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To Win Without Fighting

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"The epitome of martial excellence isn't winning every battle, but winning without fighting."
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

A situation where one side wins by putting the other side at such a massive disadvantage that the issue of fighting it out never comes up. Named for Sun Tzu's recommendations in The Art of War, it is often the mark of a Badass Pacifist or sometimes a Guile Hero, and particularly of the All-Loving Hero, and it often can happen on a small scale as well with one group putting the other at such a disadvantage that they give up without ever coming to blows.

Colonel Badass has the Evil Army surrounded. It's a no-go situation for the villains. The Ragtag Bunch of Misfits have completely disabled their supply lines. The Cavalry that were expected to have arrived have been distracted by La Résistance and have failed to arrive. They're low on ammunition, starving, and exhausted. The Redshirt Army mounts the ridges on all sides of the Evil Army, just about ready to launch into a brutal melee in which many of the good guys' soldiers will probably die, but after which the Evil Army will be utterly annihilated.

But the charge never comes… instead, a single soldier marches out of the allied ranks. The Hero gives the enemy a chance to surrender themselves, explaining that this is a Last-Second Chance and that failure to relinquish their weapons will result in their painful and bloody slaughter. And it works.

General Ripper is ignored as men throw down their weapons and surrender in droves to the good guys. Drill Sergeant Nasty desperately tries to restore order but is defeated and maybe even murdered by the soldiers he has been oppressing the spirits of for so long. The Evil Overlord screams in frustration and indicates for his allies to defend him, only for the Token Good Teammate to be the first to break ranks, followed shortly by the rest of the group and finally, to the Big Bad's horror, even his faithful dragon. The matter is completely resolved and the Evil Army disbanded without anyone getting killed by the good guys.

Related is Talking the Monster to Death, where a character lacks overwhelming tactical superiority but instead wins by diplomacy. Another possibility for non-violent victory is Victory Through Intimidation, in which the character is weaker than the total enemy force but can bring down whichever one of them makes himself a target by starting a fight. It may also go along with Shaming the Mob — what kind of army are you to keep fighting a losing war for this bad guy? This is opposite to Violence is the Only Option, where any attempt to resolve the situation peacefully either fails or turns out to be a trick by the villains. For obvious reasons, The Dreaded is often invoked.

This trope is a powerful tool; it leaves the impression of a powerful, impressive hero or sympathetic antagonist who has defeated his or her enemy so completely he could crush him with a signal… yet he doesn't, because he knows that it is not necessary. Sometimes the greatest sign of power is not having to use it. It is particularly powerful when combined with Character Development; a hero who was previously merciless and hot-headed, yet impotent, who grows into this wise, merciful, and yet powerful figure by story's end is someone who will leave a lasting impression on any audience.

Compare Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing

This frequently serves as the Sister Trope to the No-Harm Requirement where the characters aren't allowed or willing to cause violence and thus have to win without fighting.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Endride, this is the ultimate aim of the rebel army, the Ignauts. If they build enough allies, they think they might be able to sit down and negotiate with King Delzaine to step down and prevent things from coming to bloodshed.
  • Though it doesn't work, Rider from Fate/Zero tries this in the Grail War. He makes offers to the other Servants to join his army of world conquest, with no takers, and suggests that they simply debate and decide who deserves the Grail more that way.
  • Grenadier: It's the entire teaching that Tendou Rushuna abides to. Her tactics involve disarming enemies in such an awesome display of skill that the enemy would be so utterly discouraged to continue fighting they would simply surrender even with no lives lost. The tactic served her so well that during the entire run of the manga/anime, her kill count is essentially zero despite having skills rivalling that of Trigun's Vash. That being said, she relies on kind words, hugs, and warm smiles as much as she does physics-defying gunplay.
  • Irresponsible Captain Tylor. The fleets of Earth and the Raalgon Empire stand poised for a climatic and bloody battle, likely the first of many. Tylor orders the Earth fleet to advance slowly towards the enemy. The enemy commander orders his forces not to fire until Earth's does. In a tense game of chicken, both fleets pass each other without firing a shot. Maybe all-out war will start someday, but for now they remain at an uneasy peace. A key piece of evidence for Tylor being a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass.
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes:
    • Kircheis is sent with 2,000 ships to put down a rebellion on a planet, with the rebels having a network of Kill Sats that obliterated the previous 3,000-strong fleet that had tried. When he's finished preparing the battle, the Kill Sats are obliterated, and the rebels are surrendering (aside from their leader, who promptly gets killed by his own men). For this and the record time (scarcely two days), Kircheis becomes a hero.
    • Yang Wenli goes one over when he captures Iserlohn fortress without a single friendly casualty, although he is forced to open fire due to the enemy admiral being a complete General Ripper. He even pulls off the same Kill Sat destruction as Kircheis, substituting ramjet-propelled blocks of ice for fancy imperial technology. He takes back Heinessen from the National Salvation Military Council with a grand total of human losses of two (one of which, being the man sent by Reinhard to cause the coup, may or may not count for this). They don't call him "The Magician" for nothing.
  • In Maoyu, The Hero and Demon King actively try to avoid battles and fighting whenever possible, as they are trying to end a war in such a way that all the factions win. They have limited success because of their opponents being Proud Warrior Races or ruthless generals with We Have Reserves-like mindsets, but they still have their bloodless victories, as when Hero managed to free Gateway City without a single casualty. In fact, The Hero initially has quite a bit of Wangst over the fact that beating people up is all he's good for, when his meeting with the Demon King has taught him that doing so never actually solves anything. Starting with the Gateway City events, however, he starts to realize that his tactical insight and raw power can be applied towards this trope — using intimidation and psychological warfare to shift the strategic situation without actually killing anyone.
  • How did Tet from No Game No Life become The One True God? Simple; the other gods killed each other off fighting for the title, and Tet (who refused participate in the war) ended up as the sole surviving god.
  • That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: Rimuru's philosophy as a ruler is to try to avoid conflict as much as he can and possibly build friendly relations with those of other countries/powerful entities. To this end, he tries diplomacy towards those who would seek conflict with him and only makes a showing of his considerable strength to serve as a warning. He only resorts to violence if the opposition would be a danger to everyone including his subjects without chance of negotiation (such as the Orc Disaster and Charybdis) or if his subjects were attacked without provocation (like the Kingdom of Falmuth).
  • In Vinland Saga, Thors defines being a "true warrior" as being this. Having grown sick of violence and renouncing it altogether, his son Thorfinn eventually strives to become like his father.

    Comic Books 
  • A character that greatly embodies this trope is Lady Shiva, reputed as the greatest martial artist in the DC Universe. To any ordinary human (and even some supers), Lady Shiva is an Invincible Villain that they have to figure out how to avoid or survive — often while protecting someone else or trying to achieve a mission. In many cases, this is a test on Shiva's part, as she just wants to see what her target will do when faced with certain death and will go away if they show sufficient cleverness or bravery. The most common way to temporarily get rid of her, however, is to promise to face her in a fair Duel to the Death in one year's time. After which, they will need to train as if their life depends on it...because it does.
  • Despite having Improbable Aiming Skills and Bottomless Magazines at hand, even Lucky Luke is sometimes able to win without fighting. Twice he simply tricked an opponent into showing off their skills, using up all their bullets in the process.
  • In both Marvel and DC universes, there have been cases where people have simply surrendered when one of the major powerhouse heroes has shown up. Examples include:
    • The North Vietnamese and Vietcong surrendering when Dr. Manhatten intervened in the Vietnam War.
    • An insurgent force against the US in a Middle Eastern country abruptly stopped fighting when Superman showed up (even though he was just there to evacuate Lois Lane, who was wounded while covering the combat).
  • Robin (1993): Tim revived Lady Shiva after he stopped her heart when given temporary superpowers, so she gave him a favor. He later used the favor to get her to leave Connor Hawke alone when she was about to kill him, rather than have himself and Dick try fighting her. Shiva assumed this meant Tim was out of luck when she showed up to fight him to the death a year later in return for having trained him with a bo staff, but Tim poisoned her ahead of time as he knew he had no chance in a straight fight against her.

    Fan Works 
  • In Dæmorphing, the Guardians of the Galaxy don't have the technology to fight the Andalites who are planning to blow up Earth, so they stage a diplomatic meeting instead. It works.
  • The Many Dates of Danny Fenton (Danny Phantom, Western Animation, TV Series, and Comic Books.): Danny beats Katie Kaboom not by using his powers, but by calling her out on the damage she's caused and making clear that he's not interested in her.
  • At the end of Luminosity's sequel Radiance, Siobhan wants to go on hunting humans for their blood. Bella forces her to give up on this, not by fighting her, but by using Elspeth's "honesty voice" to persuade her that (with Siobhan now subject to Allirea's Perception Filter) any further attempt to harm humans wouldn't end well for her.
  • In Sight, Ichigo wins control of his Inner Hollow by choosing not to fight him. Ichigo reasons that the hollow is a part of him and will not allow the baser aspect of himself to control him by deeming him a threat that he must fight. This act figuratively and literally disarms the Inner Hollow.
  • In the AU Star Wars fic TIE Fighter: Resurrection Thrawn pulls this on a cornered Rebel fleet after their last-ditch attempt to out-gambit him backfires. As he has long-term plans for their ships and crews, it's not entirely out of the goodness of his heart rather than a need for resources, but he still has no desire to inflict casualties for their own sake. The Rebel crews, now mostly buying into the notion of Thrawn's invincibility, take him up on the offer over the objections of the task force's commander (bel Iblis.)
  • A minor example in With Strings Attached: When the four are first being escorted through the Idris' castle, they ask about some grimy tapestries on the wall. Fi'ar explains that they depict how the Idris conquered Ketafa, and how the city-state of Focan capitulated rather than get massacred. Unfortunately, while the Idris spared the leaders' lives, angry rebels assassinated them within a year.
  • In Wish Carefully, rather than battle them, Harry decides to make a deal with the Death Eaters: they'll no longer have to deal with Muggles, Muggleborns, squibs, and those that support the Light Side, and have control over Wizarding Britain, just like they wanted. As the title itself states, the Death Eaters really should have been careful what they wished for. As a result of the Magically-Binding Contract, the Light has been thriving with the Death Eaters withering on the vine, their entire society on the verge of collapse after showing just what their pureblood supremacist ideology would lead to.
  • Discussed in Worldwar: War of Equals. Shiplord Straha suggest that rather than sending soldiers to fight and die trying to conquer Earth, they just batter the planet with nukes until the Humans give in. The plan is shot down instantly due to a glassed planet not being a good place for the colonists.

    Films — Animation 
  • Batman: Soul of the Dragon: An arrogant Bouncer starts to pick a fight with Richard Dragon in what seems to be a clear Bullying a Dragon scenario. But then Richard tricks him into a gated area on the pretense that they'd fight there and just locks the bouncer inside when he enters it without a thought. Richard then casually leaves the area while ignoring the man's angry screams.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, the baron, having come back from the dead, confronts the Right ordinary Horito Jackson. Horito's troops suddenly switch onto the baron's side and let all the people out, revealing the war was long over.
  • Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon describes his fighting style to an Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy as "the art of fighting without fighting." Then proceeds to demonstrate it by tricking him into a tiny row-boat being dragged behind the ship.
  • The final battle in Everything Everywhere All at Once is this. Evelyn uses her multiversal powers to show kindness to her assailants, reconnecting them with things that bring them joy.
  • In Fail Safe, a political scientist (Walter Matthau) recommends that the president (Henry Fonda) allow an accidental nuclear strike to proceed, since it will cause the Soviets to simply surrender as a matter of ruthless efficiency.
  • In The Karate Kid and its sequels, Mr. Miyagi is a firm believer that the best defense is "no be there". This man can, and will utterly destroy someone if there is no other option, but if simply walking away means he doesn't have to that's what he'll do every time.
  • In The Last of the Mohicans — as well as in the actual incident that inspired it — the French commander offers the British fort a chance to surrender; they accept, knowing that they don't have a chance against the French mortars.
  • In Star Wars, the idea with the Death Star, a giant battle station able to blow off entire planets, is not so much to use it, but to use the fear of what it could do to hold rebellious systems in line. In what is now Star Wars Legends, the Tarkin Doctrine is fully explained, referencing experiences with the Star Destroyers. While much smaller than the Death Star, they were still much bigger than any other warship before them, a fact which would by itself often keep people from fighting. Which, in Tarkin's words, made it possible to "Rule through the fear of force rather than through force itself." In the end, the doctrine backfired when people, instead of becoming fearful, got angry over what the Death Star could do — and did.
  • Witness: The end has the Amish aid Book in defeating Schaeffer simply by bearing witness to his misdeeds. He's unwilling to try murdering them (and probably couldn't, even practically speaking). Instead, he gives up to Book.

  • The Trope Namer is Sun Tzu's The Art of War, of course. See the page quote. A big part of Sun Tzu's military philosophy is that fighting is a matter of last resort, and that it is far better (i.e. cheaper, less destructive, and less bothersome) to win by simply making victory seem impossible to the enemy. (The victory doesn't have to be impossible; only seem impossible to them.)
  • Invoked by the "loser" in the Discworld book Night Watch. Vimes' realizes that he cannot win against an incoming mob of angry oppressed citizens, so instead he orders the Watch house brightly lit, totally open, and all Watchmen disarmed, while he stands in front of the building holding a cup of cocoa in one hand and a cigar in the other, thus obviously not holding a weapon so that even the most belligerent mob member could not be confused. All this completely deflates the mob because their once-hated target was now obviously and completely harmless. Vimes' decision not to fight saves everyone by persuading the mob to not destroy the station, and avoids the impression that the police are arming themselves against their own people.
    • Considering the Patrician at the time was trying to violently quell a city-wide revolution, Sun Tzu would approve as well: "If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even though the ruler forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory, then you must not fight even at the ruler's bidding."
    • In Guards! Guards!, Carrot, being told that the Watch's authority stops at the doors of any guild house and thus he must leave if refused entry without resorting to any violence, manages to gain entry into the very paranoid and terrified Fools' Guild by using some very specific wording.
      Carrot: (to the Chief Fool) I was given an order just before I came in here. If you do not comply, I will have no choice but to obey that order. Of course, I will do so with the greatest r-eluctance.
      Chief Fool: Listen! If I shout, I can have a dozen men in here.
      Carrot: Believe me, that will only make it easier for me to obey.
    • As an absolutely flabbergasted Sergeant Colon thinks to himself, "He had seen people bluff with a bad hand. He had never seen anyone bluff with no cards."
  • In Dragon Bones, Ward's aunt Stala taught him to only fight when he can be sure to win, and never fight when the armies are evenly matched, for even though he might win, many of his own people would die. He takes it up to eleven, by not fighting against the bad guy at all — instead, he gives him leave to invade his castle, evacuates his own people, and then makes the castle collapse by killing his friend and ally, Oreg, who is also sort of a Genius Loci of the castle. Of course, that part was Oreg's plan, but that it'd be unwise to fight was Ward's thinking. The only thing left to do is remove the bodies of the enemies, and repair the damage.
  • Isaac Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy:
  • The General Series: Raj Whitehall's life's ambition is to win a war without actually fighting a battle.
  • Happens once in the Hand of Thrawn duology. The Big Bad Triumvirate are using a scheme to make it look as if Grand Admiral Thrawn, the greatest military genius the galaxy has ever known, is Back from the Dead, and the galaxy's not sure if this is a trick or not. One group sends a small force against him as a test. The Triumvirate manages to figure out who they are and start the opening move of one of Thrawn's responses against these people, a response which had the last time totally decimated their taskforce. Convinced, the small force flees.
    • No small part of luck was involved for the Triumvirate, as the group in question was concealing their identity by using unmarked ships of a type not normally associated with them. But the actual Thrawn imposter, seemingly the least important member of the Triumvirate since any actor with the right body build and some cosmetic surgery could look like Thrawn, had underworld connections in his previous job as a con-artist and was aware of the planetary government in question having recently bought ships of that type on the black market as an unauthorized expansion of their navy. Thus, with the attackers' identity revealed, the Triumvirate's tactician knew exactly what tactics Thrawn had used against them before.
  • This is often how Harry Potter operates, hence why his Signature Move is Expelliarmus, which disarms an opponent before a Wizard Duel can even begin. Disarming an opponent, or just murdering them outside the context of a duel, is also apparently a way to defeat the nigh-unbeatable Elder Wand, thereby securing the wand's loyalty until someone else does the same to you.
  • Frank Herbert's Heretics of Dune. In the Back Story, Miles Teg was a famous Bene Gesserit military commander.
    Teg's reputation was an almost universal thing throughout human society of this age. At the Battle of Markon, it had been enough for the enemy to know that Teg was there opposite them in person. They sued for terms.
  • St. Anne's in C. S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength, who rely on the eldila to stop the bad guys. While one skeptical ally wants to use human might to win, Ransom knows it wouldn't work.
  • David Weber's Honor Harrington series deconstructs this trope, by presenting us with the Solarian League, who the Manticorans and Havenites spend 10 books tiptoeing on egg shells around to prevent bringing them into their war against each other. Eventually, tensions erupt between the Solarian League and the Star Empire of Manticore, where everyone realizes that centuries of winning without fighting has resulted in the Solarian League's military growing horrifically antiquated due to their complacency.
    • Also Averted in several cases where the Solarians go ahead with their attacks despite the RMN demonstrating that they possesses utterly overwhelming superiority (Imperial ships can hit at several times the effective range of League ones, and the Solarian defenses are utterly useless against Imperial missiles.
    • Although it can happen in the aftermath of battles, a general policy held by assorted star nations in the Honorverse is that when an enemy force holds the orbital zone of a planet, the planet surrenders. This is due to the fact that once a fleet holds the uncontested high ground, they can launch precision kinetic strikes on the planet at will and there's no planet-based weapons in the setting that can strike back.
  • Subverted in The Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf marches up to the Black Gate and demands that Sauron surrender; he wants Sauron to think that he has the Ring, and only someone with the Ring would be powerful enough to be so brazen. (This point is lost in the movie; despite that Merry and Pippin say that "the enemy thinks we have the Ring," there's no mention of Sauron later thinking that Gandalf or Aragorn having it — only Aragorn having the sword of Elendil, which gives him no special power against Sauron's armies.)
    • Played straight when Númenor marches on Mordor and the orcs flee at the sight of the Númenorian army, forcing Sauron to surrender. Although that was a gambit on Sauron's part.
  • The Lost Fleet: For 'Black Jack' Geary, the best outcome would be to exit Syndic space without ever confronting the armed forces of same - his subordinates feel very differently.
  • In the third book of The Shadow Campaigns, Janus quotes his universe's equivalent of the Art of War, in which it states that the perfect battle is one where the winner is so obvious in advance that there's no reason to fight it. In the following book, it gets painfully averted when he sets a battle of this nature up, and the fanatics in the opposing army attack anyway and get slaughtered pointlessly. He then bitterly notes that the book didn't mention that such a perfect battle is depending on both sides recognizing and acknowledging how one sided the battle is before fighting it.
  • One Star Trek: The Next Generation novel had the Enterprise trying to keep two forces from annihilating each other. While trying to come up with a permanent solution, they successfully bluff their own military superiority by claiming they needed to release some energy buildup in their phaser banks. They assured each side that it was only a small fraction of the maximum output and proceeded to obliterate a large asteroid Made of Explodium with a full power phaser blast.
  • Played straight and then deconstructed in Vatta's War, with the star system of Nexus being considered immune from attack due to their stranglehold on interstellar faster-than-light communication. At least until someone else figures out how to build their own and improve on them.
  • In The Vor Game, Miles is faced with a situation where he has led his (relatively small) forces to charge headlong on the point where the action will be, if he's right. He considers, for a moment, what will happen if this wild move spooks the (unbelievably huge) opposing forces into believing their invasion plans are in jeopardy and, as a result, never carry them out. He concludes that, if that happens, he will have performed the perfect war of manoeuvre by his father's own definition...
    Of course, I'll have political egg on my face and a lynch mob after me from three sides, but Dad will understand... I hope.
    • Miles's father had used the same strategy in the conquest of Komarr. By undercutting Komarr's alliances with its neighbors and getting their mercenaries to cut and run, he was able to get the Komarran Senate to surrender without a shot being fired. Unfortunately The Political Officer went behind Aral's back and had the Senate gunned down by a firing squad, generating decades of ill-will from the Komarrans and giving Aral the undeserved name of The Butcher of Komarr.
  • In the Warrior Cats prequel Bluestar's Prophecy, Sunstar decides to take back Sunningrocks from RiverClan by walking into their camp with a patrol and announcing that Sunningrocks is ThunderClan's territory now, and that any RiverClan blood spilled in an attempt to re-claim it will be on their leader Hailstar's paws. As Sunstar had planned, every Clan knows how strong ThunderClan is at that point, and RiverClan doesn't make an attempt to re-claim it after that.
  • It is mentioned in the The Salvation War that sieges of demon castles often went along these lines, if the defense felt they were outmatched and would just surrender. The war itself was fairly bloodless...on the human side.
  • In Worm, Villain Protagonist Skitter successfully pulls this off several times when fighting her Hero Antagonist opponents, such as when she was captured by Flechette but managed to get her to leave Skitter to look after her friend Parian to ensure that Parian was not walking into a trap.
    • Another example occurs when Skitter is cornered in a high school cafeteria by Dragon and Defiant, her secret identity exposed, and uses her status as a Villain with Good Publicity to convince the high schoolers to side with her and nonviolently walk out of the building with her — the heroes refuse to attack innocent civilians just to get Skitter.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A season 1 episode of Babylon 5 has Sinclair do this with a bunch of dock workers, who are striking because they are being treated unfairly by the government. Sinclair wants to help, but the Earth government orders him to follow the "Rush Act," which forces him to end the illegal strike "by any means necessary," including violence. Sinclair follows orders, accompanies his army of security personnel down to the dock workers, and gives them the pay raise and safety updates they wanted; before the enactment of the Rush Act, he couldn't give them anything, because his hands were tied up by bureaucracy, but since he can now resolve the conflict "by any means necessary," he gives them the raises they deserve.
  • This is how the Doctor prefers to operate, being a Technical Pacifist and a Martial Pacifist. He tries negotiation, or Talking the Monster to Death, or if necessary, using Terror Hero tactics. But if all of those don't work...then The Gloves Come Off.
  • In the Merlin (1998) series, this is how King Arthur wins the war against Lord Lot, and subsequently gains him as an ally.
  • Rome: When it becomes apparent that Julius Caesar has crossed the Rubicon with his legions intent on installing himself in Rome as its absolute ruler, the Republican faction in the city discuss how they can stop him. Pompey has to concede that an adequate defense cannot be mustered in time to stop him, and they must retreat from the capital. Even though he is adamant that the city can simply be retaken later, Cato mercilessly chews him out for this.
    Cato: You have lost Rome, without unsheathing your sword. You have lost! ROME!
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In "Chain of Command", Captain Jellico has Riker navigate a shuttlecraft through the dense nebula where the Cardassians are hiding, preparing an attack. Riker sets up a massive network of mines along the hulls of the Cardassian ships. They're forced to comply with Jellico's demands and leave without fighting.
    • In "The Defector", the Enterprise, having been given bad information by a well-meaning Defector from Decadence, walks into a Romulan trap. They are saved by a cloaked force of Klingon warships, who accompanied them due to Picard's suspicions. The Romulans, having hoped for an easy opening victory and now being presented with, at best, a Heroic Sacrifice, decide instead to retreat.
  • From Star Trek: The Original Series, there is of course, the Corbomite Maneuver, where Kirk is able to bluff his way out of a fight by convincing his potential enemy that to engage his ship would result in their immediate destruction in turn.
    • Harlan tries a similar move in Space Cases, but his bluff is immediately called, most likely because he is facing off against Warlord Shenk, who, being portrayed by George Takei, would totally know the Corbomite Maneuver.
  • The end of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is part this...though the Dominion is ready to fight to the death in the Cardassian system, an act of compassion from Odo to the lead female Changeling is enough to end the war. This saved the lives of billions of Cardassian civilians that would have been caught in the crossfire (having recently turned on their Dominion allies/oppressors)
  • Happens on occasion in the Ultra Series. If the Ultras or humans believe the Monster of the Week doesn't deserve to be killed, they'll often try to "defeat" it in a different way. This usually involves taking it someplace else or fulfilling its needs.

  • Sabaton's "The Art of War" is a full reference to Sun Tzu's own writings on the matter.
    I will run, they will hunt me in vain,
    I will hide, they’ll be searching,
    I’ll regroup, feign retreat, they’ll pursue,
    Coup de grace, I will win but never fight,
    That's the Art of War!

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Book of Mormon: Captain Moroni arranges on several occasions to outnumber and outmaneuver the Lamanites so effectively that they surrender rather than fighting.
    • He approaches a city where Nephite prisoners are held, and contrives to get the guards blackout drunk, then arms all the prisoners, then has his armies surround the guards. When they wake up (presumably with hangovers) and find themselves completely outmatched, they're quick to throw down their weapons.
    • It takes several attempts, but he's able to persuade Zerahemnah's armies that they stand no chance and need to give up. Once Moroni has them surrounded, he tries to talk Zerahemnah down, offering freedom if they vow not to come back, but Zerahemnah rejects the offer and attacks him personally — and is promptly stopped and humiliated by Moroni's guards, after which many of the Lamanites take the deal. Zerahemnah is angry, and calls for the remainder to resume battle, but they start dying so fast that he reconsiders his position and asks for the chance to take the vow, which Moroni gives him.
      Moroni: Behold, Zerahemnah, that we do not desire to be men of blood. Ye know that ye are in our hands, yet we do not desire to slay you.
  • Legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi grew weary of needlessly killing the younger samurai who kept challenging him, so he simply stopped fighting. One tale goes that one day, he was riding in a boat across a lake with another man, who revealed himself to be a samurai and challenged Musashi while they were in the boat, where he couldn't escape. The older samurai pointed out that it would capsize if they fought in it. He pointed to an island in the middle of the lake, and said that they should battle there. When the younger samurai got out of the boat, Miyamoto Musashi shoved off, leaving him stranded. As he rowed away, he called out, "My style is fighting without fighting." A variation on this story occurs in Enter the Dragon.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Wargames might be the last place you expect this trope to appear, but it is in fact part of the canon of BattleTech, and enacted by the Proud Warrior Race Guys known as the Clans no less, who believe firmly that honorable victory on the battlefield is the apex of achievement. It says something, then that Clan Wolf manages to spare themselves the cost of men and materiel in invading the heavily defended planet of Gunzburg by meeting with the defending commander and convincing him that while the defenders might be able to put up a fight, they would ultimately lose even a battle of attrition, and that his people would suffer. This realization touches the defending commander, who turns over the world peacefully for the sake of not bringing war to his people, and leading to the legend of a Clan warrior single-handedly capturing the planet.
    • The Battle of Coventry, where the Jade Falcons attack the planet Coventry in an attempt to salvage some dignity, get hamstrung when Khan Vlad Ward of their longtime rivals, Clan Wolf (who is in a secret alliance with the Lyran Alliance) declares that they're going to be marauding through their now thinned rear ranks. Honor-bound to continue the assault on Coventry, the Jade Falcon leadership is caught in a bind. Katrina Steiner (the other half of the secret alliance) calls for aid from Comstar's Com Guard. Her brother (whom she hates) Victor Davion joins up with the task force, along with several regiments from across the Inner Sphere. How does Vic solve the Coventry crisis? With advice from a Clan warrior on loan for counsel, he offers Hegira, a Clan custom of honorable withdrawal. The Falcons are off of Coventry, and the Falcons can now bring the force of their (still somewhat weakened) armed forces upon the Wolf marauders. Katherine is furious that Victor extricated himself from a bloody fight that she was hoping he would have been killed in. Not only that, but Victor's bloodless victory gave him the political clout to call an interstellar meeting to unify the entire Inner Sphere into a second Star League against the Clans.
  • One major event in the Primordial War in Exalted was a Solar taking She Who Lives In Her Name, an Eldritch Abomination capable of astonishing displays of power, out of the fight for a writing her a letter describing the death of another Primordial, causing her enough distress to make her withdraw for longer than a mortal lifespan in order to grieve. Solars also have access to a lot of social-fu mind-whammying that can convert potential enemies into firm allies or even virtual slaves.
  • In the Forgotten Realms setting, along with diplomacy this is the preferred way to solve conflicts of the followers of Eldath, the Goddess of Peace. Up to exhausting their enemies to the point they'll forget why they were fighting and will give up.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Part of the reason the Tau are so effective is that they have an entire caste of their society dedicated to diplomacy, just as they have one dedicated to warfare, each working in concert for the Greater Good. Many Imperial worlds fall under Tau dominion simply by virtue of the Tau offering a better deal than the Imperium (instead of strongarming them into the fold as the Imperium inevitably tries to do).
    • The Imperium does have diplomats as well, but they're only ever seen in fluff and novels (it's not called Peace Negotiations 40,000...).
    • The Eldar are experts at getting their enemies to fight their battles for them, or sacrificing one enemy against another enemy to save Eldar lives somewhere down the line.
  • This is one of the greatest gifts of Chalana Arroy of Glorantha. Given that she's strongly associated with the Harmony Rune, overcoming obstacles via force or violence is literally out of the question. Instead, given her role as a Healer God, she tends to cure people of their problems instead. This is illustrated repeatedly in her most notable myth, Chalana Arroy Heals the Scars. One of the lessons a heroquester has to learn in that myth is "the secret of winning without causing the other person to lose."

    Video Games 
  • In Black & White 2, playing as a Good god involves building up a Shining City so magnificent that your enemies have a Heel Realization and join your forces. With strong enough defenses, your citizens and the enemy armies never see a hair of each other before that point. Or you could just turn them into livestock, which is also non-violent as far as the Karma Meter is concerned...
  • Kreia in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords:
    Direct action is not always the best way. It is a far greater victory to make another see through your eyes than to close theirs forever.
  • All of the Mass Effect games have situations that allow Commander Shepard to resolve them via Charm or Intimidation, often by convincing their opponent to back down before a shot is fired. For example, in the first game you encounter a pair of armed warehouse workers while storming a crime boss's hideout, and are caught in a Mexican Standoff. One resolution is to convince the workers that this would be a good time to leave their jobs, another to point out that you just slaughtered 15 soldiers who were far more capable than they are.
    Ashley: (surprised) Nobody died.
    Kaidan: I could shoot someone if it makes you feel better.
    Ashley: Nah! I'm good.
  • At the end of Mysteries of the Sith, Mara Jade faces Kyle Katarn in a Duel to the Death. The fight is unwinnable, but an image on one of the chamber walls gives the key to winning: deactivate your lightsaber. Kyle moves in for a killing blow, but comes to his senses, realizing he had lost himself to the Dark Side.
  • Seven Kingdoms offers various victory condition aside of fighting other faction until there is one last kingdom standing such as gaining certain Economic or Population score or battling Frythans instead of the other kingdoms, having the greatest Frythan Battling score before a certain year passed. But even if those conditions were disabled and you absolutely have to be the last kingdom standing, there are other ways than just rushing to your enemy's well-fortified base and suffering the loss of reputation and fine soldiers. Such as:
    • Bribing your enemy generals with spies until there's nothing left but the King. Then watch as you send another spy to assassinate him, and he named the successor that is your spy, bringing his whole kingdom to you; or you declare war on him anyway, but all of his generals and soldiers deserted aside of the men inside his own fort, therefore, leaving the fighting at minimum and hugely in your favor. It requires a lot of money, but it's doable.
    • Not giving them access to natural resources by being keen in where natural resources spawn. When you possesses lots of money and can generate a lot of them, that means your people are well paid and well fed. Meanwhile, your enemy that has built such great military power... now lacked the funds and food to feed his men. This will result a huge drop in loyalty that their men and villages deserting them one by one and in the end, only the enemy king remains and he has no choice but to surrender to you.
  • In Suikoden II, this is how Highland was able to conquer Greenhill. Highland freed the Muse soldiers and sent them to Greenhill which doubled the Greenhill's entire army. Then Highland decided to lay siege without attacking it. This resulted in food supply cut short for Greenhill, a lot of mouths to feed, and erupted a Civil War.
  • In Team Fortress 2, the Soldier references the Sun Tzu quote from The Art of War during one of his victory lines... and then dismisses it as nonsense.
    Soldier: Sun Tzu said "Winning a hundred wars is not the best thing. The best thing is to win without fighting at all." Men, Sun Tzu is an idiot! And if I ever see him, I will punch him in his mouth!
  • This is ultimately the goal in the various Hitman games. It is an option to just charge in, guns blazing, and utterly perforate your target, but this solution is always needlessly messy, needlessly difficult, and gets low at best scores. The ultimate goal of these games is to come up with clever and indirect means of killing your targets that make it look like an accident, without so much as disturbing any non-targets (let alone actually fighting them). Besides, why would you ever want to pull a trigger when you could broil Yuki alive in a sauna, feed Rico to a hippo, crush Tamara in a grape press, and the list goes on and on and on — the world is your oyster.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Double Homework, when the protagonist, Morgan, and Rachel go to the bridge to forcibly remove the "captain", he surrenders without a fight.
    "Captain": I'm not being paid enough for physical violence.

    Web Comics 
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!: During the attack on Butane, Galatea calls Riboflavin out for not at least attempting this; they've got the Butanians at a seemingly hopeless disadvantage, and she favors simply scaring them into surrendering, to give them a bloodless victory. Riboflavin answers, "Bloodless victory? Where's the fun in that?!" She successfully leads a mutiny against him (well, a mutiny of the only other two people on the ship).

    Web Original 
  • Atop the Fourth Wall: This is how Linkara defeats the Entity the second time around. At the climax of the Sleepwalker Arc, he eventually realized that the "game" the Entity had been playing the entire arc wasn't to win - it was just something to do. The first time they fought, Linkara defeated the Entity by making it realize its own existence was meaningless and the goal it had been pursuing was a dead end. Thus, it made fighting against him its sole purpose. Once Linkara realizes this, he simply quits, and refuses to keep playing along. Robbed of its last semblance of purpose, the Entity sadly submits to quietly fading from existence.

    Western Animation 
  • In Jackie Chan Adventures, one of the lessons Jackie would try to impart on Jade was "The greatest victory is the battle not fought."

    Real Life 
  • Older Than Feudalism: Sun Tzu emphasizes bloodless victory over a victorious battle.
    • Much of the art of warfare as practiced by the post-Alexander the Great Greek kingdoms was about position and getting every possible advantage, so that the enemy would cede the battle before it began. Both sides were composed largely of highly-drilled professional sarissa-style pikemen or phalanxes, and usually similar in numbers. Actual combat was a grinding, attrition-based affair that resulted in heavy casualties on both sides, weakening the victor almost as much as the loser. It was in no-one's interest to fight head-on, and difficult to force an enemy to fight at a disadvantage when cavalry was often helpless against their infantry's ranked pikes, so warfare usually consisted of maneuvering until one side or the other found themselves in a bad position and sued for terms. The Roman citizen-armies, willing to take heavy losses and unwilling to leave aside a war without being annihilated or victorious, completely wrecked this style of warfare within a couple of generations.
    • Older Than Print: the Condottiere warfare in Medieval Italy was one of manoeuvre and indirect warfare. The object was to out-manouevre the enemy into a hopeless position where he would lose certainly if he'd risk a battle. This has often been interpreted as cowardice, but in reality it was combat pragmatism as often the armies were made up by mercenary companies who wanted as few casualties as possible. When the condottieri faced themselves in an open battle, the battles tended to be extremely bloody.
  • The United States took Guam from Spain without casualties during the Spanish-American War. The American cruiser USS Charleston and a small fleet of support ships turned up off the coast near Piti on June 20, 1898, and fired a warning shot at the Spanish fort. Having not been informed yet that they were at war, and not even having ammuinition at the time, the fort's captain mistook the shots as a traditional maritime greeting. He took a boat out to greet the American ship. They were promptly told of the situation, and surrendered without a fight. A Spanish businessman on the island, Francisco Portusach—who happened to be an acquaintance of the captain of the Charleston—was made the Governor of Guam on behalf of the United States two days later.
  • During World War II the Japanese never intended to invade the mainland of the US, and were intending to invoke this trope after Pearl Harbor. They only intended to neutralize the US Pacific fleet to prevent American intervention while they secured a defensive perimeter of island colonies so they could continue their main goal of exploiting the resources of Southeast Asia. This backfired horribly (for them) as they were ones whose Pacific fleet ended up being neutralized. The American carriers being out of town at the time didn't help the Japanese cause.
  • Operation Desert Storm had many instances of this as most of the Iraqi army surrendered to the Allied forces — despite predictions that they'd fight to the death, and that "body bags would be coming back full of American casualties". As comedian Bill Hicks mused, Iraq's "elite Republican Guard" were discussed in hushed tones, but shortly became just "the Republican Guard", until one was left wondering if there were any Iraqi guards at all. There was also at least one instance of an Iraqi unit so desperate to surrender and avoid getting destroyed in battle, that they tried to surrender to an Italian film crew. Other units surrendered to a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). The UAV wasn't an act of simply being desperate to surrender; in Gulf 1 the UAVs in use were Navy, used for shore bombardment spotting for the Iowa-class battleships. The Iraqis correctly deduced that the presence of the UAV meant it was soon going to rain 16" shells. With no defense against the battleship guns, they took the smart way out.
  • In 1994, the United States planned an Invasion of Haiti to overthrow Raoul Cédras and reinstall the democratically elected President of Haiti. American paratroopers were on their way to invade when Cédras was shown footage of the invasion force. The footage persuaded Cédras to surrender to the Americans before the paratroopers even reached the island.
  • In WWII, a US force of 1,000 men from a series of art schools had entire German divisions (14,000 combat troops) surrendering to them in the very last month of the war (when the Germans were surrendering to non-Soviet forces at the drop of a hat)... by pretending to be two divisions (i.e. more than 30,000 men). They did this with the use of a handful of real trucks, armoured vehicles, tanks, and artillery pieces... and the use of a whole bunch of other stuff to fake the appearance of several thousand. Their primary use up to that point had just been helping the Germans misjudge the future direction of Allied attacks (there weren't even 500,000 Allied combat-troops on the western front, so a fake 30,000 men [who only needed enough food and spare parts for a thousand men!] was a big deal for them). Getting German troops to surrender to them wasn't their purpose, but it's an awesome story.
  • Epaminondos is famous for winning at Leuctra (by overweighting one wing to make the side opposed collapse before the Spartans could compensate, while pulling back, "refusing" the other to buy time). His greatest achievement, though, was to realize that Sparta's economy and military system was dependent on the labor of large numbers of Helots who had little reason to love Sparta and much reason not to. All he had to do was have an army-in-being for a long enough time in Spartan territory, large enough to survive, and the Helots would all run away at once, knowing their masters were busy. No Helots, no Sparta.
  • The Great Stand on Ugra. In 1476 Russian prince Ivan III started to deny the traditional tribute to the Golden Horde. The Horde, weakened by the internal strife and the war with the Crimea, managed to send the punitive expedition only in 1480, and while their army was numerous, they failed to adequately arm and supply it, hoping that it could be reinforced and supplied by their Lithuanian allies. They also hoped that Ivan's quarrels with his brothers would prevent him from mounting adequate defense. However, when the two armies come to a head at Ugra river, it became obvious that not only was the Russian army much better equippednote , but Russians were now allied with Crimeans and the Lithuanians were delayed by their own internal problems. After the initial Mongol attempt to cross the river was thwarted in a major battlenote , two armies faced each other for a couple of months. Faced with the unwinnable tactical situation, witnessing the constant arrival of Russian reinforcementsnote  and plagued by low supplies, epidemics, and coming winter, the Mongols finally gave up, decided to fold it, and retreated back.
  • Essentially, this is what police negotiators WANT to happen, as the authorities will always outnumber the suspects in a siege like situation. Many times, however, this fails, as the suspects are extremely desperate. Sun Tzu talked about this as well (smart man, he was). Basically, it came down to, "make the enemy think that there is a way out, to avoid him fighting desperately to the death." On the flip side, he also said, "if you're on the wrong end of this, cut off your own escape routes to get your troops to fight to the death."
  • The Sonderbund War or Swiss Civil War of 1847 was won by the liberal (mainly Protestant) cantons under General Guillaume-Henri Dufour with less than 100 dead on both sides combined. This relatively bloodless victory allowed for a swift reconciliation and the foundation of Switzerland as a true constitutional and democratic nation state the following year. As an aside, General Dufour was later an important figure in the foundation of the International Committee of the Red Cross and presided over the first Geneva Convention, establishing his credentials as a true Martial Pacifist.
  • Judging from his Wikiquote page, Carl von Clausewitz was not a fan; this perhaps should not be construed as saying that Clausewitz was a Blood Knight, however — he is likely more commenting on the fact that War Is Hell no matter what you did, and being an Actual Pacifist got you nowhere once war became inevitable.
    Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat the enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: War is such a dangerous business that mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst.
  • Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud did this once to the Al-Rashids by going behind his lines and raiding. As the Rashid's army cared much more about the fate of their camels than about the Rashid's cause, they all left, allowing Ibn Saud to end the year with a successful campaign.
  • This trope was essentially the basis of tactical doctrine in eighteenth century wars, in which the best generals were considered those who could position their troops in such a way to force the enemy to surrender without losing any men. When The French Revolution came along and men started fighting to the death for political and national ideals, the generals of the old school found it hard to adapt.
  • The first rule of virtually any martial art or fighting discipline boils down to some variation on "The best way to win a fight is to not get into one in the first place."
  • The Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction. After the US used the first and only offensive nuclear weapons, the Soviet quickly developed their own, fearing that without the capability, the US would use their superior weapon to impose its will on the rest of the world. So they built their own bombs. Of course, one bomb wouldn't cut it, so they built many (or gave the illusion that they had, the so called Bomber and Missile gaps that the US were afraid of were in their favor... the Soviets were just good at hiding that fact). So the US built many in response. As the effects of such a weapon became known, no one wanted to use them... but no one wanted to back down from the possibility of using them for fear that the other side was just evil enough to use such back down to launch a strike. Conventional war was untenable as Nukes would fly as soon as one side saw they were losing. What ultimately won the cold war wasn't an open war but a combination of economics factors that lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Most of them were internal, but it should be pointed out that the Star Wars Defense Program (no, not that Star Wars!) that proposed a way to neutralize the Soviet Arsenal. It wouldn't be another 30 years before the tech to feasibly make such a system would be created, but the Soviets didn't know that and began spending huge amounts on a way to counter such a system.
  • Naval strategy has the concept of a "fleet in being," where a fleet of warships in port can project influence simply by existing. Even if the fleet can't or won't leave port, even if it would be defeated in a straight-up naval engagement against a superior enemy fleet, the very fact that it exists as a potential threat forces the enemy to spend time and resources monitoring it and guarding potential targets within its range of operations.
  • When it comes to abusive families, hiding or taking the abuse will just encourage more abuse, reasoning won't work because the abusers will make excuses, gaslight, or weasel their way around and restart their abuse, and fighting back often won't solve the underlying issues with the abuse, and might just encourage retaliation. So, sometimes, it's best to just walk away, cut ties with the abuser, and never look back (that is if they don't decide to stalk you).
  • Most laws regarding self-defense either require or just heavily encourage that you attempt non-violent means of defending yourself like retreating rather than fighting back. While there are a lot, and we mean a lot of ifs, ands, or buts, and they vary by country, province, and state, generally you're only allowed to use violence to defend yourself if there's no other way to keep yourself safe (like being cornered, having attempted other means that failed, or being attacked so quickly there was either no time to attempt other means or you defending yourself was spontaneous).


Video Example(s):


Richard Tricks a Bouncer

Richard locks away an arrogant bouncer instead of bothering to fight him.

How well does it match the trope?

4.9 (21 votes)

Example of:

Main / ToWinWithoutFighting

Media sources: