Would Not Shoot a Civilian

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(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
—Article 3(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949

A military Sub-Trope of Never Hurt an Innocent: only soldiers in uniform are proper targets—which does not include The Medic, or The Chaplain. May encompass Wouldn't Hit a Girl when women are not in the armed forces and usually does include Wouldn't Hurt a Child. Those who violate this are generally portrayed as not good soldiers. Indeed, good soldiers will try to minimize even accidental civilian deaths. The Anti-Hero soldier, however, may not care; considerable conflict can arise from these clashing moralities.

Sink the Life Boats is particularly vicious for civilian ships.

Proud Warrior Race Guy or Blood Knight may get at this trope in a sideways manner, rejecting civilians as unworthy opponents because they are weak and cowardly, unworthy of fighting.

Truth in Television, at least in theory. Under The Laws and Customs of War, targeting civilians is a war crime—a principle that goes back as far as the Knight in Shining Armor and chivalry. On the other, to encourage soldiers to comply, civilians must also not attack soldiers lest they be labeled as the enemy, and soldiers must not dress as civilians; both are war crimes for which the offenders can be shot if caught and convicted. In addition, if civilians are accidentally killed in the process of attacking a legitimate military target, it's (usually) not considered an offense. Obligatory War Crime Scene exploits this trope for its punch.

More cynical works may display characters (good or bad, depending on just how cynical the work gets) taking advantage of this rule, either by taking human shields or attacking out of uniform. Alternatively, there is nothing stopping the good guys from accidentally killing civilians due to anything from incompetence to misinformation, the latter of which might even have been a setup.

Can also apply to other situations where there is a stark division with Guys With Guns and Guys Without Guns.

See Would Not Shoot a Good Guy for when characters do not shoot back at (some) of those actually shooting at them.

Examples of Would Not Shoot a Civilian include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, this is one of the main things that sets the main group of Celestial Being apart from the Trinities: while Celestial Being targets military, criminal, or mercenary groups trying to promote conflict, they do not attack civilians if they can help it. One early episode shows Lockon deliberately missing some civilian workers at a mine he was trying to destroy, in order to scare them off instead of killing them. The Trinities, however, have no qualms about attacking civilian targets if they're connected in some way to conflict. They also show no real problem with one of their own slaughtering a wedding because she was bored.

Fan Works[edit | hide]

  • The skahs in With Strings Attached may be contemptuous of the tirin, but they wouldn't dream of fighting them—in large part because they'd be such boring opponents.

Film[edit | hide]

  • The Predator, very much in the Proud Warrior Race Guy subtrope mentioned in the description. This is perhaps best highlighted in Aliens vs. Predator, where a Predator (initially) refuses to kill an assailant because he has a bad heart. Also, across all of the films Predators rarely kill anyone who is unarmed, (but anyone who is armed is fair game) and in Predator 2, one does not kill an armed female police officer when it sees that she is pregnant.
  • In Reservoir Dogs, the crooks are outraged that Mr. Blonde would start shooting bystanders for no reason. When asking if Mr. White had shot anyone, Mr. Pink is quick to distinguish between "cops" and "real people."
  • Tony Montana in Scarface refuses to carry out a hit that would also kill the target's wife and kids which results in his downfall when his fellow mobsters don't share the same moral views.
  • This is what lands Ben Richards in prison at the start of The Running Man, although it's done on principle, since he refused when ordered to fire upon hungry, protesting civilians.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Deus Encarmine, Rafen is horrified to see Blood Angels shooting down civilians. When he appeals to Arkio on these grounds, Arkio is clearly shaken by the charge.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel False Gods, when Horus is felled by his injuries, the Space Marines bringing him slaughter the civilians who are pressing in—blocking the way. (In Ben Counter's Galaxy In Flames, Loken deduced that Varkasus, who wanted the killers court-martialed, was murdered for that.)
  • In G. K. Chesterton's Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, a Prussian officer is not quite telling a subordinate to murder another soldier by shooting him In the Back, and explains he chose him for two reasons: one was his shooting ability, and the other was the time he had shot an old woman for not giving him information. The officer explains that he exerted influence to avoid the soldier's being charged.
  • In Nick Kyme's Warhammer 40,000 novel Salamander, the Backstory between the Salamander and the Marines Malevolent revolves about a time where the Marines Malevolent fired on civilian camps.
  • In Dan Abnett's Brothers of the Snake, when they locate civilians, they bring them to safety, and Priad promises to protect them. When they reveal themselves as cultists, he slaughters them with the rest.
    • Of course they don't really count as civilians then.
  • In John C. Wright's The Phoenix Exultant, Atkins is glad that Daphne and Phaethon survived so that he can report no civilian casualities—at least, he says it's his motive.
    • Phaetheon is technically a private military contractor during that scene[1], a fact Atkins is well aware of, so his remark is clearly stretching the truth a bit.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Beyond the Black River", after all the slaughter he sees the Picts inflict, it is the sight of two mutilated civilians—one a woman—that enrages Balthus.
  • In A Night in the Lonesome October it's not even limited to humans. The canine narrator accepts that before the end some Players (and maybe even familiars) will kill each other, though deems it less than necessary, but really doesn't like involvement of others, warned normal animals away from the site of ritual and twice actually referred to them as "civilians".
  • In Jasper Fforde's One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing, the massacre of the clown army is noted as an atrocity because medical personnel and other civilians were massacred.
  • Parodied in Discworld, natch. Detritus offers to shoot a bull in a crowded street (long story) with his siege engine-turned-crossbow (with six foot long bolts. Vimes says no.

Vimes: You might hit an innocent. Even in Ankh-Morpork.

  • In Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet, Geary insists on not killing prisoners. In Valiant, one Alliance prisoner is hauled out to be asked if it was true, and when he confirms it, the Syndics decide not to carry out their orders.
  • In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, when a hit takes out a man's mistress as well as himself, disapproval is strong.
  • In John Hemry's A Just Determination, Paul think it would be much easier if they could face a warship rather than a ship that may be one in civilian disguise, because they would be entitled to fight then.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Some depictions of Warhammer 40,000's Chaos god Khorne once hinted at this, having him only interested in warrior blood and warrior skulls. Rarely evoked in these Grimdark days.
    • Some Khornite berserkers—include World-Eaters—sought out "worthy foes" and ignored those who could not fight.
      • That said most don't, hey Khorne cares not for whom the blood flows
      • He also doesn't like dishonourable pansies and cowardice. So running away will get you targeted anyway. And if you're unable to fight due to injuries? Mercy Kill.
      • Also extends to his followers, too. Presenting the skull of a defenceless victim to the blood god is a surefire way to get yourself killed by him for the cowardice of choosing a defenceless victim over a worthy opponent. At least his positive traits show sometimes...
    • Varies with Space Marines from Chapter to Chapter. Chapters like the Ultramarines, Imperial Fists, Salamanders, Blood Angels, Raven Guard, and Space Wolves will not fire on targets that would result in collateral civilian deaths unless they absolutely have to. The Space Wolves are in fact notable for trying to prevent the Inquisition from declaring Exterminatus if they can. Other chapters such as the Iron Hands, Marines Malevolent, Flesh Tearers and several others simply regard civilians as weak and worthless.
  • Witch Hunter: The Invisible World. Baykok spirits will not attack non-combatant opponents. Innocent bystanders, children, and other civilians who don't attack them have nothing to fear from them.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • According to the manual, the hero of Doom was ordered by his superior to fire upon civilians, and the marine responded by assaulting his superior instead. The marine is reassigned to the UAC facilities on Phobos, and then all Hell breaks loose...
  • In Scarface the World Is Yours, trying to kill a civilian will be refused by Tony, who explains to the player that it goes against his code. Managing to bypass it only makes them get back up and flee the scene.
  • Whether a Merc follows orders to shoot civilians (a bad idea for the penalties it gives) is the quickest way to tell if any given merc in Jagged Alliance 2 falls under the Psycho for Hire label.
  • Enforced in the German and Japanese versions of Modern Warfare 2: the whole point of the "No Russian" mission is to shoot the civilians. However, the local Moral Guardians made that impossible by giving you a Nonstandard Game Over when you do as much as graze a civilian with a stray bullet.
    • While you are powerless to prevent your NPC allies from doing so, it is entirely possible to complete 'No Russian' without firing a single round into a civilian target. Makarov will politely pretend not to notice if you completely miss the crowd of targets and hit nothing but the ceiling.
    • In the other versions the player can choose to do this anyway (the outcome's the same either way).
    • Disturbingly averted by the players who tested that level. Reportedly, every single player opened fire on the civilians despite no prompt to do so being given.
      • In the release version of the game, the player is instructed to shoot the civilians, though not explicitly ("Follow Makarov's lead" rather than "Shoot the civilians".)
    • Enforced throughout the rest of the game, though, as killing a civilian in any other level will give you a Nonstandard Game Over.
  • There is an inter-party argument at the end of your first visit to Onderon in Knights of the Old Republic 2 about whether throwing grenades into a crowded bar is an acceptable tactical option.
  • It's up to the player to decide whether or not Shepard is this type of officer in Mass Effect.
    • Generally you can't anyway. Even the most bastardous of Renegade characters won't get that many opportunities, with exceptions like Feros.
    • Even the Council is only willing to put up with so much from you, after all. You don't want to do anything that gets you put on the SPECTRE hit-list.
    • Paragon Shepard never would hurt an innocent, something Tela Vasir mocks them for in Lair of the Shadow Broker as she holds a woman hostage. Shepard mentions some of the things they've done that have caused hundreds of people to die over the course of the preceeding games, questioning if Vasir's entire escape plan hinges on Shepard hesitating to shoot just one person to stop her. This bluff sufficiently freaks Vasir out, allowing your squadmate Liara to telekinetically throw a table at her, while she lets her guard down.
  • Shirou blows an ambush at one point in Fate/stay night with his insistence of asking Kuzuki if he really knows what he's getting involved in. He's also outraged at Archer's rather pragmatic view of civilian casualties.
    • Indeed, the technical "rules" of the Grail War call for the Masters and Servants to avoid civilian casualties, for the pragmatic reason of not drawing attention to themselves (this is also policy among magi in general). How strictly this is followed depends on the Master in question; Ilya and Rin, for instance, refuse to attack Shirou near witnesses, while Caster is perfectly willing to (covertly) drain civilians for power, and Ryuunosuke and Zero Caster openly flout the rule by kidnapping and torturing people.
  • A variant of this is enforced in the Pokémon series; while Pokemon-on-Pokemon violence is acceptable and a part of everyday life and human-to-Pokemon violence is considered either Bullying a Dragon (Pokemon is wild) or abuse (Pokemon belongs to abusing trainer), commanding an attack on a trainer or other human is either in bad form or outright illegal, unless used as a criminal suppression tactic (e.g. Lance in Mahogany), and even then if other options remain nonviable. While it may be implied that villainous teams can do this on a whim, not even Team Plasma goes that far in the game continuity. On the other hand, the Donphan goes on a rampage throughout Pokémon Special due to its Darker and Edgier nature, and Cipher will attack or even kill humans who obstruct its operations in any continuity.
  • In Jagged Alliance 2 the quickest way to test if a given merc falls under Psycho for Hire is to order them to shoot a civilian. Sane ones refuse, less scrupulous ones do not.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Bob and George: Invoked: Mega Man asks Break Man what happened to his philosophy of not killing unworthy opponents.
  • In The Order of the Stick, Roy shooes off civilians from a fight scene—civilians who had been enjoying the Gladiator Games, no less.
  • In Girl Genius, during the fight for Mechanicsburg, a soldier objects to an order to shoot civilians—though the commander does point out they have been fighting almost nothing but civilians who have taken up arms against them, and the civilians are winning.
    • This is why the real-world Geneva Conventions do not use the terms 'military' or 'civilian', but instead use 'combatant' and 'noncombatant'. If you take up arms and attack soldiers then you are a legitimate target in return for those soldiers, regardless of whether you enlisted in anything or not.
  • The Stormtroopers of Darths and Droids seem to follow this.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The main reason that the Gaang doesn't like Jet.
  1. While Phaetheon explicitly turned down military enlistment and rank the fact remains that Earthmind is basically paying him to captain a warship into a battle, which is a combatant role.