When the hero confronts the Big Bad, no matter his crimes, he will spare him, despite all logic being against it; however, when he kills a Mook who happens to be in his way, it's no big deal. In fact, an entire Mook Horror Show is just fine.
Why? Because Red Shirts and Mooks are not generally seen as people. After all, they lack a name and other distinguishing characteristics (sometimes they don't even get a face) as a result of the Law of Conservation of Detail , so they also have no identity or soul.
This is generally done intentionally. A primary antagonist, even if their face is somehow concealed, will likely have a very distinctive appearance and a considerable amount of dialogue. However, mooks are often clones or wear masks (perhaps even both), and consequently have very little chance of surviving an encounter with the hero.
Sometimes it's justified(?) by the assumption that mooks are Always Chaotic Evil, though, as many examples show, entirely innocent Gullible Lemmings are often gunned down, as well. Also, many works will attempt to justify this with Mecha-Mooks, though depending where they lie on the Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence, the Unfortunate Implications may persist regardless. Another common way to justify it is to coincidentally put heroes or their friends into life-or-death situations against a Mook with no other choice but to kill them, while always giving them the luxury to spare the significant villains.
However, there are exceptions that can save a mook. If the mooks switch sides (a rare event), they usually get the benefit of Redemption Earns Life; additionally, if they were Good All Along and only doing evil because they had no choice, they have a shot. Also, some works of (generally kid-friendly) fiction explain the heroes used a Non-Lethal K.O. on their foes.
Subtrope of Protagonist-Centered Morality. Compare What Measure Is a Non-Super?, What Measure Is a Non-Unique?, and What Measure Is a Non-Human?, the last of which frequently overlaps with this trope. A Million Is a Statistic can be this when applied to mooks in large numbers. Contrast Immortal Life Is Cheap. Pay Evil unto Evil normally goes hand-in-hand with all this mookocide, often with sneers about the way mooks will go around Just Following Orders. Breakout Mook Character may be a subversion. See also: Sparing the Aces.
Before adding an example, consider this: is the Final Boss treated any better than the mooks? If not, it's probably not an example. Additionally subversions of the Red Shirt kind go in A Million Is a Statistic.
- Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld:
- Averted. All the minions and soldiers mean something. Amy almost vomits after her first kill. The mate of one of the dead barbarians comes after the house seeking revenge. Hadran distinguishes himself from his brother by having respect for the soldiers under him, and everyone makes an effort to not kill any brainwashed soldiers.
- This comes up when Amy fights two rogue onyx agents. She kills one attacker, and the other angrily claims she killed her brother. Amy points out that they're trying to kill her mother.
- Astro City:
- Played for drama in "The Tarnished Angel", the Conquistador insists on not hurting any people with his plan, but does not consider his criminal underlings as "people".
- The subject is explored in the Dark Age arc, when Royal and Charles go undercover as mooks in Pyramid.
- In Battle, most of enemy soldiers are merely unnamed canon fodder, but some of the Germans get characterisation from early on. The most notable instances occur when Charley goes up against a German platoon while working as a sniper. One guy is even waiting on the news of the birth of his son. They even fraternise during an unofficial Christmas truce.
- A gag at least used twice to highlight Blade's misanthropy is that he cares more for bugs than he does for people, lamenting that he had to kill stinging insects summoned against him by Hydra Agent Rotwrap and refusing to attack bugs called upon by a powered up Deacon Frost.
- Dark Souls: The Age of Fire: The entire series leads up to Arkon just being one of many foes the Chosen Undead kills without learning anything about him.
- In ElfQuest: The Searcher and the Sword, Shuna (who's been living with the elves for about two years) goes and gets married to a human man, who starts off with just bad vibes but quickly jumps off the slippery slope and becomes a full-fledged wife-beater. After he beats her the first (and only) time, she fights off typical "maybe my love could change him" reasoning, beans him one last time, and flees. Her erstwhile husband and three or four human fighters pursue her. For the showdown? One of the Mooks makes ready to shoot the elves point-blank while they're in a hole; Strongbow responds in kind. That's one down, deader than dead. The elves quickly subdue the rest, Shuna duels her hubby, and then they tell them to leave and never come back.
- Actively defied at the end of Empowered volume 2, in which the heroine shows she does care about a mook's family when she saves the mook's life. And she does this by looking into his head with the special powers of her suit, seeing that he is very close to having a deadly stroke, and convincing him to go to the hospital to get surgery all while he's standing guard over (under) her as she is tied up and hanging from the ceiling upside down. Needless to say, he and his family are very grateful.
- And invoked by the Big Bad.
- It probably helps that her boyfriend, Thug Boy, used to make his living as the leader of the "Witless Minions" (although in his case that involved pretending to be a mook in order to rip off bad guys for their stuff rather than being a typical mook.) Also, this trope is played with in a dark way when a flashback shows that the rest of the Witless Minions were horribly murdered by Willy Pete right in front of Thug Boy, who only narrowly survived. Admittedly they didn't all get names, so the effect of their deaths on Thug Boy is more plot-relevant than their actual deaths, but the reader certainly feels very, very sorry for them.
- Fables loves to subvert this. We see bits and pieces of the Emperor's forces, background, interests, beliefs... Boy Blue while he is sneaking through the Empire gives the goblins he questions the chance to surrender when he confronts them since he just wants information. (Not his fault they kept attacking him.)
- G.I. Joe:
- One of the last few G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Marvel) comic books ("America's Elite") had a flashback to the early days of G.I. Joe and the evil Cobra. One of the undercover operatives was saying (paraphrased) "Yes, General Flagg, some of them are jerks but a lot of them are just confused people, they aren't really bad."
- Surprisingly reconstructed in G.I. Joe (IDW) comics. Cobra troopers and operatives are frequently given hints of personality and backstory but rather than making the mooks look sympathetic or tragic, it just helps to reaffirm that they're bastards and deserve to get taken down. It's repeatedly pointed out that while the mooks may be people too, they're also a bunch of terrorists, thieves, and murderers willingly working for a major criminal organization. One issue gives the backstory of four random Cobra troopers, only one of whom comes off as even remotely sympathetic; the others are bluntly and honestly depicted as being either sociopaths who get off on violence or ruthless murderers who will do anything for money.
- Ruthlessly subverted and taken apart in Hench, by Adam Beechen and Manny Bello. In this graphic novel, a professional henchman (he's worked with a lot of supervillains, and tells us which are good bosses and which ones to stay away from at all costs) reflects on his life, and how it got so crazy. He isn't in the life For the Evulz so much as having no other way to make a living and support his kid.
- Volume One, Issue Twelve of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, titled "Best Man Fall", is a Posthumous Character study of a guard who appeared in only one panel of a previous issue. It shows various snapshots from his life, up until the point where he gets shot. While he's far from the a saint, it still works to make you feel sad for him dying.
- This ends up being one of the running themes for the series, where mooks are often depicted as something more than grunting savages with guns before getting gunned down by the heroes. Yeah, it starts to wear on them, too.
- 100 Bullets: Joan D'Arcy's bodyguards get a few pages of sympathetic characterization (Lyle is worried about his kids as a result of gang violence, Coop has lung cancer and gets treated like a relative by Joan, Lou's quit smoking after Coop got sick and is trying to be supportive of him through his illness), before Remi cuts his way through them to try and kill Joan, failing thanks to their efforts.
- This trope is brought up sometimes in Sin City, despite the protagonists' violent nature. Marv refused to kill the initial set of cops sent against him and he employed similar methods when deaking with the henchmen at the Lord's estate, Wallace only killed a few assassins since he was one of the few SC characters who didn't like killing, Hartigan killed the guards at the Farm but mentioned that he hated doing it, and Dwight once questioned whether or not he should kill a cop on the grounds that he might be one of the few honest ones.
- There was something like this in the story "Light the Night", a rather dramatic multipart story exploring the Hidden Depths of Spidey's old enemy Electro. A subplot of the story dealt with a common criminal who Spidey had caught on numerous occasions, but could never remember from one time to the next. The guy hated Spider-Man, not so much because he kept getting punched out and webbed to the wall; he even said he wouldn't mind so much if, for once, Spidey remembered who he was! Eventually, the guy tries to pull a grandiose stunt and rob a high-class party, pretending to be a super-villain (doing a rather lame job of it), and when Spidey shows up, again, he seems enraged by his "arch-enemy's" presence, but Spidey has no-idea who he is. It becomes a moot point a minute later, as Electro tries to pull an even bigger stunt that threatens to wipe out the entire city block. Still, after the real villain is apprehended, the story ends somewhat happy for the guy; he runs into a beautiful socialite from the party who doesn't recognize him as the criminal, and they hit it off quickly. (But Spidey still has no idea who the guy was at the end, not even recognizing him when he passes by in his civilian identity as Peter Parker. Maybe he just had a forgettable face...)
- Here's a notable example where this happened as a result of a Red Shirt dying. The first time Spider-Man villain Venom escaped from the Vault, he had to kill a guard to do so. (Even then, the guy's name was mentioned, as was the fact that he may have gotten the position by a rich relative who thought it was a high-paying easy job.) Much later, the guard's rich father and several of his friends sought revenge, forming a vigilante group called the Jury, equipped with high-powered armor based on the technology used to build the Guardsmen suits at the Vault. Unfortunately, they quickly turned into the Knight Templar type, and even put Spider-Man on trial in a Kangaroo Court, blaming him for creating Venom in the first place. It was actually a ploy to guilt him into agreeing to help them get revenge against Venom; but when he realized they planned to murder Venom, Spidey came to his senses and beat them all senseless.
- Star Wars Legends:
- One of the many Star Wars comic series, called Empire, focuses on the Empire's side of the conflict against the Rebels. One of the main characters is an up and comer in the Empire who gets mocked because he cares about the lives of each and every Stormtrooper. Another is Luke Skywalker's Evil Former Friend Tank, who's tortured by the fact that he has to fight his best friends but is too loyal to his comrades to defect, and has nightmares about Luke slaughtering them by the dozens.
- In Superman storyline Crucible, Supergirl's team show little concern for the lives of Roho's villain squad during their second engagement: Comet telekinetically explodes Vax's head, and Maxima kicks an energy knife through Rendll's throat. No one comments on it, not even Supergirl, who should have a big issue with her teammates killing at the drop of hat.
- One issue of Tales of the TMNT goes into the backstory of a new recruit to the Foot Clan ninjas — his family, his personality, and why he wanted to join the Foot. He comes back from his first fight with the turtles in a body bag.
- Transformers IDW comics had both types of Aversions. There was a group called the Machination, where Humans would have themselves augmented into Transforming robot heads, and control giant robot bodies. When the Autobots fight them, they only stun them or cause them to crash, despite the fact that they've tried to kill the Autobots several times, almost killed Ironhide, and painfully took apart Sunstreaker. By Maximum Dinobots, The Monsterbots and Dinobots, being the most violent of the Autobots, gleefully kill, dismember and even eat the Humans, and are only stopped from killing their leader because Ultra Magnus wants to arrest and try him (and more importantly, the Decepticon he merged with) for crimes on many other planets.
- Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: The Decepticon Scavengers (six Mauve Shirts) discuss this trope, during one battle, where Optimus and Megatron shut themselves off and plugged into a neural network. They could see the battle from the eyes of all their troops, and used it to better coordinate their attacks, The Scavengers say troops were reduced to numbers and statistics, and at the end of the day, the only thing separating the sides were that the Autobots had the decency to collect their dead while the Decepticons left their troops corpses to decay.
- In the most recent Wolverine comics, one issue explores the background of a female Hand ninja, known best for being Marvel's go-to mooks for stories set in Japan. The ninja dies early on during one of Logan's frequent rampages. The Hand brings her back to life only to serve as the human equivalent of a broodmare. She refuses and instead joins the Right Red Hand, a group of people who blame Logan for ruining their lives.
- Wonder Woman (1987): Artemis tears through Widow Sazia's veritable army of androids on her way to try to confront the mob boss, who is actually not even in the same country as the home she's led everyone to think she's hiding out in.
- FFS, I Believe in You: Analyzed and Played for Drama. Over the course of his travels, Link cut down hordes of lizalfos, bokoblins and assorted Mooks with very little thought, assuming them to simply be puppets of the Calamity and little more than animals. Learning that lizalfos are intelligent beings, with their own language, society, personalities and foibles, casts this in a new light and induces feelings of doubt and guilt as he starts to ask himself how accurate his internal categories of "person" and "monster" are, whether any of the other monster races are actually intelligent beings as well, and how much any of this matters when they all try to kill him on sight anyway.
As the Hero, he was supposed to protect the denizens of Hyrule. He thought he knew which races fell into that category. Which ones got saved. Which ones were just monsters. Servants of Ganon. Now, watching Gravelly laughing at whatever High-pitch had said...
He wasn't sure.
- Kyon: Big Damn Hero: Before fighting 24 Mooks with Yuki's help, Kyon defies this trope and asks her not kill any of them. After the fight, worried about the battle aftermath on them, he asks her how much they were injured.
- The Council Era: The Villain Protagonist, Tyrin Lieph, completely disregards his own Mooks as expendable. While this is reasonable when it only refers to his Mecha Mooks, later within the storyline, (i.e. The second part, The Krogan Rebellions, tenuously scheduled to start in summer of 2011) he has completely disregarded the value of the lives of his dezban militia, the Krogan Resistance Movement, and his own devoted Soldiers of Salvation.
- Subverted, in The Stalking Zuko Series Aang is called out on sparing Ozai when he and the Ocean Spiritnote slaughter countless of Fire Nation soldiers in the Siege of the North.
- In Perfection Is Overrated, this is played with with regards to the First District minions whom the Usurper-possessed Obsidian Lord and his entourage killed. It's pointed out in the author's note, and in one such minion's final moments that they leave loved ones behind. However, it's also pointed out that The First District was a secret organization, so they were also most likely willing participants, and performed immoral or illegal deeds in the course of their duties. The note concludes that the slaughtered minions are "not necessarily bad people, but they made bad decisions; whether their deaths are a fair consequence is another matter, but they came as a result of their own actions."
- As a sidestory in Sonic: Evil Reborn Zero, a unit in a failed robot series becomes conscious of its fate as an expendable Mook and goes to extreme lengths to prove its worth.
- Tails the fox ruminates on this trope in the fanfic Tails of the Old Republic, a crossover/ Fusion Fic between Sonic the Hedgehog and the videogame Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. After meeting and having a pleasant conversation with Sarna, a junior officer of the Sith, Tails recognizes that if he were to face her in battle, he may have to injure or even kill her.He even notes how, in her Sith armor, Sarna would be just another faceless mook and be completely dehumanized.
- Subverted in The Rise of Darth Vulcan. The Diamond Dogs mourn the loss of their brethren with a large wake. Darth Vulcan feels guilty for not recognizing how many dogs died under his command, and joins them in their mourning.
- This is played with quite well in Bad Future Crusaders. The Switching P.O.V. is often used in one chapter to portray some guards or airponies as faceless Mooks, only for them to pop up as named characters with personalities in another character's chapter. Apple Bloom is also very clearly haunted by killing enemy soldiers in a civil war, and feels particularly guilty for killing the one random Mook who happened to "get lucky" and kill her two friends.
- In I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For after hearing that upwards of 10,000 Clonetroopers died in a battle, Aayla Secura's first thought is that it would take a few months for them to be replaced, same with the destroyed ships. She pauses, remembering Harry Potter's words on how the Republic enslaves the clones, and wonders when exactly did she become so callous about their lives. This turns out to be part of a compulsion that Palpatine cast in the Force and is thus influencing all of the Jedi.
- Played with in A Horse for the Force when Ranma notes that Jedi seem rather quick to kill their enemies despite being protectors rather than soldiers. After his observation is shared with others, several Jedi make a point of not killing enemy combatants, either using the Force to take them out or severing limbs with a lightsaber.
- Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters: During the Sack of Torus Filney, Will kills a Phobos soldier in self-defense, and then discovers that one of his comrades is his brother. Already in shock from having had to kill, she can only numbly protest mentally that mooks aren't supposed to have names or families, they're just supposed to be mooks.
- In Zelda III: The Secret of Ganon, Link talks a darknut knight out of attacking him, in order to get a guide through a dungeon. Justified in that the darknut (and is implied all others) is a human underneath.
- In Hellsister Trilogy, Superman and Supergirl are adamant against killing... but they have no qualms about destroying hundreds of Darkseid's parademons in battle.
- In Kirby of the Stars: The After Story, the treatment and rights of Waddle Dees are given a larger focus compared to the anime, particularly in Chapters 9 and 10.
- A Cure for Love: All of Kira's henchmen wear helpful "Hello my name is..." badges so that Kira can kill them with ease if they step out of line.
- In Ace Combat: Equestria Chronicles, one has to wonder if there are other Exiles like Pearl Eyes and Bolt Burst... and how many have been casually killed off by the EAF forces.
- Deconstructed in The Days of Reckoning Are Upon Us, a recurring point brought up is that Steve and Natasha dumping all of SHIELD's files on the internet led to a lot of agents and their families getting killed due to their identities being compromised. Likewise, Steve and his allies are ripped a new one over the cops they killed who were just trying to do their jobs and arrest a potential terrorist (Bucky). For what its worth, in the movie Steve didn't kill any of the cops, and is shown saving their lives several times.
- Deconstructed in Lord Help The Mister. Laurel (as the Woman in Black) interrupts Oliver's (as the Hood) attack on Adam Hunt, and calls him out on killing Hunt's (presumably) innocent bodyguards but sparing him.
- Deconstructed in Towards the Sun where Toph comments on Aang's hypocrisy for insisting on finding a non-lethal method of dealing with Ozai even though he had no problem with the rest of the Gaang killing dozens of foot soldiers. Similarly, others note that Aang's responsible for over a thousand dead soldiers from the North Pole invasion alone, something Aang only acknowledges as "breaking a few of the Fire Nation's ships".
- Inverted in Departure From The Diary. Harry takes cruel satisfaction from Tamelyn murdering Aunt Marge but is horrified when she does the same to a future rapist, even asking her if "Several prevented rapes are worth a murder".
- This trope gets played with in Remnant Inferis: DOOM. The major villains get no mercy from the Doom Slayer and just as often the mooks are treated the same way (particularly demons and the White Fang), but things start getting dicey later throughout the story in this regard.
- When the Slayer killed several SDC officers complicate with the company's experiments, one of them calls out to her children as she dies from being sliced in half. This shocked him to the point where he shoots her in the head to give her a quick and painless death.
- While Team RWBY avoids killing many of the guards, Ruby lethally wounds one in a way that horrifies her teammates, and Catrice desperately tries to seal the man's wound closed. Ruby, however, doesn't care. Though after everything settles down and she sees what she did, she breaks down and apologizes for her actions.
- Imps actually subject themselves to this trope. We see in the POV of one that they view their lives as insignificant and that their only purpose for existing is to live and die for the will of the Shadow Lords of Hell.
- Touched on in the Ask Ben Solo blog with "Stormtrooper Remembrance Day."
- Vow of Nudity: Largely averted with Haara, who defaults to nonlethal damage when fighting anyone, including nameless mooks. Though she will kill occasionally, especially if a fight forces her to use unconventional tactics (like environmental manipulation or her produce flame spell) that give her less control than she has with her fists.
- The soldiers of Thebes in the The Thebaid work for the fraudulent king Eteocles and are sinister enough to ambush Tydeus in the night, yet their deaths are written as horrific tragedies. This applies to no one more than the two twins, who Tydeus skewers while the elder is desperately trying to mend the younger's wounds.
- Shadowrun displays this in spades. Shadowrunners are mercenaries hired as deniable assets by various entities for shady or illegal purposes; most Runners are said to avoid assassination contracts and the NPCs who openly accept them are portrayed as borderline psychopaths, yet for an average kidnapping, the heaps of security guards, police officers, and so on who die during the shadowrun are brushed off as long as the Runners didn't go overboard with collateral damage.
- Justified in Princess: The Hopeful, where it is explicitly stated that with the exception of the Darkened (who have not yet been fully corrupted and can fight off the Taint if they get their Integrity high enough), the various minions of the Darkness are Always Chaotic Evil, bereft of any redeeming qualities and can and should be killed without a qualm.
- CollegeHumor's video Stormtroopers' 9/11 shows the fact that the Death Star's destruction was probably similar to a terrorist incident like 9/11 for the Stormtroopers.
- Touched upon in the Star Wars canon; the Stormtroopers were indeed mourning, but it was less "terrorist attack" and more "disastrous military operation". However, the Stormtroopers were able to channel that mourning into devastating fervor during the Yavin base ground battle and avenge their fallen brethren.
- Played for Black Comedy in the Cracked.com video "The Awful Implications of First-Person Shooter Games". Typical video game protagonist shoots a guard and escapes. As the guard lies dying, he complains about how much being a video game mook sucks.
- Critical Role: Being a D&D-game, the player characters seem to fall victim to this quite often: for example in the second campaign, the Mighty Nein learn that The Ruby Of the Seas Marion Lavorre has a stalker, and decide to stop him — nonletally, at Marion's insistance. However, they don't extend the same courtesy to his two bodyguards, who had nothing to do with their employer harrassing Marion. In the ensuing battle, the Mighty Nein kill both bodyguards, one of them through instant zombification only to scare his employer.
- The characters in Darwin's Soldiers kill a lot of terrorists, rogue guards and other assorted Mooks and no one seems to have a problem with it.
- Dragon Ball Z Abridged:
- Cruelly averted in the adaptation of Dragon Ball Z: The World's Strongest with the Bio-Warriors. In this version, contrary to the evil mooks they were in their original movie, they were designed as friendly creatures supposed to help people, before Kochin turned them (probably against their will) into living weapons. Their death is even a surprisingly solemn (and sad) moment.
- Similarly averted in the main series, when it's revealed that Dr. Gero's hatred of Goku stems from his son being one of the countless soldier's killed during the latter's raid on Red Ribbon HQ as a child. While recording a video message for Gero, no less.
- In Farce of the Three Kingdoms, Xu Shu point out that no one seems to care about the lives of the redshirts. Pang Tong responds: "Thatís uncomfortably true, so Iíll ignore it."
- Lampshaded in Hellsing Ultimate Abridged:
Alucard: Hey guys, how's your health plan? *SWAT team opens fire* Apparently it's great!
*carnage and gore ensue as the cops finally retreat into the elevator*
Integra: Walter, be honest with me: what are we looking at in terms of collateral?
Walter: Well...*Alucard walks out of elevator filled with corpses* the Alucard amount.
- New York Magician: Part of the reason Michel hurls Malsumis off a building is because he's pissed off about Mal's cavalier attitude towards his minions' deaths, and the mortality of humans in general, culminating in "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2: Special Edition reveals that one of the powerups from Oil Ocean Zone was sapient. His name was Failure Cresh, and he had a thorough backstory involving being born with a ten-ring monitor for a head, and a Hilariously Abusive Childhood resulting from this. When the player destroys the monitor, the video pauses for a moment of silence — but it's obvious that the player himself is completely oblivious to the fact that he just killed a person.
- Sword Art Online Abridged: Episode 16 turns it into a Running Gag after a Salamander sends his pet bat to spy on Leafa and Kirito. When the bat gets spotted...
Squeaker: Master! Squeaker is frightened!
-Leafa blasts Squeaker to shreds-
Leafa: There! It's dead. Now let's cheese it!
Kirito: It- It had a name...
Leafa: Yeah, the Salamanders like to max out their pets' affection levels so they'll be willing to go on suicide missions! It's like their go-to move.
Kirito: Zeus' beard, these people are monsters!
-cut to a Salamander holding a dying Squeaker in his arms-
Squeaker: Did... did Squeaker do good...? ... Master?
Salamander (choking back tears): No. No. Squeaker did great.
-Skyward Scream as Squeaker dies-
- Later it turns out that Squeaker's wife just gave birth, and every Salamander, including their leader, reacts with a Big "NO!" on learning of Squeaker's death.
- Terrible Writing Advice: In episode 81 - "Evil Lackeys", which deals with all kinds of Mook related tropes, JP goes into great detail how mooks should always be presented as living props with no personality, whom the hero can mow down without a single thought or any regret, even if they later decide to show the Big Bad mercy.
- During the Hundred Years War-era, it was typical for a winning side to take the higher-ranking opponents prisoner, since they could be ransomed. Common soldiers, however, were not worth ransoming, and were typically killed without quarter or executed.
- There is a Real Life protocol or general custom in war to not target the enemy Head of State (even though he's in ultimate command of the enemy war effort, and even if he might bear full responsibility as political originator for the enemy aggression if his country is the aggressor).
Politicians hide themselves awayThey always started the warsWhy should they go out to fight?They leave that all to the poor
- This Real Life common Karma Houdini tendency for the masterminds, profiteers, or political agitators for war, is commented on in a few protest songs, such as Bob Dylan's "Masters of War", and Black Sabbath's "War Pigs". From the latter:
- When enemy heads of state (usually kings) were actually on the battlefield in earlier times, they were fair game however.
- Fair game, but often had an enhanced chance of survival, because it was frequently much more to your benefit to capture kings and princes and sell them back for ransom than to kill them, and then deal with their successor and the international grudge you'd just attracted. Not to mention they'd have the best arms and armor available and be surrounded by a bodyguard of their best troops.
- Notably, this is not actually a law of war. According to the Geneva Conventions, the enemy's high command is fair game for targeting, up to and including targeting the commander-in-chief for assassination or bombing his house. This is part of the reason why modern army officers tend to not wear flashy uniforms on the battlefield anymore; it's much easier to find and kill the leader if he's dressed fancier than all the others.
- It's an unwritten convention because heads of state hesitate to set the precedent of executing others, for fear of becoming targets themselves. After all, why risk your own life when you can both agree to let your armies fight for you? Capturing them and subjecting them to the process of a global trial also lends legitimacy to an execution, plus spreads the responsibility for it around to other countries.
- Additionally, they are the person who can order the enemy to surrender to you, which might be useful to keep as an option. During one war, the french king was captured, and the offensive against France quickly ground to a halt as the army found that there was no one left with the authority to order the French to surrender in lieu of the King.
- When it comes to state repression, arresting or killing a well-known opposition leader often provokes much more international anger than arresting individual activists, dissidents, and protestors. Keeping some high-level dissidents out of prison also helps the governmentís legitimacy by creating an illusion of tolerance. In some authoritarian countries, being a dissident leader is actually safer than being an average person who just happens to disagree with the government.
- Averted in regards to NGO related warfare where the goal is usually to execute the leadership first and not harm potentially enslaved soldiers who may not have any interest in fighting once they are not being coerced. This is not to say any more qualms exist about killing them off should it be required but that the leadership in these organizations is no more protected then any other member should the opportunity arise. Indeed, depending on circumstances this can even become an Inverted trope (treating the head of the terrorist or criminal organization worse than the rank-and-file by specifically trying to kill those at the top and not focusing on the latter) if it's a Keystone Army organization (take out the head, the rest have little reason to take up the mantle and just fall away and stop being a threat to you).