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Accomplice by Inaction

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Igraine: I never did anything to hurt you!
Morgan: Indeed, my lady. You did nothing. You did nothing when my father had my mother killed so that you could sit in her place. As you did nothing when my father banished me.
Igraine: No queen questions her king.
Morgan: And I thought my opinion of you couldn't get any lower.
— Starz's Camelot, during Igraine and Morgan's second scene together

Somebody was around as a crime was being committed, but did nothing. Now the victim wants them brought to account.

Audience and writer sympathy for each party (on one hand, the accusers, be they the victim or not, and on the other, the accused) can vary, depending on a variety of factors. The work can evaluate the so-called accomplice's responsibility for the crime simply by establishing whether it was done with the bystander being oblivious or knowing all along. If the accused witnessed the crime or had full knowledge of it and had all the power necessary to prevent it from happening but still chose to do nothing about it, then it's improbable the accused will get away scot-free. Double points if the accused approved of the crime. Occasionally, the accomplice will own up to their inaction in the face of injustice without any accuser being present.

Sometimes, there will be someone to point out that it also depends on whether that character refused to help, was also another innocent victim, or was simply incapable to offer help. Therefore, the accuser can really go anywhere between the top and the lower-middle part of the Sliding Scale of Antagonist Vileness (understandable if not a real Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds) if they are themselves unjust while addressing injustice.

Compare Failure-to-Save Murder, which has a strong overlap rate. Compare and contrast Cruel Mercy, which the non-intervention may be from the point of view of the inactive party, thus making the accusation justified to the most irrational, death-seeking victims.

See also a common cause for this trope, Moral Myopia, All-Powerful Bystander (who is likely to be seen as this), Lawful Stupid, While Rome Burns and You Were Trying Too Hard, for the almost-opposite. Contrast Murder by Inaction and Betrayal by Inaction.

Possible overlap with Hitler Ate Sugar and Sister Trope to Villain-by-Proxy Fallacy, except an Accomplice by Inaction could involve Insane Troll Logic in some cases.

Compare and contrast With Us or Against Us.

Related to Bystander Syndrome.


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    Comic Books 
  • The Punisher 2099: This is the main motivation of "Public Enemy". A genetically-engineered super soldier, he bears a grudge against the corporation Alchemax for murdering his parents. Even after tracking down and killing everyone involved in the Red Dog project, he still feels like the really guilty party hasn't been punished. He then witnesses a crazed gunman about to kill a woman, while dozens of pedestrians either ignore it or talk about what a shame it is. After rescuing her, a crowd of people gather around him to tell him what a hero he was. Incensed at their inaction, he murders them all on the spot. He realizes that who he truly hates are the public who allow bad things to happen while claiming innocence. He kills more crowds of people who were witnesses to crimes and did nothing to stop them, eventually coming into conflict with the Punisher. During a battle between the two, he's surrounded by a crowd of people who were related to his victims. They all attack him with bricks, pipes, and whatever else they have on hand. As the crowd swarms him, Public Enemy yells out encouragement to them, overjoyed that they're finally doing what he wanted them to do even as they tear him apart.
  • Spider-Man:
    • A variation of this trope in Spider-Man's origin story — he stands by idly as the burglar who later would murder Uncle Ben escaped — of course continues to be the driving motivation for Spider-Man himself.
    • In The Spectacular Spider-Man, this was part of a very large plotline involving Tombstone and Daily Bugle editor Joe Robinson. Tombstone had bullied Joe when they were kids, and eventually, Joe witnessed Tombstone - now a hitman working for the Kingpin kill a man, and after the thug threatened him, he kept quiet for decades. In the present time, Joe finally came forward when the Kingpin used the assassin in a failed attempt at Spidey, but Joe was arrested and convicted of withholding evidence. (In truth, both the DA and judge were bought by the Kingpin; this led to another storyline where Tombstone attempted to gain revenge on him in prison, which eventually ended in Joe gaining a Presidential pardon; still, the issue with Tombstone lasted much longer...)
  • The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers: Invoked when Squadron X were killed. The Decepticons were all arrested, but because it was on a neutral world they couldn't be held. Impactor took a gun, locked himself in, and shot them all to death. All the Wreckers stood by except Springer(who tried to stop him, but couldn't as he was injured) and let him. Afterward, they confessed to Springer that they were too stunned or scared to stop him, and had fallen under Bystander Syndrome. Springer, tired of all the death, believed them and Impactor was jailed alone. Much later in life, Roadbuster confessed to a comatose Springer that they did nothing because they agreed with Impactor and were unwilling to stop him, afterward they just wanted to avoid prison time.
  • Watchmen: After the Comedian shoots a woman who'd just slashed his face (in anger at being told that he intended to abandon her after getting her pregnant), Dr. Manhattan calls him out on his action. In response, the Comedian says Dr. Manhattan just stood there and let it all happen when he could have easily used his immense powers to stop it, which he says is proof that Dr. Manhattan's losing sight of his humanity.
  • In W.I.T.C.H., Ari of Arkhanta, who possesses a slave he uses only for his greedy motives, has a massive grudge against the oracle of Kandrakhar, the benevolent figure who saves everyone's life once a week. Why? Unlike the man, who obsessed about changing his son, the Oracle didn't ever try to "cure" the child's autism.
  • In "Dignity and Respect: A Training Guide on Homosexual Combat Policy," a comic book designed to explain the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the final story involves how to deal with homophobia. Three soldiers are talking with Sgt. Gates in earshot, with the female of the three saying she has a date, the first of the men remarking that he'd believe Gates had a date with a man before he'd believe the woman does, and the other man asking Gates if he would like a hot date. At that point, the First Sergeant walks by and calls all three of the soldiers on the carpet for harassing Gates, despite the fact that the female soldier said nothing.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, Zira blames Kovu after Nuka dies in the fight with Simba.
    Kovu: I did nothing!
    Zira: Exactly! And in doing so, you betrayed your pride, betrayed Scar!
    Kovu: I want nothing more to do with him!
    Zira: You cannot escape it! Nuka is dead because of you! You've killed your own brother!
    Kovu: NO! [runs off]

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Beauty and the Beast (2017) states this reason for why the castle servants were changed into furniture and kitchen utensils by the Sorceress. Yes, they did not refuse the old woman charity, but they also didn't stop the Prince's abusive father from raising him to become a selfish jerk.
  • The Danish film Festen (The Celebration), set during a family reunion for a 60th birthday party, centres on the revelation by eldest son Christian that he and his twin sister were sexually abused by their father. When his mother tries to intervene, he calls her out for ignoring the abuse and says "I'm so grateful to have such a twisted hypocrite for a mother. I wish you were dead."
  • The Dark Knight has this somewhat as the reason for Harvey's rampage, as he goes after everybody who had something to do with Rachel Dawes's death. He goes from blaming the man that had her strapped to a bomb to blaming the people who originally hired him before he started acting out on his own to blaming the people who were actively trying to save her but had allowed corrupt cops to remain on the force.
  • Guilt by Association: Susan and numerous other people are convicted even if they simply knew about drug dealing by others but didn't report it. Not doing so, by the laws, makes them equally guilty and co-conspirators in the crimes.
  • In Kill Bill, that's precisely why the Bride went after Sophie Fatale. Sophie didn't participate in the execution of the Bride, her husband-to-be, and her friends at the wedding in El Paso but she was present and watched it happen, even casually answering a professional phone call while the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad was beating the Bride to a pulp before Bill shot her in the head. In the end, the Bride lets her live but not before severing her arm as punishment for doing nothing about the whole ordeal, even for seemingly approving of it.
  • Lone Star (1996): A recurring motif in the flashbacks is how Hollis is present while Wade is killing or extorting people, not really helping him but not doing anything to stop him either. Eventually, he can't take any more of this and shoots Wade to keep him from killing again.
  • In Natural Born Killers, after Mickey kills Mallory's abusive father, Mallory kills her mother because she never did anything to try to stop her Dad.
  • Night Watch: A cornered vampire girl blames the Night Watch (ostensibly the good guys) for her turning into a vampire and subsequent crimes since the vampire who turned her was doing so legally under the Balance Between Good and Evil treaty, so the Night Watch couldn't intervene.
  • Piggy: Sara witnesses a stranger drag Alpha Bitch Maca inside his van, and Former Friend Claudia banging on the van's window and begging Sara for help. Since the stranger is the only one who has shown the bullied teen any kindness, she just waves in acknowledgement as he drives off. Later, when questioned by the police, she does not say anything about him.
  • Khan cites this trope in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Ceti Alpha V was a habitable planet when Khan and his followers were dumped there by Kirk. A year later, a natural disaster caused the planet to suddenly become much less habitable. For this, Khan blames Kirk because he "never bothered to check on our progress."
  • In Saw III, Danica Scott is put on a "Jigsaw test" for witnessing a kid getting run over by a car with drunk driver, and failing to both report the incident to the nearby authority and turn up in the court as a witness in the past. Danica has no way to save herself from the test and must depends on Jeff, the father of the deceased kid who is hellbent on revenge.
  • In Tales from the Hood 2, the Robo Patriot judges Mr. Beach's two aides to be just as guilty for their complicity in his crimes, as neither of them ever objected to his behavior. In the first movie, three white cops beat a black activist to death and frame him up as a heroin addict, while a black officer watches. 1 year later, the activist comes back as a zombie, and after killing the white cops, does the same to the black cop for doing nothing.
  • Talk to Me: Riley becomes possessed by a spirit masquerading as that of protagonist Mia's mother Rhea. Eager to talk to that spirit, Mia stops the others from blowing out the candle, despite clear warnings of the approaching 90-second mark and that the spirit will "want to stay". It does, and Riley pays the immediate consequences.
  • Urban Legend: The protagonist is pursued by the killer for her role in a car crash as a teenager. The protagonist's friend was driving the car and chased another car, causing it to crash and kill the occupants. the protagonist laughed along rather than tell her friend to stop doing this.
  • In Jess Franco's Venus In Furs, Jimmy witnesses three people assaulting and murdering Wanda, and does nothing. His monologue suggests that this is more than Bystander Syndrome—he considers himself somehow simpatico with the killers.

  • In My Love Tiger, Aya is suffering from an illness. Rang-ii's saliva could cure her, but Aya seems to hold a grudge against her and refuses to receive treatment. As Sunghoon spends more time learning about Aya's past, it's revealed that Aya's father actually sought for Rang-ii's help in the past, but as she was sleeping to regain her strength, her servant turned him away. Another reason why she turned him away was that the father committed horrid crimes to reach Rang-ii's seal cave. Technically Rang-ii was sleeping at the time, and didn't know any of that happened. But as part of her growth, she learns to take responsibility anyway and apologize to Aya before pleading to let Rang-ii save her.

  • "The Night Will Only Know" by Garth Brooks has a pair of cheating lovers witnessing the murder of a woman. The killer goes free because the lovers don't want to confess to their adultery.
  • A widely-circulated Urban Legend about Phil Collins's "In The Air Tonight" is that the song is about an incident where Collins witnessed a man refusing to help a drowning victim. In one version, he allegedly sang the song to the man in concert after arranging a front-row seat. The man was supposedly Driven to Suicide afterward.
  • R.E.M.: "Begin the Begin" applies this trope to a political context with the lines "silence means security, silence means approval," contrasting this with the other lyrics that advocate political activism.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • In the book of 1st Kings, although Queen Jezebel was responsible for the death of Naboth the Jezreelite in order to seize his property for King Ahab, God held the king responsible for just letting his wife go through with the arranged murder without saying anything to her about the law of Moses prohibiting the king from seizing another man's property.
    • In the Book of Ezekiel, God warns Ezekiel a few times that if he as a watchman does not warn the people of Israel to repent so that they will not die because of their sins, and they end up dying, then He will hold him responsible for their deaths.
    • Matthew 25:41-45 indicates those who neglect to do good when the Day of Judgment will be cast into Hell with those who actively seek to do evil.
      "41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
      42 For I was hungry, and you gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink:
      43 I was a stranger, and you did not take me in: naked, and you did not clothe me: sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.
      44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not help you?
      45 Then shall he answer them, saying, truly I say unto you, Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did it not to me."
    • James 4:17 shows us what theologians call the "Sin of Omission". It's not just doing evil that is sinful, but also not doing good when given the chance.
      "Therefore to him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin."
  • Ulysses is constantly blamed for the amount of mind-boggling STUPID his crew members wreak. They are always eager to disobey the orders of the superior forces, and when he tries to apologize to them, he is usually held responsible.
  • Within the Puranas, you can find this little nugget:
    “Standing by and allowing a sin to happen is as good as committing that sin yourself.”
  • Electra has the poor Chrysothemis, who seems to be blamed for not really taking a side in the terrible family conflict. She is sweet and is well-adjusted, so she probably will have an easy life...
  • Arthurian Legend:
    • After Lancelot hesitates a second and then jeopardizes his reputation and future for Guinevere — by getting in cart, making him look like someone going to his execution — in some versions of Arthurian legend, she refuses to even look at him. He thinks this is because he demeaned himself and is thoroughly humiliated. Actually, it is because he didn't totally humiliate himself immediately.
    • In The Once and Future King, King Arthur and quite a few others are this in regards to the adulterous affair between Guinevere and Lancelot. The reason for it is that everyone knows that the sentence for adultery is burning at the stake, and no one, least of all Arthur, wants to see the two killed. As a result, the affair becomes something of an open secret, with everyone refraining from pressing the matter. When Mordred and Agravaine bring the matter to Arthur, not only are their brothers angry with them for drawing attention to the issue, but Arthur says that he won't help or hinder them in their efforts to prove the adultery (though he does openly admit he hopes Lancelot will kill all their witnesses).

  • In In Strange Woods, investigative journalist Brett Ryback uses his podcast and interviews to let the residents tell their stories in their own words, keeping himself on the outside of the story deliberately. Eventually, he realizes that by keeping critical information to himself he helped endanger the teens of Whitetail, and at the very least did nothing to stop the feuding.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Defied by George Carlin when he discussed why he didn't vote during elections during his 1996 special Back In Town:
    George: I don't vote, because I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. I know some people like to twist that around and say, "If you don't vote, you have no right to complain." But where's the logic in that? Think it through: If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and you screw things up, then you're responsible for what they've done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote — who, in fact, did not even leave the house on Election Day — am in no way responsible for what these politicians have done and have every right to complain about the mess you created. Which I had nothing to do with. Why can't people see that?

    Tabletop Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • Godot in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations hates Phoenix Wright because he did nothing to protect Mia Fey from being murdered, never mind that Phoenix couldn't have done anything under the circumstances, wasn't even physically there at the time, and knew nothing of the danger she was in. We learn during the final case of the game that Godot's hatred is actually displaced anger at himself for not protecting Mia, never mind the fact that he was in a coma at the time of her death. Once he realizes that Phoenix is carrying on Mia's legacy and doing right by her memory, he admits that he's the one who killed Misty Fey (as part of a very elaborate plot to protect Mia's sister Maya) and congratulates Phoenix on a job well done.
  • In Shinrai: Broken Beyond Despair, during the climax, the rest of the cast besides Raiko becomes erroneously convinced that Kamen is the murderer, and Rako has to prove them wrong. Once Raiko is successful, Nobara admits that she didn't want to believe Kamen was guilty, but didn't speak up in the latter's defense, so she apologizes. Kamen doesn't seem to have any hard feelings toward Nobara or the others who took a more active role in accusing her, though, probably because her actions that night made her look incredibly suspicious.
  • In Virtue's Last Reward, Luna believes this to be true of herself, since they knew about the Nonary Game and the players, but got ordered to remain silent. Indeed, she's actually programmed to die if she disobeys orders.
    Luna: [as they're being shut down for good] "I watched six people die and did nothing. I deserve this."

    Web Animation 
  • Etra chan saw it!: Tachibana witnesses his son's bully being beaten up by someone else, however, he decides to not save him because he thinks it's a fitting punishment for him for bullying his son.
  • RWBY:
    • Ilia invokes this to explain why she views the White Fang's violent terrorism against humanity as Necessarily Evil. As far as she's concerned, no humans are good or innocent - they either actively hate the Faunus or just stand back and let the hate happen. Ilia's words serve as a Call-Back to Volume 1 when Velvet, a rabbit Faunus, was being harassed by Cardin Winchester; although both Teams RWBY and JNPR all expressed disgust with Team CRDL's behavior and sympathy for Velvet's plight, they, including Blake, just stood back and watched it happen, doing nothing to intervene on her behalf.
    • Blake herself doesn't deny Ilia's point, and later turns it around during her Rousing Speech to the people of Menagerie after the White Fang attack her home and nearly kill her parents. She points out that, just like the humans they condemn, they stand back and let the hate happen and are just fine with ignoring the White Fang's acts of violence as long as they don't directly affect them, which is not going to make things better for the Faunus in the long run unless they stop Adam from razing Haven Academy.
      Blake: We're just as capable of hate and violence as the humans, but I don't think any of us would jump at the chance to point that out. So why are we letting Adam do it for us? By doing nothing and staying silent, we let others speak and act in our place, and if we're not proud of the choices they make, then we have no one to blame but ourselves!

    Web Comics 
  • In Drowtales, Kousei, one of the few surviving Judicators, accuses the Holy Mother Valla'drielle of this while the rest of the Judicators were being killed. She doesn't exactly deny it, and it's implied that she willingly turned a blind eye to it because the Judicators were using her as a puppet and it allowed her to be rid of them without having to take direct action.
  • Riverside Extras: Arguably, Ophelia when Meredith Baxter gets her fingers cut off. She feels bad about it.
    Ophelia: "I am... extraordinarily sorry about what happened tonight. It wasn't my intention that anyone get hurt."
    Meredith: "You did nothing."
    Ophelia: "Please try to understand my position. If I had shown the smallest sliver of empathy - if I had begged - they wouldn't have stopped."
    Meredith: "So you're blameless. How convenient."
    • Ironically, Simon, who is more culpable for what happened to Meredith than Ophelia is, makes the same excuses when Ophelia calls him out on his part in the incident.
    • Cynthia and Derry in "Queenside" when Ma forces Ophelia, theoretically equal in rank to the other Sisters, to dress and act as a maid at an official Rose-Ink parley to humiliate her and goad Simon. Derry has shown anger and remorse at her actions; Cynthia's feelings remain ambiguous.
  • In the universe of Kill Six Billion Demons, the pacifistic masters of the martial art known as Ki Rata did nothing while the conquering god Yammod ravaged their home world of Rakuba, other than take in and train one soldier whose family was murdered and home burned. By the time the soldier had finished his training, Rakuba was cold and lifeless. The first thing the former soldier did at this point was to murder all of the Ki Rata masters for their choice not to intervene. The soldier would then move on to kill Yammod and usurp his godhood, becoming Solomon David, one of the seven current god-kings of the universe.
  • Unsounded: Lemuel was supposed to be patrolling the night Duane was killed, but no patrols came when Duane was being chased through the streets in a very loud and bright spell-fight. Duane only starts accepting that Lemuel was involved six years later, when he can no longer ignore the signs that he was betrayed to his death and the experimentation that bound his soul to his rotting corpse.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: In the "Competitive Eschatology" canon, SCP-231-7 (an Apocalypse Maiden whom the Foundation routinely tortures to keep the Eldritch Abomination she's pregnant with in check) turns out to be the first of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. When she awakens and meets with SCP-343 (who is implied in the regular mythos and confirmed here to be the Abrahamic God), she wastes no time calling Him out for not using His omnipotence and omniscience to save her.
    SCP-231-7: Don't talk to me about the Foundation. I'm not angry with the Foundation, I'm angry with you. They didn't know what they were doing. Thought they were saving the world. But you… You could have told the Foundation what I was. You could have just taken me away from them. You could have done something. Even just a word to O5-14… But you did nothing. Do you — of course you do. You know exactly what they did to me. You know every last detail. And. You. Did. Nothing.

    Web Videos 
  • 3rd Life SMP: Right after Tango is executed by firing squad for breaking a server rule, everyone thinks that's that... until Bdubs tells Etho that he too must be punished for not reporting Tango for breaking the rules, causing him to be executed in the same way.
  • The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: After Lizzie learns that Bing Lee simply left her sister Jane because his sister Caroline and his friend Darcy told him that she wasn't interested in him, she is about to forgive him. Then, she realizes that he understood the situation later, but couldn't muster the courage to do anything. And from that point, she hates him.
  • In Squaresville, it is hinted that the group of protagonists which we follow are a bunch of social outcasts. They are victims, if not of bullying, at least of condescending remarks from the other children, even the more "conformist" outcasts. The most jaded of them all, Esther, has a grudge against Shelly, a girl who "escaped" their current condition, and did nothing to help.
  • Screen Rant Pitch Meetings:
    • Discussed in the pitch meeting for The Big Bang Theory. Leonard is described as the most socially adept of the group, and should be the one who best understands that his friends' behavior is inappropriate, but doesn't do anything to stop it, resulting in the Producer calling Leonard "an enabler."
    • Also discussed in the SHAZAM! (2019) pitch meeting, when talking about Billy beating up the bullies who are attacking his foster brother Freddie.
      Producer: I mean, anyone who witnessed something like that would step in. That's horrible.
      Screenwriter: Actually, there's a big crowd of people watching.
      Producer: Oh, there is?
      Screenwriter: Yeah, they don't do anything, and Billy only steps in because the bullies make a joke about moms.
      Producer: Oh, being a passive onlooker is tight.
    • In the Beauty and the Beast (2017) pitch meeting, the Producer can sort of understand why the Prince's servants get cursed for not doing anything about his bad behavior, but he's incredulous that their curse is worse than the Prince's(since they'll die if the Prince fails to break the curse), as well as the dog getting punished.

    Western Animation 
  • In Castlevania, Dracula puts all of Wallachia to the slaughter for the murder of his wife, Lisa. It was the Bishop of a town that ordered Lisa burned at the stake for being a witch because she was a woman who wanted to study the sciences, but the townspeople did nothing to stop it, even cheering when Lisa was burned. He argued with his son that this trope would have been avoided if any of the bystanders stopped the execution, or at least defended her. It's that moment that convinces Dracula that Humans Are the Real Monsters and they all deserve to die.
  • Diane Nguyen from BoJack Horseman says that when her siblings and father beat her, her mother Ma would stand idly by, only snarking or being indifferent.
    • Since most of the show focuses more on Beatrice's influence, we can see that BoJack's father Butterscotch was more hands-off with dealing with BoJack, with the exception of slapping him on Father's Day when he answered the Panama Canal question wrong or being dismissive when he was there.
  • Final Space, Todd H. Watson devotes his life to getting revenge on Gary Goodspeed for failing to save the Earth, which cost him his wife and child. And while his grief is sympathetic, this is treated as clearly being a case of Disproportionate Retribution because Gary and the Team Squad were the only people actively trying to save the Earth. Todd simply latched onto Gary as the target for his revenge because he overheard his name in communications during the disaster, and Gary is somebody he can lash out at as opposed to the planet-sized hand that pulled Earth through a rift into Final Space.
  • South Park: In "Pre-School", we find out that the four main characters (Cartman, Stan, Kyle, & Kenny) were at fault for getting troublemaker Trent Boyett sent off to juvie in pre-school. Butters, who witnessed the whole thing, refused to defend Trent, being more concerned about possibly getting into trouble with his parents. As a result, Butters is Trent's first victim when he's released and is brutally assaulted into a coma.

    Real Life 
  • This is very much Truth in Television in certain situations, as far as the legal system goes, since you can be prosecuted for not taking any action to help someone in peril (officially known as the duty to rescue concept). These are often tacked onto Good Samaritan Laws which protect people who try to help, but fail to do so, make it worse by accident, or other such technicalities like lack of consent.
    • Duty to rescue falls under two broad categories. The first category is when the person in question created the dangerous situation that someone else needs to be saved from, they're responsible for doing so. The second is that people who are considered to be responsible for others (parents, the captain of a ship or airplane, an employer, a property owner who invites someone onto their property, and in many places, spouses) are required to rescue those they are responsible for.
  • The former slave Jermain Wesley Loguen had this to write to his former mistress.
    Loguen: "Where are my poor bleeding brothers and sisters? Can you tell? Who was it that sent them off into sugar and cotton fields, to be kicked, and cuffed, and whipped, and to groan and die; and where no kin can hear their groans, or attend and sympathize at their dying bed, or follow in their funeral? Wretched woman! Do you say you did not do it? Then I reply, your husband did, and you approved the deed—and the very letter you sent me shows that your heart approves it all. Shame on you."
  • Céline Rapahaël, a Frenchwoman victim of a Stage Dad, wrote a book about the abuse she underwent. The examples are treated in the Literature section.
  • In "Srebrenica - A Cry from the Grave" (a documentary about The Bosnian Genocide), one woman whose son was killed in the Srebrenica massacre at one point says "We offer a prayer to those killed by our enemies; the Dutch enemies, and the Serb enemies". For those wondering why she considers the Dutch her enemies, it is because the (mostly Dutch) UN Peacekeepers tasked with protecting Srebrenica abandoned their checkpoints and allowed the Serbs to massacre the population. (To be fair to the Dutch, they were basically screwed over by the UN higher-ups: they were sent in without sufficient equipment or manpower, their requests for air support were denied, and they faced a far larger and better-armed Serb force.)
  • When crown prince Frederick of Prussia (later Frederick the Great) was captured in an attempt to flee the country in 1730, his friend Hans Hermann von Katte was court-martialed and found guilty of being an accomplice in the attempted act of desertion (and subsequently executed by order of the king Frederick William I) because he knew about Frederick's plans but did not report them to his superiors, as would have been his duty as a Prussian officer.
  • This is what doomed Erwin Rommel following the failed July 20 plot. Historians still differ as to his exact role, but at the very least, he knew about the plot and did nothing to stop it.
    • And on the topic of Nazi Germany, there's the famous "First they came..." quote.
      Martin Niemöller: "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me."
    • This also got people in trouble who knew about the Holocaust and did nothing to stop it, or who deliberately avoided knowledge of what happened to all those pesky Jews.
  • One of Alexander the Great's generals was executed either for being part of a plot against him or knowing about the plot but not reporting it.
  • In Mexico, there's a very specific word for this kind of behaviour, and it's named Alcahuete.
  • Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, famously stated that the "white moderate" was a greater stumbling block to the erasure of racial injustice than the outright discriminatory racists due to the former's inaction against racially unjust laws. (See Quotes section for full quote)
  • According to the Athenian laws, during internal disputes, any citizen had to either join a faction or lose his rights.
  • When there is an Abusive Parent in a household of two parents, the other would be considered an accomplice by not standing up to the abuser for the sake of their children, even if there are circumstances where the unabusive parent would not be able to be in a position to help their children at all.
  • In psychology, enablement is this, as, if the enabler isn't outright encouraging a self-destructive/negative behavior in the other person, they're definitely not stopping or speaking out against it either.
  • People who identify as 'apolitical' are often hit with this trope, because, as we all know, All Issues Are Political Issues. It's especially prevalent in elections where an unpopular candidate has a chance of winning. For example, during the highly contentious 2020 US Presidential election, it became common on social media for people to write (paraphrased) "a vote for no candidate is a vote for Trump."
  • The famous (paraphrased) quote from Edmund Burke, "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing", is often used to push this trope in conjunction of With Us or Against Us. In accordance with this quote/mindset, if you, as a 'good man', do nothing, that means you're guilty of letting evil triumph when you could have taken action and stopped it. The depth of what constitutes as good or bad for different people depending on the culture they grow up with tends to get ignored.
  • This is part of the dilemma in the trolley problem. Pulling the switch means one person dies from your direct action. But not pulling means five people die from your inaction.


Video Example(s):


"Nuka is dead because of you!"

After Nuka gets killed, Zira berates Kovu for betraying Scar even though he had nothing to do with it.

How well does it match the trope?

4.8 (15 votes)

Example of:

Main / AccompliceByInaction

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