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War Crime Subverts Heroism

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"The real war will never get in the books."

A form of Kick the Dog in war movies, where the heroes (or more often, someone else on the same side as the heroes) commit a war crime of some sort, most often the mistreatment of enemy prisoners of war or civilians. Done to illustrate that most wars aren't instances of Black-and-White Morality, as well as the mix of good and bad in most armies and how wartime can change a person's personality. Sometimes, these crimes will be reprisals for earlier ones against the heroes' side. May sometimes overlap with Token Evil Teammate or Sociopathic Soldier if the one performing the crime is on the "heroic side". Occasionally, these crimes are portrayed as justified for the principles of Pay Evil unto Evil or a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.

A fairly young trope that emerged from the previously-hidden Truth in Television of The Vietnam War. Often used to show that War Is Hell and/or to avert Do Not Do This Cool Thing. Compare Shoot the Medic First, Sink the Lifeboats, Leave No Survivors. Contrast The Women Are Safe with Us, Would Not Shoot a Civilian.

It is important to note that this scene, whether in real life or in a work, does not mean the entire army Rapes, Pillages, and Burns. Unless the work in question is an Author Tract about how Armies Are Evil, in which case it might be included for this purpose.

See also The Laws and Customs of War.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Emperor Rescue Mission Arc in The Five Star Stories features a scene with the AKD forces (more or less the good guys here) lining up and shooting captured enemy troops as the Morale Officer (actually a member of the Headdliner corps in disguise) begs their commanding officer to call it off.
  • The Qin State in Kingdom may be "the good guys", but it doesn't stop some of their generals to go into extremes with captured cities, with varying degrees of justification and methods of purging the civilians. The worst part is that it sometimes helps to win. Shin's Chronic Hero Syndrome nearly cost him his entire career and life at the hands of his own commanders, though it didn't stop his dream of becoming "the greatest general that won't use unnecessary violence". Other states are also not above demonstrating acts of genocide though.

    Comic Books 
  • 300 tries to play this as entirely justified and even admirable with its iconic scene of the heroic and manly king of Sparta kicking an unarmed messenger down the well from Army of Darkness.
  • Über opens with the Battle of Berlin in World War II underway and doesn't shy away from depicting Allies committing brutalities like some Soviet soldiers raping German civilians.
  • DC Comics Bombshells: In Greece, Wonder Woman has to stop Allied soldiers from executing captured German prisoners. They make the point that Germans have done worse, and Wonder Woman makes the point that that is the reason they need to be better than the Nazis.
  • Strange Adventures (2020): Throughout the series, it's hinted that Adam Strange did some brutal things to the Pykkts during their invasion of Rann, the planet he swore to protect. Partway through the series, we see one of them: sneaking into a Pykkt military base at night and detonating a chemical weapon (a war crime), and then setting a trap to kill any Pykkts who tried to flee the base (no quarter; also a war crime). The icing on the cake is that Adam jokes about letting some of them go, before returning to the task at hand. Whether what he did to the Pykkts was justified is the driving question of the series.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima both showed the protagonists of both films (American in the former, Japanese in the latter) killing enemy soldiers trying to surrender by stabbing them with bayonets (and setting them on fire in one case). Known to have actually happened quite a bit in the Pacific Theater on both sides, as it was common for a surrender to be a ruse instead.
  • Saving Private Ryan:
    • The shooting of surrendering Czech conscripts by American troops during D-Day.
      Soldier #1: What'd he say!?
      Soldier #2: [raises hands in imitation of the surrendering troops] "Look! I washed for supper!" Hehehehaha!
    • The mental torture of the German soldier after the assault on the machinegun nest, with Reiben threatening to desert The Squad if they don't execute the German and Horvath threatening to shoot Reiben if he doesn't obey orders and get back in line. When Upham kills the same German trooper that was captured but set free earlier, while he's surrendering, but only after Upham saw him deliberately shoot Captain Miller, the man who let him live.
    • During D-Day, Miller instructs one of his men to deploy a flamethrower into a German bunker. Soldiers come pouring out of the bunker on fire. Another American soldier instructs his men not to shoot at them and instead to let them burn, thus guaranteeing them a slower, more painful death.
  • In The Longest Day, there is one brief scene with an American shooting a German soldier who is unarmed and trying to surrender, saying, "Bitte, bitte!" The American soldier says, "I wonder what 'bitter bitter' means." It was later found that, historically, the medic that shot the Germans spoke German, but had a "take no prisoners" policy.
  • The extended version of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers movie shows Faramir's troops brutalizing Gollum in hope of getting him to talk. This scene was cut for the theatrical version.
  • In The Hurt Locker, an American Army officer opts to withhold medical treatment from a wounded insurgent who would otherwise survive. It's implied the insurgent is shot shortly thereafter to hasten the process. The Colonel announced "he didn't survive" right in front of the prisoner. A soldier responds "yes sir" and we hear two gunshots.
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 2 has two of these. The first is the annihilation of a huge underground fortress of the evil empire by the rebels, resulting in indiscriminate mass casualties among soldiers and civilians. The second one is even more heinous: the bombing of civilians including many children, and making it look like the evil empire did it.
  • To Hell and Back (1955) has the scene where Audie Murphy shoots several German soldiers as they try to surrender. The film was an autobiography. Also potentially the Trope Maker.
  • The Foreigner is not quite about a full-blown war, but unflinchingly portrays morality ranging from grey to black on all three sides: the protagonist, and the two sides he is caught in the middle of. The trope example comes in when government forces torture a terrorist off-screen, and then—after getting the information they need—summarily execute that terrorist on screen (rather than arrest and have them answer for their crimes). She is a woman, too.
  • Full Metal Jacket makes no attempt to assign moral roles to each side of the conflict and consequently includes two scenes:
    • An American door gunner is randomly shooting civilians as they fly over rice paddies.
      Gunner: Anyone who runs is a VC. Anyone who stands still is a well-disciplined VC! You guys oughta do a story about me sometime!
      Joker: Why should we do a story about you?
      Gunner: 'Cuz I'm so fuckin' good! I done got me 157 dead gooks killed. Plus 50 water buffalo, too! Them's all confirmed!
      Joker: Any women or children?
      Gunner: Sometimes!
      Joker: How can you shoot women or children?
      Gunner: Easy! Ya just don't lead 'em so much! [laughs] Ain't war hell?
    • Joker later finishes off a severely wounded Vietcong sniper that his partner just shot up. Even if she wasn't going to survive, putting someone out of their misery (even at their request) is still a crime.
  • Inglourious Basterds: Pretty much every act committed by the Basterds is a war crime, from donning enemy uniforms to torturing their own spy to beating prisoners to death with a baseball bat. Of course, given that their enemies are Nazis, their brutality ends up becoming Pay Evil unto Evil.
  • In the Russian war movie Zvezda, a Soviet scout team captures a German soldier, interrogates him (with help of their innocent, nerdy interpreter who earlier demonstrated his knowledge of German by quoting a poem) and then shoot him while he's crying, "I'm not a Nazi! I'm a proletarian!" Then it gets a bit more brutal.
  • Pretty much everything Bunny does in Platoon, including beating a crippled Vietnamese civilian and his elderly mother to death just for the hell of it and nearly raping a young girl.
  • Battle: Los Angeles has a particularly disturbing scene where the Marines have grabbed one of the wounded alien invaders. The Marines had previously emptied entire magazines into individual invaders to little effect, so Staff Sergeant Nantz has his men hold the alien down while he and a local veterinarian rip, cut, and stab at the still-living alien's body in search of a vital point. Once they find a point to aim for, the Marines become a lot more effective at bringing down the invaders. Unusually, the movie doesn't present the scene in either a negative or positive light; the viewer is left to determine whether or not the act is justified or heinous. The aliens themselves have a take-no-prisoners policy, and dead civilians can be seen throughout, as it's stated the aliens shoot up everything living in sight which explains the Marine's actions toward said invaders.
  • The Dirty Dozen has been criticized for depicting war crimes: in one scene, Lee Marvin's character orders that a group of surrendered German soldiers be summarily executed. A later scene in which a group of German officers and their wives/mistresses are killed in a basement has also been cited as an example, though in the context of the mission the killing of the women would more likely be classified as collateral damage.
  • The whole point of The Whistleblower. The UN peacekeepers stationed in 1990s Bosnia are importing girls to be their sex slaves. Based on a true story.
  • Play Dirty ends with the only two survivors of the squad (with the possible exception of a man left behind with a mortal gut wound who potentially hadn't died yet) being gunned down by a British soldier who saw their white flag (they were disguised as German soldiers) and shot them anyway. The killer's CO simply said "Don't do it again".
  • Red Dawn. The Wolverines are more than happy to bomb civilian buildings and torture, then execute, captured Russian soldiers."Because we live here".
  • The Steel Helmet by Samuel Fuller featured this trope in The '50s. Near the end, Zack shoots "red" the communist. This scene was so controversial that Fuller was invited to the Pentagon to explain himself. Fuller insisted that this scene was meant to be a realistic depiction of what soldiers do in wartime and that Zack was hardly an inspiring soldier, and that it was by no means an endorsement. Fuller, a former US Infantryman, also pointed out that this happened all the time during World War II and his own commanding officer testified in his defense. The Pentagon was not amused but they let it slide.
  • Several cases in Fury, committed by the main characters.
    • Committed by Wardaddy in an attempt to cure Norman of his fear of killing. He holds Norman's hand to a gun to force him to shoot a German prisoner who's pleading for his life and even shows them pictures of his family.
      • This one is a little grey though. The prisoner was wearing an Allied uniform, which according to the Geneva Conventions, an enemy soldier captured wearing any article of your own side's uniform or gear or carrying your side's issued weapon is legally considered an infiltrator and subject to summary execution.
    • A little later Wardaddy orders the summary execution of a captured SS officer. The officer had been hanging civilians for not joining the army at gunpoint, so it might have been legal - if there had been a modicum of due process attached.
    • Wardaddy treats German women as spoils of war and lets his men have their way with them (not an Eastern Front mass rape situation, but still). He even tells Norman to have sex with Emma or else he will.
  • In Yamato, American planes are shown strafing Japanese civilians. One such attack claims the life of Kamio's mother.
  • Vietnam War documentary Hearts and Minds is chock full o'war crimes, all perpetrated by the Americans of course. Children poisoned by napalm, a man screaming hysterically because his little children were killed by an American bomb, American soldiers torching a village—in other words, not a good 4th of July film.
  • In Mohawk, Calvin sets fire to an American camp, killing 22 sleeping soldiers, as retaliation for American attacks against the Mohawk, despite the Mohawk being nominally neutral in the war.
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, set in The American Civil War, has a Union officer subjecting Confederate POWs to brutal beatings, while others are forced to stand outside singing to cover up the noises. While it fits the film's War Is Hell theme, the camp commandant doesn't approve or accept the notion that it's justified by Confederate cruelty to Union prisoners—too bad he himself is dying. Also, the officer responsible happens to be the main antagonist, who's irredeemably evil even for a cast of not-very-nice people.
  • In A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die!, Sgt. Brent uses a Gatling gun to mow down Confederate soldiers who are attempting to surrender while laughing insanely.

  • Animorphs:
    • In "The Hork-Bajir Chronicles", we discover that the (up until now apparently innocent) Andalite host of the leader of the Earth invasion killed thousands, if not millions, of Hork-Bajir in an effort to keep that planet from falling into enemy hands. By creating and releasing a virus that will break down the DNA proteins unique to the Hork-Bajir, meaning a peaceful race whose resistance movement has been of tremendous help has had an enormous percentage of their population die by having their bodies disintegrate slowly and painfully. Halfway through the Chronicles Dak gives a report on the Yeerk progress and estimates they've taken a hundred thousand Hork-Bajir hosts; in Visser, set at most thirty years later, Visser One estimates that the best case scenario for the maximum number of Hork-Bajir Controllers that could be gathered is fifty thousand. Their population has not recovered.
    • A recurring theme is to what degree the Animorphs' actions are war crimes, especially since the Puppeteer Parasites they fight a.) are helpless in their natural form and b.) cannot be harmed without hurting their host if they are given a fighting chance.
    • Probably the best example of this trope is the second to last book, where Jake has a pool of 17,000 helpless unhosted Yeerks dumped into space to freeze and suffocate.. At the time his only excuse was fury at the Auxiliaries getting slaughtered. In the next book, Jake is rattled and unhappy that a lawyer has called him a war criminal. Cassie, trying to make him feel better and justify it to herself, says it wasn't a war crime because the Yeerks had come to Earth to prey on humans, humans had never harmed them before then; humans are the victims of the conflict. Jake can see this perspective, but he rejects it because he hadn't been thinking like her, in terms of it being a terrible thing to do. He'd wanted them to die in pain and been ecstatic to make this desire a reality. Marco then chimes in, but Cassie is too disturbed to agree.
    "Well, dude, you don’t get to be a war criminal by thinking bad thoughts. It’s what was done, not what was felt or thought. You have to judge the act. You were acting in self-defense. You were enjoying the fact that you were winning. Two different things."
  • Hammer's Slammers: War crimes are one of David Drake's favorite ways to keep the audience from getting too attached to his protagonists.
    • In one of the chronologically earliest stories, Colonel Hammer catches some flak from rear-echelon types for dealing with an insurgency by having family members of known insurgents ridding on Slammers' vehicles while moving through hostile territory; ambushes of Slammers armor columns dropped, and several attempted ambushes failed because "somebody noticed their wife or kid on the lead vehicle." Also, gassing a village being used as a heavily fortified base by those insurgents, using gas rather than a nuke only because a gas attack could be done without drawing the attention of reporters. Hammer's actions are about par for the course in the setting.
    • Obviously, frequent use of Overkill and WMDs (nuclear and chemical) on civilian populations, too. And a specific story about destruction of a historical shrine due to it being abused as a shield for military forces by one side.
  • The Reynard Cycle: Tybalt's men rape and torture prisoners of war in the second chapter of Defender of the Crown, leading to a confrontation between Tybalt and Isengrim. Reynard cites War Is Hell in order to get Isengrim to stand down.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has all five sides in the war committing terrible war crimes. The worst were committed by Tywin Lannister's outrider troops, although Robb Stark's army were incredibly brutal to the peasants in the allied Riverlands (though to be fair, the commander of this army was Roose Bolton, who neither asked nor cared for Robb's approval, and simply did it. Plus he later sold Robb out to the Lannisters). Tavern wenches who slept with Lannister soldiers were likewise executed and hanged from trees, their bodies left to the crows. However, Stannis Baratheon does have a habit of punishing his men for this, such as castrating those who raped Wildling women even though Stannis was fighting the Wildlings.
  • The Sword of Truth series has shades of this, where there are several drastic and questionable actions the hero takes (having a prisoner tortured, mowing down peace protesters, imposing total war). Sometimes averted, where it's treated as if the hero doing this is ''completely right and just'' (the peace protesters), while in other places it's justified as the only option he has left (the total war). It's ''always'' portrayed as totally right and just, the only distinguishing factor is how long they spend providing self-justifications. At one point Kahlan explained how torturing a captured soldier to death as slowly as possible was the right thing to do so he (who saw himself as a martyr) could understand how important life was.
  • In the climax of Run Silent Run Deep, the hero has his submarine Sink the Lifeboats to make sure a particularly effective Japanese destroyer captain will never sink another American sub. His crew obey orders, but they're shocked. In the sequel Dust on the Sea, it is made obvious that the American captain's own mileage varied.
  • As part of his Genre Deconstruction of the Chivalric Romance, Cervantes has Don Quixote travel to Barcelona, a province of the Spanish Empire that is facing a Civil War. Sancho, being the Butt-Monkey, gets lost at night in a forest whose trees are filled with feet wearing shoes and stockings. Don Quixote calmly explains that the authorities hang outlaws by twenties and thirties when they catch them.
  • Harry Potter: In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry himself uses the Unforgivable torture-inflicting Cruciatus Curse to ambush a Death Eater — and reminds us that for the curse to work, you have to genuinely want the target to suffer.
  • In The Five People You Meet in Heaven, a war crime is the main impetus for the plot. The protagonist is Eddie, a World War II veteran who fought in the Pacific. He ends up being held as a prisoner of war, but he and the others manage to escape. After escaping, they burn the camp down. Eddie ends up thinking that there is a little girl inside one of the huts near the camp and tries to run back into the hut, but is shot in the leg. After he dies (years later at the age of 83) and goes to heaven, he meets, among others, the little girl that was in the hut.
  • A Venezuelan sniper in Countdown: M Day assassinates Seamus O'Reiley after the rest of her unit had formally surrendered. In a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, M Day soldiers start killing Venezuelan POWs, until his wife stops the unit... eventually. If not for thinking about what he would have done in a similar situation, she would have taken even longer to order his unit to stop the POW killing.
  • In Shards of Honor, Cordelia and Aral Vorkosigan's first meeting is laced with these. An unexpected meeting between his squad and her survey team turned into a firefight, which would be bad enough on its own (the Betans were unarmed non-combatants), but by the time they catch up with the Barrayaran forces a few days later, they are in the process of torturing a mute, brain-damaged Betan prisoner to death.
  • The Hunger Games: Used plenty on the rebel side in the Final Battle for the Capitol, starting when Katniss kills a random civilian woman who stumbles on her squad as they infiltrate the Capitol-held territory, then dialled up in the final sequence with the rebels (including Gale and Katniss) firing indiscriminately into crowds of civilians, Gale murdering a wounded peacekeeper to take his rifle and finally District 13 aircraft firebombing a courtyard packed with children, using bombs with delayed fuses to eliminate the rescue personnel.
  • In Caliphate, American troops put down an Islamist rebellion in the Philippines by gathering DNA from terrorists and targeting anyone who might share it.
  • Gilded Serpent: Lord Killian is horrified when he finds out that during a border conflict, a group of soldiers from his army has been attacking innocent villagers and murdering children.
  • In Vertical Run, the event which drove Dave to quit the army when he was in Vietnam: one of his fellow soldiers, along with other members of his unit, decapitated a group of women in a Vietnamese village and placed their heads on pikes, justifying their actions by calling them Vietcong collaborators, despite there being no evidence of this. It leads Dave's commanding officer, after discovering the grisly scene, to immediately execute the lot of them.
  • In the Last Herald-Mage Trilogy, Herald-Mage Vanyel is ambushed, bespelled, assaulted, and nearly killed by minions of the series' Big Bad. When a Healer coerced into saving his life discovers the 'block' keeping him helpless and sets him free, Van kills nearly everyone in a moment of insane rage. Including the healer helping him and an abused child held captive by those same minions, which horrifies and repulses him when his lover Stefan pulls him back to sanity. Stefan is not bothered and claims they probably weren't innocent, but Vanyel doesn't buy that.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Band of Brothers:
    • Ronald Speirs' execution of German POWs. Historically, Speirs had a reputation for killing German POWs, but it was never confirmed if he indeed had. Stories were passed through the company and battalion, but rumors were, according to the soldiers' interviews, probably embellished, and Speirs was known to believe that having his own troops fear him wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The truth of what he did or did not do died with him.

      He is shown politely offering the Germans smokes and then the camera moves to another soldier who watches in horror as bursts from an SMG are heard. Speirs later gets amusement out of it by offering some GIs a cigarette in another episode, just before he's given command of E Company. Speirs' deadpan expression while the scared-shitless men take the offered cigarettes is a funny moment.

      The "did he or didn't he" aspect of Speirs' reputation was explicitly pointed out during a conversation with Lipton.
      Speirs: You want to ask me, don't you?
      Lipton: Ask you what, sir?
      Speirs: You want to know if they're true or not... the stories about me. Did you ever notice with stories like that, everyone says they heard it from someone who was there. But then when you ask that person, they say they heard it from someone who was there. It's nothing new, really. I bet if you went back two thousand years, you'd hear a couple of centurions standing around, yakking about how Tertius lopped off the heads of some Carthaginian prisoners.
      Lipton: Well, maybe they kept talking about it because they never heard Tertius deny it.
      Speirs: Well, maybe that's because Tertius knew there was some value to the men thinking he was the meanest, toughest son of a bitch in the whole Roman Legion.
    • In the 9th episode, E Company passes by while some French soldiers execute German soldiers they found hiding with little more than a shrug. This serves as a quick introduction to War Is Hell for an eager New Meat named O'Keefe.
    • Half of Easy Company break the rules of war at some point. All the loot they carry around is actually war crime material.
  • The Pacific:
    • There's one poignant scene where US Marines are torturing a Japanese survivor of a banzai attack by shooting him in the arms and legs. The last Japanese soldier they tried to take prisoner blew himself up along with a couple of Marines, so they are not taking prisoners.
    • In another scene, a Marine is cutting the teeth out of a live Japanese soldier's head while the soldier screams in pain. Snafu shoots the guy in the head, putting him out of his misery while saying that it "makes it easier". Although it was legal to take war trophies, taking the personal effects of dead soldiers was not allowed. This included the mutilation of bodies and the removal of their gold teeth.
    • In another scene, after a last-ditch suicide charge by the Japanese, Sledge shoots a soldier who was unarmed and wounded. Later in the same episode, he decides not to shoot another unarmed Japanese soldier — but then a few rookie Marines gun him down instead and blow off Sledge when he disapproves.
      Marine: We're here ta' kill Japs ain't we?!
    • In one scene, a wounded soldier who is no longer a threat is seen being choked to death.
  • On Alphas an attempt by government agents to arrest the leaders of Red Flag (an Alpha terrorist organization) gathered for a meeting quickly descends into chaos as some of the Alphas resist and the government agents open fire. They kill everyone they see, even those trying to surrender or hide. They shoot Bill (in his vest), failing to distinguish him from their targets after a demonstration of Super Strength. One agent nearly kills Gary when he has a tantrum over finding Anna's body — given that he weighs ninety pounds soaking wet and can barely lift the baton he was whaling on the agent with, it comes off very much like a Nazi about to stomp on a yapping chihuahua. The scene demonstrated how unprepared and heavy-handed the government is when dealing with Alphas and that the situation has reached the level of a war.
  • Two such instances in the 1997 miniseries The Rough Riders. One involves a Spanish soldier who tries to surrender, but after he's already killed one of the Rough Riders. He's promptly shot. The other is the rather casual bayoneting of a German military adviser. The German's death is fictional, as no such incident is known to have occurred and indeed the presence of German military at the battle is disputed by historians. Why director John Milius would invent a fictional war crime unnecessary to the plot is not known, however he refers to the Germans bizarrely and inaccurately as Nazis on the DVD's audio commentary, suggesting a mild ax to grind even against pre-World War II Germans.
  • JAG: The promotion of Rear Admiral Thomas Boone to Vice Admiral is called off in "A Separate Peace" because of credible sources claiming he took part in war crimes during The Vietnam War when working closely with CIA officers.
  • In True Blood, Terry Belflaur and all the other Marines are war criminals, committing some seemingly harmless acts, such as holing up in a mosque, but also more harmful crimes such as killing unarmed, wounded civilians.
  • The 100 sees our heroes torturing a captive prisoner for information, firing on the enemy during a peace conference, and, on one occasion, just snapping from the stress and gunning down a bunch of innocent villagers. Most of them are Child Soldiers with no formal training, thrust into a war and a world they don't understand, so they don't always handle things as well as they should. Meanwhile, their enemies are even worse in most cases.
  • Game of Thrones
    • It's no surprise that this show has this in abundance. The earliest example was probably Season 1's "The Pointy End", which features Khal Drogo leading his khalasar in a brutal massacre of an innocent Lhazereen village. Though Drogo was always an Anti-Hero at best, the previous episode saw his vow to capture the Iron Throne for his son after Daenerys survives an assassination attempt from an agent of King Robert, which is definitely a reasonably heroic goal. Even Jorah comments that, even though it wasn't particularly honorable, the spoils reaped from such massacres would provide them the resources they needed to mount an invasion of Westeros.
    • Roose Bolton did this a number of times during his service to Robb Stark, though to Robb's credit, he was not a fan of Roose's tactics. This is especially evident when Roose is left in charge of Harrenhal; all his captives are treated very poorly.
  • Done every so often in M*A*S*H, most notably in one episode where Col. Flagg interrogates a North Korean POW in Post-op by throttling the tube to a critical IV the man is hooked up to. This earns him a What the Hell, Hero? (for very loose values of "hero") from Hawkeye.
  • Space: Above and Beyond, Colonel McQueen orders Lieutenant Wang to leave the interrogation room and proceeds to electrocute and starts ripping out components from a cyborg prisoner in order to force information from him. The same model of cyborg tortured Lieutenant Wang by electrocution in a previous episode.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "For the Uniform", former Commander Eddington uses a biogenic weapon against a Cardassian colony that renders it uninhabitable to them (but still safe for humans and other races). Captain Sisko, in realizing that Eddington sees himself as the Jean Valjean to Sisko's Inspector Javert, decides to lean into the villain role and does the same to a Maquis colony, rendering it uninhabitable to humans for fifty years (but safe for Cardassians) and threatening to do it again and again to wipe out the Maquis' populations centers unless Eddington surrenders. As a result, the two civilian populations are able to essentially swap planets, and Sisko narrowly avoids some serious consequences from his superiors only because his (totally unauthorized and illegal) plan worked.

  • Sabaton's "Ett slag färgat rött" (released in English as "Killing Ground" though the Swedish version's lyrics are far more condemnatory) is sharply critical of the Swedish Army for its mass murder of Russian POWs after the Battle of Fraustadt. This song is track 8 of Carolus Rex, a Concept Album about the rise and fall of Sweden's 17th-century empire.

    Video Games 
  • In Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, as you fight against Belka, your forces engage in a bombing run of the city of Hoffnung, which ends up hitting civilian areas (analogous to the bombing of Dresden, Germany in WWII). In general, you play as a mercenary pilot, and every mission has certain yellow targets representing civilian or defenseless military targets that you can kill or destroy for extra money. This also affects a Karma Meter which can make certain boss fights harder.
  • Happens several times in the Call of Duty game series.
    • The execution of German POWs by Soviet soldiers in the first game.
    • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare shows how neither side is saintly, and both the U.S. Marine Corps and the SAS will use brutal techniques to find out what is going on.
    • Call of Duty: World at War goes even further. The Pacific campaign starts with your character being tortured by his Japanese captors, and features ambushes from units playing dead, booby traps, and kamikaze attacks. In response, the Americans employ flamethrowers to great effect. The Eastern front has the repeated execution of wounded soldiers, the razing of crops and homes, and the massacre of surrendering soldiers... and that's as the Russians.
    • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 ups the ante even further with the infamous 'No Russian' level, where the player, as a deep-cover CIA operative tasked with getting in the good graces of the villain of the game, participates in a terrorist attack on a Moscow airport, complete with the gunning down of unarmed civilians. In retribution for that mission, the Russians invade Washington, D.C. with the sole intent of killing as many Americans as possible. The player gets a front-row view of Russian tanks and helicopters firing on CASEVAC choppers (i.e., civilian evacuation helicopters). In the rules of war, that's what we call a definite no-no. Soap also commits some Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique during the game.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Almost every 'surrendering' enemy will quickly regenerate health and get back to fighting you, so you have to choose between committing the war crime of killing a beaten opponent or just letting them get back up so that you can deal an uncontrollable deathblow. The exceptions are duelists, who start the fight by insulting you, and special NPCs. You also have to deal with the fact that your body absorbs the souls of dragons, permanently killing them, and dealing with keeping/discarding black soul gems, which should practically be considered more of a war crime than zombifying your enemies.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • Early on in the Jade Forest, when Admiral Rogers orders her troops to open fire on Horde soldiers swimming away from their sinking ships and trying to surrender. On the other hand, some of the atrocities that the Forsaken and Garrosh commit are viewed with disgust by much of the rest of the Horde (in the former case, even Garrosh).
    • In Cataclysm the Alliance navy fires upon a Bilgewater goblin (slave)ship which is unaligned with anyone as they are ordered to fire on any ship that passes through. This forces the goblins to land on Kalimdor and ally themselves with the Horde for survival.
  • Should you play as the United States in The New Order Last Days Of Europe, you will get hit in the face with this trope once the South African War rolls around. South Africa serves as this world's Vietnam analogue and it shows. Events describe short stories of American soldiers carrying out brutal atrocities against the civilians of South Africa with the kind of gory detail usually reserved for outright evil factions like Nazi Germany or Burgundy. All of this is done to hammer in the point that War Is Hell, and that Americans on the home front are questioning their role in the fight against the Nazis.
  • The entire point of Spec Ops: The Line is to subvert and deconstruct the usual “badass One-Man Army/squad who saves the day” narrative prevalent in first-person shooters by having the protagonist, Captain Martin Walker, commit increasingly morally dubious actions in his crusade to become a hero. This all comes to a head when he uses white phosphorous to burn down an area with renegade troops, but also killing the innocent civilians in the process, an action that horrifies the rest of the squad- it is this action which definitely establishes that, no matter how much he wants to believe otherwise, Walker is not the hero of the story.
  • In Tactics Ogre, one mission has you make a choice whether to assist in slaughtering an allied town in order to gain sympathy for your side's cause in war. Interestingly, choosing not to obey the orders results in a "chaotic" aligned character, with your friend doing a Face–Heel Turn on you. But if you obey the orders and take part in the slaughter, he does a Heel–Face Turn and vows to fight against you for doing such an obvious evil act, despite it being considered a "Lawful" route. And no matter which route you take, the massacre still takes place.
  • In Titanfall, both teams are tasked to Leave No Survivors during the Epilogue of a game; either by killing retreating enemy pilots, or destroying their evac ship. If the Militia team wins, it becomes this trope.
  • For Honor zig-zags this due to Deliberate Values Dissonance during the Knights campaign. Early on, the player Warden subdues and captures a group of Blackstone Legion deserters. When Apollyon arrives to pass judgment on them, two of the deserters attack her with knives, only to be captured. The ones who surrendered are then executed while the pair who attacked her are welcomed back into the Legion for their willingness to fight even when faced with death. When a Viking fortress is taken, the prisoners are executed because the Blackstone Legion cannot spare troops to guard them. However, Apollyon spares the most dangerous and skilled Viking prisoner because he fits her definition of a "wolf" and she has the rest of the prisoners slain. Both of these incidents show the skewed morality of the Legion and Apollyon's brutal take on who is worthy of surviving in war.

    Web Videos 
  • World War II: The war crimes of the Axis and their Allied counterparts are touched on in the weekly episodes as they occur and given special attention and condemnation in the "War Against Humanity" series.

    Western Animation 


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Obligatory War Crime Scene, No Heroes In War, Heroes Commit War Crimes


Bloody May

Policemen Rath and Wolter get caught in the historic Berlin 1st of May riots of 1929. These ultimately lead to at least 33 civilian deaths, opposite one policeman injured.

How well does it match the trope?

4.14 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / UnfriendlyFire

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