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Sadistic Choice

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This is how you hurt the Man of Steel.

"Spider-Man! This is why only fools are heroes — because you never know when some lunatic will come along with a sadistic choice: let die the woman you love... or suffer the little children! Make your choice, Spider-Man, and see how a hero is rewarded! [..] We are who we choose to choose!"

This is a situation in which a character is presented with a choice, any outcome of which causes something bad to happen. It could be a hostage situation wherein, if one victim is saved, the other(s) die; or it can be a choice to save one's loved ones or save the world. The hostage variant is often called "Sophie's Choice," after that novel and film.

However it is set up, it presents a Moral Dilemma that will inevitably cost the hero something that they hold dear unless they Take a Third Option. However, if the writers are just as sadistic as the villain, no third option will be possible, and Tonight, Someone Dies. This is guaranteed to set the Hero into Angst Mode, and gives a villain optimum gloating time. Plus, it's fun to watch them squirm!

Often the choices represent facets of a hero's life that are in conflict, such as whether his loved ones are more important than his ideals/cause, whether he likes Betty more than Veronica, to what lengths he will go to conceal his Secret Identity, whether he is willing to kill to save something he cares about, whether he will betray his allies to save lives, or sometimes even whether his principles are worth his life.

When it's a choice between two people, one or both of them will often encourage the hero to choose to save the other. This is also a good time for the villain to put the hostages in separate Death Traps with a timer that guarantees that he can only save one of them. If someone decides to choose for someone else, see Making the Choice for You. Many villains in this scenario are not above pulling a You Said You Would Let Them Go on the character once the choice is made, just to be a complete bastard.

Given it's such a hard choice, it's no wonder most good guys tend to Take a Third Option. It's practically unheard of for a hero to actually make this choice, and have it carried through before either the villain breaks his promise or the cavalry manage a rescue. If the one offering the choice benefits regardless of what the chooser chooses, it's a Xanatos Gambit. If both choices lead to the same outcome anyway, then it's a Morton's Fork.

A Suicidal Sadistic Choice is a subset where one presented option is death. Painless Death for a Price is another, where the choice is between giving up something and dying quickly, or refusing and dying slowly and painfully. Compare Friend-or-Idol Decision, Hostage for MacGuffin, Scylla and Charybdis, Take a Third Option, I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure, Cold Equation. Contrast The Window or the Stairs. A classic Moral Dilemma.


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    Asian Animation 
  • In the two-parter first episode of Happy Heroes, Big M. doesn't give the Planet Xing residents much choice with the Jixie Stones - either they are instructed to give them to him so that he can take over the planet, or he takes over the planet anyway. Miss Peach lampshades how evil this is.

    Card Games 
  • In Magic: The Gathering, there's Choice of Damnations, which forces your opponent to pick a number. You then choose whether they lose life equal to that number or if they sacrifice cards they control until they're left with only that number of cards in play. Obviously, if they pick a number too low, you just force them to go on with only a few cards in play, but if they pick one too high, their life can get dangerously low.
    • Another example is Gifts Ungiven. Gifts Ungiven lets you get any four cards from your deck (although they can't be duplicates). Then your opponent has to pick two to go into your hand, and two to go into your graveyard. Most decks that use Gifts Ungiven exploit this, by choosing four cards that ensure you get what you want no matter what the opponent picks.
    • And now the Archenemy rules contain a variation: some of the Schemes leave you with the choice of taking a big hit yourself or diluting the pain between your allies so nobody takes a big hit but the total damage is probably higher. (Admittedly, if you're playing a black deck, you'll probably always dilute it because that's how Black rolls.)
    • It's time to play: FACT. OR. FICTION!
      • Browbeat's flavor text reads: "even the threat of power has power".
    • Painful Quandary makes this happen whenever your opponent wants to cast a spell, but he gets three choices: 1) don't cast the spell, 2) lose five life, or a quarter of his starting life, or 3) discard a card.
    • Lore from the Avacyn Restored block has an example. Liliana Vess captures Thalia's companions and instructs her to destroy the Helvault (the magical prison housing a great many powerful demons, one of whom Liliana wants to have a word with) or let them die. Surprisingly, she chooses to release the demons. Ultimately, it is a subversion of the trope, since Avacyn, the angel protector of the plane, had also been trapped there, so things end up getting better.
    • Red got a whole slew of these during Odyssey block. Come Planar Chaos, black got in on the act with Dash Hopes and Temporal Extortion.
    • The Born of the Gods set introduces creatures with the "Tribute" ability. When one enters the battlefield, the opponent has the choice of either giving it some +1/+1 counters or triggering a nasty effect.
    • In fact, there are so many of these cards, the designers and players have a name for them: "punisher" cards.
  • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine expansion of the Star Trek CCG has a card, based off of the episode "Move Along Home", entitled "Pick One to Save Two". In the episode, Quark must choose one of his three pieces to "die" in order to allow the other two to continue. This card, a dilemma, presents much the same choice.
  • Early on in Upperdeck's Marvel/DC crossover card game using the "VS System", there was a card named Sadistic Choice, which was only usable by players using Spider-Man villains and had an illustration showing the Green Goblin and Gwen Stacy. "Lesser of Two Evils" and "Legion of Losers" were similar to "Sadistic Choice".
  • The Star Trek CCG had a card called "Raise the Stakes" that gave the effected player a choice: either forfeit the game immediately, or risk having to permanently hand over a card from their deck to their opponent should they lose the game. Notably, this is the only card from this game that was banned from tournament play.
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! card "Painful Choice", as the name implies, is all about putting your opponent in such a bind: you choose five cards from your deck, and he has to choose the one you get to keep (all the others are discarded to the Graveyard). Ideally, the player who uses this card is supposed to pick their five most powerful cards, meaning that whatever happens, one of them is going to end up in his hand, and this card can combo with other effects that can result in the player getting all five cards regardless of what the opponent chooses. (Unsurprisingly, it's banned from tournament play.)
    • Another strategy doesn't get a card in their hand, but get them in the Graveyard. For example, the most notorious use of this card at one point was to use it to summon the incredibly powerful Black Luster Soldier -- Envoy of the Beginning, possibly on your first turn. You chose any two Light Monsters, any two Dark Monsters, and any other card. No matter which card your opponent chose, you'd have the requirements to summon Black Luster Soldier; the choice your opponent made did not matter in the least. And there were lots of similar combos that could be used to achieve similar results.
    • This was used in a duel in the anime by Kaiba's adopted father. The five cards in question were the five pieces of Exodia, which he then used to summon Exodia Necross, a particularly nasty card that is immune to various things depending on which part/s are in the graveyard. All five being in there, it was immune to damn-near everything.
    • Kaiba's Expy in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Manjyome, also used this card in a duel with his brother. Since Manjyome needed a certain Spell card, and his brother was a total amateur who believed Attack Points were everything, he offered the Spell and 4 Monsters as a choice, knowing his brother would let him keep the one card that wasn't a monster.

    Comic Strips 
  • Parodied in Dilbert: In one strip, Phil the Prince of Insufficient Light comes up to Dilbert and sentences him to choose between the following two options: a highly paid yet utterly meaningless job whose results vanish before his eyes or a very low paid yet rewarding job that grants him the respect of his coworkers. Dilbert gleefully states that both options are better than what he has right now and calls Wally over to "get in on this".
    Phil: I hate the 90's.
  • In the Hägar the Horrible strip seen here, Hagar raids a castle, and then tells the owner to help them carry his wife's jewels back to their strip, or they'll hurt him. Seeing as he'd be hurt even more by his wife if he complied, the owner chooses the second option.

  • The song "Misery" from Beethoven's Last Night by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Mephistophiles promises that if Beethoven doesn't give in to his demands he'll torture a child in front of him.
  • The Blakfish song "Jeremy Kyle is a Marked Man" (as featured in Colin McRae: Dirt 2) is about a hero whose love interest is kidnapped by a villain who then gives him a sadistic choice: "Her life or yours; one shall be spared". The hero muses that, while he'd give his life to save hers, she would do the same for him. The song ultimately ends without revealing his choice.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • David was inspired by God or by Satan to take a census of Israel and Judah. Because doing so, he sinned greatly note , the prophet Gad announces that he has to choose his punishment: seven (or three) years of famine, three months of defeat at the hands of his enemies, or three days of pestilence. The king chooses the latter option because he wants to be punished by God rather than by the men.

    Tabletop Games 
  • As mentioned in the Captured Super-Entity example, there's a Sadistic Choice that's become famous in Deadlands Fandom. The Unity is an adventure set primarily in Deadlands: Hell on Earth. The story goes a little like this. Mad Scientist par excellence Darius Hellstromme has finally succeeded in putting the Big Bads back in a can and has tasked the Player Party with conveying them from Earth to a colonized planet named Banshee, where he believes the evil can finally be defeated. However, the only starship with a functioning faster-than-light drive is powered by a demon who demands a gruesome task. The price is murder. Only the posse is present. If they don't get to Banshee, all is lost. Do the math.
    • And then when you arrive at Banshee, your ship crashes. The can breaks, the evil is unsealed, and the Sadistic Choice (or Heroic Sacrifice) is for naught.
      • This loses a lot of impact if your group also plays Paranoia and frequently kill each other at the drop of a Commie's hat.
  • Chess is full of Sadistic Choices. Moves known as "forks" are when a piece threatens two (or more) enemy pieces at the same time. Sometimes the player can Take a Third Option by using one to defend the other, or use a third piece to defend them both. Most of the time though, they have to sacrifice the less valuable one.
    • And then there's a zugzwang, a sadistic choice where every option will get you screwed. You can benefit from breaking a fork (if your opponent was expecting you to waffle, you can score a tempo advantage). You never benefit from a zugzwang.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • The Splat book The Book of Vile Darkness details a particularly sadistic creature called the Eye of Fear and Flame who's only purpose seems to force mortals into choices like this. The example it gives is this: It might approach two young lovers in a forest and tell one of the to kill the other, or it will kill both of them. The only third option to this creature's demands would be challenging it and killing it. (Which actually isn't hard for most seasoned adventurers, seeing as it only ranks a CR of 8, but as the above example shows, it rarely targets victims who are capable of defending themselves.)
    • In Tomb of Horrors and most adaptations, this sort of thing arises if any heroes actually make it to confront Acererak. The heroes have two choices that lead to one of two endings, one where Acererak escapes to a different world but the heroes release thousands of souls trapped in his phylactery; (and it would take years for him to regain his power); or one where the heroes destroy the phylactery with Acererak in it, destroying him but condemn thousands of innocents to a Fate Worse than Death. A Golden Ending does exist in Return to the Tomb of Horrors, where the heroes can slay him and free all the souls, but this requires killing every single undead in the Fortress of Conclusion; including one he specifically set up near an escape pod; and then dissolving his phylactery. (This is actually considered to be the canon ending.)

  • This is analyzed in City of Reality. The idea is, if the hero is given the choice of saving the girl, or saving a busload of children, what kind of person could he be if he chose to save the girl, if it meant that the busload of children died instead? Cue a shot of the hero holding the girl tightly, telling the girl how much he loved her... while they both watch the busload of children drown, the girl wearing an increasingly horrified expression.
  • There's a complicated example in The Fancy Adventures of Jack Cannon. Craig has kidnapped Angel. If Jack interferes with the hackers again, Gavin will kill Jack's parents. There are two villains at work here, both a part of the same organization. Neither has spoken to Jack personally to suggest the sadistic choice. However, the first guy may have broken some rules, which may mean that there is no need to Take a Third Option or make a choice. Not that Jack knows any of that.
  • Goblins: One happened before the story began: When Chief Kills-a-Werebear dies in combat and the goblin clan needs to elect a new chief, the clan fortune teller predicts that if Kills' son becomes the new chief, he'll doom the clan to obscurity with his poor leadership. If Thaco is made chief, he will be a wise leader, but many goblins will want Kills' son to become chief anyway and he'll have to lead the clan through a brutal civil war. Thaco decides to exile himself from the clan so that the son can be chief.
  • I'm the Grim Reaper:
    • Satan gives Scarlet one at the end of season two. Seeing how much she cares about Chase and wanting to torment her, he tells her that she must either kill Chase by midnight that night, or be sent back to the ninth circle forever.
    • In season 3, after Judah melts Brook into nothing besides his hand, she has to choose between killing the easiest sinner there is (a woman who was Ante/Yue's childhood friend) to save Brook, or try to find another sinner to kill. In the end, she uses both her own hands and Brook's hand to kill her together to save him.
  • In Khaos Komix, a gang of students will cut Charlie's hair so she can "wear a wig like a real tranny," or they'll vaginally rape Tom. It's no choice at all; by the time the first four meet her, Charlie's made the most of short hair.
  • In Mystery Babylon, one of the flashbacks has K Scum presenting J.J. with a sadistic choice by imprisoning both Kick Girl and Sumire in chambers filling with nerve gas, forcing him to choose who to rescue first. Kick Girl tells J.J. to rescue Sumire first... and is annoyed when J.J. immediately agrees.
  • Lampshaded in this Nerf NOW!! strip Morality. Pointing out how many hard choices you get seem to be choosing between who dies. It also asks why it is these situations seem to pop up so frequently.
  • The Order of the Stick:
  • In Sailor Moon Cosmos Arc, a brainwashed Chibiusa left Usagi with three choices: watch as she killed the other Senshi, kill her own daughter, or submit to and join Chaos. Usagi lets Chibiusa kill her instead.
  • Parodied in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip "Choose". A villain tells a mother that she must choose one of her children to die to save the other, but she immediately chooses the child she's in the habit of fighting with, and they start yelling at each other again. The villain goes to find a more happy family to capture and give the sadistic choice to.
  • Happens twice in Sonichu, where both times the third option comes so easily and immediately that it might as well be a subversion. The first time happens in Sonichu 9, where Dr. Robotnik and Giovanni threaten to kill Rosechu if Sonichu doesn't comply with their demands, including swearing his loyalty to Reldnahc and making him the mayor of CWCville. Two seconds after this demand is made, Bionic the Hedgehog knocks Giovanni out with a basketball and Darkbind Sonichu slashes off the arm of the robot holding Rosechu captive, thus making it so Sonichu doesn't have to make a choice at all.
    • The second happens in Sonichu 12, during a dream Sonichu had. Count Graduon's voice presents him the choice between saving Christine or Rosechu, both of whom are locked in burning rooms. Sonichu chooses to save Rosechu, who has bashed through the wall between the two rooms by the time he got there, thus making the choice completely pointless.
  • Unfamiliar: After revealing that he was the one who got rid of the curse that messed up her face, the fairy king gives Sun a choice: If Sun agrees to bring Babs to him so that he could force her to marry him, she gets to keep her face, and the fairy king will return the photo of Babs note ; however, if she refuses, the fairy king will still return the photo, but he will also put the curse back on.
  • Vampire Girl: The Vampiress presents Levana with such after has been captured - whether or not she testifies for her transformtion into a mortal, it is made perfectly clear that the outcome of either course of action will result in her being severely punished for forsaking her birthright.
  • In Weak Hero, Robin reveals upon being defeated by Ben that he was just bait, and now Ben has to choose whether to go save Alex, Gerard, or Gray from being ambushed by the rest of Robin's gang. He's saved from the decision by Gerard's timely intervention, having already taken down the gang members that had severely underestimated him. Gerard heads off to support Gray while Ben is able to go save Alex.

    Web Original 
  • Independent YouTube film Caitlyn (Part 1 Part 2) forces a sadistic choice on a girl about 9 years old. She wakes up chained to a pole with some rather tight looking bonds, and finds a handwritten note right in front of her informing her that she is holding the key to the bonds in her hand. If she frees herself, her parents will die. If she drops the key, she will be a prisoner forever. She drops the key. She wakes up in bed, but her parents are gone anyway. Talk about a Downer Ending.
  • Cracked's 3 Reasons It's So Hard to Make Superman Interesting spends a page deconstructing the Boring Invincible Hero and then another reconstructing a hero faced with the choice of whom to save at any given moment.
  • Critical Role
    • Scanlan has one at the end of the first campaign, either use his single 9th level spell slot to Counterspell Vecna's attempt to Teleport away from the battle with Vox Machina, or save it to use on a Wish to save Vax'ildan, who's destined to die after the battle by his god. He chooses the former.
    • Fearne is faced with another a little ways into the third campaign, Orym and Laudna are both dead, Fearne has the means to revive them, but the Revivify spell has a time limit and a material cost so she can only save one of them, and she has only precious seconds to choose.
  • Danny Gonzalez: Attempted and failed in one Vine, where the villain tried to get the hero to choose between his girlfriend and a Bus Full of Innocents.. but got the wrong girl, leading the hero to immediately go after the bus.
  • Done by Quackerjack in Episode 6 of Ducktalez with a pair of gondolas as a reference to The Dark Knight. However, the criminals blow up the gondola with the civilians 3 seconds in.
  • In Elements of Justice, Athena Sykes has to force an ultimatum on her client Sweetie Belle. Either they waive their right to remain silent and testify in court, or Athena will step down as the defense, at which point the guilty verdict will be handed out immediately.
  • Subverted in How Superman Should Have Ended.
  • A meta example in the Joecartoon sketch "Stone Flies II". George Hemp winds up with a psychoactive toad in his lap, and a fly that he made high with his pot breath in the previous sketch eggs him on to lick the toad. If the viewer chooses not to have him lick the toad, it cuts to an extremely muscular guy mutilating a kitty by punching it in the palm of his hand, and he won't stop until the viewer chooses the option to lick the toad. Though, once George licks the toad, his psychedelic-induced hallucinations actually attack him, which ends up killing him.
  • The Key of Awesome. Lauren Francesca's Space Girl is presented with a Sadistic Choice by the evil Dr Brain. He's genetically engineered a fluffy animal designed to appeal to Space Girl's Cuteness Proximity, and wired it into the controls of his doomsday weapon. Will Space Girl sacrifice the cute creature to save an entire planet of hideous green farting aliens? To Be Continued...
  • Parodied by LoadingReadyRun with Meatfist's Terrible Choice, in which a stupid villain faces the even stupider Meatfist with two options; either he gives him the code to the bomb and surrenders, or he throws Meatfist's girlfriend off the roof. Neither of them are bright enough to realize one of these options has no downside, and Meatfist makes a terrible choice.
  • At the end of Nan Quest, Lorenzo reveals that just killing him isn't enough to defeat the Eldritch Abomination; one of Nan's friends must kill him, and then she must kill them in turn. Pablo and Santiago both volunteer. In a subversion, someone else makes the choice so Nan doesn't have to.
  • The Nostalgia Critic
    • He is faced with one in the climax of To Boldly Flee: Return to his own universe where everything's scripted but he has a purpose in life, or step into the real world where he has free will, for better or for worse. Doug Walker notes that if he chooses the latter, he will doom his fellow critics to destruction since that universe is centered around him. He chose to stay and absorb the plot hole to save his friends.
    • In the Man of Steel, Zod threatens him that if he does like the movie he'll be tortured to death, and Joe warns that if he doesn't, the internet will hunt him down like an animal.
  • An unplanned example of this occurs in PBG Hardcore Minecraft #6, when the group is suddenly forced to choose whether to use the Totem of Revival to revive Mc Jones or Dodger when the latter dies moments after the adventuring party successfully returns to their base with the totem.
  • In RWBY:
    • In "Ultimatum", Ironwood gives the heroes a choice: either Penny surrenders herself to him so he can access the Staff of Creation, or he uses a bomb to blow up Mantle. Thanks to Emerald's recent Heel–Face Turn, the heroes are able to Take a Third Option by deceiving Ironwood.
    • Blake is stuck with one at the end of the episode "Worthy": Either she aids Ruby in battling Neo, getting revenge for Neo supposedly killing Yang, or she aids Weiss in protecting Penny and the Staff of Creation against Cinder.
  • SCP Foundation:
    • SCP-516 is a sentient tank that refuses to fire on unarmed sapient humans. So, naturally, one of the researchers orders someone strapped with explosives approach SCP-516 and blow it up, whilst handcuffed to an unarmed sapient human. The tank proceeds to [DATA EXPUNGED].
    • On infrequent occasions (possibly every few centuries), SCP-089 will announce the name of a child 6-years-old or younger and a large-scale disaster of some sort. Unless the child is sacrificed by their own mother (via being put within SCP-089 and burned alive), said disaster will happen and keep happening until the sacrifice is made.
  • Worm in Snare 13.04, Bitch is given one by Burnscar: kill her teammates, or fail the test and have Burnscar kill her friends and her dogs. She refuses, but Burnscar isn't able to kill them.
  • In the X-Ray & Vav episode "The Anti-Vav Ray", The Mad King captures X-Ray and Ash and forces Vav to choose between his superhero partner and his Love Interest. He attempts to Take a Third Option by using his Slo-Mo Hands, but Mogar stops him and calls him a cheater for doing so, the citizens watching him telling Vav off as well, forcing him to do this the old way. Vav ends up choosing Ash, leading to X-Ray to fall into Jell-O made like lava. This was exactly what The Mad King wanted, as he convinced X-Ray earlier that Vav was too caught up in love with Ash. X-Ray gets out and tells Vav off and Ash ends up realizing that her drive to push the Mogar story destroyed their friendship and abandons Vav, leaving the poor hero absolutely confused.

    Real Life 
  • Many nominal Holocaust 'perpetrators' did everything they could to avoid participating, though most were unable to avoid helping in at least some capacity. Some enjoyed or came to enjoy the work. They provide a very, very long list of examples.
    • In 1942-3, Sicherheitspolizei (Si'po) and Ordnungspolizei (Or'po') police units in Poland were ordered by regional Police authorities to dispose of their Jewish 'Hiwis' (non-German 'helpers') to render those regions ''Judenrein'' (non-Jewish). Since many had grown very attached to their Jewish helpers, the first instinct of more compassionate troopers was to let them go. In the weeks and months that followed, Hiwis who'd been allowed to escape were encountered in 'bandit sweeps' or, as the troops called them given the usual victims, Judenjagd (Jew-hunts) — sometimes by the very people who'd let them escape. In one such incident a particularly cruel Order Police officer ordered one of his men, whom he knew had liked their cooking and suspected (correctly) had let them escape, to shoot them. He walked away. note 
    • During the Judenjagd, a Polish informant led an Order Police squad headed by Lieutenant Gnade to a bunker with nine Jews and one Pole. The Polish man had eloped to be there with his Jewish wife. Gnade offered to let him live, if he'd leave his wife to be shot with the others. He stayed. note 
  • Alan Turing: After his crucial work in breaking the Nazi military codes (known as the Enigma codes), and devising the thought experiments that underlie any computer operation more involved than a pocket calculator, he had an affair that turned sour. In a time when homosexuality was illegal, he was convicted of "gross indecency" for having "led his partner astray with his university education." He was given the choice by the judge to either go to prison or begin an antiandrogen regimen. At the time, he chose the latter. He committed suicide not long after.
  • So, what will it be? A virtual strip search, or a grope?
  • The apportioning of available human organs to transplant patients in need of them comes down to this all the time, unfortunately. Likewise, whenever dialysis machines or other life-prolonging equipment are in short supply, life-and-death triage decisions may be necessary.
    • The 'winner' is usually the person who shows the most commitment to using their new organs wisely, meaning they quit drinking or smoking permanently, improve their diet or start making other healthy life-choices like regular exercise.
  • The Oroville Dam crisis in February 2017 culminated in one of these. With the main spillway damaged, and more rain forecast, the dam's operators were left with a choice: increase the rate of flow down the main spillway, draining the reservoir but damaging the spillway further, or leave the flow rate as it was and risk the reservoir overflowing entirely. They chose the former option, but the dam still overflowed onto the emergency spillway for a short time.
  • BDSM can involve this. It's called "predicament bondage" — forced to choose between two or more painful/humiliating options.
  • Triage during a mass casualty incident can get like this: Do you treat people first-come first-serve, or focus limited resources on possibly-fatal-but-easily-treatable injuries to maximize lives saved, but possibly condemning more seriously-injured patients to an untreated death? In fact triage training comes down to focusing the most effort on the life threatened casualties who are the most likely to live.
  • The Spanish hero Alonso Pérez de Guzmán defended the town of Tarifa from a siege by the Moors in 1296, but in the process his son was kidnapped. When they threatened to kill his son unless he handed over the city, according to legend Guzmán gave them his knife.
  • During WWII, Josef Stalin received an ultimatum from the Nazis: either he trades captive Field Marshal Paulus for his captured son Jakov, or Jakov will be painfully executed on camera and the record will be sent to the father. After a while, Stalin's response was reportedlynote : "I do not trade Lieutenants for Field Marshals". He, however, did whatever he could to save his son via other methods, but all it failed. At least, Jakov's execution was not as horrible as planned — just before it started he assaulted the guards and was shot dead. According to the Nazis, Jakov ran into an electrified fence.
  • Some have presented President Harry S. Truman's decision to use the atomic bombs as one of these, given the potential dilemma of choosing between killing a couple hundred thousand Japanese or losing a similar number of Americans and killing an even larger number of Japanese. In his mind, and to virtually all Allied citizens of the time, there was no question what the right thing to do was. At the time, using the bombs to improve the efficiency of the Strategic Bombing campaign was not seen as a particularly horrible or unique decision, what Nina Tannenwald has called 'The Nuclear Taboo' coming about in The '50s.
  • The Coventry dilemma in WW2 was a classic example, despite that it is an urban myth rather than true. As the British had cracked the German Enigma codes, they knew that the city of Coventry was going to be bombed on a certain night. Instead of warning the city, Winston Churchill let it be attacked to preserve the secret that the German codes were broken. While this specific scenario is untrue the general dilemma of protecting intelligence sources versus using what they are able to give is very much true.
  • During "introduction" in a prison cell, new inmates might be asked some kind of trick question with a sadistic streak, just to see what they're made of. Usually it will involve a hurtful option and a debasing one, the stock variant being "What'll it be? A fork in the eye or a pork in the ass?" You aren't even supposed to hesitate when choosing the right option, and whether you know that forks aren't allowed in prison cells is secondary.
  • Cynical types in American politics claim the two-party system is essentially this.
  • A classic question of Utilitarianism is the Trolley Problem: a drunkard is sleeping on a cable car track. A group of people crowds another nearby track. The car is out of control, but you are nearby a switch. The crowd is too thick for all of them to get out of the way, so do you throw the switch and kill the drunk, or let it run over the crowd to save the one? Utilitarianism would say that there's more morality in throwing the switch and letting the drunk die, but neither choice is ideal.
    • There's also an extension of this question: same situation, but rather than pulling a lever, you have to push the drunk guy onto the track to stop the train from hitting the crowd. Despite the utility value being the same, responses tend to be opposite: those that would pull the lever almost never push the guy (probably because you can just claim I Did What I Had to Do with the lever scenario, but pushing the guy onto the tracks would metaphorically, and possibly literally, put his blood on your hands.)
    • When presented to a toy version of this dilemma, a young boy decided to Take a Third Option, as it can be seen in this video. He picked the one (toy-)person, put it with the other five, so one track was empty and the other was with six figures. Then, he... made the train run over all the six.
    • And this has become a real issue with the development of self-driving cars. A typical case is that a group of children jump out in front of such a car, such that the car could not stop in time to avoid hitting them. The car could instead swerve and hit a wall, in which case the driver would risk injury instead of the children. Done by a human driver it's a Heroic Sacrifice; but as the programmer of the self-driving software for the car, whichever choice you program the car to make you are creating a Killer Robot. However, considering that good-quality cars are equipped with safety devices (safety belt and airbags, for example), the driver would be, at least theoretically, better protected than the children, as these devices are placed inside the car and not outside.
    • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has now created a online game called "Moral Machine" to analyze what the public deems as appropriate actions for a self-driving car. Currently (Feb 2017), the majority cares mostly about what saves more lives, does not care about whether or not to save themselves, cares a bit about upholding the law (running over jaywalking people), slightly favour saving females, prefer saving humans over animals, prefer young over old people, thin over fat people and "good" people (in the shape of doctors) over "bad" people (in the shape of bank robbers).
    • This is, in fact, the entire point of the Trolley Problem — it explores human morality by discovering impossible situations that pit one moral emotion against another, separating true, evolved moral drives from mere cultural conventions.
  • Rock Center reported on people who had to choose between a pay raise and losing their government assistance because the increase in salary would disqualify them. For example, a single father had to take a pay cut otherwise he couldn't afford daycare for his three young kids.
  • Winter can be like this in temperate locations. If it's bright and sunny, it'll be bitterly cold. If the temperature is manageable, it'll snow. Or worse, rain that'll freeze overnight.
  • Courier From Warsaw (a World War II memoir) presents the decision to begin Warsaw Uprising as one of these — the leaders could either allow the people to let loose and get massacred, but show their capability and willingness to make a Last Stand for their country — or hold them back, giving Stalin an excuse to come in and take over. The author notes that, in their subsequent talks with him, none of the leaders attempted to shoulder off the blame.
  • The 2008 financial crisis left policymakers and Congress with a choice that absolutely no one wanted to make. Secretary Treasury Hank Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke warned Congress that if the banks were not bailed out, the economy would collapse and the world would be thrown into a second Great Depression. However, much of the public was against any use of taxpayer money to bail out Wall Street. Faced with a choice of letting the economy collapse or enraging the public by bailing out the people who had gotten them into the crisis in the first place, Congress and Washington relented and bailed out Wall Street.
  • Played for Laughs with the meme "A choice was made here," when someone tweets a photo of an amusingly random grocery store item left on the wrong shelf because someone on a limited budget decided to grab what was there instead, like a box of condoms left with the fried chicken, or toilet paper with the beer...
  • In 2016, a young boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. A 17-year-old male named Harambe caught the kid and proceeded to pick him up and drag him around. This left the zookeepers with two options: Shoot Harambe to save the kid and endure the consequences that comes with killing an endangered animal, or try to find another way to save the kid but risk him getting further injured by Harambe in the meantime. They chose the former, and have suffered from the ensuing public backlash ever since.
  • An intentional case during absolutism: Nobles were expected to take part in duels or they would lose their social standing, while dueling was strictly outlawed, which could have equally bad consequences. The silently encouraged third option was to do the act, then beg the monarch for mercy, thereby strengthening the dependence on the central power.


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Alternative Title(s): The Sadistic Choice


N, Ghondor, and Na'el

Faced between the choice of his granddaughter Na'el, who has be possessed by an omnicidal entity, or his father, who has joined the ranks of Moebius and slaughtered the City just to draw out said entity, Ghondor jumps between the two and takes a fatal blow for Na'el, preventing N from killing his great granddaughter. N is horrified that his son died by his hand, but Ghondor chose to place his faith in the next generation to guide the world.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

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Main / OffingTheOffspring

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