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Divided We Fall

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"We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

The Evil Overlord is about to conquer the country, and The Rival is more concerned about his personal feud with the hero. He may not realize the danger. He often disbelieved either because of his resentment, or honestly, not trusting The Hero. But the damage is real even so.

Malicious Slander often fans the fire. The Rival may perpetrate it — or just be extremely gullible, blinded by his dislike for The Hero. Can also be egged on by Divide and Conquer tactics by the real enemy.

Heroic counterpart of Enemy Civil War — though, obviously, at least The Rival is not usually very heroic. Enlivens the life of many a hero, though.

The better sort of rival will come to his senses with the enemy actually at the gate, but not without doing heavy damage to the cause first. However, often, Redemption Equals Death. Not always. Sometimes, at that, The Hero learns An Aesop about how people can legitimately suspect him without being evil. Either way, Teeth-Clenched Teamwork is likely to ensue — though that may lead to Fire Forged Friendship and prevent reoccurrence. The Leader can sometimes resolve it earlier by trampling objections.

The worse sort may actually become the Turn Coat, undergoing a Face–Heel Turn. This shifts them out of the ambit of this trope. Obstructive Bureaucrat and The Resenter frequently cause this.

Contrast With Friends Like These..., where your ally is only your ally because the two of you happen to be fighting the same villain at the same time; this has deadly serious effects, and also can be carried out with perfect courtesy all around. Contrast Enemy Mine, where someone who is usually an opponent is willing to work with you against a common enemy. Contrast Sour Supporter, who will work for you, but just to let you know, he thinks you're insane. When The Hero and The Rival work for different organizations, Interservice Rivalry may be involved. Supertrope of We ARE Struggling Together and A House Divided. See also Ignored Enemy, Rebellious Rebel, Headbutting Heroes, Let's You and Him Fight, Who Needs Enemies? and Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering.


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    Comic Books 
  • Extremely common in superhero comics, as many writers look for any excuse to have heroes fight each other. As a specific example, the official superteams of countries America is less than friendly with, like Marvel's (former) Soviet Super Soldiers/Supreme Soviets/People's Protectorate/Winter Guard and DC's Great Ten (China's national super team) are always - ALWAYS - more interested in keeping American hero teams out of their home countries than they are in teaming up to stop the rampaging monster/villain/aliens/whatever that the American heroes have chased across their border.
    • That said, the People's Protectorate and the Avengers make for a pretty good team when they stop squabbling.
  • Annihilation: Discussed between Nova and Star-Lord towards the end, when the topic of the Wave reaching Earth comes up. Most of Earth's heroes are fighting over the Superhero Registration Act. Star-Lord (normally the more cynical one) figures they'd get their act together, while Nova believes they'd still be bickering while the world burns. A What If...? shows Star-Lord was more or less right.
  • Infinite Crisis: The Big Three of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman start here. Despite the world's situation being bad, the three are incapable of overcoming their issues to work together as a unifying force. This is what brings Golden Age Superman at his Rage Breaking Point.
  • Supergirl: In the post-Flashpoint timeline, Zor-El and Jor-El both believe Krypton is doomed, but can't agree on how to save its people. Jor-El favors building rockets to flee the planet, while Zor-El wants to build force fields around their cities. Both of them are right about their ideas being viable (as shown when Jor-El saves his son while Zor-El saves Argo City) but neither of them saves as many people as they could have by working together.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • In 1776, as well as in real life, Benjamin Franklin says "If we do not hang together, we shall most assuredly hang separately!" Also, until Richard Henry Lee brings Virginia's approval to debate the idea of independence, most of the congressmen refuse to second John Adams' proposal to debate independence. John Dickinson never stops supporting the crown however, even after his cause is lost, although that is not out of pure animosity towards Adams.
  • Emperor (2020):
    • Ruthless Bounty Hunter Luke McCabe gets into a standoff with two men over the body of his latest bounty, but regains the advantage because his would-be ambushers get distracted debating whether to give the body a proper burial or turn it in for the reward themselves.
    • Abolitionist leaders John Brown and Frederick Douglas can't agree on whether they should attack an armory to trigger a slave rebellion or merely help more slaves flee to non-slave states. Douglas disapproves of Brown's willingness to risk the lives of his men and sons and feels that as a white man, Brown isn't in as much danger and can't appreciate the risks. Brown feels drastic action is necessary even if it means being Inspirational Martyrs, goes ahead without Douglas, and fails (although his pro-slavery enemies only get a Pyrrhic Victory, as The American Civil War isn't far away).
  • Discussed thoroughly in Exam. Because the characters can't decide whether they're supposed to act as a group to achieve a goal that they can't achieve alone or they're meant to pull the carpet out from under each other, they keep debating this theme. Black and Blonde are the ones that most advocate this idea.
  • High Noon: Kane's deputy refuses to help him unless Kane agrees to the deputy becoming his successor.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • This trope plagues The Avengers for the first 2/3rds of the film, with their multi-sided bickering, mistrust, derision, and lack of professionalism leading them to be so wrapped up in yelling at each other that they fail to realize that Loki is actually counting on them to be so wrapped up in yelling at each other that they fail to head off an ambush, are swiftly laid siege to, the Helicarrier is badly crippled, their ranks are scattered, Loki escapes, and Coulson is killed. It's only after this happens that they retroactively realize they could've avoided it all if they had just worked together from the start.
    • In Avengers: Age of Ultron, conflicts within the team and the lack of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s presence are a major factor in driving the plot.
    • The tagline for Captain America: Civil War invokes it word for word: "United we stand. Divided we fall."
    • Avengers: Infinity War: Prior conflicts and inability to get past them (best demonstrated by Tony Stark's unwillingness to call Steve Rogers) lead to groups of heroes acting on their own (on Titan, in Wakanda) and without any common plan, which is deemed to result in failure. They do lose.
  • Every film of George A. Romero's Living Dead Series —save perhaps Dawn of the Dead (1978)— revolves almost entirely around this. No matter how petty the squabble or how many restless undead are pounding on the weakening barricades outside, the main characters will never, ever just swallow their pride and work together, because Romero is a strong believer in Humans Are the Real Monsters and he will get his pet message across even if he has to roll it up and cram it right down your throat.
  • Ran: Being an adaptation of King Lear (for which see Theatre below), this is the basic problem. Lord Ichimonji uses the classic metaphor of three arrows in a bundle being harder to break than three arrows separately to demonstrate the importance of strength in unity. Saburo subverts this by using his knee to break the bundle, showing that even a united family can break under the right circumstances. Ironically, it is Saburo who tries the hardest to heed his father's advice, and is thwarted by his brothers' ambitions (and Lady Kaede's machinations).
  • Star Wars:
    • Palpatine's plotting throughout the Prequel Trilogy culminates with separating the heroes in Revenge of the Sith, with Obi-Wan and Yoda going offworld on different missions and Padme standing in opposition to the Republic's increasing authoritarianism, leaving Anakin isolated from the people that care about him, thereby falling to the Dark Side of the Force and becoming Darth Vader.
    • The Last Jedi Does this too: Holdo's lack of communication with the Resistance results in the entire crew distrusting her, leading to Poe setting off a chain of events that indirectly destroy the majority of the Resistance.

  • In 1972, Capitol Records (under the label of the Beatles' corporate entity, Apple) had planned to release an album of songs the Beatles released after the band separated. The album was to have been titled "Divided We Fell." The project never went through.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • This is an old, old trope in professional wrestling in general and tag team wrestling in particular; teams that would present an invincible challenge so long as they maintained a united front being torn apart by infighting, power struggles, and personality conflicts, leading to their dismantlement.
  • Team Lucha Underground was divided in AAA's 2015 Lucha Libre World Cup, with Johnny Mundo throwing his lot in with TNA wrestlers Matt Hardy and Mr. Anderson while Brian Cage teamed with Ring of Honor representatives Moose and ACH. Team Lucha Underground/ROH and Team Lucha Underground/TNA came in third and second place, both eliminated by the first place Dream Team. At the 2016 cup Mundo and Cage teamed with Chavo Guerrero Jr. as a united Team Lucha Underground and managed to win first place.
  • After they dealt a crippling blow to VALkyrie, La Rosa Negra went back to STARDOM to run with Oedo~tai, so she couldn't help when C4 formed to destroy Las Sicarias. That wasn't this trope. Mercedes Martinez, who said she would watch the other Sicarias for stable leader Ivelisse Vélez, responding to the attack by bringing in her own Trifecta from SHIMMER and announcing her intentions to take down Velez, was this trope. Thus no one, besides Thea Trinidad, noticed C4 member Amber O'Neal turning Amanda Carolina Rodriguez into a mole within Las Sicarias. La Rosa was taken out by ACR upon return, which distracted Velez from LuFisto while Martinez was off fighting Allysin Kay in a failed bid for another title shot, leaving Las Sicarias with no belts or contenders in SHINE. C4 couldn't beat Las Sicarias in straight matches and lost a member trying. Las Sicarias could have just kept whittling away at C4 before fighting each other for the belt. Despite this, Las Sicarias still proved to be the stronger stable, as once Velez was no longer considered a threat LuFisto dismissed the rest of C4 for being of no further use for her, while Velez and Martinez got better at working together and won the Tag Team title belts.
  • Taya Valkyrie has never treated Ivelisse Velez well, but her behavior never had a negative impact on her team, Perros Del Mal, because Velez was too brief and minor a member to matter. Not so in Lucha Underground, where Catrina used her distaste for Velez to sow discord among Velez's team with The Son Of Havok after Valkyrie's boyfriend Johnny Mundo was chosen as their substitute for the injured Angelico. For added measure, Catrina also went about seducing Velez's boyfriend Jeremiah Crane, making the unit that much more disfunctional. While Velez would confront, challenge and defeat Catrina in a match, Catrina seemed to successfully put an end to "Team Havoc" for good, as Havoc and Velez wound up forming new trios apart from each other that were not as successful as the original.
  • Alas, Martinez hadn't learned her lesson. After beating out Velez for a singles title shot she rejected Velez's offer to help her win the belt and told Velez to stay out of New York. Thus no one was in position to stop Kay when she got fed up with wrestling and bashed Mercedes Martinez over the head with the championship belt.

  • King Lear have this quarreling problem. The daughters of Lear don't learn the lesson and everything gets worse.

  • In 1776, avoiding this situation is why John Hancock casts the tiebreaking vote in favor of requiring unanimity among all the American colonies' delegations when it comes to the vote on whether to adopt the Lee Resolution and declare independence, even though Hancock himself is in favor of the resolution and his vote made it harder for Congress to adopt it. Not having that requirement would set colony against colony from the get-go and make it too easy for Britain to exploit the divisions between them, even if the Americans end up winning the war.

    Visual Novels 
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors: Suffice it to say, that isn't how the Nonary Game was supposed to end.
  • Tsukihime: Arcueid seems to have little issue with cooperating with the Church when necessary. They, on the other hand, feel differently as she's technically a vampire as well. Fortunately, she's essentially indestructible so they decided 'Fuck it' and agreed to work with her on occasion. That's mostly background material due to our only seeing sane Church members, but Ciel and Arcueid also have a funny tendency to start fighting to the death when differences arise. And they're friends.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • The Big Bad's end-goal involves her sending followers into the different kingdoms to divide them against each other; she is fully aware that if the kingdoms ever unite, they will be a threat to her ability to achieve her goal. The Big Good is attempting to unite the world both to stop the Big Bad and for other secret reasons. Humanity offended the gods in the distant past after following Salem in rebellion against them and Ozpin has been tasked by the God of Light with guiding humanity to unity and redemption; if the gods return to find humanity still divided, they will destroy the planet. Salem wants humanity to fail and be destroyed while Ozpin wants humanity to succeed and survive.
    • The heroes struggle with this dilemma throughout Volumes 7-8; Atlas and Mantle have good people who are pitted against each other because of conflicting goals. The heroes manage to bring both Ironwood's group and Robyn's group together against Salem, frustrating Tyrian, who had been working with Watts to divide them for Salem. Cinder pressing Ironwood's Trauma Button shatters the alliance, uniting Robyn and the heroes against Ironwood; the villains obtain the Relic of Knowledge, Clover is murdered, and the heroes are either arrested or fugitives. In Volume 8, the heroes split their forces, and their most immediate threat becomes Ironwood's determination to obtain the Winter Maiden at any cost; although the kingdom is evacuated, the villains obtain both Relics, the Winter Maiden is sacrificed and Team RWBY and Jaune fall into the Void Between the Worlds. It takes all of Volume 9 for the heroes to recover.


    Web Original 
  • In Deviant, various conflicts are made ten times more difficult because of the frequent heroic in-fighting. The fact that they don't share many similar goals and have clashing personalities only makes matters worse.
  • In Worm, when Scion kills off half the world's population and many of the most powerful heroes sent to stop him, various groups decide to fight amongst themselves believing it's hopeless to resist.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Long Feng, the Evil Chancellor and default ruler of Ba Sing Se (the capital and last major outpost of the Earth Kingdom) refuses to aid and actively hinders Avatar Aang, The Chosen One, in the fight against the Fire Nation. After his manipulations are exposed and he's jailed, his Dai Li help him orchestrate a coup from his cell. But he is being played by a greater Chessmaster, Fire Nation Princess Azula, who gains the Dai Li's loyalty and uses them to sabotage the city's defenses. End result?
    Earth King Kuei: The Earth Kingdom... has fallen.
    • On a larger scale, this has played out in the war as a whole. The Fire Nation launched an overwhelming first strike against the Air Nomads, managing to commit genocide without any other nation coming to their defense (at least successfully). The Water Tribes and Earth Kingdom then decided to see to their own defenses, with the Southern Water Tribe only coming to the Earth Kingdom's aid 97 years into the war.
      • The Southern Water Tribe had been enduring constant raids by the Fire Nation for sixty years before the beginning of the show, so they had their own problems to worry about. The Northern Tribe, though? No excuse. They pay the piper after the Fire Nation invades them and gives them a severe beating.
  • The American military in Justice League spends so much time making superweapons to defend against/destroy the Justice League, they completely ignore the fact that relying on Lex Luthor as opposed to the people who are busy saving the world every day might actually be a bad idea. To be specific, it was because of Project Cadmus's idea in recruiting villains to do their work for them.

    Real Life 
  • A classical parable concerning this is about the sons of king Attalus of Pergamon (although similar motifs seem to reoccur about a lot of different people) and his large number of sons. As they were squabbling over who would succeed him, he took a bundle of spears and asked his sons that whoever could break them could succeed him. No one could. The king then took each spear in turn and broke it easily, making a point about unity being strength. Variations of this parable have since been recounted many times
  • A warning against this was attributed to Benjamin Franklin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: "We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately."
  • This was the primary reason behind the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In a time when nations were becoming defined by a shared national identity, Austria-Hungary, whose territory encompassed many different ethnic groups, was becoming increasingly unstable as said groups became rife with nationalist sentiment, and Austria-Hungary found it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to quell this sentiment and unify the empire under one nation. By the turn of the twentieth century, most European powers expected Austria-Hungary to collapse at any moment. The collapse ultimately did come during World War I, when its army had lots of trouble getting things done due to the fact that Hungarian troops had trouble collaborating with Czech soldiers, who in turn were struggling to understand the orders of the German-speaking Austrian high command. Needless to say, by the end of the war the empire had pretty much fallen apart, and these national divisions were confirmed by the Allied Powers following the treaties of St. Germain and Trianon in 1919 and 1920, respectively.
  • The First Philippine Republic failed for reasons similar to the aforementioned Austria-Hungary, albeit the former's lifespan lasting far shorter. Though Philippine nationalists had declared the archipelago's independence from Spain in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, the new republic's Spanish-speaking leadership soon found difficulty gaining popular support from the people, who had been separated by millennia of cultural and linguistic barriers, with most Philippine commoners speaking little to no Spanish. Thus, when the Americans came in to secure their claim of their newly-acquired colony, the disunified Philippine Republic, with its lack of a shared national identity among its people, was unable to unite against its foe. Attempts by the Philippine army to force its people to join them only further destroyed the republic's credibility, and by 1901 the republic had collapsed after less than three years of existence. Ultimately, it was the American colonization and nation-building efforts which eventually unified the Philippines under a single national identity.
  • This was the reason the republicans lost in the Spanish Civil War. While the fascists were all united and had a well-defined leadership and chain of command, the republicans had many factions. The Trotskyists allied themselves with the Anarchists because they thought the Revolution needed to come along the War (on grounds that not doing so would be the reason they would lose, just as the German revolutionaries had). The Stalinists thought that they needed to win the war first and then implement the Revolution. However, despite their ideological differences, the Stalinists openly persecuted the Trotskyists and the fact that their factions split further between Stalinists, Trotskyists, Anarchists and democrats meant the fall of the Republic and the rise of Franco's regime.
  • This is the reason why the Nazis' rise to power saw little in the way of opposition. Quoting the International Socialist Review: Again and again [Trotsky] called for a united working class action against the Nazi movement. The reformist SPD —the largest working-class based party in Germany— feared mobilizing its ranks against Hitler, preferring parliamentary maneuvers and appeals to the state instead. Trotsky argued that the the Communist Party (KPD)—which alone still did not have the forces to defeat Hitler— should propose a United Front with the Social Democrats (SPD) for the purposes of physically confronting the Nazis. Such a policy would have been gladly supported by rank-and-file workers of all political shades, would have exposed the Social Democrats' half-heartedness and would have stopped Hitler in his tracks. Sadly, the KPD followed a completely opposite strategy. Under the directives of Stalin, the KPD leaders refused to call for a United Front with the SPD, whom they insanely considered to be the “moderate wing of fascism” [social-fascism]. This policy paralyzed the working-class movement and allowed Hitler to take power without a fight. This disastrous strategy is what led the union leaders, party directives and congressmen of both the SPD and KPD to the concentration camps.
  • Toward the end of World War II, prominent Nazis were tearing each other apart to succeed Hitler, despite the advancing Allied armies. This continued until the literal last days of the war.
  • The Byzantine Empire indulged in this all too frequently. Internal political squabbling at the Battle of Manzikert whilst on the battlefield with the enemy was a major cause of the Byzantine defeat there. Their army was almost destroyed, and the Empire never fully recovered. A century or so later, after Constantinople was conquered by the Venetians and their allies during the Fourth Crusade, the three Byzantine kingdoms that formed from the remnants of the Empire spent more time fighting each other over the Imperial title than trying to take their city back. All the squabbling between Christian Balkan states pre-Turkish conquest partially fits this trope.
  • A perfect example was the Serbian Empire, a powerful state in Middle Ages Balkans, with a modern Code of Law...But after the death of a strong Emperor, it was conquered by Turks, because its Lords couldn't unite and were fighting about who would be new Emperor. It resulted in 5 centuries of bondage under the Turks(well actually the Turks only controlled Southern parts of today's Serbia, the Northern and Central parts were under the Turks only for 219 years)
  • The Battle of Arausio circa 107 BC. Two Roman armies were raised to stop the advance of the Three Germanic Hordes (Teutones, Cimbri, Marcomannii), one led by a Patrician, and one by a Plebian. The Patrician, Quintus Servilius Caepio, absolutely HATED his counterpart, to such a degree that he refused to go along with his plans to merge the two armies as one and wait for the German attack. Caepio kept his army separated due north of the other army, and when the Germans came, they swarmed over his army and utterly crushed it, then waited a short time before swarming over the other army next. Nearly 100,000 Roman soldiers and camp followers were killed, nearly twice as many as the Battle of Cannae.
  • At the time of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese were able to exploit internal conflicts within China to make substantial gains. Ultimately the remaining warlords, Nationalists and Communists were able to work together enough to fight off the Japanese before immediately descending into civil war.
  • It has been suggested that this is the problem with global warming. No country is willing to decrease its own emissions when other nations are still increasing theirs. This is especially true with developed vs developing countries. Developed countries consider it unfair that they are forced to cut their emissions when developing countries are still increasing theirs. For their part developing countries decry it as unfair that they are being forced to solve a problem that they did not create, even if they are currently contributing to it just like everyone else.
  • The Roman Empire had this all the time. In many cases senators would spend most of their time arguing with each other, and would try to scapegoat or assassinate anyone they deem a threat to their post. It also faced many cases of Succession Crisis, with more than a dozen men claiming the title Emperor in less than fifty years. Then the empire was split in half into the Western and Eastern Roman Empires, which ended with the Western Empire finally falling after a long period of decline. The Eastern portion (called either the Roman or Byzantine Empire depending on where you lived), survived and even thrived until it too wasted away until it was nothing more then a impotent, little city-state.
  • The American Motors Corporation was a conglomerate designed to compete with the seemingly unstoppable Big Three (Ford, GM, Chrysler) companies in The '50s. The leader of the merger envisioned it becoming the world's largest company, encompassing many of America's independent marques (Nash, Hudson, Studebaker, Packard, etc). However, he died in 1954 before a deal could be formed with Packard or Studebaker, leaving just Nash and Hudson to merge into AMC. Packard and Studebaker were dead within a decade, and AMC saw the writing on the wall following The '70s Oil Crisis and was sold out in The '80s to Renault, then Chrysler.
  • British Leyland, a conglomerate of independent British automobile marques, was plagued by sectarianism, with employees not wanting to work with their former competitors, which when combined with poor management and nonexistent quality control, led them to make some shockingly awful vehicles.
  • Native American tribes at the time of European colonization were just as fractious as the nations of any other continent. Colonial powers were able to use inter-tribal conflicts to play native tribes against each other, striking alliances with some tribes against others. For example, the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire was primarily fought by native tribes opposed to the Aztecs.
    • Similar logic explains the Plantation-era phenomenon of "African" warlords selling African slaves they conquered to the British. Back then, racial identity was more tied to country/state/tribe than a shared skin color. People simply did not think on a national scale.
  • This is commonly considered a weakness of the Democratic Party compared to the Republican Party in United States politics: the Democrats are a big tent party with a lot of wings that are both distinct and distrustful of each other. A leader of the Democratic party needs to be able to operate with the Blue Dog, Progressive, and other wings to push policies along and minimize defections. By contrast, the Republican Party is generally more lock-step in its messaging and voting, though it is not without its own periods of factionalism.

Lord protect me from my friends, I can handle my enemies myself.

Alternative Title(s): Hanging Separately