Created By: DaveMichael on June 16, 2012 Last Edited By: DaveMichael on July 17, 2012
Troped

Neutrality Backlash

Someone tries to stay neutral in a conflict, and it bites them hard.

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Trope
"He who is neither one thing nor the other has no friends."
-- Aesop

Zap Brannigan: "I hate these Neutrals, Kif. With enemies you know where they stand, but with Neutrals, who knows? It sickens me."
-- Brannigan, Begin Again, Futurama

There was a great war, between two mighty nations, that absorbed the entire planet in its terrible fury. Every living man, woman, and child chose a side...

...except that prick. And when the war was over, boy, did he get it.

This trope is what happens when someone refuses to choose a side in a conflict, and it ends up biting them in the ass. Perhaps they spend the war sitting on their hands, or maybe they try to play up to both sides. Regardless, at some point one side or the other will come calling for revenge, if Laser-Guided Karma doesn't catch them first.

Contrast with Neutral No Longer, where the neutral party is forced to pick a side during the war, either because they got conquered by that side during the conflict, or because one side's atrocities drove them into the other side's camp.

Compare with No Points for Neutrality and Alien Non-Interference Clause. Can overlap with Somebody Else's Problem.


Examples:

Anime

  • In Gundam SEED, the Orb Union was a small island nation that tried to maintain a neutral stance between ZAFT and the Earth Federation during the First Bloody Valentine War. In the end, it evacuated the island and set fire to its military bases rather than join either side. It averted the trope in the following war, where it voted to join the Earth Alliance.

Comics

  • One of the Phantom Stranger's possible origin stories is this. An angel in Heaven, the Stranger refused to pick a side in the war between God and Lucifer. As a result, he was cast out of Heaven and Hell once the war ended, cursed to walk the Earth as a stranger to everyone.
  • Mouse Guard takes the fable about bats, beasts and birds as history, and shows the long-term consequences: bats will go berserk if you imply they are untrustworthy. To be fair, the bats claim that they weren't neutral in the old war, but that they were rejected by both sides because of their appearance.
  • Not all of the Transformers on Cybertron joined the Autobots or the Decepticons. This rarely worked out well for them.
    • The neutral town of Yuss in the Stanix region of Cybertron was a frequent target for relieving the boredom of Decepticons stationed in the area.
    • During the evacuation of Altihex, twenty to thirty Neutrals took control of a building, arguing for both Autobots and Decepticons to end the war, renounce their allegiances, and unite. Skywarp took a moment to consider whether or not to take advantage of their idealism... then decided to slag them.
    • In the current IDW comics, NAILs (Non-Aligned Indigenous Life-forms) are Cybertronians who left the planet during the war, wishing to have nothing to do with it. They've recently returned to Cybertron now that the war is "over" and the planet is inhabitable again. While they haven't been slaughtered outright yet, they've already managed to annoy both the Autobots and the Decepticons.

Film

  • In Dogma, Azrael was a Muse who stayed neutral in the war between Heaven and Hell. Unlike the Phantom Stranger above, he ended up in Hell. He is less than happy about this.
  • Zeus spends most of Immortals trying to keep his fellow gods from getting involved in a mortal war, going so far as to kill Ares for interfering. As a result, Hyperion succeeds in unleashing the god-killing Titans, something Zeus or any other god could have easily prevented.

Folklore

  • One of the many origins Europeans gave to fairies was that they were neutral angels who refused to pick a side when the Devil revolted against God and Heaven. Rather than be turned into demons and get cast into Hell, they were left to their own devices on Earth since they were neither good nor evil. Whether this is actually a punishment from their point of view is debatable.

Literature

  • The Magic: The Gathering novel The Prodigal Sorcerer inverts the trope. A sorcerer from an order of true neutral sorcerers comes down from his mountain to bring a quick end to a long-running three-way war. While he succeeds in this, attempts to forge a permanent peace in the aftermath go very badly and the sorcerer is manipulated by outside forces into nearly letting a foreign army in to curbstomp everyone. Arguably all sides, and especially the mage, would have been much better off if he'd just stayed out of it.
  • In The Sneetches, Sylvester McMonkey McBean offers his services to both the star-bellied Sneetches and those without indiscriminately. He ends up averting the trope completely, walking off with all of the Sneetches's money and laughing about how silly they are. This probably also qualifies him for Magnificent Bastard status.
  • One of Aesop's Fables, The Bat, the Birds, and the Beasts, tells of a Bat who refused to take sides in a coming war between the Birds and the Beasts. The war is avoided at the last moment, but when the Bat tries to join in the revelry, both sides threaten to tear him apart. Probably the Ur-Example of this trope.
    "He that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends."
  • Silverwing has the same premise as Aesop's fable. Many years ago there was a battle between the birds and the beasts. Because of the bats' actions in the war (the bats claim they didn't choose a side, the birds claim they switched sides) all bats are banished to the night.
  • In the Sword of Truth series, the nation of Galea withdrew from a war against the Imperial Order after a new queen came to power, declaring itself neutral. It had previously been allied with the Order's enemies. To absolutely no one's surprise (except apparently the queen's), the Order quickly conquers Galea.
  • Briefly discussed in Mariners of Gor when there's a mutiny on board a ship. The narrator and some of his friends consider just staying out of the conflict altogether, but then they realize that whichever side wins will punish them for not taking their side, so they arm themselves and fight on the side of the established authority.

Tabletop Games

  • Because Warhammer 40,000 is a crapsack universe, this trope is rarely in play. Most Imperial citizens don't get the option of staying neutral or even picking a side. If someone does stay neutral in a conflict, the best outcome they can expect is summary execution once the fighting is over. Generally everyone knows this and is not stupid enough to tempt fate. Of course there have been exceptions.
    • During the early days of the Horus Heresy, the planet Bastion declared itself neutral and invited representatives from Horus and the Emperor to make a case for which side the planet should join. Horus's representative blew up Bastion as an example to any other neutral planets: Ally with the Imperium and die.
    • Some suspect the Dark Angels stayed out of the Horus Heresy to wait and see which side won. The truth is more complicated, but it's one of many things that have raised suspicions about the Chapter's motives.

Video Games

  • Genn Greymane, the king of Gilneas, refused to support the Alliance against the Horde and bricked up his entire city behind a giant wall. Then the werewolves came...
  • In Civilization 4, if you try to remain neutral and not ally with other countries involved in a war with each other, they'll get mad at you. Your points with the countries will go down.
  • In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Dragon King Dheginsea stubbornly tries to have the country of Goldoa remain neutral for 1,000 years to satisfy the terms of the covenant with the goddess Ashera. He ends up having one of his children killed and another one forced into exile because of his insistence on neutrality.
  • Grand Cleric Elthina of Dragon Age II insists on remaining neutral in the conflict between the mages and the templars, believing that peace and middle ground are possible and necessary. She is killed when a fanatical mage supporter blows up the Chantry in order to break the stalemate between the two sides and bring about revolution and freedom for the mages.

Webcomics

  • In Order Of The Stick, Therkla the half-orc falls in love with Elan while on an assignment from her master, Lord Kubota, to kill Hinjo (whom Elan is bodyguarding). She tries her best to protect Elan while still serving Kubota, and in the end tries to convince Elan and Kubota to simply let each other be. Unfortunately Kubota believes in W Ith Us Or Against Us and fatally poisons Therkla. Doubly painful in that Elan was never going to reciprocate Therkla's love.

Real Life

  • Niccolò Machiavelli explicitly advises against taking the neutral position: you'll only end up as a prize for the winner. Better to be winners together, or even losers together (you'll support each other) than someone's dessert.
  • The Neutral Nation was a group of Native North American tribes of the Iroquoian branch of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic stock that occupied territory along the northern shore of Lake Erie. The French gave the Neutral Nation its name because of its neutrality in the Iroquois-Huron wars. They were able to remain neutral because they controlled flint grounds useful for making for spear and arrowheads. Once gunpowder was introduced into the conflict, and once the Neutral Nation absorbed the remnants of the Hurons, the Iroquois practically destroyed them. Possibly doesn't count because of the influx of Hurons, although the Neutral Nation would certainly have been better off allying with the Iroquois early on.
  • Switzerland averted the trope in both World Wars, mostly because both sides respected the strength of the Swiss military and because Switzerland's geography would make any invasion of the country very difficult to accomplish. As such, Switzerland remained neutral throughout both wars, and while they did suffer some collateral damage, they were never seriously attacked by anyone and emerged largely unscathed.
  • While northern Ireland, as part of Great Britain, joined the Allies during World War II, the independent state of Ireland declared itself neutral and maintained this stance throughout the war, with the Taoiseach even offering his condolences upon Hitler's death. Despite this, Ireland was "accidentally" bombed by the Axis powers and one Irish ship, the Kerlogue, was fired on by both sides. Following the war, Ireland was barred from entering the United Nations for nearly a decade.
    • The Kerlogue was not the only Irish ship attacked during World War II, it just has the distinction of being attacked by both sides.
Community Feedback Replies: 49
  • June 17, 2012
    Bisected8
    Would cases where someone is pushed out of a neutral position because one or more sides have a "with us or against us" mentality count? Or would they just have to suffer for it.
  • June 17, 2012
    TheHandle
    Niccolo Machiavelli explicitly advises against taking that position: you'll only end up as a prize for the winner. Better to be winners together, or even losers together (you'll support each other) than someone's dessert.
  • June 17, 2012
    NimmerStill
    The Neutral Planet in Futurama's "Brannigan, Begin Again" could be a subversion. Brannigan is infuriated by their neutralness, and wants to obliterate them because of it, but his ineptness and the opposition of the Planet Express Crew prevent him from doing anything serious.
  • June 17, 2012
    Bisected8
    • The hold of Whiterun in Skyrim has refused to take a side in the civil war by the time the game starts. A few quests into the civil war subplot, the Stormcloaks will try to take it to make an example of them, forcing them to side with the Legion (whether this works out or not depends on the faction the player sided with).
  • June 17, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    I don't think the Futurama example fits the trope. Brannigan just doesn't like them, for no apparent reason. The absurdity is lampshaded.

    "What makes a man turn neutral? Is it lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?"
  • June 17, 2012
    DaveMichael
    @rodneyAnonymous: Futurama really doesn't fit, but I think it deserves to be on the page for the lulz. Brannigan definitely shows the proper attitude towards those dastardly Neutrals, and it would definitely count if the Neutrals were actually neutral in some war.

    @Bisected8: Getting pushed to one side or the other counts, as long as the Neutrals being made to suffer is what pushes them to change sides. Bribery or rational argument doesn't count. I think I've updated the description sufficiently.

    @The Rest of You: Added.
  • June 17, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    The entry makes the false claim that the episode "plays with this trope". There is a neutral party someone doesn't like. That's it. (The closest is that Zapp says "With enemies you know where you stand, but with Neutrals, who knows?" Similar if you stand back and squint.) The potential for the trope playing out under different circumstances does not "deserve to be on the page". It's not this. It's not almost this. It's not a variant of this. It could be this, but that is irrelevant.
  • June 17, 2012
    animeg3282
    In Civilization 4, if you try to remain neutral and not ally with other countries involved in a war with each other, they'll get mad at you. Your points with the countries will go down.
  • June 17, 2012
    jatay3
    Alan Calhammer, creator of Diplomacy advises allying with the second most powerful player.
  • June 18, 2012
    NimmerStill
    @rodney, for one thing, I believe "playing with" covers both aversion and subversion, so it's definitely covered by one of those. And this is indeed a subversion, because if Brannigan had succeeded, then the Neutral Planet would indeed have suffered for their neutrality. So it is definitely at least "almost this".
  • June 18, 2012
    Koveras
    Dunno if it counts: In The Witcher saga, the eponymous Witchers are discouraged from picking sides in political struggles, and Geralt abides by this and tries keeping neutral. However, this often ends up biting him in the ass when he is manipulated into others' conflicts against his wishes.
  • June 18, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    Yes an "aversion" (Not A Subversion btw) is when something is set up to happen but does not happen. This is just something does not happen. It is not an aversion. It is not "almost this" unless you mean in the sense that Aladdin is "almost" The Bad Guy Wins because Jafar might have succeeded.

    The length of that entry and the amount of justification / apology in it should be a clue that it does not fit.
  • June 18, 2012
    Bisected8
    Actually, you've got it the other way around; aversion is when it just doesn't come up and subversion is when it's brought up and then...subverted.
  • June 18, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    No I don't? Subverted is when a trope is set up but something different/unexpected happens instead. Averted is when it's set up and nothing happens. That is, the trope could have been used but wasn't. It is not "doesn't come up at all"; that would mean all works avert every trope they don't invoke. It is "set to come up but doesn't". Like "the listening device is small and well-hidden" is an aversion of Incredibly Obvious Bug. This averted would be something like a party stays neutral in a conflict and then afterwards the winning side is not mad at them for not picking sides. The potential for it to happen, given the actual circumstances, has to be there. (Not given different, hypothetical circumstances.)

    The Futurama example is neither a subversion nor an aversion. It's just not this. Even if it was: "Even though There Is No Such Thing as Notability, averting is generally not an example for mentioning on a trope page..."
  • June 18, 2012
    LOAD
    Bats from Silverwing
  • June 18, 2012
    capricornucopia
    There's an aesop somewhere about a fight between animals of the land and birds of the air, and during the fighting the bat takes neither side, on account of not really fitting in with either. Once the fighting is over he tries to join up with both sides again, but both reject him for not helping them in the fighting.
  • June 18, 2012
    NimmerStill
    It is at least invoked, by Brannigan himself.
  • June 19, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    When? "I hate these Neutrals, Kif. With enemies you know where they stand, but with Neutrals, who knows? It sickens me." AFAIK that's the closest, and it's really far off. He is a warmonger who doesn't like people who don't fight. It is portrayed as silly. That is nothing like the reasoning described above.

    I love the show. That episode includes some really hilarious lines. But that's an obvious shoehorn.
  • June 19, 2012
    Bisected8
    Strictly speaking, that's him deciding to try and to make them suffer for not choosing a side (even if it is played for laughs). Sounds like this trope as I understand it.
  • June 19, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    Played for laughs? It is just absurd. "The epic struggle between good and neutral." WTF? The only thing connecting this and the trope is one possible interpretation of one line said by one secondary character who is portrayed as illogical and incompetent. That's pretty thin.

    Bad examples can be extremely harmful. There's very little reason to include it, and a lot of good reasons not to.
  • June 19, 2012
    chicagomel
    Wouldn't this apply to the United States in World War II? It tried to stay neutral, but got hit hard becuase of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, forcing it into the war.
  • June 19, 2012
    DaveMichael
    @rodney: Would you think it appropriate to leave Zap's quote in as a secondary page quote, but removing the entry? After watching the episode I agree it doesn't even invoke the trope, but I feel a mini-rant on loathing and punishing neutrality still fits the spirit of the trope. (I'd suggest the Aesop as the primary page quote, barring something better.)

    @chicagomel: Thought of it, but you could argue the U.S. was providing everything short of open military support to the Allies before Pearl Harbor. Which doesn't preclude including it, I'm just not knowledgeable enough to do the write-up. It probably applies to some European countries as well, i.e. the Low Countries.

    @LOAD: More details! I have not read the books / seen the cartoon.

    @Everyone: Does the "Up For Grabs" tag throw this open to editing by everyone? Because I think the trope's been well-defined at this point. Also any thoughts on title, tweaking the write-up, etc?
  • June 19, 2012
    NimmerStill
    "Bad examples can be extremely harmful."

    How?
  • June 19, 2012
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    ^I've seen tropes cutlisted simply because of trope decay.

    As for the WWII example, I think Belgium may be a better example. In both WWI and WWII, they tried to remain neutral, the French planned for war, and the Germans invaded Belgium so they could attack France through Belgium, throwing the French plans out the window. On the other hand, being neutral worked out much better for Switzerland.
  • June 19, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    Yes. Even not that extreme, bad examples invite more bad examples. Launching with misuse is not a good idea.

    The quote thing seems fine.
  • June 20, 2012
    DaveMichael
    Okay, Futurama example removed, page quotes added.
  • June 20, 2012
    Shrikesnest
    In video games or other games with alignment/karma systems, this is No Points For Neutrality
  • June 20, 2012
    surgoshan
    • The Evil Empire really punishes attempts at neutrality in Sword Of Truth. Granted, the so-called good guys aren't much better.
  • June 25, 2012
    Blork
    Zeus spends most of Immortals trying to keep the gods from getting involved in a mortal war. Most of the gods end up getting killed when the titans are released, which could have been prevented if they had got involved earlier.
  • June 26, 2012
    DarkConfidant
    In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Dragon King Dheginsea stubbornly tries to have the country of Goldoa remain neutral for 1,000 years to satisfy the terms of the covenant with the goddess Ashera. He ends up having one of his children killed and another one forced into exile because of his insistence on neutrality.
  • June 27, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    In Real Life various bodies such as Wikipedia and the BBC aim for neutrality but are often criticised for failing, as it is a very difficult mission statement when presenting information.
  • June 27, 2012
    DaveMichael
    @Heart Of An Astronaut Doesn't count: while the media is routinely criticized for bias, it very rarely results in any actual hardship for a journalist and/or paper. Also media bias tends to be subjective.
  • June 29, 2012
    DaveMichael
    I take it folder's don't work in YKTTW... or am I doing something wrong?
  • June 29, 2012
    falver
    Orb in Gundam SEED
  • June 30, 2012
    LOAD
    Silverwing has the same premise as Aesop's fable. (Many) Years ago there was a battle between the birds and the beasts. Because of the bats' actions in the war (The Bats claim they didn't choose a side, The Birds claim they switched sides) all Bats are banished to the night.
  • July 1, 2012
    Arivne
    ^^^ You are correct, folders don't work in YKTTW.
  • July 1, 2012
    RossN
    Ireland was neutral during World War II and suffered both during the war - 'accidently' bombed by the Axis, having her ships attacked by both sides - and after - having her entry to UN be veteoed by the USSR until 1955.

  • July 2, 2012
    Koveras
    To elaborate on the Gundam SEED example: Orb tried to maintain a neutral stance between ZAFT and the Earth Federation but they eventually both ganged up on it, believing Orb secretly supported the enemy.
  • July 2, 2012
    RossN
    Just to be clear the Kerlogue was far from the only Irish ship damaged or sunk during the war - 16 were lost to action (mostly to U-Boats and mines but some to aircraft.)

    Kerlogue was just unusually unlucky to be attacked by both sides.
  • July 3, 2012
    AP
    Folk Lore

    • One of the many origins Europeans gave to fairies was that they were neutral angels who refused to pick a side when the Devil revolted against God and Heaven. Rather than be turned into demons and be cast into Hell, they were left to their own devices on Earth since they were neither evil or good.
  • July 8, 2012
    TBeholder
  • July 8, 2012
    DaveMichael
    @T Beholder: Crap! Good catch. Neutral No Longer probably does cover about half of the examples here, which means this trope should be limited to neutrals who stay neutral past the end of a conflict, then pay for it afterwards. At which point is it tropeworthy? It's certainly an Aesop.
  • July 14, 2012
    Blubble
    • In Belgium, there is a fierce rivalry between Wallons and Flemings. Bruxelles federalists, who campaign for unity are viewed with derision or suspicion by both sides.
  • July 14, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Briefly discussed in Mariners of Gor where there's a mutiny on board a ship. The narrator and some of his friends consider just staying out of the conflict altogether, but then they realize that whichever side wins will punish them for not taking their side, so they arm themselves and fight on the side of the established authority.
  • July 15, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    Just noting: The Futurama thing is not an example, but as a page quote that works great.
  • July 16, 2012
    nitrokitty
    Another submission for page quote:
    If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.
    --Rush
  • July 17, 2012
    TheHandle
    You know, I'd like to see some actual reasoning behind neutral hate. Because, personally, I don't get it.
  • July 17, 2012
    TBTabby
    Sometimes a result of the Golden Mean Fallacy.
  • July 17, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    ^^ For some combatants, any failure to support them is considered to be tantamount to support for their opponents. This is often expressed as, "You're either with us or against us." As for how "reasonable" this idea is, YMMV.

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