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What a Senseless Waste of Human Life

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"He wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was truly evil at heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace."
The Lord of the Rings, when Sam sees the body of a warrior of the Haradrim

On the death of an Innocent Bystander who got caught in a crossfire, or when a Worthy Opponent is killed, a lead character will look down on the body and murmur sadly, "What a senseless waste of human life."

Can also ensue if a wounded character insisted I Can Still Fight!, trying to prove something, and died of his injuries.

Compare A Million Is a Statistic and We Have Reserves. Contrast What Measure Is a Mook?. Often used in instances where the author is trying to show that Even Evil Has Standards as a sympathetic villain has no problem killing enemy combatants but will balk at the idea of harming an innocent.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • As for Code Geass, Lelouch is responsible for Euphemia's death an episode after his Geass ability accidentally activates while he suggests that she kill all the Japanese for the sake of an example of how Geass works; she proceeds to kill all the Japanese who had registered for the Special Administrated Zone and issue orders to have them all executed shortly thereafter. In the middle of R2, Suzaku's command to live forces him to launch a FLEIJA warhead to distract Kallen during the Second Battle of Tokyo, which causes the deaths of some 35,000,000 civilians. The clearest example of this is the scene in which Shirley is killed by Rolo, and her death accomplishes absolutely nothing; she didn't even have to die, they didn't have anything to gain from it, and Rolo still killed her. It would have been just as lovely an anime if they didn't die (if not even better than it was), but the fact that they did allow the protagonist to undergo character development so that the audience can understand how he thinks, and that those people are what truly mattered, and if they hadn't, the plot wouldn't have acknowledged the meaning their lives had.
  • Dragon Ball: in one of the series' more subtle and moving moments, Goku's face after seemingly killing Frieza conveys this sentiment; he doesn't look satisfied with his victory at all, just shaken and disappointed. Notable in that Goku had tried against all reason to spare Freeza's life after Frieza killed his best friend and his entire race, only for the tyrant to throw Goku's mercy back in his face, try to backstab him, and finally force Goku's hand. The movement lines in the preceding panel indicate that Goku's arm was actually trembling after striking the final blow, such was his regret. It's possibly the only time in the series where it's truly made apparent that, for all his Blood Knight tendencies and previous Unstoppable Rage, Goku is at heart a Kindhearted Simpleton that detests killing and suffering and was never ready for the depravity he saw when the ill-fitting "savior of the galaxy" role was foisted onto him by circumstance.
  • In One Piece, the Marines' Buster Call never fails to bring about these moments.
    • During the first known Buster Call, not only was an entire island utterly destroyed on the World Government's orders, but an evacuation ship carrying the island's civilians was shot down by a thorough Vice Admiral, shocking even the sadistic agent who initially ordered the attack.
    • Later, the Marines initiate a Buster Call on their own judicial island, and yet another Vice Admiral sees fit to blow up an allied ship with 1000 marine soldiers and shoot one of his own soldiers who spoke of this trope - all just to kill Luffy.
    • A version (of the trope, not of the Buster Call) is, surprisingly, pulled off by crybaby Coby at Ace's execution after he is killed and the marines and pirates are still fighting.
      • Or rather that the pirates have given up and started a retreat. But the Marines, lead by a war-mongering Akainu, press the attack. Eventually Coby can't take it anymore and yells for them to stop the senselessness of it all.
      • Coby's not the only one as Smoker and Tashigi, too, are displeased to see the Marines continuing to pursue the pirates.
  • Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid. Gates says this after murdering one of his own mooks for backchatting him. But he's just plain nuts.
  • Maken-ki! inverts it, by having Leo try to reason with Takeru, before he killed Gouken. Leo tried telling him that it wouldn't solve anything, since Takeru Yamato would simply possess a new body. Nor was is it what Himegami would've wanted him to do. But Takeru was so enraged that he still did it anyway. In the end, it changed nothing. Gouken had simply been a victim of Takeru's frustration.
  • Iserina from the Mobile Suit Gundam TV series tries to avenge the death of her boyfriend, Garma Zabi She only ends up dead, and the White Base crew end up reflecting on how useless her Roaring Rampage of Revenge was.
  • This is Naruto's reason for wanting to stop the Fourth Shinobi War. Apparently, it doesn't matter to him if the opposing army consist of mindless, expendable mooks, zombie ninjas, magical stone giants all. Though it may be his side, the living side, he's worried about and he didn't know about the opposing side being non-human.
    • Now even more senseless now that the Ten-Tails has been fully resurrected, albeit not at full power.
  • Volume 15 of Fullmetal Alchemist is this trope, due to its focus on the characters' flashback on Ishvallan War.
  • In episode 12 of Black Lagoon, Masahiro Tanaka says this after killing his friend Ibraha to prevent him from sending their soldiers charging into certain death.
    "That was our problem; you and I could only look to the past. But if we keep doing that, nothing will ever change, will it? Still, I suppose none of this matters anymore, but you were a good comrade to me all the same. What a goddamn waste."
  • Cross Ange: Embryo laments Julio going against his orders and ordering a massacre on Arzenal.
  • In So I'm a Spider, So What? Julius regrets the death of Blow, a Worthy Opponent who also had a brother waiting at home. The nearby Shiraori instead respects Blow's death as proof of his determination and pride.
    • Not long after Shiraori is forced to destroy the Demon's First Army due to interference by Sariel. She regrets having to do so as she'd had plans for the army and respected their leader, Argnar.
      Shiraori: Sorry, Argnar. In order to grant the future you wish for the demons, the only option was to abandon you.

    Comic Books 
  • Commented by the Joker in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, after pointlessly shooting a security guard. Apparently a direct reference to the Monty Python sketch.
  • Also said by Captain Boomerang in Suicide Squad after letting Mindboggler get gunned down from behind.
  • Subverted in Asterix and the Actress, where the civil war between Pompeius and Caesar is shown, and Asterix and Obelix are passing near the site of one ongoing battle. Obelix's reaction is that of "What a waste of life", but in the sense that every dead Roman means one more Roman he can't hit later.

    Fan Works 
  • Sixes and Sevens: Emily gets a case of this when she and Michael have to ensure all the soldiers at the HYDRA camp they ambushed are dead, thinking about how dying unmourned and unloved in a distant land is everything she fears.
    • In the sequel Shadow of the Eagle, Roger is briefly saddened when he considers that not only were the HYDRA soldiers lives thrown away to stop his party's attack on their base, but that they were likely beyond help already since they had joined up with fascists.

  • In The Bridge on the River Kwai, Major Clipton embodies this trope when looking out over the dead soldiers from both sides in the end, exclaiming: "Madness... Madness!"
  • In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, during the extended Civil War battle subplot, the main duo is watching a completely pointless battle and Blondie comments, "I've never seen so many men wasted so badly."
  • Subverted in Licence to Kill, where Sharky has the memorable line: "What a terrible waste... of money." after Bond kills a corrupt official by tossing a briefcase containing two million dollars at him, knocking him and the money into a shark pool.
  • In The Movie of The Two Towers, Faramir speaks a paraphrased version of the narration quoted above.
  • A running motif throughout Captain Clegg is when naval officer Captain Collier (an Inspector Javert type character) is unwilling to remove his hat. When he's in the service of the king, he won't, but off-duty and in the service of his maker (i.e. in church) he will. So at the end of the movie, when he sees the dead body of his enemy (the titular Clegg), he removes his hat.
  • Last Clear Chance, a 1950s driving safety film put out by Union Pacific, ends with the protagonist's brother being killed when he takes his eyes off the road and gets hit by a train. In the aftermath, the train's driver intones heavily "Why don't they look?" When Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed on the film, they had a field day spoofing such films, but with less dangerous uncooked bacon. As Mike, bacon across his eyes, screams in horror in the background, Crow comments "Why don't they look?"
  • Subverted at the end of The Rocketeer. When Peevy sarcastically reads a news article claiming Neville Sinclair was killed when "flaming debris fell on his touring car," he concludes, "That's terrible. That was a nice car..."
  • A couple times in Zulu, and wrong on both counts.
  • In Patton, as the American artillery wreaks havoc on the German forces during the Battle of El Guettar, Patton remarks it being, "a damn waste of fine infantry."
  • Push: Carver, despite being the Big Bad, is very dismissive of the Super-Soldier program. The project has been going on for decades, and has finally produced a viable subject, but it killed countless subjects before that. His Catchphrase whenever someone dies (even if he kills them himself) is a quiet "What a waste."

  • In Eddings' Belgarath The Sorcerer, after witnessing a large battle, Poledra reminds you she has No Social Skills with a simple line:
    "What are they going to do with all this meat?"
    • Interestingly, Belgarath thinks a little about it and ponders that there would probably be less war if the winners were forced to eat the losers.
    • And to be fair, this took place centuries before Poledra first took human form. A wolf asking about meat disposal isn't really a big deal.
  • In some novels of Warhammer 40,000 you find that not all the imperial commanders think about their troops as expendable cannon fodder and they will condemn their colleagues who seem to keep using Hollywood Tactics to achieve their military objectives, or just let people (including civilians) get massacred due their incompetence.
  • In the Dale Brown novel Edge of Battle, Zakharov makes such a comment when he sees that Frank Falcone, who he believed was committed enough to do what had to be done, has a My God, What Have I Done? moment and is Driven to Suicide.
  • The Fire Never Dies: Every single death in battle following the Simmons coup falls under this. It was blatantly obvious by now that the Red Army was going to win the Second American Civil War. Many in the White government recognized this, with Vice-President Marshall using the opportunity of President Wilson's stroke to negotiate a surrender. All Simmons did was extend the fighting by several months, killing thousands of soldiers and civilians, and bringing about the destruction of Wilmington, Delaware and Washington, D.C.
  • In The Bible, David makes this speech at least twice, once over Saul and Jonathan, once over Abner.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort says at the battle of Hogwarts that he hates to see magical blood spilled because it is such a waste. (And given the population of wizards in the Harry Potter universe, it is a waste! Mainly because he wants to conscript any witches or wizards still breathing into being Death Eaters, like it or not.)
  • In The Saga of Darren Shan, Kurda dislikes the other vampires' Proud Warrior Race Guy antics, saying that of the nine vampires that had died over the past 12 years (between two council meetings), five could have been there had they not been overeager to flaunt their strength and prove something.
  • Wolf Hall
    • Thomas Cromwell, while dealing with the prophesying nun Elizabeth Barton, feels that she was looking for attention more than anything else, was probably abused, and that she was unfairly exploited by the monks, the Poles, and the Courtenays without realizing the consequences of her actions. When doing the paperwork to have her executed and her paltry assets seized, he provides her the bribe she'll need so that the hangman will let her die quickly.
    • He also has this attitude about Mark Smeaton, a slightly irritating but ultimately harmless musician in Anne Boleyn's inner circle whom Cromwell targets as the way to bring her down for adultery and treason. Mark had worked for Cromwell's mentor Cardinal Wolsey, and Cromwell thinks that if he'd hired the boy into his own household (as he had with a number of Wolsey's other displaced servants) he could have made him into a useful man with self-respect instead of a perpetual boy hoping for scraps of attention at the queen's door. But their mutual disdain back then precluded it; oh well.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Adam-12 episode "Log 52: Good Cop – Handle with Care," where two freelance journalists harass Malloy and Reed as they go about their daily beat. Despite Malloy warning the two that their actions will cause a tragedy, the pair continue to hassle the show's main protagonists, and things eventually reach the trope making point when the officers stop a car operated by armed robbery suspects. One of the reporters taunts the officers, and in the process one of the robbers shoots – and fatally wounds – an innocent passer-by (a father with two young children at home). Malloy is very angry at the journalists and basically tells them, "Look what you've done now!"
  • Parodied in the Monty Python's Flying Circus "Cheese Shop" sketch where John Cleese's character shoots the shop proprietor (Michael Palin) after learning the place is completely devoid of cheese, then comments, "What a senseless waste of human life." And leaves after putting on a cowboy hat he pulled out of nowhere.
  • Doctor Who used variants; often the life he was regretting the loss of wasn't human.
    Joan: If the Doctor hadn't chosen this place to hide, on a whim, would anyone have died?
    • The real tragedy of those two episodes is that the senseless waste of human life resulted from the Doctor trying to avoid a senseless waste of villain lives.
    • Heck, even the First Doctor had such a moment — the Daleks have just activated their superweapon, but instead of doing what they thought it would do, it ended up aging everything in the planet they were into dust. Everything. As the Doctor says "What a waste. What a terrible waste."
      • In fact, he had another in the very next story, having just fled Paris on realising that one of the worst events in the city's history was about to happen:
      The massacre lasted for several days in Paris and spread to other parts of France. Oh, what a terrible waste. What a dreadful page of the past.
    • Probably the iconic one is "Warriors of the Deep": "There should have been another way."
  • Speaking of Doctor Who: rather chillingly referenced in this public information film starring C. Eccleston.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: While many murders fall into this category, in a Season 7 episode aptly titled "Senseless", Logan is particularly disturbed to learn that three teenagers died because they got into a minor argument with a man who turned out to be a delusional sociopath.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Out Of Time", Kryten deploys the term in advance when, thanks to visiting time-travelers, he learns that Lister is going to end up as a disembodied brain in a jar.
  • Dec wails exactly the trope name over Ant's body in an episode of Chums, after accidentally shooting him. Three times. (He got better.)

  • In M*A*S*H, Hawkeye feels this trope is what makes war worse than hell:
    Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.
    Father Mulcahy: How do you figure that, Hawkeye?
    Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?
    Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.
    Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them — little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "The Bonding", Lt. Marla Aster is killed while on a survey expedition, killed by a hidden landmine left behind on the planet now devoid of sentient life. Worf, being a Klingon, is horrified and angered at her death, especially since he was leading that team and he can't do anything to avenge the last victim of a forgotten war.

  • The song "Attica State" by John Lennon and Yoko Ono exemplifies the trope almost verbatim as it opens with the lyrics: "What a waste of human power, what a waste of human life."
  • Pagan Altar's "Sentinels of Hate". It's essentially about all the common people who have died throughout history because some nobleman wanted more land, or wanted some group destroyed because they didn't worship the right god.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • In Black & White 2, the good conscience says this word-for-word if you start killing your own villiagers. It seems to happen more often if your alignment is 'good'.
  • In Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light (and its remake, Shadow Dragon), Camus's death by My Country, Right or Wrong and Honor Before Reason is treated as such. Subverted: He comes Back from the Dead in Fire Emblem Gaiden and Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, and not only that, he actually joins you.
  • Almost identical words ("What a pitiful waste of a human life") are actually part of the lyrics of Total Distortion's Game Over song. Quite fitting since the protagonist is basically an entrepreneur who wanders an alternate dimension chock-full of hostilities merely for profit...
  • Invoked in Metro: Last Light by the Red Line's General Korbut as he walks through the wreckage of the Rangers' bloody but futile last stand in D6. "What an unforgivable waste of men and resources."
  • Mister Burke from Fallout 3 will sometimes utter the phrase "Some people have no respect for the sanctity of life" when seeing somebody getting killed. Burke is, however, The Dragon to the evil Mr. Tenpenny and a bit of a Smug Snake who also plans to blow up a whole town, so he is just as prone to utter: "Natural selection... at its finest."
  • Lino En Kuldes says this during the climax of Suikoden IV, after watching Troy choose to go down with his ship after losing a showdown with the hero.
  • In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, CJ says a variation of this after killing friend-turned-crack-pusher Smoke.
    • He also briefly feels this way after killing childhood friend-turned-traitor Ryder.
  • Inverted by World of Warcraft. When Illidan is killed, he uses his dying words to mock Maiev, who has wasted her entire being on hunting him, and now has nothing left to live for.
    • In the Mists of Pandaria expansion, the player can overhear a conversation between two Paragons (great warriors of mantid history that had been put under stasis to be reawakened by the cultural caretakers of their society if their current monarch threatened to ruin them) discuss how one of them had been awakened for the second time since being originally placed under hibernation. The first empress he helped overthrow had been holding on to power by declaring the ritualistic centennial attack on their neighboring kingdom as a senseless waste of life. It turned out, however, she was only lying to preserve her power.
    • In the Battle for Azeroth expansion, the harbormaster of Kul Tiras tells a story of a friend who died in the third war, due to a bad case of I Can Still Fight! where he tried to patch himself up after being wounded, without asking for help from healers: he died of infection. The aesop his surviving friend learned from this was that it's not wise to wait to ask for help until it's too late.
  • Inverted/parodied in Diablo II, when the Necromancer defeats Radamant and his undead forces: "What a waste of undead flesh..."
  • After killing The Sympathetic Dragon in Target Earth, the protagonist mutters "Another good man dead."
  • While he never says it straight, Travis Touchdown eventually views all of his victories against later assassins as this, particularly the ones who weren't psychotic killing machines such as Alice Twilight and Margaret Moonlight.
    Travis: Fuck that. I wanna be hero. By my own standards.
    Sylvia: You need to wake up, Travis.
    Travis: Take your own goddamn advice.
  • Pops up in Star Wars: Battlefront II, in the Imperial era of the campaign. The Death Star casualties, particularly the pilots who were rotated in in place of the 501st, are referred to by the narrator as "poor souls."
  • The Pawn Shop Owner says this in King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, unaware that Alex has faked his own death in front of Shamir.
  • One of Aveline's bits of combat chatter in Dragon Age II is a sad "A waste of life, but not my choice."
  • Dawn of War II Lord General Castor treads this.
    Castor: I am not afraid to spend them, but I never waste men.
  • Mass Effect 2 has Mordin's loyalty mission. Years before the start of the game, Mordin worked on updating the genophage affecting krogan birth rates. During the mission, you'll find the corpse of a krogan on what looks like a surgical table. Up until that point, Mordin insisted that his work was the correct thing to do for every party involved; at that moment, however...
    Dead krogan. Female. Tumours indicate experimentation. No restraint marks. Volunteer. Sterile Weyrloc female willing to risk procedures. Hoped for cure. Pointless. Pointless waste of life. [...] Never experimented on live krogan! Never killed with medicine! Her death not my work, only reaction to it. Goal was to stabilize population. Never wanted this. Can see it logically... but still unnecessary. Foolish waste of life...! [...] Krogan researchers ruthless. Risking own clan's women for more data. Disgusting. Shortsighted. Wrong.
    • One of Commander Shepard's dialogue options presents a humorous subversion.
      Mordin: Pointless. Pointless waste of life.
      Shepard: Her, or the people who did this?
  • In Left 4 Dead, Bill may occasionally choke out "Aw, Jesus, what a waste!" upon seeing Zoey's dead body.
  • Stated twice in FreeSpace, both times in response to the commanders of crippled and severely outgunned capital ships who attempt to ram rather than surrender and get blown out of the sky for their troubles.
  • In Mega Man X4, this is how X feels after defeating Magma Dragoon, since they had been allies for quite some time and Dragoon's only real reason for going rogue was wanting a good fight with X. It's also notably the only time in the game X or Zero don't do their victory pose before teleporting away after a battle.
    X: Such a waste... Why, Dragoon?
    Dragoon: Always... wanted to... fight... you...
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda: If Liam is in the party in the mission "Out of Gas", and the player choses to kill the guy responsible for the team's problems, even after the guy's admitted he's outclassed by the Pathfinder's team, Liam will bitterly mutter "What a waste."
  • In Natsuki Chronicles, after Natsuki defeats Magenta, she has this to say:
    Natsuki: Yet another unnecessary death to add to this mess.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Noah gets several moments of this in the first chapter, such as remaining silent while his friends and comrades celebrate a victory or looking mournfully on the bodies of enemy soldiers whom he's just killed. It informs his decision shortly after he and his friends become freed from the war to express his intention to avoid killing anybody else wherever possible.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • Subverted when Troy McClure appears in a Red Asphalt-style traffic safety video, observing a car accident and uttering this line in a heavy tone of voice. Then he instantly brightens and goes into his usual introductory spiel.
    • Challenged in one episode when Marge discovers a convict named Jack Crowley who not only seems like a good person at heart but also has immense talent as an artist. Marge almost utters the line word for word when she remarks on what a waste of talent it is for him to be locked behind bars and ignores all the warnings from the Warden that he's merely charming Marge and isn't worth trying to help. It turns out the Warden was entirely right: Jack really is a very dangerous and imbalanced criminal, a Consummate Liar, and a delusional pyromaniac who took every advantage of Marge.
  • In ReBoot, Dot mourns the loss of Megabyte's army, because despite them being enemy soldiers, she's also aware that many of them were forcibly conscripted.
  • Happens in the French series Once Upon a Time... Space as the Humanoids obliterate the fleet of Cassiopeia, the other villain faction. What makes this particularly hard is that the ones mourning the deaths of the Cassiopeian crews are the Humanoids themselves, who spend a large part of the battle begging the Cassiopeians to surrender and not force them to destroy them while simultaneously holding back to give them a chance to surrender... At least until the Great Computer, the A.I. controlling them, gets annoyed and threatens to blow up their homeworld if they don't surrender. And even then he manages to repeat his mourning.
    "This is the Great Computer. Your foolishness knows no limits. You refused to surrender, and this is the result: the almost complete obliteration of your armada. This is our final message, so, listen me: surrender in one hour, or your beloved homeworld of Cassiopeia shall be blown into smitherens. End message."
  • A non-fatal example occurs at the end of South Park: Post Covid: The Return of Covid. While just about everyone's lives turned out for the better in the new timeline (including people who had died in the old one), the same could not be said for Cartman. Not only did he do nothing with his life whatsoever, he's out on the street cursing at people nearby (and the world at large), no home, no family, no friends, nothing. This is pointed out by Stan and Kyle, who react with pity.
    Stan: Man, poor Cartman!