"He who is neither one thing nor the other has no friends."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 for that prick! And when the war was over, boy, did he get what was comin' to him! 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 Us or Against Us, 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 Pacifism Backfire, No Points for Neutrality and Alien Non-Interference Clause. Can overlap with the Golden Mean Fallacy, Stupid Neutral and Bystander Syndrome. However this trope can be Subverted at times, in some situations staying Neutral and out of the way can often be the safest (and wisest) choice for one to survive. Note: Aversions of this trope go under God and Satan Are Both Jerks, Screw This, I'm Outta Here!, Take a Third Option or some combination thereof. Or in extreme cases, Omnicidal Neutral.
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Anime And Manga
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED and Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny has this happen to the Kingdom of Orb. Espousing neutrality (and having enough firepower to theoretically prevent invasion), it nevertheless gets invaded twice because later in both Valentine Wars it is the only faction still holding resources that the battling sides need (such as the last orbital catapults that are needed to send troops and supplies to space, to not mention they want said Bigger Stick technology in order to get a one up over the other side), the Fantastic Racism has boiled over to the point that the leaders are willing to invade and Take No Prisoners just because the population is half-Coordinator/half-Natural, and the sides and their leaders are rather sick of Orb just standing there acting pompously (or so they say).
- 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 who both have the ability to crush them all if they could. The latter are more than willing to kill them when they get the opportunity.
- IDW has recently introduced multiple "lost colonies" of Cybertronians that left long before the war began. Since no one was aware of them during the conflict, and they weren't aware that a war was going on, nobody holds their non-participation against them.
- Dai Atlas was a strong opponent of both the Autobot and Decepticon factions, and led many evacuees to an off-planet refuge where they remained in hiding for most of the war. And it worked, excepting one battle fought in self-defense. Unfortunately shortly after the war ended another non-affiliated Cybertronian force invaded the refuge and slaughtered 90% of the population, including Dai Atlas. Statistically speaking, they might have been better off fighting.
- Cyclonus has become a subversion. He's expressed Decepticon sympathies, but in IDW continuity he's never been on either side of the war and maintains a stern refusal to align with either faction now that it's over. He still catches crap from the Autobots, who either assume he's a Decepticon or blame him for deaths he committed while Brainwashed and Crazy.
- Invoked by a Turkish soldier in The Golden House of Samarkanda, after warning protagonist Corto Maltese not to go into an area torn by conflict between different political and ethnic factions:
Corto: But I'm neither a Turk, nor a Kurd, nor a Russian.
Soldier: Which means that no-one will mourn your death.
- Uatu the Watcher from the Marvel Universe usually inverts the trope. When he maintains his Alien Non-Interference Clause he's generally fine. He's far more likely to come to harm, or run afoul of his people's laws, when he gets involved in Earth affairs. Or stands too close to the Red Hulk.
- A Red Dwarf comic, "The Cantabellis Tales" had the Dwarfers discover an abandoned spaceship with an Apocalyptic Log in the form of a poem based on The Canterbury Tales. They learn that the pilgrims all discovered they were on pilgrimages for different gods and a multi-sided holy war broke out. The log ends like this:
Log: "Hoi, look at Chaucer! While we're busy fighting,
He sits in the corner, bleeding writing!
Come, man, and choose a side to stick with,
Speak truly, Chaucer, which boot do you kick with?"
Kryten: At which point the recording breaks off abruptly.
- During Marvel's Civil War event, the Runaways elected to remain neutral, as they were not fond of either Captain America or Iron Man. When the war ended with the pro-registration side victorious, the Runaways were driven out of California, with their only remaining allies being the Young Avengers (who were at the time in no position to help them.) This remained their status quo for several years.
Films — Live-Action
- 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.
- In film version of The Two Towers, Treebeard initially doesn't want to take side in the Middle-Earth conflict since nobody actually cares for trees. That is, until Pippin and Merry show him quite clearly that if Saruman wins, the forests will be felled altogether.
- 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 without ever returning to Heaven since they were neither good nor evil. Whether this is actually a punishment from their point of view is debatable.
- 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."
- This is one possible reading of Eurymachus' role in The Odyssey. He presents himself as the most reasonable of the suitors and unlike the others does not overtly work against Odysseus, but at the same time he does not ally with him. Ultimately, while Odysseus returns to slaughter the suitors in the book's finale, the most vicious and overtly villainous of the suitors actually dies a relatively quick and undramatic death, while the final and most gruesome kill by Odysseus is reserved for Eurymachus, as a possible commentary against those who fail to choose a side. The other interpretation is that Eurymachus is The Walrus, a Manipulative Bastard who's getting exactly what he deserves.
- 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.
- 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.
- Early on in Dante's Divine Comedy, he meets the Uncommitted, who refused to choose good or evil in life. As a punishment, they are forced to eternally chase after a banner while being stung by wasps.
- In Melisa Michaels' Literature/Skyrider series, although they admire her skill, a lot of belters don't trust Skyrider because she tried to remain neutral in the last war. On the other hand, a lot of Earthers don't trust her because she's a belter.
- The Vorkosigan Saga has Komarr. When Barrayar was rediscovered, Cetaganda saw it as an area ripe for expansion. The Komarrans, who occupy the only route to Barrayar, let the Cetagandans through in exchange for protection and trade rights. The Barrayarans fought off the Cetagandans, and proceeded to attack Komarr in revenge, making a colony of their empire.
- The Arn from Animorphs wanted no part in the war with the Yeerks, and went as far altering their own physiology so they couldn't be forced into it by the Yeerks, who can possess other species. They thought this would make the Yeerks leave them alone, but instead the Yeerks just used them for slave labor, and target practice.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: The Late Lord Frey gained his nickname for his (in)actions during Robert's Rebellion, in which he was a Tully vassal (and so supposedly on the side of Robert Baratheon), but while he called his banners and mustered an army, the Freys stayed at home until the decisive Battle of the Trident, at which point the Freys arrived just after the battle had been fought. While they claimed to have merely been delayed and always intended to join in on Robert's side note , no-one really believed or trusted them sincenote .
- The world during the Tribulation period in the Left Behind series isn't a place for anyone to claim neutrality. If you don't get killed by Nicolae Carpathia and the Global Community for not being loyal to him (and even if you are loyal, you're still screwed no matter what), God will send you to Hell for not taking His side in the cosmic conflict.
- In Island in the Sea of Time, Pamela Lisketter and her followers make the incredibly short-sighted decision to aid Walker in betraying Nantucket, in part because they don't want the fledgling republic to enter the war between the Fiernan Bohulugi and the Iraiina. Not only do their decisions actually end up ensuring that Nantucket goes to war (because Walker immediately goes off and begins arming the Iraiina), but they themselves are mostly wiped out when their subsequent attempt to make an alliance with the People of the Jaguar God goes horribly, horribly wrong...
- The Druids in Villains by Necessity tried to keep both sides in the war between good and evil from winning, as they knew that either side achieving absolute victory would be a disaster. This got them declared an enemy by both sides. By the start of the story (A century after the Victory), Kaylana was the only Druid still alive.
- In the ancient backstory (i.e. the Creation Myth) of The Old Kingdom, there were Nine Bright Shiners, and Seven of them decided to join their power to create a world and a Charter to sustain it. The Ninth Bright Shiner wanted to destroy this world. There was also an Eighth Bright Shiner who wanted no part of either side, and it's not clear why. The Seven won their battle with the Ninth Bright Shiner, and when they were finished with him, they found the Eighth and "made him pay."
- In Tales of the Otori, Kaede's father chose to stay neutral in the conflict between the Otori and Tohan clans, then, after the Tohan won a decisive victory at the Battle of Yaegahara, then tried to suck up to the Tohan leadership. He was "rewarded" by having his daughter taken hostage and forced into servitude in the household of one of the Tohan's more strident allies.
- Pretty much everything that goes wrong for Sam in Revolting People is because he doesn't want to upset the British, but he doesn't want to reject the rebels either. One episode opens with him having a nightmare that he's gone to Hell for refusing to pick a side.
- 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.
- The planet Vostroya managed to pull this successfully during the Horus Heresy, declining to send troops to fight Horus in order to continue producing weapons. They paid for this voluntarily by giving their firstborn sons to the Imperial Guard.
- Historically a problem for the Independent Sidereal Exalted. The Sidereals are politically divided between the ruling Bronze Faction and the opposition Gold Faction. As factional politics almost completely supersede the official duties of the Sidereals, the few Sidereal Exalted who refuse to get involved and instead do their official jobs got politically dumped on by both factions. However, this is breaking down in the Time of Tumult, and more and more Sidereals are refusing to play their elders' games.
- This happened in Mage: The Ascension with the various magical Crafts, during the Ascension War. While some ancient magical groups formed together into the Traditions, against the rising Technocracy, others refused to join. Usually this was a result of either a particular craft being long-time enemies of a particular tradition, or because the craft was steeped in a particular local and culture, and didn't think the Ascension War affected them. Jump ahead to present day, and the Technocracy has eroded almost all belief in magic, the Traditions lost their most powerful elders, and the Ascension War was basically over. Guess who the Technocracy set their sights on then? One source book directly stated that the Crafts - such that survived without being picked off over the years - had the choice between being absorbed by specific Traditions or dying off completely.
- In the Nentir Vale setting for Dungeons & Dragons, "Dusk Elves" are an elven sub-race that tried to stay neutral during the big war between Corellon and Lolth that created the Elves (from Eladrin that were stranded in the mortal world) and the Drow (the Eladrin who sided with Lolth). No sooner was the war over than Eladrin and Elves alike turned their hands against the Dusk Elves, blaming them for the cost of the war, with full support of Corellon. If it wasn't for the goddess Sehanine deciding to shield them because they had, technically, been loyal to her teachings, they would have been wiped out.
- Another very bitter part of Shin Megami Tensei games. The Order Versus Chaos war that forms the core conflict of every game and the Vicious Cycles of Full Circle Revolutions mean both sides are going to be baying for your blood should you refuse to outright ally with them.
- Subverted in that surviving the backlash usually nets you the closest thing to a happy ending you can get.
- This especially hits the Neutral heroes of the series. The Heroine of Shin Megami Tensei ends up suffering a Trauma Conga Line and only really gets closure in the Neutral ending. And the less said of Isabeau from IV if you pick the Chaos or Law sides, the better.
- Genn Greymane, the king of Gilneas, refused to help the Alliance retake Azeroth/Stormwind from the Horde, though they did second-line actions in the campaign against the rogue human nation of Alterac. When Lordaeron was overrun by the undead, he 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, causing your reputation with both countries to go down and making it more likely that either of them (or worse, both) will attack you in the future.
- 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.
- Total War: Shogun 2 has your daimyo get points detracted from their honor if you refuse to come to an allies aid in a war (declaring war on the faction they are against).
- In Star Trek Online, this is the fate of the Romulan player - he/she refuses to get involved with everything going on and live a peaceful life in another world away from the wars going on. Then, the Elachi and the Tal Shiar descend on his planet and ravage it.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Jarl Balgruuf attempts to remain neutral in the conflict between the Imperials and the Stormcloaks, but the city winds up subject to a siege regardless and depending on which side you pick Balgruuf may wind up losing his position.
- In Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, when the Empire finally goes on the offensive and the Grand Alliance is forced to mobilize, Ul'dah, Limsa Lominsa, and Gridania call for aid from the fellow Eorzean city-state of Ishgard. The Ishgardians, however, are occupied in a holy war against all of dragonkind, and the city's theocratic rulers refuse to help. This created much ill will, with Ul'dah's representative being particularly bitter that Ishgard's crusade takes precedence over The Empire bearing down on the whole of Eorzea. The aftereffects of this decision from Ishgard have not been touched upon yet, however.
- Knights of the Old Republic features the planet Manaan, which is declaring neutrality in the war between the Sith Empire and the Republic because their world is the only one in the galaxy that can manufacture kolto, the primary healing solution that both sides use to treat their wounded. Neither side is happy about this, but the Selkath defend their neutrality aggressively (a fight between groups of soldiers is once defused because if anyone takes a swing they'll all be arrested, and at one point a court case is decided that both sides will pay reparations after a fight breaks out). This turns out badly for them after the war when bacta is discovered to be better than kolto, so the Selkath's economy collapses since they aren't needed anymore.
- Upgraded in Star Wars: The Old Republic, where they are neutral on paper, but due to the Empire carpet-bombing their planet, entered into the Rift Alliance, which allied with the Republic due to the actions of the Jedi Consular. Their representative, and possibly other members of their government, are actually aligned with the Star Cabal, which would just as soon see both superpowers destroyed.
- In a Vision Quest in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Atton and the rest of your party confronts Kreia, a Manipulative Bastard. You can either take the side Atton or Kreia, or say you won't defend nor attack Kreia. Both Kreia and the party react badly, each saying "Apathy is death" before attacking you.
Kreia: "So you will do nothing? Apathy is death. Worse than death, because at least a rotting corpse feeds the beasts and insects."
- Played with in Dragon Age II, in that one of these technically kicks off a war rather than occurring afterwards. Grand Cleric Elthina is seen by some as a voice of moderation in Mage-Templar tensions, and by others as an enabler who refuses to actually do anything about abuses committed by people under her authority. In the game's climax, one of the latter camp vaporizes the entire Chantry with her inside it.
- In The 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 With Us or Against Us and fatally poisons Therkla. Doubly painful in that Elan was never going to reciprocate Therkla's love.
- In Transformers, Paradron was a pacifist colony founded by Cybertronians who fled the Fourth Great War (whatever that was) and refused to do anything when Decepticons Cyclonus and Scourge located them. As a result the Decepticons conquered their planet. The Autobots then staged a rescue mission that resulted in them blowing up the planet to keep it out of Decepticon hands.
- In Beast Wars, Tigatron resigns from the Maximals and the Beast Wars after he accidentally causes the death of a friend. Dinobot pretends to invoke this trope to get Tigatron back on side, but it doesn't work. At that point Dinobot tries to invoke the trope for real, and would have killed Tigatron if Optimus hadn't turned up in time. In the end Tigatron rejoins when the Predacons make it clear that they'll only do more damage if they aren't opposed.
- 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.
- Neutrality in any conflict can also risk incurring the hostility of both sides rather than neither, leading to the expression "those who stand in the middle of the road get hit by traffic going both ways".
- 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 spears 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.
- The French State - dubbed 'Vichy' France because while they were still fighting the Germans they set up a temporary capital in the spa-town of Vichy (Bordeaux, Marseilles, and other cities were the personal fiefdoms of various parties and so unsuitable due to the risk of assassination, espionage, and desertion) - was this played straight. It still controlled a large empire and decent navy but the Allies stomped on it several times, either because it happened to be in the way of planned operations or because its possessions were perceived as a threat. After Operation Torch the Germans got in on this, finally dissolving the country and assuming direct control over it. In essence Vichy was everybody's Butt Monkey.
- Oddly enough Marshal Petain had little interest in remaining neutral and it was only later groups which attempted to portray him otherwise. Many in the French State's government, including the Marshal himself, wished to ally with Hitler's Reich. These included forming a French militia which fought for the Axis even after France's liberation by the Allies. It was Hitler, of all people, who had no interest in taking France on as a full partner because they were just so demanding and insubordinate. For their part the Allies only grudgingly decided to work with the rebels after they realized that the French government had no intention of resisting.
- Belgium attempted to be neutral during the opening years of World War II, even refusing the Allies to build any defence lines inside their borders or let them to land on their beaches; so when Germany invaded Belgium, they didn't have anyone to help them defend their country from German conquest.
- To be fair to the Belgians, the Allied war plan was to fight on the Belgian soil so that they didn't have to fight on the French, and they sort of succeeded because the Maginot Line made a very bad idea for the Germans to attack France directly—except that they didn't plan for any kind of enemy action on the grounds that it was too risky for Germany to try it. This was poor (Campaign/Operational) planning in the extreme - the whole point of planning is to be prepared for all possibilities, not just the ones you want to be true!
- The Norwegians attempted to be neutral at the beginning of World War II. Both British and Germans would have preferred that they stayed neutral, too—as long as the neutrality would be bent to their own advantage. When it became clear that their enemies would happily violate Norwegian neutrality when it suited them and Norwegians lacked both ability and willingness to resist meaningfully, both British and Germans decided to intervene militarily in Norway.
- This is perceived as one of the reasons that newspapers are dying. Lots of people would rather get their news from an explicitly ideological source on cable TV or the Internet rather than read some bland centrist account in a newspaper, presuming they are centrist and don't have their own biases. The latter in fact is more likely; historically newspapers were more than happy to take sides on just about any issue, and were usually published with a specific agenda in mind. Said initial agenda could be alluded to in the names of some of the smaller papers. The ideas that news should be 'neutral' and that 'commentary' should be separate from the news are relatively recent concepts.
- This also applies to the American cable network CNN. The channel came into being in the 1980's and quickly established a reputation as a highly-respected news organization. Like most large reporting outfits in the USA, they followed the standard conceit of being "absolutely unbiased", which was fine when they were doing straight reporting. However, competition from the extraordinarily biased Fox News Channel (and later MSNBC) starting in the late-90's resulted in the network getting squeezed from both sides. Keeping their reporting "unbiased" fed into Fox's allegations of CNN's "liberal bias", while their efforts to stylistically ape Fox News drove liberal viewers away to MSNBC (which had shifted significantly to the left after the 2006 midterm elections). By The New Tens, cratering viewership forced CNN, now a distant third in the ratings, to mostly give up on the investigative journalism they were known for and simply report on whatever story might attract the most attention. Like celebrity news, or fixating on a missing plane for over a month.
- During Argentina's National Reorganization Process, General Iberico St. Jean, one of the more hardcore ideologues, threatened that when all the leftists had been executed, the junta would move onto the undecided.
- Subverted for some nations in the Cold War, some like India who are more neutral in siding with either the West or the Soviets, but their neutrality is respected as they are very much a valuable ally to both sides.
- Often immediately after elections in the United States, people vote for a third party or don't vote at all get called out for their decision by those sharing their political beliefs. This is particularly prominent when the election results in the party elected has in little in common with the non-voter's beliefs. The people who do vote often feel that the non-voter split the vote and allowed the _> lesser evil win. However, the non-voter is quick to point off that they let their conscience guide them.