Follow TV Tropes


"Join the Army," They Said

Go To
"Become an expert marksman" they said; "Impress your family back on Alderaan" they said.

"We joined the Navy
To see the world
And what did we see?
We saw the sea"
— "We Saw the Sea" by Irving Berlin (from Follow the Fleet)

Military recruitment ads, appearing on TV or in print. There are two ways to go with these:

The trope name is a Stock Phrase in its own right.

Subtrope of Propaganda Piece. Sister trope to Recruiters Always Lie.



    open/close all folders 

  • The famous World War I-era "I want YOU" ads involving Lord Kitchener and Uncle Sam. Oft-imitated and parodied (including an anti-Vietnam War version).
  • From the World War II period, "Gee! I wish I were a man! I'd join the Navy!" with a lady in fetishistic navy uniform.
  • The United States Marine Corps is famous for its "The Few, the Proud, the Marines" ad campaign. One such ad featured a Marine slaying a CGI demon with a sword.
    • The Simpsons satirized this ad, in a sequence where the knight then turns into a helicopter that shoots at Nazis, Communists, Hippies and a Hurricane in a video-game like sequence, then lands in front of a screaming audience and unloads a rock & roll band. The closing tag? "The Army — it's everything you like."
    • On The Daily Show, correspondent (and actual Marine) Rob Riggle notes that he joined the Marines to fight fire monsters.
    • The HBO adaptation of Generation Kill has fun with this. Person joked that he joined up so Thai women would have sex with him, and Trombley joined up to shoot people, Colbert was taken in by this ad. The Marines actually discuss the particulars of the ad, with Person concluding that it was absolute genius in terms of being effective advertising, and that Colbert "should've rolled into battle with a sword." You can also hear random Marines shouting "Slay that dragon!" in reference from time to time.
    • The Canadian Armed Forces once had the slogan, "There's no life like it." Now, the current campaign is having commercials with Canadian personnel doing things like stopping smugglers — "Fight chaos" — rescuing people trapped in a crashed plane in the Arctic — "Fight fear" — and ends with "Fight with the Canadian Armed Forces". However, some do still have shots of (presumably) hostile gunmen, IEDs exploding, and soldiers removing rubble from a bombing in addition to the standard Canadian Forces scenes of search and rescue and humanitarian assistance.
    • One branch of the US Armed Forces or other buys ad space in just about every issue of ESPN the Magazine, and every ad manages to have the same general "Ever play sports? It's kind of exactly like that!" theme.
  • Police recruitment ads can be similar. Of particular note is a New Zealand ad which featured a young policewoman hauling around a bale of marijuana twice her size. One wonders if this was supposed to be a career highlight.
    • There's a British "Police. Could You?" ad series, which featured actors who play police officers on-screen, saying they couldn't do the job in real life. Then they played with the formula in a recruitment spot for Special Constables by substituting an actual police officer stating that he couldn't pull a full shift on the beat as an unpaid volunteer and then go off and do a regular day-job.
    • The Norfolk, VA Police Department used to have an ad showing an officer missing anniversaries, holidays, and other major family events.
    • The Memphis, TN Police Department ran ads featuring actual cop Steven Seagal, in Memphis Police uniform, sitting with the current Memphis Police Chief while talking (to the viewing public) about how rewarding a police career is. Seagal is a reserve deputy sheriff in Jeffereson Parish, Louisiana.
  • The Finnish Defense Forces, despite being based on universal conscription for men, has TV and print ads aimed at women, people looking for a long term career in the military and less motivated future conscripts who are thinking of entering alternative service. The ads run with the slogan "Tee työtä jolla on tarkoitus" (Have a job with a cause). This is ironically sometimes used as a unofficial slogan for the alternative service while the conscripts themselves parody this tagline by saying "Tee työtä jolla on arvoitus" (Have a job with an enigma).
  • The U.S. Navy did a series of ads with the slogan, "It's not just a job, it's an adventure".
    • Parodied in a Saturday Night Live imitation where they show sailors mopping decks and cleaning toilets ending with the slogan, "It's not just a job, it's $96.78 a week".
    • Navy enlisted personnel on their first (and presumably only) tour of duty often say that "NAVY" really stands for "Never Again Volunteer Yourself".
  • Averted by some current US commercials, including one which shows two soldiers spying on an enemy encampment where they say something like: "You arrived with three days''s now day seven". (This was a campaign for the U.S. Army Rangers, and was really meant to showcase how badass and hardcore they are.)
  • The current advertising campaign for the Royal Navy in the UK uses the slogan "Live a life without limits". Amusingly, on one commercial, this slogan is read out over an image of a submarine surfacing in the middle of the ocean, implying that the character from the advert was aboard that very vessel.
  • This ad for the Singapore navy, featuring a transforming cruiser.
  • A Dutch ad was part of a recruitment drive showing people handling different sorts of situations in daily life, with a little graphic showing whether they're fit or unfit for the army. Yeah, it turns out the Dutch don't want the kind of person who even pretends to go on a shooting spree, even if the "guns" are breakfast bananas.
  • The Dutch Airforce and Navy ads have a tendency (even more so than the Army) to show soldiers on peace missions; one exception was an Air Force ad that discussed the question people had "If I join now, will I be sent to Afghanistan?" The answer was: "Probably."
  • Pretty badass commercial for the Dutch Marine Corps that shows the challenge of making it through basic training and earning the blue beret of the Marines.
  • A by-now pretty old Swedish TV commercial encouraging women to join the Armed Forces rather than work as au-pairs abroad (quite common for young women of what-would-be conscription age). It consisted of a Japanese man rattling off a long harangue of rules he expected his family au-pair to follow and ended with the caption: "Or: Drive a tank. Blow up a bridge. And assume command."
    • A new one features a movie-trailer-ish narration stating that you won't get to experience many action-movie clichés and "You won't even get my cool american voice."
      What we can offer is our reality, training which leads to a job where YOU can make a REAL difference.
  • The British Army got in trouble for this. It was decided that their TV adverts glamourised war too much and didn't make the risks clear.
    • This problem was itself averted in British adverts for the Royal Marine Commandos, where a series of extremely un-glamorous images were shown, ranging from crawling through knee-deep filth to getting stuck in an underwater crawlspace. At each one, the text asked "When would you give up, here? Here? Don't even bother filling in the form." It seems odd at first, but then, like the Ranger ad mentioned above, the idea of the campaign was likely to persuade people that there was a certain amount of pride on offer for actually achieving something difficult.
  • The current US Army (and Army Reserve) commercials have the slogan, "There's strong, and then there's Army strong." Which makes it sound like a commercial for a household cleaner. It is at least marginally better than their recruitment website URL, which sounds like a cheer: Go (Reports of the Army using are unsubstantiated.)
    • "Army Strong?" HULK STRONG!! WAAAUGH!!!
    • It still beats "Army of One" without breaking a sweat. Maybe they'll bring that one out again when they develop Powered Armor, but until then, it's plainly false advertising. And also invited gibes like "If you join we can change the sign to Army of Two!", "Rapidly Becoming an Army of One" and similar.
    • They should never have retired "Be All That You Can Be".
    • The "We do more before nine a.m. than most people do all day," was supposed to sound really cool, but made the Army sound like slave labor, which may be truth in advertising, but might not have been the best recruitment tool.
  • The National Guard and Army Reserve used to advertise along the lines of "Only one weekend a month, but you will have all the benefits of serving your country." This was before the Iraq war had gone into its second year.
  • These 1970s Army National Guard recruitment commercials advertise that the men and women in the Guard are the modern day Minutemen.
  • The US Air Force has recently advertised that it is on the forefront of fighting cyberwarfare. The appeal of this to sufficiently intelligent recruits should be clear. (And keep in mind, you never know who may be reading this.)
    • Air Force ads tend to be very big on the Technology Porn. Oddly enough, their current recruiting slogan is "It's not science fiction. It's what we do every day."
      • And the ads that use that slogan depict daily activities in the Air Force as something out of a science fiction movie, just by tinting the whole thing an unnatural color until the last second. There's also poster ads with the same theme, showing airmen looking ready to be hooked into a giant robot.
    • The "Above All" ads featured a parade of Air Force toys capping it all off with the oh-so-sexy F-22 Raptor.
  • A recruitment advert once showed a camera's eye view of a woman in a war torn house while subtitles informed us that enemy soldiers had killed her husband and gang raped her, so the last thing she needed to see was another soldier. Luckily the soldier giving her a blanket was a woman. So... women should join the army to help rape victims...
  • The Royal Australian Navy is currently screening this ad. You may notice it shows almost nothing but Aussies in their early twenties having a good time (swimming, eating, partying, taking photos, grinning like idiots...). Occasionally a single-second shot of the viewpoint character pointing at a radar display, unloading boxes and spraying a hose will be inserted, just to remind you that it's not Schoolies 2.0. The ad even ends with the slogan "That was seven days in the Navy, imagine what you could do in a lifetime"!
    • Older Australian Army Reserve ads began with stock First and Second World War footage that specifically did not downplay or ignore the aspects of Army life that include combat in godawful climates and receiving wounds.
  • The recently professionalised Polish military cooked up this ad. It speaks of improving yourself, honour, comradeship and that a soldier won't have unemployment problems.
  • Modern French Land Army ads subvert it, instead asking:
    Would you risk your life for someone you don't even know? [Beat] We do.
    • Granted, those are a little old now. The new slogan is "Become yourself".
  • Several years back there was a slew of "combined armed forces" recruitment ads for the US military, with the slogan "Army, Navy, Airforce, Marines, what a great place to start!". The message of which was apparently, "We don't care which service you join, just join one." In these commercials, the soldiers were seen driving tanks and shooting rifles and running through the woods, the airmen were seen flying (or repairing) jets, the sailors were working with electronics onboard ships, and the marines... were standing in formation, looking pretty in their full dress blues, including sabres, and basically doing a whole lot of nothing. Many active duty service members in the Army, Airforce, and Navy found this hilarious.
  • The U.S. Army recruitment slogan "Be all that you can be" has become something of a cultural Catchphrase, as well as the subject of a number of spoofs.
    • George Lopez parodied the "Be all you can be" phrase by saying, "I wanted to be all that I can be, but all they'd let me be is a truck mechanic."
    • The later slogan "Army of One" was replaced with "Army Strong" when the Iraq War started to ruin their re-enlistment rates. Too much Truth in Television, as it were.
    • Has entered the realm of Memetic Mutation: "Get Learned How To Make Stuff More Deader."
  • Many of these military ads are subject to spoof and satire, particularly by military and former military personnel:
    • "Join the Navy, it's more than ships at sea... but mostly, it's ships at sea."
    • "Join the Navy, see the world... just remember, 70% of the world is water."
    • "Join the Navy, where you decide who you are... before we tell that you're wrong."
    • "Fun, Travel and Adventure" was an unfortunate choice of slogan for the US, given it shares a TLA with "Free The Army"... usually with another word beginning with "F" instead of "Free" being used.
    • "One Weekend a Month MY ASS."

    Anime & Manga 
  • Two such commercials appear for the EDF in Detonator Orgun. The first one even features a cameo by Catty from Gall Force.
  • Irresponsible Captain Tylor starts with Tylor joining the intergalactic army after seeing an ad consisting entirely of a sultry (if frighteningly artificial) woman expressing her sexual desire for soldiers, followed by the eerie repetition of "I'm waiting for you!".
  • In Saga of Tanya the Evil, Tanya tries to defy this trope when she is tasked with creating an advertisement for a new battalion of mages that she is going to lead. Since Tanya doesn't want the job, she has the advertisement emphasize how miserable and horrific the detail will be in the hopes of deterring potential candidates. However what Tanya didn't take into account was that the military would instead see it as a Dare to Be Badass advert and she gets absolutely flooded with requests from people to join her battalion.

    Comic Books 
  • This is a Running Gag in Asterix, as the Romans have a tendency to mutter, "Join up they said... It's [insert recruiting promise here], they said..." after getting beaten up by the Gauls. The most common variation being "Join up, they said... it's a man's life, they said..." And then later stories included one soldier moaning that "Join the army, they—" only to be interrupted by another soldier saying something along the lines of "Belt it, we've all heard that before, and we're sick of it." A fitting catchphrase for a Punch-Clock Villain. One dialogue in Astérix in Corsica sums it up:
    Legionary #1: I was given a choice: crucifixion or recruitment.
    Legionary #2: And?
    Legionary #1: Oh, you know the army: ask for one thing, you get the other.
  • In the first volume of Les Légendaires, after Razzia breaks out of his prison cell, he proceeds to beat up two guards. One of them mutters, "'Join the army', they said!" and his partner mutters "You Can Say That Again!"
  • A recurring theme in the old Marvel comic Strikeforce: Morituri, largely because the process for converting people into supersoldiers had the minor flaw of being 100% fatal, and your survival time decreased sharply the older you were. Potential volunteers got asked a LOT of questions, but only one mattered: "Why do you want to die?" (A solution to the problem was found, but the last stage of the conversion process, that actually activated the superpowers, still had a high fatality rate, and couldn't be changed because only the lethality of the environment could bring out the powers.)
  • In the 1970s Underground Comics Merton of the Movement, one of the would-be radicals watching an Army recruitment ad thinks the prospect of world travel and $288 a month sounds pretty sweet, and goes to enlist. He's such a drugged-out little wizened husk of a guy, however, that he drives the interviewing desk sergeant into an apoplectic rage — when he asks "Ya got any openin's in Denmark?", the sergeant boots him out.
  • Discussed in The Order (2007), where Milo Fields was a fourth-generation marine who grew disillusioned with the military after seeing how the Somali Civil War — in which he and his platoon fought — was turned into propaganda to convince impressionable kids to sign up for the war in Iraq.

    Fan Works 
  • Both sides of the trope are referenced in the opening lines of From Bajor to the Black when Kanril Eleya is asked by Jake Sisko why she joined Starfleet.
    The lifestyle? Oh, Hell no! Let’s face it, it sucks a lot of the time. The “strange new worlds” they show you in the recruitment vids are the good days; the rest of them are “woohoo, another average star with a bunch of dead rocks orbiting it”.
  • The Unabridged Memoirs of Darth Plagueis the Wise has a brief bit where Nom Anor is reflecting on how he was encouraged to join the Praeortie Vong this way, and it's all gone horribly wrong for him since.
  • Widening The Lens: Chapter 6 gives us a Night Guard pony who has become slightly disillusioned with his service.
    "Join the night guard, they said, you'll be able to sleep all day and enjoy the nightlife, they said, travel to distant places and meet new ponies, they said..."

    Films — Animation 
  • Pocahontas: The opening number speaks to how the crew of The Virginia Company's voyage to the new world was lured into doing so by the appeal of doing it "for glory, God, and gold"...and the company itself. Of course, they aren't pleased when they find out the hard way that Virginia has no gold at all.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • This trope is parodied in the classic Marx Brothers film, Duck Soup, where Chico notes that Harpo's working in a new military recruitment drive; which consists solely on him banging a drum while wearing a sandwich sign saying, "Join the Army and see the Navy!" While walking around on the battlefield.
  • Private Benjamin has Judy Benjamin joining the Army thinking it's all travel and fun, like in the adverts (an image reinforced by an unscrupulous recruiter).
  • Starship Troopers:
    • The film version is actually intended to represent a recruitment video at many points.
      "Would you like to know more?"
    • Taken Up to Eleven in Marauders, which has a catchy music video.
  • In Stripes, the recruits ironically sing the Reagan-era "Pick a service, pick a challenge" recruiting jingle as they wearily trudge back to the barracks after a long march. The movie also contains a scene in a recruiting office, recruitment posters, and recruiting commercials on TV, including one of the famous "Be all that you can be" commercials.
  • In Down Periscope, the basketball player is climbing a mast in a rainstorm to rig a light as part of his captain's Zany Scheme (they're planning to sneak past the sub hunting them by impersonating a fishing boat), and gripes "I never saw this shit on the recruiting poster!" He then promptly sings "Be all that you can be" before The Captain yells at him that it's the Army recruitment song.
  • While it isn't a military-themed movie, Mortal Kombat: The Movie contains an example that definitely fits the spirit of the first version of this trope. When Johnny Cage starts learning just how strange and unusual Shang Tsung's tournament is, he says the following:
    Johnny Cage: "Come to a little tournament", he said. "(It'll) Be good for the career", he said. Yeah, right.
  • A corporate version in The Flight of the Phoenix (2004):
    Guy #1: "Come to the Gobi," they said. "Great prospects," they said. "Sun, sand, oil."
    Guy #2: Well, two out of three ain't bad.
  • Another version in The Star Chamber. Two cops are searching the gooey trash inside a garbage truck:
    Det. Mackey: Join the police and see the world.
    Det. Wiggan: It's "join the navy and see the world."
    Det. Mackey: Oh, shit. I joined the wrong thing.
  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation; Benji is excited about receiving tickets to a performance of Turandot in Vienna, only to end up monitoring the theater from his laptop in order to help Ethan flush out a Syndicate agent:
    Benji: Join the IMF. See the world... On a monitor. In a closet.
  • In the Martin and Lewis film At War With the Army, Alvin (Jerry Lewis) grouses that life in the army is a mundane grind and imagines that life in the navy is much more glamorous. The soldiers in the mess hall agree, as evidenced in the song they sing.
    Alvin: The Navy gets the gravy and the Army gets the beans.
    Soldiers: Beans beans beans beans beans beans beans beans...
  • In the Chinese film Wolf Warrior II the hero is asked why he joined the army. He replies "You know what they say. Join the army and regret it for two years, don't join the army and regret it for life."
  • In the Pauly Shore vehicle In The Army Now, Bones (Pauly Shore) convinces his friend Jack, to join the Army reserves after they get fired from the appliance store they worked at. Bones says that after basic training they should be part of the Water Purification Unit, saying they will be basically water boys, and won't see front line combat. As they celebrate the end of their training, they get called up to go to Chad, where a border dispute with Libya is about to turn into armed conflict. Jack then blames Bones for the fact they were thrust into an active war zone.
  • In Solo: A Star Wars Story, Han's plan to escape from Corellia involves joining the Imperial Navy to become a flight cadet. When he's about to do so near the beginning, he sees a recruitment video for the Empire's military that even features an upbeat, major chord rendition of the Imperial March over footage of stormtroopers and Star Destroyers.

  • The Alice Network: Eve’s P.O.V. opens with her staring at a recruitment poster and wishing she could join up. She tells us, however, that she can't join the military even in a secondary role, like nurse or ambulance driver, because of her stutter. Later on, she's approached by a military recruiter, who tells her there's one way she can be a part of the war effort...
  • The page image comes from an in-universe Star Wars book detailing propaganda through all three eras of the saga, including many recruitment posters for the Empire, Rebel Alliance (many made by Sabine Wren), First Order, and Resistance.
  • A Separate Peace addresses this trope. All you need to know is that it ends badly.
  • Larry Niven
    • In The Mote in God's Eye, right after a particularly dangerous mission, a naval rating quips "My brother wanted me to help him with his wet-ranch on Aphrodite and I thought it was too dangerous. So I joined the flipping Navy." The SPACE Navy that is!
    • In a perfect example of one of Niven's Lawsnote  Niven used an almost identical sentence in the dialog of a Star Trek comic strip he wrote (just replacing "Aphrodite" with "Mizar").
  • Inverted in the book Starship Troopers, where recruiters try to discourage people from signing up. Since only veterans can vote, the constitution says everyone who volunteers must be allowed to join, even if they are useless incompetents — the government has to find some job for them if they insist on joining. The military wastes a lot of money trying to train and support the low-quality recruits.
  • Discworld:
    • Poked at in the novel Men at Arms and all Watch novels afterwards (and some that weren't), with Detritus being a particularly enthusiastic, if malapropism-prone, evangelist of such slogans (as well as other military book/movie/TV cliches).
    • Played straight in Monstrous Regiment. The war is going so badly and has stripped such a large portion of the possible recruits from the population that not only is nobody joining up anymore, but the recruiters are only going through the motions. Things aren't helped by the fact that not enough of the men are coming back, and not enough of those that do come back is coming back.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Warhammer 40,000 novel Scourge The Heretic, two new Imperial Guardsmen are introduced on guard and grumbling, "Join the Guard and see the galaxy."
  • Hand of Thrawn: Shada Du'kal, high-quality bodyguard and commando (the two go hand-in-hand in Star Wars), while climbing a filthy wall to get in position to cover her employer for a transaction with someone.
    Join a smuggling group, she thought darkly for about the fifth time since beginning her climb. Visit a side of the galaxy the tourists never see.
  • In Old Man's War, Colonial Defense Force recruits aren't even told what they're going to be fighting, all they know is that the CDF can probably restore their youth (recruitment age is 75).
  • Played straight for both comedy and drama in a later book from the Phule's Company. Much of the book follows a recruit fresh out of boot camp, whose only previous knowledge of the Space Legion (which has a reputation for being a Legion of Lost Souls and Army of Thieves and Whores, at least in the earlier books) comes from a poster that follows this trope.
  • In Edgar Lee Masters "Spoon River Anthology" is the story of Knowlt Hoheimer who wishes he had "staid at home" and gone to jail for stealing hogs rather than running away to join the army only to be killed in battle:
    Rather a thousand times the country jail
    Than to lie under this marble figure with wings,
    And this granite pedestal
  • In Time Wars, Temporal Corps recruiting presentations involve the more attractive soldiers, many of whom have never seen actual combat, dressing up in pretty historical costumes.
  • A nautical aversion in Moby-Dick. The narrator tells Captain Peleg that he wants to go whaling "to see the world". Peleg tells him to look out from the ship's side over the open ocean. When he says he sees "nothing but water", Peleg tells him most of the world looks a lot like that.
  • In the first Red Dwarf novel, the Jupiter Mining Corporation recruiting station on Mimas has a poster showing two officers, one male and one female, in crisp uniforms exhorting people to "Join the Corps and see space!" Lister doesn't care about that, though; he's simply realised that he'll never raise enough money be a passenger on a spacecraft, and he's got to get back to Earth somehow. (It hadn't occured to him that a mining vessel wouldn't go straight to Earth without doing any mining.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • During one of his many trials and tribulations as the Centauri Republic's ambassador to the station, Londo Mollari sarcastically says to himself, "Go be the Ambassador on Babylon 5", they said! "It will be an easy assignment!"
    • Sheridan suddenly recalls the EarthForce recruitment slogan right before he gets his ass thrown backward in time. "The sign said 'Greatest Adventure of All.' If they only knew."
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus has a sketch featuring a soldier who has seen too many of the glamourised ads. "I joined the army for the water skiing and the travel, Colonel. Not for the killing."
    • "This is obviously making fun of our slogan, 'it's a dog's life — man's life in the Army!"
      It's a man's life in the British Dental Association!
    • The hippie navy ad that interrupts the Lake Pahoe expedition sketch:
      "The navy's out of sight! Come together with the RN! It really is something other than else!"
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Riley Finn (a Special Forces soldier tasked to The Initiative) said, referring to demon-hunting, "It's not just a job—" Buffy interrupted: "Right, it's an adventure." (That's actually the Navy's slogan, but I doubt Buffy bothers to discriminate.) The scene is meant to contrast Riley, who is a gung-ho volunteer, with Buffy who never had any choice in becoming the Slayer.
  • Complained about by minor M*A*S*H characters such as Rizzo, Zale, and Igor. Mocked by Hawkeye and Klinger. The joke's on them. They were drafted after all.
    • At one point, Col. Potter is required to sell the idea of making military service a career to his senior officers. At this, draftees Hawkeye, B.J. and even Winchester all break out in derisive laughter at the idea and tease Houlihan and Father Mulcahy who are genuinely interested. Eventually, Hawkeye snarks at Col. Potter's pitch one too many times and the CO loses his temper, gives up and bawls out Hawkeye for his attitude.
    • Rizzo is a bit of a subversion; he complains (to the officers) but secretly tells Klinger that he wants to be in the Army because, "where else can you be a bum and get paid for it?"
  • One episode of The Hollowmen dealt with the decline in military recruits with the main characters attempting to create a recruitment campaign that appealed to young people. The Prime Minister wanted an old-fashioned ad, highlighting the qualities of "mateship"; The military wanted one that showed people having a good time — neither of which would work, as nowadays people know what they're getting into. In the end, they just make an old-fashioned ad featuring plenty of explosions.
  • Parodied in The Young Ones episode "Cash", where the sole employment ad in the newspaper is for the British Army. It reads thus: "Join The Profeshionels — It’s Graet! You Can Have A Gun If You Want! And There’s Money In It (Not The Gun)."
    • The guys volunteer Neil to get enlisted - but he's tossed out of the recruitment building half a second after he was tossed in.
      I only said I was a pacifist!
  • Parodied in Malcolm in the Middle when Reese joins the Army, and his drill sergeant says something along the lines of "How ridiculous, the Army doesn't put out subliminal advertising!" and he gives a long pause and looks knowingly at his friend.
  • The Victim of the Week in one episode of NCIS was an unscrupulous Marine recruiter who made promises that would never be met, such as promising one recruit that he would be trained as a medic. As Gibbs points out, the Marine Corps doesn't have medics; they use Navy Hospital Corpsmen. Most of these lies were Exact Words sophistry: he promised the would-be medic that he would be trained to save lives, just not that he'd be doing so by practicing medicine.
  • On Two and a Half Men, part of the Army recruiter's pitch to teenage slackers and mallrats is, "So d'ya like video games?" It sure hooked Eldridge and Jake...
  • JAG: This concept is invoked in an episode, in which a seaman walks off her ship, complaining that recruitment commercials and an overzealous recruiter depicted a far more glamorous Navy, where she could be an air traffic controller, but what she got was endless deck swabbing. She ends up being charged with desertion, and her defense counsel deconstructs this concept to get her off. He even gets the director of a recruitment commercial to admit that she ignored the mundane boring parts of actual Navy life and displayed only the fun and glamorous parts.
  • Played for drama in the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth when George and Baldrick discuss why they enlisted. George enlisted with a bunch of his school chums, thinking it would be a great adventure; he notes grimly that he is the last of his chums left alive. Baldrick, meanwhile, joined because the recruiters made him feel wanted for the first time in his life.
  • Saturday Night Live had a parody commercial depicting the Navy Experience as a tad more mundane than the real ads would lead you to believe.
    It's not just a job. It's $96.78 a week.
  • The Army Game: In "The Take-Over Bid", Boots is looking at a recruiting poster showing a heroic tanker and reading "The Army Is A Grand Life", and comments that it shows him happily riding around in the open air but doesn't show his little mate: shut up and suffocating down below.

  • Almost too obvious to mention, but: "I joined the navy/to see the world!/And what did I see?/I saw the sea".
  • Music example which everyone should know: "In the navy (yes, you can sail the seven seas), In the navy (yes, you can put your mind at ease), In the navy (come on now people, make a stand), In the navy, in the navy... can't you see we need a hand!"
    • Apparently shortly after the song first hit the charts, some higher-up in the U.S. Navy wanted to use it in recruitment ads, until someone filled him in on the subtext he'd clearly missed.
    • Status Quo's "In The Army Now" might be even more famous worldwide.
      Now you remember what the draftman said
      Nothing to do all day but stay in bed

      Hand grenades flying over your head
      Missiles flying over your head
      If you want to survive get out of bed
  • Serj Tankian's Empty Walls features a chorus with the lines "I want you/To be left behind"; it might be a coincidence, but this is Serj Tankian we're talking about.
  • Sgt. Smiles, marine recruiter. teach you to program computers. teach you all the skills you need. you can die with dignity
  • Rise Against's "Hero of War" features a pretty extremist version of the army. Just look up the lyrics.
    He said, "Son,
    Have you seen the world?
    Well, what would you say
    If I said that you could?
    Just carry this gun,
    You'll even get paid."
    I said, "That sounds pretty good."
  • Disturbed's "Indestructible" seems to be about some sort of black ops soldier, who thanks to skill and equipment is seen as an unholy terror by his enemies. The song is intended as a sort of Theme Music Power-Up for the troops since the band's style is popular among soldiers. As a band, they're "For the troops, against the war" (respect the sacrifice, hate on the cause of the sacrifice).
    • The band has straight examples as well (again, in the realm of respecting the soldiers): "Enough" and "Sacred Lie" are the most obvious.
  • Billy Connolly's "Sergeant, Where's Mine?" savagely criticized the then-current British Army advertisments, from the perspective of a young man who'd believed them and found himself in the middle of The Troubles.
    • Connolly himself served in the Parachute Regiment — until Bloody Sunday happened and he began asking himself hard questions, such as why, after that, a Glaswegian Scot of Irish Catholic ancestry should be in the British Army.
  • "Twa Recruitin' Sergeants", a traditional Scottish song popularised by Jeannie Robertson, takes a different tack. Maybe being a soldier isn't glamorous or fun, but it's got to be better than spending your entire life as a farm labourer.
  • "The Recruiting Sergeant", an Irish rebel song from World War I (no relation to the above) is pretty much definitive from an Irish viewpoint — that is, the narrator dismisses the blatantly false promises made by the (British) recruiting sergeant and instead turns the song into a recruitment ad for the upcoming fight for Irish independence.
    Come rain or hail or wind or snow
    I'm not going out to Flanders, oh
    There's fighting in Dublin to be done
    Let your sergeants and your commanders go
    Let Englishmen fight English wars
    It's nearly time they started-oh
    I saluted the sergeant a very good night
    And there and then we parted oh!
  • Gang of Four's "I Love a Man in a Uniform" was banned from The BBC during The Falklands War for its bitingly sardonic portrayal of Army recruits as feckless bums without other options in life:
    The good life was so elusive
    Handouts, they got me down
    I had to regain my self-respect,
    so I got into camouflage...
  • Stan Rogers' "Barrett's Privateers":
    God damn them all! I was told
    We'd cruise the seas for American Gold,
    We'd fire no guns, shed no tears...
    Now I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier,
    The last of Barrett's Privateers!
  • A traditional Irish folk song, "Mrs. McGrath" (performed here by Bruce Springsteen):
    "Mrs. McGrath," the sergeant said,
    "Would you like a soldier of your son Ted?
    A scarlet coat and a big cocked hat,
    Mrs. McGrath would you like that?"
  • Iron Maiden's "These Colurs Don't Run", which mixes Patriotic Fervor lines evoking military ads with the band's usual War Is Hell approach.
    Where you're going lies adventure
    Others only dream of
    Red and green light this is real
    And so you go to war
  • A US Army Cadence called "They Say That In The Army" is a song about all of the nice things promised by the army and the disappointing reality of what you get.
    They say that in the Army the pay is mighty fine
    They give you a hundred dollars and take back ninety-nine

  • In Jemjammer, Jylliana references this while having a small breakdown fighting giant spiders.
    Jylliana: Leave the convent, they said. Go to Stormhaven, they said. Travel the world, they said. Nobody ever said anything about the giant spiders. You can't convert the giant spiders! You just have to deal with them!

    Print Media 
  • MAD once did a parody of the "Army Strong" ads called "Army Stuck." "Come for the dough. Stay for the quagmire. There's stuck. And there's being stuck in the middle of another country's war with no end in sight."

    Puppet Shows 
  • Muppet Treasure Island:
    • Statler and Waldorf are the figurehead of the Hispaniola, with the following conversation:
      Statler: "Take a cruise," you said. "See the world," you said. Now here we are stuck on the front of this stupid ship.
      Waldorf: Well it could be worse. We could be stuck in the audience!
      Both: Do-ho-ho-ho-hoh!
    • Later on, Miss Piggy and Kermit plunge off a cliff. The crew try to catch them, but can't get quite close enough. The figurehead, however...
      Statler: Waldorf, you old fool! We're heroes! We saved the pig and the frog!
      Waldorf: Well, it was too late to save the movie!
      Both: Do-ho-ho-ho-hoh!

  • Dimension X: "Shanghaied" opens by describing the recruiting posters for the Deep Space Star Runs. "Seek your future in the Stars" is the tagline quoted by the characters.
  • The Goon Show uses this regularly. For instance, in 'Operation Christmas Duff,
    Bluebottle: Then it's true what the recruiting poster say.
    Eccles: What do the recruiting posters say?
    Bluebottle: They say, "You're Somebody in the modern army of today!"
    Eccles: Ooh. And what are you?
    Bluebottle: I'm somebody in the modern army of today.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Imperial Guard of Warhammer 40,000 can — depending on the world the troops are from — be made up of all-volunteer forces with much propaganda and patriotism, fitting this trope to the letter. Never mind the daemons, soulless ghost-robots, giant bugs, and the other denizens of the setting they'll be sent to fight against... Although generally, worlds that raise regiments from volunteers are more likely to provide competent soldiers than ones that press-gang conscripts. And if they do get freaked out a bit by what they're up against, the Martyrdom Culture the Imperium has going on may give some of them some solace for putting up with it.
    "Join the Imperial Guard! Travel to fantastic new planets! Meet exotic new life forms! And then shoot them! Serve the Emperor today — tomorrow you may be dead!"
  • The Magic: The Gathering card Border Guard parodies the "...and kill them" thing. "'Join the army, see foreign countries!' they'd said."


    Video Games 
  • As the name implies, America's Army is the United States Army's very own recruiting tool in the form of a tactical first-person shooter.
  • In the World War II RTS Company of Heroes, selecting an allied engineer squad will sometimes prompt a response of "Join the army they said... It'll be fun they said..."
    • Which may be Hilarious in Hindsight when you realize that, historically speaking, he was probably conscripted.
  • In Warcraft II, clicking on the human Footman frequently enough will yield the comment. " 'Join the army!', they said. 'See the world!', they said. I'd rather be sailing."
    • Which only gets funnier when you find out how you can torture the crew of your destroyers by clicking incessantly until they complain you're rocking the boat making them seasick, and then throw up. They're even played by the same guy, who hasn't even changed his voice for the role. You've got them coming and going...
    • Warcraft III features footmen who, if clicked on enough, start spouting recruitment phrases. "Grab your sword and fight the Horde!" "Uncle Lothar wants you!" They also have a "captain of the guard" special unit available in certain campaign missions and in the map editor, who muses that his job entails constant danger and lousy pay, but at least he's got chicken he gets to hobnob with royalty.
      • The Footman also says "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (the US military's policy on homosexuality until September 2011: they wouldn't try to find out, but if they did find out, the servicemember would be discharged).
    • The Mists of Pandaria expansion to World of Warcraft features an ill-fated Horde invasion of the new continent, which is sent out on orders of the Warchief Garrosh, "Paint the new continent red with their blood!" Repeatedly clicking on the commander of the invasion, General Nazgrim causes him to say " 'The new land', he says, 'paint it red!', he says... ughhhh."
    • Similarly, repeatedly clicking on a civilian in Starcraft will make him declare, "I wanna be all I can be!" and decide to join the Terran forces, with his only misgiving being, "I'm a little claustrophobic though. Hope they don't put me in any tight spaces". Repeated clicking on one of the SCV construction units reveals that... it's the same guy, now sealed into a tiny crew compartment, babbling, "I told 'em I was claustrophobic, I gotta get outta here!"
  • Mocked rather cruelly in X-Wing Alliance, where one of your emails is a recruitment poster for Red Squadron—the first into battle, and the first to replace the first who fall in battle. And this is what they sent Rebel pilots.
  • In Star Wars: Battlefront 2, Imperial troopers occasionally mention the Imperial recruitment campaigns with a slogan which is a parody of this trope.
  • The Feelies from Crusader: No Remorse included a newsletter that had an advertisement for joining "MilOps" (Military Operations Cartel), the assault arm of the WEC's forces.
  • Ratchet & Clank:
    • From Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction:
      "Greeting, inferior beings of Polaris. Does you life lack a sense of purpose? Do you constantly worry about finding steady income? Do you enjoy killing stuff? Then join the imperial army and aid me on my humble quest for Galactic domination! Here, you'll travel to interesting places, meet interesting people, and execute them in the name of me."
    • From the first one:
      "I joined the army to get money to go to college, I didn't know I would end up in a war!"
  • Killzone 2's Making Of: Enemy Territory trailer has the narrator use this in full Sarcasm Mode;
    In and out, they said. A show of force, they said. The Helghast war machine was destroyed on Vekta, and you guys just need to sweep it up, they said.
  • Arcade game Bad Dudes Vs. Dragon Ninja wants to know: Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the president?
  • Mechwarrior 3: Pirate's Moon produced this sarcastic quip from lancemate Dominic Paine after a particularly tough mission: "Join the army, see the galaxy, what the hell was I thinking?!"
  • Mass Effect: If you speak to the surviving marines on Nepmos after helping them Hold the Line, they'll say, "'Join the marines, see the galaxy.' Hell."
  • Satirised in Metal Gear Solid 4, which has fake military recruitment ads during the opening scene that are based on the style of real ones, exaggerated with tons of psychedelia and Values Dissonance until it ends up right in the Uncanny Valley. Notably, the ads, like real ads, repeatedly use video game-like imagery like First-Person Perspective and unthinking, unbleeding, identical enemies — Metal Gear Solid 4 is in some ways a comment on video games being used to recruit young people into fighting real wars.
  • In Bloodmoon, the second expansion to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the legionnaires at Fort Frostmoth will occasionally mutter to themselves:
    ""Join the Legion! See the world!" Freeze your arse..."
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had Join The Military radio ads which by its very nature, a spoof of recruitment ads. See them here.
  • DEADLOCK includes a song that starts out like this. The chorus is the narrator pledging that "If I ever get back home again/If I ever get back home again/If I ever get back home again/That recruiter's gonna die!"
  • Dragon Age: Origins: "Join the Grey Wardens," they said. "Be a hero across Thedas," they said.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition: Should he be in the party when you get dropped into the Fade, Iron Bull has this reaction to his second-in-command, Krem, talking him into joining. "Hey, Chief, let's join the Inquisition! Good fights for a good cause!"
  • Final Fantasy XIV tragically inverts this, as Alphinaud realizes that he recruited an army that has eventually turned traitor and, with the corrupt Monitarists, has slain his friends and allies.
    Alphinaud: Join the army, I told them. We'll defend Eorzea's people.
  • In Evolve, Abe has a modified version with "team" in place of "army". Still a valid point when what you thought was going to be a few months of keeping wild animals away from colonists becomes a desperate planetary evacuation.
  • Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3: You will sometimes hear Separatist mooks saying "Join the revolution, they said. Be on the winning side, they said. Fucking pricks."

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • A running gag in SF Debris is that, following Starfleet adopting a more military stance in the later days of the shows, the lower decks of the ships are filled with scared and angry scientists who joined up in more science and exploration focused times to study alien botany or similar, only to find themselves serving on what are essentially warships.
    Worf: Prepare for ramming speed!
    Blueshirt: [sobbing] I just wanted to study comets!

    Web Videos 
  • Also a recurring gag for The Mighty Jingles, himself a former communications officer in the Royal Navy. He tells quite a few war stories, both of his own and from history, and any time that things go pear-shaped, as they often do, he takes a moment to pause and interject with "Join the Army/Navy, they said!" and his signature laugh.
  • Parodied in this video, in which the Navy bases its entire recruitment spiel upon being everything the Army is not in a manner most awesome.

    Western Animation 
  • A The Simpsons example would involve the Navy and a subliminal music video: Yvan eht nioj, people!
    • Along with "superliminal" advertising — yelling out the window at random strangers.
    • Yet again as a background gag in an early "Treehouse of Horrors" episode. A recruiting poster on the wall advertises "Join the Army, and see the opposing army".
    • And how was Homer convinced to join the Naval Reserve?
      "Daybreak, Jakarta. The proud men and women of the Navy are protecting America's interests overseas, but you're in Lubbock, Texas hosing down a statue, because you're in the Naval Reserve. Once you complete basic training, you only work one weekend a month, and most of that time you're drunk off your ass. The Naval Reserve: America's 17th line of defense, between the Mississippi National Guard, and the American League of Women Voters."
      • And later on, a scene outside the Reserve's recruitment office reads "It's not just a job, it's a really easy job."
  • The Walt Disney Wartime Cartoon Donald Gets Drafted begins with Donald Duck passing a series of ads about how glamorous life in the modern army has become, accompanied by a catchy jingle titled "The Army's Not the Army Anymore". Turns out the Army is still the Army.
  • An odd episode of Time Squad parodied these commercials (mixed with a bit of infomercial). It showed a Time Squad unit rescuing George Washington and his men from a Redcoat ambush. Fans of the show know that the team's average assignment is a lot less glamorous. The commercial even becomes Hilarious in Hindsight after the episode with the "Virtual Washington" cold opening...
  • In Evil Con Carne, Skarr rants against his mother and the military while crawling up a hill.
    Skarr: Join the military, my mother said! The military! Curse you mother! Curse you! Curse my luck!
  • In an episode of Ned's Newt, an army recruitment message looks more like a travel bureau ad, so much that the enthusiastic Newton ends up enlisting Ned into it without his knowledge.
  • In the Futurama episode "War is the H-word", Fry and Bender are persuaded to join the army with the offer of military discount cards that will save them money on gum. We also see a recruitment poster bearing the slogan, "Join The Army. What Are You, Chicken? Buk Buk Buk."
  • Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars: "In the Empire" is supposed to just be a Villain Song where Candace explains why she became a Stormtrooper, but definitely seems to be leaning on this trope.
    You can see exotic worlds across the galaxy
    In the Empire! (In the Empire!)
    You can be all that they want you to be,
    You can march to the beat of conformity
    In the Empire! (In the Empire!)
  • In the Steven Universe first season finale "Jailbreak", Peridot vents her frustration when her mission to Earth goes off the rails, and she butts heads with her escort over carrying out their planned assignment.
    "Go to Earth," they said. "It'll be easy," they said.

    Real Life 
  • An ancient Egyptian text described in detail how much serving in the ancient Egyptian army sucks; it was probably written to dissuade the scribe's pupils from going there rather than study and become scribes. It finishes with "Be a scribe, and be spared from soldiering!"
  • A Code Pink group protested outside a Marines recruitment office in Berkeley. One of their signs had the "Travel the world, meet interesting people... and kill them" phrase on it. Inside, behind the recruit on the chin-up bar, you could see a poster with the exact same phrase. Brilliant.
    • That exact line is said, with full irony, by Pvt Joker in Full Metal Jacket
    • The Marine Corps' attitude is that anyone who could be deterred by a Code Pink picket line wouldn't have the willpower to survive boot camp anyway. They're probably right.
    • The Deadpool commercial for X-Men Origins: Wolverine features Wade Wilson citing that line as his exact reason for enlistment.
    • Lance Hunter quotes this line in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. during a particularly difficult mission.


Video Example(s):


"We'll have you flying"

The Empire has some nice recruiting advertisements. Cut to three years later, with troopers unglamorously dying in the mud on Mimban and Han trying to survive in this hell.

How well does it match the trope?

4.79 (19 votes)

Example of:

Main / JoinTheArmyTheySaid

Media sources: