Cannon fodder
Cannon fodder is an informal, derogatory term for military personnel who are regarded or treated as expendable in the face of enemy fire. The term is generally used in situations where soldier
A soldier is a member of the land component of national armed forces; whereas a soldier hired for service in a foreign army would be termed a mercenary...

s are forced to deliberately fight against hopeless odds (with the foreknowledge that they will suffer extremely high casualties) in an effort to achieve a strategic goal. An example is the trench warfare
Trench warfare
Trench warfare is a form of occupied fighting lines, consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are largely immune to the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery...

 in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. The term may also be used (somewhat pejoratively) to differentiate infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 from other forces (such as artillery, air force or the navy), or to distinguish expendable low-grade or inexperienced soldiers from supposedly more valuable veterans.

The term derives from fodder
Fodder or animal feed is any agricultural foodstuff used specifically to feed domesticated livestock such as cattle, goats, sheep, horses, chickens and pigs. Most animal feed is from plants but some is of animal origin...

, food for livestock. Soldiers are the metaphorical food for enemy cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...


Origins of the term

The concept of soldiers as nothing more than "food" to be consumed by battle dates back to at least the sixteenth century. For example, in William Shakespeare's
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 play Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 1 is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written no later than 1597. It is the second play in Shakespeare's tetralogy dealing with the successive reigns of Richard II, Henry IV , and Henry V...

 there is a scene where Prince Henry ridicules John Falstaff's pitiful group of soldiers. Falstaff replies to Prince Henry with cynical references to gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 and tossing bodies into mass grave
Mass grave
A mass grave is a grave containing multiple number of human corpses, which may or may not be identified prior to burial. There is no strict definition of the minimum number of bodies required to constitute a mass grave, although the United Nations defines a mass grave as a burial site which...

 pits, saying that his men are "good enough to toss; food for powder, food for powder; they’ll fill a pit as well as better [men]..."

The supposedly first attested use of the expression "cannon fodder" belongs to a French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 writer, François-René de Chateaubriand
François-René de Chateaubriand
François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand was a French writer, politician, diplomat and historian. He is considered the founder of Romanticism in French literature.-Early life and exile:...

. In his anti-Napoleonic pamphlet "De Buonaparte et des Bourbons", published in 1814, he criticized the cynical attitude towards recruits, that prevailed in the end of Napoleon's reign: "On en était venu à ce point de mépris pour la vie des hommes et pour la France, d'appeler les conscrits la matière première et la chair à canon" — "the contempt for the lives of men and for France herself has come to the point of calling the conscripts 'the raw material' and 'the cannon fodder."

Human wave attacks

Cannon fodder infantry are the core participants in human wave attack
Human wave attack
Human wave attack, also known as human sea attack, is an offensive infantry tactic, in which an attacker conducts an unprotected frontal assault with densely concentrated infantry formations against the enemy line, intended to overrun the defenders by engaging in melee combat.-Definition:According...

s, where massive waves of poorly armed, poorly trained, and ill-equipped soldiers are sent in a charging attack designed to overwhelm defenders with numbers rather than superior strategy, movement, or technology.

These attacks are popular among militaries which possess very large numbers of conscript soldiers, but lack the means or funding to train or arm them to the same standard as their enemy.

See also

  • Forlorn hope
    Forlorn hope
    A forlorn hope is a band of soldiers or other combatants chosen to take the leading part in a military operation, such as an assault on a defended position, where the risk of casualties is high....

    , the initial wave of troops attacking a fortress or other strongpoint, who usually took terrible casualties.
  • Redshirt
    Redshirt (character)
    A "redshirt" is a stock character in fiction who dies soon after being introduced. The term originates with fans of Star Trek , from the red shirts worn by Starfleet security officers who frequently die during episodes.-Star Trek:...

    , a character whose sole purpose is to die violently soon after being introduced. This term was originally used to describe the red-shirted security personnel of the original Star Trek
    Star Trek
    Star Trek is an American science fiction entertainment franchise created by Gene Roddenberry. The core of Star Trek is its six television series: The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise...

  • Mook
    Mook may refer to:* Mook * Mook en Middelaar, a municipality in the Netherlands* MOOK DLE, a Japanese animation studio* "The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and Her Homer", an episode of The Simpsons cartoon TV series...

    , from mook jung (Cantonese for "dead wood" or "wooden dummy") - the same but on the enemy's side.
  • Sacrificial lamb
    Sacrificial lamb
    A sacrificial lamb is a metaphorical reference to a person or animal sacrificed for the common good. The term is derived from the traditions of Abrahamic religion where a lamb is a highly valued possession, but is offered to God as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of Sin.-In politics:In politics, a...

    , a metaphorical reference for a person who has little if any chance of surviving an upcoming challenge, but seeks to sacrifice him or herself for the common good.
  • Meat shield, informal and often derogatory expression for someone put forth to absorb an attack or shelter another, such as a hostage held to block bullets.
  • Volkssturm
    The Volkssturm was a German national militia of the last months of World War II. It was founded on Adolf Hitler's orders on October 18, 1944 and conscripted males between the ages of 16 to 60 years who were not already serving in some military unit as part of a German Home Guard.-Origins and...

    , a hastily trained and equally poorly equipped paramilitary force used by Germany in the end of the Second World War.
  • Penal military unit
    Penal military unit
    Penal battalions, penal companies, etc., are military formations consisting of convicted persons for which military service in such units was either the assigned punishment or an alternative to imprisonment or the death penalty.-Nazi Germany:...

  • Principle of Evil Marksmanship
  • Kamikaze
    The were suicide attacks by military aviators from the Empire of Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II, designed to destroy as many warships as possible....

  • Zerg rush, a form of attack in the game Starcraft
    StarCraft is a military science fiction real-time strategy video game developed by Blizzard Entertainment. The first game of the StarCraft series was released for Microsoft Windows on 31 March 1998. With more than 11 million copies sold worldwide as of February 2009, it is one of the best-selling...

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