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We Have Reserves / Literature

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We Have Reserves in literature.

  • Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-45 by Max Hastings. The Soviet commanders Konev and Zhukov were racing each other to Berlin. According to Hastings, Zhukov won because he was more willing to spend his soldiers' lives for his own glory.
    The capture of Berlin displayed outstanding generalship by Konev, not by Zhukov. In his yearning for glory and in his desperation to satisfy Stalin, 1st Belorussian Front’s commander battered the enemy into submission through human sacrifice, not manoeuvre.
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  • Averted in The Art of War, which cautions that while you have to be willing to take casualties when it becomes necessary, a great general is one who tries to win with as little blood shed on either side as possible. Even if you do have reserves, it's more pragmatic to keep as many men alive in an engagement as you can, because that way you still have reserves in the next battle.
  • The Malwa in the Belisarius Series. In fact it seems that the main job of most Malwa soldiers is getting killed.
    • Venandakatra the Vile, Malwa commander of the forces in the Deccan, is explicitly stated to care as much for his soldiers as he does for insects. The one time he refrains from attacking, it's because he'll run out of reserves if he does. Another example comes from fellow General Failure Lord Jivita. At the Battle of Babylon, he throws his troops against the walls of the city, getting a truly massive number of them slaughtered.
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  • Subverted in Chaos Walking. Mayor Prentiss' army consists of approximately 1,000 people plus some artillery. He has no reserves to speak of but he acts as if he commands a significantly larger force, even manipulating events to manufacture a war against an army that outnumbers him approximately 20-1.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia:
    • Empress Jadis in The Magician's Nephew brags that she "poured out the blood of her armies like water" in the civil war with her sister for control of Charn. And then trumped that by speaking the Deplorable Word, an unspecified spell which destroyed Charn and killed everything on it except herself.
    • This trope is mixed with Spare to the Throne in The Horse and His Boy: The Tisroc isn't concerned about Rabadash dying — he has sired other potential heirs.
  • Cultural-divide example in Codex Alera: when the Marat go to war, the first wave of an attack is always the green recruits, the warriors who most recently became of age. The ones who survive that are considered to have been smiled on by The One, and get to participate in the battle proper.
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  • In the Cross Time Engineer series by Leo Frankowski, the Polish gunboats with Steam Punk weaponry are massacring the Mongol invaders trying to cross the river Vistula, but they just keep coming. The Poles assume the Mongols are Not Afraid to Die, as a Mongol ambassador ordered several of his men to cut their own throats just to prove this point. What they don't know is that the enemy commanders are using Polish prisoners and soldiers from nations they've already conquered as Cannon Fodder.
  • Iain M. Banks' The Culture: An interesting example from The Player of Games: the protagonist is freaked out when he realizes how much the Emperor personifies this trope, even though the reserves he so casually sacrifices aren't people but pieces in a very elaborate game. The reason he is freaked out is that the game is expressly designed to mirror the player's values and philosophy — meaning that the superficially charming and civilized Emperor has revealed himself as Axe-Crazy.
  • In the fantasy series The Death Gate Cycle, one of assassin Hugh The Hand's jobs was to kill a mercenary captain who tended to take all the money his company was paid for a job, then order them into situations where as many of them died as possible so he wouldn't have to split the pay while running away from the battle. While doing this again, Hugh caught him and listed the names of everyone who had wanted him dead before killing the man.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
    • Lord Hong in the novel Interesting Times. In the words of Cohen the Barbarian:
      Scum. That's what he called his own soldiers. It's like that bloody civilized game you showed us, Teach! The prawns [sic] are just there to get slaughtered while the king hangs around at the back!
    • Lord Rust seems to have studied in Hong's class. See what happens with any army he's entrusted to, though his tactics seem to be born from blatant stupidity, rather than malice. One would imagine an army commanded by the troll Sgt Detritus would be more effective, if only because Detritus would lead from the front and scare everyone away. (As of Snuff even Vimes has to admit, however, that Rust is neither cowardly nor dishonourable, even if his bravery and honour are hard to tell from his stupidity, and while the fact men were killed under his command is undoubtedly his fault, the fact he himself was never killed isn't, since he always led these suicide charges personally, and simply seemed to be protected by his implacable conviction that he was too noble to be killed.)
    • While temporally displaced in Night Watch, and in command of a barricade that got out of hand, Vimes notes that a thousand soldiers could take it, but only the last fifty would make it up by climbing the bodies of their fallen comrades.
    • The yardstick for measuring any General in Discworld seems to be "massive casualties." While having those casualties coming from the enemy is preferred, having most of them come from your own troops is still perfectly acceptable. Conversely, Generals who manage to achieve victory with relatively few casualties are looked down upon as somehow not playing by the rules.
  • The Draka use their slave soldiers (called "janissaries" in reference to the Ottoman military units) in attrition situations that their elite shock troop Citizen Force cannot finesse, thereby saving the much more precious lives of the Master Race. A Draka officer is reprimanded at one point for showing too much concern for the lives of his janissaries. Eventually the Draka engineer aggressiveness out of their slaves, and the janissaries are replaced by the part-baboon, part-dog, part-human ghouloons who serve much the same purpose.
  • In the Dread Empire series, one of the titular empire's sorcerer-generals, Ko Feng, earns the nickname "Lord Hammer" for his fondness of crushing his enemies in direct battle with overwhelming martial and magical force, trusting the immense size of the empire's legions to be able to absorb the massive casualties this approach accrues. He's very successful in the short term, but Reality Ensues in the long run - as huge and powerful as the Dread Empire may be, its resources and manpower do have limits, and when Ko Feng doesn't change his ways, his fellow Tervola remove him from command.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • During the Vampire War between the White Council of Magic and the Red Court, vampires who drink blood and have the true form of a bat monster but can use a flesh mask to appear human, one advantage the Court has is their ability to make new vampires and half-vampires and use them as cannon fodder. The Wizards could destroy hundreds, but there are thousands of these monsters remaining.
    • During the final assault on the Red Court capital, Harry Dresden and his crew encounter Red Court vampires named esclavos de sangre, or Blood Slaves. These are vampires who have given into their addiction for human blood so deeply they are just above animals now. They cannot think of anything except getting blood. An ally notes that killing the massive number that just attacked won't be seen as a problem, as it removes that many mouths to feed from a perceived weaker group in the Court.
    • This is advantage of the Black Court of Vampires. These vampires are decaying corpses and have all the Dracula-style weaknesses. They can also "breed" the fastest of any Court. The newly undead are loyal to the monster that bit them and killed them. This method of reproduction allowed them to grow to be one of the strongest supernatural groups in the world until a person in the rival White Court had Bram Stoker write Dracula, a novel disguising a "How To"-guide for identifying, weakening, and killing these monsters. Every Supernatural group smelled blood in the water and worked together with the goal of destroying the court. In a few decades, the rising power of the Blacks was snuffed out, leaving only the oldest and strongest of their kind to survive the purge. Still, even weakened, their ability to make quick reserves is a continual danger and why if someone finds a Black vampire in their area, destroying it and the scourge quickly is highly advised.
  • The Big Bad in any David Eddings series will inevitably have this mindset. In the backstory of The Belgariad, the Dark God Torak marched millions of Angaraks off to the West in a suicidally insane war that left not one survivor to return to the East. In The Malloreon, his successor as Child of Dark, Zandramas, similarly views her minions as utterly expendable, sending them to certain death against the heroes multiple times simply to slow them down, or on the off chance that one of them will get lucky and prevent her from having to see the Prophecy to its conclusion. The demons in that series behave this way with respect to the human troops under their "command", force marching them for days without a care for the death and suffering — or rather, reveling in it.
  • Interesting subversion in Ender's Game. Ender, nearing a mental breakdown from stress, is given a wargame situation where the enemy outnumber his forces 1,000 to 1. Trying to be removed from the strain, he orders a suicide mission that destroys the enemy homeworld... except the simulations he's trained with since graduating from Battle School haven't been simulations at all, and he's sent almost the entire attack force on a suicide mission that destroys the enemy home planet. When this is revealed to him, he lapses into a coma.
    • This is foreshadowed by a battle in Battle School, in which Ender's army is forced to fight two deeply-entrenched armies. Realizing that even his genius tactics can't defeat them, he has the entire army make a formation and charge the enemy lines. Just in case, he has five boys perform the victory ritual if they can get close enough to the enemy gate. Surprisingly, he wins, although most of his army is "destroyed". Colonel Graff then changes the rules requiring the other army to be fully "destroyed" before victory can be declared. Ender explains that he didn't expect to win and has a mini-breakdown after that, refusing to participate in battles.
    • In Shadow of the Hegemon, this is the strategy used by the Indian army when invading Burma, and everybody is quick to point out how stupid it is. Just because you have the world's largest army doesn't mean your supply lines are up to the task, especially if the enemy keeps harassing them. This is all part of the Big Bad's Evil Plan in order to allow China to strike and take India in under a week before proceeding to take Thailand. Strangely, the book takes the Adults Are Useless approach, with no adult seeing how bad this strategy is.
  • Used in the backstory of Glasshouse. When every soldier you have is a killbot who can be run by the backup memory engram of one of your soldiers, and materiel synthesis for said killbots is only as limited as the amount of energy you can draw from any given source of nuclear energy (up to and including the hearts of stars), "We Have Reserves" is less of a viable tactical option and more of an inevitability. It's eventually implied that there may have been copies of as few as two or three different people on the front lines of the army in question, taking this trope and the spoilered trope far beyond their reasonable conclusions.
  • A plot point in several of the Heralds of Valdemar books:
    • The Black Gryphon: One of the generals thinks nothing of throwing the flying troops (the gryphons) into hopeless situations, and forcing mages to spellcast into exhaustion. Most of the army believes this is due to incompetence with some Fantastic Racism thrown in; in actuality, it's due to a lot of Fantastic Racism and a secret Face–Heel Turn.
    • By The Sword: Kerowyn reads the mind of her mercenary company's employer and finds that he plans to sacrifice them to avoid paying them. She resigns via an Insignia Rip-Off Ritual, and the entire company follows her.
    • Ancar of Hardorn is absolutely ridiculous about this (and several other things), and his troops only go along with it because they are brainwashed. When some of the good guys manage to release the brainwashing on a company of troops, they apply this trope to themselves and attack the rest of the army with no heed to their own safety, having nothing left to live for.
    • In Winds of Fury, Big Bad Mornelithe Falconsbane becomes an unwilling ally of Ancar and ends up turning the latter's existing tactics Up to Eleven, virtually guaranteeing Valdemar's destruction by Zerg Rush unless the heroes can assassinate the entire leadership of Hardorn. Though before suggesting that strategy, he first confirms that Ancar has reserves - he at least is pragmatic enough to understand that when you have a limited supply of troops, you need to take better care of them. The following trilogy revealed that Ancar actually didn't have reserves - being a petty tyrant with no real understanding of administration, he didn't grasp the importance of logistics and infrastructure, and so he conscripted so many people that there weren't enough able-bodied men to keep the farms running.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • The People's Navy. How closely they fit the characterization aspects of this trope changes over time as Haven suffers serial revolutions. The first government depicted gleefully sacrifices their "worthless Proles" for the aristocracy's betterment; the second theoretically have more respect for the common man, but they're fanatics, ready to shoot any officer who won't steer his ship into the meat grinder themselves. The restored Republic of Haven is much less callous about the quality of quantity.
    • The Solarian League Navy is noted on the Honor Harrington page itself as being so large, even their reserves have reserves. Not that it'd help them in the short run, as outclassed as they are. In the long run about the only thing the League has going for them is a strategic depth, but it probably also won't help them much, everyone and their dog agreeing that the League will shatter soon.
  • In Moonlight Mile from the Kenzie and Gennaro Series, Yefim, a Professional Killer/The Dragon for The Mafiya uses the threat of this combined with We Are Everywhere to chilling effect when he describes how his men will be able to both find and kill the daughter and in-laws of main character Patrick Kenzie.
    You don't think we watch you? You don't think we have friends in Savannah? We have friends everywhere, guy. And yeah, you got that big crazy Polack protecting your little girl so we lose a couple of guys taking them out. But that's okay-we get more guys.
  • The Posleen from John Ringo's Legacy of the Aldenata are genetically engineered just for this tactic. However, the trope is averted at one point, when a group of semi-trained human soldiers are blocked by a small number of Posleen, and refuse to move forward. A General arrives, and orders a soldier to advance so they can locate the Posleen's location. When the soldier refuses, the General kills him. He then orders a second soldier to advance: the soldier and several of his fellow soldiers do so, and take the Posleen position with a few additional casualties. When he is asked about killing the first soldier, he says that taking the position cost some soldiers their lives, both from the Posleen and from him, but *not* taking the position would have allowed the Posleen to wipe out the entire squad and more soldiers behind them. He is not happy that he had to kill the soldier, but he stated that his way far fewer soldiers died.
  • Subverted in the Legends of Dune trilogy, where Omnius and his Thinking Machines fight battles in a logical and efficient manner. A massive fleet will not engage the inferior enemy if the casualties are above the acceptable parameter, even though machines aren't really supposed to care about casualties. It falls to his ruthless Brain in a Jar generals, who do fit this trope, to come up with tactics that surprise the enemy. One of their tactics — dropping a cruiser on a city to destroy the scrambler field emitters that are keeping the machine forces from invading. On the other hand, the Butlerian Jihad forces will not hesitate to lose hundreds of lives to destroy several machines, as exemplified by the takedown of the Humongous Mecha Ajax by hundreds of angry slaves armed with primitive rocket launchers and more primitive clubs.
  • This is the default tactic of both Saruman and Sauron's armies in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The command style of the Lord of the Nazgûl during the Siege of Gondor: "Yet their Captain cared not greatly what they did or how many might be slain; their purpose was only to test the strength of the defence and to keep the men of Gondor busy in many places." The passage also notes that as he's riding on his horse he deliberately tramples the fallen (who would mostly be his own men), which says something about his attitude.
    • JRRT was a veteran of WWI and was wounded at the Somme. 'Nuff said.
  • Necromancers and the Greater Dead in the Old Kingdom tend to consider their Lesser Dead minions extremely expendable, epitomized in the third book when Hedge sacrifices hundreds if not thousands of his Hands to ensure the Sealed Evil in a Can he's transporting is protected from the Anti-Magic effects of the Wall. Of course, Hedge and his ilk have no shortage of troops at their command - after all, the Dead are many.
  • In the Paradox Trilogy, in Fortune's Pawn Devi accuses antagonist John Brenton of treating the men under his command as disposable meat-shields and ordering them to certain death. Brenton responds that Devi's own employer, Caldswell, treats his men the same way. Devi doesn't believe him, but learns in Honor's Knight that Brenton wasn't entirely lying.
  • In Redwall book The Outcast of Redwall, Swartt Sixclaw operates with this mentality. Unfortunately for him, this leads to him running out of reserves.
  • This was how humanity was able to defeat the Elves in the Ryria series. Elves are superior to humans in every way (stronger, faster, tougher, more technologically advanced, and better at magic), but the humans could replenish their losses in twenty years, while the elves would take millennia. As one of the heroes put it, "the elves were drowning in a floodtide of humanity."
  • This seems to be the attitude of the Young Army in Septimus Heap, given the callous disregard for survival they have.
  • In Shadowmarch, Autarch has no qualms about letting his soldiers die meaninglessly, as long as he accomplishes his goal. During the siege of Hierosol, he ordered full scale attack through the breach in city's walls, despite being warned of massive casualties it will cause among his troops. He explained that his soldiers should be happy to fight and die for their autarch.
  • Skyward: While pilots are valuable, they are less rare than ships, so pilots are taught to attempt to save their ships no matter what. If a cadet ejects, they are automatically expelled from the school. Cobb finds this policy ludicrous and tries to pound into his class to eject when in danger. Hurl refuses to, and dies. Spin does, and is thrown out of the school. Spin is in a similar situation again later, the difference being that ejecting would doom Alta—she doesn't eject. She still doesn't save Alta with the maneuver, but she's proud she did the right thing anyway.
  • Jaime Lannister of A Song of Ice and Fire may be trying to go the route of The Atoner, but when he finds himself caught between two oaths he means to keep (never raising arms against a certain family, and as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, ending that family's defiance of the King), he tries to Take a Third Option and convince the enemy lord to surrender without a battle by giving a To the Pain speech full of how he'll win due to We Have Reserves.
    You've seen our numbers, Edmure. You've seen the ladders, the towers, the trebuchets, the rams. If I give the command, my cousin will bridge your moat and break your gate. Hundreds will die, most of them your own. Your former bannermen will make up the first wake of attackers, so you'll start your day by killing the fathers and brothers of the men who died for you at the Twins. The second wave will be Freys, I have no lack of those. My westermen will follow when your archers are short of arrows and your knights so weary they can hardly lift their blades.
    • Speaking of the Freys... They kind of have this attitude about members of the family they don't particularly like, too. Well, there are a lot of members any particular one won't get along with at any time, after all. They'll all use a family death (or deaths) for a way to get something out of the situation, even if it's only satisfying a sense of Disproportionate Revenge down the line. On top of the feeling that there is safety in numbers, the Freys also combine this with a will to remind people they exist by sticking their noses in wherever they can. Which is not that bright, as pointing out how many of you there are to people who detest your very marrow might get you deliberately used as Cannon Fodder. As highlighted by Jaime, above. Enough of that kind of thing happening, and even the Freys will eventually run out of reserves, let alone key players.
    • Tywin Lannister also used this at times; for example, putting all the least experienced and least disciplined soldiers on the same flank so that enemy will break their lines and rush into a trap. For extra Kick the Dog points, he set his son Tyrion to lead them without informing Tyrion of the plan.
      • Subverted however as he realizes that while he'll eventually defeat Robb Stark due to sheer numbers and that he can afford losses whilst Robb can't, the loss of troops from doing so means that he won't be able to keep control of Westeros due to his armies being exhausted and diminished, so he sets in plan The Red Wedding
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers, Rico tells how the Bugs that are fighting against the humans would send soldier arachnids out radioactive exit holes to attack even if the exposure level was so high that mere exit would expose their soldiers to lethal levels of radiation.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • There are a few exceptions to the Imperial belief in this trope. For example, in The Last Command, Grand Admiral Thrawn states than he is less than happy over the loss of four — four! Luke kills that many in his first firefight on the Death Star! — stormtroopers, less than forty regular army troops, and a single assault vehicle, who were convinced by a private contractor to attack a group of people who were discussing going against the Empire. Of course, part of the reason is that this was a private, illegal expedition that needlessly wasted Imperial resources.
    • Admiral Thrawn
      • Thrawn's attention to his troopers and machines becomes the rule later on, when the Empire is no longer the massive entity it used to be and is struggling to survive.
      • Even Thrawn did have his moments of counting on reserves. When it came to the Noghri commando units that he sends to capture Leia and her children, he dismisses the fact that a second one of these units has failed and been wiped out, essentially says that their loss is really not worth worrying about and that sooner or later one of those units will succeed.
    • Revulsion over this is what drives Gara Petothel's defection to the Republic in Wraith Squadron, after Trigit decides to sacrifice the tens of thousands of crew members to keep his Star Destroyer out of Republic hands. Trigit's boss, though, is a little more canny - in Iron Fist, he decides to hire a fleet full of mercenaries and pirates to get shot at in lieu of his troops during a major attack.
    • After the Vong Invasion and the Empire coming back, they seem to have stopped this; the TIE Fighters have shields (and had since the days of Thrawn), and stormtroopers know how to aim now.
    • The Vong themselves go through this much faster — their low-level soldiers have no qualms about giving their lives in battle. Later, Supreme Overlord Shimmra is seen chewing out his high officers because they've thrown away too many men and are having trouble holding their conquests.
  • In The Stormlight Archive, Highprince Sadeas uses slaves to carry the storming bridges needed to cross the chasms that divide the Shattered Planes. This involves running straight at the enemy army, while carrying a bridge over your head, while they're shooting at you, then putting the bridge in place and getting out of the way of the real soldiers. Every bridge the enemy takes down decreases the army's ability to deploy. Naturally, this is always a bloodbath, and it takes Kaladin a while to figure out why it's done this way, and why the slaves are denied armor: Sadeas deploys an excess of bridges, so that the Parshendi have no realistic chance of taking down enough to stop the army. But the Parshendi aren't disciplined soldiers, and the idea of taking down a bridge is tempting enough that they still try. If they armored the bridgemen, they'd be more likely to realize it was futile and start shooting at the soldiers. As far as he's concerned you can always get more slaves; soldiers aren't so easily replaced.
    • It's later revealed in Oathbringer that this trope was why the Fused were such an unbeatable foe to humanity. Their ability to reincarnate by stealing the bodies of other singers meant that the singers could sacrifice common civilians (which they had in plenty) to restore their greatest warriors to life.
  • In the Sword of Truth series, the Imperial Order has this methodology, partly because they believe the next best thing to killing unbelievers is to die while killing unbelievers, partly because they believe individuals are worthless, and partly because the army is so massive that even if they lose a million men, that's still barely a dent in their forces.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: Emperor Ezar Vorbarra in Shards of Honor has this mindset and takes this trope a step further — he has the army mount a hopeless, bloody attack on another planet in order to get his insane son killed off without anyone suspecting assassination, as well as stamp out the more warmonger political factions in general. Too bad about all of the other soldiers who were killed ...
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • In Ben Counter's novel Chapter War, the Howling Griffons' attitude toward the 901st Regiment. Admittedly a penal unit, but they send them up against space marines — twice.
    • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 novel Deus Encarmine, Iskavan is told that he and his Word Bearers had been sacrificed to lure the Blood Angels to Shenlong, and having served that purpose, they will get no reinforcements. Then, Iskavan's reaction to the news is to start a rampage with women, children, and the wounded.
      • In Deus Sanguinius, the Warmaster points out that he sacrificed them for this. He gets no sympathy.
    • Several commanders in Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novels.
      • In First & Only, Dravere is explicitly described as saying that if he could throw enough bodies at the Eye of Chaos, he could close it. The attack of the Jantine Patricians at the climax, to overwhelm the Ghosts' Hold the Line forces, puts it into action.
      • In Ghostmaker, Sturm orders the bombardment of an area where he knows the Ghosts are operating on the grounds that they have enemies in there. He specifically regards the Ghosts, and Gaunt, as trouble he would be well rid of.
      • In Armour of Contempt, a wave of Imperium troopers, so tightly packed that the dead were carried along, unable to fall where they died, assault the walls of a city several times. Eventually, they are successful, but at horrible cost. And it only works because a Titan blasts open the gate with a single shot as the third attack is bogging down. Perhaps they should have done that earlier.
  • Used in World War Z by both the Russian and Chinese armies, often to horrifying effects. If one didn't know that both those countries have a history of such tactics, (see the real life section below), they might think Max Brooks was making it up or had an ax to grind with those countries.
    • The primary problem with using this strategy on zombies is that they use the exact same tactics by instinct, and they recruit by killing. So by sending your own people to die, you inflate the ranks of your enemies. Though, logically, as long as your kill ratio is sufficiently positive, it'll work.
  • Piers Anthony's Xanth: An attacking goblin horde in Castle Roogna used a rather literal goblin-wave tactic — they crossed the moat by filling it up with drowned goblins, and scaled the wall by climbing over each other until the army was running up a huge pile of trampled-down goblins.


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