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"Will you never cease prating of laws to us that have swords by our sides?"

Most of the modern world is built on the principles that justice is blind and that no man is above the law. Thing is, much as those principles are great, they rely on someone being willing and able to enforce the law. This trope is what happens when there's nobody who can or will.

Maybe someone has a bigger army than the police, maybe they have a nuke buried under a major city, maybe they just have superpowers that render them nigh-invincible, but in any case they are free to break any law they want without fear of any sort of official justice.

More formally, this is known as the "Argumentum ad Baculum" [1] or the Appeal to Force , whose logic goes essentially thus: "I'm right, and if you disagree, I beat [2] you up." While invalid in abstract logic, this argument tactic is rather persuasive in Real Life.

Some political theorists consider this to be the basis of all law. The idea is that laws are just rules enforced by the threat of violence - they don't have to be good or noble, they just have to threaten you if you break them. Needless to say, this argument is rather on the cynical side of the sliding scale, though that doesn't necessarily make it untrue.

Of course, there is a catch. Unless you have the ability to live without sleeping and eating, sooner or later you have to put down the weapon. If you're the biggest badass in the room, there's always the risk that somebody will slit your throat from behind. If your gang of supporters will avenge your death...that leaves you with the need to keep your gang happy. Plus, there's always the problem of old age...

Needs a Better Description. See also An Offer You Can't Refuse, Hobbes Was Right, Might Makes Right, Shoot the Shaggy Dog and Screw The Rules, I Have Supernatural Powers!. Frequently the next step after Screw The Rules, I Make Them! doesn't work. Also check out Dead-Man Switch for when the nuke in question is used as a bargaining chip, thus changing the rules.


Examples:

Anime & Manga

  • Subverted in GetBackers' IL arc: The Hacker Makube X tries to threaten the God of Infinity Fortress with a literal nuke (not concerned about the fact that Tokyo would be destroyed in the process) but is defeated by the titular heroes. As Kazuki points out, it never would have worked- no matter how powerful you are, God always holds all the cards.
  • Prince Schneizel of Code Geass master plan to bring about world peace with Sky Fortress Damocles essentially comes down to this. So in his case, it would be "Screw the rules, I have a lot of F.L.E.I.J.A.!"
  • Naruto does the similar thing with Code Geass except Pain wanted the nuke in the form of a powerful jutsu.
  • Ghost in The Shell Stand Alone Complex: This is actually the ultimate goal of Kuze's plan. Once the rebels have nukes, the government can't refuse to grant them independence.
    • However the government is willing to just drop a nuke on the revolting and claim it was the rebels messing up building a homemade atomic bomb.
  • Light's philosophy seems to be "Screw The System I Have A Death Note."
  • Pokémon the First Movie's Mewtwo is more "Screw The Rules, I Am A Nuke, and an infinitely reusable one at that".
  • This rules the world in Fist of the North Star, in every single village on the planet, until Kenshiro visits and kills all the bad dudes.


Film

  "I am altering the deal. Pray that I do not alter it further."

    • In the original, we get this played painfully straight in the case of Alderaan.
    • The third film also shows that thermal detonators make for great negotiation tools.
  • Discussed in Dr. Strangelove. When asked why the Soviets would build the Doomsday Machine, a device that could wipe out all life on Earth, the doc explains that the aforementioned implications would deter any attack on the Soviets by enemy powers. Unfortunately, the Soviets failed to tell the rest of the world that they just plugged in the Doomsday Machine, leading to The End of the World as We Know It.
  • The Patriot: Col. Tavington in his introductory scene. When Martin tries to reason with him about his brutal conduct by citing the Rules of War, Tavington responds by aiming a pistol at his head (an unarmed civilian, natch) and asks him if he would like a lesson in the rules of war. Then he points it at Martin's children.
    • Tavington's own superior is disgusted with his methods, although he still defends them when prompted by Martin.
  • Scanners: Breadon Keller orders a ConSec technician to do a blank swipe of the ConSec computer system in an attempt to hurt Cameron while he's mentally connected to it through the telephone system, but he refuses to do so because that would wipe out all stored computer files, something he couldn't do without the written authorization of the ConSec leadership. Breadon Keller's response is to shove a gun in the guy's face.

 Breadon Keller: Mister, this is your authorization.

  • There's a scene in Serenity when a guard at the bank the crew is robbing asks for a password. Jayne fires his machine gun.

  "Okay!"


Literature

  • A quite literal example in Snow Crash. Raven's habit of motorcycling around with a stolen Russian warhead rigged to explode when he dies ensures that everyone "tries to make him feel welcome."
  • The Culture of Iain M. Banks's novels retain this option. Described as "space hippies with super-nukes", they would prefer that you get along with them in a friendly fashion and (notwithstanding the machinations of Special Circumstances) practice the last word in "live and let live". But their ships can lay waste to planets if they have to, and that's not even the warships.
  • At the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the four hobbits, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin return to the Shire to find the place in ruins and bands of "sheriffs" enforcing a staggering set of micromanaging rules governing just about everything. However, having taken on the most evil being in the world and helping crush his armies, the four hobbits are not about to be cowed by this development - later revealed to be instigated by the evil wizard Saruman - and seemingly take delight in disregarding every rule and law they find. (Having the weapons, armor and battle experience they aquired during the war certainly helps.) Eventually they organize a resistance and overthrow the evil oppressors.
  • Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes, is one of the works best known for using this theory to explain Real Life. Interestingly, he doesn't consider it to be an especially bad thing, saying that it compares favourably to anarchy.
    • Thrasymachus, one of the characters in Plato's Republic takes it a step further - he doesn't just say that law is the will of the strongest, he actually defines justice in those terms.
  • This trope is the reason that Abu Sabah's theocracy is able to take over the world in Nuclear Holocaust Never Again—his country had a nuke, and none of the peaceful democratic countries did, so his government nuked every capital city except their own, causing billions of deaths and leaving the democracies with no choice but to accept Sabah as their overlord.
  • Specifically averted in the Dune books. Not only will use of atomics bring the wrath of the rest of the universe down on you, but the most (directly) powerful faction turns out to have no military to speak of at all; guaranteed trade and economic growth is far more important than a few million lives here or there.
    • Further, most of the players recognize that politics and power are actually a complicated web of balances and counterbalances, and blatant use of raw power rarely produces the results you intended. The Bene Gesserit especially understand this, and Leto II took it further. In the Dune world, a direct-approach power player is almost surely being manipulated by someone else toward some end he doesn't even imagine. The Beast Rabban, for ex.
  • In Robert Howard's Kull stories, Kull at one point announces that he will rule by virtue of his battle axe, unless some noble wishes to challenge him to combat. There was a touch of wish fulfillment in that story.


Live-Action TV

  • In late season 5 of Lost, the cast's mindset becomes "Screw the rules of time, I have a nuke!" and then proceed to detonate the nuke to disrupt said rules of time.
  • Played quite literally near the end of Farscape's final storyarc: John Crichton casually strolls into a high-level diplomatic meeting between the Scarran Emperor and Peacekeeper Commandant Grayza (as well as their lackeys among the Charrids and Kalish) on the Scarran capital moon, Katratzi. At first not killing him simply because they're stunned he arrived, the Scarran Emperor asks why they should let him live another minute. Crichton then pulls open his coat to reveal that he is carrying a home-made nuclear bomb, which forces the Emperor to call off his guards. Crichton then starts merrily strolling around the room while detailing the various deadman switches that the bomb operates on...then starts walking around on tables as he explains that the reason he has come is that he can't keep running forever, so he's settled for a new plan in which he will sell wormhole technology to the highest bidder among the assembled galactic political superpowers: in exchange for the bidder's protection he'll basically sell them galactic dominance. Crichton was of course, lying. His real plan was to gain access to the Katratzi to rescue a prisoner, and then, to plant the nuclear bomb in a vital area of the base and "blow up the Death Star".
  • An episode of The Outer Limits featured a disgruntled student who invents a cold fusion bomb and threatens to destroy a major city unless his demands are met including have certain people he dislikes executed in view of him. They do execute one person.
  • Screw the rules, and the nukes. I have sun-busters. In Andromeda, starship captains have access to Nova Bombs that are capable of destroying entire solar systems. Heavily averted in the fact that High Guard captains are were too noble to ever use them in combat.

 Example: In the first episode, Andromeda is facing over 9000 enemy warships.

Rhade: Captain, I recommend we deploy Nova Bombs.

Dylan: This system is inhabited! We will not use strategic weapons no matter how many ships we're up against.

Rhade: As you wish...

    • Strange that Rhade would suggest to use them, given that this would effectively end the rebellion, of which he is a part. Unless he knew Hunt would never go for it.


Tabletop Games


Videogames

  • In general, many grand strategy games make it so that your people are much less likely to rebel and "happier" if you have a larger army in the area/city.
  • In Overlord you could be a nice evil dictator and let the peasants worship you in peace or you could randomly kill them and ransack their homes because you know they can't offer any real resistance.
  • Late-game meetings with the Dark assembly in the Disgaea games can seem a bit this way, especially in new game + . if your proposal gets denied, your insanely overpowered team can beat the senators into submission without breaking a sweat.
    • And if you have beaten Baal, they recognize that you have a nuke and don't even dare to object proposals made by a main character.
  • In Spore, once you reach the Space Age you can cause a planet-wide extinction with nothing bad happening to you. You can even use this as a strategy when trying to take planets.
    • Well, nothing bad - unless you count the various surrounding space empires declaring war on you for breaking the Galactic Code, bombing your planets before your planetary annihilator has a chance to recharge and refusing to sell you any more instant-use superweapons. Wiping out whole empires one planet at a time using legal superweapons, on the other hand, is a perfectly viable strategy.
  • Done literally in Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater's secret theater "The Ultimate Weapon." Naked Snake "cheats" playing rock-paper-scissors with The Boss. So she trumps him by nuking him.
    • From point blank range. More "Screw the rules, I'm insane Badass."
  • AI leaders like to invoke this trope in Civilization. "Our words are backed with NUCLEAR WEAPONS!"
  • Carried over into Galactic Civilizations, except instead of nukes (which are kind of weak compared to orbital railgun strikes and doom rays) you have "Terror Stars" (star destroyers in the most literal sense) or fleets of dreadnoughts with black hole guns.
  • In Sid Meiers Pirates, you aren't allowed to enter a port if you have bad relations with either the port or its controlling power. You could sneak in, but it's usually easier to open the port at gunpoint.
  • If you have it set and can manage to get a twenty-five kill streak in Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer, you can call in a tactical nuke and win the match, no matter how badly your team is doing.
  • In an Easter Egg in Bio Shock 2, you come across three splicers talking about what happened to the protagonist of the first game and two of them suggest that he took either the good ending or the bad ending. The one who states that Jack took the bad ending that "heck, and if anyone messes with him, he's got a nuke".


Webcomics

  • Schlock Mercenary has many examples. Notably, Tagon's mercenaries have been legally commissioned to hunt and kill attorney-drones. People tend to get very upset when you gun down their lawyers, but as Captain Tagon says to one such upset client: "Get as mad as you want. You'll have a hard time suing me."
    • Another notable example; during the CSI Affectionate Parody, the Warrick Expy says that while they have enough evidence to hold Schlock, they have to let Tagon go. The Grissom Expy comments that Tagon can go back to his mercenary company and return in force to break his sergeant out, which is why the judge is "visiting friends" in a bunker on the other side of the planet.
  • Adventurers: "That doesn't make much sense." "I have the most powerful handgun ever made. It doesn't have to."
  • Bob the Angry Flower believes that if everybody had a nuke, than nobody would ever argue with each other. It doesn't work.
  • How I Killed Your Master : #055

 Fang Lin: "So this nobody of a farmer, Meng Qi, he pops up and says he's Yan Yu's nephew. He accuses General Wen of usurping the governor's court, says he has no authority beyond the tip of a spear."

Liu Wong: "What'd Wen Yuan say to that?"

Fang Lin: "'Good thing I have five thousand of them'."

Liu Wong: "Ha!" *Beat* "Well, it is a good point."


Western Animation

  • Rare Western example: Finnish political satire Itsevaltiaat, the Finnish government finds an abandoned handheld nuclear bomb. In the next EU meeting, the Finnish president tries to speak, but is constantly interrupted and ignored. The Finnish PM proceeds to pull the nuke out of his case and demand attention. Later his government comrades call him out.

 Man: You can't just pull that nuke whenever you want to talk.

PM: Yes, yes I can. We have a nuke now, and it gives us access to tables where decisions are DONE.

  • In Futurama's 3rd season episode "War is the H word", Bender has THE BOMB implanted inside his body and it will detonate the instant the robot unwittingly speaks a certain word, wiping out an entire planet. It's the one word he uses more than any other: ASS. After finding that out he starts a game of Make Bender happy or he blows up the planet!
    • This trope also happens in "Bender's Game" (Screw the Rules, I Have A Big Stick) when Leegola tries to convince the peaceful centaurs to join in the fight against the Evil Overlord and agrees to their contest for leadership... Tedious Debate! Later Leegola shows up leading the army:

 Leegola: Prepare to fire again, brave cowards!

Hermaphrodite: I still say, I won the debate. *Leegola strikes him in the stomach with a piece of wood.*

Real Life

  • This was Ancient Rome's MO. "Give us your country. No? Good luck with that!"
  • Unfortunately, this (sometimes) seems to be a part of United States foreign policy. It usually happens to any nation that is the world's superpower at that moment. Exemplified in the USA's case by Theodore Roosevelt's (in)famous quote, "If you speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far."
    • Roosevelt himself was quoting a West African proverb.
    • Er...isn't that the definition of "superpower of the moment"?
      • Open to question since only the USA and the USSR, in the modern age, have been disproportionately powerful to be considered superpowers and much of the Cold War consisted of both sides screwing the rules. Now that the USSR has collapsed, we're just left with the USA screwing the rules and no real historical comparison to justify it.
    • Other historical examples include the British Empire, most notably during the Opium Wars where the choices presented to China were to trade on Britain's terms (i.e. give up lucrative goods in exchange for getting hooked on opium) or be annihilated; and a rare one-man example in Julius Caesar, who proceeded to conquer Gaul despite the Roman Senate's protests that doing so was both unnecessary and illegal.
  • North Korea. Somewhat subverted in that everyone else just thinks they're nuts, and everyone around them has more/better nukes.
    • To say nothing of the fact that they have, to paraphrase Tony Stark, "performance issues" with their hardware. Hard to nuke anyone if you can't get your rockets and warheads to work.
  • One faction of early Muslim leaders claimed to be descended from one of Muhammed's daughters. When asked to provide evidence of this by a group of scholars the leader apparently drew his sword, placed it on the man's neck and said "this is my evidence". The Scholars decided not to press the issue.
  • The security council of the UN has the 5 traditional nuclear powers with veto powers that can prevent any action. Thus, by having a nuke, you too can help set world policy.
    • If you were on the winning side of World War II.
      • It made sense when the UN was set up, in the 1940s, when Britain and France controlled all of Africa and much of Asia. Nowadays? Not so much. (Though the British and French armies are still the only ones in the EU with any real ability to project power.)
  • "You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word." - Al Capone
  • This is what every Banana Republic and 3rd-world extremist group wants to do, all day long.
  • Louis XIV of France referenced this when commissioning artillery for his armies: every cannon was cast with the motto VLTIMA RATIO REGVM on the barrel. The meaning? "The last argument of Kings"
  • This is how gangs gain local power. You do what they say, or they beat the crap out of you.
  • There is a story about a group of Templars who were put on trial in a small village a short time after the Templars were declared heretics. This group, being Genre Savvy, and being the dominant military power in the area, arrived to their trial mounted on horseback, fully armed and armored. They were all acquitted and set free.

Notes

  1. Literally "appeal to the stick" because the face ain't listening. Veterinarians and Furries can stop laughing at the word Baculum now. And No, I'm not explaining the joke it to everyone else, look it up if you really need to know
  2. or blow
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