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You Have Failed Me / Real Life

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  • A probable Trope Maker: played straight in the Wars of the Roses by Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, during the Battle of Tewkesbury 1471. He killed his subordinate commander, Baron Wenlock, who had failed to support him, by smashing his head in with a warhammer in the midst of the battle.
  • Admiral John Byng failed England at the Battle of Minorca (1756) by choosing not to bring his heavily-damaged ships into battle against an undamaged French fleet; he ended up before a firing squad. Voltaire satirized this episode in Candide: "In this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, in order to encourage the others." (You may come across the phrase from the original French, "pour encourager les autres".)
    • It can be argued that it actually worked: the Seven Years' War marked the rise of England as the major naval power in Europe, mostly due to the freshly 'motivated' attitude of the RN.
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    • Byng wasn't the only one, either. At the time British naval law had a provision that an officer failing "to do his utmost" against the enemy was a capital offense.
    • It also explained why British naval officers were gung ho and notoriously and successfully aggressive. After all, "doing your utmost" didn't necessarily require success. A captain who fought a superior force, had his ship shot from under him, and was captured, might end up being ransomed and promoted. It was the officer who retreated from battle who had to worry.
    • This policy is also the reason why Admiral Parker sent a signal for Horatio Nelson to withdraw at the Battle of Copenhagen when the Danish defense proved stronger than anticipated; he didn't want to lose Vice Admiral Nelson to "doing his utmost" if he couldn't win. Nelson was in a favorable situation, however, and famously ignored the signal by holding the telescope to his blind eye and stating "I really do not see the signal". To be fair to both, Parker knew that Nelson would fight on if the situation was favorable, so the signal was more permissive than mandatory.
  • To probably no one's surprise at all, Hitler had this one in his cartoonishly evil playbook. As the remnants of the Sixth Army were dying at Stalingrad, with no hope of escape or rescue, he promoted their commander, General Paulus, to Field Marshal. Because no German Field Marshal had ever surrendered, it was obvious to everyone that this was a subtle order for Paulus to commit suicide for his failure to win the battle. Subverting the trope, he didn't.
    • Men lower down on the German army totem pole also tended to suffer this a lot, particularly as war turned against Germany. For example, when the U.S. 9th Armored Division captured an intact bridge over the Rhine at Remagen, the German officers responsible for its defense were quickly court-martialed and executed. By the war's end, German soldiers had almost as much to fear from accusations of 'desertion', 'cowardice' or 'defeatism' from their own side as they did from the enemy.
    • Near the end, Hitler has this Up to Eleven: he thought the entire nation of Germany had failed him. Due to this, his final orders were to destroy the country in a sort of scorched-earth tactic; a Social Darwinist to the end, he thought that if Germany's enemies won, then they were obviously the superior ones and thus that, as usual, the existence of an inferior nation like Germany was worth nothing. Fortunately, his generals finally decided he was batshit insane and surrendered instead. Armament Minister Albert Speer, who did most of the refusing, managed to avoid hanging after the war, and served a 20 year sentence for his prior war crimes.
  • Stalin executed many high-ranking officers who lost to significantly smaller numbers of Finnish soldiers during the Winter War. Since "failing Stalin (for the last time)" is not a charge that can be formally brought at a court-martial, one general's official offense was losing twelve battlefield kitchens to the enemy. To be sure, field kitchens were vital material for winter warfare, but in this case it was just a pretext for killing a loyal officer for being involved in an embarrassing defeat.
    • Stalin had also executed many high-ranking officers (read: 4-5% of his officer corps, including c.90% of all officers commanding more than 1000 people) before the war started as part of an ideological cleansing, which was a great part of why the Red Army did so badly during the Winter War; c.90% of all officers commanding units of 1000+ people had been in their new jobs for less than a year. One rather egregious case was that of a Captain and Battalion Commander (500 men) who was promoted to Brigade Commander (3000 men) and arrived at his new unit (a Rifle Division of 14,000 men) only to discover that the Division Commander, Division Commisar, and all the other Brigade Commanders had been arrested - making him de facto Division Commander, a post which he was two ranks too junior and ten years too inexperienced for. Ironically, as a result of the post-WWII purges to re-politicise the army and society (after the war-time professionalisation), when Stalin had a stroke in his room one morning, no guard dared to enter and check on him, fearing he was playing a practical joke on them at best and looking for an excuse to have someone removed at worst. By the time lunchtime had gone by and they'd found Lavrenty Beria, NKVD chief, and got him to open the door, Stalin's condition had gone untreated for too long and he died in agony soon afterward.
    • Stalin was not a forgiving man during World War II, either. When production of the Il-2 attack aircraft fell behind schedule, he dashed off a telegram to Ilyushin's plant managers M.B. Shenkman and A.T. Tretyakov: "You have let down our country and our Red Army. You have the nerve not to manufacture IL-2s until now. Our Red Army now needs IL-2 aircraft like the air it breathes, like the bread it eats. Shenkman produces one IL-2 a day and Tretyakov builds one or two MiG-3s daily. It is a mockery of our country and the Red Army. I ask you not to try the government's patience, and demand that you manufacture more ILs. THIS IS MY FINAL WARNING." Ilyushin went on to produce 36,000 Il-2s, making it one of the most heavily-produced aircraft in history.
    • Stalin is known, however, to have subverted this on one occasion. Semyon Mikhailovich Budyonny, who was in charge of the Soviet defense during the early days of the Nazi invasion, was hamstrung by orders from Stalin (who was attempting to micromanage the front). When this ended disastrously at the Battles of Uman and Kiev, Budyonny was made a scapegoat and removed from command. However, since Stalin considered Budyonny a loyal friend, he was not executed or imprisoned, and instead rotated to being in charge of several areas of the army that never saw combat again.
  • Some more sensationalist (read: interested in inflating death-figures to make headlines and sell books) accounts have assumed some 2% of all Soviet losses in WWII were due to executions, this figure presumably being reached by including all deaths in penal battalions, reprisals against anti-Soviet partisans and collaborators, and prisoners en-route to and in the gulags. With that said, the Red Army definitely relied upon, or at least resorted too, execution as a means to keep the troops fighting the most of all the major combatants. Even the USSR's most famous and arguably most talented general, Field Marshall Georgi Zhukovnote  himself had hundreds of subordinates that he found too incompetent shot or thrown into penal battalions, and his punch line was Act or you'll face the firing squad!
  • Cowardly Roman soldiers were punished by being divided into groups of ten and drawing lots, whereupon the unfortunate soldier in each group would be beaten to death by his comrades. And that's where we get the word "decimated".
    • This practice was abolished before the Imperial era. The reason was that brutal punishments have averse effect: they will collapse the already shaky morale altogether. Ordinary soldiers, who face the enemy on the battlefield, consider killing one of their own as a murder. A decimated unit usually had to be disbanded and its soldiers assigned to other units. Decimatio does not mean only losing one tenth of a unit: it means losing the whole unit. Instead, punishments of shame, like having to eat only barley instead of wheat or not being allowed to eat sitting, were introduced.
  • During the French Revolution, and more specifically during the Revolutionary Wars, generals who failed were executed. This is explained by the fact that i. only traitors could fail considering French "élan vital" couldn't be beat (according to the Convention), and ii. most if not all generals were generals during the monarchy, and henceforth considered as traitors, except if they proved otherwise by actually winning.
    • The disturbing part is that this policy started to produce results, especially when the Committee of Public Safety ran France during the Reign of Terror and thoroughly reorganized the army Back from the Brink, after being plagued by betrayals, defections and setbacks and poor military organization. To reverse this, the Committee of Public Safety exercised strict and rigid control over the military, rapidly curbing down the old Ancien Regime style of military bureaucracy and launched on a campaign of meritocracy by which Old Regime aristocratic generals regardless of how loyal and talented they were, were scapegoated to make way for new generals.
    • In the year 1793-1794, 84 generals were executed and 352 dismissed. The presence of nobles in officer class dropped from 90% to 3%. The results, well France bounced Back from the Brink and became a modern army of Conscription and by ''aggressive'' meritocracy created a new cadre of officers. In one year, France went from total defeat to the Battle of Fleurus where the military threat was contained and as Clausewitz reflected years later, France leapt years in advance of the rest of the Continent in terms of its military organization.
  • After General Zhu Tao of the Tang Dynasty rushed into battle against two of his rivals and was soundly defeated, he executed two advisers who had advocated attacking immediately instead of allowing his soldiers to rest for a few days.
    • Execution for failure was the standard in Ancient China. Part of why Cao Cao succeeded against Yuan Shao was that the latter kept executing capable generals for failures or for giving advice he didn't want to hear. Even Zhuge Liang (yeah, that one) executed one of his most brilliant generals who lost a crucial battle. According to the book at least, it was because the general failed to take important tactical advice into consideration and Zhuge Liang was reluctant to do it because he considered the other man to be like a son to him.
    • Even earlier, a Han general, Li Ling, was surrounded by the Xiongnu ("Northern Barbarians," probably Turks or Mongols or some such) while on campaign, and landed his family in hot water for not committing suicide. The furious Emperor Wu of Han had him and his family executed and had the one guy (Sima Qian) who spoke up for him thrown in prison and castrated. (The castration was supposed to be an encouragement to suicide, but Qian instead decided to write the massive and definitive history of China up to his time, the Records of the Grand Historian).
  • The Records of the Grand Historian, incidentally, are also called the Shiji (史記), and also contain a variant example. Sima Qian records that Sun Tzu employed a variant of this trope to demonstrate his teachings. Before hiring Sun Tzu, the King of Wu tested Sun Tzu's skills by commanding him to train a harem of 180 concubines into soldiers. Sun Tzu divided them into two companies, appointing the two concubines most favored by the king as the company commanders. When Sun Tzu first ordered the concubines to face right, they giggled. In response, Sun Tzu said that the general, in this case himself, was responsible for ensuring that soldiers understood the commands given to them. Then, he explained and reiterated the command; again the concubines just stood and giggled. Sun Tzu then ordered the execution of the king's two favored concubines, to the king's protests. He explained that if the general's soldiers understood their commands but did not obey, it was the fault of the officers. Sun Tzu also said that, once a general was appointed, it was his duty to carry out his mission, even if the king objected. After both concubines were killed, new officers were chosen to replace them. Afterwards, both companies performed their maneuvers flawlessly and in complete silence. Sun Tzu then announced, "The troops are now well disciplined. They may be employed as the King desires, even to the extent of going through fire and water." Despite his bitterness at losing his favorite concubines, the King recognized Sun Tzu's skill and appointed him General. In the following years Sun Tzu contributed to a number of victories that cemented the State of Wu's place as a leading power in the region.
  • North Korea tells its Olympic athletes to bring back medals or it's off to the labor camps. Iraqi footballers under Uday Hussein's leadership were regularly tortured and beaten when they lost a game.
  • After a 2012 season with 93 losses, Miami Marlins owner fired manager Ozzie Guillen and proceeded to trade away the three star players he had signed the previous season along with the rest of his team...except for Giancarlo Stanton. They promptly had 100 losses in 2013.
  • In a more mild, good-guy example, the US Army in World War Two, under George Marshall's leadership, was ruthless in relieving senior officers (in comparison to the other Western Allies) when they didn't perform on the battlefield or otherwise screwed up. In a subversion, many of those officers were given second chances (and often succeeded), or found success in roles other than battlefield command.
    • More then that. Marshal would relieve officers for messing up during maneuvers before hostilities began. Which may be one reason the US Army didn't do worse then it did in the first year.
  • Many Japanese officers during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II opted to kill themselves after a defeat because the fate awaiting a supposedly failed commander at home was very unpleasant, even when the officer actually did extremely well under the circumstances. For example a reconnaissance battalion managed to delay the Soviet Encirclement forces from fulling cutting-off the main Japanese force dug-in at Nomonhan/Khalkin Ghol for nearly a day before they realized that nobody in the pocket was going to try to break out and retreated. But for the crime of "fleeing from the enemy"'s vastly superior forces and not attempting a suicidal counter-attack to relieve the encircled forces their commander was subject to a court martial and before the proceedings started, was "persuaded" to commit suicide. The overall commander of the Japanese forces there, who'd refused to order a break-out, was severely criticised not for his failure to salvage the situation with a break-out but instead merely for 'losing' - it's a sign of just how Axe-Crazy and Blood Knight -y the Japanese were relative to the superbly innovative Soviets that they couldn't find anything wrong with his performance in their post-mortem analysis of the battle. The commander, General Komatsubara, lived to die of cancer after the war.
  • In countries with "at-will" employment, getting fired is a common consequence of an employee making a major mistake.
  • Whilst it's common in Association Football for teams to sack underperforming managers, Chelsea have pulled off near-literal examples of this twice. Avram Grant was sacked in 2008 three days after losing the UEFA Champions League Final, while three years later, Carlo Ancelotti was sacked barely an hour after the end of a trophyless season.
  • In the Battle of Crecy, the French initially sent ill-prepared Genoese crossbowmen mercenaries against the English position. Lacking their pavises and no match for the superior range and fire rate of the English longbow, the Genoese suffered heavy casualties and retreated back to the French lines. The French knights and nobles hacked down the survivors, and prepared a charge against the English lines themselves. There, they suffered just as badly, if not more so.
  • This is how Core Design ended up falling apart; after they botched Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (which was released alongside Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and took that film with it), Eidos Interactive, tired of Core Design's inability to meet deadlines or lower ambitions, took the Tomb Raider franchise out of Core Design's hands. Without their prime cash cow, Core Design died a slow death (boss Jeremy Heath-Smith was evicted from Core before their downwards trajectory to bankruptcy began on the back of the game and film).
  • When Disney studio chairman Rich Ross presided over the production of what became the Box Office Bomb John Carter, Disney fired both him and marketing boss M.T. Carney from the Mouse House, a move that was ironically justified when another project Ross approved, The Lone Ranger, bombed even harder. Ross is the only Disney studio chief in the past quarter-century to be fired for failing; his predecessors, one of whom is DreamWorks Animation co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, were all relieved of the job for other reasons such as Creative Differences.
  • The initial release of Final Fantasy XIV was marred by various performance issues, gameplay bugs, and poorly implemented features, and was on the fast track to being a commercial and critical failure. In response, Square Enix fired the entire development staff and replaced them with a new team, led by Naoki Yoshida, to attempt to salvage the game, or else scrap it and start over. The result was Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which made up for the initial game's release in spades.


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