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Military Coup

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Faced with intractable national problems on one hand, and an energetic and capable military on the other, it can be all too seductive to start viewing the military as a cost-effective solution.
Charles J. Dunlap, The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012

Want to know how unpopular a leader of a country is? Usually, it goes no further than if even the leader's own military forces can't stand him and proceed to attempt to overthrow the ruler. At worst, expect the country to become a military junta (a state run by the military) afterwards, which is when the military plans to take over the existing government, ushering a new empire under their martial law.

Often, this is led by a power hungry General Ripper who believes the current administration is soft, and that their nation should eliminate all their enemies and suppress dissent with an iron fist. Expect the general's dream to be a new government based on "efficiency," where citizens are conscripted into manual labour to build for the new expansionist government, with any protesters being shot on sight.

Cue a threat that's got numbers, technology, and high power weaponry - these can range from just the leader and a few groups of soldiers covertly trying to take over to the entire armed force of the country going on full-scale attack.

On the flipside, this can occur due to genuine concern for the well-being of the empire, especially if their commander-in-chief and the nation's leader also turns out to be The Caligula. Given what Real Life leaders of military coups mostly end up doing, this isn't usually the case in Real Life.

Note that a military official beating out a politician out of office by political means, even by dirty means, does not qualify as a military coup. A military coup requires that the military force the current leader out of office by militaristic or otherwise illegal means, such as assassinations or fighting directly against them.

This can be Truth in Television. Most coup attempts in Real Life are either led by a military officer or someone with their backing—in unstable countries the military is often the only organization that has the organization, discipline, and access to arms necessary to pull off a coup. All this is needed for a coup to work, as the more time that is needed to secure strategic points, the more time a coup's opponents have to organize a response.

Subtrope of The Coup, which is the trope you want if it's not the military doing it. If this takes place in your country, it's Day of the Jackboot.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • AKIRA. When Colonel Shikishima, who already has his hands full in trying to stop the rampaging Tetsuo from destroying Neo-Tokyo, learns that the civilian government plans to arrest him, he declares a state of emergency and orders the military to overthrow the government. In the manga, the Colonel, desperate to find Akira, initiates the military coup in response to the government's tepid response to the crisis.
  • Episode 38 of Eureka Seven. Colonel Dewey Novak of the U.F. Forces leads a coup to overthrow the U.F. Sage Council.
  • An early episode of Noir had the title characters targeting key members of a 'security firm' that specialized in helping military units set these up.
  • In the flashback chapters in Gunka no Balzer, Rudolph launched a coup in Weissen in order to increase the military's influence over the country's policies. The coup failed and the conspirators committed suicide, but the media's favorable portrayal of the conspirators won over civilian support to give the military more autonomy.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, Glemmy Toto attempts to launch one of these against resident Big Bad Haman Khan. The coup fails to achieve its objectives, and instead succeeds in splitting Axis-Zeon's forces, resulting in a devastating Enemy Civil War that, ironically enough, saves The Federation from an Axis invasion.
  • Patlabor: The Movie 2. A series of terrorist attacks give the appearance of a military coup.

    Board Games 
  • This is pretty much the whole objective in Junta, which is set in a South American Banana Republic. At some point one or more of the Generals will conspire to depose the ruling Presidente and put one of their own in his position.

    Comic Books 
  • In an arc of one of the Star Wars comic books, a number of Imperial military officers (and a couple of civilian politicians) attempt to stage a military coup against Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, due to their desire to overthrow the Sith-controlled government, being evidently unhappy with the fact that the Empire was essentially led by a two-man cult. Palpatine and Vader basically wiped the floor with them.
    • A Military Coup was also part of the plotline of the arc "Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison," as several graduates of the Imperial Academy, led by Headmaster Gentis, attempted to overthrow Palpatine and Vader, although they were somewhat successful in poisoning Palpatine with the biological weapon Aorth-6. Ironically, one of the people involved in putting down the coup was Grand Moff Trachta, who was the instigator of the military coup listed above. Gentis' Military Coup, however, was intended to end Palpatine's rule so that no more Imperial officers will be sent to their deaths by him, as Palpatine evidentially did not live up to his promise of there being Peace after the Clone Wars, so Gentis was completely justified in committing it.
  • San Theodoros from the Tintin series is in a perpetual state of two different military coups struggling for control of the country, with one side being led by General Tapioca, and the other by Tintins "friend" General Alcazar. The two sides constantly switch between ruling the country, the Running Gag being that there is absolutely no difference between either side, other than their names and the color of their uniforms, and the misery and poverty of the common man remains unchanged.

    Fan Works 
  • The notorious Nanoha doujinshi Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha BetrayerS is set in an Alternate Timeline wherein the eponymous "Betrayers" (led by Hayate and including Nanoha, Teana, and the Wolkenritter) staged a coup to take over the TSAB.
  • In Fractured, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands crossover, a small government department called the United Defense Command grabs more and more power, eventually turning the Citadel Council into a government In-Name-Only. Of course, the rationale is galactic security since the Reapers have arrived.
  • A Brief History of Equestria: At the height of the Lake Trot Crisis, General Wind Whistler stages one of these, leading roughly two-thirds of the Celestine Junta's military against Commander Sullamander, aided by a simultaneous Gladiator Revolt by her lover, Hurricane. Sullamander and Wind Whistler are both killed during the coup, leaving Hurricane to take over.
    • A few years later, Sullamander's remaining loyalists, led by Hurricane's mother Star Saber, attempt to stage a counter-coup. Unfortunately for them, Star Saber is a total idiot, and the coup fails before it can even really start.
  • Earth's Alien History: Following the conclusion of the Reaper War, Marshal T'Drak exposes the Matriarchs' corruption (most pointedly their undermining of her war effort just to make themselves look better) to the public and arrests them, taking over and declaring herself Empress, reunifying the declining Asari Republics as a unified Empire. A very unique example, in that due to the exact circumstances, this is all essentially voted for by the public.
  • The Frozen Dark Fic By the Hands of the People revolves around this. In 1848 a revolution breaks out in Arendelle to dethrone the royal family. Elsa and Anna are imprisoned and then executed.

    Films — Animated 
  • The villain in Antz is the leader of the ant army attempting to do away with the queen's power, kill off all the workers, and create a soldier run colony. Knowing ant society, this is incredibly ill advised, but he is fairly crazy.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • It's implied that this trope occurred in the beginning of Super Mario Bros.., when Koopa, wearing what was evidently a top General's uniform, demands to know the meteorite shard's location from Daisy's (soon to be dead) mom when ambushing her in the tunnel leading to the dimensional portal. Not to mention that his former boss and Daisy's father, King Bowser, was de-evolved into Fungus.
  • Power Play (1978) is a British-Canadian film inspired by the non-fiction strategy book Coup d'État: A Practical Handbook by Edward N. Luttwak. A group of military officers angry at the corruption and repression of an unnamed European government plan to take over the country and restore civilian government, but one of the plotters assumes power instead.
  • Revenge of the Sith, as set up by the first two prequels; the original trilogy showed how this order was defeated. Technically a subversion, as it's the political leader who orchestrates the military coup against the Jedi.
    • The Jedi technically attempted a coup against Emperor Palpatine who was the lawfully elected chancellor and really were plotting to overthrow the Senate to eliminate Sidious's control. Regardless of the fact that he was elected under false pretences. He points this fact out to the Senate and it is one of the reasons they agree to eliminate the Jedi as a threat to the Senate and new Empire.
  • Valkyrie is about an attempted coup against Hitler by his military officers. See the Real Life section for more details.

  • Subverted in the Honorverse: Thomas Theisman seizes power from the Committee of Public Safety in a textbook military coup, then proceeds to get rid of said power just as fast as he can possibly manage, instead setting up a Cabinet with an acting President under the rules of Haven's first Constitution (with a few strategic tweaks to ensure that there won't need to be another coup any time within the next several millennia). In the end he takes the job of Secretary of War and Chief of Naval Operations, but only agrees to become Secretary of War so he can make sure the Navy can't do to his government what he just did to the CPS.
    • Slightly earlier in the Honorverse, Esther McQueen had attempted a military coup against the Havenite regime herself, entirely in line with the series' tendency to parallel the French Revolutionary Wars (with Esther "Admiral Cluster Bomb" McQueen in the Napoleon role) — only for the series to go Off the Rails when Esther's Coup fails.
  • The titular mercenaries of the Hammer's Slammers series have been hired by many factions either starting or defending against a military coup. Eventually, a presidential candidate on Colonel Hammer's homeworld hires them to eliminate his competition, but the Colonel decides the planet would be better off with himself in charge.
  • James Bond
    • Landsea '89 naval exercise in Win, Lose or Die is based on a fictitious scenario where the military of Soviet Union, unhappy with the then-president Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost-policy, takes over and shows off their power in several skirmishes in the sea. The next item would see something like that almost happening for real.
    • The bad guys in The Man from Barbarossa are Russian army officials who plan to overthrow their current government, and start a global war.
  • In Insurgent, Evelyn ensures that the Factionless are armed and leads an insurrection, becoming the de facto new leader of the Chicago walled community.
  • Legacy of the Force: At the height of the Second Galactic Civil War, Admiral Niathal (head of the Galactic Alliance military) and Jacen Solo (head of the Galactic Alliance Guard) exploit a legal loophole that allows them to oust and arrest Chief of State Cal Omas (on the grounds that his ineffective leadership was weakening the war effort) and establish a junta to handle the war directly. To her credit, Niathal intended this to be a temporary emergency measure, and had no idea at the time that Solo had become a Sith Lord who intended to turn the Alliance into his own empire; when she realized she'd been played, she immediately switched sides to support the Jedi rebels.
  • Military thriller Victoria features one as part of the speculative future decline and fall of the United States. The last elected head of the increasingly decaying and corrupt Republic, President Warner, is a well-meaning but ineffective man, and unable to maintain national unity as a crippling economic crisis strikes, the federal government weakens and states begin to secede. After Warner and most of his cabinet are killed in an improbably successful lone-wolf suicide attack, General Wesley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, overrides the constitutional line of succession and establishes an outright military dictatorship, trying to hold the country together with naked force.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon Berlin features an attempted one by ultra-nationalist, proto-fascist, monarchist military officers calling themselves the "Black Reichswehr". The plan is Very Loosely Based on a True Story, as there were a lot of coup attempts on Weimar Germany.
  • Babylon 5 has a heroic example, with General Hague leading an attempted coup against the increasingly oppressive President Clark. General Hague catches a bridge a few episode later, and Captain Sheridan eventually takes charge of the rebelling forces. It is mentioned by several officers who refused to support the coup later on that it wasn't because they thought Clark was a good guy or anything, but rather because they felt it was wrong for the military to oppose the government, nothing less than treason. These officers at least made a point to try and avoid situations where they'd have to fire on civilians or do any of the nastier things that Clark ordered. This didn't mean that many of them were unwilling to fight the rebel forces, however.
  • And in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, we have Starfleet Admiral Leyton convincing the government to enact Martial Law on Earth, secretly in preparation for him to launch a coup and put in a government that will be able to protect Earth from the Dominion. Amusingly enough, both Admiral Leyton and General Hague were played by the same actor. The reason General Hague had a bridge dropped on him in B5 was because the actor was unavailable for a key episode... he was filming this episode of Deep Space Nine.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003). After President Laura Roslin interferes with Commander Adama's authority over his own people, Adama stages a military coup and assumes total authority. Unlike other examples however, he eventually realises the situation has gone too far and willingly hands power back to the President.
  • Mini Series Kung Mawawala Ka (If You're Gone). The Philippine military overthrows the regime of President Leandro Montemayor.
  • Last Resort has another heroic example, as the military and Secret Service plan to lockdown Washington, DC and take over the White House to arrest the current President. The President was in the midst of being impeached when he ordered a nuclear attack on Pakistan based on false evidence and then began turning America into a Police State. The coup members take great care to ensure the Constitution will otherwise remain intact as they plan to hand the presidency over to the Speaker of the House and the Secret Service chief makes it clear that when the Marines arrive to arrest the President, they must show him the respect due his office.
  • Madam Secretary: How Liz solves the A-plot of "The Linchpin". After the ambassador who negotiated a peaceful transition of power in Algeria abruptly drops dead of a heart attack before the deal can go through, the Algerian president hangs his agreed-upon successor and marches to war. At the climax, Liz convinces the more moderate head of the Algerian military to place him under arrest and take over, with a carrot of the rebels accepting the original peace deal and promise of elections, and the stick of NATO using his ground forces for target practice.
  • At the end of season two of Blake's 7, Supreme Commander Servalan uses the chaos caused by sabotage of the Federation Master Computer as both a pretext and opportunity to seize control of the Federation. Unfortunately the sabotage causes permanent damage to the Federation and she finds herself The Generalissimo of a Vestigial Empire.
  • The end of A Very British Coup implies this after Britain's socialist Prime Minister defies a plot to blackmail him into resigning.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible has an early example in Jehu's coup against Jehoram, King of Israel.

    Video Games 
  • The plotline of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater dealt with the GRU trying to dispose of Khrushchev, with Volgin masterminding the entire coup against Khrushchev. Sokolov also implies that the coup was occurring quite a while before, but Khrushchev managed to put down any resistance until Kennedy's assassination. Naked Snake (an American agent) was called in to stop Volgin and The Boss from continuing with the coup, as it would have otherwise led to World War III.
  • The military in Tropico will be annoyed if you don't constantly build new military buildings and increase your military power, and your soldiers will grumble if you don't constantly increase their wages. Eventually they'll get tired of it and take over. You basically have to spend tons of money to keep them happy, rule the island with an iron fist, or just fire all your soldiers at the beginning of the game and ignore the thus powerless militarists altogether, saving yourself a lot of grief.
    • In Tropico 4, the state of your soldiers' needs influences how they feel about their commander-in-chief: if they're unhappy with their lot, General Rodriguez will warn you of their dissatisfaction and to address their needs before they rise up against you. Along with the needs of everyday citizens, the military has to be big enough for the island's population and have enough generals to maintain discipline.
  • Mercenaries 2: World In Flames. Venezuelan businessman and technocrat Ramon Solano backs a military coup lead by his stooge General Carrera to take over the country. After Carrera takes power, he repays Solano by naming him Venezuela's new president.
  • This is one of the three endings in Republic: The Revolution, if you choose Force as your primary policy.
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare begins with one.
  • The South American rebels in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots were strongly implied to be waging on of these against the new regime.
  • The War Minister from Varicella is trying to do this.
  • This actually happens in story midway through the second game of Super Robot Taisen Original Generation when the Jerkass Kenneth Garret leads a Coup to toss out the main squadrons former boss Laker, and impose a harsher military rule, and unlike many examples you are basically forced to accept this and allow Kenneth to become your new boss while Laker is "on vacation". Fortunately almost immediately afterwards things spiral out of control to force Kenneth to give you free rein to do as you please and save the Earth, but at the end of the story Kenneth's faction is still in control. In the next game they are still in control but once again an unexpected disaster forces Kenneth to allow the heroes to do as they please without him micromanaging to save the earth, however in the ending Kenneth is STILL in control and getting fed up with having to rely on the "soft" heroes is making plans for a new task force to protect the earth. They debut in the next game, and soon after your team is forced into a position where you accidentally kill an important politician and are declared terrorists, allowing you to finally actively resist them. In a twist however, it turns out Kenneth was just the pawn of another character all along.
  • In Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, a coup d'etat takes place after Belka surrenders, with several high-ranking Belkan officers refusing to accept defeat and pushing for a rematch.

    Web Comics 
  • Grim Trigger: Valamar overthrows the Grey Prince in book 4 using this method.

    Web Original 
  • In The Ruins of an American Party System, the Troika ruling the Soviet Union come to fear that Grand Marshal Tukhachevsky might stage one of these thanks to his immense popularity with, and control of, the Red Army. He doesn't intend to initially, but when they try to preempt this by ousting him from the Party, he and his enraged followers do stage a successful one.
  • In Empire at the World's End, Washington (along with most of the other major East Coast cities) is wiped out by tsunamis created by the Fall. Afterwards, the state governments convene a Constitutional Convention in St. Louis to try and create a new federal government, but it fails, due to differing agendas and preexisting tensions between the different regions. Just when it looks like the convention will fail altogether and maybe even start a second Civil War, in marches General William Sherman, who proceeds (with the full backing of the Army) to arrest the whole convention for treason, establishing himself as Acting President for the duration of the emergency situation. He's hailed as a hero for this.

    Western Animation 
  • The Legend of Korra: Kuvira, formerly of Zaofu, leads a military unit that forces every state in the splintered Earth Kingdom into submission, ostensibly so Prince Wu, the legal heir to the throne, can take over the newly reunited land. Instead, at his coronation, she declares herself leader of the new Earth Empire.

    Real Life 
  • During the times of the Roman Empire, if their Emperor was showing signs of Caligula-like behaviour (like the man himself or Domitian, or Commodus), the Praetorian Guard tended to orchestrate a Military Coup against him and then kill him and his family off in order to prevent the chance of any of his descendants from potentially becoming another Caligula, and then installing someone into the position who is a bit more stable and controllable...or, as it turned out in practice, just bump off any guy they didn't like because he was harming their or the military's interest (e.g. Pertinax, Claudius Gothicus, Aurelian.)
  • The Spanish coup of July 1936 by conservative military leaders, aided by various right-wing groups, was only partially successful - military units in the north and west of Spain succeeded in displacing control from the leftist (of many varying types) government of the Second Spanish Republic, but those in the south and east of the country, as well as Madrid itself, could not. The result was a two and a half year civil war that became a prelude to World War II.
    • There were two more attempts, in 1981 and 1982, while Spain was transitioning to democracy. On February 23, 1981, troops occupied the Spanish parliament building while several generals called on the rest of the army to rise in revolt. However, the generals were confronted by a speech by the king ordering them to stand down and the entire episode ended the day after. The attempt in October, 1982, did not progress beyond conspiracy by some generals (including those involved in the 1981 attempt).
  • During World War II, a conspiracy of high-ranking German officers attempted to eliminate Adolf Hitler and the other Nazi leaders in 1944, when the war had irrevocably turned against Germany. Their own more specific political aims are somewhat disputed, but in any case they sought to soften Germany's imminent defeat by installing a pro-Western government and negotiating a peace treaty with the Western Allies. This culminated in the 20 July Plot, in which a briefcase bomb was planted in the same room as the Fuehrer, but failed to kill him when it detonated. The plotters did succeed in briefly taking over much of Berlin through the Valkyrie contingency plan, though they were then deserted by their followers once it became clear that Hitler still lived. Most of the leaders of the plot were subsequently hunted down and executed.
  • Several of these were attempted during the 1930s in Imperial Japan by the army against civilian leaders that were against their interests. While none of the coups ever succeeded they successfully assassinated most of their political opposition and the period is often referred to as government by assassination.
    • An attempted military coup nearly scuttled Japan's surrender even after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with the intent to stop the intended announcement of surrender by the Emperor and get the country to fight to the bitter end.
  • The political scientist and strategic analyst Edward Luttwak published a book called Coup D'Etat: A Practical Handbook in 1968. His introduction states that coups had become such a common method of changing governments (especially in the Third World) that he wanted to let people know how to do it efficiently and with a minimum of bloodshed.
  • A popular method by the two main powers during the Cold War was to support these as a way to replace a government they disliked with one they liked. Asia for the Soviet Union, Latin America for the US. Not So Different, indeed.
  • Brazil, 1964, Chile, 1973, the rest of South America throughout the Cold War - backed by the US.
  • A disturbingly recent and western example, France 1958. The French armed forces, dissatisfied with government policy in Algeria, occupied the island of Corsica and threatened to seize Paris and take power though force if Charles de Gaulle, WW2 President-in-Exile and war hero, wasn't brought back as prime minister. The parliament relented but fortunately De Gaulle had no plans to institute a military dictatorship. Further conflicts between the military and the civilian government continued through the following years, including attempted coups aimed at de Gaulle by far-right military elements, who were enraged by his recognition of Algeria's independence.
  • This happens with shocking regularity in Thailand. As in multiple times a decade, making jokes about the periodicity of revolutions the most applicable of any country in Southeast Asia. There have been over 20 coups since 1932. Here's a listing of some of the more notable ones.
  • Attempted in Italy with the Golpe Borghese (golpe being a Spanish word Italian media normally use for a coup), with the Corpo forestale dello Stato (basically, the park rangers: at the time they were considered part of the military) providing the manpower. The coup was aborted at the last moment when, to his horror, the ringleader found out that the government had manipulated the conspiracy to get an excuse to proclaim martial law (had they tried with the coup, the rest of the military was already mobilized to suppress them).
  • Happened twice in South Korea, both in Seoul, before it was democraticized, firstly in May 16, 1961, when general major Park Chung-hee, a highly controversial and polarizing figure in Korea still to this date, attempted to overthrow the Second Republic and succeeded. He eventually became a dictator and reigned for 19 years before being assassinated by his intelligence chief in 1979, which lead to the second coup. In December 12, 1979, general Chun Doo-hwan seized the government in the midst of the political unrest after the president's assassination, effectively shutting all discussions about a democratic government.
  • On July 15, 2016, rogue elements of the Turkish military attempted to seize control of the country, but were ultimately defeated by loyalist forces in the same night. To which degree this was a genuine coup is still subject to debate, however.