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Post-Historical Trauma

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"Try explaining Hitler to a kid."

There are events for which the Spear Carrier's "I bring ill tidings" do no justice. These are calamities so timelessly tragic, that all fiction struggles to portray their due gravity and pain. Things like: What do you tell a child when a parent dies? Is there a right way to tell someone their spouse has been killed? How exactly do you tell the Friend to All Living Things she's part of a race that's full of bastards who prove Rousseau wrong?

This last one is especially thorny. The more sheltered, innocent, and good-natured The Cutie, the harder she will crash and burn when informed of humanity's many self-inflicted sins. It doesn't help that she's usually a Living MacGuffin or Barrier Maiden whose good faith is central to beating the supreme evil.

Clever villains will use this as a demoralizing ploy on the heroes, surely Utopia Justifies the Means if the result is a more civilized (or extinct) human race? Heroes who are especially shaken up by his Storyboarding the Apocalypse may even do a Face–Heel Turn. Inevitably, it's up to the Messianic Archetype to restore the shaken faith, usually with a hearty dose of The Power of Friendship and a Whoopi Epiphany Speech about how "The sins of the past can not be undone but for the good works we do today!".

Popular events to get traumatized with include but are by no means limited to: global environmental destruction, African poverty and genocides, the Crusades (the effect is lost somewhat, in comparison to others, if actual figures are used), The Vietnam War, WWI and WWII. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and The Holocaust, are particularly popular episodes from the latter conflict. Note that the way (high-)school history works is usually with short summaries and a series of anecdotes, rarely explaining things in-depth or using actual (casualty, war-crime, etc) figures and statistics. Consequently, expect the "cool" events - like The Tokyo Fireball or the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - to feature more prominently than (orders of magnitude) bloodier and gorier, but less spectacular, events like The Second Sino-Japanese War.

Obviously, this is Truth in Television, as this sort of thing does tend to hit young students hard, understandably enough.


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    Fan Fiction 

  • Leeloo's history lesson in The Fifth Element, after typing in 'war' and seeing a huge montage of images from World War One, World War II, The Vietnam War and so on.
  • Galaxy Quest: When Jason tells Mathesar that they're actors while he's on the torture table, Mathesar is distraught. Their culture doesn't understand acting, nor did they even have a concept of lying or deceit before the Big Bad started attacking them. Mathesar considers lying (and by extension acting) a huge betrayal, so Jason's admission is devastating. However, after the crew is successful, Mathesar thinks he was just kidding (though it may be that Mathesar simply learned to lie himself to protect his crew from finding all this out for themselves).
  • Planet of the Apes (1968) has Charlton Heston's immortal reaction to discovering that humanity annihilated itself in a nuclear war: "You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! GOD DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!"
  • In The Reader Michael and his fellow students can't remember the last war and the atrocities committed due to their young age. One of the law students lashes out at the professor about how they (their parents' generation) could have let The Holocaust happen and do nothing about it.
    Dieter: Everyone knew. Our parents, our teachers. That isn't the question. The question is how could you let this happen. And better, why didn't you kill yourself when you find out.

  • In Good Omens, Crowley (a demon) received a commendation from Hell for starting the Spanish Inquisition. He didn't, rather he just happened to be in the area when it started. When he finally got around to seeing what this new-fangled Inquisition was, he ended up spending a good deal of time drinking to forget what he saw.
  • Animorphs: Ax having the Holocaust explained to him by Rachel. He's not totally traumatized by it, as he's well aware of human bastardy at this point, but it does shock and disgust him. Specifically, he wonders how the same race that's capable of such evil can have produced his friends. It's worth noting that Andalites are herbivorous, and developed interstellar travel before learning about the concept of war.
  • In Jack Finney's Time and Again a character from the 1880s who traveled to the then-present saw "WWII" on a book spine and tried to pronounce it letter by letter. After being told what it meant by the hero, she became particularly distraught upon realizing that they actually had two of those suckers.
  • This trope is the whole reason that War and Democide Never Again and its sequels even exist. The writer, R. J. Rummel, was a historian and political scientist whose specialty was totalitarian dictatorships which killed millions of innocents, and so he, in his old age, wrote a hypothetical Wish-Fulfillment fantasy in which two time-travelers (transparently based on himself and his wife) manage to prevent them all and turn the whole world peaceful and democratic. That said, since he wasn't a professional writer.
  • In the backstory of The Broken Earth Trilogy, Alabaster is badly shaken by discovering the history of Syl Anagist and how it shows that history has always been full of people like him being oppressed and there is no escape.

    Live-Action Television 
  • The 'baby Addison' episode on Moonlighting.
  • In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sarah goes through one of these when she gets told about 9/11 (which she missed due to Time Travel). Like the Farscape example below, she wasn't shocked by the events themselves, more by the fact that it was humans doing this to each other. She narrates that had she witnessed the WTC collapse, she would have been sure it was the beginning of the machine's revolution.
  • On NCIS, Leroy Jethro Gibbs is also shown reacting to the facts of 9/11 several years after the fact, due to plot-related memory loss.
    • Gibbs' shock also has a very specific "We could have avoided all this" feeling because as a government agent (even with a faulty memory) he knows that U.S. intelligence was watching Bin Laden throughout the '90s.
  • The 1999 Disney Channel movie Smart House has the titular house's malfunctioning AI trap the occupants "safely" within the house, with 20th-century wars, riots, and whatnot as the rationale for doing so.
  • Since they have all lived through worse, the aliens on Farscape aren't traumatized to find out that Humans Are the Real Monsters, but they don't understand who they could possibly fight and torment since they are incapable of space flight. Cue shock and confusion when they find out that humans attack each other. The implication, though, isn't that none of their species war among themselves, but that such practices are A) incredibly primitive and would prohibit advancement or even mere survival and B) become less important when faced with conflict from other species.

  • This is the reason why Humans Are Bastards no longer allows real-life examples; back when it did, tropers who read the page had a tendency to become very depressed, if not outright misanthropic, though more for the current events than the historical ones. It didn't help when actual misanthropes found the page and started reveling in man's inhumanity to man. Eventually, it got so bad that the page was temporarily cutlisted, and it was only restored after Humans Are the Real Monsters became established, and is strictly monitored to prevent that kind of thing from happening again.

  • In the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil", it is implied that humankind is the Devil, for all the evil acts cataloged there were caused by humans.
    After all, it was you and me.
  • Savatage's Poets and Madmen, a Concept Album about the fictitious breakdown of photographer Kevin Carter. Carter witnessed wars and famine during his career, and his most famous, Pulitzer Prize-winning photo was of a small girl dying of malnutrition while a vulture looks on. He's unable to distance himself from what he saw, the weight of mankind's evil drives him to isolation, drugs, and eventually suicide.
  • The Rammstein song Deutschland is about the group wanting to love Germany but they can't ignore its bloody, bloody history. The video showcases Germany's darkest historical moments in a satirical (but nightmarish, in true Rammstein style) fashion.
    English translation: Germany, my heart in flames// Want to love you, want to damn you.

    Video Games 
  • In Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army, it's implied the Big Bad the time-traveling Devil Summoner that possessed Kaya put his plans in action in a combination of this trope and Set Right What Once Went Wrong.
  • In Assassin's Creed, this happens to anyone who spends too much time in the Animus, especially once they start suffering the "bleeding effect" and begin losing their place in history. For the unfortunate Subject Sixteen, this ultimately killed him, as he was driven insane by the experiences of all of his ancestors and committed suicide.
  • This turns out to be a big plot point in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. The main character came into contact with a mystical artifact that showed him the horrors of the coming century. Everything that happens was a result of him trying to subjugate mankind to prevent that. In particular, he gets a vision of his sons dying during World War I... and takes gruesome measures to ensure that never happens.

    Web Animation 
  • Kamimura of Broken Saints lost his mother and siblings in the bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki—we are not told which.



Video Example(s):



Leeloo's breakdown towards the end, once reading about the dreaded W for War in the encyclopedia.

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