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War Is Hell

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Otto Dix, Suicide in the Trenches — big toe on the trigger.

"I've been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It's entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here. Suppress it! You don't know the horrible aspects of war. I've been through two wars and I know. I've seen cities and homes in ashes. I've seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!"
William Tecumseh Sherman speaking to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy on June 19, 1879.note 

War! Hunh! Good God, y'all! What is it good for? Absolutely nuthin'! Truth in Television, obviously.

When this theme is in play, war is an infernal, nasty, traumatizing nightmare, and anyone who comes out of it alive will end up a Shell-Shocked Veteran. Those who take pleasure in it are Ax-Crazy Blood Knights or worse. This trope gained its name by the famous quote from General William T. Sherman, "War is all Hell, and I have every intent of making it so." Most people quoting it shorten it to the trope name (as Sherman himself did in the page quote).

The motivations for war are depicted as harking back to humanity's basest and most savage instincts: pride, greed, important resources, dogma, fear, disgust, hatred, retribution, power, insanity, megalomania, or even all of the above. The brutal and callous force of wartime authority overrides all individual thought. (More moderate examples may portray one side of the conflict as having noble goals, while still emphasizing the pain and sacrifice involved. The idea in that case is that war is not pretty, but in some unfortunate cases it may be necessary.)

Sometimes, the war is shown to be unwinnable regardless of the sacrifices made and moral codes abandoned. There is some correlation between being on the losing side of a war and making a work following this trope.

War Is Hell works often show the cumulative long-term effect of exposure to pain, deprivation, violence, and military culture: the horror goes on and on, dehumanizing everybody a little more each night. Heroes in these stories will typically struggle to Prevent the War, or end it as bloodlessly and quickly as possible. If not, then merely surviving physically, and with most of their humanity and sanity intact.

While not required, this theme is more common in wars set in recent history with the advent of the modern industrial age. Certainly war was never pretty or fun in the past, but with the creation of weapons capable of killing thousands of individual men and women in a matter of hours or weapons of mass destruction capable of wiping out whole cities at once, battlefields went from merely looking like places where people fought and died to ruined wastelands littered with corpses. More modern wars are also where the practice of total war, war on a whole country where even non-combatants aren't spared, became prevalent and the idea that a war wasn't finished until you completely ruined the enemy's ability to fight back. On this note, and while certainly experienced before industrialized war, is the horror of the war spreading to your homeland in which your town, city or nation is directly attacked or even invaded by a powerful military force. What's worse, this causes your friends, family and former non-combatants to be caught in the crossfire where they can easily die, which makes this conflict a personal one that has left destruction, death and pain in its aftermath, should you fail to protect your allies from the enemy.

May overlap with, but Not to Be Confused with, Hell Is War. Contrast War Is Glorious, which is not mutually exclusive with this trope,note  especially when the audience gets a kick out of seeing people kill each other, no matter how ugly or condemning the work is — or, more altruistically, when soldiers are painted as heroes specifically because they've volunteered to fight in order to keep the horrors of war away from their loved ones, assuming the war doesn't come to them anyway. See also Armies Are Evil (highly negative takes on the military).

Of course, war is traumatizing to many who experience this trope. Therefore, Real Life examples are redundant.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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  • Gassed: Sargent witnessed the aftermath of a poison gas attack in northern France during the First World War and depicted on canvas what he saw on the field: crowded front lines, blind and injured soldiers being led away for medical treatment, and wounded and dying soldiers lying on the ground.
  • ''Les Grandes Misères de la guerre" (or "The Miseries and Misfortunes of War", as it's known in English) is a series of etchings depicting the cruelties and atrocities of the Thirty Years' War.
  • The Triumph Of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder shows how skeletons walk around and triumph in every way. Some of them are soldiers.
  • Francisco de Goya 's Los Desastres De La Guerra (The Disasters Of War) and The Third Of May 1808 show the brutalities and dehumanizing effect of the Napoleonic Wars in Spain.
  • Guernica by Pablo Picasso portrays the suffering of people and animals wrought by the violence and chaos of war. Prominent in the composition are a gored horse, screaming women, dismemberment, and flames.
  • The drawings of Otto Dix, who experienced it first-hand during World War I. This culminates in his The Seven Deadly Sins.
  • Nie Wieder Krieg! by Käthe Kollwitz is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. It shows a woman shouting: No More War!.
  • The Apotheosis of War is a mid 19th-century painting by the Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin depicting a huge pile of human skulls as the aftermath of a battle. The artist dedicated his painting "to all great conquerors, past, present and to come."

    Comic Books 
  • In Alan Moore's "D.R. & Quinch Get Drafted" for 2000 AD, Waldo's self-described "first exposure to the total insanity that is war" is when he realizes that there aren't any expensive foreign restaurants on the desolate slime jungle planet to which his platoon is being sent to fight on the front line in a very bitter conflict.
  • Amazons Attack! tries this. Ends up being one huge Face Palm.
  • Behind the dragons and mages in Arrowsmith is a very traditional First World War story, complete with analogues of gas warfare and all the other horrors.
  • Birthright: This trope features heavily in the backstory as the fantastic world of Terrenos is locked into a Forever War against an Evil Overlord that wants to spread his control further and beyond. The fighting took its toll on Terrenos' greatest heroes, who realizing that they were not making any progress in defeating their enemy, they chose to flee to Earth and place a protective barrier on Terrenos to contain him instead. Without its protectors, the people grew desperate and ended up kidnapping a teenager from our world (the main protagonist) who was supposedly fated as The Chosen One to save them. He too hit the Despair Event Horizon after witnessing so many horrors, but unlike his predecessors, he stroke a deal with the Big Bad to become his Dragon and return to Earth to help him merge it with Terrenos. It's also implied that the war is taking a toll on the Big Bad too and he might not be as evil as we are lead to believe. In short: war makes monsters out of all of us.
  • The main character of The Boy Who Wanted War thought that War Is Glorious and so he got himself into the space army. After that, he realized that his parents had a good reason to try to keep him from the war.
  • Cossacks is set in early 17th century Ukraine. The protagonist, a young Lithuanian Hussar of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, gets plenty of nightmares from the slaughters of the battles he fought in (after being convinced to enlist on much more glamorous promises by his ruthless officer, in addition to fulfilling his Replacement Sibling duty). He has enough, deserts and joins a Cossack tribe.
  • Also a regular theme of DC Comics' Enemy Ace.
  • Groo the Wanderer: Groo might be a Blood Knight, and so is several of the other characters, but war itself is never shown as anything other than destructive and usually pointless, directed by malicious gods and greedy tyrants. Groo loves combat, and has been both a mercenary and a professional soldier throughout his life, but is distinctly uncomfortable with the less savory parts of war, such as it's impact on civilians (one army he worked for was led by a tyrant who used I Surrender, Suckers to overrun helpless cities, which Groo despised, though he lacked the intellect to understand why).
    • The Ministrel was once a normal family man who was drafted into a war, only to eventually be released because he simply wasn't a good soldier. When he returned home, he found his city destroyed by the war and his family missing. It wasn't until years later he found his daughter again.
  • Invoked by Dmitri Romanov in Nikolai Dante — he scoffs at old-fashioned ideas like 'smart weaponry' and 'surgical strikes', believing that wars should have massive casualties, including many civilians, so that people never forget that war is horrendous. He leaves unsaid that fear of such terrors will discourage people from going to war against. He says this when the story is a year into a civil war which he intentionally started.
  • While a comedic series, Rat-Man was devastatingly efficient in the "Ratto" two-parter (a Rambo parody): set in the country of Euthanesia, it's locked in the middle of a civil war that has devastated so much of the country that the only remaining source of income is to lure foreign tourists to see the devastation, with the tourists being warned to stay away from the areas where the fighting is still going around or the guerilla fighters will cut their heads and use them to play soccer (something that happens on-page). To make everything worse, it's explained that the war is in the end nothing more than an exaggerated condo dispute: a family from an ethnic group lived in an apartment under a family from a different tribe that would always wear clogs even late in the night, the first family protested with the manager, and from that it degenerated in a genocidal war between the two populations that devastated the entire country as collateral damage.
  • Often turns up in Rogue Trooper to offset the exciting adventures. Many a story ends something like this:
    Helm: Wow, that was harsh.
    Rogue: Yeah, but you know what's harsher? War in general.
  • Sgt. Rock had this as a regular theme. The most brutal punishment he could think of for one recurring German officer whom he defeated in personal combat was to let him live: "You'll suffer through this war like I have to."
  • Sin City: Invoked in dialogue — from Wallace, mostly. Marv briefly mentions being in a war and how horrible that experience was. The Villain Protagonist in Rats also vaguely refers to a war. Since it's heavily implied that he's a Nazi war-criminal, it's obvious which one it was.
  • Downplayed in Sonic the Hedgehog (IDW), which makes it clear that during the war between the Resistance and Eggman, people did die.
  • Sturmtruppen is a satiric comic set during World War II. And once you get past the Black Comedy, you see these soldiers deal with food that goes from barely edible to containing cholera, a sergeant who won't hesitate to torture you for fun, incompetent officers ruining the work of their more competent colleagues and getting subordinates killed while getting away with it due to Nepotism, compertent officers who'd get their troops addicted to drugs rather than address their demands for basic living needs, logistic officers embezzling the much needed food and clothes or (in one occasion) burning them to hide the lack of winter clothes... And the soldiers are so desensitised to all of this they treat it as normal, and even joke about the new guy who thought that War Is Glorious being blown up on a minefield he himself set up and surviving without arms, legs, his five senses and the ability to call the doctors whenever he wets himself. And then there the stuff the soldiers aren't desensitized to.
  • IDW has taken the time to explore this a few times in their run of The Transformers:
    • The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers runs on this trope, as a deconstruction of a franchise that usually takes a Rule of Cool approach to its central Civil War theme.
    • The Transformers: Monstrosity: Focuses on the bleakness of war. The Autobots realize that they're going to be in this for the long run, and the entire planet has to pick a side, and many want to leave, not wanting to die or trust anyone. The Autobots and Decepticons also realize that ideals, ruthlessness and compassion will not win the war, resources will, and that they may have damned themselves with what little is left on the planet.
    • Quite a bit of The Transformers: Robots in Disguise and The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye has been an exploration of just what it means for individuals to have been locked in a brutal war for literally millions of years and the effects that has had on those individuals. Some of the characters were Child Soldiers who were turned on, given a very brief education (basically, here's how to walk, talk, and hold a gun, took about fifteen minutes) and thrust immediately into combat. Many of the characters have serious psychological issues caused by the violence they've endured.
  • Transformers: Wings of Honor also uses this trope, though near the end. For most of the first story, it's more of an action-adventure approach to the war, with the Elite Guard members having fun adventures with quirky or Card Carrying Villains, bar a few instances like when one of the scientists is gunned down, or when the Decepticon leaders have a war meeting, and they're all killed by an unwitting suicide bomber. Then the Sudden Downer Ending hits, where the Special Ops team goes rogue, kills almost all the extras and a good chunk of the main cast, and the base is destroyed with very few survivors. In the sequel, the survivors try to take a victory, and though the Big Bad and the traitors are defeated, a new Warlord takes his place, and restarts the war, possibly killing The Hero, and the story ends with the Autobots having to leave the planet as it cannot support them.
  • Über takes place in an Alternate History World War II where Nazi Germany was able to create superhuman soldiers during the last days of the war. Though they are able to save the Nazis' from the brink of defeat during the Battle of Berlin, the most destructive conflict in human history soon turns even worse, as the Allies gain the ability to create their own Ubers which escalates the fighting to even more catastrophic proportions. A German general goes as far as committing suicide when he realizes the Ubers will only prolong the war and even more people will die as result. To cap it all off, its stated that its too late for the Nazis to win (as they were left too debilitated following the fighting), but at least they can make sure everyone else loses.
  • Ultimate Captain America. As much as he identifies himself as a war hero, he actually admits he despises people who glorify war and battle, calling it a horrible experience that he made himself proficient in so he could end it as quickly as possible.
  • French graphic novel Une Aventure Rocambolesque De Vincent Van Gogh La Ligne De Front ("A Fantastic Adventure of Vincent van Gogh: The Front Line") has a disturbingly literal take on the trope. Soldiers quietly turn into blank eyed husks while nobody is watching, amoral scientists find themselves transforming into their own explosives, and our protagonist eventually encounters the "Mother of Grenades", a Creepy Child whose true form is a... vaguely human thing made out of corpses and trench mud.
  • In one Usagi Yojimbo story taking place when Usagi was a Kid Samurai in training, Usagi is out with his master going about how he's going to fight in an awesome war and be all badass. His master shows him the sight of a recent battle to explain just what war results in: a field of decaying corpses and rusting armor. They meet a surviving soldier from the losing army, who recalls just how horrible it all was. This has an impact on Usagi, who wonders that if it's so bad, why do people say War Is Glorious?

    Comic Strips 
  • Willie and Joe: Sardonic look at frontline combat. War is drudgery, mud, foraging for food... and booze... and smokes, mud, surviving an artillery barrage from time to time, and mud.

    Fan Works 
  • Kalash93 has a penchant for playing with this trope and War Is Glorious simultaneously.
    • In Racer and the Geek, Telny is definitely scarred from his experiences, but also shows a twisted attraction to warfare and violence.
    • The protagonist of Shell Shock combines this with an obsession over getting revenge, as well as the idea of military glory, for some seriously dark results. The story is an unflinchingly brutal example of a "war is hell" piece. Seriously, take a look at it.
    • While we don't see much of the Civil War in Welcome To The Brothel, the little we do see, combined with its effects on the protagonist, vividly illustrate this trope on a psychological level.
    • The same war is brought up again in Relax. The protagonist mentions that he's going to have to return to it soon. It sounds nasty.
    • Vividly demonstrated in I Did Not Want To Die. It is a tragedy, where the desire to fight and protect ones homeland brings naught but death and destruction to it.
    • His entire Farn Baumrinde trilogy, especially 'Barren' and 'Black Tulip'. Graphic depictions of both combat and PTSD.
    • Caravan. The fic is based on The War on Terror with a heavy emphasis on the tragic futility of fighting in Afghanistan.
  • All For Luz: Eda, a recognised war hero, certainly has this opinion after fighting in a 10-year long war with her people to prevent All For One conquering the Boiling Isles. During that time many of her kind were killed (like Willow's dad), maimed (like her sister Lilith) or experimented on (like King and the Blight family). The Owl Lady herself suffered more than a few near-death experiences. Now, she'll do whatever it takes to prevent another one from happening.
  • In Along Came a Spider the AFFC's preparations for the Clan Invasion include training up more psychiatrists to deal with the expected thousands of shell-shocked soldiers.
  • In Child of the Storm, this is Played With — Asgard has a very martial culture, but is also aware of the messier aspects, as is pretty much everyone else with even the slightest bit of experience of combat.
    • The sequel's description, and the Word of God, have it that the War for the Dawn, between the Alliance of Realms, and Surtur's forces, was this, being explicitly compared to another example of this trope: the Last Great Time War.
  • In the Discworld fics of A.A. Pessimal, students at the Guild of Assassins are taught that it is better to kill a handful of people at the right time (if a suitable contract exists) than to let those people live to start a war that causes political instability, economic havoc with a detrimental effect on wealth and well-being, and which might incidentally result in the lives of thousands being lost. Thus you might be credited for bringing about a greater good — and you still get to claim the contract fee. So steel yourself to committing the correct inhumation at the apposite time, and show no pity. Be professional. Nil mortifi sine lucre.
    • In the second story arc of The Price of Flight, Captain Olga Romanoff sternly admonishes her pilots about their enthusiasm concerning the possibility of an air war with Klatch. With the experience of one all-out air war behind her, she tells the new pilots what it was like to be constantly fighting The Fair Folk in the air and on the ground for a week. She emphasises the lack of sleep, impossibility of getting much more than a cursory wash, the constant vigilance, and the death of comrades she will never see again.
  • In Fractured, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands crossover and its sequel, Origins, the price of victory (and even what that means) is explored.
    • In Fractured, the Reapers are defeated, but not due to overcoming Fantastic Racism and fighting as a united galaxy. Instead, old wounds fester while fancy Trans-Galactic Republic hardware does most of the work, letting an obscure department take over the entire government in the name of galactic security.
    • A Star Destroyer pulls a self-destruct but the notion of No Endor Holocaust for the nearby Asari colony is completely averted as debris kills thousands (which is still regarded as better than what would have happened otherwise).
    • The Asari are depicted as trying to defend their homeworld in Origins but everything goes wrong and the defense fails.
    • On a more personal level, Samantha Shepard suffers multiple Heroic BSoD episodes; one leads her to essentially commit war crimes, the second tends toward depression. Thankfully, There Are No Therapists is averted, though this does not lead to an instant recovery by any means. The fact that she's been resurrected three times is not going over well, and she even places a "No Extraordinary Measures" (an In-Universe Do Not Resucitate) in her file.
    • James Vega and Ashley Williams, once friends, are split by a decision James makes in the context of defending an installation. He refuses to fire on an enemy ship which appears to be retreating, much to Ashley's chagrin. She is proven right when the retreat ends up being an act, but its attack fails.
    • Brick loses an arm; better an arm than catching The Plague.
    • Jack sees her students kidnapped, is confronted with the realization that if you train kids to kill under the guise of fighting an Alien Invasion at the behest of a government using their resources, at some point said benefactor might ask that the trainees do it for real, and as a result gets to watch one of them die.
  • In Resonance Days, any war in the afterlife, such as the one that took place a few decades before Kyoko and Oktavia's arrival between the New Life Alliance and the Void Walkers, turns even more hellish than even normal wars. Because no one can die and everyone recovers from injuries within hours at most, any conflict becomes a Forever War where neither side can make much progress and the soldiers are caught in endless battles with constant bloodshed and no release. Peace is kept by the Free Life Compact, and notably even the Big Bad refuses to even risk breaking it, and everyone in the setting who remembers the old war are terrified of reigniting it.
  • In the Uplifted series the author certainly doesn't gloss over the nastiness of the war; an example would be the Italian sailor who is joking one moment, and cut in half the next by a British airstrike.
  • Tiberium Wars has graphic, savage, and brutal descriptions of soldiers being shot, stabbed, burned, and vaporized. That's before we get to how completely nasty the battlefields are; one chapter has a group of Nod soldiers slogging through raw sewage, with one soldier getting it in a fresh bullet wound. In one of the latest chapters, we get to see the effects of a full armored assault with Mammoth Tanks from the perspective of the receiving end. It's about as brutally terrifying as one can imagine. In Chapter 17, a Nod officer executes his own wounded to keep them from falling into enemy hands, because he believes they will be tortured and killed. 3 weeks into the war, GDI has managed to fill a stadium with 300 thousand body bags.
  • Dumbledore's Army and the Year of Darkness is another prime example, depicting the horrific ordeal the members of the eponymous insurgency go through to keep the darkness at bay as best they could, culminating in a final battle (the Battle of Hogwarts from the book, retold from their perspective) in which almost everyone dies. Unfortunately, it fumbles that ball badly, as the vast majority of the DA want to fight, have embraced the fact most of them will die, and when someone tries to convince them not to fight, he's portrayed as being in the wrong. The themes clash so badly that the entire story is tainted.
  • Warhammer 40000 Trouble brought it to the Refuge in Audacity level with random nuclear strike killed people 8 times larger than the Alien Invasion themselves, only reason that keeps La Résistance able to fight is because the Power of Trust.
  • What About Witch Queen? isn't too graphic in its depiction of war, but the Hell is there, especially during the fights in Stone Streams, which end up looking a bit like trench warfare, with bodies being trampled, people fighting not only with swords and crossbows, but also nails and teeth and both sides taking horrible casualties. The Chains of Commanding weigh heavily on some characters and both sides have bastards and normal people among them. There are some disturbing scenes, such as when one character crawls out of a pile of dead bodies where he was Playing Possum and his friends nearly shoot him because they think his usually-blue uniform is red. There's also this moment where unnamed Weselton soldier manages to walk out of explosion zone, but dies moments later, because, in the words of narrative, he was "pouring blood from everywhere".
  • Every story in Poké Wars is filled with examples of this trope. The effects of the supercharged Pokémon attacks are described in graphic detail, as well as the feelings of the victim if it's still alive after the hit. The characters' reactions to the more trauma-inducing happenings are just as vividly written.
    Skitty screamed both from the pain of the impact and the indescribable agony that arose from the corrupted blood that coursed through her veins, destroying everything they touched. She fought through the pain, struggling to get up before anything could take advantage of her vulnerable state. She tried to get up only to have her legs buckle. Her strength left her as the Ariados venom in her blood began to slowly digest her organs.

    She [Solidad] opened her eyes; the scene of her Lapras dying still replayed over and over again in her mind. No matter what she did, she could not erase the sight of Lapras's eyes bursting and her skin scorching as thousands of volts surged through her body, burning her alive.
  • The TSAB – Acturus War has some of this, but it's not a key focus.
  • Winter War. Aizen won, Gin has control of Seireitei, and the few surviving shinigami form a very weak Resistance... those that Aizen hasn't captured and experimented on. The survivors have had to abandon most of their pre-war honor codes — they've given up on the one-on-one duels that they insist on in Bleach canon, and when a minor character begins using healing kidou to kill in very messy ways the characters let him, even though in peacetime they would be horrified. The fic is not shy about the physical and mental costs of fighting a war, either. The Mole Hisagi in particular is well on his way to being a Shell-Shocked Veteran, despite the war not being over.
    • There's also the fact that the shinigami aren't able/willing to do their jobs of keeping souls in balance and sending the dead from the human world to Soul Society. This means that the entire structure — Soul Society, the human world and the Hollow world of Hueco Mundo — is in danger of collapsing in the not-too distant future. So even if the war goes in favour of the increasingly damaged Resistance, it could yet be for nothing.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender's fanfic Embers (Vathara) explores this trope even more than the original cartoon. It's clearly shown what losing their loved ones and constantly fighting for survival does to the characters, especially Child Soldiers. Zuko has more issues than just being extremely paranoid, Katara snaps after years of repressing herself emotionally over the loss of her mother and getting Promotion to Parent, Aang lives in denial and it's the only thing protecting him from the same fate. The only two well-adjusted characters in the main cast seem to be Toph and Sokka, but considering the theme of this fic, their issues are yet to be shown.
  • The Immortal Game, formerly titled Ponies Make War, has this trope as a basic theme.
    • Ace Combat: The Equestrian War shows that, as the war with the griffins is progressing, some ponies simply want to quit fighting and live a normal life. Many of them were traumatized by the first major conflict that hit Equestria in hundreds of years. This is emphasized further in the sequel, Wings of Unity.
  • Prince/Kommissar Blueblood's experience with canister shot in Blueblood: Hero of Equestria is quite graphic. To whit, the prince is grazed across the withers by a shrapnel; the poor guy next to him "virtually exploded" and is reduced to an unrecognizable blob of gore. Cue Vomit Indiscretion Shot. Blueblood then re-evaluates his stance on commoners and nobles.
    "There, lying before me, I saw that all a pony ever was, and will be, is blood, organs, flesh, and bone wrapped up in a fragile sack of skin. All the stuff that had previously seemed so valuable to me; social class, hierarchy, manners, parties, and all of that upper class aristocratic nonsense was once my very reason for living, all of that just didn’t seem so important anymore."
    • The rest of the chapter describes the field reduced to a Corpse Land, a mortally wounded soldier crying out to his mother, his goddess, anyone to save him, and laments how the last thing he ever saw was the commissar's skull-badge. It also laments the fact that Blueblood can't remember anyone's name or face, and cursing the name of whoever thought that artillery was a "dignified" weapon.
  • Fallen King has this as a major theme. Joey and the others are force to make difficult, morally questionable choices and grapple with the fact that they and their world will never be the same.
  • Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race has this as a clear theme of the series; despite his many victories over Wily, the battles he's fought and losses suffered affect Mega Man greatly.
  • The entire galaxy is hit with this in Sonic X: Dark Chaos. Not many battles are described directly in story... but the aftermath of those battles are. The Metarex and Tsali steal the Planet Eggs of worlds to siphon Chaos Energy from them, turning the planets into lifeless rocks. Many of the planets Sonic and friends search are either beyond saving or about to be destroyed. One world they find is nothing but a Corpse Land; another is obliterated by an exploding Planet Egg before their very eyes. Others are corrupted by Dark Chaos Energy or infested with Shroud feeding on the remains. Disease and starvation run rampant. The war between the Demons and Angels is described just as brutally, with gigantic war machines the size of towns clashing in merciless battles of attrition that can scour whole worlds of life in days, and plenty of Rape, Pillage, and Burn (on a planetary scale) from both sides.
    • The best example comes at the end of Episode 68; a Demon after-action report details that the entire Leo constellation was eaten by Shroud, with "acceptable" losses of 36.8 trillion people
  • Eugenesis is an extremely frank and grim depiction of what the Cybertronian War has been like for all involved. Characters, even important and beloved ones, can die pointless, horrible deaths. The usual tropes and beats of Transformers fiction are subverted or denied, and mention is made frequently that almost all of Cybertron's former culture is gone completely. Not surprisingly, it's written by one of the writers of The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers, which has similar themes.
  • In Sean Bean Saves Westeros, the "real life" Sean Bean is transported into the land of Westeros of A Song of Ice and Fire. Now living as Ned Stark, not just playing him on TV, Sean is horrified by the situations he's now thrust into, but he adapts.
  • In the sixth chapter of Shielded Under the Raptor's Wings, titled "The Truth of War", a Minbari ground force launches a charge on open terrain against a Human force that outnumber and outguns them by a large margin, and gets graphically slaughtered. This was done because, otherwise, the Minbari back home would have dismissed the tales of the survivors (those who had been evaquated in time, those who had already spent there their tours of duty before evacuation became necessary, and those too wounded to fight) as the justifications of cowards.
  • Harmony Theory: Though the Solar Kingdom and Lunar Republic haven't officially come to blows(Yet), the fighting that has happened is extremely brutal and graphic. Especially from the relatively pacifistic Rainbow Dash and later, the rest of the mane six. who has woken up in this future and isn't used to warfare.
  • This is implied to have been the case for the Trainer-Ranger Wars mentioned in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines. The last one occurred around forty years before the beginning of the story, and even in the present time there's considerable animosity lingering between the Trainer and Ranger nations. Lt. Surge, a veteran of the last war, is implied to have lost many comrades and witnessed many horrors during his time in the military.
  • Davion & Davion (Deceased) sees the horrors of war dragged back from the far edges of the Star League to its core worlds, with millions of military and civilian casualties, as well as billions of refugees as entire worlds are rendered uninhabitable.
  • In Fire and Shadow, ShadowClan does a sneak attack on WindClan in the dead of night in revenge for WindClan supposedly murdering their cats. It's Firepaw's first battle and he's horrified by how brutal it is. Thirteen cats (including a few apprentinces and elders) are killed and several of the cats die of grave injuries (including having their stomachs torn open). ShadowClan ends up kidnapping a kit to raise as their own and imprisoning an injured warrior who doesn't flee with his Clanmates.
  • Fallout: Equestria and its vast library of Recursive Fanfiction naturally inherit this trope from the Fallout series, usually with the normally Actual Pacifist culture of Equestria experiencing the horrors of war for the first time, and ultimately leading to devastation via Fantastic Nuke.
  • Scars of War is an unfinished story about the aftermath of a three-year war known as "the Great Battle" that Ponyland was involved in with another land. Many ponies, foals included, lost their lives. The war has left a mark that the ponies only start to recover from two years after it ended.
  • In Seventh Endmost Vision, the War with the Western Alliance dominates the fic's background; unlike canon, where the war with Wutai was a long, drawn-out affair, the fic's War lasted only five years, but they were absolutely brutal. Junon was completely destroyed, Costa del Sol was wrecked and taken over, and all of the characters reminisce on what they did during the War. It's particularly pointed out that Tifa and Cloud, the two most prominent veterans, were teenage Child Soldiers for the War, and Tifa is heavily implied to have PTSD from it that shows up in flashes of rage and anger she can't control.
  • In This Bites!, one of Cross's main goals is to prevent the Marineford War, not just to save Ace and Whitebeard and prevent Blackbeard's rise, but also because he wants to avert all the pointless and senseless bloodshed and loss of life, with failing to stop it his greatest fear. Despite his best efforts, the war still ends up happening, worse than ever.
  • This is a major aspect of Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters, as it deconstructs the war on Meridian. People die, there's good and bad people on both sides, and all the fighting and death leaves a heavy psychological toll on the characters, especially the Child Soldiers.
  • After basically sleeping in their laurels for around fifteen hundred years, ever since the end of the Krogan Rebellions, the Turians in Mythos Effect receive a rude awakening to the realities of war. Choosing to go alone against the NEF, dragging only their client states, they discover to their horror how vicious, creative and powerful humanity can be — especially a hardened, unified human race that has triumphed over the horrors of the Mythos and isn't going to take the Turian bullshit lying down.
  • The Red Dragon's Saber: Artoria fought in many wars during her life and is utterly sick of them. She wants to make sure Issei and Asia never have to experience one.
  • The Great War in TFA Kaleidoscope plays a more notable role in the backstories of four of the Cybertronian characters seen so far. Among the Orion crew, Ratchet and Wheeljack despise the amoral actions they took, and Arcee lost everything because of it and can no longer remember her life prior to the war. This all pales in comparison to Optimus, as he frequently has PTSD nightmares and flashbacks to his time in the war as a front-line soldier. When the story perspective shifts to the war in said flashbacks, we see what a horrid, energon-soaked nightmare it was, as numerous bots on both sides were killed, mutilated, and worse.
  • Remnant Inferis: DOOM really puts into perspective just how horrific and traumatic the Doom Slayer's one-man crusade against the forces of Hell really is, as it's reduced him to a psychotic, vengeful Unscrupulous Hero who behaves no different from the demons he kills. Team RWBY taking part in his life and battle against the demons results in all of them undergoing serious trauma and PTSD.
  • From Harvest to the Ark makes a point of emphasising just how awful the Human-Covenant War was for all involved: virtually every battle against the aliens is doomed to fail from the start, the whole conflict being a morale-crushing, painfully slow, constant retreat.
  • By the Sea: Obi-Wan emerged from World War II with little more than horrific memories, scars, and debilitating battle fatigue. He's unable to relate to civilians nowadays and can only stomach being in populated places for just long enough to buy supplies at the general store. Loud noises like thunderstorms and random stray thoughts are enough to send him into terrible dissociative flashbacks that leave him reeling and ill for hours or days on end.
  • In Splint, it's made pretty explicit that the War of the Ring sucked for both sides; both Rukhash and Cadoc came out of it deeply scarred (physically and psychologically) and lost people they loved.
  • Chronicles of the Siren War: The first two chapters demonstrates why that is, taking place during the Pearl Harbor incident. Sakura Empire rain down hard on the Eagle Union navy, killing untold number of sailors. Not even the shipgirls are safe with Arizona being the first to be killed.
  • This is a recurrent theme in the Batman fic Batman: Life Story. The tale sees Batman directly get involved in World War II and The Vietnam War, and they both traumatize him in different ways. With World War II, although the conflict is unambiguously a just one, Batman is forced to go in his civilian identity of Bruce Wayne and violate both his personal no-killing policy and his desire to never have Wayne Enterprises produce weapons of war. In Vietnam, he is able to go as Batman, but the conflict is far grayer - Batman has to protect civilians from war crimes committed by both sides, and his decision to go strains his marriage with Selina Kyle.
  • Shadows over Meridian doesn't shy away from the brutality of warfare and how losing to Phobos' loyalists and their Shadowkhan allies feels despairing to Elyon's troops.
  • While the Sunshot Campaign is over by the time Gold Poisons begins, Jin Guangyao has a few flashbacks to it, and it's made clear that none of the remaining participants particularly enjoy what happened.
  • Tarkin's Fist: The American, Chinese, and Imperial armies are all put through the wringer over the course of the Empire's invasion of Earth. Special attention is given to the PTSD soldiers suffer from in addition to physical wounds.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Animatrix two-part short, "The Second Renaissance", chillingly blends this with And Man Grew Proud. Some scenes from that movie prompt shivers. Not every war is between equal forces — there is a special horror to being hopelessly outgunned. The human forces desperate sacrifice is futile and bloody. The death scenes evoke mechanised warfare in raw grisly essence.
  • In Antz, there is a sequence where the titular insects go to war with a neighbouring termite nest. The termites are presented as terrifying Xenomorph-esque creatures, five times the size of the ants and able to shoot acid from their foreheads, and the ants have to rely on Zerg Rush to beat them. The battle is dangerous and horrifying; ants die in droves against the termites and a few are shown dying messily from termite acid on-screen. The aftermath is even worse, as both insect armies were wiped out with massive losses, and Barbatus, the friendly soldier ant who looked out for the protagonist Z in the battle, is later found sans his body.
  • Legend Of The Guardians The Owls Of Ga Hoole: Soren grows up hearing stories of war from his father, believing that it was all amazing. Once he's read the books on war that Ezylryb's written, however, he realizes that it was a lot bloodier and more horrifying than he thought. Ezylryb even points this out to Soren while showing him his battle scars:
    It's not glorious, it's not beautiful, it's not even heroic! It's merely doing what's right and doing it again and again, until someday, you look like this.
  • Utilized with brutally effective Mood Dissonance in Mulan. A cheery Disney musical number is literally interrupted mid-verse by the discovery of a massacred, burned down village (courtesy of the Huns), complete with a giant field full of dead bodies and a gratuitous Empathy Doll Shot confirming no children escaped either. Until now, the horrors of the Big Bad's war crimes had been kept well away from the camera, but this scene pulls no punches in showing that Shan Yu is a warlord with no compunction about turning China into a graveyard as part of his invasion.
  • In South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, most of the Mothers Against Canada are horrified when seeing the actual Canadian-American battlefield, especially since their sons are wandering around in it. But of course, being South Park, it also manages to play this trope for laughs. In song.
    For that's the way it goes, in war you're shat upon...
  • Waltz with Bashir : Two Israeli ex-soldiers sit in an inn and reflect on their experiences in the first Lebanon war. Folman is so traumatized he has forgotten everything and over the course of the movie he speaks to others who were there and finds out what happened...

    Live-Action TV 
  • As with the Film examples above, several TV series deal with the effects of war on both soldiers and civilians, including Vietnam-era shows China Beach, Tour of Duty, the pilot episode of The Wonder Years (where Winnie's brother dies) and the modern-day Combat Hospital.
  • The 100 has left almost all its main cast traumatized by the war on the Ground: partly by the things that have happened to them, mostly by the things they've done trying to stay alive.
  • The A-Team: Murdock gives a nice little "war is hell" speech in the episode "The Island".
    "War is hell, Wally Gator, isn't it? We know about hell and we know about war, right?"
    • He was talking to a baby crocodile, and still made it sound deep. Dwight Schultz is just that awesome!
  • Band of Brothers: You will cry the day you lose your friends. This one is contrasted with its main theme of a circle of unbreakable friendships.
    • Harry Welsh also says this to Dick Winters after inquiring about how his (rather minor) ricochet injury is healing.
  • Blackadder Goes Forth: Otherwise a tongue-in-cheek comedy set in the trenches of WWI, dives into pointedly chilling satire at the end, and ends with the implied death of the entire main cast. Worse, before that, the characters express their extreme fear to each other in the face of inevitable death.
  • Cathedral of the Sea depicts medieval warfare at its nastiest. Combatants are shot with crossbow bolts, hacked to death, and trampled into the mud.
  • The Crossing: The first scene shows the Continental Army slumping along their line of retreat in bandages, without shoes, bloodied, grimy, sick, and all-in-all in a bad way. Encampment is not where anyone wants to be, and the brutality of battle is quite vividly shown.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "Remembrance of the Daleks", a Dalek asks one of its human collaborators if he's bothered by selling out his entire race to further his own aims. The collaborator (a veteran of World War II) shrugs and responds with this exact phrase.
    • The Last Great Time War is said to be this. By the end, it turned the Time Lords into something just as bad as the Daleks, the war itself being described as a kind of Lovecraftian nightmare, forcing the Doctor to kill both sides, Daleks and Time Lords alike — all of themnote . Its effects on the Doctor reverberate through the new series.
      • Even though he technically saved the Time Lords from extinction, the Time War itself was still bad enough to severely traumatise a man who walks away from beatings, torture and near-death experiences on a near-weekly basis. Yeah, it was that bad. Not to mention that it made Big Bad the Master, who delights in chaos and destruction and, indeed, war, flee in terror.
    • "The Family of Blood":
      • Son of Mine calls out the headmaster for teaching his students that War Is Glorious, when they probably won't thank him when they're dying in World War I in the near future. The headmaster retorts that he knows war is unpleasant, from personal experience, but would go back and fight anyways.
      • Even though they're only fighting scarecrows, the students, as well as John Smith, are horrified at what they're doing as they mow down the Family's army. There's a visible sense of relief when it turns out their enemy was just straw.
    • In "The Zygon Inversion", the Twelfth Doctor gives an incredibly moving speech regarding his experiences in the Time War. A villain tells him that he can't understand her war, and he laughs.
      The Doctor: I don't understand? Are you kidding? Me? Of course I understand. I mean, do you call this a war, this funny little thing? This is not a war! I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know! I did worse things than you could ever imagine! And when I close my eyes... I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count! And you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it? You hold it tight, till it burns your hand! And you say this: No one else will ever have to live like this! No one else will ever have to feel this pain! Not on my watch!
  • Downton Abbey Season 2 which is set in World War I.
    Matthew: At the front, the men pray to be spared, of course. But if they don't, they pray for a bullet that will kill them cleanly. For many men at the hospital today, that prayer wasn't answered.
    • At one point, another character asks him what it's like in the trenches. All the sounds of the dinner party they're at goes muted and distant for a moment as he looks stricken, remembering, and then he mutters that he can't talk about it.
  • The Australian miniseries Gallipoli, released on the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign, is this in spades. Soldiers die in the dozens for an ultimately futile campaign, the Anzacs and Turks come to respect each other but it doesn't stop them from killing each other, often in brutal hand to hand combat. A literal example is when, during one attack, artillery sets fire to scrubs, engulfing attacking troops in flames.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • While the war scenes are spectacular, they are also extremely gruesome and brutal. Soldiers getting dismembered and the more heroic characters killing already downed foes are commonplace. This is probably most pronounced in "Battle of the Bastards", which shows just how brutal it is to fight an army that vastly outnumbers you. Season 7 tops that with the "The Spoils of War" by introducing a dragon and showing the horror of such beast inflicting it on the battlefield alongside men being butchered like animals and slowly burning to death. Season 8's "The Long Night" and "The Bells" really show the horrors of surviving a Zombie Apocalypse and escaping from dragon fire respectively.
    • Renly invokes this trope after he becomes disgusted with his brother Robert's reminiscing about "the good old days" of the war. Renly borderline shouts at the King that for the loads of lesser men killed, the women raped, and the bastard or orphaned children — pretty much everyone who is not part of the ruling class actually finds war pretty awful. Of course, this makes him a bit of a hypocrite considering that later he decides to start a war to usurp the crown rather then help Ned make sure the throne passes to Stannis with as little bloodshed as possible.
  • Generation Kill: Most of the main cast realizes this after watching a video of what has happened over the course of the show.
  • Kamen Rider Build provides a disturbingly realistic portrait of civil war breaking out between three city states. It doesn't matter that the focus is mostly on people in Powered Armors fighting each other, monsters and robots. The story questions violence, dehumanization and social Darwinism through them. Also, we meet Kazumi Sawatari, who has this as half of his life philosophy note  . Unless he has a good reason not to, he will react in a violent manner to anyone, who doesn't understand or acknowledge that War Is Hell.
  • In the opening scene of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, glimpses of what is looks like the aftermath of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears are shown, with a hill made of helmets and heads, and a traumatized Galadriel next to it. The war against Morgoth was so terrifying that the Elves of Valinor learned on their skin for the first time what "death" means. Galadriel herself was left so scarred by the war, that she spent centuries hunting down any evil left, alienating everyone around her because of her Knight Templar tendencies.
  • M*A*S*H: Portrayed generals as bloodthirsty buffoons and emphasized the enemy soldiers' humanity. The military medical setting is ideal for exploring what modern weapons do to human bodies. The doctors themselves are not at home providing medical care, they are overseas working themselves into the ground patching up an endless line of casualties. The doctors at times serve as mouthpieces for the author's and actor's anti-war views.
    Hawkeye: War isn't hell. War is war and hell is hell, and of the two, war is worse.
    Fr. Mulcahy: How do you figure that, Hawkeye?
    Hawkeye: Easy, father. Tell me, who goes to hell?
    Fr. Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.
    Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell, but war is chock full of them. Little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for a few brass involved, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.
    • When a military bomber pilot comes to the camp after being shot down, he brags about the great time he's having for his term of service. Hawkeye, disgusted at this attitude, invites him to help out during a rush of wounded, which included civilians wounded in a bombing. The pilot is profoundly shaken at the end of the session and Hawkeye apologizes for putting him through that, but there was no damn way he was going to let him return to his duties without learning the consequences of war.
    • The series finale, set at the end of the war, drives it home further than any other episode before it. When it comes to war, absolutely nothing is sacred. Even Major Winchester's love of classical music becomes a casualty of war.
  • Comes up poignantly in Only Fools and Horses of all places. In "The Russians Are Coming", Granddad gives a bitter speech to Del Boy after the latter seems to not take the threat of war seriously.
    Granddad: I remember when I was a little nipper, and I saw all the soldiers marching off to battle. Ohh, yes! It was a glorious sight, alright.
    Del Boy: Yeah, I bet all them spears and chariots must've stirred the blood, mustn't they?
    Granddad: My brother George was at Passchendaele. Half a million allied troops died there, all for five miles of mud! I was at Kings Cross Station when his regiment come home after the Armistice. Most of them was carried off the train. I saw men with limbs missing, blind men, men who couldn't breathe properly because their lungs had been shot to bits by mustard gas. While the nation celebrated, they was hidden away in big, grey buildings — far from the public gaze! (chokes back tears) I mean, courage like that could put you right off your victory tea, couldn't it? (Beat) They promised us homes fit for heroes. They give us heroes fit for homes.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Gettysburg", Nicholas Prentice sent Vince Chance and Andy Larouche to the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Prentice's hope is to convince Andy that there is no glory in any war so that he will not assassinate the U.S. President at a ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 2013. Andy eventually learns his lesson, though at the cost of his life.
  • The Pacific note : This show is worse. Made brutally clear by Euguene Sledge's father, who tries one last attempt to persuade his son from enlisting:
    "The worst thing about treating those combat boys from The Great War wasn't that they had their flesh torn; it was that they had their souls torn out. I don't want to look into your eyes someday...and see no spark, no love, life. That would break my heart."
  • Perry Mason (2020): The second episode shows Perry serving as a soldier in World War I while charging with other American soldiers for the German lines as they're mowed down by the dozens, then engaging in brutal hand-to hand combat. His experiences have left him traumatized into the present of 1932.
  • Revolution: Episode 11 has this trope as its premise, with the air strikes systemically wiping out entire rebel camps.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Terminator franchise always describes the fight against the machines as a war but it was this show which really hammered this point home. Derek, Sarah, John, and Cameron were starting to crack by Season 2.
  • Spooks: "War is shit. Anyone who says otherwise has never been in one." Said by the episode's antagonist, who happens to be a well-decorated Major.
  • Star Trek:
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • In "Two", this is the man's opinion on the conflict that devastated the world five years earlier. He no longer has any urge or any reason to fight.
    • In "The Passersby", when Lavinia Godwin tells the sergeant that she plans to shoot the next Union soldier that she sees out of revenge for the death of her husband Jud, he says that he does not want to hear any more talk of butchery or bloodshed due to the thousands of men and boys killed in the war.
    • In "Still Valley", Dauger says that he went to war as if he were playing a children's game, but the experience of fighting has shown him the realities of war. His only desire is to remain alive, and he even suggests surrendering to the Union troops. Sgt. Joseph Paradine slaps him across the face in response.
    • In "A Quality of Mercy", the battle-hardened marines have been fighting the Japanese for two years, which has made them war-weary. Andrew J. Watkins tells the gung-ho Lt. Katell that they have seen enough dead man to last the rest of their lives and that they aren't going to stand up and cheer at the opportunity to kill more. Sgt. Causarano later says that the platoon consists of "dirty, tired men who have their craw full of this war."
  • The Twilight Zone (1985):
    • In "The Last Defender of Camelot", Lancelot was a mercenary-for-hire who traveled the world fighting for India and China (which he still calls Cathay) and in The Crusades. He did so for centuries after Camelot fell but eventually grew weary of all the death and destruction and refused to fight any more. When Merlin awakens, Lancelot asks him if even Camelot was worth all of the "blood and widows' tears" that it cost to build.
    • In "The Road Less Traveled", the Alternate Universe version of Jeff McDowell was traumatized by his experiences during The Vietnam War, especially losing his legs. He tells his counterpart that he regularly has terrible nightmares about the things that he saw there.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess: For all its campiness, this show never shied away from showing the terrible effect of war.

  • Dino Attack RPG went into this terrain near the end. Granted, the first few acts involved an over-the-top villain who unleashed Chaos all over the city, characters going on bizarre shenanigans, a campy sub-plot about a psychotic agent who decided to kill everyone with the slightest idealistic views, and a man named French Fries. But near the end, by which point many of the players had grown (the RPG having gone for six years) and their writing improved it got awfully dark for an RPG inspired by a short-lived LEGO Line of all things. Again, this technically depends on the writer, but to name some specific examples:
    • Atton Rand primarily strove for realism in his later posts starting with the Adventurers' Island arc — which gradually came to be written with this line of thought. He even had the character of Kate Bishop — a young, innocent teenager really not cut out for working on the battlefield — and if anything is ultimately broken by the war.
    • PeabodySam killed off most of his main cast in the final battle, just to prove that Anyone Can Die. Although he only barely touched upon this in the RPG itself, preferring to write a more Bittersweet Ending in comparison to Atton's Downer Ending, he has confirmed that a handful of the survivors will suffer from PTSD, depression, or other such problems in the years following the war.
    • that guy from that show exemplified this trope through numerous characters he introduced. Pharisee was forever hardened by his exposure to the more horrible acts committed during the war between the Crusaders and Black Falcons. Solomon Koplowitz was a philosophy professor turned Knight in Sour Armor after witnessing firsthand the horrors of war between ninja and samurai. Carl Lutsky was driven to insanity in the days after finding himself promoted to the position of commander in the Dino Attack war.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech originally started as a state of low warfare between the five Successor States after the collapse of the Star League and the resulting chaos left them too shell-shocked to consider anything further. That changed after the reintroduction of lost technologies, and in the ensuing decades the setting saw a steady increase in destruction until the Word of Blake Jihad, which featured rampant destruction and suffering on a scale not seen for three centuries. Warships razed surface troops, chemical weapons were used on civilians, and entire planets were rendered permanently uninhabitable from bioweapon attacks and nuclear bombardments.
  • Eberron picks up just a few years after a century long world war so, naturally, most characters have this view. King Kaius III, a vampire who pulled of My Grandson, Myself, is a particular example. Despite being Lawful Evil, he is adamant in preventing another war. He's seen the toll the war took on his people, and he will not let it happen again. Contrast queen Aurala of Aundair, who was raised to belive in War Is Glorious, and is thus rushing to restart the war as soon as she has an advantageous position.
    • The plane of Shavarath has quite a few locations that resonate with this theme, too. For example, Nullius Terram is a blasted landscape resembling a WWI battlefield, while the Forest of Shadows is Eternal Fantasy 'Nam.
  • Magic: The Gathering was never shy to this trope, but it was brought especially into focus in the Brothers' War 2022 set. While the original Brothers' War story had plenty of hallmarks of this trope in general, it largely focused on the big picture; The 2022 storyline instead focuses on the small people and perspectives not seen before. The stories follow soldiers left to die the hellish midst of battle, troops languishing in the desolate hell of the trenches, and survivors left to rebuild after the war's end, with no way to deal with the immense trauma and loss they've all suffered.
  • Personified by Szuriel, Horseman of War, in Pathfinder. Gorum represents the glory of war, Torag strategy, Iomedae just causes, and Moloch discipline. Szuriel, on the other hand, is war at its worst. Essentially a Psycho for Hire with divine powers, she represents genocide, societal collapse, and war crimes on a grand scale, using war to traumatise mortals, harvest souls, and hasten the apocalypse.
  • In Twilight: 2000, World War III has destroyed civilization while resolving nothing. The players are all soldiers who were in the last battles of the war, trying to survive and perhaps begin picking up the pieces.
  • Warhammer might just as well be the full extent of this trope in tabletop game form. Especially its Darker and Edgier/Recycled In Space form, Warhammer 40,000. See their own pages for the awful details. "In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war", indeed.
  • Most of the games in The World of Darkness tend to glamorize violence, intentionally or not. Wraith: The Oblivion, on the other hand...doesn't. It really hammers home the horrific, pointless nature of war, and the two books dealing with the World Wars (The Great War and especially Charnel Houses of Europe) may be the bleakest things ever written by White Wolf.

  • In Hamilton, George Washington believes the war is a tragic affair from start to finish, especially when you mess up as a general. You don't know who is going to die, but you know it is going to be your fault. Especially if you send some expectant father to the field, knowing that you might have just condemned a child to growing up without knowing him.

  • Angels 2200 has its plot built around this, with very dire consequences.
  • Bruno the Bandit: During the Seven Deadly Sins arc, which partially served as commentary on the Iraq War, Bruno, during his time as king of Rothland, is uncertain about not going to war against the Monster Mountains because things like movies and video games (which exists in the setting due to it's Anachronism Stew) always made war seem exciting and glorious. Fiona suggests they ask Carlin The Monk, who has actually been to war, to help Bruno know what war is really like.
    Bruno: *sitting in a muddy trench while arrows and fire fly over him* ALRIGHT, I GET THE POINT!!
    Fiona: But we haven't dumped the corpses on you yet!
  • Gone with the Blastwave
    West: Am I the only one here without a death wish?
    Crosshairs: Yes.
  • The Green-Eyed Sniper is partly focused on war and its consequences. None of the characters enjoy war: Shanti is known to hate war (and soldiers); Blitz hates violence in all forms; and Sekhmet, although a wanted war criminal, claims to be fed up with war.
  • The Order of the Stick has a speech here about this given to Haley regarding Xykon's imminent attack on Azure City.
  • Overcompensating: Invoked when Jeffrey and Weedmaster P meets a homeless veteran (who is drawn like Beetle Bailey) who lost all his limbs in Iraq.
    Jeff: War Is Hell, isn't it, Weedmaster P?
    Weedmaster P: Don't you talk about Hell like that!
  • Unsounded:
    • In life Duane was able to find honor, glory and rightousness in his memories of battle, but his clear memories straight from the khert after his soul is bound to his corpse do not allow him such comfort and he's horrified by the cruelty and violence he finds in memories he once spun into heroic tales.
    • The ongoing war between Cresce and Alderode is mostly shown in the bloody aftermath of battles, or battles are shown from the perspective of civilians caught in its way. It's all consequences and brutality rather than glory.
    • The Inak Revolution is a bloody explosion of hatred after decades of oppression and genocide, Inak raging out against Crescian civilians who happen to stand between them and the nobles who all but enslaved them. Mere moments before victory, the Inak are betrayed from within by their own general, who mocks and humiliates his entire army as he seizes control of the command hub to upgrade his Humanoid Abomination into a world-destroying warhead. Meanwhile, the Crescians' treasonous Lord General Bell sabotages the Crescians' defense efforts and then goads a bunch of enemy Alderodians into suicide dive-bombing city hall, crushing most of the nobles in hopes of killing the queen. In short, when war rains blood, it pours souls.

    Web Original 
  • The Fire Never Dies: While not the focus, the series does not shy away from the horrors of war, especially as the Second American Revolution occurs at the same time as World War One and uses similar tactics and weapons, such as trench warfare, massed artillery, and Deadly Gas. The civilian toll is also depicted, with major cities like Salt Lake City and Washington leveled by artillery, widespread atrocities on the part of The Klan, and a Mêlée à Trois in California resulting in outright famine, earning that state the nickname of "The Golden Abbatoir".
  • The Great War: One of the main points of the series, as millions of people die in an almost pointless conflict. Encapsulated by the Catchphrase, "This is modern war" whenever some new and horrible way for soldiers to kill each other was deployed, such as Deadly Gas.
  • Video essayist Hello Future Me has a video discussing this trope in the context of the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Southern Raiders". As he sees it, war does not create heroes or villains, it does not bring glory or honor. War creates broken men and children hungry for vengeance. War makes us all less.
    Because when we strip away the facades of war, when we take away the epic battles, the heroes, the villains, the statistics and faceless soldiers, all we are left with is the cycle of war. The pains of loss and grief. That dehumanizing anger. The confused concepts of justice and vengance. And the tears of a little girl who lost her mother.
  • Kickassia presents a humorous version of this trope, with various incidents happening during the 'war':
    • The Nostalgia Chick runs out of coffee, loses her mind, and joins a pack of coyotes.
    • Rob Walker (the cameraman) turns amputation into a Running Gag, once having an arm cut off so that he would be symetrical.
    • 8 Bit Mickey takes to wearing a necklace made of human ears — despite there being no fatalities in the war.
    • Braghav wandered off into the desert... and returned with a penguin.
    • At one point, most of the cast realizes that they are all humanitarians... despite a buffet being available at the hotel.
    • In the end, when all is said and done... Rob realizes that he left the lens cap on.
  • The Lady Voltigeur shows a lot of this. In fact, a major element of the novel is showing the horrors of the war.
    • Nathalie and Claire repeatedly say and admit that the war has brought nothing but pain and anguish for them with Nathalie being more vocal and aggressive when saying it aloud.
    • Reinhard also shows and says hints that connects him with the war during his past, just by the way that he sounded when he said that he did not want to remember being a part of the war, people ought to believe that the war had been hell for him.
  • Life SMP: Out of all the seasons, the first one, 3rd Life, encapsulates it the best. While the season starts out with faction politics as the main source of conflict, the latter half of the season drives home the point how the escalating conflict as a war has brought nothing but horrors for everyone. By the last two sessions of the season, even the relatively pacifistic players have had to take up arms, former friends have drifted apart and turned against each other as leading figures on opposite sides, most server-members have lost allies and friends (and in at least one case, suffered from bereavement) before being taken out themselves — oftentimes without mercy, and even the "winning" faction has destroyed their home in the process and ultimately gets a Downer Ending by the nature of the Deadly Game itself.
  • RWBY:
    • The Great War in RWBY's history was as terrible as it sounds. One hundred years of political and cultural tension erupted into ten years of brutal conflict between the alliances of Mistral and Atlas against Vale and Vacuo. Countless soldiers died in battle and just as many villages were lost to Grimm attacks while all of their capable fighters were drafted in the war. Humanity came perilously close to extinction until the final battle in Vacuo.
    • General Ironwood and Professor Ozpin do not agree on how to handle threats of war and terrorism. Ironwood throws military might at problems whereas Ozpin prefers investigation before making a move. Glynda mentions that Ozpin has experience everyone else lacks and he is implied to be unusually ancient, probably having lived through Remnant's last war of 80 years ago. Although Ironwood thinks Ozpin is prepping his students for war, Ozpin is actually hoping the kids never have to fight one.
      Ironwood: Do you honestly believe your children can win a war?
      Ozpin: I hope they never have to.
  • Works by Stuart Slade, such as The Big One and The Salvation War, make a point of portraying exactly how horrible modern military weapons technology can be, mostly as a reaction to how underestimated or cavalierly such weapons often get treated in much fiction. It helps that the author is a professional military analyst, and he shows his work by refusing to shy away from excruciatingly detailing exactly what modern weapons — from the "lowly" assault rifle to weapons of mass destruction — can do to people. In The Salvation War: Armageddon, for example, the forces of Hell learn first hand the horror of modern, mechanized total war. One of them even remarks that the battlefield they were fighting on was a human-made hell. Quite a rude awakening for the army in question, especially as they were at bronze age levels of technology.
    • In the sequel to The Salvation War, Pantheocide, we get "treated" to the angelic army being hit with a nuclear initiation. The description of the results is chilling.
  • In Spectral Shadows we have Harrison James, who would wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares, resulting in all the horrors he witnessed as a soldier during Chikyu's Second Great War.
  • World War II: a central theme of the series as millions of people are killed in the war and untold suffering is unleashed on the world.

    Western Animation 
  • In a scene from "The Procrastinators" from The Amazing World of Gumball, Gumball and Darwin are bored while having lunch so they decide to have a Food Fight. They sent their peas to war against their sweetcorn, a massacre ensues and the survivors are bombed by a sausage. The two of them are traumatised by the whole thing.
    Gumball: That was nowhere near as fun as I thought it would be.
    Darwin: I think I've lost my appetite.
  • Parodied on American Dad! where Steve becomes a Shell-Shocked Veteran after spending the weekend with a group Vietnam War recreationists. The episode is a parody of war films.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender explores the prolonged effects of Imperialism, foreign occupation, and genocide as much as it can while still being viewable for children.
    • One episode has the commander of an Earth Kingdom fortress show our heroes an infirmary, and then mentions that those soldiers are the lucky ones, because they came back. Everybody has their lives affected by the war: the main character is the last of his kind because every single one of his people were massacred a hundred years earlier, and two of his companions lost their mother to a raid. They also meet many people whose villages were burned to the ground, with most of them losing their families in the process. One even blows up a dam to try and clear out Fire Nation soldiers, knowing that the flood will kill innocent civilians as well. The heroes at one point find a refugee camp, where people are left with few possessions and in cramped conditions, trying to buy passage into Ba Sing Se, one of the few safe cities. They even meet a woman who was taken from her village simply because she was a waterbender, who then spent years learning how to manipulate the blood in people's bodies and now blindly seeks revenge.
    • "The Tale of Iroh" in the "Tales of Ba Sing Se" episode, which shows the quiet but powerful sadness of a father losing his son to the war. It hammers home the message of the inevitable personal consequences of war, and why it should not be entered into lightly. If there's a way to show this trope responsibly in a kid's show, Avatar: The Last Airbender is probably the best example that you could possibly find. It even won a Peabody Award for its responsible, yet brutal depiction of war, along with its Character Development.
    • The episode "The Painted Lady" shows how the Fire Nation's war even hurts their own civilians. It centers around a town living off of a river polluted by one of their war factories.
  • Although it keeps the amount of violence to what is acceptable for a children's series, Boo Boom! The Long Way Home still makes no attempt to hide how awful World War II was, and war in general is. For starters, the war is what landed the protagonist, Boo-Boom, in his current situation; being seperated from his parents during an air attack. As he and his friends travel Italy, it’s shown numerous times how everyday life for normal citizens who never wanted anything to do with the war is turned upside down because of it.
  • The word "Hell" is almost never allowed on children's television. But Histeria! used it in the popular recollection of William T. Sherman's famous quote.
  • In Milo Murphy's Law, Season 2 opens with sentient pistachio plants having taken over the world. When Milo and friends (accompanied by Phineas and Ferb) go to rescue the people of Danville, the Pistachion leader Derek sends a deploys a giant Pistachion to crush them. But when the creature looks at the carnage surrounding him, he realizes all his time locked away has made him nearly forget compassion. Over Derek's aggravated objections, the giant grabs a Bindle Stick and vows to Walk the Earth. Notably, he's the only Pistachion to object in any way to their war with the humans.
  • Shows up in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic of all places: The episode The Cutie Remark succinctly conveys this in an alternative timeline where King Sombra has conquered half of Equestria with his slave army and all of Equestria is mobilized in total war just to hold him off. Half the cast have given up their dreams and work in factories to keep the war machine running and the other half are hardened front line soldiers. Rainbow Dash in particular has a chunk missing out of her ear, has a scar across one of her eyes and has replaced one of her wings with a metal prosthesis.
  • Peace on Earth, a very Anvilicious anti-war cartoon made just as World War II was beginning in Europe, is about a post-apocalyptic world where humans have killed themselves off through war and the world is populated by Ridiculously Cute Critters. Features some Nightmare Fuel-inducing rotoscoped animation.
  • Reboot: In the back half of the series, Mainframe plunges into civil war after Bob is banished to the Web and Megabyte makes his ultimate play to take control of the city. The show pulls no punches in showing what a horrific, traumatizing experience it is for nearly all the characters, most dramatically shown when Megabyte callously throws an entire small fleet of his (mostly conscripted) men onto the enemy's metaphorical spears to soften the Principal Office's defenses; when they're predictably slaughtered, Dot breaks down into horrified sobbing over the fact that she just ordered the deaths of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people.
  • Even appears in the Recess episode, "The Trial." In it, Spinelli is accused of throwing a rock in a dirt clod war, and Mikey presents his view on the matter. In Mikey's narrative, the dirt clod war landscape resembles World War I, with the kids falling injured and Spinelli calling a time-out to tend to the wounded. It was then when Randall threw a dirt clod at Spinelli anyway and angered her. Although Mikey didn't actually see Randall get hit with the rock, he concludes that "war is not a game." The truth of the matter is that Randall hit himself in the head with the rock.
  • This trope appears in most episodes of Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM): the fight for Mobius is a Civil WarRobotnik used to be the King's War Minister, and his opposition includes the King's daughter. Ben Hurst, the main writer of the show, insisted that the heroes should suffer some losses in their fight for freedom: Sonic and Sally both lost their father figures note , Tails lost both his parents, and Bunnie lost half of her body to the roboticizer. Several sympathetic characters are unceremoniously roboticized or thrown into the Void, never to be heard from again. Finally, the destructive aftermath of Robotnik's conquest can be seen everywhere on the planet.
    Lupe: After Robotnik captured my father and Roboticized most of the pack, a few escaped; although not without reminders. *touches the scar under her left eye* Only ten of us are left now. We returned to find our land being destroyed by the test pod.
  • Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles: Not an episode goes by without mention of how mentally and physically exhausting fighting the war against the Bugs is, usually encapsulated by Higgins' narration.
  • We see this in Star Trek: Lower Decks episode "The Inner Fight": Mariner finds herself stuck on a hostile planet with the Klingon Ma'ah and, while waiting for the planet's hostile weather to end, Mariner reveals she participated in the Dominion War. Ma'ah wishes he could have participated in it and Mariner counters that he wouldn't have because it was terrible and so many friends of her died. Between this and her idol Sito Jaxa dying in a mission for the Enterprise, it made Mariner self-sabotage her career path so she'd be stuck as an Ensign so she'd never have to send her friends to her death. Ma'ah, however, convinces her out of that way of thinking.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars does this a lot to contrast itself to the micro series which was War Is Glorious. First shown in “Rookies” where a group of clones tries to retake an outpost... only two survive besides Rex and Cody. It's really hammered in hard during the Kaminoian Invasion where 99, a defective Clone, is killed. And finally in the Umbara Arc? It's so hellish (and the Jedi General is evil and planning to defect), the Clones are tricked to killing each other.
  • Steven Universe:
    • At the beginning of one episode, Pearl enthusiastically recounts the courageous actions Rose Quartz and the other Crystal Gems undertook to save Earth, while Garnet stoically points out that every weapon they're walking past is one of a gem who died in the fighting.
    • In a later episode, Greg reluctantly explains it to his son in the plainest terms: that to prevent the destruction of Earth and all life on it, Rose and the Crystal Gems were forced to turn their backs on their own kind and fight a gem-fragment littered and bloody intergalactic war.
      Steven: So, sh-she saved the world — that's good!
      Greg: No such thing as a good war, kiddo. Gems were destroyed, people too. In the end, your mother could only save a handful of her closest friends.
    • As detailed earlier, Pearl initially seems to think War Is Glorious. However, the only time she describes it as such is when she's explaining it to Steven, who needs it detailed in a manner that he can handle and will only make him even more conflicted about his mother. In a later episode, Steven visits her memory of the aftermath of one battle in particular, and she is utterly devastated. It explains almost wordlessly that Pearl is traumatized and puts on a brave face for Steven's sake.
    • What little we see of the Homeworld Gems' point of view is this trope full force. Many of their veterans have some form of PTSD and recount heavy losses on their side.
  • The National Film Board of Canada animated short, Toys, has kids looking a window display of G.I. Joe toys, only to have them come to life and wage a real war in front of the kids. In the sequence, war in all its chaos and horror is on full display with the animated GI Joe actions figures giving it a brutal immediacy.
  • Recent Transformers series such as Animated, Prime and the live-action films portray the Autobot-Decepticon war as this. This went back as far as Transformers: The Movie, where a single battle saw the termination of numerous recognizable faces (albeit because Hasbro wanted to remove the entire existing cast to make way for new toys.) The oldest example of this trope in play in the Transformers franchise comes from the G1 episode "The Golden Lagoon." Beachcomber finds a tranquil glen filled with beautiful plants and animals, and also a pool filled with "electrum," a golden liquid that makes any Transformer coated in it invulnerable. Naturally, the Decepticons end up finding it, and they fight for control. In the end, Beachcomber is left looking forlornly at the glen, now utterly destroy, and gives a mournful "we won."
  • Universal Cartoon Studios productions:
    • Wing Commander Academy — As much as could be portrayed in a 1990s Saturday morning cartoon, the series is not at all shy about the death and occasional moral ambiguity of war, on both sides.
      • Probably the best episode for this is one where a kilrathi pilot crashlands on a paradise planet and holds the female doctor there hostage. She seems to have been taken over with Stockholm syndrome when Blair and Maniac find her, and eventually after stopping them from fighting one another she convinces them to let the Kilrathi leave, after having him promise not to reveal the beautiful planet's location so it may survive the war unscathed. Blair and Maniac agree to let him go, and he flies off...then they find notes implying that when she was treating his wounds she was also experimenting on him, and has bioengineered him without his knowledge into being a walking viral factory, who will die upon returning to Kilrah and spread the disease throughout their homeworld, wiping out the entire Kilrathi race. Blair and even Maniac call her out on this insane plan, then take off to shoot him down. They both feel pretty crappy about it afterwards.
    • Exo Squad also wasn't shy at all, depicting people dying on all sides, civilians being starved, indications of genocide, Body Horror, and many examples of Nightmare Fuel, particularly later in the show.

  • In a similar vein to the George Santayana quote,note  there is a one-liner that states, "War does not determine who is right, only who is left."
  • A popular topic in the Nose Art. Invoked by Major Frank Oiler (8th Air Force, 78th Fighter Group) who named his P-51D Mustang as Sherman Was Right, implying the World War Two indeed was a living hell.
  • The Ur-Example of this trope may be the Geoffrey de Charny's manual for young knights from 1346, which describes the life of knight in a very cruel ways. The book, about the life of a knight, included the psychological consequences of being a knight — and they strongly resemble the symptoms of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In his book, de Charny advises knights on how to relate to the fact that they must kill people when they are at war. He also mentions some of the hardships knights face: poor sleep, hunger, and a feeling that even nature is going against them.

War. *grunt* What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.


Battle Realms

Kenji is unable to enjoy his victory not just because of the damage the battle caused, but also due to it reminding him of how his ruthless father would've fought.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

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Main / WarIsHell

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