Cannon Fodder

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Come on, you sons of bitches! You wanna live forever?"
Marine Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly [1] during World War I.

In most wartime shows that focus on Ace Pilots and other Military Mavericks, there will be a point when these are contrasted to "normal" foot soldiers who wear red shirts for standard issue uniform. They have weak weaponry, little to no armor, their only strength are their numbers, and their only available tactic is Zerg Rush. And, of course, they die en masse. It is the latter fact that almost certainly gonna cause tension between them and said ace pilots and mavericks (who, at the very least, receive Plot Armor, if not better equipment and training), ranging from alienation to open enmity.

We Have Reserves is a related trope but, as often as it happens to Cannon Fodder characters, it is different. We Have Reserves is there to establish a military commander as a particular villain by having him give an inhumane order where it could have been avoided. Cannon Fodder has no other option but get killed and hope the reserves come in time. And yes, even the good guys employ Cannon Fodder in battle, as sad as it may be for them.

The term Cannon Fodder itself originated in World War I, where such high casualties were sustained for so little gain, that the infantrymen were joked to be nothing more then fodder (a term usually used to describe animal feed) for the artillery. The soldiers of WWI knew this trope well enough.

New Meat and Redshirt Army are also similar but here, everyone in the unit is expected to die not for drama but just because of the unit's nature. Read more in the Canonical List of Subtle Trope Distinctions.

If you're liable to be on the receiving end of a Wannabe Diss, expect to be cast as this too.

For the classic video game named Cannon Fodder, see here. Not to be confused the the punny trope Canon Fodder.

Examples of Cannon Fodder include:

Anime and Manga

  • During the joint infantry-air operation in Simoun, the Ace Pilot Floe grows close to a simple rifleman, only to painfully discover the enormous gap between them.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has the mass-produced Grappal Army as cannon fodder; the one-of-a-kind Ganmen and the Gurren Lagann, meanwhile, are the ones who do most of the ass-kicking. Gimmy and Darry, however, are Mauve Shirts and often receive Plot Armor.
    • And Kamina frequently shouted things such as "Outta the way, cannon fodder!!!" before destroying about a dozen beastmen gunmen with his drills.
  • Generally, this happens in most Humongous Mecha series; you know it's happening when the more important characters of the show are sporting unique mecha with customized specs or weapons and armor that outclass almost everything else. More regular, nameless forces will use mass-produced models that are destroyed by the dozen.
    • As with many other mecha tropes, Neon Genesis Evangelion turns this on its head, with the mass-produced models ultimately defeating one of the special prototypes.
  • In Naruto, Jiraiya sneaks into the Hidden Rain Village, and captures two people who come into the "bar" he sets up.

Jiraiya: Judging from your seemingly low standards and mannerisms, you must be the bottom-most of the Fodder nins, right?

    • Pretty much the whole of ANBU. Exceptions are named people such as Kakashi (former member), Tenzo/Yamato, Ibiki, Anko, Aoba, as well as Danzo, Sai, Fu and Torune from the Root.

Fan Works

  • This is referenced by name in Oh God Not Again by the Sorting Hat. He was describing the Gryffindors.


"Soldiers! Don't give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder."


  • In Gordon R. Dickson's Childe Cycle series, the Friendlies provide this as their major export. Being a fundamentalist society and lacking any rare resources, the Friendlies could only serve as Mercenaries. However, the Badass Army market was already covered by the Dorsai, so the Friendly mercs' only advantage was that they were cheap and plentiful.
  • In Matched Aberrations are sent to the Outer Provinces as "decoys" to draw the fire of the mysterious Enemy.
  • The soldiers of the Spartan III program from Ghosts of Onyx are meant to be this. Their sole purpose is to take the suicide missions that are beyond the skill level of the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers but beneath the potential loss of the Spartan II's.

Tabletop Games

  • Anything fielded by Orcs or Goblins in any tabletop game. Dem humies (stunties, skinnies) just rilly cawn't kil us ladz all, can dey?
  • Bretonnian infantry in Warhammer Fantasy. (Applies also to Skaven and Lizardmen.)
  • The Imperial Guard from Warhammer 40,000.
    • And for them, first conscripted troopers which have less training and only the most basic equipment. Then the Planetary Defense Forces which usually are even less skilled and have even less equipment.
    • For a bit of perspective, in terms of point value a single Space Marine Terminator costs as much as 10 Imperial Guard Conscripts. He can take them all together too, and will probably emerge unscathed unless the Random Number God is grumpy.
    • The Tyranids have basic troops called Rippers that are sent en masse to enemy lines, causing them to waste ammunition for when the real attack begins with larger and more intelligent troops. The Rippers don't even have digestive systems - after they've consumed all the biomass they can, they are unfit for combat and return to reclamation pools to be consumed for the biomass they contain.
      • Practically all of the Tyranid's basic troops are used like this this includes the gaunt breeds.
    • Tau have a habit of turning their enemies into this repeatedly, provided they can stay at a safe distance to do so.
    • The Orks have their Grotz who are at the very bottom of the Ork hierarchy, their basic roles are cannon fodder, as well as used to clear land mine fields, as well as emergency rations, and even used for football.
  • Paranoia is that rare example where the players themselves are the cannon laser fodder.
  • This is the role that mortals play in Exalted, because their world just sucks that much. It's even codified in the rules: "extras"—usually defined as anyone without an Essence rating—have only three health levels where everyone else has at least seven. A Fan Nickname for mortals in Exalted combat is "Ablative People Shields".
  • Pawns in Chess.

Video Games

  • Often used in strategy video games for baseline infantry units, whose basic tactic is Zerg Rush or just to stand there, fire at the enemy, and keep reinforcements coming.
  • Cannon Fodder. Eponymous trope, eponymous pixels. War Has Never Been So Much Fun!
  • When Peasants are a combat unit, they will always be cannon fodder.
  • In Star Wars Battlefront, the player that had the most deaths earns the title 'Bantha Fodder'.
  • In the Halo series, the Covenant uses the Grunt race as cheap labor, and in the case of the military, cannon fodder. Their fighting skills are laughable at best, as their combat strategy is usually nothing more complex than taking potshots at the enemy and hoping it dies. They also tend to run away when their squad leader is killed. However, Grunts can also be surprisingly dangerous in specific situations. Some variants carry heavy weapons, and even some that don't can overcharge their plasma pistols in Halo: Reach, leaving the player without shields. In the first game, Grunts were the only enemy that threw grenades, and if they stuck a vehicle thqt were driving, the only way to survive was to get out of the vehicle and run, and in later games, Grunts led by Brutes will arm two grenades and run at the player if the Brute gets killed. Grunts are also quite formidible in large numbers, and when the entire Grunt race rebelled against the Covenant, it took an Arbiter and a sizable portion of the Covenant's fleet to defeat them.

Web Original

  • D-Class Personnel at the SCP Foundation. These are the people that they shove through doors into deep space in order to see what happens.
    • They do have a fully functional moon base now...

Western Animation

  • Exo Squad had an on-going conflict between the Humongous Mecha pilots and the jumptroopers (basically, light paratroopers) who die like lemmings when things get hot.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: All the soldiers from the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom except the Dai Li.
  • The Monarch from The Venture Brothers regards his henchmen as basically disposable pawns and often sends platoons of them to be butchered by Brock Samson while he directs them from the safety of his flying cocoon headquarters.

Real Life

  • During World War II, Japanese infantrymen were called 'senrin' by their officers, referring to the price of mailing a conscription notice: one sen, one rin, or about 1/99th of a yen.
    • Several Japanese officers who fought on Guadalcanal went further, calling themselves and their men 'teppodama', literally "bullets" in being that expendable.
  • According to The Other Wiki, the first documented use of the term "cannon fodder" appears in an anti-Napoleonic pamphlet by French writer François-René de Chateaubriand, published in 1814. In it, Chateaubriand lambasted Napoleon's battle strategy, particularly his treatment of new recruits: "the contempt for the lives of men and for France herself has come to the point of calling the conscripts 'the raw material' and 'the cannon fodder'."
  • The ugly truth is that this has been the purpose of infantry since WWI in conventional warfare. While some armies have embraced it and some haven't, ultimately the infantry's job is to go first and locate targets for the artillery, aircraft, and armored vehicles. That this is frequently accomplished by losing a few of them to fire from a concealed position is an unfortunate inevitability.
  • A detailed description is given in the military history When the Odds Were Even by Keith Bonn, about the hostile crossing of the Vosges Mountains by the US in France in 1944. The German system was degraded by the accumulation of casualties until their carefully worked out organizational system was dulled. Men had to be replaced so fast that they did not have time to be honed at a regimental training center in concert with the men they would fight beside. Some men were foreigners or even slave soldiers. Some were just shuffled from the now useless Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine (Air Force and Navy). Some were Volksgreniders (militia). And perhaps worst of all many were fugitives rounded up by a dragnet of MPs and reorganized into arbitrary units. They were still tough foes but definitely not what they had been and were rapidly degenerating into Cannon Fodder.
  1. echoing [[Frederick the Great |King Frederick II of Prussia]] in the battle of Torgau, 3 November 1760: "Racker, wollt ihr ewig leben?" (Scoundrels, do you want to live forever?)