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Pacifism Backfire

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"If [the number of pacifists] is large enough [to cripple the state as a belligerent], then you have handed over the state which does tolerate Pacifists to its totalitarian neighbour who does not. Pacifism of this kind is taking the straight road to a world in which there will be no Pacifists."
C. S. Lewis, "Why I Am Not a Pacifist"

A character insists on not exacting violence.... and they end up causing more violence in the long run than was at first avoided.

Perhaps they are an idealistic and forgiving person who just tells bad guys to go away after the baddie is stopped. Perhaps they are a Principles Zealot, believing that no end justifies the means of violence, including that of preventing worse violence. Perhaps s/he is a Horrible Judge of Character, not realizing that avoiding such a fight would cause more of it. Or maybe they are a Dirty Coward who just wants to wash their hands of the situation.

A downplayed variant of this is when someone who is willing to fight but unwilling to kill refuses to kill someone no matter how dangerous they are. That someone ends up causing more trouble later.

Indeed, the moral is that Violence Really Is the Answer. Not exactly a really idealistic moral but even Mahatma Gandhi believed pacifism would sometimes backfire and that sometimes violence was acceptable and necessary, once stating "My non-violence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected. Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice."

A common (but not always) telltale of this trope is when someone says "I should've killed/stopped him when I had the chance/back then."

Naturally, this trope serves as a frequent deconstruction of trying to lay out a No-Harm Requirement. Often, the mandate, necessity, or even desire to resolve a situation without causing or allowing excessive (or even any) harm just leads to things getting worse.

One of the many ways to Create Your Own Villain. May stem from Good Cannot Comprehend Evil. Compare Head-in-the-Sand Management, which sometimes overlaps with this, and The Farmer and the Viper (aka "Hospitality Backfire"). Compare also We Have Become Complacent when a community that has never experienced war for a long time is forced into a war situation and they are unable to fight back. See also No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, Suicidal Pacifism, and Neutrality Backlash. Surrender Backfire is similar, where one who willingly gives up to the enemy has worse results than fighting back.

Contrast Badass Pacifist when a pacifist manages to stop the conflict/help others using entirely non-violent means, and the Martial Pacifist, who's willing to get their hands dirty to avert this.

There may be real-life examples, but perhaps it's best if we don't go there. Even if it does mean that this page — and our statement — is a Self-Demonstrating Article.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Digimon:
    • Just before the start of the Digimon World Tour, The digidestined are attacked by group known as the Daemon Corps. While they initially try to talk to them, thinking them as lost digimon similar to others, this notion is immediately dashed, with the opposing forces attacking the city with gleeful abandon. While Yolei and Cody still try to talk them down, the other digidestined realize that they have no choice but to put them down much the former's horror. Thus learning that sometimes lethal force is necessary.
    • Henry Wong of Digimon Tamers has his ardent refusal to have his partner Terriermon fight (caused by a traumatic event in their shared past where Henry's choices got Terriermon nearly fatally hurt) nearly get both of them plus Takato and Guilmon killed. And it still takes him a while to get comfortable with the idea of fighting sometimes being necessary. Episode 45 (The dub anyway) reveals that this is due to using his martial arts to hurt a neighborhood kid, it's never revealed whether it was justified or not, which scared him so much he decided that fighting at all was never good.
    • Also in Tamers, the group fights over whether or not to allow their partners to use their Cannibalism Superpower and absorb the data of defeated Digimon, eventually deciding not to in the hopes that the ones too violent to be spared would be reborn elsewhere. It's eventually revealed at the MudFrigimon village that this is not the case, and they've only weakened themselves for the battles ahead.
    • In Digimon Ghost Game, when Gammamon first awakens to his Superpowered Evil Side GulusGammamon he looks to his All-Loving Hero partner Hiro for the order to finish off the Knight of Cerebus, Sealsdramon. Hiro refuses, so GulusGammamon goes rogue and kills it himself before turning on the others over Hiro's weakness. Hiro and his friends are later called out for their tendency towards Suicidal Pacifism by several Digimon.
    • Again in Ghost Game, early on the group defeated the Virus-attribute Rookie Dracmon, who swore to undo the damage he caused and not cause any more trouble in exchange for his life. The Stinger revealed he was pulling an I Surrender, Suckers, and he returns over 20 episodes later as a mook for Myotismon.
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • During the Saiyan Saga, Goku gives in to Raditz's pleas for mercy and lets go of his tail, only for Raditz to knock him down and mercilessly break his ribs all while openly mocking him for falling for such a trick. When he manages to restrain Raditz again for Piccolo to finish him, Raditz tries begging for mercy again, but Goku doesn't fall for the same trick twice.
    • Much later, during the Frieza Saga, despite having every reason in the world to just kill Frieza and be done with it, he spares Frieza's life not once, but twice, and both times, Frieza just keeps trying to kill him when his back is turned. Of course, to be fair, Goku's attempts to spare him were more out of Cruel Mercy than pacifism, and he obliterates Freeza the second he betrays his last chance.
    • In the Cell Saga, Gohan refuses to fight Cell and insists on talking to him and trying to convince him to stand down. Cell refuses and though Gohan is eventually motivated to fight, his hesitation leads to everyone getting beaten up and Goku's death.
  • Gunsmith Cats: Bounty Hunter Rally Vincent doesn't like to shoot to kill unless there is absolutely no other choice, preferring to shoot to wound (which includes doing such things as blowing people's thumbs off to make them unable to handle a gun). This is a decision that has allowed a couple of Arc Villains to return later seeking revenge (and become even more psychotic in their tactics because of the rage at being maimed) and Rally herself implies once that explaining it to the police is a bureaucratic nightmare and has sometimes cut down on the amount of money the bounty rewards.
  • Happens almost constantly in Naruto
    • Hashirama spares Madara, Madara becomes a villain.
    • Sarutobi spares Orochimaru, many people die including Sarutobi himself. Subverted with Naruto sparing Orochimaru when he becomes Hokage. A few arcs of Boruto revolve around Orochimaru's past sins coming back to haunt the village but the man himself has not done anything to break his Heel–Face Turn.
    • Naruto lets Sasuke go, Sasuke ends up helping the Big Bad.
    • Naruto and Minato spares Obito, Madara gets revived.
  • One Piece:
    • In Law's flashback, when Rocinante, after being beaten to near death, revealed his true nature to his boss and big brother Doflamingo that he's a Marine who's going to stop him, the two pointed their guns at each other. Doflamingo pointed out that Rocinante is too kind to actually pull the trigger note  and then the former killed the latter. And then Doflamingo went on to conquer the island of Dressrosa (something that Roci wanted to prevent) and caused a reign of sugarcoated terror there.
    • As revealed in a flashback, Arlong and Jimbei were once part of the same crew. When Jimbei became a member of the Shichibukai, Arlong saw it as an insult to Fisher Tiger's memory, accepting sanction from the people who orchestrated their former captain's demise. Arlong intended to become the "rage of the Fishmen" against humanity and explicitly told Jimbei that the only way he could stop him was to kill him. Jimbei beats Arlong senseless but ultimately couldn't bring himself to kill him; in doing so, Jimbei was indirectly responsible for, among other things, Arlong enslaving Nami's hometown and making her childhood a living hell. Jimbei is rightfully horrified when he discovers this.
    • Princess Shirahoshi shocks everyone by revealing she has known for years that Hody Jones masterminded her mother's assassination, but refrained from exposing him out of respect for her mother's pacifistic ideals. Unfortunately, Hody is a sociopathic Knight Templar racist and goes on to wreak a horrific amount of damage to the kingdom, nearly destroying it altogether. He even laughs in her face at her reveal, pointing out that she could have prevented everything he's done, but didn't.
  • Rurouni Kenshin and Grenadier. The main character subscribes to a Thou Shalt Not Kill mentality backed up by impressive combat skills, and the Big Bad(s) sends outrageously powerful enemies that have absolutely no problem in killing anybody that gets in the way of their fight with the main character, and actually do so in order to unlock the full combat capability of the main character via Unstoppable Rage, while gloating that the pacifism and using non-lethal attacks (which require more finesse than simply slashing/shooting someone dead) has "made them weak".
  • In Trigun, Vash the Stampede will not kill his enemies... nor hurt them in any major way... and the show takes great pains to show that it's a noble calling, but possibly misguided considering the Crapsack World circumstances (Vash's body is a mass of scars, the sixty billion double dollar bounty (until it's removed) means that anybody with a gun and a desperate need of money (which is practically the whole planet) is out to get him, he's constantly arguing with his companions (or at least Wolfwood) about the usefulness/futility of his Thou Shalt Not Kill code, the Quirky Miniboss Squad and the Big Bad are out to make Vash suffer by any means possible, which usually involves killing everything that moves and going the extra mile with anybody that Vash so much as gave the time of the day to, increasing in cruelty/kill count up to Apocalypse How levels as the series goes on...)

    Comic Books 
  • Depending on the Author, this is one of Batman's biggest problems, especially because his refusal to kill is one of the biggest reasons that Joker Immunity exists, and The Joker loves to commit atrocities for the sake of rubbing this in Batman's face where he points this out, and other characters will eventually commit some time to an Author Filibuster speech about this.
  • In the Inhumans vs. X-Men event, Storm doesn't destroy the Terrigen Clouds or let anyone else do so because the Cloud is so vital to Inhuman culture note  that destroying it could trigger war between their species. In the meantime, the Clouds continue to drift around Earth, gassing every mutant in their paths to death, and even after months of research, neither side has found a cure for the afflicted. Eventually, a splinter faction of X-Men get so sick of watching fellow mutants die that they disobey Storm's orders and destroy one of the clouds. So war breaks out anyway: all Storm's diplomacy "accomplished" was to enable the meaningless slaughter of hundreds of mutants and significantly weaken her side. To add additional insult to injury, in one following issue of Deadpool and the Mercs for Money, Deadpool travels to an Alternate Universe in which a mutant managed (at the cost of her life) to convert the Terigen Clouds back into Terigen crystals, with the Terigen in perfect condition and ready to be used by the Inhumans the way they have done for thousands of years with no muss and no fuss and hopefully no more M-Pox. So it looks like Just Eat Gilligan has been accomplished, right? Nope. The Inhumans got so outraged over this that they declared war on mutantkind anyway.
  • New Gods: Highfather of New Genesis has become so averted to violence that he is generally unwilling to do anything about Darkseid or evil in the universe in general unless New Genesis itself is directly threatened. This has backfired on him repeatedly. He does little to protect the universe from Darkseid terrorizing it and has been blind to threats besides Darkseid. This has allowed Darkseid to amass enough power or put plans in place that allow him to destroy New Genesis with ease whenever he wants.
  • Saga: Marko declares himself a pacifist in the opening issues of the series, though he backslides a few times. He and other protagonists occasionally argue about whether pacifism really is the best solution, pointing out how it has come back to bite them. It backfires particularly badly at the end of the first arc, in which The Will finally kills him, just after Marko showed him mercy.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (IDW): Sonic is willing to let an amnesiac Eggman be free to do some good, and even reactivates Metal Sonic to offer a truce and let him go free. Both bite him in the ass when Eggman regains his memory thanks to Metal's return and goes back to his old tricks, leading directly to the Metal Virus outbreak. Both Shadow and Espio give Sonic a What the Hell, Hero? at different points, holding him responsible for the disaster, and come issue 23, Sonic outright kicks himself over it, bitterly remarking that he put his faith in the idea that Eggman had a tiny bit of good in his heart, and now the entire world is paying the price.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Artemis calls Diana out on this during "The Contest," saying she will regret her refusal to kill or use any more force than the bare necessity. Later Artemis comes to decide Diana's way is better outside of war. Of course they're Amazons so interdimensional monsters and gods are fair game regardless.

    Fan Works 
  • A Frozen Flower: Oprah consistently laments about how she should kill Orchid, as she's a lost cause, but she can't bring herself to do it because she's too kindhearted to kill anyone and she has Undying Loyalty for Odd Squad. Unfortunately for her, Orchid is very defiant and causes problems for not just her, but everyone around her as well, made even more so by the fact that Oprah is in denial of her working on using her powers appropriately and refuses to train her anymore. Never mind the fact that Orchid is a Person of Mass Destruction whose fate in life is to destroy the world if she is not killed first.
  • This trope applies to Adrien Agreste in many Miraculous Ladybug “salt” fics following the events of “Chameleon”, where he asks Marinette not to expose Lila’s Blatant Lies of glamour and grandiose to their clueless classmates to avoid her getting akumatized. There are many different interpretations of his advice from fanfic writers. Some bitter fans use this ill-fated advice to write him off as a Dirty Coward who blatantly ignores the harm Lila’s lies cause, even when he sees Marinette being bullied and ostracized by the class, and often have ended their stories with him being ostracized himself, stripped of his Miraculous, put back in homeschooling to be all alone, and/or rejected by Ladybug and all his other love interests except Lila. Other writers are kinder to Adrien, remembering other details in the episode and/or series, like how Adrien is emotionally abused by his father and how Marinette conveniently left out Lila’s bullying threats to her when she found out Adrien knew of her lies as well. They write him finding out just how bad Lila is, perhaps through a balcony visit to Marinette as Chat Noir, where she gives him the full story she kept from Adrien. After that, Adrien has a My God, What Have I Done? moment and works harder to redeem himself, working to take down Lila, or at least trying his best to.
  • A Northern Dragoness: Baelor's particular interpretation of the Faith of the Seven has led him to refuse to appoint a Master Of Laws (despite the fact that the Father's domain includes justice), refuse to wage war for any reason, no matter how justified (despite the Warrior emphasizing strength in battle and protecting the innocent), and to apologize to Dorne and bribe them to make peace after they broke hospitality and killed his brother and several of his bannermen. This has undermined the already fragile Tagareyn authority and is threatening to plunge the realm back into civil war.
  • Invoked in the One Piece fanfic, This Bites!. Having seen how badly this went for Fishman Island in "canon", protagonist Jeremiah Cross uses his knowledge of how things would have been to coax Shirahoshi's pet shark to back up his revelation of Hody Jones' true role in the death of Queen Otohime. He even lampshades this trope, noting that whilst Otohime and Shirahoshi's goals were noble, their way of pursuing those goals was ridiculously stupid.
  • Discussed in With This Ring in relation to The Joker, whom Paul believes should have "fallen down some stairs" in custody years ago; he habitually escapes from prison and goes on another killing spree, and Paul believes that there comes a point where continuing to let him live means that Batman is responsible for the deaths. In the Renegade timeline, although Paul is still bound by Justice League rules of engagement and thus isn't allowed to kill him, he crushes the Joker's arms to stop it from happening again.

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In The Cobbler, the hero impersonates a mobster boss and saves another criminal from being killed. His kindness is not being repaid as later the mobster turns out to be an Ungrateful Bastard who kidnaps the hero (disguised as the mobster boss) in order to off him and pities him for his poor choice.
  • In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, King Théoden's first impulse upon being freed from Saruman's magical influence is to kill Gríma Wormtongue, the treacherous adviser responsible for Saruman's influence. Aragorn stays his hand, saying "Enough blood has been spilled on his account." But Wormtongue rejects the offer of absolution for his crimes and flees to Saruman. There, Wormtongue provides intelligence to Saruman (the path that the people of Rohan will take to reach Helm's Deep, and the weakest point of the walls at Helm's Deep), enabling Saruman's army to kill many more than they otherwise would have.
  • Mars Attacks!. The U.S. tries twice to make peaceful contact with the Martians. The first time, the Martian ambassador and his soldiers wipe out the U.S. Army forces at the meeting site. The second time the Martian ambassador asks to address Congress. While he's doing so he and his soldiers destroy everyone there. Later on, the French government tries the diplomatic approach: not surprisingly, it ends in a bloodbath.
  • In Star Wars, a thousand years before the events of the prequel trilogy The Republic underwent the Ruusan Reformation, in which they dissolved their military after seemingly destroying the Sith and basically forced the Jedi to dissolve theirs as well. As a result, they came to rely more heavily on The Order and local Planetary Security Forces (which were unfit for expeditionary warfare) for keeping peace in the galaxy. Because of their naivete, they're caught with their pants down when the Sith start the Clone Wars and Darth Sidious Running Both Sides allows him to completely topple the Republic.

  • Animorphs: Elfangor knocked out Alloran so that he wouldn't drain the Yeerk Pool into space. Knocking him out allowed Esplin to infest him.
    • Similarly, when Cassie elects to sentence David to a filthy, maddening existence in a rat body instead of simply killing him, Ax notes grimly that "the Cassies of this world are infinitely more dangerous than the Rachels". This later comes back to threaten the team when David returns for revenge with the help of Crayak.
  • In the Babylon 5 novel Clark's Law, the station security officers try and break up a fight between the Narns and the Tuchanq using stun guns. Unfortunately, the Tuchanq's brains are wired such that any interruption in consciousness causes them to lose all their long-term and short-term memory and revert to base survival instinct, essentially making them Ax-Crazy. Fixing this problem requires even more violence, and of course, one of the still-crazy ones gets loose and accidentally kills a human, which sets the real plot of the book in motion.
  • The protagonists of The Daily Grind are accustomed to killing strange dungeon Life, but reluctant to kill humans, so after they defeat Status Quo, they let their prisoners go after destroying their base of operations. Several weeks later, the remnants of Status Quo have hired a group of mercenary assassins, and launch a devastating assault on the Order's headquarters, with many casualties.
  • In the Thomas Dixon novel Fall of a Nation, a combined suffragette/pacifist movement not only keeps the United States out of World War I but also slashes its military. The war ends in a negotiated stalemate... and then the combined armies of Europe invade the United States! Mind you, this is the author of The Clansman, so Values Dissonance may apply.
  • Harry Potter: Harry refuses to allow Peter Pettigrew to be killed, resulting in the return of Lord Voldemort. Downplayed because it is actually an act of Cruel Mercy and he expects Pettigrew to be put into Azkaban instead — plus, he needs him alive to prove his godfather is innocent of the crimes he is accused of. Although Harry's mercy does get rewarded later, when Pettigrew remembers it and hesitates to attack Harry, giving Harry a crucial chance to escape — but that wouldn't have been needed if Peter were out of the picture to begin with.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • The Conservative, Liberal, and Progressive parties of Manticore's Parliament. The first are opposed to anything that may threaten their precious privileges and ignored all signs that the People's Republic of Haven was gunning for Manticore. The second opposes any measure they believe may incite war with Haven. The latter think any military expenditure is wasted money that should have gone into something else. All three of them oppose the war with Haven from the beginning to the end, never mind that their country is pretty much fighting for its survival. And pretty much all of their leaders hate Honor because she has proven them wrong again and again.
    • Case in point: Liberal Reginald Houseman in The Honor of the Queen. On the matter of the Grayson-Masada War - which has been going on for centuries, and where the latter is led by, and full of, ultra-fundamentalist He-Man Woman Hater jerkasses who would have no problem in nuking Grayson's cities to ruins - he thinks that putting an end to it should be as easy as getting both planetary governments together and cobble out trade agreements - pretty much Talking the Monster to Death in diplomatic form. And when he finds that Masada is going to attack and he is now the man in charge of the delegation, he attempts to order Honor to evacuate all Manticorans and leave Grayson to die. Is it any wonder that, when Honor lays a brutal "The Reason You Suck" Speech and an equally brutal punch, no one complains about it?
  • An important theme in Robert Merle's novel The Island, which is based on the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. British mutineers and Tahitians start a settlement on an island, but tensions quickly build up between them, because some of the British treat the Tahitians as inferior. The protagonist, Purcell doesn't allow his friends to kill the main troublemaker because of his pacifistic Christian beliefs. Eventually war breaks out, and all men on the island die, except for Purcell and a Tahitian. Purcell ends up blaming himself.
  • In Island in the Sea of Time, Pamela Lisketter and her followers aid William Walker's betrayal in the hopes that his plot will hobble the Republic of Nantucket so that it can't intervene in the Alban War. Unfortunately, their plan is incredibly stupid (amounting to kidnapping the Chief's wife and shooting Marian Alston, the de facto commander of the navy) and is executed incompetently (the bullet grazes Alston), and their getaway plan involved travelling down to Mexico and hoping that the locals are friendly. Not only do they fail to prevent the Republic from going to war, but they also manage to start a war between the Republic and the People of the Jaguar God. And on top of that, Lisketter and her followers all die, but not before spreading mumps throughout Mesoamerica. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, indeed.
  • Harry Turtledove once wrote a short story ("The Last Article" — so called because of a quote by Gandhi ("Nonviolence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed")) about Gandhi attempting to use the same peaceful protest tactics that had won significant gains against the British on the invading forces of Nazi Germany. That ends in rather spectacular (and highly violent) failure, with Gandhi lamenting the fact (before his execution) that his tactics worked against the British because deep down only the most insanely virulently racist wouldn't feel bad about violating people's rights, while Nazis... well... what did you expect from people who believe in the employment of the Final Solution as a standard procedure?note 
  • The Lord of the Rings: In the books (in contrast to the films), after the siege of Orthanc, Saruman is permitted to go free. This allows him to make his way to the Shire and take it over. His eventual fate (murdered by Gríma) is still the same, though — he just causes a lot more damage first.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire.
    • Eddard Stark refused to arrest Queen Cersei and her illegitimate children because he didn't want them to get hurt. This decision is one of the main causes of the War of Five Kings (along with Eddard's own death).
    • Daenerys in A Dance with Dragons decides to build peace in Meereen by conciliating the Wise Maesters and the Yunkishmen so as to stave an oncoming war. But her efforts involve horrible compromises that amount to a near-reversal of Slave Liberation and the selling of slaves in front of her walls. By the end of the book, she states that her way is "Fire and Blood".
  • In the second book of Tales of the Magic Land, the heroes decide not to hunt down the traitor Ruf Bilan. In the next book, he very nearly causes a global war between the Emerald City and the Underground Kings.
    • The lesser traitors are, too, all spared and given their positions and titles back. Guess what, in book four all of them turn their cloaks again.
    • The same could arguably be said for the second book's Big Bad Urfin Jus, spared and released unharmed at the main heroine's insistence. But although he does come back with a fresh evil plan in the fourth book, in the fifth one he does a Heel–Face Turn and his new invention saves the day.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "The Fall of Night", a representative of Earth's Ministry of Peace visits the station to finalize a non-aggression pact between Earth Alliance and the Centauri—right after the latter use illegal weapons of mass destruction (mass drivers) to bombard the Narn homeworld back to the stone age and show evidence of being on a dangerously aggressive footing in the galaxy. The minister even uses the phrase "peace in our time". Shortly thereafter, the Centauri begin conquests in the territories of many other races.
  • Battlestar Galactica (1978). In the pilot episode, the Council of Twelve takes all of the Battlestars to a peace conference with the Cylons, leaving the Twelve Colonies completely undefended. Naturally the Cylons decide to use Aggressive Negotiations: they take the opportunity to ambush not only the Battlestars, destroying all but the Galactica, but almost entirely wiping out the colonies as well. In a later episode, it's stated that the colonies had planetary defenses, which were sabotaged by a confederate of Baltar's.
  • In Breaking Bad, this formed Mike's Start of Darkness. Back when he was a cop, there was one particular guy who he visited over and over on domestic violence calls. Eventually, he became so convinced that the guy was eventually going to murder his girlfriend that he kidnapped him to a deserted place to kill him. However, he backed out at the last minute, merely threatening the guy instead. Only a short time later, the guy did indeed beat his wife to death. He regretted his action ever since.
  • In The Boys (2019), Naïve Newcomer Hughie ends up being promoted to The Leader after the Boys officially become government agents in Season 3. However, his distaste for violence leads to him and by extension the rest of the team being easily manipulated by the Mole in Charge and playing right into Vought's hands.
  • Doctor Who:
    • If the Doctor had just killed the Daleks before they made off the planet Skaro when he had the chance he could have avoided the Time War and seemingly becoming The Last of His Kind.
    • Had the Fifth Doctor aided the humans in defending themselves from the Silurians and Sea Devils in "Warriors of the Deep", he could have prevented all three sides being slaughtered. It's made clear he knew this was the only solution from the start, but put off making the decision in the hope he'd find another way, and didn't.
    • The Tenth Doctor acknowledged this is a problem with him being a Technical Pacifist in "The End of Time". His attempts not to hurt anyone may not directly have him going against his morals, but he "got clever" and has indirectly caused his friends and companions to fight pretty nasty battles for him or manipulated villains into killing themselves.
    • Had the Doctor not toppled the regime of Harriet Jones as revenge for her blowing up alien invaders in "The Christmas Invasion", she would have been still been Prime Minister and the Master wouldn't have been able to rise to power as Prime Minister Harold Saxon and assassinate the U.S. president or cause worldwide devastation in The Year That Never Was. The Torchwood: Children of Earth crisis would have also gone differently.
    • In "The Woman Who Fell to Earth", the Thirteenth Doctor shows mercy to the villain, Tzim-Sha, by returning his recall device to teleport him back to his homeworld. In "The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos", this decision turns out to have been a mistake, as the Doctor accidentally corrupted the teleport, leading to "Tim Shaw" landing on the titular planet, where he could manipulate the naïve Ux, two very powerful Reality Warpers, into doing his bidding.
  • The main characters of the first season of Jessica Jones (2015) spend the entire first season trying to hunt down and capture Kilgrave — a mind-controlling rapist — in large part because he forced his most recent victim to murder her parents, and they want to bring him in and prove that she was mind-controlled. At one point they actually capture him, and keep him alive and imprisoned despite the urging of an ally that they just kill him. This ally feels strongly enough about it that he winds up going Axe-Crazy, and they have to take care of him before they can return their attention to Kilgrave, who, naturally, escapes and goes on a minor rampage. In the process, the girl they were trying to protect kills herself before they can make any progress in proving that she's not guilty. Which means by the time Jessica finally snaps his neck at the end of the season, the only thing they did by sparing Kilgrave was to allow him to destroy even more lives. Plus, since Jessica had to kill him in public to save the crowd of people he was forcing to kill each other, she gets arrested herself. Thankfully she's soon released when everything gets explained.
  • Parodied in the pilot of Jessie. In the first scene we see with the kids, Emma and Luke are fighting, with Ravi pleading with them to stopnote .
    Ravi: Luke, Emma, please! Violence is never the answer.
    Emma: [whacks Ravi with a pillow]
    Ravi: To heck with the nonviolence! I am on you like stripes on a tiger! [attacks Emma]
  • Once Upon a Time has a knack for this. In a show where the heroes prove they're the good guys by choosing not to kill their enemies, the villains manage to rub it in their faces and, as one villain said, "make them wish they did kill them when they had the chance". The heroes actually put one of the villains through a Secret Test of Character exploiting this trope. The failure resulted in them being unable to harm the main target or anyone related.
  • Star Trek
    • In the original series episode "City on the Edge of Forever", McCoy accidentally gets sent back in time, and his actions cause the Federation to never have existed, so Kirk and Spock have to go back in time themselves to Set Right What Once Went Wrong. They discover that McCoy saved a social worker from being fatally hit by a car; this social worker turned out to be an extreme pacifist who would go on to lead a massive peace movement, and this movement's influence delayed the United States' entry into World War II, allowing Germany to develop the first atomic bomb and conquer the earth. As Spock points out, she ultimately had the right idea, but at exactly the wrong point in time.
    • In the original series episode "The Galileo Seven", Spock tries to scare away the natives by firing a phaser barrage near but not directly at them. When they return and attack the shuttle, McCoy points out that the attempt to repel the creatures without harming them has only made them angry.
    • In the Mirror Universe stories, started in the original series and continued in Deep Space Nine, Kirk manages to convince Mirror-Spock to get the Terran Empire to eschew its warlike ways... and it promptly gets overthrown by the Klingons and Cardassians.
    • In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation the crew comes across a Douwd, a near Q-level race. He just wanted to live in peace with his human wife, so he retired to a small colony planet. A group of Husnock (another alien race) attacked but the Douwd are all pacifists so he didn't join the fight. The attacking Husnocks killed everyone else on the planet, including his wife, so in retaliation, he killed every member of the Husnock everywhere in the universe.
  • In one episode of Supernatural, the brothers find themselves trapped in a building with a small number of survivors and a huge number of demons trying to enter and kill them all. Ruby arrives and tells them about a spell that would save them all, but it requires a human sacrifice. Sam and Dean refuse to do it, insisting that they must find another way. However, while the two of them end up escaping just fine, after they leave, the demons return and all of the survivors, including the intended sacrifice, are killed. And they didn't die quickly...
  • In The Whispers they refuse to kill Drill because it will also kill a child. Drill ends up killing a woman, possesses and kills the president's daughter, makes a horde of zombie adults ready to do his bidding, and kidnaps thousands of children.
  • In Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle picks up the Idiot Ball more than a few times due to her commitment to not killing people.
    • After her "innocence" is sacrificed by forcing her to stab a woman in self-defense (because apparently bashing in people's faces and throats doesn't count), she gives birth to a Fetus Terrible that grows to term in a matter of days, and then strangles the Knight Templar who was watching it within hours of being born. Gabrielle refuses to believe a baby could be evil and fakes out Xena to make her think it's dead.
    • When Xena goes to assassinate a tyrant king, Gabrielle decides that this is somehow unacceptable. She goes to the king, warns him, gets Xena captured, imprisoned, and sentenced to death, all to find out that the king is a matricidal dictator.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Starfire, Nexus magazine #7 article "The Drolian Conquest". After Khanate of Orion warships attacked several Drolian ships, the Drolian "peaceful expansion" lobby prevented the Drolian government from expanding its space navy. Six months later the Khanate of Orion invaded in force and quickly conquered the Drolians. During the invasion, the "peaceful expansion" lobby was lynched by other Drolians.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Due to the Forever War nature of the setting, this is pretty much the status quo. Anytime a world is isolated enough from the current conflicts to be at peace just means it'll attract the attention of Ork and Eldar raiders (for the plunder), Chaos (for their souls), Necrons (for being alive), or the Tyranids (for the biomass), and unable to defend itself.
    • In the backstory, the Emperor of Mankind could not bring himself to actually strike down Horus after the latter slew Sanguinius during the Heresy. Horus took advantage of his father's mercy and tore him apart. Even then, the Emperor refused to fight back. Actually witnessing Horus casually flay alive a soldier who tried to defend the Emperor — one that posed absolutely no threat to him — finally convinced the Emperor that Horus was beyond redemption and needed to be stopped. This rare moment of pacifism doomed the Emperor to waste away in the Golden Throne, helpless to do anything to prevent the gradual decay of the Imperium.

  • Similarly in West Side Story's inspiration, Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio is fatally stabbed when Romeo comes between him and Tybalt, trying to break up their fight because he wants to make peace with the Capulets because of his love for Juliet. Romeo's guilt over this directly or indirectly causes every single other death in the play.
  • Tony suffers this in West Side Story. He goes to the rumble to stop it from happening and tries to resist Bernardo's baiting, but it backfires horribly. The rumble, which was supposed to be a simple fistfight, turns into a knife battle between Bernardo and Riff. Tony ends up knifing Bernardo, who has stabbed Riff.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood shows that Ezio sparing Rodrigo Borgia (primarily due to to the fact that the real Alexander VI didn't die that year) at the end of Assassin's Creed II backfires horribly since the Borgia and the Templars are still in power and the game starts off with the other Borgias besieging his town and killing his uncle. As such, he not only vows to actually finish the job this time but the game is centered around pushing the Borgias out of power. This is actually a subversion to some extent, however, as Rodrigo actually wanted nothing more to do with the Assassins, but Cesare was much more aggressive.
  • Batman: Arkham Origins shows us that Bane caused Joker to fall down a skyscraper, only to be rescued by Batman. Just minutes later, he turns his own gun to his head and taunts Batman, only to be taken down and arrested. Had Batman allowed Joker to die in either of these moments, so many lives would have been spared, such as over 100 employees of Arkham Asylum and Jason Todd. On a more personal note, this moment caused the Joker (who until now had just been interested in causing mayhem and chaos in general) to develop an obsession with the man who saved his life after he'd done nothing but hurt people. All of the twisted, personal interest The Joker had for Batman came from this rescue.
  • In Fallout 2, the Brotherhood of Steel was well on its way to demilitarizing and becoming a simple research group when they got blindsided by the Enclave - technologically advanced remnants of the U.S government that were trying to kill everything and everyone, everywhere, nearly wiping them out and forcing them to take action or die. Ever since then, the Brotherhood has expanded its mandate to include aggressively destroying any advanced tech they think they can't control and in Fallout 3 & Fallout 4 they're not interested in taking prisoners.
  • Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn:
  • Heroes of Might and Magic: In the Heroes Chronicles addon missions, the barbarian warlord Tarnum is granted Complete Immortality by the Ancestors so he can atone for the horrible things he did in his life. In the eighth and final campaign, Tarnum is racing for the Sword of Frost to stop an end-of-the-world prophecy. As the final key in his redemption, he spares the life of Kilgor's wife Kija, proving that he will no longer commit murder to achieve his goals. Unfortunately, this allows Kija to reach the Sword of Frost first and leads to Kilgor and Gelu destroying the world.
  • This is how Alan "Spam" Webster's mercenary career with A.I.M. ended in the Jagged Alliance series. Coming from the UN peacekeeping forces background, his MO was to negotiate enemy surrender first and only shoot if that fails. One of such failures led to the death of fellow A.I.M. member Johnny "Snake" Edwards, leading to Spam's dishonorable discharge.
  • Mega Man 7. Perhaps justified in that he's still a Three Laws-Compliant robot, but still, in the end of the game, when Mega Man finally has Wily at his mercy, he points his Mega Buster at him and charges it, but he hesitates long enough for Bass to take Wily out of his castle. And of course, it leads to Wily being the Big Bad for the games after it.
  • In Miitopia, heroes with a Kind personality will sometimes attempt to persuade an enemy to leave the fight peacefully. Sometimes, this backfires by getting the hero attacked—since his or her guard is down, that strengthens the attack. It also results in annoyance from one of the other team members, and if it happens too often, it will cause them to dislike each other.
  • In Pathfinder: Kingmaker, some enemies, if you take the pacifist route and spare them, can be encountered later. Several of them have reformed, though some of them have not. In one particular instance, Ekun can be convinced to spare the children of a troll who killed his wife and family. If you do, the trolls will show up later, having joined Irovetti's army and killed more people in the process. Ekun will sourly note that he was right all along as you put them down.
  • In Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Miles forcibly invokes Thou Shalt Not Kill and stops his Evil Former Friend the Tinkerer from killing Rhino (who by all accounts deserved it). Not only does this ruin their chance at gathering evidence against the Greater-Scope Villain Roxxon, but it worsens the Poor Communication Kills between them even further, causing her to hand Miles a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown before he can explain that her Evil Plan would destroy the city and forcing them into a final confrontation that ultimately gets her killed and forces Miles to live with the guilt of being unable to save her.
  • In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Cool Old Guy Jolee Bindo was a rebellious Jedi Padawan who in his youth married a Force-sensitive woman and trained her to be a Jedi himself against the Council's wishes. In what he regards as My Greatest Failure, she got caught up in Exar Kun's Sith propaganda and tried to kill Jolee for refusing to convert with her. Jolee couldn't bring himself to kill the woman he loved and let her go, upon which she killed many other Jedi in the war before being slain herself. The Council put Jolee on trial but decided that he had learned his lesson and even promoted him to Knight, but he couldn't forgive himself and left The Order.
  • In Undertale's Genocide Route, Papyrus will attempt to get the Villain Protagonist to change using this trope, saying that they can become a better person if they just try. A battle with Papyrus starts in which Papyrus won't even attack the protagonist, allowing him to be spared instantly. If the player attacks, it's a One-Hit KO. Though in a Subversion of this trope, a lot of players attempting Genocide runs report stopping the genocide when made to mercilessly kill such a harmless, innocent Nice Guy like Papyrus. In a way, Papyrus was more effective at stopping the player's rampage than Undyne or Sans the skeleton.
  • In the World of Warcraft tie-in novel Prince Anduin ends up saving Warchief Garrosh from a poisoning attempt while he's imprisoned awaiting trial. Anduin believes that he's convincing Garrosh to change, and according to the writers, he would have succeeded... if it wasn't for a rogue time-travelling dragon offering Garrosh a second chance at world domination and more importantly not having to face up to his crimes.

    Web Original 
  • There's a piece of Internet humor floating around where a Straw Feminist and a Straw Misogynist are partnered up for a school project and tasked with taking turns writing segments for a tandem story. The girl is focused on writing a bad, Purple Prose-laden Chick Flick, the boy on a cheesy, juvenile sci-fi action movie, and each segment of their "story" spitefully derails the previous one's plot. When the girl abruptly ends the boy's Alien Invasion plot with peace talks (and kills off his overly-macho Marty Stu in an undignified way), the boy retaliates by writing in a second Alien Invasion that the now-demilitarized Earth is powerless to resist, ending the "story" as both sides degenerate into complaining and name-calling.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time
    • In the episode "His Hero", the great hero Billy inspires Finn and Jake to practice non-violence at every cost... and of course, everything goes wrong.
    • In a later episode, "Crystals Have Power", Jake gets a flashback to when he was a kid, and his dad told him that he would hurt everybody if he got out of control. Jake vows to practice non-violence, which gets problematic when Finn gets kidnapped.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, it was eventually shown that the good Avatar Roku and world-conquering Fire Lord Sozin had been best friends. Roku's spirit tells Aang that he was too easy on his friend when he discovered his ambitions and that his aversion to violence in the matter allowed for 100 years of war to reign. Made even worse because Roku had previously smashed into Sozin's castle and threatened to kill him if he continued his imperialist ambitions, but couldn't go through with it when Sozin did it anyway.
  • This pops up, surprisingly enough, a couple of times in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In One Bad Apple the Cutie Mark Crusaders attempt this to deal with the bully Babs Seed, but she's just so hell-bent on spending every waking moment bullying them that it doesn't work. They decide Violence Really Is the Answer and that they're going to bait her into stealing a rigged parade float that will crash in the mud, and eventually learn they should have just gone to an adult for help instead.
    • At the end of To Where And Back Again Starlight attempts the same pacifist Easily Forgiven treatment she got from Twilight Sparkle on Queen Chrysalis. It's soundly rebuked and Chrysalis escapes, swearing to come back later for revenge (which she does).
    • In To Change A Changeling, Thorax as the new king of the changelings tries to invert their formerly antagonistic ways and live in peace but ends up taking it to Extreme Doormat levels. Under normal circumstances, it likely would have worked, but it's not a very hot plan when there's a gigantic apex predator actively hunting you. This along with Starlight's blundering would have led to the thing destroying their hive have had his brother Pharynx, the only changeling who preferred their old ways, been keen on using force instead and inadvertently inspires the entire hive to rise up and attack. In the end, they meet somewhere in the middle, with Pharynx learning to lighten up a little while everyone else learns they have to stand up and fight sometimes.
  • This popped up in three "Treehouse of Horror" episodes of The Simpsons.
  • In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, with the background of Mandalore's bloody past, Duke Adonai Kryze ushered Mandalore in an age of the New Mandalorians, who follow Actual Pacifist ideology (with exceptions such as self-defense). After his death in the recent civil war that took place over ten years before the present, his eldest daughter Duchess Satine continues his ideals by having Mandalore lead the neutral side of the Clone Wars, albeit struggles to do so with pressures from the war as well as internal pressures from nationalist-extremists who are upset over their loss of culture, which causes Mandalore to be stepped on by the Republic, the Separatists, and Death Watch on numerous occasions. This conflict eventually leads to another civil war that leaves Mandalore vulnerable, which ultimately ends with the planet being occupied by the Republic and later made into a colony for several decades after the Republic transitioned into the Galactic Empire. As some viewers have pointed out, this might've been less of a problem if Satine had chosen to let Mandalorian principles continue in some way while establishing other rules that could keep the troublemakers in check, instead of doing things like exiling anyone who wants to preserve the warrior culture.
    • There's also the two part episode, "Defenders of Peace", which revolves around a society of Alien Lemurs who are nearly exterminated when the Separatists decide to test a new weapon on them and the refusal of their village elder to fight back even in self-defense because of his staunch pacifism.
  • In early episodes of Time Squad Otto tries to convince Tuddrussel throughout various missions that he'd have better luck getting historical figures to go back on the right path if he'd just show some patience, and use his words instead of violent beatings. While this worked some of the time, it backfired in most instances because some of the historical figures in question were just too stupid or stubborn for anything else but a punch to the face.