Sarah Jane: Then why wait? If it was a disease or some sort of bacteria you were destroying, you wouldn't hesitate!
The Doctor: But if I kill... wipe out a whole intelligent life form, then I become like them. I'd be no better than the Daleks.
We all know the drill. It's The Federation versus The Empire, and the Heroes stop the Empire's new superweapon just in time for The Cavalry to defeat the Mooks. Now good has triumphed, how do you mop up the resistance? If the heroes are lucky, the Empire will be led by a Self-Disposing Villain or an Evil Overlord with a 0% Approval Rating who can be imprisoned in the Tailor-Made Prison.
But what if the driving force behind the forces of evil is not a single Evil Overlord, but a Planet of Hats whose hat happens to be Always Chaotic Evil? You can't very well arrest and try every inhabitant. And it will doubtlessly include children, who, if you did try them, would be acquitted because Children Are Innocent. But as long as enough remain to propagate the species, they will remain a threat.
Alice suddenly remembers that she still has the Handy Remote Control of that Wave-Motion Gun her buddies just captured. The only question is, will the victors choose to use it and end the threat to the galaxy once and for all, running the risk of crossing the Moral Event Horizon themselves (although they and their allies might be reluctant to admit it), or be merciful and decide it's time for peace, even if that means they must risk the lives of their own descendants?
If the Always Chaotic Evil race is permitted to survive, it's a crapshoot whether they do a HeelFace Turn and become valued, if not always reliable, allies, or rise again to repeat the story in a sequel, possibly wiping out millions of Space Amish and other innocents in the process. If the Always Chaotic Evil race is exterminated, it's common either for one or a few to survive and become the underdog, resulting in a Genocide Backfire, or else that the Karmic effects doom The Federation to become The Atoner, or a monster in the eyes of history.
In short: There are good points and bad points to be considered on doing genocide. Do you ultimately do it, or not? Pick your poison.
Occasionally, some other villain may conveniently exterminate the threat, who then has far less problems associated with killing him off.
In the modern world, killing enemies other than in the heat of combat or after a trial is considered a war crime, and animals and plants are protected by law in most places from deliberate extinction, but in the past this was not the case. Obviously, any serious discussion of genocide in the modern world is likely to run afoul of Godwin's Law, but keep in mind that for the Nazi leadership, there was never really an actual dilemma.
See also Final Solution and this trope's supertrope, He Who Fights Monsters. Compare If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!. Contrast Would Be Rude to Say "Genocide". When the characters don't show this at all during a war, it might be a Guilt-Free Extermination War. Not to be confused with Sadistic Choice, especially when the dilemma is more along the lines of "I can only save one of these populations, but which one?"
- Towards the end of Darker Than Black, the main character is faced with a choice, either let his enemies initiate a plan that would wipe out every contractor in existence, or stop them at the cost of wiping Japan (and presumably all it's inhabitants) off the map, literally. He doesn't want either to happen, but saving one would mean genocide for the other. He Takes a Third Option.
- A major plot point in Elfen Lied. The Dicolonii end up being exterminated, and the human race lives on.
- The reason Zebra was imprisoned in Toriko. The 26 species he wiped out were damaging the ecosystem...but he's still responsible for making 26 species extinct.
- Trigun. "To save the butterflies, you must kill the spiders." But if you kill the spiders, you become a spider yourself...
- Saga of Tanya the Evil: At the conclusion of the first act, Tanya justifies her attempted pre-emptive strike on the fleeing Republic navy (and consequently, brutal subjugation bordering on genocide of the remaining factions), despite the Empire agreeing to a peace treaty and ending their 'conquest' before it got really genocidal, because (A) while the Empire might have enough reason to realize that their best bet to ruling the world is to just have the biggest slice of pie and use it responsibly, EVERY OTHER NATION wants them dead out of fear of a centralized world power that could easily bully whoever they wanted, and (B) Tanya's own history of witnessing hatred triumph over reason, from her "father's" death out of spite to a family man who cast them aside for revenge, led her to believe the soldiers would come back and willingly sacrifice themselves to get revenge and murder as many Empire citizens as possible. Sure enough, the war restarts despite the lack of profit for everyone involved.
- Played with in Land of the Lustrous. Kongou knows that he's the only person that can pray for the Lunarians' souls to pass on (and has done so when they come down to attack). It's not so much that killing the Lunarians was the problem, since that's exactly what they want, and they're not winning any favors by abducting and grinding up the Lustrous to get his attention and turning some of them against him. Due to being in long need of repair, his dillemma is that praying for all of them to pass at once will also kill off many innocent species that had nothing to do with the conflict since they were all derived from humans, including the Lustrous themselves.
- Mobile Suit Victory Gundam: Uso Ewin aimed a Wave-Motion Gun at the gathered entire fleet of the antagonists, bearing in mind that it would kill dozens or hundreds of thousands of soldiers and non-combatant crew. The worst part... he pulled the trigger.
- This becomes the central conflict of Attack on Titan, after the Time Skip. The Eldian people are the source of the Titans, a fact that causes the rest of the world to hate them. Paradis Island is the focus of most of the world's hatred, and four years of negotiations with Lady Kiyomi suggest they would need at least 50 years to reach a point where they could defend themselves on equal footing with the rest of the world. Eren kickstarts the endgame by outwitting Zeke's plot of sterilizing the Eldian race, and instead starts the Rumbling to exterminate all life outside of Paradis. Throughout the arc, the other characters struggle with whether or not Eren's genocidal plan is their only hope of survival, or whether there might have been another option. Ultimately, a small group of Survey Corps soldiers and Marleyan Warriors decide to fight together to try to stop Eren from destroying the world, an outcome that Eren had foreseen. This ends up preventing the genocide of his own people...at the price of 80% of humanity being massacred. However, it ended up being All for Nothing as the survivors end up bombing Eldia into dust anyway.
- Ends up being the core conflict in The Promised Neverland as it turns out that demons require human brains as food to keep their own sentience, otherwise, they'll decline and return to the state of mindless beasts.
- Justice League: In their Post-Crisis origin story as shown in JLA: Year One, the climactic invasion by the Appellaxians is slowly overwhelming the League and their allies when Vandal Savage (through his envoy Clayface as a Body Double) offers the League a modified Appellaxian weapon that will kill all the invaders worldwide by scrambling their minds, leaving the League a choice as to either let Earth fall or violate their own morals. In the end, they Take a Third Option by having Martian Manhunter use his telepathy to modulate the weapon so that it would subdue but not kill the Appellaxians outright, allowing the League and their allies to force them back into their planet via a dimensional tunnel created by Doctor Fate and the other magically empowered superheroes.
- Legion of Super-Heroes: At the aftermath of "The Dominator War", the Legionnaries learn the Dominators intend to send their Xenoclone Shocktroopers -an army of millions of genetically-engineered super-powerful Dominators- throughout the inhabited worlds to multiply without control until eventually taking over the galaxy. The Legion has two options: leaving Dominion -the Dominator homeworld- and letting a race of monsters conquer the galaxy, or blowing up five billion of sentient beings. However, Cosmic Boy takes a third option, and sends the whole Dominator homeworld into the Phantom Zone.
Sun Boy: What can we do [Cosmic Boy]? We have Supergirl. And Mon-El. And Ultraboy and more. A full-out assault can literally— literally— tear that planet in half. Question is, are you willing to give your team the go-ahead to destroy an entire race of irredeemable monsters before they rise again?
- Secret Invasion: A What if... one-shot made a variant: the shape-shifting aliens Skrulls successfully invaded earth. They rule countries, live among humans, and even allowed humans to become Skrulls. The Avengers, now a terrorist outlaw band, got a sample of the Legacy Virus adapted against the Skrulls. They face the dilemma: waste precious time trying to turn it into a vaccine, reverting the change in humans and removing the shape-shifting powers from the Skrulls, or simply use the virus as it is and kill them all. in the end, it is the villain Norman Osbourn who uses the virus and causes the Skrull genocide. He is beheaded by Captain America for it.
- A variation is used in the X-Men tie-in to the actual event: the group questions whether or not to thwart a Skrull squadron's attack on San Francisco with a virus that has a chance of going out of control and infecting the entire race. They use it in the end, and the attacking aliens kill themselves before any others get infected.
- Wonder Woman (2006): Procanon Kaa has decided to protect the force trying to slaughter every last khund due to his belief they are Always Chaotic Evil. He changes his mind with only a little prompting after he reveals his torn feelings on the matter. The fact that he can't empathize with khunds since their empire killed his family and he has spent decades watching them attack, enslave and murder their way across his sector and the fact that he feels this will save worlds the khunds will attack in the future make it a difficult choice for him, but he still realizes that not all khunds have the same viewpoint as their emperor and doesn't care for children being gassed in their sleep regardless of their race.
- The Irinai in the Mass Effect Alternate Universe story On the Shoulders of Giants, who are best described as "Phyrexian Intelligent Gerbils", prompted much discussion of this. Word of God has however been very, very definite about the fact that it will not be carried out in-universe.
- The boys in The Dark Past experience one of these toward the end of the story, when they realise that they are carrying a virus deadly to all Soluan life, picked up while exploring the ancient warship. They decide against using it.
- This crops up twice in Diaries of a Madman. The first is where Nav intervenes to spare the changelings, since eliminating Chrysalis would result in their species starving. The second is where he helps the changelings eliminate a diamond dog clan after being unable to argue for peace, though he's disgusted with his role in this.
- Subverted in Chrysalis Visits The Hague, where, while Chrysalis lands in front of a human war crimes tribunal for her own genocidal agenda, Equestria decides to take the fight to the remaining changelings in her absence. The human characters have to work hard to strike a balance and keep one side from slaughtering the other.
- A real problem for a while in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World when the Actual Pacifist four start thinking about what'll happen to the Tayhil and the monsters transplanted to C'hou if the Black Tower is defeated.
John: They're all gonna die, of course. Whoever does it is gonna wish 'em all dead. They're not gonna wish for peace between them and the Geddies, or to send them away somewhere. It's gonna be zap, and we'll have little snakeman bodies litterin' the landscape.
- In the Alien franchise, somebody always seems to want to capture a live xenomorph....
- But only to try to make them into a weapon. Lampshaded in the Green Lantern / Alien crossover, Hal points out that the xenomorphs are just animals, so they move the hive to Lantern Mogo (a living planet) since he can watch them and make sure no-one runs into one.
- For understandable reasons, Ripley in Aliens seems to have no moral reservations on this point:
Ripley: Just tell me one thing, Burke. You're going out there to destroy them, right? Not to study. Not to bring back. But to wipe them out.
Burke: That's the plan. You have my word on it.
Ripley: All right, I'm in.
- The great irony with the Xenomorphs is that they need live hosts in order to spread. One person = one Xenomorph. If people would just leave them alone they wouldn't be a threat. The third film establishes that they can implant other mammals, though, and the expanded universe shows that it works on reptiles and beyond...
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: Klingons were a unique situation. An environmental disaster caused critical damage to their homeworld, which would almost certainly kill billions over the next several decades and probably plunge the Empire into a civil war. All the Federation had to do was sit back and "Let them die," as Kirk said (who loathed the Klingons for previously killing his only son). Instead the two governments decide to talk peace and mutual disarmament.
- The Taxxons are driven by unceasing hunger, to the point that if one of them is injured, the others will eat its entrails. They voluntarily joined up with the resident mind-controlling parasites in the (unsuccessful) hopes that this would keep them from killing everything in sight. The issue of whether they need to die is ultimately sidestepped through a species-wide Metamorphosis.
- A variant: the Hork-Bajir are a peaceful species, but to weaken them as a tool for the Yeerks Alloran decided to genocide them with a Quantum Virus, earning a What the Hell, Hero? from his own species.note
- In The Andalite Chronicles, Elfangor defies Alloran's order to eject thousands of Yeerks into space. By the end of the book, Alloran has been taken by the Yeerks (though it's debatable whether flushing the Yeerks would have changed anything). It also makes for a dramatic comparison with Jake's actions at the end of the war.
- Even the Yeerks themselves are the targets of this. At one point, an Andalite black-ops team visits Earth hoping to infect the enemy with a similar quantum virus to the one that devastated the Hork-Bajir. Both the Andalite researchers and the Animorphs are appalled (and in the latter case very worried) about the near-certainty of the virus mutating to attack humans; none of them seem to consider whether the Yeerks really deserve it. (Possibly because, with the exception of Cassie and sometimes Tobias, they agree — Jake never gets a chance at the whole species, but in the penultimate novel he deems some deaths necessary, to the tune of 17,000 unhosted Yeerks.)
- See also the time they planned to contaminate the Yeerk Pool with oatmeal.
- By the endgame, the Andalite military considers Earth a lost cause, and is willing to scorch the planet to destroy the Yeerks, only backing down because the Animorphs have already won, and Ax patches their conversation through to the Andalite homeworld, whose civilian population is less comfortable with genocide.
- In Andre Norton's The Beast Master cycle, this dilemma is resolved non-genocidally. Humans have defeated a race of Xiks. Xiks are clearly Always Chaotic Evil, but they're only left reduced to their homeworld and closely watched. When Xik spies' actions are revealed to be the cause of a series of disasters, they're hit with civil - legal - action, instead of military. This despite the fact that the Xiks had just destroyed the planet Earth (we were living on other planets too, so it's not as big a deal).
- In The Bible, the Old Testament Hebrews are instructed on various occasions to wipe an enemy nation to the last man, woman and child. The Israelites sometimes refuse, which comes back to bite them in the ass later. It's... a touchy subject.
- Subverted in Mike Resnick's book Birthright: The Book of Man. The other 13,042 sentient races in the Galaxy seem to have no moral qualms whatsoever about hunting Humanity to extinction. It's averted only by the fact that Humanity's last survivors - One man and three women - decide to go out with a bang (literally - they commit suicide by blowing up the planet they're on) rather than surrender and be executed. Same result though, I guess.
- Chrysalis (RinoZ): Titus of the Legion has decided where he stands regarding Dungeon-created species, even sapient ones; he wants to utterly exterminate them before they can threaten the surface races. His daughter Morrelia, however, is torn, having witnessed the ant colony acting peacefully and even protectively toward their neighbours. She does, however, respect Titus' long experience of fighting the Dungeon, and recognises that the Colony has the potential to grow explosively and become too powerful to answer to anyone. She chooses to intervene in the Legion's initial assault and prevent them from wiping the ants out, but that's just the first clash — so she pursues officer training, hoping to reach a position where she can influence decision-making instead of just being sent to fight the ants.
- Destroyermen: It's been pretty clear from the get-go that the only way the Lemurians and humans will ever be safe from the Grik is if the Grik no longer exist. This means wiping them out, and wiping them out fast, since they spawn like mad and grow to adulthood in about five years. Though this is subverted in Firestorm with the discovery of an offshoot species called the Tagranesi who later prove to be valuable allies.
- In Sarah A. Hoyt's Draw One in the Dark, when they are dealing with the grubs that two breeding shape-shifters with insect forms left behind, Tom is keenly aware that they are the offspring of two shifters who were most of the time human.
- Ender's Game and its sequels apply this in one way or another to every nonhuman species in the setting. None of them intended to start hostilities with humanity, and in only one case (when fighting a seemingly sentient virus that wipes out almost every life form it infects) is genocide portrayed as justified. With each species encountered, humanity is more reluctant to kill fellow rational beings, and the final species in Children of the Mind is dealt with in a completely nonviolent manner.
- Isaac Asimov's short story The Gentle Vultures is about a peaceful herbivore race who have realised that most quickly-developing races eventually nuke themselves back to the stone age, and have made a business of interjecting after the conflict to prevent total extinction, help rebuild, genetically engineer the survivors to be less violent - and be paid tributes. They are waiting for humanity to start World War Three to enact their usual plan, but we consistently disappoint them - every time it looks like it's about to go down we end up making peace instead, but every time we develop more devastating weapons and become more dangerous warriors. Worried about what'll happen when we take to the stars, they debate secretly triggering themselves the conflict they've been waiting for and then acting as usual - but eventually decide they cannot bring themselves to do it. They leave humanity to its own devices and leave to an uncertain future, accepting whatever fate might befall them when we discover we aren't the only ones out there.
- Keith Laumer's novel The Glory Game. After the warlike alien Hukk are defeated, the Terran Hardliners want to wipe them out to keep them from threatening Earth again.
- Averted (indeed, that's the point of the novel) in The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad. In the counterfactual Hitler's novel Lord Of The Swastika, hero Feric Jaggar and the Truemen of Heldon wage a merciless genocidal war against the mind-controlling Dominators and their degenerate mutant hordes- and this is presented as unquestionably good and right.
- In Living Alone by Stella Benson, the English witch tries to argue this with the German one.
"As one Crusader to another," she said, "do you find it does much good in the war against Evil to drop bombs on people in their homes? After all, every baby is good in bed, and even soldiers when on leave are anti-militarist."
"It always does good to exterminate vermin in their lair," said the German, trying restlessly to raise herself more to the level of her lighter companion, who was still perched on the surface of the cloud. "It is at home that Evil is originated, it is at home that English women conceive and bear a new generation of enemies of the Right, it is at home that English children are bred up in their marauding ways. It is on the home, the vital place of Evil, that the scourge should fall."
"Oh, but surely not," said our witch eagerly. "It is at home that people are kindly and think what they will have for supper, and bathe their babies. Men come home when they are hurt or hungry, and women when they are lonely or tired. Nobody is taught anything stupid or international at home. You can bring death to a home, but never a righteous scourge. Nobody feels scourged or instructed by a bomb in their parlour, they just feel dead, and dead without a reason."
- E. E. "Doc" Smith's Skylark Series:
- The series ends with Skylark DuQuesne, where Seaton was debating whether he should or even could wipe out the Chlorans. Eventually after much angst he decided to do it, but during the battle he was incapacitated and DuQuesne (who was the main villain through the series, and who had always sworn to kill Seaton if he had the chance) had to take over. He did so without a qualm, and "The man who slew a galaxy looked no different after the deed than he had before."
- Skylark touched on this several times. In the war between the Osnomians and the Urvanians, Seaton gives them both advanced Fenachrone technology... then promises to exterminate whichever species might survive the war of mutual annihilation they'll wage if they don't come to their senses (it won't be his Osnomian friends, and all three sides - human, Osnomian and Urvanian - know it).
- Against the Fenachrone, he's got less qualms but chooses to issue a warning first (which is refused). Even so, he can't follow through and it's his Osnomian friend Dunark, who has no such scruples, who pushes the button for him.
- Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson, is about the few remnants of the human race trapped on a mysterious planet fighting a generations-long stalemate against strange alien starfighters. Why the aliens only dispatch small, manageable raids rather than marshal hundreds of ships and finish things is an open question several characters wonder about. It turns the aliens have their own Genocide Dilemma. They believe humanity to be Always Chaotic Evil, but they don't want to complete the genocide, so they've been been fighting to keep humanity from rebuilding enough to escape. Unfortunately, they're starting to rethink their policy against genocide.
- Star Wars Legends:
- The New Jedi Order has the Alpha Red virus, which could kill the Yuuzhan Vong and their biotech, but Vergere destroys it because even the Vong have the right to exist, and the good guys would be monsters if they wiped them out. Or maybe she didn't have complex and noble motives, she was just an evil Sith villain. And then they recreate it, but it doesn't go too well (see below).
- Regardless of Vergere's motives, the Advisory Council is still split on what they should do with it: Luke Skywalker is repulsed by the idea of slaughtering so many innocents (the rest of the Jedi present vote the same way, and it's clear in this work and later works that the Jedi not present—including Luke's primary opposition among the Jedi, Kyp Durron—would also have objected); Releqy A'kla thinks it would set a horrifying precedent that genocide is acceptable in war; Triebakk is worried the virus might mutate and kill the New Republic, too; and Ta'lam Ranth is worried the Vong might well genocide them right back if provoked. On the other hand, Cal Omas is keenly aware that they're losing troops and momentum, Sien Sovv has no confidence in his own ability to prosecute the war, and Dif Scaur... well, he commissioned Alpha Red in the first place, so you can guess how his vote goes. One of the reasons for the climactic battle of Destiny's Way is to regain some lost ground — any lost ground, to prove that a conventional war is actually winnable.
- In The Unifying Force, Alpha Red is recreated and used... and quickly proves the practical considerations of Triebakk and Ranth correct. The virus mutates and kills off a local species on the planet it is used on (validating Triebakk's objection), and a lone surviving infected ship makes it back to Coruscant, where the Yuuzhan Vong get the idea to use the plague against the living world Zonama Sekot (a miniature implementation of what Ranth objected to).
- Before the Vong, there were the Yevetha, whom Leia wanted to strand on their homeworld and set up an interdiction field for about the next million years. After the Vong, we have the Lost Tribe of the Sith, where Ben even says it's not genocide, it's just destroying the Sith. Light Is Not Good indeed.
- Except by this period of time the Sith are no longer a species, they're a cult/society. Ben isn't advocating the annihilation of every being amongst the Lost Tribe, though obviously many will die in the war that ensues, he's advocating the destruction of a culture built on a genuinely evil philosophy. In a similar way, the Allies of World War II spoke of destroying Nazism, not the German people.
- This wouldn't have even been the first time it happened. After the Great Hyperspace War the Republic and the Jedi attempted to completely exterminate the Sith, who at the time were a species, mostly. It didn't take the first time but sources later in the timeline were mostly made before the retcon and maintain that the species is gone so...
- Actually, the Republic and Jedi did not set out to destroy the Sith species, just the empire. The Sith's near extinction that ensued were primarily due to the Sith's infighting, refusal to surrender, and ultimately ritual mass suicide. Even then, as mentioned above, the Sith Empire continued to exist through hidden holdouts, most notably the Sith Emperor's faction that rises to prominence in Star Wars: The Old Republic. As for the Sith species' non-existence in the "present" time of Star Wars, the most prominent theory is that the Sith species, having been modified through the Force to interbreed with humans, eventually bred themselves away. By the time of the Great Hyperspace War, the majority of so-called "pureblood Sith" were actually Sith/human hybrids, and by the time the Sith Emperor's faction emerged this virtually all of them were hybrids, with red skin and near-universal Force sensitivity being pretty much the only traits of the Sith species that remained intact. As a result, any descendant of the ancient Sith in the "modern" Star Wars universe would be very difficult to tell apart from the Zeltron, who also look like red-skinned humans.
- The New Jedi Order has the Alpha Red virus, which could kill the Yuuzhan Vong and their biotech, but Vergere destroys it because even the Vong have the right to exist, and the good guys would be monsters if they wiped them out. Or maybe she didn't have complex and noble motives, she was just an evil Sith villain. And then they recreate it, but it doesn't go too well (see below).
- The Stormlight Archive book 3, Oathbringer: One of the more uncomfortable truths the heroes are forced to confront is that, without the Oathpact to imprison the Fused spirits on Braize, the only way anyone can think of to stop them from simply taking new bodies every time the Everstorm rolls by is to wipe out the entire race of singers in order to leave them no new bodies to inhabit.
- Stewart Cowley's Terran Trade Authority universe features the Laguna Wars - a nasty fight between Earth and mutinous humans who wiped out an alien civilisation centuries before and took over its machines. The adventure is written for children under ten but pulls no punches, especially near the end, when it's discovered that the cargoes the Earth forces were blockading (and which led the Lagunans to mount an ultimately unsuccessful last-ditch attack on Earth) were an antitoxin against a fungal disease in Laguna Nine's atmosphere. The occupation forces arrive to find to their horror that the entire planet has been completely depopulated. It's not total genocide - the industrial centre on Laguna Seven is still intact - but it's bad enough, and all the more horrifying for it being unintentional.
- Wen Spencer's Tinker: In Wolf Who Rules, humans try to argue against exterminating the oni; Windwolf states flatly they will do it, because the oni breed like rabbits and have a total Lack of Empathy. He is not happy when they find a half-human/half-oni child — he had hoped for only adults — but fortunately, she demonstrates empathy, and the genocide can be limited to the full oni.
- In the last book of Anne McCaffrey's Tower and the Hive series, humans and Mrdini debate whether it is moral to simply nuke the Hivers out of existence. Eventually, a Deus ex Machina allows them to end the threat without wiping out the entire species.
- The 100 presents Clarke with the opportunity to flood Mount Weather with radiation, killing all of the Mountain Men. This would save Clarke's people, who the Mountain Men were determined to harvest for their bone marrow, but it would also kill those Mountain Men who had been trying to help our heroes, not to mention scores of innocent civilians (including many children) who only vaguely know what's going on. It's made more complicated by the fact that, even if Clarke saves her people without irradiating the Mountain, small amounts of radiation will still leak in over time, and without extracting bone marrow for use as medicine, the Mountain Men will eventually succumb to radiation poisoning. Even more complicated, the leader of the Mountain Men has point-blankly refused offers from the Ark suvivors to donate bone marrow non-lethally to allow everyone to live, and tried to call their bluff on the threatened genocide. In the end, Clarke and Bellamy put their people's survival ahead of the Mountain Men's, and choose to kill them all.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003):
- Humans from a Cylon point of view. At the end of the Miniseries, the Cylons agree that they unfortunately can't give up pursuit of the human fleet even though it's left the Colonial solar system behind and just wants to get as far away as possible, because any survivors will inevitably return and seek revenge.
- A more straight example: In the episode "Torn", the Colonial fleet discovers a virus that kills Cylons horribly and doesn't affect humans. Cue big debate about the ethics of intentionally infecting the Cylon Resurrection Ship with it, whether it is justified to Pay Evil unto Evil and whether humanity deserves to survive if we're willing to cross these lines. The higher ups decide their responsibility to protect humanity from the genocidal Cylons has to take precedent when they openly pursue our extinction. However, a member of the crew who is adamant that Cylons be seen as people (dangerous enemies, but still people) takes matters into their own hands and destroys it. He faces fairly minimal repercussions given the circumstances.
- Doctor Who:
- "The Massacre" concerns the (real-life) genocide of the Protestants in France in 1572. The Doctor has no interest in averting it, seeing it as the natural course of history, and when he finally catches up to Steven his only action is to pull them both out of there in order to save their own lives. Steven would have been quite happy to change history in order to save those people and he makes his outrage at the Doctor clear, though the implication is that Steven had managed to change history enough to save the life of one girl.
- At the end of "The Daleks' Master Plan", Steven accidentally de-ages all the Daleks on Kembel to death in order to save the Doctor. The Doctor is quite happy about this and even celebrates, prompting Steven to give him a lecture about how the Doctor is no better than the Daleks.
- This is a running theme with the Silurians in all the stories in which they appear. The Doctor spends most of "Doctor Who and the Silurians" trying to convince the humans and Silurians not to just genocide each other, but the humans crack first. The Doctor tries his best not to get involved in "Warriors of the Deep" because he knows the only way out of it would be to commit a genocide against both sides.
- "Genesis of the Daleks", where the Doctor doesn't want to wipe out the Daleks for fear of being no better than they are, provides the page quote. Since time travel's involved, it overlaps with Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act could you kill a child in their cradle if you knew they'd grow up to be a war criminal? (The thing about Dalek genocide is that it never takes. Since they're the Doctor's most iconic villains, not even erasing them from history is enough to actually get rid of them permanently.)
- Davros even calls out the Twelfth Doctor in The Magician's Apprentice, playing his own words from the above episode back to him, once again tempting him to eliminate every Dalek in existance, to prove that he isn't so different to himself - genius, thinking about his people and willing to do what it takes.
- Over the course of the revival, as details of the Time War come to light, we learn that the Doctor was faced with a similar decision and he went through with it, wiping out the entire Dalek race and all the Time Lords in order to bring an end to the war as well as save all of existence from his corrupted and omnicidal race. Coping with what he had to do is a big part of his character arc over the first four and a half series. Naturally, the Daleks are up and exterminating before a single series has passed, while the Time Lords take a full seven series to return.
- The Doctor even had to go through with it again in the Christmas Special "The Runaway Bride". It was a split second decision and he gave the villain of the week a chance to drop the Villain Ball but in the end the Doctor decides to drown the last offspring of an extinct species to save the Earth. Then the Doctor exiles his half-human clone to a parallel universe for going through with Dalek genocide at the end of "Journey's End", in order to save everyone and everything else in the universe.
- Also happens in the spin-off series, Class (2016). The driving arc of the series involves the Shadowkin, an apparently Always Chaotic Evil culture who have already wiped out the species of both of the show's regular alien characters, and one regular character's ownership of a weapon capable of utterly destroying them. In their second encounter, the characters adopt an If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him! position and find a peaceful resolution to the confrontation. However, when the Shadowkin come back again, and this time kill parents of two regular characters, the heroes decide, "Screw it, let's kill them."
- Stargate SG-1:
- In an alternate history, O'Neill had never met Teal'c, and as a result, Stargate Command attacked his homeworld for this reason.
- Subverted in Season Five, again with O'Neill. Subverted in that he only threatened it, and that he most likely didn't consider the sentient computer virus that had taken over his Second in Command to actually be 'people.'
- In the episode "Scorched Earth", a small colony of displaced Human Aliens that SG-1 had recently helped relocate to a certain planet are threatened when a massive alien ship arrives and starts terraforming the planet to make it habitable for sulfur-based lifeforms. The relocated aliens have specific physiological needs that keeps them from being easily moved to another world (it's mentioned that it took months just to find this one). Meanwhile, SG-1 makes contact with the ship to find it's run by an A.I. and that its passengers are the last survivors of their species after their homeworld was destroyed, all of whom are currently on the ship in suspended animation. The ship had spent many years searching the galaxy for a planet with specific qualities that would allow it to be terraformed into a new world for them, and had selected this one before the other settlers had arrived. Since the ship has already begun the terraforming process, it lacks the resources to start again on another world. Both races need this planet to survive, but only one can live there, which sets up the conflict for the episode. Daniel finds a solution when he looks through the ship's database of the other worlds it had scanned in its search, and finds that at one point it had actually encountered the displaced aliens' lost homeworld (the ship had rejected it since it was still populated). A compromise is reached when the ship offers to take the settlers back to their homeworld before returning to finish the terraforming.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- Section 31, an underground group in Starfleet, infects Changelings, leaders of the Dominion, with a virus that kills them - and because of their lifestyle, all Changelings are affected. The Federation discovers the cure, but refuses to hand it to the Dominion until Odo can convince the Dominion to surrender in exchange for it.
- The Dominion itself, when presented with this situation 200 years ago (with the Teplans), decided to Take a Third Option: they infected everyone on a planet with a disease that doesn't kill everybody at once, but rather is hereditary, incurable and can kill the host at any random time. 200 years later, the Teplans have given up on any attempt to rebuild their society and actively resist the Star Fleet characters' offers to try and help find a cure. Even for DS9, the episode is pretty bleak and mostly about humbling the brash, young, Dr. Bashir who was convinced he could come in and save the day.
- The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise, with the Xindi being convinced by an alien race that humanity would destroy them in the future, so they tried to avert this by creating a xenocidal weapon. Although the debates tended to center around whether the accusation was true (it's not), and although the inventor of the weapon has his doubts on the morality, averting their own genocide is all the justification the Xindi need to Kill All Humans. An alternate timeline shows them tracking down human colonies even after Earth has been destroyed. Eventually, the Xindi factions are divided on whether to go through with the plan and the majority of them join forces with the humans to stop the weapon from being used, including the weapon's inventor who dies in the process.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- In "I, Borg", Picard is faced with the option to implant an impossible problem into the Borg's consciousness through a recovered drone. This would cause the entire collective to spiral out of control trying to solve it, and ending them. However, the drone, named Hugh, has developed a sense of identity. Picard ultimately decides to release Hugh back, hoping the spark of individuality will spread through out the Borg. Picard's choice pays off for a few hundred of them, but then Data's Evil Twin Lore takes command of them, as seen in the "Descent" two-parter.
- In "The Survivors", the crew of the Enterprise meet a Sufficiently Advanced Alien who faced this dilemma. He was normally an Actual Pacifist, but when a warlike species attacked the world he was living on, killing everyone he cared about, he went into a fit of vengeful rage — and simply erased all members of that species from existence. He seemed to be genuinely struggling with guilt over his act, and had gone into self-imposed exile in the ruins of the destroyed colony. Captain Picard said that the Federation had neither the power nor the authority to judge the alien for a crime of such magnitude, and the Enterprise continued on its way.
- Star Trek: Voyager began with this very dilemma, albeit in an indirect manner. Voyager was transported to the other side of the galaxy by the Caretaker, a being with astonishing technology, who protects the Ocampa from the Always Chaotic Evil Kazons. The Caretaker died, and Captain Janeway had a dilemma: use the Caretaker's array to return home, letting the Kazons seize it afterwards and destroy the Ocampa, or destroy it and try to get home some other way? Of course, she chose the second option (otherwise it would have been a film rather than a series). Sure, they wouldn't kill the Ocampas themselves, but they would feel responsible if the Kazon were able to do it because of Voyager's inaction.
- Magic: The Gathering's Phyrexians have this to some extent. While there are a few good ones, and the entire red Phyrexian faction of the last block is the Token Good Teammate of them (because asking a Vulshok or a goblin if he wants to take part in the Great Work is likely to result in missing a few parts), as long as a drop of Phyrexian oil exists, the Great Work can begin anew.
- Task Force Games' Starfire:
- The fanatically racist and warlike Rigelian Protectorate was completely wiped out at the end of the Third Interstellar War under the Alliance's "Genocide Decree". The Alliance believed that all Rigelians everywhere had been slain until two planets were found with Rigelian survivors at a low tech level, leading to a quandary about what to do about them.
- The spin off novels by David Weber and Steve White reveal that in the Rigelian's case, their surviving planets were interdicted with orbital weapons platforms to prevent them from progressing back to Industrial levels of technology. They had no such qualms when they decided what to do when deciding to do about The Bugs.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- A downplayed version of this trope is popularized in tabletop RPG language, especially amongst D&D fans, as the "Orc Baby Dilemma". It stems from the fact that, in 2nd edition, orcs were not only an Always Chaotic Evil race, but also had a bestiary entry that specifically noted what percentage of an orc camp's population was likely to be children. This then forced the uneasy mental arithmetic upon many players; once you wipe out the malevolent adults... what do you do with the orphans left behind? The scenario was often used as measuring stick to differentiate Lawful Good players from Lawful Stupid and Munchkin players (Especially among Paladins who have strict code of ethos in 2nd edition that include "Opposing Evil" and "Protecting the Innocent"). Lawful Good players would often Take a Third Option note or at least offer a deeply reasoned argument for their choice. Lawful Stupid players tended to slaughter them all simply because the rules say they are evil, while Munchkins did it for the XP.
- Incidentally, playing the survivor of one of the resolution to the Orc Baby Dilemma has been a popular back story for many player characters. Especially good members of usually evil species raised by the heroes who fought their tribe or embittered survivors of their tribe's genocide.
- In the backstory, the player race (Kushans AKA Hiigarans) were an aggressive, expansionistic race that the Taiidans battled and had nearly extinguished. The galactic outcry for mercy was such that they allowed the Kushan to leave and settle on a planet in the galactic rim after swearing to never use/develop FTL drives. Thousands of years later, the Kushan history is forgotten and their descendants discover the remnants of their original ship. To escape their dying planet, they set about repairing its FTL drive...
- Also, the Taiidan are treated this way at the end of the first game, and are allowed to live mostly unmolested (save for having their very evil emperor killed).
- In fact, the Hiigarans were so bad that the Bentusi had to interfere in order to stop them from wiping out the Taiidani. The reason the Taiidani kicked out the Hiigarans from the homeworld in the first place was because the Hiigarans have turned the Taiidan homeworld into an unlivable hellhole with orbital bombardment. Furthermore, had the Hiigarans peacefully given up their hyperdrive core instead of attacking the Bentusi, they still would've had a fleet to defend against the vengeful Taiidani.
- In inFAMOUS 2 you spend the game getting enough power to use the RFI to stop The Beast, but it turns out the RFI kills Conduits and anyone with the Conduit gene instead of just depowering Conduits. And to top it all off, the plague from the first game has grown out of hand and the only way to stop it is to activate the RFI saving humanity, but killing every Conduit, including Cole, or awaken the powers of every Conduit in the world, making them immune to the plague, but killing everyone else in the process. The final choice of the game revolves around choosing between those two choices.
- Played beautifully straight with the Helghast in Killzone 2 and 3. They're so angry at the rest of humanity (and quite rightly so) that in 2 their Autarch, Scolar Visari, upon being arrested, predicted that they'd "choke the streets with [their] dead before [they] surrender", and the conflict would escalate until he'd be returned to power and begged to restore order. He then gets shot by an angry Marine.
- In Killzone 3, it's proven that he was completely right: the war gets so bad that the ISA is forced to surrender to the Helghast. In the end, it took cleansing Helghan of life completely to stop them.
- In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, the Player Character was a Jedi general in the Mandalorian Wars who was forced to use a planet-shattering superweapon to end the war, inflicting massive casualties on both sides. As a result in addition to their synchronization power making them feel all their companions dying at once, they've become a Shell-Shocked Veteran aimlessly wandering the galaxy for a decade as the Last of Their Kind until the Sith attack once more. And to make matters worse, it's implied Darth Revan manipulated them into believing it was the only option so the trauma would create more Dark Jedi for him to recruit.
- Mass Effect:
- Mass Effect:
- The rachni are a sentient, if extremely alien, species of insectoids who were thought to be actually extinct; you have the choice of either setting the last surviving Queen free to let them repopulate, or wiping them out entirely. A harder choice than it may seem, since the rachni went near-extinct due to them embarking on a war with the Citadel Races, causing significant loss of life, though the Queen promises to leave the other races alone.
- In keeping with the trope, you'll have some characters arguing that you can't justify destroying an entire species no matter how much damage it once caused (keeping in mind that the Rachni Wars happened almost 2,000 years ago), and others who argue that it's time to "finish the job". In fact, the Queen's testimony implies the rachni are a naturally peaceful species who only went to war because of Reaper indoctrination; if you rescue her again in 3, her rachni will aid you in the war effort against the Reapers. However, if you don't save her in the first game, her Reaper-created replacement will betray you if you choose to save her.
- Another example, but somewhat inverted: you find out the bad guy has found a way to clone krogan freed from the effects of the genophage, the genetic disease that renders most krogans sterile. You have to decide to destroy the army, otherwise he'll have an unstoppable force. Needless to say, your krogan teammate is pissed. You can argue that Saren's cure only comes with being his slaves...or kill him.
- Mass Effect 2:
- During Legion's loyalty mission, you have to choose between destroying the heretic geth once and for all or committing HeelFace Brainwashing on them. Legion leaves this decision to Shepard because it can't decide.
- In the Arrival DLC, Shepard is forced to destroy a colony of 300,000 Batarians in order to delay the Reaper invasion. 3 opens with them being court-martialed for this, only for the Reapers to invade Earth during the hearing.
- Mass Effect 3:
- Come the third game you have the chance to end the genophage and ensure krogan survival (and get their unified support against the Reapers) at the cost of Mordin's life and the support of the salarians (unless you kept Kirahhe alive). If you choose not to cure the genophage you will have to kill Wrex if he isn't dead already.
- At the end of the Rannoch arc, you get a choice between allowing Legion to upload Reaper code to the geth, rendering them sentient and intelligent (but dooming the quarians in the process), or killing Legion and allowing the quarians to tear the geth apart. Unless you jumped through enough hoops to Take a Third Option...
- The "Destroy the Reapers" ending will also destroy every other artificial intelligence in the galaxy, including the geth (if they are still alive) and EDI. Even worse, it's also the only ending that Shepard has a chance of surviving.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda: Discussed briefly by some characters about the kett. They can't be negotiated with in good faith (at least, not with their current leader), and are too zealous to just bugger off and go somewhere else, but most of the angara are understandably unwilling to go to the extreme of wiping them all out because of the moral dilemma.
- Mass Effect:
- Planescape: Torment:
The two of us stood silently for a time, watching the last minutes of Agarheim. At long last I sighed... a low, stuttering exhalation that sounded as if something had broken inside me. Beneath the brazen plate that covered the ruined half of my face, my dead eye began to weep...
- One of the sensory stones (objects that can store strong experiences and let others relive them) describes an admiral and his first officer watching their airfleet end a civilization. After the first officer asks what right they have to "a billion lives", the admiral insists that each and every one of their race is a traitor and that they are just following orders. However, what follows shows why the experience is labeled as 'horrible regret':
Admiral: "Falm... my friend... I would have you understand. I know now, as I look down at what I have wrought here, that were I to think upon what I have done... what I have *truly* done... I would be struck mad. A deed such as this... the anguish would overwhelm, destroy me. So, First Officer Falm, it must be that there *are* no innocents in Agarheim... no mothers, no children, no *people.* Only traitors. Vile, cunning traitors, who deserve no less than the full brunt of our most Holy King's wrath. Do you understand this?"
- Star Control II:
- The Ur-Quan have one of these. After being enslaved for thousands of years by malevolent aliens and having to spend decades wired to artificial pain devices to defeat said aliens, they decide that the hat of Always Chaotic Evil fits all other species enough to warrant galactic conquest. They split over whether it's better to lock them up or kill them just to be sure.
- They not only split, they actually start a millennia-long war over it. The victor will decide the eventual fate of the galaxy.
- A major plot point in the setting. After the end of the Second War, the leaders of the Alliance were split on what to do with the (at the time Always Chaotic Evil) surviving Orcs. Stormwind, Dalaran and Lordaeron felt they should be spared, while Stromgarde and Gilneas wanted to execute them. Eventually, the decision to put the Orcs into labour camps in hopes that they could eventually be reeducated into proper members of society was made. This decision led to the latter two nations leaving the Alliance. Gilneas would eventually rejoin during World of Warcraft: Cataclysm.
- Not just once. The orcs are tricked by Kil'jaeden into killing the majority of the Draenei. Several of them are clearly torn, as they know some of the Draenei personally and have a hard time believing them to be the monsters Kil'jaeden claims they are.
- World of Warcraft: During the Cataclysm expansion, we finally hear Queen Alextrasza of the Red Flight (more or less unofficial leader of all the non-evil dragons) declaring that the Black Dragonflight is beyond redemption and must all be exterminated. Given that Black dragons have been Always Chaotic Evil every time they've appeared for the last three or four games, this might seem like a 'no duh' choice on the part of the player. But consider how agonizing it must be for the Aspect of Life to have to make that decision.
- Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey:
- This is a plot-point during the latter part of the game. When the Always Chaotic Evil members of Jack's Crew threaten decide to go after the Red Sprite, the heroes realize that they're looking at this trope square in the face. Zelenin tries to Take a Third Option... which ends up turning them into walking zombies with the Hymn of the Lord.
- The Protagonist faces this again when a certain demon demands that he kill Jack's Crew for their crimes. The hero can either agree to kill them (even though they're already brain dead), let Zelenin kill all the demons with the Hymn, or just kill the one demon making the offer.
- Star Trek Online:
- When the Krenim Temporal Warship is being designed, a lot of testing is being put into what could happen if they mess with something due to the fact that the Iconian War is going pearshaped. One idea was the idea of just going ahead and wiping out the Iconians from existence, something that players were afraid of actually doing. Turns out they thought of that option, but realized that it would change too much history for their liking.
- The following episode has everyone preparing to cross the Moral Event Horizon by going back in time and making sure the Iconians are killed off completely when their world is attacked. The Player Character can hem and haw over this through the mission, but the Klingon captain Kagran decides he can't do it because the Iconians did nothing wrong except having lousy neighbors. Sela, however, is more than happy to try to cross the line, only to be stopped by Kagran and ultimate realize that, whoops, by acting on this, you've just caused Hobus.
- Subverted by Eridan in Homestuck; he hates the terrestrial portion of the Alternian troll population, and claims that he would happily eradicate the lot of them, even commissioning a (land-dwelling) friend of his to build doomsday devices (that unaccountably fail to work). But by the start of the comic, the other trolls have figured that his aquatic-supremacist rantings are all just a cry for attention, and that if Eridan were given a genuine opportunity for genocide, he would pass it up. Double-subverted when, in the end, Eridan really does flip the hell out, kills several of his fellow trolls, and destroys the Matriorb, the last hope of his species to repopulate. It's still played with, though— one of the trolls he killed was the only other seadweller (he himself is later bifurcated by an enraged lesbian rainbow drinker with a chainsaw), and with the aforementioned destruction of the Matriorb it's pretty clear that his previous prejudices had very little do do with it.
- The Order of the Stick asks that questions more than once.
- Averted with the goblin massacres, being one of the designated villain races of any D&D setting: The Always Lawful Good paladins of the Sapphire Guard seem to have little qualms about annihilating any goblins within their reach, since they're Always Chaotic Evil. It's mentioned in the notes that this was never acceptable, and a significant chunk of paladins betrayed their oaths to the gods that day. However, this comes back biting them in the arse when one particularly talented young goblin priest decides that "enough is enough" and manipulates a powerful-but-ditzy lich into helping him bring about his utopia for goblinoids.
- After a dragon threatens their family, Vaarsuvius kills the dragon, then briefly revives it so V can cast "Familicide", which kills the dragon's entire, very extended family. Since the entire dragon species only has about 4 family trees, and proliferate very slowly, this may well have doomed the species to extinction. V casting this spell is treated like a major case of Jumping Off the Slippery Slope. And now, V has had to wake up to the fact that the consequences were more rather varied and longer-ranged than they thought, having overlooked the fact that all dragon species, including the Always Chaotic Evil varieties like the Black Dragons, are very prone to breeding outside their species and thus many entirely non-evil people were killed by the spell. Much more varied. Welcome to the dilemma in the trope title, V.
- A side-plot in the overreaching story of the war against a cosmic devourer; the Snarl has (directly or indirectly) created at least one (possibly-populated) world from the strings of essence it has devoured, and it's heavily implied that the Snarl feeds on the overworld every thousand years to sustain its creation with new essence. Further complicating matters is that this hidden world is made of four types of essence, meaning it, and its population, is technically more real than the rest of the universe. Do the heroes save their world by sealing the hidden world away forever and risk its total starvation, or do they allow the Eternal Recurrence of a reincarnating world by inept gods to continue?
- In the backstory of Mark Rosenfeldter's Constructed World of Almea, after the humans finally defeat The Empire of the Always Chaotic Evil ktuvoks, the kings of the two human countries who brought them down discuss among themselves whether or not they should just march into the swamps and kill every last ktuvok, so that they could never enslave and brainwash humans again. They ultimately decide against it, because "they did not have the stomach for it." Of course, this turns out to be a bad idea, because the ktuvoks rise again.
- In the BIONICLE serial Reign of Shadows, Toa Helryx is trapped inside the brain of the Great Spirit robot, said robot houses the Matoran Universe, and is currently possessed by the mind of Makuta. If she does nothing, Makuta will be free to conquer the entire universe, but if she tries to destroy the nearby machinery, every being inside the Matoran Universe will perish as a result of the Great Spirit crashing down. She eventually decides to do it... but other characters stop her, which provokes a furious battle.
- SCP Foundation:
- The Foundation's response to SCP-1237, a group of people with a gene that allows their dreams to bend reality, becomes this for some staff members. Namely, the containment procedure calls for the complete extermination of the gene from the human gene pool, which requires extreme action.
- Their response to SCP-2213 is even less defensible, since the Foundation is systematically killing every sapient creature that comes through the portal simply to maintain The Masquerade.
- The cast of Plumbing the Death Star did an episode on the In-Universe Character Alignment Dungeons & Dragons, only to end up arguing about whether it's okay to commit genocide on populations of objectively evil people. Zammit and Adam both think the genocide itself is evil, but Jackson decides (in a Dungeons & Dragons world) he would go with a genocide and then commit suicide once he's the only evil person left.
- Smallpox has been eradicated since 1978, and there are only 2 authorized places that store the last live sample of the virus. Debate rages on whether to retain these samples or to destroy them once and for all.