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What the Romans Have Done for Us

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"What I seek to understand', Erannath said, 'Is the Aenean resentment of the Imperium. My race would resist such overlordship bitterly. But in human terms, it has on the whole been light, little more then a minor addition in taxes and the surrender of sovereignty over outside, not domestic affairs. In exchange you get protection, trade, abundant offplanet contacts. Correct?"
Ythrian agent to fleeing rebel in Day of their Return by Poul Anderson

Many tyrants and invaders will claim they make life better for their conquered subjects. Depending on the system of government they set up, the success of their Propaganda Machine and the unpopularity of the previous regime, this might actually be true. The most devoted revolutionaries and dedicated independence enthusiasts will usually argue against restoring the old regime entirely. The more lucid and sober of this group of zealots will even concede that in some ways life was even worse before the tyrant took power.

Most frequently, this perspective or discussion is presented early in the first act when the setting is being defined and the stage set, either as the illusion that most of the people being oppressed are under (later revealed to be a false impression after a lot of Kick the Dog) or sometimes as a genuine explanation as to why the locals have put up with the Evil Empire prior to the events of the plot in the first place. This is an extremely common justification for the feudal or despotic nature of civilizations in works set After the End. It also shows up in some Historical Fiction and fantasy to explain and justify feudalism.

In non-fiction, this kind of discussion is usually intended as a form of Alternate Character Interpretation for groups usually thought of as inferior or villainous. If this is lampshaded later in the work, the setting is probably attempting White-and-Grey Morality. If it's outright ignored by everyone in the setting, it probably overlaps with Strawman Has a Point. Of course, taken too far, this can also serve as Wants a Prize for Basic Decency on the part of The Empire, where the capacity of a few Pet the Dog moments on the part of a villain faction, amounts in the end as mere fodder for Bread and Circuses propaganda.

Compare Necessarily Evil, No Delays for the Wicked, Benevolent Alien Invasion, and The Extremist Was Right. Also see Repressive, but Efficient for claims about how a country's own tyrannical ruler improved society.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In a conversation between Lelouch and Kallen in Code Geass, Lelouch admits that Area 11's economy is much stronger than Japan's was before Britannia invaded (But on the other side of the equation, Britannia's oppression of the native population caused the crime rate to skyrocket).

  • In an early episode of Hello, from the Magic Tavern, when Usidore makes one of his epic speeches about defeating the Dark Lord and all he stands for, the guest points out that the Dark Lord's tax system is superior to what existed before. Usidore acknowledges this and concedes that the tax system will stay in place.

  • Tod Spengo tries to invoke this in Mom and Dad Save the World, but since the things he brought to the people he conquered (The Mind Probe, the Magna-Beam and the Death Ray) are all things that serve purely to prop up his enormous ego without bringing any benefit to his subjects, it falls flat.
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian is the Trope Namer, to the point where you have to wonder why they want to rebel from Rome in the first place.
    • Of course Rule of Funny and Artistic License History firmly apply as the sequence credits the Romans with introducing many things to Judea that had already been in place before they took over (such as wine, which is already mentioned in the first book of the Bible) thanks to local rulers such as the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great or to previous invaders like the Persians and Greeks. It also didn't make up for things such as high taxation - itself mostly a result of corruption, perceived insults to Judaism and the (brutal) Roman way of stifling dissent and crushing rebellions.
    • Likewise, the Romans had no real sense of mission civilisatrice. They certainly never sold their conquests or justified it the way the gag above implies. That's more or less an anachronistic post-Victorian projection back to the Roman era. The Roman justified their conquests on their military superiority and they didn't need any other reason for justifying their greatness other than being Roman, and indeed they were proud that they captured and defeated advanced civilizations like the Carthaginians and the Hellenistic Greeks.
    • Few people realise that this example is actually based on (and parodying) a discussion from The Talmud of all places, describing a conversation that supposedly actually happened among Roman-era Jews!
  • Undercover Brother has a bit probably inspired by Monty Python's Life of Brian, although replace Jews and the Roman Empire with African-Americans and the Republican Party.

  • On the Discworld, many Ankh-Morpork elites dislike Vetinari, because he opened the city to dwarf and troll immigrants and is generally unorthodox. Still, they admit that the city is safer and more prosperous than it has been in a long time, and Vetinari's predecessors were much worse. It's why he has Vetinari Job Security.
  • Eragon has Galbatorix, who is universally identified as an evil emperor and practically self-identifies as evil, but has also ushered in a golden age of humanity and displaced a rather miserable and stagnant age that preceded it with something that's better even for most of the non-humans in the setting.
  • George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman uses this trope to explain The British Empire. While Fraser, via his anti-heroic protagonist, doesn't back out from the racism, looting, plunder involved in the imperialist conquest, he does note that the British Empire did bring modernization to several different parts of the world, promoted free trade and transport and that it was the British Navy which nearly single-handedly ended the slave trade.note 
  • In the second Infinity Blade novel, after the Worker of Secrets plants an imposter God-Emperor on the throne to eliminate the real one's ties to his allies and access to his resources while letting his empire fall to ruin through complete lack of leadership, Siris and Isa bitterly admit that, while the God King was a cruel, megalomaniacal tyrant, his rule was still much better than the current anarchy. It even turns out that the cruelty was just a ploy to rile up the population enough to send the Sacrifice needed to power the titular Infinity Blade every generation, and he decides that after Siris and Isa (begrudgingly) help him reclaim his throne, his people are due for a few millennia's worth of golden age.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire often invokes this via "What the Targaryens Have Done for Us". Even after the ousting of the Targaryen regime, it's generally admitted that the Valyrian monarchs centralized most of Westeros into a single realm which put an end to endemic local warfare, for the most part put an end to Ironborn reeving, kept the Faith of the Seven on a leash, and also developed trade via the creation of a new city like King's Landing, while earlier rulers also abolished horrible practices like Droit du Seigneur and established a uniform code of law for the entire realm. But it's also a Downplayed Trope. While the Targaryens frame themselves as Valyrians, they were not able to offer Westeros anything in the way of Valyrian technology, like road-building or magic steelworking. And while the Targaryens did put an end to the incessant Westerosi infighting, they ushered in a new era of incessant Targaryen infighting, with a total of 6 civil wars (the Dance of the Dragons, and Blackfyre Rebellions 1 through 5) within about 200 years.
  • In Technic History, the Terran Empire is an autocratic, militaristic regime built as a desperate response to chaos. It also brings peace, civilization, more-or-less just rule, trade, freedom of movement and protection in a universe where such things had disappeared.

    Live-Action TV 
  • in The Big Bang Theory, Raj is dismissive about the British in India, despite the fact he went to The Sanskriti School For Well-Born Boys - an exclusive private school which would have been modelled on similar establishments in Britain, a place where not just academic ability, but also social connections, would guarantee its pupils the best career opportunities after leaving. Raj is also from New Delhi - a new city designed and built while under British rule, planned to bring the very best of British government, culture, society, and basic infrastructure such as roads, public utilities and sewers to India. note  The fact Raj is in America with a doctorate and an academic career can be traced right back to the British legacy in India.
  • Game of Thrones: House Targaryen were dragon-riding conquerors who unified a continent with dragonfire and solidified a dynasty that lasted for 300 years. In that time they abolished Droit du Seigneur, built King's Landing, the Kingsguard, and put the Faith of the Seven on a leash, and permanently suppressed the Faith Militant until Cersei revived it. You can't blame Varys for going to Dany to bring back that old time Targaryen autocracy.
    • In the prequel series House Ofthe Dragon, we actually see the Targaryen dynasty at the height of its golden age two centuries ago: Westeros is in the middle of an unprecedented 80 year era of peace and prosperity in which the last major war is beyond living memory. Everything looks a little more advanced than in Game of Thrones, i.e. Tudor costume styles instead of War of the Roses costume styles, to give a visual hint that this is a height of civilization they never quite reached again.
  • Horrible Histories:
    • A sketch has the wife of a crusader saying "Aside from [reels off a list of everything brought back from the Crusades] what have the Crusades done for me?"
    • Inverted in any sketch that brings up Puritan rule in England-they never fail to mention Oliver Cromwell banned music, theater, sports and Christmas.note 
  • The Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode "Holier Than Thou" points out that while the Chinese have generally stomped on civil rights and horrendously mistreated Tibetans, they have given Tibet electricity, running water, and secular education. They also point out that the theocracy of the Lamas that originally ran Tibet weren't all that saintly themselves. For example, eye gouging was commonly used as a punishment for crimes.
    • It must be noted that the 14th Dalai Lama himself never denied any of these facts and has outright admitted this. As shown in the Martin Scorsese film Kundun which he gave support for, as a Lama he tried to bring reforms and modernize Tibet which was a theocracy. He provided people rights and released prisoners. He also expressed sympathy for the plight of the Chinese during World War II and initially sought an alliance with Mao, which the Chinese abrogated. Since his exile, the Dalai Lama has even stepped down officially and has stated that he would be satisfied with greater autonomy for Tibet, similar to Taiwan and Hong Kong. Penn and Teller's critique was more directed against Western fans who view the pre-invasion Tibet as a sort of Shamgri-La due to ignorance though.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The Forgotten Realms setting, supplement Forgotten Realms Adventures. After Cormyr invaded Tilverton there was much grumbling by the inhabitants. However, the influx of Cormyrean merchants and trade increased their wealth, and the military garrison and the wall erected around the town reduced raiding by bandits and monsters.

    Video Games 
  • In Fallout: New Vegas Caesar's Legion is generally hated and feared in the Mojave Wasteland, being a merciless slave empire. However, a couple of people admit that they've done a better job at keeping their territories safe from raiders than the democratic NCR has.
    • The NCR themselves could also qualify, as most New Vegas locals are tempted by the vast material resources and industrial muscle of the post-apocalyptic superpower giving a good standard of living, but ultimately aren't too keen on the aggressive taxation and bullying politics that come with being annexed. If you're the type to prefer Liberty Over Prosperity, you may find yourself agreeing with them.
    • In Fallout 4, the Brotherhood of Steel is seen as an antagonist faction taking over by pretty much everyone else in the setting, but they do genuinely secure their parts of the region for civilian use against even the super-mutants, who roll pretty much everyone else in the game.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV, Gaius tries to sell you on this notion right before fighting you, arguing that Eorzea is too corrupt to be worth fighting for and that its gods are no better than the Primals you've been quelling. By this point you've seen evidence that all four city-states do indeed have serious problems (and you later find out that the one time the gods of Eorzea were summoned, they nearly destroyed the land exactly the way an unchecked Primal would), but given how the Garlean Empire's answer to said problems would be to transform each and every one of them into little more than drafting pools for their war machine and exterminate the beast tribes outright, it's not hard to reject his argument out of hand.
  • The gameplay of Rebel Inc. involved appeasing the local populace, which can include passing initiatives on providing them with infrastructure development, education, and healthcare providers. As the support level and reputation increases, it can cut into reducing Insurgent support due to this trope.
  • In Touhou Project, the sealed-away valley of Gensokyo only has a Human Village because its Youkai population are dependent on human fear and superstition in order to exist, and it is kept in a state of near Medieval Stasis (to prevent a rise in rationalist thinking) with no formal government (to prevent uprising). Despite this, it's been noted by multiple characters that humans may actually have the better end of this relationship - the youkai's efforts to protect their lifeline have made the village a much safer and more comfortable place than appearances would suggest, while their numerous competing factions limit how much they can actually abuse their power. Added to that, most of Gensokyo's residents don't want the kind of rapid modernization that the rest of Japan went through, preferring to adopt new technologies only once a "properly Gensokyo-ish" version is available that will integrate smoothly into local culture (something that often requires youkai help).
  • In Tyranny, you can try this argument on the residents of the land you're trying to conquer in the name of Kyros the Overlord. Some are accepting of Kyros's Peace, while others need a bit more "persuasion".

  • In Girl Genius Gil pokes holes in Zola's ideas about Baron Wulfenbach's "tyranny" by bringing up his infrastructure projects, and reminding her that every other government in Spark-ruled Europa is even worse. Granted, he might be a bit biased seeing how he's the Baron's son and heir, but Zola completely fails to come up with any counterargument besides "what if it gets bad later?"

    Web Video 
  • In Season 1, Episode 4 of YidLife Crisis, Chaimie asks what the Greeks in the Books of Maccabees were offering that was so bad, pointing out their contributions to math, philosophy, democracy note , etc.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: In the David and Goliath segment of "Simpsons Bible Stories", after Bart/David kills Nelson/Goliath II he is jailed for regicide, because it turns out in addition to being a tyrant he built roads and hospitals and he was a better and more loved king than Bart/David.