What is the "Mildly Military" Trope?
This is one of the most common "sins" among military sci-fi works and some of the most popular works in military science fiction fully embrace the trope with a full-on wet French kiss. Basically, the mildly military trope is when a fictional military organization is lax with discipline, training, rank, uniform, or mission. I also include more with the mildly military label. I believe that mildly military should apply to half-baked concepts within the umbra of being a military organization. This includes wrong weaponry, lack of Combined Arms, and soldiers that are too young. At times, some elements of mildly military can be excused depending on the designs of the creator, and other times, it is just an inability of the creator to understand the military or how they operate. This trope is often mixed with the "main characters do everything" trope that plagues some of the best and most well known sic-fi properties, like Space: Above and Beyond and Star Trek.
The Elements of Mildly Military
Lack of Discipline and Appearance Standards
Most of the examples of mildly military examples on the TV Tropes website involves the lack of discipline in supposed military units, like Tom Cruise's "Maverick" in Top Gear or the Recon Marines from Heartbreak Ridge. In any military unit, if you are an undisciplined hot-mess that is a problem for your officers, you can and will be kicked out of the world. Any military, no matter if they are A-level door-kickers to cooks, needs discipline and the ability to follow orders. If that breaks down, the entire machine of the unit breaks down. More over, those rebels and mavericks cannot be trusted, which is also a deal breaker for any military unit. In combat, all you have is each order. When it comes time for a military unit to break orders, it is a big deal and needs to be handled carefully by the creator.
Then there is the uniforms. Anime and manga are the fucking worst about allowing characters that are supposed to be in the military to be out of uniform, wearing completely bullshit hairstyles, or wearing the uniform completely wrong. There is some latitude with regard to uniforms in some units, like CAG or DEVGRU, but even then, these soldiers and sailors are expected to be in the proper uniform when it counts. Once a year, DELTA operators were to cut their hair back to military regulations for their official photography...but it seems in the UN Spacy, no one is expected to have regulation hair. I swear, the SDF-1 PX must have the best selection of hair products off-world.
This one brothers me, and it may be nitpicky of me to include this, but one element of mildly military (to me) is having soldiers using the wrong weaponry. Much like anything, there are trends, and weapons have theirs. Take the H&K MP5 submachine gun as a prime example. This 9x19mm SMG was uber popular in the 1980's, and it was the tool of elite counter-terrorism units and SWAT teams. Popular media picked up on this, and put the excellent weapon in every fucking thing they could, even if it didn't make any goddamn sense. This includes the film Predator to the SG Teams from Stargate (film and TV series). The Desert Eagle is the same way. At times, this can be forgiven, like in on-line military shooters or in sci-fi military units, but if you are trying to portray a modern-day military organization, it is not forgivable, due your research that does not include Call of Duty or 80's action movies.
Lack of Real World Military Structure
Soldiers that are too Young
The "Main Characters Do Everything"
Ground Troops Only
Most mildly military armed forces seen in sci-fi are basically half-baked military organizations at their heart. It is hard to take a fictional military organization seriously when the creator has not covered the basics of combat. One portion that deep troubles me is the simple lack of Combined Arms in these fictional armies. Combined arms involves all elements of an armed forces to be brought to the battlefield like artillery, armored vehicles, machine guns, mortars, SOF, orbital weapon platforms, and CAS . Some works try to justify the lack of combined arms via "it's the future" or "we have mecha" or "we're the only ship in the quadrant" but still, if you are in an infantry unit, you would still want CAS, artillery, or a fucking machine gun! Never join the Starfleet Marines.
Why the Mildly Military Trope So Widespread in Military Sci-Fi?
With Star Trek, Stargate, B5, and BSG all falling under the mildly military label, it begs the question of why this cancer is so widespread in science fiction. Here is my list of why:
Lack of Military Experience
Sins of the Father are the Sins of the Son and the Grandson
Much like civilizations that build upon one another, popular media is the same way; if something is popular or inventive, it is copied and used as a springboard. What we are exposed to what alters our experience and imagination, and since mildly military is incredibly common in sci-fi, it becomes like an STD on a cruise ship. This could explain how mildly military became such a hallmark of sci-fi: creators were basing their own creations off of others works that were mildly military themselves. If the progenitor inspiriting work is mildly military than the acorn doesn't fall far from the mildly military tree. Three of the largest progenitor mildly military sci-fi works are: Starship Troopers, Star Trek, and Star Wars. You would be hard pressed to find any someone that did not use those founding works as an inspiration.
A great deal depends on when you lived, and sci-fi is no exception. When a creator lives informs us of how that time in history will influence the creator and their creation. Consider when two of the founding classics of military sci-fi were written; after World War II and Vietnam War. Starship Troopers was written in the beginning of the Cold War and the Space Race, and after the 2nd World War. Robert Heinlein suited his MI troopers with futuristic battle armor and armed with flamethrowers and micro-atomic weapons. The Mobile Infantry troopers themselves are based around WWII style paratrooper tactics. ALIENS was made in the 1980's, and the US military and the American people were still under the shadow of the Vietnam War, and the breakdown of discipline was an enduring image of that war. This shadow of Vietnam War can be seen coloring the Colonial Marines of ALIENS and even the core characters of The Forever War. Due to the alternation of time, these values can be seen as mildly military to future audiences.
Lack of Research
Sometimes, authors and creators just don't do research, and that lack of research does effect their product. Research is an important element of any work, especially if the creator is not an expert in the subject that they are talking about. Research can and does make up for the some of the deficits of the writer, but only if they do it. Mildly military could be the symptom of simply not researching your subject and relaying on what you think you about the military, tactics, and combat. Speaking as a trained historical researcher, the internet has made our jobs easier. Search engines allow unbelieveable amounts of data to be at the fingers of the creator. So, there is little excuse of being lazy. An creator could assume they know everything about the military because they play Battlefield or they've watched Band of Brothers, and put that faulty POV in their work and we get mildly military.
The Creator's Vision and Giving Zero Fucks
As an author, your fictional universe is the world that your characters and events occupy and live in, and it is our own vision...that means, just like Bob Ross told us, that this is your world and you can do what you want in your own world. Gene Roddenberry created Starfleet, George Lucas created the Jedi due to their own vision, despite being prime examples of the mildly military trope. When Roddenberry created Starfleet, he did not want a 100% space navy that was devoted to the defense of the Federation, but instead a unique organization is that devoted to defense, exploration, first contact, and peacekeeping...and he give zero fucks about criticism about his vision of that 23rd century organization. Lucas is the same. His vision of laser-sword wielding space Samurai pitted against a galactic empire with the power to destroy entire planets and has an army of white-armor wearing soldiers was not based on a realistic military model...and once again, he give zero fucks and laughed all the way to the bank. This vision of how their universe works is a powerful one, and this could be the number one reason for the trope of mildly military.
The Justifications of Mildly Military
Because it is the Future Dammit!
We cannot know what changes will occur when mankind pushes out and establishes a presence in our solar system and beyond. The same goes for the military as well and technology. How will a military organizations handle outposts on exoplanets, space stations, deploying forces across lightyears and not miles, and FTL starships? We simply do not know, and one defense for mildly military trope is that these fictional military organizations are set in the future, have superior technology, and their service members are from other planets and even other species so that the comparison between today's military and the one in the far-future is not applicable.
Streamlining the Complexity To Save the Story
Some creators point to the use of mockery to excuse their mildly military nature. If some levels a criticism of their work, the creator can just say, "well, it was for laughs, asshole." Of course, prime examples is Red Vs. Blue, Kelly's Heroes...especially Hogan's Heroes, but even more mainstream works use this to cover up their deficits. Even high-levels of humor as seen in the Stargate television series were a way to balance the mildly military aspects.
They are Special Operations Forces
In the real-world, the most elite Special Forces units, like CAG, SAS, SBS, and DEVGRU are allowed a greater degree of freedom and autonomy than regular military units. This idea populates into sci-fi and often authors and creators used the "but they're SOF!" defense to justify the nature of their creation. I have done with my own military science fiction novel Endangered Species. The MCAG that my main character is a member is an elite TIER-One special missions unit and the abilities of the members allows for their irregular status. Just examine any SOF unit in science fiction and you can see the mildly military trope alive and well, but it can be justified by the creator because of their elite status. This can even be seen in modern military films like Black Hawk Down.
Bad Shit Has Just Happened...
Any organization, from hospitals, to fast-food restaurants, to the military are all designed to limit crisis and continue to deliver their product or service despite the chaos. During times like October 3rd-4th, 1993, or September 11th, 2001, or even Black Friday, order can be broken down, and natural leaders, despite rank, take charge and solve the problem. This can led to elements associated with the mildly military trope. In sci-fi, we see the mildly military aspect defended with the justification of "bad shit just went down". This is used time-and-time again in both incarnations of Battlestar Galactica after the destruction of the 12 Colonies of Kolob and the accumulation of the ragtag civilian fleet. This is also seen in Stargate: Atlantis with the military contingent that exists within wider Atlantis Expedition, with justification being that the city is cut-off from Terra and also has aliens serving in the ranks of the military contingent, along with being multi-national. I am also guilty of using the "shit went down" to justify certain elements within my own MSF novel Endangered Species. This justification is are to criticize if the creator has done their work properly.
They are Aliens
The universe is packed with galaxies, stars, and planets, and who knows what kind of life is out there. But, if there is intelligence life out among the cold wastes of space, there is also war. War and society breeds organizations devoted to defend their citizenry. To us Terrans, an alien military organizations could be complete different than our own interpretation of how a military should look and function. Depending on the aliens themselves, their society and culture, will determine how this military is designed. Creators have more fun when it comes to designing an alien military organization because there are no rules. This gives creators a blank check to use to dream any type of mildly military alien organizations of their fantasies and relish in pointing those differences to the audience. In short, Klingons are going to do what Klingons do.
Sci-Fi and Mildly Military
The Crew of the Andromeda Ascend from Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
This show is one of those interesting sci-fi shows that some fans really love and others either hate or simply have ever heard of Andromeda. In the series, Systems Commonwealth High Guard officer Dylan Hunt wakes up three hundreds years in the future, and is the sole surviving ship of the old government. While he and his ship's AI, Romie, attempt to hold to the old High Guard structure, while the bulk of the new crew is composed of civilians who are more akin to the crew of the Serenity than a spit-and-polish naval warship. This mildly military element is build into the series and is organic part of the story and universe.
SG Command from the Stargate Universe
When it comes to sci-fi franchise on television, Stargate is one of the biggest names, and it is the longest running military sci-fi television series. Unlike Trek, the SG team and the Atlantis Expedition featured throughout the series are based on current day military units and operate within a sci-fi universe. The interesting thing about Stargate and the mildly military trope is that in some ways, Stargate can be justified due to the entire SG Project being a highly classified operation, forging a unique structure with the in-field units. I tend to disagree that the USAF would be spearheading the entire SG project, and they would be the lead in-field operatives. If I where sending teams through a FTL gate to off-world locations, I think the SMU JSOC taskforces would be best, or even US Army Special Forces ODA teams with specialized civilian members.
Starfleet from the Star Trek Universe
Here is one of the prime examples of the mildly military organizations in all of science fiction. Starfleet is not a completely military organization, it is mostly devoted to exploration, defense, and peacekeeping rather than standard naval military operations. For a semi-military organizations, Starfleet is completely half-baked. Starfleet itself has no real concept of how to fight a war, they lack a ground force, their ships are bipolar, being devoted to exploration and defensive operations, and their captains are expected to be Sir Horatio Nelson, Stephen Hawking, and Zbigniew Brzezinski depending on the situation. Of course, since Starfleet is so unique in the realm of science fiction, and Roddenberry was attempting to create Starfleet as something more unique than the US Navy in space, it can be more justified in-universe than other mildly military organizations.
The Mobile Infantry from Starship Troopers
The Robotech Defense Force from the ROBOTECH Universe
The entire cast of the G.I Joe from the Animated G.I. Joe Series.
There has been GI Joes since 1964, and over time, the figures and the products associates have gone more down the path of mildly military. This apexed around the time of the GI Joe: Real American Hero in 1982, and it got more EXTREME! in the 1990's, causing the Joes to be little more than a joke of a military organization. Seriously, the Joes were the most oddball SpecOps unit in the American Armed Forces with their animals, weird gear, and bizarro outfits. The Joes are the least effective military unit to boot with their lack of ability to hit their enemy! In this Robot Chicken segment, we can really see just mildly military the Joes really are:
The Marine Corps of 2063 from Space:Above and Beyond (I am so sorry!)
The Colonial Marines from the ALIENS Universe...What The Frak?!
The Crew of BSG-75 from Battlefield Galactica (1978 and 2004)
The Military of the Imperium of Man from WH40K
One of the most unique military organizations in all of science fiction is the Imperium of Man web of military organizations. While they are mildly military, they are not mildly military due to discipline. The Imperium has ways of dealing with people that act up. However, it is mildly military because of its unconventional structure, units, and enemies...you know, genestealers, oaks, space elves, and dark gods.
Next Time on FWS...
Re: the "Main Characters Do Everything" trope. Yes, James T. Kirk, I am talking about you. Yes, it is a glaring omission of specialization in an structured society like the armed forces, but it was very well explained by Ron D. Moore in one of his podcasts about BSG. The main reason is money. The main characters are played by the best paid actors and production companies like to have their employees work for their salary. Also, actors like to have their likeness out all the time and they could get very upset when they don't. It is a problem that will never go away, unless you make your character NOT the captain or other high ranking officer whose duties are actually in the rear managing the battle as opposed to be in it.ReplyDelete
Same problem with SAAB, those space battles cost more than the ground ones.
The problem with the "unique" non-military hair styles in animation, is probably character identification. All of these character tend to be drawn the same and the only way to identify them are by having unique pieces of inventory, clothing or hairdos.
In the end, TV and movies, tend to use more graphical drama than books and so they rely on the timeless tropes, like the religious nut, the misfit, the rebel without cause, the idiot officer, etc. people who would have been drummed out of the force, shunted to some place where they wouldn't do any harm like logistics or working on the kitchen, or in prison.
Unfortunately real life, even in such occupations like the military, is 99% boring and all the drama is due to special circumstances. Due to time constrains of the visual medium, they have to create the most drama possible in the allotted time and thus use these tropes.
Books and comics have more freedom to build up the drama and thus they don't need the use of these tropes and so they should avoid them.
As for SST, if I remember correctly Heinlein was ex-Navy so probably he did not intimately know the quirks of a ground unit, but he did correctly insert naval support in the book. The way I see it, the main problem with naval support from space is that the weapons are more destructive than needed. Dropping something from orbit can create craters without meaning to, and so I see space support as something chancy at best. In fact, CAS is the only reason why aerospace fighters like the ones used on the SST animation should exist. To help the ground troops with enough force that does the job without killing them as well. I believe that fighters in space are a really bad idea. The trouble of bringing a living environment for the pilot creates a bigger problem that the one posed by the enemies defenses.
"The problem with the "unique" non-military hair styles in animation, is probably character identification. All of these character tend to be drawn the same and the only way to identify them are by having unique pieces of inventory, clothing or hairdos."Delete
It's common Practice in Anime and Manga to use hair color and style to make identification of characters easier. As a Illustrated form It's often hard to differentiate between individuals especially in quickly drawn or action packed volumes. To use a Mildly military/ MSF example In the Manga and Anime series FULL METAL PANIC the Facial features of Sgt.Major Mao, Captain Testarossa, Kaname Chidori and Ren Mikihara are all Identical, Mao and Tessa are distinguished by there Hair style Mao being a short bob Tessa a long Pony Tail well Kaname and Ren Are from the Front Identical save for Hair and eye color. this is because the same artist drew them in fact a few of the males have the same face as well.
as to the rest of your points spot on. Orbital weapons are either WMD or going to take to long to hit target to make it practical.
the Fast paced TV and Movies set extremes of Stereotypes based on established tropes to try an cheat and get the story moving. This is rampant even in non MSF Example the Hurt Locker which had so many glaring failures of Reality and violations of discipline and regulations that the whole cast of characters should have been courts martialed.
There are dozens of reasons justifying this trope, but “Mildly Military” allows the author to omit quite a bit of military unpleasantness. I served for twelve years in the military, (four years active Air Force, eight years National Guard Infantry,) and I can give you some examples.ReplyDelete
You have all heard about “Military Comradery.” The “Band of Brothers” trope that gave you the notion that “All Solders Are Brothers.” When I hear of veterans talking about “Crossing the Country” just to “Help a Buddy Change a Tire,” I have to stop myself from asking, “What country are you from, and why did you leave it?”
My experience was more like my school days than anyone would believe. You had your bullies, (normally these are people with more stripes than you have,) your jocks, (talented troops who the command dotted on,) and soldiers like me, who’s only goal was an honorable discharge. Now I won’t say for the vast majority of people that served with, that I would cross the street to avoid them, but I would think about it.
One fact that gets overlooked in literature is that the military is the only institution in the United States than has “Institutionalized Segregation.” It’s a “Class” segregation, with commissioned officers on top, and enlisted/nco on the bottom. Civilians may dismiss this, but it is a physical reality. There are bases where officer housing is called “Officers Country,” and one could receive a reprimand from driving through it. There were officers who went out of their way to demonstrate their superiority. One example of many is when I was in the Guard, we would come in from the field and hit the Base Exchange. We could not take our weapons into the building, so we stacked them outside and left a man to guard them. Inevitably the guard would get a dressing down about some perceived issue with his uniform by an O-5 admin clerk, (Lieutenant Colonel.) Now don’t get me wrong, there are officers I served under, that I would have followed into hell itself. There are other officers who I respected their rank more than their person.
The inevitable afterbirth of the officer core is one of the most hated of military institutions, the officer’s wife. This is the military equivalent of “Marrying for Money.” With no military standing, they are important because of what their husband does. A common derogatory description of these women is “She wears the rank more than he does.”
It is not surprising that these subjects don’t appear in most military literature. Most writers and readers, with the exception of those who watch the Lifetime channel, do not enjoy stories like these.
The impression I got during my enlistment was that my service didn’t matter, and I don’t think I was alone in this thinking. A common lament I heard was the wish to have a “Good War.” To most people, that meant an environment were all that matted was the job you did, and not all the crap that went along with being in the military. The truth is that most people wanted to experience the “Band of Brothers” trope for themselves.
For further research, it's worth looking up comics written by vets like Terminal Lance. Even in home-front bases, the artist makes (often scatalogical) humor out of a lifestyle born of old traditions, heavy bureaucracy, lowest-bidder equipment and post-adolescent hormones.Delete
The character of the "Officer's wife" could often be found in the British Indian Army. It was said that then that the wife took on the rank of her husband. Kipling writes about this in some of his stories and it features in "Plain Tales from the Raj" by Charles Mason.Delete
I made the mistake(?) of watching the real Macross before seeing Robotech, but even if I hadn't, I'd probably say that Masters was the worst of the three cut-ups. You can't have a serious MilSF where EVERYONE is incompetent to the point of uselessness. I vaguely recall that there was only one character I wouldn't want to see die in a fire (some relatively minor blue-haired girl pilot character), and of course, she was the one who died in a fire...
"Mildly Military" is probably the core reason why I have a blazing hatred for most Gundam protagonists, and the only Gundam series that I liked were the ones where it functioned more like a proper military unit (the 0080, 0083, and 8th MS Team OVAs), or where it was logically consistent as to why the unit was mildly military (00 Gundam, Mobile Fighter G Gundam).ReplyDelete
Then again, it might have been the idiotic "understanding powers" angle that most Gundam media has...
I would also like to point out that the 40K Imperium of Man's forces don't really qualify for the trope. Any points of contention regarding the hierarchy, structure, and chain of command *are* actually explained due to historical events within the setting. The Imperium's military looks the way it does because of the Horus Heresy, circa M30/M31. At that time (M30-31), the Imperial military looked *very* different, with the Space Marines deploying more as massed formations of heavy shock troops, and the Guard and Navy integrated as a single service branch.
Complaints regarding the Adepta Sororitas are also explained in-setting; the "Sisters of Battle" exist because the Imperial church isn't allowed to have *men* under arms, so they decided to follow the letter of the law instead of the spirit, and conscripted a bunch of women to be their in-house military force.
In defense of SOME of the Gundam series, the Bad Shit just Happened applies in spades during the One-Year War. MSG focused on an experimental ship with a decimated crew (the 'commander' was a lieutenant as I recall) having to cross enemy territory with a load of refugees comprised mostly of women and children; anyone with usable technical skills and no kids to concentrate on was going to get drafted. Later in the war (see the THUNDERBOLT manga series for a grim example), manpower was so depleted on both sides that they were explicitly recruiting teenagers and sending them in with minimal training just to keep the cockpits occupied.Delete
I think that the UNSC in Halo is actually a good example of NOT mildly military. The structure, organization, combined arms, and discipline all seem to be there. The only time I can think of off the top of my head from the Halo series (at least from CE to Reach) is in Halo 2 when Cortana gives Cmdr Keyes all intel on the previous Halo ring regardless of whether she has "the classification or not". Other than that, I think that Halo does a pretty good job displaying a future military.ReplyDelete
Superhuman jedi and sith aside, Lucas and his successors did at least try to incorporate combined arms into most of the battles. For example, Hoth saw the stormtroopers backed up by armored walkers fighting rebels backed by (mostly) light artillery and air power--both sides appropriately dressed for the weather.ReplyDelete
As an aside, isn't it ironic that the widely-trashed movie version of Starship Troopers had more combined arms on both sides than the classic book?
A bit involved with Aliens. One, LT Gorman was intentionally picked by Burke because of his LACK of battlefield experience, since his goal was to smuggle the Xenomorphs off world. Two, the actors portraying Marines were trained by the SAS, along with the Vietnam callbacks, so that may be why they appear lax. The briefing scene was also filmed LAST intentionally when the group playing the actual Marines had the camaraderie. The actors were also encouraged to personalize their stuff.ReplyDelete
Yes, we have to always take into account when it was written and who wrote it, and stuff in Japan always lacks military authenticity because they really don't have one to consult.
Also! TV shows and movies often have advisers from the actual military on set to assist. But then again one of my friends told me that his A school instructors told them not to watch JAG due to vagrant uniform violations, so I was like, "if they can't even get the basic shit right, why should I care about the stuff that does matter?"
I take a very biased look at the part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that allows for actors and such to portray people in uniform as long as their actions do not disgrace it.
Personally I'd rather have happy vets than disgruntled couch potatoes, and want to read stuff by people who have actually served, or at least did their homework.
It also sucks that there's so much in Star Wars, even the expanded universe, that makes me find WWII analogies...
I'm a bit confused about the reason that they're aliens. I mean that shouldn't make them mildly military. Even in real life researchers and scientists say that aliens will probably have different cultures and customs than us. So that means their militaries will be structured differently than us. I do agree that alien militaries still need discipline just like our militaries but they may be more lax or more strict in certain areas than we are. So alien militaries actually are good as they can serve as a nice way to compare and contrast the militaries of different civilizations and species. That's why I'm a bit confused to why they fall into the mildly military category. But y'all might be able to enlighten me and clear things up to why they belong into the mildly military category. Oh and this an interesting blog by the way. I love it.ReplyDelete