War Is Hell

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Otto Dix, Suicide in the Trenches -- big toe on the trigger.

Over the deep and the deadly sweep
The fire and the bursting shell
While the very air is a mad despair
The throes of a living hell

Phil Ochs, "The Men Behind The Guns"

When this trope is in play, war is a hellish, traumatizing nightmare, and anyone who comes out of it alive will end up a Shell-Shocked Veteran. Those who take pleasure in it are Ax Crazy Blood Knights or worse. This trope gained its name by the famous quote from General William T. Sherman, "War is all Hell, and I have every intent of making it so." Most people quoting it shorten it to the trope name.

The motives for war are depicted as being irrationally base; survival, dogma, fear, hatred, insanity, personal conquest, or even all of the above prevail. For the average man and woman, the force of wartime authority overrides any thought of their own.

Sometimes, the war is shown to be unwinnable, despite all the sacrifices made. There is a correlation between being on the losing side of a war and making a work following this trope: compare treatments of World War II and Vietnam War.

War Is Hell works often show the cumulative effect of exposure to deprivation, violence, and military culture: the horror goes on and on, brutalising people a little more each night.

Truth in Television, though fiction may exaggerate, and the degree to which this is true will vary from war to war, country to country, and even soldier to soldier. One thing sure, someone is going to cry.

Historically, this trope might be Newer Than They Think. There is a long tradition of glorifying war: bravery, discipline, manliness, martyrdom and the right of the strong to take from the weak. As photographs, film and other forms of mass media from the front became more and more common, this trope became more and more mainstream, eventually replacing that tradition.

The earliest recognized instance of widespread belief in this trope is probably the Thirty Years' War, which dragged on forever, ruined Germany, and involved such frequent changes of alliances that nobody was really sure why anyone was fighting anybody. The mass armies and new military techniques also meant that it directly affected a large segment of the population. As a result, several artists of the period depicted war as a distinctly nasty experience, and popular accounts like sayings seem to confirm a rather gloomy attitude. However, after the Thirty Years' War ended, European militaries grew smaller and wars further from the people (until the Napoleonic Wars, at least), and the trope receded.

The American Civil War prompted another early expression of the trope: Union General William Sherman is commonly credited with saying "War is Hell." It was the first true industrial war and chewed through the American population and countryside. Furthermore, it was the first war that was extensively photographed and one public exhibit during that war, The Dead of Antietam, made for such a powerful impression that one reviewer described it as much like distributing the war dead on the streets of the city.

However, since the reasons for that war were obvious to everyone fighting—making the horrors of war just a bit more bearable—the trope only really caught on with World War I, which was long, bloody, and seemingly pointless. Thanks to near-universal conscription in all the major countries of Europe, a large number of writers and poets of the early 20th century had experience on the front lines, and they did not like what they saw. The identity of one recorded World War I soldier who did enjoy his wartime experience probably entrenched the trope in Western culture furthermore afterward, especially when said soldier started the most devastating war in human history.

There are several reasons for this. One is that we aren't born as sociopathic soldiers and most modern societies frown on killing for any reason. Most military basic training spends quite a bit of effort to instill into recruits that killing is acceptable. For a good look, Full Metal Jacket is a movie to watch. Still, overcoming a lifetime of moral imprinting is very difficult. Many past societies taught their Child Soldiers from birth that killing in war was their noble destiny, so they avoided this problem.

Second, being in constant fear for your life and limb is obviously stressful. Especially in the era of modern combat, which is more dehumanizing than ancient combat. If you were a genuine badass who is strong and skilled with weapons, you felt like you were in control of your destiny. Furthermore, war often took the form of raiding and rustling and might have actually been fun; exceptions include those who were conquered and thus couldn't write poems. Modern combat, with artillery, IEDs, bombers, nukes and other horrors created by technological evolution, means that death can strike from above killing us all without knowledge, warning or defense, instilling a mindset of paranoia, insignificance, helplessness and nihilistic despair similar to that portrayed by Lovecraftian Fiction. WWI machine guns and a slow blinding death (or worse) by chemical weapons meant that you could die without ever seeing the enemy, thus rendering your skill level practically moot.

Third, the societies that promoted war were also Crapsack Worlds; life was already a short and unpleasant hell. Illness such as bubonic plague could kill you slowly and painfully, food and water was rarely enough to feed everyone, and losing a limb meant losing that precious scrap of food on the table, since there was no such thing as veteran support. Karma Houdinis roamed the streets while No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. Again, past warring societies put further that the very least you can do is to fight and quickly die in an adrenaline rush knowing you did something meaningful. In Norse Mythology, those who died in combat went to Valhalla.

And finally, we live in an era where even ordinary people can write poems. Past societies tended to disdain slaves along with "the common folk" and only recorded the way they lived in general terms. War has probably always been nasty for poor people: When armies are small and aristocratic, the noblemen trample all over your fields, ruining your crops; when they're large, you have to leave your farm or shop, potentially leaving your family without support, to pick up a spear and some pathetic armor and join the army, or perhaps get in the galleys and row, or Made a Slave...and still, armies trample all over your crops, except when they steal them. These opinions would not be found very often in pre-modern writings, because the people who held them neither knew how to write nor knew anyone who did and would care to listen; today, these stories get picked up fast.

This doesn't necessarily discredit war or render it obsolete. If anything, this trope has helped promote justifications of conflict along the lines of it being either a "Necessarily Evil" or an undesirable, last-ditch option when more peaceful means fail. In addition, paradoxically and in one of the most confounding ironies known to man, it's been argued that war in some sense has been good for something: namely helping make larger, stable and more peaceful societies possible while reducing the risk of violence over time, and thus less war.

May overlap with, but not to be confused with, Hell Is War. Contrast War Is Glorious, which is not mutually exclusive with War Is Hell, especially when the audience gets a kick out of seeing people kill each other, no matter how ugly or condemning the work is. See also Armies Are Evil (highly negative takes on the military),

No real life examples, please; it's Truth in Television for every war, past, present and future.

Examples of War Is Hell include:

Anime and Manga

  • In the manga Saga of Tanya the Evil, war is sometimes portrayed as rather hellish. Like Visha's baptism, or the time a mook recalled his run in with The Devil.
  • Most of the Gundam saga, in particular Gundam 0080, Zeta Gundam, and Victory Gundam with the last two in particular brutal due to the fact that Yoshiyuki Tomino had a Creator Breakdown. Gundam 0080 beats you over the head with this trope. However, on the flip side, Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped, and it's overall one of the best Gundam series as a result of its utter bleakness. Which stems not from an anti war stance but Tomino's thoughts on Japan's actions in World War II and it's imperialistic actions which mirror that of Zeon's.
    • An even more recent example is Gundam SEED which slides to the far end of the Cynical side of the scale. War becomes humanity's excuse to perpetrate human experimentation, nuclear holocaust, and mass betrayal. Given that the war was started in the first place to commit genocide against an entire subspecies of humanity, and it eventually evolves to the point where both sides refuse to accept each others existence and commit ruthless atrocities in an attempt to end all of mankind, yes, war is indeed HELL.
    • To quote Kamille Bidan (Z Gundam) in Dynasty Warriors Gundam 2: "Everyone's... dying. It wasn't supposed to be like this... Are you happy now? Are you satisfied? So. Who's gonna celebrate now, huh?" (Note that he's actually talking to both Quattro, Scirocco and Haman at this point, as they're the respective leaders of each their factions. Yes, at this point he's willing to question his own commanding officer's motives.)
    • The One Year War. It's the most famous war in the Gundam franchise, with half a dozen or more side-stories elaborating on it. In fact, in the course of the war, the Zeons are willing to drop a giant space colony, housing 3 million civilians, down on earth, killing the civilians in the colony with gas beforehand, and destroying quite a big portion of Australia, create giant machines that can kill thousands of people in seconds, and blame it all on the Earth Federation. In fact, they start the war by dropping a colony on Sydney, leaving a crater that can be seen clearly when Kou comes to Sydney in 0083, four years after the war. It doesn't get much better that most main characters in 0079-series are mentally scarred, or break down.
    • Even Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ. one of the goofiest, most light-hearted shows in the Universal Century, chronicles the slow descent into hell of a group of happy-go-lucky kids caught on the periphery of the conflict. By the end of the show, the survivors do manage to go on with their lives, but they ain't so happy-go-lucky no more.
  • The Ishval Massacre in the Fullmetal Alchemist is basically wall to wall bodies, the Ishvalans are either being massacred or are killing the Amestrians in a last ditch effort to survive. By the end of the flashback pretty much everyone is left traumatized, and most of the rest are Ax Crazy to begin with.
  • Mazinger Z: From the opening narration from New Mazinger (an one-volume-long alternate manga version published in 1988): "A. D. 220X... Hostilities between north and south grow in fury as savage combat with new and ever more destructive weapons lays waste the once pastoral Earth. The remnants of mankind burrow deep beneath the surface. Their citadels, screened against the deadly bath of radiation, poke through the polluted soil like foul, mutant flowers. Their warriors, encased in giant combat armor against the air that once gave man life, live only to fight, and with luck, to fight again. Today, as every day, the flames of war rage in every corner of the globe. War without quarter. War without end. War for a race that has forgotten all other ways of life."
    • Of course, the original series and its sequels -Great Mazinger and UFO Robo Grendizer-had no gripes showing how much death and destruction war can generate.
    • War Is Hell is, actually, one of core messages of UFO Robo Grendizer, and it is delivered in a pretty heavy-handed way. The Vegans tried to take over Fleed to settle on it but their own weapons turned the planet into an uninhabitable, radioactive chunk of rock (and the scenes of the Fleedian genocyde were specially Nightmare Fuel). The only thing their expansionist war achieved was the destruction of several planets and their own annihilation. The war scenes were depicted in a very harsh fashion. And several characters argued nothing could be gained from that conflict:

Hikaru: “Why friends must fight each other? It’s all the same. It doesn’t matter who wins… There’s no way peace can result from this fight!”
Rubina: "If this war continues, not only all Vegans but Earth will be destroyed."

  • Naruto. In fact, Madara said "For a child, war is hell". War was responsible for making Itachi who he is and also very much had something to do with Pain's motives. When the three Sannin met Nagato (Pain), Yahiko and Konan, Orochimaru suggested killing them because only more pain and hell would await them and tragically that turns out to be the case.
    • The Fourth Shinobi World War defines this trope when you hear the death toll of the Alliance forces for the first day. 40,000 Ninja and samurai died in a single day of fighting. But due to A Million Is a Statistic, most people don't care unless a named character dies.
  • Zambot 3 explored this trope. Child Soldiers forced to handle weapons and fight a faceless enemy? Check. People dying suffering and dying the whole time? Check. People turned into human bombs? Check. Cities being destroyed? Check. Both sides battling among the ruins of cities already destroyed in previous battles? Check. Every side thinking the other side are the evil ones? Check. It is no wonder this anime was done by the creator of Gundam during one of his Kill'Em All phases.
  • And then Tomino took it up to eleven when he created Ideon. A war between two sides starts cause a misunderstanding. The result? Tons of deaths, destruction, suffering, mindscrew and the destruction of the universe.
  • Grave of the Fireflies. Boy in his early teens and very young sister, left orphaned in Japan at the end of the Second World War. Things do not go well.
  • Princess Mononoke could be described as a War Is Hell story disguised as a Green Aesop.
  • Saikano is incredibly Anvilicious about this. It works. Well for some.
  • Some would say that Neon Genesis Evangelion is all about saying War Is Hell for Child Soldiers, possibly literally.
  • In Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, most if not all the war scenes are drawn in explicit and gritty detail, often squeezed into tiny panels making them look as claustrophobic and uncomfortable as possible. Well, this IS a Miyazaki work...
  • Vinland Saga delivers this message with surprising subtlety.
  • Now and Then, Here and There dumps an innocent young protagonist into a world made hell by war. In this world children are the targets of atrocities committed by other children. Neighbouring villages are raided for vital supplies and young boys to be conscripted into the insane king Hamdo's army. Women and young girls are captured to be passed around to and raped by Hellywood soldiers as a reward for good performance in the hope that they will become pregnant and provide future soldiers and breeders.
  • Jinroh Wolf Brigade paints a rather vivid image of a post World War Two Japan where the Nazis were victorious, with rioting in the streets, child terrorists and the realpolitica power plays with the CAPO and Public Security backstabbing each other. Bonus points for the main character shooting his girlfriend rebel before a sniper killed both of them.
  • Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, though they are less about the war and more about the people living in a war state. The former is about futuristic war, and the latter is about the Cold War gone bad.
  • Future War 198X shows the effects of World War III on the soldiers, civilians, and the powers behind each country fighting, shattering Japan's Nuclear Weapons Taboo and getting Space Battleship Yamato's director's message across loud and clear: nuclear weapons and war are bad.
  • Front Mission Manga "Dog Life and Dog Style" are very much in the War Is Hell territory, showing the brutality of war in general as a Japanese Journalist winds up in the wrong place at the right time and witnesses some of the worst atrocities in the midst of a war and those who are affected by it as he brings out the truth of war to the world admist censorship and the people who he "interview" who suffers through it. The manga goes from a violent form of war is hell to a psychological form. In the first opening pages, the photographer was casually taking pictures about every single atrocity of war from open battlefield rape of some random girl to the amount of skulls hauled by a Wanzer pilot to mark his kills.
  • So Ra No Wo To. After six episodes of Slice of Life, War comes knocking loudly on the door, leaves, and returns on Episode 11.
  • Barefoot Gen, anyone? This one portrays the bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath, as experienced by a six-year-old boy and his family.
  • The core tenet of the Third Squad of Shinigami in Bleach is that battles are something to be dreaded. They are a horrible, terrifying experience that should not be glorified. This is key to ensure that those who participate become so fearful of battle that they would rather find peace than seek war.
  • While the Monster Rancher anime is a childrens' series, lots of monsters, good and bad, die in it, and the characters are shown that a past war nearly wiped out civilization as they knew it. When friendly characters die, it's often very upsetting, even traumatizing Genki on some occasions. And let's not get into the second season's Downer Ending...
  • Legend of Galactic Heroes emphasised this trope in various ways, from the protagonist's anguishing over the deaths of countless soldiers under his command right down to particularly graphic scenes of destruction that both warring factions experience.
  • This is the chief theme of the Area 88 manga and OVA. More generally, the series is about protagonist Kazama Shin's journey through hell after his best friend tricks him into joining a mercenary air force.
    • Shin tells the base's resident Arms Dealer, McCoy, that he'll go to hell for selling weapons. McCoy replies that he's already there.
  • Parodied in School Rumble by being played completely straight...in a paintball war game/student film. The whole thing was supposed to be staged, but halfway through it seems like everyone forgot and started ad libbing. Note that the entire thing started over an argument over whether the class should do a play or a maid cafe for the school festival.

Comic Books

Helm: Wow, that was harsh.
Rogue: Yeah, but you know what's harsher? War in general.

  • Sgt. Rock had this as a regular theme. The most brutal punishment he could think of one recurring German officer whom he defeated in personal combat was to let him live: "You'll suffer through this war like I have to."
  • Also a regular theme of DC Comics' Enemy Ace.
  • Prominently featured in the first issues of Nth Man the Ultimate Ninja, which takes place in eastern Russia during World War III.
  • Sin City: Invoked in dialogue—from Wallace, mostly. Marv briefly mentions being in a war and how horrible that experience was. The Villain Protagonist in Rats also vaguely refers to a war. Since it's heavily implied that he's a Nazi war-criminal, it's obvious which one it was.
  • In Alan Moore's "DR and Quinch Get Drafted" for Two Thousand AD, Waldo's self-described "first exposure to the total insanity that is war" is when he realizes that there aren't any expensive foreign restaurants on the desolate slime jungle planet to which his platoon is being sent to fight on the front line in a very bitter conflict.
  • Amazons Attack tries this. Ends up being one huge Face Palm.
  • Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers runs on this trope, as a Deconstruction of a franchise that usually takes a Rule of Cool approach to its central Civil War theme.

Fan Works

  • Tiberium Wars is pretty much wall-to-wall examples of this, with graphic, savage, and brutal descriptions of soldiers being shot, stabbed, burned, and vaporized. And that's before we get to how completely nasty the battlefields are; one chapter has a group of Nod soldiers slogging through raw sewage, with one soldier getting it in a fresh bullet wound. In one of the latest chapters, we get to see the effects of a full armored assault with Mammoth Tanks from the perspective of the receiving end. Its about as brutally terrifying as one can imagine. In Chapter Seventeen, a Nod officer executes his own wounded to keep them from falling into enemy hands, because he believes they will be tortured and killed. Three weeks into the war, GDI has managed to fill a stadium with three hundred thousand body bags.
  • Dumbledore's Army and the Year of Darkness is another prime example, depicting the horrific ordeal the members of the eponymous insurgency go through to keep the darkness at bay as best they could, culminating in a final battle (the Battle of Hogwarts from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, retold from their perspective) in which almost everyone dies.
  • Warhammer 40000 Trouble brought it to the Refuge in Audacity level with random nuclear strike killed people 8 times larger than the Alien Invasion themselves, only reason that keep La Résistance still able to fight is because of The Power of Trust, the rest is insane or die
  • Poké Wars is also packed with examples of this trope. The effects of the supercharged Pokemon attacks are described in graphic detail, as well as the feelings of the victim if it's still alive after the hit. The characters' reactions to the more trauma-inducing happenings are just as vividly written.

Skitty screamed both from the pain of the impact and the indescribable agony that arose from the corrupted blood that coursed through her veins, destroying everything they touched. She fought through the pain, struggling to get up before anything could take advantage of her vulnerable state. She tried to get up only to have her legs buckle. Her strength left her as the Ariados venom in her blood began to slowly digest her organs.
She [Solidad] opened her eyes; the scene of her Lapras dying still replayed over and over again in her mind. No matter what she did, she could not erase the sight of Lapras's eyes bursting and her skin scorching as thousands of volts surged through her body, burning her alive.

  • The TSAB - Acturus War has some of this, but it's not a key focus.
  • Winter War. Aizen won, Gin has control of Seireitei, and the few surviving shinigami form a very weak Resistance... those that Aizen hasn't captured and experimented on. The survivors have had to abandon most of their pre-war honor codes- they've given up on the one-on-one duels that they insist on in Bleach canon, and when a minor character begins using healing kidou to kill in very messy ways the characters let him, even though in peacetime they would be horrified. The fic is not shy about the physical and mental costs of fighting a war, either. Reverse Mole Hisagi in particular is well on his way to being a Shell-Shocked Veteran, despite the war not being over.
    • There's also the fact that the shinigami aren't able/willing to do their jobs of keeping souls in balance and sending the dead from the human world to Soul Society. This means that the entire structure - Soul Society, the human world and the Hollow world of Hueco Mundo - is in danger of collapsing in the not-too distant future. So even if the war goes in favour of the increasingly damaged Resistance, it could yet be for nothing.
  • The Avatar: The Last Airbender fanfic Embers explores this trope even more than original cartoon. It's clearly shown what losing their loved ones and constant fight for survival does to characters, especially Child Soldiers. Zuko has more issues than just being extremely paranoid, Katara snaps after years of repressing herself emotionally over lose of her mother and getting Promotion to Parent, Aang lives in denial and it's only thing protecting him from the same fate. Two well-adjusted characters in a main cast seem to be Toph and Sokka, but considering theme of this fics their issues are yet to be shown.


  • Saving Private Ryan: the meat-grinder of the D-Day landings: the traumatic chaos and helplessness in the face of extreme violence. In fact the opening played down what a nightmare the Omaha Beach landing was by showing it being over relatively quickly. Extend that scene out to two hours if you want to imagine the real thing.
    • Two hours? It was more like an entire goddamn day.
      • And also keep in mind that was after the defense was fooled in moving more than half of their forces away. Imagine how a full frontal assault would have gone down!
  • Black Hawk Down: A war where the people you are nominally fighting for are also the enemy: the experience of fighting an unwinnable war. Also see War Is Glorious, for the other side of the story.
  • Interestingly, Troma got in on this trope with Combat Shock, an extremely brutal and bleak depiction of the Vietnam War and one veteran's attempt to rebuild his life. He ends up having a flashback and murdering his wife and young child. He snaps out of it, realizes what he just did, and kills himself.
  • Das Boot: Set in 1942, follows the story of a real life submarine and its crew. Few movies manage to convey a sense of terror, futility and frustration all at once and with such skill.
  • The Thin Red Line: American soldiers faced with the brutality of the World War II Japanese military struggling not to commit retaliatory war crimes. Lots of Gray and Gray Morality, honest Tear Jerker moments and serious contemplation about whether war is an inevitable part of human civilization or not.
  • Almost anything set in the Vietnam War.
    • Full Metal Jacket: most famous for depiction of dehumanising military training.
    • Platoon. Set in Vietnam, this movie does not attempt balance: it is an all-out War Is Hell work. It contains war crimes including murder and attempted rape, graphic imagery of violent death and maiming, PTSD, drug use, mistaken fire on friendly units, and focuses on lethal infighting.[1]
    • Apocalypse Now is well-noted for using War Is Hell surrealism as the engine that transforms Willard and sets up the final confrontation and the Heart of Darkness revelation. Kurtz whispering "The horror ... the horror..." while dying is now a classic image of anti-war cinema. Interestingly enough Apocalypse Now also turns up in War Is Glorious.
    • The Deer Hunter. Hellish experience while in Vietnam. Shell shock when returning. And then gets even worse for the attempted rescue of one who got left behind.
    • Hamburger Hill
  • Lord of War: Those who suffer in war are rarely those who benefit and conflict need not be just. The special horror of feeding murder and destruction for monetary gain.
  • Master and Commander: Zig-zagged. The film doesn't glorify war; it glorifies heroism. There is little of the stereotypical cynicism of an "antiwar" movie because it is not-as such. Furthermore the special effects are grand and almost look like paintings at times. But real tragedy is shown. A boy has his arm blown off, people we like are killed, one man is driven to suicide, and sailor food looks just awful.
  • Gallipoli: exuberant and naive boys from outback Australia go to war. Their illusions are shattered in the botched assault landings at Gallipoli.
  • Paths of Glory. Set in World War I, it shows the brutality of war, and depicts cruel, incompetent, and corrupt Armchair Generals.
  • The Russian film Come and See is about a little boy turned partisan during World War Two. It ends in insanity and shows incredible cruelty on both sides. The title itself is a reference to the biblical Apocalypse.
  • Another good example: Purgatory (Chistilishe in Russian). Is about first Chechen war. Takes violence to a whole new level.
  • The Guns of Navarone. Every win comes at a price. The line which separates right and wrong becomes very blurry in pursuit of victory. After the team escapes captivity, the Nazis torch the village of Mandrakos. Imagine what they will do to every village in Navarone now that the guns are destroyed. Finally, Butcher Brown suffers Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after his combat in the Spanish Civil War.
  • Played word for word in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, when the pet detective says the following words to the native Wachoochoo tribe:

"War...is hell! The last thing we want...is a fight!"

  • Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum shows the effect of the Second Sino-Japanese War [2] on one man's family; focusing on the narrator's grandmother's sorghum-liquor distillery.
  • Zhang Yimou's To Live: the main characters, touring China with a traditional Chinese shadow-puppet troupe, are impressed into the Nationalist army during the Chinese Civil War. They fall asleep one night and wake up to find that a battle has taken place; the field is strewn with bodies, most of them Nationalist, and their friend's brother's body is found among the carnage. They surrender to the advancing Communists, who have them enlist when they find that their new captives can entertain them with shadow puppets.
  • Hunter and Ramsey discuss the theories and philosophy of Von Clausewitz over dinner in Crimson Tide. Hunter comes to the conclusion not that War is Hell, but that War is Doom.[3] Still, the psychological toll on the crew of the immanence of nuclear launch (and the ramifications thereof), of damage taken, and the known presence but unknown location of enemy attack submarines is clearly portrayed.

Hunter: In my humble opinion, in the nuclear world, the true enemy is war itself.

  • Die Brücke. During the final days of WW 2, a number of freshly-drafted and (at first) still enthusiastic German kids fight and die one by one in order to hold an ultimately irrelevant bridge against the American advance.
  • The pair of movies Flags of our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima show this viewpoint when taken together. Both movies present war fairly honestly from each sides' perspective and could be taken to glorify war individually. However, watching a movie where you sympathize with the characters and their motivations on one side of the most bloody and desperate battles in World War II, then watch a movie where you sympathize with characters and their motivations on the other side of the same combat, and realize that there is no possible way things can turn out better for one group without terrible, terrible things having happened to the other... well that is pretty effective.
  • Cross Of Iron; a squad of war weary German veterans are on the eastern front in 1945.
  • Waltz with Bashir : Two Israeli ex-soldiers sit in an inn and reflect on their experiences in the first Lebanon war. Folman is so traumatized he has forgotten everything and over the course of the movie he speaks to others who were there and finds out what happened...
  • The Hurt Locker, about a bomb defusing squad during the current War On Terror. Besides the fact that the protagonist might like the tension a bit too much, clearly shows how bad things are in Iraq.
  • Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole manages to hammer this home.
  • All Quiet on the Western Front is a WWI film about several German graduates who naively choose to go to war only to find a world of brutal training and pointless death.
  • The Animatrix two-part short, "The Second Renaissance", chillingly blends this with And Man Grew Proud. Some scenes from that movie prompt shivers. Not every war is between equal forces—there is a special horror to being hopelessly outgunned. The human forces desperate sacrifice is futile and bloody. The death scenes evoke mechanised warfare in raw grisly essence.
  • Jarhead: Just sitting in a desert waiting for war to begin is already hell. The fact that it never does for some is absolutely soul crushing and leaves soldiers battling lingering feelings of despair, loneliness, and alienation instead of an enemy on the battlefield.
  • When Trumpets Fade, about the battle of Hürtgen Forest in the autumn of 1944 - a senseless hell of fog, snow, land mines and shrapnel in which suicidal missions are the only way to break the deadlock.
    • Then the Battle of the Bulge began a couple of weeks later which overshadowed this conflict.
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The American Civil War is integral to the fabric of the film, and Leone is here to serve it up raw. It is remarkable that film known primarily as a classic Western would use this as a core theme. Tattered armies in retreat. Exhausted, demoralized drunken commanders, chaos, dirt and unregarded bodies in the sun. Corn cobs to eat, scabrous prison camps, and summary justice meted out on the streets. The POW camp commander mentions Andersonville Prison, a hell-on-Earth death camp. He also berates Angel Eyes for the organized bleeding of money from prisoners. The trope is perhaps most strongly in play during the futile fight for a bridge that Blondie and Tuco witness. An unremarked mass of shallow war graves make up the film's final setting.
  • The Polish film Ashes And Diamonds: Alliances not built on trust will quickly crumble. Another war begins just as another ends.
  • Zulu. "Do you think I could stand this butcher's yard more than once?"
    • The film does, however, adhere to the 60s trope of bloodless wounds - including bayonettings. The actual Zulu practice of disemboweling the dead, much referred to in accounts of the Isandlwana battlefield is also not referred to; the British troops found this quite revolting but it was described by the Zulu as a religious rite, allowing the soul of the dead man to escape and not haunt his killer. YMMV on the accuracy of this.
  • How I Won the War seems very comical and satirical, but it has a particularly brutal underbelly. It's viewed and monologued by the Kilgore, however, and manages to at first glance come off as War Is Glorious, at least until you remember he got the rest of his men killed with poorly planned actions, and generally bad training. Mostly a shot at careerist military men who would do anything for a promotion or a medal, as well as being generally incompetent on all fronts, and how costly such a thing is to everyone but them. Without selling or stealing a single physical tangible thing it is still easy to classify Lieutenant Goodbody as a 'war profiteer,' as there is no doubt from the conversations he has with his German counterpart he will no doubt go on to write a best-seller about his 'heroism under fire' and being the sole survivor of his squad.
  • The Patriot: Benjamin Martin helps win the war but his home is destroyed, two of his sons are dead and the other two are forced to kill at a young age, irreversibly changing them both (one is scarred for life, the other likes it too much).
  • In A Very Long Engagement a young, cheerful man is conscripted from his simple and happy country life to fight in World War I. After seeing too much misery he decides to self-mutilate in an attempt to get sent home, but his superior won't allow it, and his superior tears up the pardon. So he's sent in the no-man's area between the two warring factions, gets shot up and ends up so traumatized he loses his memory. The whole film is interspersed with brutally realistic scenes intended to depict the hell of war even more powerfully.


  • Belisarius Series: The title character knows perfectly well that no matter how skillful a general he is and how well he fends off Malwa tyranny large numbers of his enemies are innocent conscripts who will die miserably far from home, and that wherever any army marches including his own it leaves famine behind it. That is not to mention atrocities which he has to resort to ruthless terror if he intends to prevent his men from indulging in.
  • Goodbye To All That: Extraordinary wartime physical hardship. Constant exposure to danger and death. An unbridgeable gap between the experience of those on the front line and those on the home front
  • All Quiet on the Western Front: The enemy that a soldier kills and maims are not faceless targets but people very much like himself.
  • Wilfred Owen's poems. The most famous example is probably Dulce et Decorum Est.
  • My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier revels in this. Perhaps it is to much for a Newberry, except for the fact that the people who read it are going to have the authority of citizenship (and thus of war and peace to some degree) in a few years. In any case, it gives the portrayal of The American Revolution as something involving putting family members on opposite sides. As well as showing a sordid mess of feuds, cycles of revenge, and bullying of civilians, by soldiers. The hero's brother, who is enrolled with the Continental Army is executed on false charges. Hence the books title. In general the book gives the impression that whether or not The American Revolution was a glorious cause or a gift of liberty or whatever, it was certainly a nasty war.
  • The Forever War: We're fighting them because they are fighting us because we are fighting them because ... a war without any sensible objective that no-one can stop. Soldiers that return home find it utterly alien: who are they fighting for?
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut: the WWII firebombing of Dresden haunts the book. You could see all of Vonnegut's work as an extended Creator Breakdown in the face of his hellish wartime experiences.
  • Post WWI, Septimus in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway suffers from shellshock-induced hallucinations and might have full-blown schizophrenia. He also has survivor guilt over the fact he saw his friend Evans get blown up and believes Evans's ghost haunts him.
  • Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden: Native Canadian snipers in World War I. A fairly innocent young man snaps completely under the impact of the war and commits war atrocities. Graphic and nihilistic.
  • John Marsden's Tomorrow, When The War Began series featuring a group of teenagers who become guerrilla fighters when Australia is invaded by an unspecified foreign power.
  • Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet features a shell-shocked veteran of the Civil War, Union side. It takes him months to open up even to his twin brother, and he never gets over the experience fully. (Includes a more literal And I Must Scream than usual: "I saw a man with his face blown off and no mouth to scream with, and yet he screamed and screamed and could not die.") The entire book is spent averting a worldwide nuclear war, so this trope is kind of necessary.
  • The Flashman series tends to lean this way, which is unsurprising given the setting. Flashy lives through some of the most terrible campaigns of his era including the retreat from Kabul and the Sepoy Mutiny, and in most cases he only survives because he is a lucky, cowardly, lucky, conniving, lucky, bastard.
  • A brief, haunting moment in Lois Lowry's The Giver is when Jonas is given the memory of a young man dying in combat - and when we say young, we mean no older than thirteen. Utopia Justifies the Means, indeed...
  • K.J Parker's Scavenger Trilogy and his work explores war exhaustively in a Low Fantasy setting. It grubs up the base motives for war, the inglorious mess that a full-blown war becomes, the wreckage it makes of humans and human life.
  • Gone with the Wind has quite a bit of this trope, and the book really focuses on how difficult life was in the South for the civilians towards the end of the war.
  • Hemingway wrote often on this trope. A Farewell to Arms and For Whom The Bell Tolls brutally depict the horrors of war, the former set in the muddy trenches of WWI, and the latter depicting the unique barbarism that is found only in civil wars, in this case the Spanish Civil War.
  • The Trope Codifier is The Red Badge of Courage.[4]
  • Harry Turtledove's book A World of Difference: after American and Soviet spacecraft land in opposite Minervan (Martian) nations and the Medieval Minervans later go to war. Each with a human advisor, the Soviet with an AK-74 and the American with a pistol. Then an American ultralight drops a jumbo-sized molotov cocktail on the Soviet causing the American-friendly King to shudder in terror at the thought of what human battlefields must be like with Noiseweapons everywhere and fire falling from the sky.
  • The Lord of the Rings doesn't go on and on about descriptions of wartime brutality (the gore, dismemberment, trauma, etc.) but at the end of the battle of Pelennor Fields, a battle everyone knew was morally okay to fight, there is a running list of good people who were cut down with little fanfare, and several who did get fanfare but were still dead and mourned. Further, there is Helms Deep, where Hama's body was "hewn even as he lay dead before the gates," and the fear for the lives of friends and loved ones when a small contingent was hemmed into the caverns by the Uruk-Hai the vast desolations of the landscape to fuel the war machines of Isengard and Mordor, and of course Samwise musing on the fact that most of the people killed in war, even on "the wrong side," probably aren't themselves evil at heart. Then after that, there is the scouring of the Shire, where Saruman, so twisted by the loss of the war, tries to simply maim as much as he can. There have even been essays written about the orcs and the Ringwraiths and how they relate to this. Tolkien was, of course, a veteran of World War I, the war most likely to inspire a tragic view of war, as shown in many examples on this page.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. Every side has thousands of soldiers being maimed or massacred, and the soldiers that do survive in one piece spend most of the time when they're not actively fighting rampaging through the villages, stealing, murdering, and raping as they go. The nobility try to hold onto a War Is Glorious mindset at first, but lose it rapidly as they start to suffer consequences too, and it's gone entirely by the time the Tully family takes Jaime Lannister as a hostage.
  • Catch-22. War is inescapable and insane. You can be promoted without doing anything and you can be arrested for breaking curfew while letting a rapist go free because he is on furlough.
  • Monstrous Regiment is a surprisingly dark Discworld novel dealing with war. Topics include execution of prisoners of war, intentional friendly fire, rape and murder of civilians, corruption in the supply chains, starvation, field surgery, mental illness, etc.
  • Animorphs does this with teenagers fighting an Alien Invasion.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms while it had its epic war moments, was ultimately a tale of tragedy as three kingdoms vied for the control of China and ultimately none were victorious. In terms of the fates of the characters, Shu fell as Wide-Eyed Idealist Liu Bei soon became jaded, learning virtue is not enough to bring the people together. For Wu, the Sun dynasty's fall heralded a new tyrant who was so hated that the people did not resist and for Wei, Cao Pi realized that ambition worked both ways.
  • Johnny Got His Gun. About a soldier who is left deaf, blind, mute and without any limbs as a result of a war that he didn't even volunteer for. He learns to communicate by moving ever so slightly, and repeatedly asks to be killed.
  • Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy seems to be going this way,[please verify] although the theme seems to be more 'war can be a necessary evil' than 'war is always bad'.
    • Current[when?] themes explored in the series so far include slavery, and later genocide, a Complete Monster of a dictator and how he manipulates the population into not fighting against him (this includes full-out brainwashing), Grey and Grey Morality with the resistance overstepping the mark to achieve their end almost as much as the Dictator does, torture of prisoners, the nature of terrorism, religious fundamentalism, and discrimination resulting in dehumanisation. There is also an Author Tract dropped against the idea that a real man is capable of murder. Yeah, it's a pretty heavy series. And all set within a small human colony in space, too.
  • Bolo - In the late days of Case/Operation Ragnarok, even the eponymous Knight in Shining Armor sapient supertanks are falling to bloodlust and slaughtering the enemy's civilians. When the sole survivor Shiva reawakens, he is horrified by the atrocities that he himself had not been above committing under the pretense of following orders.
  • This is brought up in The Book Thief, as a young German girl and her adopted family living in Germany during World War 2 and aren't living in the best conditions. What was particularly heartbreaking was when the street they were living in was accidentally bombed and everyone except the little girl died. It's quite harsh when you realize that it was the Allies who did that.
  • A subtle, but constant theme in the Honor Harrington series. Every battle will mention the human cost, and nearly Anyone Can Die. Weber has said, in an interview, that you need to do this if you're doing military fiction.

"Military fiction in which only bad people—-the ones the readers want to die—-die and the heroes don't suffer agonizing personal losses isn't military fiction: it's military pornography. Someone who write [sic] military fiction has a responsibility to show the human cost, particular [sic] because so few of his readers may have any personal experience with that cost.

  • The Underland Chronicles and The Hunger Games series, both by Suzanne Collins.
  • Fate/Zero, Fate/stay night's Light Novel prequel, shows just how brutal and unforgiving the fourth Holy Grail War was, with mass murder, deception, betrayal, and all the terrible things the Masters do just to get a chance to win the coveted Holy Grail.
  • Dale Brown tears strips out of Elites Are More Glamorous in his works. You may be a member of a top secret unit with the Bigger Stick, but the numbers will always be on the enemy's side. Plan for every contingency, do your best, and at best the enemy will still get licks in. At worst, friends and trusted comrades will die. Succeed and no one will know your name; fail and at best you die, at worst you are disavowed, thrown to the wolves of public opinion as a sacrifice by uncaring superiors. War is never pretty even from behind a drone control station.
  • The Horatio Hornblower books do not make any attempts to conceal the awfulness of British Navy life in the Napoleonic Wars. What with the gory descriptions of battle, hideous injury, worse medical care, brutal discipline, and foul food and water (this last is not inconsequential), the eponymous lead at one point thinks that the prison volunteers on his crew would have done better to stay in jail.
    • Descriptions by other historians suggest this may be downplayed. The real Royal Navy according to this was often better than the merchant service (whose owners don't have a tax base), or just living in poverty with no prospect of relief. Combat was rare and usually the enemy got so little time at sea that the odds of survival were pretty good. Abuse of sailors too, was not as common as in the past. Your Mileage May Vary on that one.
  • The Vorkosigan Saga plays with this trope a lot. For a Military SF series, there's not a whole lot of actual warfare going on; instead there's tons of low-level skulduggery and spy versus spy shenanigans to prevent full-scale wars from breaking out. The very few times some real mayhem occurs, we always get to see the consequences.
  • This is one of the main themes in Andrey Livadny's The History of the Galaxy books, especially the books that take place during the First Galactic War, a 30-year bloodbath started when the dictator-ruled Earth Alliance destroys the Dabog colony as a lesson to the other Free Colonies, sparking The War Of Earthy Aggression that eventually resulted in the total defeat of Earth and the establishment of the Confederacy of Suns. Since the novels are focused on characters, we get to experience the full extent of the horrors of war, especially, as the author calls it, the "technogenic" war, in which rapid technological progress has resulted in more ways to wipe out your fellow man than one can count. The full extent can be seen in novels featuring Humongous Mecha fights (of the Real Robot kind). The novel Serv-batallion as it shows a group of teens from Earth being conscripted to fight a war they don't support and, essentially, sacrified by their commanding officer in order to get a Colonial Wave Motion Gun. Other novels involve war vets trying to adjust to living in a post-war galaxy.
  • Almost any StarCraft novel where the main characters are soldiers will have this as one of its themes. The notable examples are Speed of Darkness (in which a forcibly-conscripted Confederate marine takes part in one of the first engagements with the Zerg) and Heaven's Devils, featuring Jim Raynor as a fresh Confederate recruit who bought into the War Is Glorious propaganda before finding out for himself that it's far from it. The latter case actually takes place before the game's storyline and features the war between the Confederacy of Man and the Kel-Morian Combine, with both governments being full of corruption and greed. There is plenty of both heroic and senseless deaths (such as one of the main characters' Love Interest being suddenly shot through the eye by a sniper).
  • Similarly and even more the case for being unfortunately Truth In Television, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance does indeed regard war as horrific, but not without some compensations. By contrast the totally non-military behavior of Nazis who wear Bling of War but do nothing more belligerent than bully slaves around is far worse. Danger and hardship are shown from war. Concentration camps emphasize humiliation and helplessness as well. There is no question that the author thinks tyranny pushed to an extreme degree is even worse than war.

Live-Action TV

"The worst thing about treating those combat boys from The Great War wasn't that they had their flesh torn; it was that they had their souls torn out. I don't want to look into your eyes someday...and see no spark, no love, no...no life. That would break my heart."

  • Murdock gives a nice little "war is hell" speech in The A-Team episode The Island.

"War is hell, Wally Gator, isn't it? We know about hell and we know about war, right?"

    • It should be noted, he was talking to a baby crocodile. And he still managed to make it sound deep. Dwight Schultz is just that awesome!
  • M*A*S*H portrayed generals as bloodthirsty buffoons and emphasised the enemy soldiers' humanity. The military medical setting is ideal for exploring what modern weapons do to human bodies. The doctors themselves are not at home providing medical care, they are overseas working themselves into the ground patching up an endless line of casualties. The doctors at times serve as mouthpieces for the author's and actor's anti-war views. Hawkeye: "War isn't hell, war is war and hell is hell, and of the two, war is worse." "Why is that?" "...In Hell there are no innocent bystanders." [6] For instance, when a military bomber pilot comes to the camp after being shot down, he brags at the great time he's having for his term of service. Hawkeye, disgusted at this attitude, invites him to help out during a rush of wounded, which included civilians wounded in a bombing. The pilot is profoundly shaken at the end of the session and Hawkeye apologizes for putting him through that, but there was no damn way he was going to let him return to his duties without learning the consequences of war.
  • Blackadder Goes Forth, otherwise a tongue-in-cheek comedy set in the trenches of WWI, dives into pointedly chilling satire at the end, and ends with the implied death of the entire main cast. Worse, before that, the characters express their extreme fear to each other in the face of inevitable death.
  • The Last Great Time War is said to be this in Doctor Who. In keeping with the show's stance on all violence being bad, it turned the Time Lords into bad guys, forcing the Doctor to kill them all.
  • Deep Space Nine, as the only Star Trek series which showed a long time war (the Dominion War) the show often ventured into this with episodes like Nor the Battle to the Strong and the Siege of AR558
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced The Cardassians during "The Wounded." It gave Miles O'Brien the backstory of having participated in a bloody planet side battle during which one of his best friends was killed.
  • The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "A Taste of Armageddon" centered on two planets involved in a clean war, where computers played out virtual battles, and the people on each side were executed to match the results. When the Enterprise gets caught up in it, Kirk destroys the war computers, pointing out that war should be Hell, so that people will avoid it. The fear of a real war, scares the planets into peace talks.
  • The Terminator franchise always describes the fight against the machines as a war but it was The Sarah Connor Chronicles which really hammered this point home. Derek, Sarah, John, and even Cameron were starting to crack by season 2.
  • For all its campiness, Xena: Warrior Princess never shied away from showing the terrible effect of war. Many times Xena would avert a war caused by someone's greed. Notable episodes with this theme were:
    • "Is There a Doctor in the House?" - How an army fighting for freedom can turn out to be just as bad as the enemy they fight.
    • "The Price" - the enemy are not monsters but men.
    • "A Good Day" - the horror of being stuck in the middle of two warring armies.
    • "To Helicon and back" - gunpowder is used for the first time in battle and the result is horrifying.


  • Edwin Starr's song "War" cuts straight to the chase.

War! Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothin'!

  • Eric Bogle's song "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda". As the old man sits on his porch, watching the veterans march past every ANZAC Day, he muses:

The young people ask what are they marching for, and I ask m'self the same question.

    • Also his song, No Man's Land.

But here in this graveyard that's still No Man's Land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned

"But the shit that I've done with this fuck of a gun
You would cry out your eyes all night long...

  • "Godspeed" by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
  • "Hero of War" by Rise Against
  • "Eve of Destruction" written by P. F. Sloan and most famously performed by Barry McGuire.

"If the button is pushed, there's no runnin' away.
There'll be no one to save, with the world in a grave."

  • "The Patriot Game",

"And now as I lie here, my body all holes,
I think of those traitors who bargained in souls
And I wish that my rifle had given the same
To those quislings who sold out the patriot game"

"The body bags and little rags of children torn in two. And the jellied brains of those who remain who point the finger right at you. As the madmen play on words and make us all dance to their song. To the tune of starving millions to make a better kind of gun."

  • Black Sabbath's War Pigs and especially Electric Funeral.
  • Sonata Arctica's "Replica", especially the older version
  • Trivium's "Down From the Sky" is about dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII.
  • L'Arc-en-Ciel's "Hoshizora" is about both the aftermath of either the Tokyo firebombings or Hiroshima and dedicated to the children of Iraq.

Flickering hot air is the remains of a dream,
a town that fears the darkness goes to sleep
A small happiness above the rubble, I was born here,
I who watches the stars. nobody knows. nobody cares.
I have lost everything to bombs.

See the people suffering, watch the children die
Doesn't it make you wonder why?
Money and power, the television's red
One by one, they collect the dead
Hell is a war - hell, what is it for?

  • Muse's A Soldier's Poem.
  • The discography of Galneryus up until 2009 is pretty equally split between this trope and War Is Glorious. Some of the best for this trope would be "Blame Yourself" and "Stardust."
  • I Was Only Nineteen (A Walk in the Light Green) by Redgum, which details the various horrors faced by the ANZAC troops in Vietnam.

God help me, I was only nineteen.

  • The Kaizers Orchestra song "170", about a volunteer soldier (given the number "170" and never referred to by name) who leaves behind his pregnant wife to fight in a war. The song ends as his CO sends him over the top first to check if all is clear, and no response comes. The song "Død manns tango" (Dead Man's Tango) involves a veteran who's been forgotten by the world and paralysed from the waist down: It's possible it's the same person.
  • Nightwish's "Planet Hell" and "10th Man Down."
  • Sabaton singing almost entirely about war, uses this trope from time to time. Some notable examples:
    • "Cliffs of Gallipoli"

"How many wasted lives
how many dreams did fade away
broken promises they won't be coming home
Oh mothers wipe your tears
your sons will rest a million years
found their peace at last as foe turned to friend
and forgive"

    • "Angels Calling":

"Hell on earth, the trenches mean death, better keep your head down low
Charge their lines, the ultimate test it's a synchronized sacrifice
Get the wounded after dark
Left alone in no man's land
Maddening chaos at the front
Dream of heaven. Angels are calling your name"

    • "A Light In The Black":

"Leaving home, set to sea
Was this really meant to be?
See the shore of our home fade away
Facing blood, facing pain
Have our brothers died in vain?
Many lives has been lost on the way"

    • The Price of a Mile (over on the quotes page), about the bitter stupid bloody battles of WW 1.
  • Benjamin Britten's War Requiem sets nine poems by Wilfred Owen to music and surrounds them with Ominous Latin Chanting. The standard text of "Agnus Dei" in the Requiem mass replaces the line "Dona nobis pacem" (Grant us peace) with "Dona eis requiem sempiternam" (Grant them everlasting rest); the "Agnus Dei" in the War Requiem uses both.
  • "Army Dreamers" by Kate Bush.
  • "This Is Why We Fight" by The Decemberists:

"Come the war, come the avarice
Come the war, come hell
Come attrition, come the reek of bones
Come attrition, come hell"

  • "Masters of War," made famous by Resistance 3.
  • Billy Joel's "Goodbye Saigon", about the Vietnam war, is well known for its realism and the many hearts it broke. To give an example, these are the opening lines.

"We met as soul mates on Parris Island
We left as inmates from an asylum
And we were sharp, as sharp as knives
And we were so gung-ho to lay down our lives..."

  • This is a common theme used in the Gorillaz anti-violence ballads, but "Dirty Harry" (namely the rap solo) is an especially good sample:

"I got a ninety-days digit and I'm filled with guilt
From the things that I've seen
Your water's from a bottle / Mine's from a canteen
At night I hear the shots ring, so I'm a light sleeper
The cost of life, it seems to get cheaper..."

  • Smile Empty Soul has a few of these such as "This Is War" and "God's Army" where they make their opinion on the subject extremely clear.
  • Toxic Holocaust use the exact phrase in their song "War Is Hell," which is includes near nearly 1 minute of chanting "war is fucking hell."
  • "Still Spinning Shrapnel" by Skyclad.
  • God Dethroned released a concept album based on the battle of Paschendale. They did not skimp on the details.
  • Thrash Metal band Warbringer seems to invoke this trope more often than not, especially the song 'Forgotten Dead', below. YMMV, as they tend to toe the line between condemning and glorifying war with their explicit, visceral lyrics.

"The whistle blows, you are forced to advance into oncoming machine gun fire
Caught in the blast as the mines detonate lifeless bodies hang from barbed wire
Stabbed through the gut by a bayonet, blood chokes your scream
Another dying sould is laid upon the altar ofmankind's greed"

  • Avenged Sevenfold has the song "M.I.A."
  • "Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen is a lament about the Vietnam War's devastating effects on American troops and the treatment of Vietnam veterans upon their return home:

"I got in a little hometown jam
And so they put a rifle in my hands
To go and kill the yellow man...
I had a buddy at Khe Sahn
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone
He had a little girl in Saigon"

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer Fantasy Battle might just as well be this trope in tabletop game form. Especially its Darker and Edgier/Up to Eleven/Recycled in Space form, Warhammer 40,000. See their own pages for the awful details. "In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war", indeed.
  • Personified by Szuriel, Horseman of War, in Pathfinder. Gorum represents the glory of war, Torag strategy, Iomedae just causes, and Moloch discipline. Szuriel, on the other hand, is war at its worst. Essentially a Psycho for Hire with divine powers, she represents genocide, societal collapse, and war crimes on a grand scale, using war to traumatise mortals, harvest souls, and hasten the apocalypse.
  • The beginning of the Traveller volume Sword Worlds shows a weary Sword Worlder soldier coming home from campaign to find his wife desperately trying to put together their ruined estate. The family orchard is blown to bits and it is all they can do to get the water running.

Video Games

  • Mass Effect 3....hardcore. It takes this trope and futilely suicides itself into a Reaper with it. When you see a soldier both frustrated and heartbroken over a woman who keeps inquiring about her son, you'll want to do the same thing.
    • We also see Shepard, who had kept his/her emotions almost completely subdued for the first two games, begin to get ground down by the effects of the war, the weight of having an entire galaxy on his/her shoulders and the horrible toll inflicted upon him/her by having to make absolutely impossible decisions that will always result in death no matter what. His/her crew is also suffering with families missing or dead and people seeing entire homeworlds destroyed.
    • From the very beginning, as the Reapers are laying waste to Earth cities, you rescue a young boy and put him on an evacuation shuttle, only to watch as a Reaper calmly blows it out of the sky. For the rest of the game, Shepard is haunted by nightmares of the boy being consumes by fire.
  • The Metal Gear series is about many things, but its most fundamental theme is that there's nothing glorious about war, and everyone involved suffers a lot, one way or another. Noteworthy for doing so by playing its tropes so straight they end up deconstructing themselves once they get to where they're going; Child Soldiers, for example.
    • Metal Gear Solid condemns nuclear proliferation.
    • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty rejects the glorification of soldiers like the previous Metal Gear's protagonist by having some New Meat go through similar trials and come out emotionally scarred.
    • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is an unflinching look at war and what it does to its soldiers. The Big Boss is forced to assassinate The Boss, the greatest hero of World War II and the single most important person in his life, all because factions of the Philosophers are fighting over money. The core message is that there is no such thing as an enemy in absolute terms, and that our allies today might be our enemies tomorrow. This is because our enemies are human beings, just like us. The game hammers that point home with the subtlety of an anvil, but it's a very effective message.
  • Fallout has a famous quote that starts "War... war never changes." that paints war as an indelible curse of mankind. See the quotes page for the full version.
  • Call of Duty lately has been sporting a coat of anti-war paint with some of its quotes. Ever knew how much a Tomahawk missile cost? War ain't cheap.
    • Actually Call Of Duty has always included this trope, it has arguably become less prevalent in the more recent games of the series.
  • We get a second coat of Call of Duty anti-warpaint in the Modern Warfare series. Fancy dying in the Middle East from a nuclear explosion? How about you and your unit being killed so close to completing your objective? Or infiltrating a terrorist cell for the CIA where you have to gun down people at airports, before being killed as a spy? Or the world entering a third world war and you being branded a traitor for killing the people responsible?
  • Yggdra Union. Any war game that pits you against an enemy army of genuinely good people and points this out to you repeatedly is gonna hurt.
  • Even Fire Emblem uses this trope, especially in Radiant Dawn when the war causes the Tellian equivalent of the Apocalypse.
  • Killer7 - Word of God states that one of the messages of the otherwise unfathomable Killer7 is about the futile, cyclic nature of war.
  • Skyrim has this in spades. One NPC mentions that there are no innocents, only the guilty and the dead.
  • The Gears of War Expanded Universe had local big dude Tai, upon finding his village razed to the ground, remarking that, "Some people have said 'War is Hell.' War is not Hell, for in Hell, innocence is spared."
  • Of all works, Army Men: Sarge's War has this as its theme. The fact that the characters are only Living Toys doesn't make the ending any less of a Tear Jerker.
  • The soldier sim series Operation Flashpoint pits you in the role of a completely ordinary, completely vulnerable and completely replaceable young soldier... who's fighting in a small scale conflict that could easily spark World War Three... No heavy-handed condemnation of war or sombre thoughts of your squadmates are ever heard, but the depiction of modern warfare in the game (subtle, yet straightforward) says more than a million words : It's nerve-wrecking, unpredictable, often completely absurd. Virtually Anyone Can Die... And they do - all the damn time...
  • Lost Odyssey, when a completely immortal guy has lived for 1000 years just to see mortal people killing each other in war, you can really feel how much it makes him want to be freed from it. Yet he can't.
  • The Brothers in Arms series started with a fairly strong anti-war message and has been gaining in intensity since then. Hell's Highway is particularly noteworthy for not only killing off or maiming established characters, but for depicting PTSD (sometimes in shit-your-pants-frightening ways.)

Leggett: Well, this looks familiar.

  • Halo - While they were serious from the start, it wasn't until the third game it became clear that this is the main Aesop. Yes lovable main characters were killed in the first game, and the second game became more uglier about the situation, but that was out-shadowed by awesome playstyle, story, weapons and a badass player character. But by the time of third game, all of that were thrown right out of the window. Halo3 was not afraid to show how shitty a three-sided war between Humanity, a galactic empire made of genocidal, fanatical aliens and a parasitic species of undead monsters would be; Anyone can (and will) die, even main characters as Sgt. Johnson, Miranda Keyes, 343 Guilty Spark, Prophet of Truth, etc, cities are burned to the ground, billions are killed, even the most Ineffectual Sympathetic Mooks become ferocious, bloodthirsty warriors after they had been through wars long enough, people suffers from psychological damages of the whole thing, and not just biological creatures but also supposedly unliving machines such as Cortana (whose torture at the hands of Gravemind almost breaks her into a depressive Empty Shell), 343 Guilty Spark (whose isolation for the last 100,000 years and status as the canon Scrappy becomes to much for him to handle and snaps into a dangerous, literally, killing machine), and Mendicant Bias (whose 100,000 years of overwhelming guilt because of his treason against the Forerunners cause him to sacrifice himself to help Master Chief), and Master Chief, The Hero of the story, ends up in no-ending space without any way to get back to Earth. Not to mention about that great civilization that was destroyed due to the 300 years war against the said undead monsters, which forced them to kill themselves in a massive sacrifice in a attempt to take their enemies with them—only it was All for Nothing.
    • And that goes without mentioning Halo Reach, all the other main games had the knowledge of the Halo rings as hope, or at the very least a game changer, not the same old stalling against an unstoppable more technologically advanced horde of intergalactic aliens who deem your entire people heretical. Halo Reach is that, each subsequent mission just makes it more and more clear that despite Reach being the most advanced colony and the one with the greatest military presence it will still repeat the same fate of its bretheren, and all you are doing is trying to save the most people you can/and or kill the most Covenant. The last two missions you do in a way find out about the rings, and you give it your all and sacrifice almost of Noble Team (meaningful name) to take it on the last transport leaving Reach. Yay you did it, all those missions, all those kills, all the obstacles passed by a hairline, now you get your long deserved reward right? Except somebody needs to fire the gun. You are left on Reach, with scattered unorganized resistance as its being glassed. And no matter how hard you fight, you will die. Halo Reach is game that shows that even if you give your all and be a good soldier hope is not guarranteed... Well for you :)
  • While it never outright says it, Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 never flinches from the fact that combat was often short, terrifying and brutal.
  • World of Warcraft: The Bolvar/Wrathgate cutscene, where a standard piece of Heroic Fantasy fighting is unexpectedly interrupted by a poison gas attack and followed up in game with all of its horrific consequences.
  • Final Fantasy Type-0 pulls no punches in showing how horrific and brutal war can be right from the start.
    • Its opening cinematic features the graphic death of Izana Kunagiri and his war chocobo from injuries as Ace, Queen and Jack stand helplessly (and all Ace can do is weep for him). There isn't much that could make war seem less glorious than showing Machina's older brother reduced to the level of complete freakout from his pain and fear of dying.
    • Then it goes downhill from there... on all four sides of the war. In Rubrum thousands died, and the ending hints that the entire nation was left ravaged (and recovery had to take at least fifty years with Machina and Rem's guidance). On Milites thousands of soldiers and mechs were reduced to mere Phantoma by Alexander, the summoning of which required the Heroic Sacrifice of hundreds of Rubrum cadets, as well as instructor Kurasame Susaya and Alexander's main summoner, Caetuna. Lorica was totally destroyed, its king, Gilgamesh, left to wander Oriense without a purpose in life. Concordia was shaken by its queen's death, and the revelation that its king had a hand in it.
  • War is always the main theme of the Suikoden series. Many characters get involved in different wars, and more often than not they end up traumatized in a way or another.
  • Home Front portrays war as savage, brutal, and inhumane affair where good people die for no reason, as well as driving home just how easy and potentially horrific friendly fire incidents can be in one of its more intense and memorable sequences. It also makes the point that, as horrible as war is, sometimes there really isn't a better option.
  • Literally in the simulation game Afterlife (or rather "Hell Is War"), the most advanced hell building for the wrathful is a war where the damned are forced to fight endless battles, and if they are killed their bodies are regenerated and sent to fight again and again.
  • In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, it is shown that the war in the previous game has had absolutely devastating consequences for the Republic. Most of the playable characters, including the protagonist, are Shell Shocked Veterans who have lost family, friends, limbs, and sense of self. Throughout the game you meet refugees, embittered ex-soldiers, and traverse planets that are still physically and culturally ravaged five years after the war's end while the galactic government collapses slowly.
  • Eternal Darkness features a chapter set in a Creepy Cathedral used as a field hospital in Amiens, France, during the Battle of the Somme, with all the gruesome sights and sombre atmosphere that one might expect of such a setting. It is even implied that Pius and his acolytes manipulated events towards the war just so that there would be more death to harvest. Mind, given that this is a Lovecraftian horror story, there are far more horrific things than war in the cathedral...

Web Comics

Web Original

  • Works by Stuart Slade, such as The Big One and The Salvation War, make a point of portraying exactly how horrible modern military weapons technology can be, mostly as a reaction to how underestimated or cavalierly such weapons often get treated in much fiction. It helps that the author is a professional military analyst, and he shows his work by refusing to shy away from excruciatingly detailing exactly what modern weapons—from the "lowly" assault rifle to weapons of mass destruction—can do to people. In The Salvation War: Armageddon, for example, the forces of Hell learn first hand the horror of modern, mechanized total war. One of them even remarks that the battlefield they were fighting on was a human-made hell. Quite a rude awakening for the army in question, especially as they were at bronze age levels of technology.
  • In the sequel to The Salvation War, Pantheocide, we get "treated" to the angelic army being hit with a nuclear initiation. The description of the results is chilling.

Western Animation

  • Universal Cartoon Studios productions
    • Wing Commander Academy - As much as could be portrayed in a 1990s Saturday morning cartoon, the series is not at all shy about the death and occasional moral ambiguity of war, on both sides.
      • Probably the best episode for this is one where a kilrathi pilot crashlands on a paradise planet and holds the female doctor there hostage. She seems to have been taken over with Stockholm syndrome when Blair and Maniac find her, and eventually after stopping them from fighting one another she convinces them to let the Kilrathi leave, after having him promise not to reveal the beautiful planet's location so it may survive the war unscathed. Blair and Maniac agree to let him go, and he flies off...then they find notes implying that when she was treating his wounds she was also experimenting on him, and has bioengineered him without his knowledge into being a walking viral factory, who will die upon returning to Kilrah and spread the disease throughout their homeworld, wiping out the entire Kilrathi race. Blair and even Maniac call her out on this insane plan, then take off to shoot him down. They both feel pretty crappy about it afterwards.
    • Exo Squad also wasn't shy at all, depicting people dying on all sides, civilians being starved, indications of genocide, Body Horror, and many examples of Nightmare Fuel, particularly later in the show.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender explores the prolonged effects of Imperialism, foreign occupation, and even genocide as much as it can while still being viewable for children. One episode has the commander of an Earth Kingdom fortress show our heroes an infirmary, and then mentions that those soldiers are the lucky ones, because they came back. Everybody has their lives affected by the war: the main character is the last of his kind because every single one of his people were massacred a hundred years earlier, and two of his companions lost their mother to a raid. They also meet many people whose villages were burned to the ground, with most of them losing their families in the process. One even blows up a dam to try and clear out Fire Nation soldiers, knowing that the flood will kill innocent civilians as well. They even meet a woman who was taken from her village simply because she was a waterbender, who then spent years learning how to manipulate the blood in people's bodies and now blindly seeks revenge.
  • Peace on Earth, a very Anvilicious anti-war cartoon made just as World War II was beginning in Europe, is about a post-apocalyptic world where humans have killed themselves off through war and the world is populated by Ridiculously Cute Critters. Features some Nightmare Fuel-inducing rotoscoped animation.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars does this a lot to contrast itself to the first, Tartakosky series which was "War Is Glorious". First shown in Rookies where a group of clones tries to retake an outpost...only two survive besides Rex and Cody. Its really hammered in hard during the Kaminoian Invasion where 99, a defective Clone is killed. And finally in the latest Umbara Arc? Its so hellish (and the Jedi General is a Complete Monster since he was defecting), the Clones are tricked to killing each other.
  • Recent Transformers series' such as Animated, Prime and The live-action films portray the Autobot-Decepticon war as this.
  1. For the record, the drug use was generally one of the more positive elements the protagonist encountered.
  2. part of World War II
  3. He must have been keeping these opinions to himself up until now: the U.S Navy isn't that keen on pacifist officers.
  4. Not the Trope Maker, though
  5. Spiritual Successor to Band of Brothers
  6. Barring Persephone, naturally.