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"Friendly fire - isn't."
Military Proverb

What to do when you've made an enemy on your own side? Good thing there is a convenient battle coming up... What's one more casualty between friends? The coroner will never know the difference.

Shoot the guy yourself or push him into enemy fire, it makes little difference. Nobody's going to check. That annoying squadmate or sergeant is dead, and you can now resume shooting the enemy like nothing wrong happened. Even if someone recognizes that it was your side's ammunition, Friend or Foe might have happened; even if someone knows you shot him, you can feign bewilderment, claiming in a Friend or Foe situation you made a terrible but understandable mistake -- sometimes.

As you might imagine, this is Truth in Television. The military even has a name for it that stems from the use of a fragmentation grenade to kill someone on one's own side of the conflict: "fragging" (not to be confused with a similar term for video games). This originally referred to the specific act of throwing a fragmentation grenade into the offending officer's tent, but soon spread to all methods.

The Team Killer is a character (or player) who engages in Unfriendly Fire. See also The Uriah Gambit for purposely sending an underling to his death. A video game's rules on the issue sometimes result in Friendly Fireproof or a Nonstandard Game Over.

Examples of Unfriendly Fire include:


Anime and Manga

  • Guts from the Berserk manga did this when he was only eight years old. He was raped by a pederast soldier named Donovan after his adoptive father Gambino sold him to the mercenary for three silver coins. Guts took violent revenge during the very next battle, shooting Donovan in the back with a crossbow and then laying into him with his sword, demanding to know who had sold him to him. Donovan's final confession that it was Gambino who sold him was not believed until the fateful night when Gambino, who lost his leg to a cannonball during the battle in question, got drunk and tried to murder him.
  • In Martian Successor Nadesico, the eponymous battleship's main computer decides it doesn't like the Earth's military forces, causing allied systems to register them as enemies, causing much of this, though nobody actually dies.
  • In the backstory of Fullmetal Alchemist, 60% of all Amestrian officer deaths during the Ishbalan War were from their own soldiers. The most memorable one was Commodore Fesler - an unlikable racist guy with signs of General Ripper and We Have Reserves. He was shot point-blank with a rifle when the war was almost over, after ordering his men to kill the surrendering leader of the Ishbalans. While most of the men weren't in on it, they commented with a completely straight face: "Stray bullet?" "Stray bullet it is.", and then politely asked for orders from the man who had shot the officer, since he was now the highest ranking officer. He was also Basque Grand, who in this version is much more likeable.
  • In Macross Frontier, Mikhail's sister killed her commander with friendly fire, but because they were lovers and he had just recently dumped her, some suspected she did it on purpose as revenge. The series never reveals the truth, but obviously Mikhail thinks his sister was innocent.


Comicbooks

  • Occurs in volume four of The Walking Dead, "The Heart's Desire". Rick shoots Dexter, a prison inmate who stated his intent to forcibly evict Rick and his group from the well-stocked and spacious prison as soon as the zombie attack was quelled. It was under the cover of a heated, surprise zombie attack. This is one of the first incidents that show Rick is on a slippery slope. Executed in a somewhat Anvilicious manner as the victim taunted his murderer that he would have done the same thing if given the opportunity.
  • In Punisher: Born, an account of Frank Castle's time in Vietnam before he became The Punisher, Frank eliminates an officer by recommending the view from a hilltop while standing in front of a sniper warning sign. Such situations are a Running Gag.
  • In a one-off Rogue Trooper strip by Alan Moore, Rogue encountered a Souther scout who was intending to kill a busload of Nort civilians. The scout stole Gunnar to try and do this, but Gunnar responded by shooting the scout.
  • In the Elseworlds series Superman and Batman Generations, Superman's powerless son Joel Kent gets a bullet in the back after ordering his men to raze a Vietnamese village full of women, children, and the elderly, saying "In this country there's no such THING as 'non-combatants'!"
  • In Preacher (Comic Book), Jesse's dad iced his racist commanding officer while serving in Vietnam.
    • And not because the man was a racist, but because his stupidity and determination to hurt John and his friends at every opportunity got one of them killed.
  • One issue of The Phantom Stranger involved a would-be revolutionary constructing a metal, robotic "god" (who could shoot and fight like a human) as a symbol of his people - unfortunately, said "god" got interested in the revolutionary's wife and decided to Murder the Hypotenuse this way.


Fan Fiction


Films -- Live-Action

  • This was how Staff Sergeant Barnes disposed of Sergeant Elias in Platoon. And how Chris disposed of Barnes
  • This happens in Cross of Iron near the end of the film.
  • The Beast of War (1988). The Soviet tank commander kills an Afghan member of his crew, convinced he's working for the mujahadeen pursuing them. Also lampshaded between two crewmembers who don't like each other much.

 Kaminski: You better watch your ass, Koverchenko. You know, sometimes Afghan snipers pick off tank drivers.

Koverchenko: Sometimes tank drivers pick 'em off first, Kaminski.

  • The Manchurian Candidate, both versions, feature this prominently.
  • Perhaps narrowly averted in The Hurt Locker, where Sergeant James interrupts a bomb detonation because he thinks he left his gloves at the second bomb site. He takes the Humvee with him, leaving Sanborn and Eldritch alone in the sun. Sanborn toys with detonating the second bomb while James is there, speaking ominously with Eldritch about how they would be able to get away with it as well.
  • Mongol. After the last battle, two men betray their Khan Targutai, the rival and opponent of Temudjin (Genghis Khan), and bring his corpse to Temudjin. Temudjin ignores the body, and orders the two men executed, because they "betrayed their Khan".
  • Serpico. One of Serpico's fellow officers pleads with him to drop his corruption allegations because his life will be in danger. "They don't even have to shoot you. They just have to not be there when you need them." This is played out when Serpico is caught by a closing door during a drug bust, and his police colleagues don't do anything until after he's shot.
  • In the late 70s, Carol Burnett starred in the movie Friendly Fire with the main plot being that her son was not killed by Vietnamese soldiers, but was instead killed by US artillery that was being operated by soldiers who were drunk.
  • They Live: Holly does this to Frank, revealing her support of the heroes was bull-shit.
  • Dark Blue World. One of the protagonists accuses a fellow Spitfire pilot of doing this (he'd been sleeping with his girlfriend); when they look at the gun camera footage later it turns out he'd actually been fired on by a German fighter, which was then shot down by by his friend.
  • In Animal House, Neidermeyer was eventually fragged by his own troops in Vietnam.
    • In a segment of The Twilight Zone Movie directed by the same director actually focuses on those selfsame troops, based on an off-handed reference one makes to "fragging Neidermeyer".
  • In the film Casualties of War, after the rape and murder of a innocent village girl, Eriksson is almost killed by a grenade in the American HQ because he was trying to tell someone what happened.
  • The movie Assault, made in the 1950s, features a WWII CO whose raw incompetence keeps getting his men killed. At the end, as he climbs a staircase to surrender to the Germans, one of his men finally snaps and shoots him in the back. (This scene made Assault the first war movie to not receive support from the military.)
  • Most probably happened in Ran, when the general rides up to the second oldest prince to tell him that his older brother was killed by a stray bullet. When the prince looks at the still smoking musket in the generals hand, he wordlessly throws it aways and they never speak of it again.


Literature

  • The preface to the Dragaera book The Paths of the Dead confirms through denial that Adron did this in battle to a challenger to leadership for the House of the Dragon. The two were on the same side, but Adron hired the assassin Mario to kill the other guy during the battle. It's kind of important to learn this, as while Adron comes across as a Well-Intentioned Extremist when trying to seize the throne in the previous book, with the new information, he seems more clearly to be The Evil Prince.
    • While it's not clear if he actually ordered the assassin in that situation, the conspiracy detailed in the book Yendi also included another of Adron's challengers to the throne being knifed in battle, although in this case at least they were on the opposite side.
  • The Cadfael book/episode One Corpse Too Many uses a variation on both this and The Uriah Gambit. After a mass hanging there is an extra corpse hidden among them. The extra corpse was strangled, not hanged -- but it turns out that one of those hanged was The Mole and was meant to have been spared, and the villain deliberately set him up to be hanged as well, so as not to have to share the treasure.
  • The Father Brown mystery "The Sign of the Broken Sword" by G. K. Chesterton. An interesting twist on both tropes: Murderer, General St. Claire, killed his victim first, and then planned an otherwise pointless assault so that it would happen at exactly the same spot, thus hiding his victim among other casualties.
  • In Sharpe's Waterloo the Prince of Orange (aka 'The Young Frog'), who happens to be Sharpe's immediate superior, is eventually shot by a Rifleman because he's too stupid to lead and is putting everyone's lives at risk.
    • Sharpe himself was the target of this or The Uriah Gambit several times, usually by aristocratic officers who had been embarrassed by him.
  • In the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher done a couple times. First by Lord Aqutaine with the Crown-loyal soldiers. Then Gaius Sextus does this to Lord Rhodes, in revenge for his part in murdering Septimus.
    • And Septimus' death is an example of this itself, of course.
  • This happened at the city of Pale, in Genabackis, in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, during the fight with Anomander Rake and Moon's Spawn; Tayschrenn took advantage of the battle to kill two of the High Mages on his side, and Rake lost the battle because he was investing a lot of his energy just protecting mages on the opposing side from Tayschrenn. Or so it seemed at the time anyway. In truth Tayschrenn's involvement was a lot less of a simple attack on his own side than it appeared at first glance, and less pre-planned. He was in fact more of a good guy taking action against a third party which was interfering, which was misunderstood by the Pov character at the time in the chaos, not helped by those who seemed to believe her and subsequently rebelling against the empire (then appearing a lot more evil than in fact it is - though not being all sunshine and roses of course) being revealed a long way down the line to be involved in a very long term Xanatos Roulette with Tayschrenn (although that incident was not a part of the plan) and in fact still loyal.
  • The Anvilicious Strawman Political 'Operation Chickenhawk' segment of Al Franken's book Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot has a squad of Republicans who avoided service in Vietnam (Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan, and a few others) fragging Lt. Oliver North. A sequel chapter in Lies And The Lying Liars that Tell Them has them do it to every commander until Capt. Max Cleland managed to crawl back to base, whereupon they fled into the jungle. And John Kerry's crew (George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Bill O Reilly, and a few others) do it to him and Al Gore, who's onboard as a journalist.
  • Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM) novels strongly imply that this is frequent practice in the Warhammer 40000 universe. Commissars are frequent targets, primarily because shooting soldiers for crimes/cowardice in the field (or just to keep the others in line) is their job. In fact, Cain's motivation for NOT behaving like a stereotypical Commissar and shooting his men to inspire them is specifically to avoid little accidents like these.
    • In the second edition of the tabletop game, Catachan Regiments have an "Ooops, sorry sir!" rule that gives all Commissars attached to their regiment a 10% chance of having just this happen to them prior to the battle.
    • This is very much Truth in Television, as historically commissars are usually viewed with suspicion and hostility, and often have a correspondingly high mortality rate.
  • Lijah Cuu in Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel The Guns of Tanith uses this method to dispose of Bragg.
    • In Ghostmaker, Sturm ordered his artillery to open fire on the Ghosts because they were chasing enemies and he could claim it was a Friend or Foe situation
  • At the end of Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40000 Horus Heresy novel False Gods, Loken explains to Torgaddon that Varkasus had been killed with Imperial ammunition -- and not a stray shot, but dead on.
    • In Ben Counter's Galaxy In Flames, Loken tells this to two iterators and concludes it was because he wanted certain men courtmartialed. They conclude that nay-sayers are being eliminated. Later in the book, the Warmaster sends a third of his forces to a planet and virus-bombs them. Only Tarvitz's discovery let any of the betrayed men survive. After the attack, Tarvitz goes to join his Legion's survivors, partly in hope of reorganizing their forces, but part so that he could die with them at need, in defiance of the division the Warmaster had tried to bring.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40000 Red Fury, Flesh Tearers fire on a location where they know Blood Angels are. While they know they will survive, being Astartes, they also know they will caught in the rubble. (The first of several unfriendly incidents.)
  • Attempted by Captain Kila in The Lost Fleet who attempt to have the fleet commander Captain Geary killed by some accident or another three times. She only gets discovered when she kills a former ally who managed to leave a message to Geary before her ship blew up.
  • In the beginning of Homeland, Dinin kills his older brother during the battle with another house. Mind you, no one is fooled. Later, it is mentioned that wizards cannot participate in surface raids - because some guy killed a few drow with a fireball in a raid and claimed it was a malfunction of his magic due to the conditions (the investigators were in no hurry).
  • In The Count of Monte Cristo, one of the characters tells a story (within another story) about a bandit lord named Cucumetto who pulls one of these, shooting a treacherous underling in the back during a skirmish with some soldiers.
  • This is the final fate of Captain Fisher, a.k.a. "Billy Liar", in Kim Newman's Alternate History novella Teddy Bear's Picnic. His troops frag him by tossing a white phosphorus grenade into his tent while he is sleeping; a practice known as 'white saucing'.
  • As detailed in "The Spell of War", the first mystery solved by Lord Darcy involved a case of this when he was an 18-year-old lieutenant in the autumn of the War of '39.
  • The scoundrel Harry Flashman has many opportunities to do this over his scandalous career, but usually chickens out. A notable example is in Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, where he is blackmailed (by Northern Abolitionists and Southern Secessionists) into infiltrating John Brown's gang and assassinating him if his raid on Harper's Ferry looks like it might succeed. During the raid Flashman instead shoots his co-conspirator before he can kill Brown, saving Brown and still fulfilling the trope.
  • In Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, this is how Duke Benigaris inherits the throne of Nabban, by stabbing his father in the back during the siege of Naglimund and claiming that it was due to enemy action. This later comes back to bite Benigaris when the testimony of a soldier who witnessed the event is used to incite rebellion against him.
  • Easy Company were all but cutting cards for who got to inflict this trope on Captain Sobel. Ultimately averted after it became clear that not only was Sobel a martinet and a bully, he had No Sense of Direction and was completely out of his depth in a combat posting, at which point he was posted back to a training role. Some veterans interviewed for the book, presumably with the benefit of hindsight, even opined that his Drill Sergeant Nasty routine made them even more determined to pass Jump School just to annoy him.
  • In a Star Wars Expanded Universe story, the "Look sir, droids!" stormtrooper does this. He had been a promising AT-AT pilot who was relegated to backwater stormtrooper duty after exposing a flaw in the AT-AT design to its creator. He is repeatedly confronted with the cruelty of the Empire, including the Lars murders and the massacre of the Jawas, and especially of his commanding officer. When he sees his captain draw a bead on Han Solo during the hangar bay fight, he calmly shoots him in the back.
  • This is one of Tigerclaw's methods in the Warrior Cats series, when he's still a Villain with Good Publicity before his exile:
    • After a border fight, he kills the Clan deputy, Redtail, hopińg he'll be made deputy himself. He places the blame for Redtail's death on Oakheart, whom Redtail had been fighting against and who had been killed in the battle so he wouldn't be around to deny it. Too bad Ravenpaw had been hiding in the bushes and saw it happen...
    • Wanting to kill his leader in order to become leader himself, Tigerclaw convinces a group of rogues to attack the camp. During the battle, he attacks Bluestar, hoping to make it look like a rogue had killed her.
  • Near the climax of Prince Caspian, the Telmarine king Miraz duels Peter one-on-one. Peter knocks him unconscious and a full-scale battle ensues. In the confusion, a Telmarine Mauve Shirt Miraz insulted earlier delivers a Coup De Grace.


Live-Action TV

  • In the TV series Over There, The Neidermeyer is killed by friendly fire after sacrificing several soldiers to protect a money truck and threatening to arrest another who protested his orders. While the incident is officially labeled as accidental, it is implied that one of the soldiers in the squad shot him intentionally.
  • In Ultimate Force, Henno clears a room with his commanding officer, picks up an enemy AK-47, and shoots half a clip into his back, in retaliation for sleeping with the wife of one of his men. Afterwards he has a Coke.
  • Battlestar Galactica Reimagined. After demanding at gunpoint that his troops carry out an ill-conceived attack on Kobol, Crashdown gets shot in the back by Dr. Baltar, who later claims he died "in the best traditions of the service". None of the others dispute this version of events.
    • Cally uses it to blackmail Baltar in the very next episode, however.
  • In the first episode of The Shield Vic does this to Terry Crowley
  • In an episode of the German police series Polizeiruf 110, Hauptkommissarin Johanna Herz investigates a murder during a re-enactment of the battle of Großbeeren (near Berlin), while her husband, a historian, investigates a local legend that Napoleon had a young French officer killed by arranging for him to be shot in the back during the 1813 battle because he had cuckolded him with his mistress, Maria Walewska.


Machinima

  • In the Red vs. Blue miniseries "Recovery One", Agent South shoots Agent Wash to provide armor equipment as bait for the Meta and escape from the scene. In fact, she frequently puts her allies in a position to die. Her brother, for example, suffered such a fate, and she nearly gave Delta to the Meta to get away.


Music

  • The famous socialist anthem "The Internationale" calls on soldiers to pull this on their officers, rather than shoot their "comrades" on the other side:

 No more deluded by reaction,

On tyrants only we'll make war!

The soldiers too will take strike action;

They'll break ranks and fight no more!

And if those cannibals keep trying

To sacrifice us to their pride,

They soon will hear the bullets flying:

We'll shoot the generals on our own side!


Tabletop Games

  • In Deadlands, Captain Jasper Stone threatened to shoot his own men for refusing his suicidal orders. They shot him first... then the Reckoning happened, and he promptly rose from the grave and became Death's right-hand man.
  • Paranoia encourages PCs to do this: "You're not looking for an excuse to shoot your buddy, you're looking for an opportunity to shoot him while he's distracted."
  • Skaven life is cheap in Warhammer Fantasy. The Skaven are the only Warhammer troops which can shoot into melee and deliberately kill their own. Casualties are divided evenly amongst the Skaven and the enemy. This is known as Corateral Damage.
    • The special "misfire" charts of many skaven war machines (which the skaven player must roll on when things go horribly wrong with their shot) include a result where the enemy player can choose a nearby skaven unit to resolve the shot against, since someone on the skaven side is clearly trying to settle an old score (or has paid the war machine crew to do it for them).
  • Warhammer 40000: Catachan regiments, being based on the Vietnam War, are known for doing this to Commissars who they don't like. Considering every Commissar we know of with the exception of Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM [1]), Yarrick, Greiss, Ibram Gaunt and Viktor Hark, and Schaeffer are Bad Bosses are trigger-happy psychopaths who probably shoot more traitors than enemies, that's every Commissar assigned to a Catachan.
    • Also, a possible secret objective in games, particularly Apocalypse[2] battles, is to get an allied, but rival character or unit killed.


Videogames

  • Tropers have found themselves conducting their share of "on-the-spot court-martials" in X-COM: UFO Defense thanks to Ethereal headhunting practices.
  • This is basically what happens to Zack (and nearly Cloud) in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. Both were loyal soldiers for Shinra, Inc., but after witnessing the Nibelheim Incident, discovering the truth about the Jenova Project, and being experimented on by Hojo, they were deemed to Know Too Much and a (massive) army of Shinra military police were sent to 'eliminate the escaped experiments', with tragic results.
  • In Iji, Krotera is such an extreme General Ripper, that when he breaks the truce during a Pacifist Run, one of his troops happily takes it as an excuse to nail him with a BFG and blame it on the protagonist. Iosa The Invincible may also suffer the same fate, especially during a Pacifist Run, as a fellow Komato thinks that Iosa's aggressive nature is not a good thing (not to mention that Iosa knows about her illegal weapon smuggling activities on the side).
  • Clicking on a Terran Marine in Starcraft enough times to irritate him will eventually prompt the line, "I vote we frag this commander." Not that it's actually any sort of threat, considering your nature as a Non-Entity General.
  • Blair threatens Maniac with this, in Wing Commander III, after the latter makes one of his usual snide remarks, when Blair is still dealing with Angel being disemboweled.
    • It might even be something of a Call Back to the original Wing Commander, when Maniac is first introduced. The colonel giving the mission briefing tells Bluehair that he has permission to shoot Maniac if he "gives you any static". It prompts this exchange:

 Bluehair: Should I use missiles or ship's guns, sir?

Colonel: Guns. Save your missiles for more important targets.

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has a huge twist towards the end, in which General Shepherd uses Roach and Ghost to obtain information implicating him as the mastermind behind the massive war breaking out between America and Russia, then suddenly executes both of them. He presumably covers it up by claiming they were killed in battle. Note that this is not an inversion since the trope criteria doesn't specifically the direction ranks between the victim and perpetrator go, but a superior officer killing his own men in a way that fits this trope is fairly rare.
  • If you shoot an ally (even accidentally) in Soldier of Fortune II, the others will immediately execute you.
  • In the Rainbow Six series starting with 3 at least, teammates shout "Murphy! Murphy!" when fired upon by friendly fire or if a grenade accidentally gets thrown near them.
  • Any collateral damage in F/A-18 Hornet results in court-martialling of the player character.


Western Animation

  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, some Jerkass Earth Kingdom soldiers come to inform a family that their son was captured in the line of duty. They then go on to taunt them with his most probable fate; that the Fire Nation will dress captives up in red, and place them in the battle-field without weapons, to be killed by their own side. And then they kidnap the younger son to forcibly enlist him.
  • In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the Umbaran troops, after employing guerrilla tactics for a few episodes, steal several Clone Trooper uniforms, leading to some cases of this. Except everyone killed in that battle was a Clone Trooper, and the Umbarans stealing uniforms was just a ruse by their Smug Snake General, to make them lose the battle, and help him prove himself to the Sith.


Real Life

  • Julian the Apostate was the only Roman emperor after Constantine to attempt to revive the pagan religions. He was killed in battle against the Persians, and some have alleged that it was one of his Christian soldiers who killed him.
  • Similarly, king Charles XII of Sweden dropped dead from a gunshot to the head while peering out of a trench during a battle. Rumour has always had it it one of his own officers was sick and tired of 20 years of uninterrupted war and blew the king's brains out (using a uniform button for a bullet).

Notes

  1. who is very aware of Catachans and other regiments doing this and thus tries to avert being a Bad Boss.
  2. Large scale games where huge and dead-killy units, formations, and assets that are normally unavailable can be used.
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