Neutrality Backlash YKTTW Discussion

Neutrality Backlash
Someone tries to stay neutral in a conflict, and it bites them hard.
(permanent link) added: 2012-06-16 22:13:18 sponsor: DaveMichael (last reply: 2012-07-17 09:09:35)

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"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.



  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.
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