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Straw Civilian

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Ashley: It's strange. The geth are attacking, and everyone around here is still worried about ordinary business.
Garrus: You're military, Chief Williams. They're civilians. Civilians never believe the enemy is coming until they're at the gates.

In stories which involve the military, relations between military officers and the politicians whom they answer to can often be a good source of dramatic tension. In some stories, it's the trigger-happy military which is the problem, but if the protagonists are military officers, it's a fair bet that the civilian side of government will either be ignored or will be presented as an obstacle.

It's not just the bureaucrats who are obstructive — it's the entire non-military world. All politicians, regardless of affiliation, are dedicated to blocking, budget-cutting, and otherwise screwing over the military for the sake of short term political gain. (And the criticism isn't just of pacifists - all politics is portrayed as inherently ignoble. If it's only politicians of a certain type who get this treatment, it might be a case of Strawman Political instead.) Courts and lawyers tie the military up with silly regulations which stop them doing their jobs. The news media never understand the realities of war, and reporters are critical of everything the military does. Businessmen just want to profit from the war, and don't care if their products are defective and get soldiers killed. The general public are ungrateful for the sacrifices made by the military. Even non-combat military personnel can be part of it, if they're fastidious about rules or are Armchair Military. Any character who isn't a soldier, really, has no plot purpose except to get in the way of the brave, noble, and self-sacrificing characters who are.

Because the author gets to determine how their world works, it's rare that the civilians will actually have a valid point. Even if they do, though, Sympathetic P.O.V. means that we may not notice it — since soldiers are the protagonists, we'll likely side with them without thinking too closely about whether it's really a good thing for the military to hold civilian authorities in contempt. A military protagonist in a You Have to Believe Me! situation, say, may well look like a General Ripper from the point of view of the civilian, but because the audience knows better, the civilian appears to be unreasonable.

This trope is the reason US Presidents commonly appoint retired military officers to the Secretary of Defense post (and similar posts, including State, Homeland Security, or Director of National Intelligence). Appointing active military personnel to the civilian side of military leadership is against US law, but retired or honorably discharged personnel are allowed to fill civilian roles in the command chain.

Turns up in a lot of Military Science Fiction, but is also found elsewhere. The (mostly) opposite of Armies Are Evil. See Soldiers at the Rear for the non-combat military version.


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  • Attack on Titan: Many civilians look down on the Survey Corps as lunatics and a waste of their taxes. To be fair, until the beginning of the series they had high fatality rates and very little successes to go with it.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing overlaps this with Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters. On the one hand, the protagonists (the Gundam pilots) are fighting against the corrupt Earth government oppressing the space colonies. On the other hand, people (on both the space colonies and Earth) are getting sick of the fighting. Which makes for lots of Contemplate Our Navels on the issue of war and peace.
  • Rebuild World: The Drankam Private Military Company is full of partisan strife between two factions: Old Soldier veterans who make most of the group's income, and young hunters who get lavished with equipment and praise. The latter group is backed by civilian bureaucrats like Mizuha who want to make the young hunters into a Propaganda Hero cadre and thus act as a Spanner in the Works and alienate many veterans into quitting, leading to Right Hand Versus Left Hand incidents. It's the coddling of the rookies that does the most damage, as this turns them into Boisterous Weakling and Leeroy Jenkins hunters who serve as a Red Shirt Army.
  • Subverted in Red River (1995). The Hittite military is the focus on quite a few story arcs and most of the leads are a part of it/involved with it, however part of the reason they're shown in such a good light is their willingness to protect and hear out civilians instead of brutally killing them.
  • Super Dimension Fortress Macross tends to present the military in a more favorable light than civilians, since the majority of the main characters are officers. It helps that the major civilian character outside of Minmay happens to be a gigantic douche. Also, the higher-ups in the UN Spacy (Adm. Hayase, for one) are shown to be a bunch of twits who are more interested in keeping up appearances for political reasons themselves. Really, in this case it's almost a case of Straw Anyone Who Is Not A Macross Crew member.

    Comic Books 
  • The Boys: Vought-American began as one of these, selling faulty rifles to the military that got hundreds of American soldiers killed in Vietnam, not to mention trying to push for their early superheroes to be used in World War II 20 years before, also a total disaster. They've bribed their way out of trouble time and time again, until present day when they're a bloated corporation that controls most superhumans.
  • Civilians of the Marvel Universe seemed constantly primed and ready to turn against their superheroes at the drop of a hat; From J.Jonah Jameson tracing everything wrong with the world back to Spider-Man, Miriam Sharpe callously and insensitively stating Goliath deserved to die, Sally Floyd saying CAPTAIN FRICKIN AMERICA doesnít reflect American values because he doesnít watch NASCAR or have a MySpace account, to the general prejudice that the X-Men feel everyday from regular joes despite them risking (and sometimes losing) their lives for them, itís astounding that no matter how many times the world is saved from supervillains and alien invasions, that the civilians of the Marvel Universe continue to be dicks to their heroes.

  • Unbuilt but visible in The Thing from Another World, where the scientists (especially Dr. Carrington) butt heads with the military men about how to deal with the creature.
  • Hamburger Hill has this as a point of contention, fitting with the anti-war movement. A lot of the soldiers we see are met with nothing but hostility by anti-war Americans, who do things like throw bags of dog shit at them, harass a bartender whose son died in Vietnam, coerce another soldier's girlfriend to stop writing to him because his service is "immoral", and even praising the North Vietnamese Army as "heroic" and calling the US soldiers "Evil." One character even signs up for another tour in Vietnam after coming home to nothing but hostility.

  • Animorphs: In book #47, the Animorphs approach a group of human campers who happen to be in between the Yeerks and the free Hork-Bajir valley to get them to evacuate. Jake is forced to morph to Hork-Bajir to get them to listen, and the respond by treating the plot like a episode of Star Trek. Most of them don't even realize that they're risking death by staying until the Yeerks are imminent.
  • Tom Clancy's novels have this on occasion, though he averts this trope as often as he plays it straight. Generally, whilst civilians often get in the military's way, their plight/position is portrayed with respect - in The Cardinal of the Kremlin, for instance, the President's Chief of Staff argues against rescuing the titular American spy, citing the fact that it could compromise dramatic diplomatic successes. Whilst the protagonists are against him, his argument is given a fair hearing.
  • BattleTech:
    • The fiction leans heavily towards this. The less military experience the ruler of a Successor State has, the less trustworthy they are. (The one exception to this rule may be the late Melissa Steiner-Davion, and even she had to pick up a gun and get her hands personally dirty at a young age when kidnappers came calling during one interstellar voyage.)
    • Used and deconstructed with The Clans. Founded by military members as a society free from selfish civilian political influences, It soon devolved into a totalitarian martial culture who aren't actually that good at warfare, and spend more time fighting each other than the Inner Sphere.
  • People in Sword of Truth are supposed to look foolish for not joining Richard's empire and disagreeing with his strategy of total war against the Imperial Order. But look at it like this. Richard is descended from the line of the Rahls, notorious for being crazy power hungry bastards. He ascended to rule the D'Haran Empire by killing his father. He continues to employ the Mord-Sith, whose primary purpose for existing is just to torture people. Most of the claims about the Imperial Order's evil initially comes from Richard and his own soldiers. And he's continuing his father's expansionist policies, and also insisting that people perform the devotion, in which they spend a total of four hours every day essentially praying to Richard. (There's a magical reason why this protects them, but most people don't know about it). He's also fond of making references to how much killing he does. Oh, and he broke a little girl's jaw. Would you trust this guy? Well you should, because he's right, and if you don't join with him the Order will kill and rape everyone in the country. Although that may happen anyway. However, Richard simply expects them to get in line without hesitation and also threatens punishment for anyone who doesn't, demanding complete surrender of everything they have into his control. Is it any wonder many refuse? The text acts like it's just them being unreasonable, but from their perspective it has to come off as very suspicious, and he does little to convince them of his benevolence.
  • A surprising aversion is the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Despite the fact that the military officers are usually portrayed well, there are several times where it is shown that they are wrong in not wanting to bow to civilian authorities. Good examples include Guan Yu and Zhang Fei's resentment of Zhuge Liang before his plans win the day at Bowang Slope and the Wu military's resentment of Lu Xun before he shows his worth at Yiling.
  • In Starship Troopers, civilians are portrayed as being incapable of really understanding the need for a military at all.
  • Edge of Apocalypse: The protagonist is a private contractor who designed a missile-defense system that works by reprogramming missiles via a laser to send them back to their point of origin. He consistently refuses to let the American Congress even see the details about the system they're paying for, because he feels only he can be trusted with it. In this story, he's completely right because all the politicians who want information about the system that will essentially nuke any location a missile is fired upon, whether the President or anyone wants to do so or not, are working with foreign conspirators who want to bring the U.S. down into a One World Government. Unsurprisingly, it's from one of the co-authors of Left Behind.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe is full of these. Anyone who is against the main characters are usually, conniving cowardly jerks who do it for their own self interest, and in favor of the enemy. One example are the Peace Brigades during the Yuuzhan Vong war, who sell out Jedi and other Republic personnel to the Vong to save their own skins.
  • In Island in the Sea of Time, Pamela Lisketter and her followers, all of them civilians, actively aid Walker because they object to Alston's plans to intervene in the war between the Iraiina and the Fiernan.
  • In Stark's War, this is explored and deconstructed. Sergeant Stark and his people mostly have negative views of "civs", thinking that they demand sacrifice of the military while refusing to contribute anything, and that they hypocritically look down on soldiers as violent thugs while still being happy to watch the carnage on television. When Stark actually goes to meet some of the civilians whose colony he's protecting, it isn't quite as he thought: the civilians of the colony are subject to Indentured Servitude and martial law, rather than living privileged lives thanks to soldiers' sacrifices (as soldiers tend to believe). Moreover, it turns out military command has been lying to the civilians that rank-and-file troops are to blame for prolonging the war, saying that ordinary soldiers would refuse to accept a settlement which the civilians would welcome.
  • Tom Kratman tends to include these in his works of Military Science Fiction, ranging from agenda-driven liberal journalists to genuinely well-intentioned (but naive) anti-war protesters to massively corrupt politicos and NGO bureaucrats.

    Live Action TV 
  • JAG became more obvious about this trope when the producers were given official approval by the Pentagon. Strawman News Media characters were a common occurrence. One of few exceptions to this generalization seems to be the Sudanese "peopleís poet" Professor Dobotu in the fourth season episode "Embassy" who is depicted as a Gandhi-like Gentleman Snarker.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) can wander this way. Given most of the characters are military figures or those who associate with them regularly, and that the Colonial Military of Galactica represents the only functioning organization they have left (such that fleet wide control, government and supply -including basics such as providing water - are impossible without them) this is hardly surprising. People who, often for good reasons, try to change things have to look bad to keep things steady, and it can veer too far on occasion. However, this is actually an improvement on Battlestar Galactica (1978), which screenwriter Ronald D. Moore viewed as a beneficent military dictatorship where the black-shirted guards were power-drunk Mooks and the surviving civilian leadership was either greedy or treasonous.
  • Stargate SG-1 had the NID, a civilian agency that started out merely short-sightedly bureaucratic, but became full-blown villainous in no time at all. Furthermore, on almost every occasion where non-military groups learn about the Stargate, bad things happen; ranging from kidnappings, to assassinations, to creating brand new long-time villain characters. At least 2 recurring Goa'uld baddies were hosted by civilians who stumbled upon extra-terrestrial treasure troves.
  • Dr. Franklin fills this role in Babylon 5. He shunned military service (partially because of his father the general). He refused to help in creating bioweapons to fight the genocidal Minbari. He also constantly criticizes the other, more trigger-happy human protagonists. But then again, as the eponymous station's doctor he's the one who has to clean up after a firefight.
  • Star Trek had a couple of these, most notably Nilz Barris from "The Trouble With Tribbles". Kirk actually says that Nilz Barris is the first Federation official he has met whose competence he has questioned. That said, there were a lot of egomaniacal ambassadors and scientists who were consistently willing to put their own careers ahead of the lives of the crew. Though, the admiralty is usually depicted as being even worse.
    • In-Universe, Jake Sisko is treated like this in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Valiant" in which he opposes a plan to attack a Dominion battleship with a Defiant-class destroyer run by a Space Cadet crew. He turns out to be completely, tragically right when the Valiant is wrecked and almost everyone is killed.

  • From the famous "St. Crispin's Day" speech in Henry V we have the following lines, disparaging those who would not fight with Harry at Agincourt.
    And gentlemen in England now a-bed/ Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks/ That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

    Video Games 
  • Gears of War: Anybody who's non-military is shown to be a complete asshole to COG soldiers - and their own. This is, of course, justified, as the COG weren't exactly saints before or after E-Day.
  • Left 4 Dead: The Civil Emergency and Defense Agecny (CEDA) is shown to be a civilian government organization that is ineffective at dealing with the zombie apocalypse, like providing useless, even dangerous advice to citizens (like telling them to NOT arm themselves.) Eventually, everyone is relieved when the military shuts them down and begins a much more pragmatic (and non-peaceful) approach.
  • The Last of Us: Subverted. The bureaucrats in the U.S. government are removed from power due to their failure to contain the zombie outbreak. The only civilian branch that hasn't been shutdown is the Federal Disaster Response Agency (FEDRA), who assume total governmental control. FEDRA is technically a civilian government agency (like homeland security), but they apparently have the exact same goals as the military. Even 20 years after the outbreak, FEDRA still has control (and the support) of the military; although they're so similar that it's hard to tell them apart.
  • Mass Effect: Ashley has this view about civilians. Her above quote is repeated when talking with different party members, each of whom will have a different response; Garrus (who is from a culture of Proud Warrior Race Guys) will reply that such thinking is to be expected, while Tali (who comes from a highly communal culture of space nomads) will say that the civilians' work is necessary and Liara (who is an anthropologist and historian from a society of libertarian semi-pacifists) finds the fact that people can enjoy everyday routines to be comforting.
    • The series as a whole gives off a strong "Military good; politicians bad" theme with Shepard themselves being a military veteran, Shepard's closest confidants all being military, and the only civilian politicians you deal with on a regular basis (Udina and the Council) being a bunch of cowardly, self-serving bureaucrats.
  • Nintendo Wars: While civilians are largely non-existent in the series, the village of Freehaven — or rather, its mayor — plays this role in Advance Wars: Days of Ruin. The Mayor seems to believe the only reason the military exists is to show up, deal with anything that threatens his safety and security, and then go away so he doesn't have to look at them. When Freehaven falls and its citizens have to join the heroes, the people split into two factions — one that actively works and tries to help their protectors, and one that refuses to do anything and demands the soldiers attend to the civilians' needs instead of their own. Guess who leads the latter faction.
  • Red Faction: Armageddon: This trope is a plot point. The civilians are hostile toward Mason and the military sent to protect them. This isn't entirely unjustified considering the presence of military rations while food and water are otherwise scarce and the sudden appearance of the alien creatures suspiciously at the same time Mason went missing.