result in a Broken Pedestal.

Comes in two varieties:

  • Formal Authority is when the unwilling Cavalry is a (supposedly) neutral authority figure with power over both the heroes and the villains. They don't rush in to protect the heroes, even if the villain is clearly violating the rules which they are supposed to enforce - for example, in a schoolyard setting, a teacher not doing anything to protect the bullied protagonist. Related to Adults Are Useless and Police Are Useless.
  • No Formal Authority is when the Cavalry have no formal power over the villains, but are big and strong enough to significantly aid the heroes. They are supposed to be on the heroes' side (thus making them potential Cavalry), but refuse to help.

Compare Cavalry Betrayal (when the Cavalry does show up, but turns out not to be on the heroes' side after all), which sometimes invokes a Cavalry Refusal to set up Let's You and Him Fight (when what was thought to be the Cavalry plans to let the heroes and villains exhaust each other, before intervening to the detriment of both sides). Contrast One-Man Army (when the hero refuses any help from the Cavalry and does all the jobs on his own). It's also not unheard of for the Cavalry to rescue the heroes after all but have their own reasons for holding off.


Formal Authority

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Last Exile, the Guild (an organisation supposed to enforce The Laws and Customs of War) does nothing to help an army which is being attacked with "forbidden" tactics, because they favour the offending army.
  • Berserk: Casca's first meeting with Griffith starts with her escaping from a rapist. Instead of helping her, he throws a sword between the two, intending for Casca to choose to take it up and kill the guy ("If you have something you wish to protect, take up that sword."). After a struggle, Casca wins, and Griffith allows her to join him.

    Fan Works 
  • Downplayed in Amazing Fantasy. When Peter is busy getting his ass kicked by the Prowler, a coalition of Pro Heroes including Mount Lady, Kamui Woods, Backdraft, and Death Arms are dispatched to contain collateral and stop the fight. But their efforts are thwarted when Prowler embeds a bomb in Mount Lady's neck to take her hostage, forcing them to stand by and take care of the gathering crowd instead of intervening. This means that Izuku is the only one willing to rush in and help (and it nearly gets him killed) until All Might swoops in and steals the detonator.


    Professional Wrestling 
  • This became a Running Gag in Ring of Honor during the House Of Truth's second major run (the one where Jay Lethal ended up winning everything). ROH had security, honest. Real security headed by experienced bouncer and security guard Joey Daddiego. Problem was, Truth Martini paid off Daddiego to undermine his own staff, who often ended up standing around impotently during House Of Truth attacks while Daddiego stood in their routes to the arena.

    Video Games 

    Real Life 
  • It's hard to keep count of the times the United Nations have refused the Cavalry call (largely by calling "Genocide" a "Civil War"), due to the decision-making process which allows several powerful nations, whose interests are often diametrically opposed, a veto. The General Assembly attempted to Loophole Abuse their way around this deadlock of the Security Council through enacting Resolution 377(A), i.e. "Uniting for Peace". It's only worked once in a while.
  • The United Nations' predecessor, the League of Nations, were even more reluctant Cavalry— they just looked on as the Japanese invaded (Chinese) Manchuria, the Italians brutally conquered Abyssinia, and a handful of Spanish generals staged a coup against their government which led to the Spanish Civil War. Naturally, the League of Nations was abolished after World War II.
  • As early as the time of Charles Dickens, popular historians have alleged that Charles VII, who had become King of France thanks to Jeanne d'Arc, didn't lift a finger to save her from the English. After all, according to these historians, Jeanne, as a peasant girl, should have been less than worthless to Charles as soon as he was crowned, even if her death could be used as an excuse to drive the English out of France. The truth of the matter, on the other hand, contrary to popular belief, is a lot more complicated, to say the least, as French historian Pierre Champion will tell us here:
    "Charles VII has often been accused of ingratitude to Jeanne, who had him crowned at Reims. He was certainly mistaken in believing in the sincerity of the Burgundian truce, and in not attempting to take Paris in September, 1429. In brief, Charles VII did not see an immediate advantage in prosecuting energetically the conquest of his kingdom. He did not know how to profit by all the consequences of the national movement that was aroused by Jeanne's advent. Abandoned in this fashion, the Maid could not but run the risks of every captain of the time, without the benefit of the power of being ransomed from implacable enemies.
    But it is not just to pretend that Charles VII did nothing to get her out of the hands of her enemies. In the Morosini correspondence we find, under the date of December 15, 1430, that the news that the Maid had fallen into the hands of the Duke of Burgundy was so widespread that Charles, informed of it, had sent an embassy to Philippe te Bon to say to him that if there was nothing he could offer him to induce him to set her free, then he would exact vengeance for her upon his men that he had captive. Under the date of June 21, 1431, correspondents of the same banker affirm that "The English wished to burn her (Jeanne) as a heretic, in spite of the Dauphin of France who tried to bring threatening forces against the English." The King felt a "very bitter grief" upon the death of Jeanne, "promising to exact a terrible vengeance upon the English and women of England."
    These last words show sufficiently what was felt and said by the good people of France. We know, too, that during the winter of 1430-1431, La Hire, master of Louviers, made frequent expeditions into the neighborhood of Rouen, and that he worried the English government. In March, 1431, an expedition against Rouen by Dunois was paid for by the King. Another attempt was made against the Chateau d'Eu."

No Formal Authority

    Anime and Manga 
  • In the Alicization arc of Sword Art Online, when the Ocean Turtle comes under attack, the JSDF ship Asahi is just outside the facility, but does nothing to help for 24 hours. This is because the attackers, who are after Alice's Artificial Intelligence, pulled strings with a faction of the JSDF to buy time, having them hold back ostensibly out of fear that the personnel in the Ocean Turtle had been taken hostage.

    Fan Works 
  • Burning Bridges, Building Confidence: Chat Noir is supposed to be Ladybug's partner and fight alongside her, and has done so for quite some time. However, shortly before this story begins, he decides that's not good enough for him: he wants a Relationship Upgrade, and decides to sit on the sidelines and refuse to help unless she admits that she needs him and agrees to start dating. When Cole calls him out on this, he dismisses her as just a civilian, prompting her to arm herself with some improvised weapons and jump in instead. This stunt also fails to impress Master Fu, who decides to establish another permanent hero in order to offset this: Vexxin, a new Fox, with Cole as its new bearer.
    • Chat Noir pulls this again during the rampage of the Seisquake trio. His reaction to seeing Vexxin get cornered is to crouch on a fallen tree and hiss at her about how she's only getting what she deserves, perfectly happy to stand by and watch her get brutalized. Unfortunately for him, the Seisquake trio are still after his Miraculous, and his desire to watch gets him targeted for his troubles.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Zulu, a force of actual cavalry arrives upon the scene where the heroes are making a Last Stand... and promptly flees. This happened in Real Life, too, but in reality, the cavalry were much more justified in their flight than depicted in the film.
  • Thranduil in The Hobbit is shown in flashbacks to have refused to help the dwarves, both against Smaug in Erebor and against the orcs in Moria, choosing not to lead his people into a hopeless battle against an enemy that they have no chance of defeating. The White Council (minus Gandalf) were going to be a third one but the dwarves (with good reason) left before they could refuse to help them.
  • In Mulan: Rise of a Warrior, Mulan's Defensive Feint Trap fails due to this.
  • In The Dark Knight Rises, when Bane has all of Gotham held hostage, despite the government saying that they won't give up on the city, Gordon knows that they're on their own.
  • In The Last Jedi, the plan for the Resistance is to get to an old Rebel base and wait for the First Order to pass, while sending out a distress signal to their allies across the Outer Rim to get help. However, since the First Order is so powerful, and with the New Republic apparently helpless after the destruction of the Senate and most of their fleet in The Force Awakens, no one comes.

  • In the backstory of Gods and Warriors, the struggle for power between Akastos, the old High Chieftain of Mycenae and the House of Koronos was decided in the mountains of Mycenae where Akastos asked for the Mountain Clan's help. The Mountain Clan wanted no part in it and refused. This led to Koronos seizing the power and Akastos being forced on the run. The Mountain Clan eventually paid the prize of their neutrality by being hunted down by the House of Koronos.
  • In the final book of The Queen's Thief, the Greater Powers decide that they don't like how the little countries of Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis have united under Eugenides so effectively that they've held off the Mede Empire multiple times, so they withold their reinforcements and betray him to the Medes instead. This backfires on them; ultimately, it only serves to make Eugenides really mad.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: Lysa Arryn refuses to lend her support when the Starks call for aid, declaring, "The knights of the Vale will stay in the Vale where they belong, to protect their lord."
  • Supernatural's first order of business after inventing a cavalry was inventing reasons for that cavalry not to help. The angels as a faction are stuck in a revolving door between this and Cavalry Betrayal. Refusal to answer the call happens regularly, but here are some notable examples:
  • Played oddly in one episode of Burn Notice. Team Westen is trying to get rid of a Mafia capo who's leaning on their client, which in the end comes down to hiring a bunch of scary looking guys to act as a replacement for his soldiers (the heroes have convinced the capo that his crew is no longer reliable). Then they get him to try and assassinate his boss, and then have the crew pull out at the critical moment.
  • In Firefly, at the Battle of Serenity Valley, the independents pull this on Mal's squad, ordering them to lay down arms rather than providing the air support they had promised. Of course, whether or not said air support would have turned the tide of the battle is unknown; given it was the last battle and the sky almost immediately went black with the number of arriving Alliance ships, probably not.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Happens whenever a face (usually John Cena) and a heel are forced to be tag team partners. The heel will let the face take a beating and refuse to tag in or help him.
  • This pretty much happens whenever a face is getting a beatdown. The other faces in the back will rarely come to the rescue no matter how many heels are doing the beating. Whereas if a face is beating a heel, all the heel's friends will come to help. Yes, in Professional Wrestling, the bad guys are more loyal than the good guys. This is mostly a product of the post territorial era, as it'd be rare in the Territory System for the baby faces not to spill out of the locker room unless the victimized face was someone really disliked by most of the rest, the mugging occurred too quickly, the promotion had sufficiently trusted security, or logistical issues were involved.
  • This issue concerning Allison Danger in particular and The Chistopher Street Connection in general sexually harassing Alexis Laree caused her to leave Julio Dinero in Ring of Honor in favor of Amazing Red and AJ Styles. Even then, the cavalry was usually late concerning continued Connection advances as well as attacks by Simply Luscious and Christopher Daniels of The Prophecy, but at least Red and Styles tried. They would at least confront the guilty parties later if they were late.
  • This was the focus of a Ring of Honor angle involving Alex Shelley and Generation Next. Normally when Generation Next caused havoc, they worked quick, cut a promo, and hightailed it before baby faces or security could do anything to punish them. In Shelley's case though, he started Generation Next, so when the other members turned on him for trying to be too facey, everyone not involved purposefully gave them enough time to do whatever they wished with Shelley.
  • Discussed after ROH Homecoming 2012. During the show, Mike Quackenbush led an emptying of Chikara's locker room to ring side during Hallowicked and Jigsaw's match against ROH Tag Team Champions The Briscoe Brothers. When The Briscoes started messing with Hallowicked's mask, UltraMantis Black led the Chikara wrestlers in attacking The Briscoes for this transaction and vowed to help Hallowicked and Jigsaw take the ROH Tag Title belts away from the Briscoes and the ROH promotion in the future. Mark and Jay were not impressed that not a single ROH wrestler exited the locker room to try to even the odds.

    Video Games 
  • In the introduction video to StarCraft: Brood War, a Terran colony finds itself the target of a literal Zerg Rush; a Terran warship from a different faction shows up overhead, but promptly leaves again without doing anything for the besieged Terrans on the ground.
  • Zigzagged in the Renegade option at the end of Mass Effect. Shepard calls in the Systems Alliance Fifth Fleet under Admiral Hackett to stop the geth led by the Reaper Sovereign from starting the Reaper invasion. In the Renegade route, the fleet bypasses the Destiny Ascension and heads straight for the Citadel. Citadel space is saved by The Cavalry, for a couple years at least, but its leaders, trying to escape aboard the Destiny Ascension, die a fiery death at geth hands.
  • At the Battle of Ostagar in Dragon Age: Origins, the Warden is sent to light a beacon to signal Teyrn Loghain's reinforcements. When Loghain sees the beacon, he does not send the reinforcements as originally planned, but instead orders his forces to withdraw and return to the capital, leaving King Cailan, all of his forces and many of the Grey Wardens to die at the hands of the Darkspawn. Loghain does this because he believes the Darkspawn aren't massing in a true Blight and that Cailan's in bed with Orlais, the nation he fought bitterly against for Ferelden's freedom. Both in and out of universe, there's debate on this point. The survivors of the main army insist it was a cowardly betrayal as above, but Loghain and everyone from his army insist the king was beyond saving by that point (in the actual scene the king died seconds later but it's presented in a way that means a time skip is possible), and all charging would accomplish is getting the relievers all killed by overwhelming Darkspawn numbers. The only neutral observer simply says he quit the field, and according to Solas in the third game the reproduction of the battle in the Fade shows both versions.
  • Yes, Your Grace: Atana's army does the Cavalry Betrayal variant during the battle against Radovia by simply not showing up when called for.
  • Early on in Unavowed, Kalash, the leader of the New York chapter of the titular organisation and the Player Character's boss, attempts to make an appeal to their brother chapter in Dublin for assistance in getting the current string of increased supernatural activity under control. Their leader, Lady Aralax, turns down his request, saying that they are currently themselves having too many problems to be able to spare any manpower.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures: That's what drove Ezekiel Rage into becoming a criminal. He was a good guy until falling victim to the trope - he was a spy for the U.S. Government when his cover got blown, which got worse when it turned out he brought his family along as a cover. He called for assistance and they refused to bail him out. His car ran off the road, killing his wife and daughter and leaving him horribly scarred and seriously messed up.

    Real Life 
  • Britain and France in the Spanish Civil War (see the page quote). They enforced an arms embargo against the Republicans, on whose side they were supposed to be. In theory, there was an international embargo against both sides. In practice, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supplied the Nationalists with weapons, aircraft and auxiliary troops; the USSR similarly aided the Republicans, but on a much smaller scale. Only Britain and France actually upheld the embargo, in an attempt to appease Germany and prevent — or rather, forestall — World War II.
  • The USSR did this to Poland towards the end of World War II. As the Red Army drew close to Warsaw, the Polish Home Army rose up against the German occupation forces — but the Red Army had other priorities and did not come to their aid. The British offered to send planes to help, but they were denied access to Russian airbases. Needless to say, this ended badly for the Poles. Then again, if the Poles really considered the Red Army to be The Cavalry at all, it was at most in an Enemy Mine way, considering the kind of things the Russians had done to them only a few years before...
  • During the Battle of Lang Vei, Col. Lownds of the 26th Marines refused to send reinforcements to support the Green Berets and South Vietnamese militiamen being attacked by North Vietnamese tanks out of fear that his men might be ambushed en route, contributing to the disaster.
  • During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against the Soviet Union, the US and other Western countries welcomed and encouraged the revolutionaries to not give up, but when the Soviets sent an army to crush it and things turned ugly, they didn't intervene, not even in a diplomatic way. The USA was, of course, accused of encouraging a suicidal revolution, just to show the world how brutal the Soviets are. Meanwhile a lot of revolutionaries died with the belief that the American help is just about to arrive.
  • At the start of World War I, the Triple Alliance's (German Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and Kingdom of Italy) plan for all-out war against the Triple Entente (United Kingdom, France and Russia) included, among other things, a two-pronged attack on France, with Germany invading from the north through Belgium and Italy invading from the south through the Alps and the coastal plains. The Italian government, between having a border contention with Austria-Hungary, the king having a personal and justified grudge with the German emperor and the country actually being in much better relations with France and Britain than with their own allies, cited Vienna declaring war first as a reason for staying neutral, as the treaty was supposed to work only for defensive wars. Italy would later enter the war on the Entente's side.
    • Arguably it wasn't a case of Loophole Abuse, but rather one of Exact Words. Besides, other than being defensive in nature, the alliance treaty said that in a crisis there would be consultations to decide what to do, while instead Germany and Austria-Hungary kept Italy in the dark, not to mention that in case of victory Austria-Hungary had no intention of giving Italy the compensation the same treaties stipulated, although understandingly so. Sure, Italy was definitely not happy in the alliance and was looking for a way out, but in the end its allies' behavior gave them plenty of excuses to opt out.
  • The Republic of China would have stood a much better chance of resisting the Japanese invasion - or, at least, slowing them - had the Guomindang (KMT) and Communists (CCP) been able to work together. Instead, the Communists retreated to Yan'an and stayed out of it, for the most part.
    • The Japanese advance only slowed as a result of the Allies entering the war in 1941 - which could be seen as an example of The Cavalry in this case.
    • The CCP's Cavalry Refusal ultimately contributed to their victory over the KMT in the Chinese Civil War.
  • The Cumberland Hussars at the battle of Waterloo. They not only refused to charge the French (a literal Cavalry Refusal), but then withdrew from the battlefield and were last seen forming a defensive line just outside the city of Brussels.
  • Subverted at the battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. After the British heavy cavalry performed one of the great feats of horsed warfare by trashing the Russian cavalry (despite being heavily outnumbered and forced to charge uphill) the British light cavalry wished to fall upon the disorganised, fleeing Russians and complete the act of destruction... and were forbidden to do so by their commander. Perhaps partly justified in that (a) the Anglo/French/Turkish forces were somewhat short of cavalry anyway, and needed to ensure they kept a reserve, and (b) the main purpose of light cavalry is scouting, reconaissance and communications, *not* charging the opposition's heavy units... the ill-fated charge of the Russian guns later in the battle was due to a tragic miscommunication!
  • Some politicians, in the United States and elsewhere, are making political capital out of Cavalry Refusals by saying variations of "America should not be the world's policeman." Details vary from case to case, sometimes wildly (such as whether the Cavalry would even be applicable).
  • At the end of the The Gulf War US President George H. W. Bush went on radio to call on the Iraqi people to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein. The Shi'ites and Kurds rose up, anticipating US assistance - which never came. They were promptly crushed, Saddam survived, US forces were compelled to remain in Saudi Arabia as a check against him, and the course of world affairs for the next generation was set.