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Head-in-the-Sand Management

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"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a communist.
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."
Martin Niemoeller

A new Big Bad is on the march. Time for the forces of good to stand up and fight. Unfortunately for the heroes, the man in charge of their particular political organization has Head-in-the-Sand Management, and sees no reason to do this. Perhaps he literally doesn't see the threat. Perhaps he doesn't think that the threat is a problem for their specific country. Perhaps he thinks the villain can be talked into leaving them alone or bought off in some way. In any event, he's going to do his best to get in the way of doing anything productive to fight the villain. Head-in-the-Sand Management is usually not portrayed as himself a bad guy, just willfully blind to the problem. At any rate, the reaction is Just Ignore It.


May also be an Obstructive Bureaucrat. Frequently used by the villain for their Evil Plan, in which case, expect a Heel Realization when they recognize the threat and their role in it. May cause Pacifism Backfire. Compare with The Quisling, a leader who is literally in the employ of the villain. Opposite number to the Reasonable Authority Figure. See also Divided We Fall and What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Compare No Object Permanence, for when someone believes anything they can't see doesn't exist.

It is however possible for these characters to receive a Wake-Up Call and act accordingly before it's too late.

See Ostrich Head Hiding for the Animal Stereotype and Urban Legend that ostriches literally hide their heads in the sand, and Monkey Morality Pose for one interpretation of the proverb. Compare We Have Become Complacent.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: The government tends to take this approach, only humoring the Survey Corps but primarily being concerned with maintaining the Status Quo even while humanity is slowly dying off. It later turns out to go beyond mere complacency. It's a Government Conspiracy started by the First King to keep the people of Paradis contained in the walls, unaware that the outside world was just fine all along.
  • The Earth Federation slowly started to have this hat starting in Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ where they remain unsupportive of the Anti-Earth Union Group and Karaba in facing Neo-Zeon since they don’t have many resources but they willingly abandoned many civilians during the Dublin Colony Drop. It doesn’t help that they made a deal with Neo-Zeon. Then in Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack, they gave Char some gold and an asteroid just to stop him from doing more colony drops on Earth. But anyone who is familiar with Char such as Bright Noa and Amuro know that he’s still going to drop the asteroid and they’re right. The Federation’s attitude increasingly became worse in the Late Universal Century, so much that they’re completely useless against the Crossbone Vanguard and the Zanscare Empire.
  • Season 2 of Psycho-Pass has the Sibyl System who were ignoring the danger that Kirito Kamui posed, most especially when he kidnapped an Inspector, created a hostage situation which resulted in many casualties and killed many of their Enforcers so he can steal their Dominators. And yet, Sibyl kept their heads and focused on trying to darken Akane’s Psycho-pass instead. Later on, it’s revealed that Sibyl knew that Kamui is dangerous and were unable to comprehend his entity, which explains their inaction against him. But it’s already too late when Kamui gains the upper hand and judges the system by forcing them to remove their brains with high crime coefficients.

    Comic Books 
  • The Guardians of the Universe in the Green Lantern mythos frequently fill this role, most recently in the Blackest Night event, where all save two refuse to believe in the prophecy and the coming of the War of Light until it is too late.
  • The same stick you could use to find someone who used Cultural Posturing in Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) could also be used who also used this trope, at least within the original continuity. Quite notably, the Kingdom of Acorn and the entire Echidna race were like this very heavily.
    • Harvey Who, the head of the Kingdom of Acorn's intelligence agency, delivered a powerful "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Elias Acorn when the latter came to get his aid in trying to reclaim the throne from Naugus. He kept warning them over and over not to trust certain people and that bad things were coming, but Maximilian Acorn, the previous king, refused to listen, rather listening to the Source of All's guidance, and all of Mobius paid the price. When he realized Elias had a much better head on his shoulders, Harvey agreed to help.
    • Despite being put in charge because of King Max's stupid decisions and meant to prevent such things from happening again, the Council of Acorn soon prove to be just as bad. Best shown in their first act; even after learning of the return of Enerjak, a nigh-omnipotent Reality Warper with powers limited only by his imagination, they decide to wait and refuse to let either the Freedom Fighters or Chaotix face him or head to Angel Island to investigate until more can be learned about the danger of the situation. The Chaotix outright riot in response, and Dimitri is so disgusted by their slow decision making that he turns to Eggman for help instead.
    • The Brotherhood of Guardians were even worse with H.I.T.S. management. They entrusted the safety and welfare of Angel Island to a naive and inexperienced teenager who was easily duped by a tyrannical warlord and when said warlord and other threats attack the island, they don't do a damn thing about it.
  • Annihilation: Of the three major intergalactic powers involved, the Skrulls are involved with the war from day one, the Shi'ar aren't involved at all, and the Kree are being led by House Fiyero, who just weaselled their way into power, and don't care too much about the war, even once it's reached their doorstep. And making matters worse, House Fiyero even sides with the Annihilation Wave toward the end.
  • Batman: Black and White: Near the beginning of "Night After Night", a senior doctor from the asylum where the Joker is imprisoned appears on television to assure the public that although the Joker has escaped from his cell there is no way he will be able to overcome the asylum's security measures and get out of the facility before he's recaptured. After the Joker has got out of the facility, attempted mass murder, been recaptured by Batman, and been returned to the asylum, the same spokesman appears on television again to assure the public that they've upgraded the security and this time the Joker is definitely going to stay put.

    Fan Works 
  • A Brief History of Equestria: The Equestrian government during Talonhoof's assault. When it first becomes clear he's enslaving and brutalising ponies, they do nothing. When he starts massacring their outer territories, they ignore it, and in some cases even call the survivors liars. When his armies are almost at their doorstep, they try to appease him, even when their ambassadors come back either in pieces or not at all. They try surrendering, even when it's clear Talonhoof wants nothing less to kill every single pony there is, and he's never going to stop.
  • Queen of Shadows: This is how Lord Rokutaro and his followers feel about the Imperial Court of Japan, who seem willing to completely ignore the Shadowkhan's conquest and enslavement of the southern islands, and why they are acting to confront the Shadowkhan themselves before they conquer all of Japan.
  • Beautiful Fiction's Babylon: Fuhrer Hakuro deals with the terrorist terrorizing Central by completely ignoring her and refusing to give Mustang any back-up when he tries to deal with the problem. When it becomes apparent that homeless people were brutally murdered or sometimes eaten, he notes that Central is better off without them.
  • Fire Emblem Awakening: Invisible Ties: In chapter 7, Chrom calls Emmeryn out on constantly focusing on diplomacy while Gangrel freely sends raiding parties into Ylisse to cause chaos, and finally takes the initiative to confront the raiders himself when she won't listen to him. It takes Gangrel kidnapping Maribelle and trying to ransom her for the Fire Emblem for Emmeryn to finally get it through her thick skull that no, Gangrel won't listen to reason and has to be stopped by force.
  • In Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters, this is how Nimue feels about Kandrakar's stewardship of the Known Worlds. In her view, they just uphold the status quo, rather than actively intervene to face the various evils threatening the worlds themselves.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In a non-military example, the President and Vice President (who are clearly George W. Bush and Dick Cheney) in The Day After Tomorrow, particularly the latter. Neither is ready to accept (perhaps with some good reason, because the whole film runs on Hollywood Science) or act on the scientific predictions of doom in a century or so for half the world.
  • The Jedi Council in the Star Wars prequels, particularly the first one. Even after they recognize the problem, they are hard-pressed to not act like idiots. In fact, they seem to discover there is a growing conspiracy in the Republic in each film, seemingly at the same time Palpatine has another rise in power, but choose to ignore all the signs or put two and two together until the third film.
    • Count Dooku leaves the Jedi because of this, among other reasons. When he later turns up as the leader of an enemy movement, the Jedi and Chancellor Palpatine STILL sit on their butts until the very last second. Palpatine has an excuse (he's the Big Bad and Dooku is secretly his minion). The Jedi don't.
    • Chancellor Valorum appears to be this, too, but it's in fact another case of Palpatine pulling strings, in this case to make Valorum appear ineffectual when he was in fact pushing for intervention and had directly sent the Jedi to investigate in the first place.
      Amidala: I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee!
    • Padme qualifies as well. She leads a cadre of senators who want to defeat the proposed Republic bill to create a standing army. It really isn't her pacifism, but the fact that, given who the Republic is dealing with, she should know better. The Trade Federation quickly curbstomped her planet only ten years before and they're the ones bankrolling Dooku, along with a dozen other similar organizations. Though the fact she didn't trust then-Chancellor Palpatine's Cincinnatus routine might have played a part. Later on, when Anakin confesses his genocidal ways to Padmé, she consoles him, telling him he's not as bad as he thinks he is. Predictably, this does not end well.
    • The New Republic in the sequel trilogy is guilty of this. Despite the First Order openly violating the treaties signed at the end of the Galactic Civil War with their remilitarization, the New Republic Senate dismisses any attempts to point out how dangerous they are becoming as warmongering and paranoia, and the only opposition is General Leia's own privately funded militia. This allows the First Order to build a new superweapon that makes the Death Star look like a small firecracker, destroy the Republic capital in the Hosnian system, and conquer the galaxy with ease.
  • Mayor Phlegmming in Osmosis Jones. He's desperate to remain mayor, which he believes hinges on making sure Frank gets to a big BBQ event. He even illegally uses an override key (only permissible by vote of the Council) to make Frank take OTC medicine rather than go to the hospital when Thrax first starts showing his effects. If it weren't for Jones and Drix (who Phlegmming tries to get rid of), it would have been the end of the world for Frank's citizens.
  • The Prime Minister in Quatermass and the Pit. While believing that the items in the pit may be planted propaganda rather than alien artifacts makes sense at first, he keeps it up even as incredibly weird stuff starts happening, including displays of psychic powers by people who previously had none, but were exposed to the items in the pit.
  • King Théoden flirts with being this briefly in the film version of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, initially refusing to help Gondor, until the beacons are lit and he decides to send in The Cavalry. His reticence is justified however since Gondor had increasingly refused to aid them in recent years, something he calls Aragorn out on when he brings up their Binding Ancient Treaty. It's implied his decision is partially because he wanted to make a point that at least Rohan still had the honour to live up to their commitments.
  • Juan of the Dead: Rather than deal with the zombies, the Cuban authorities claim that they are dissidents being paid by the U.S. government and organise a protest in front of the U.S. embassy. A large group of unarmed people gathering in one place during a zombie outbreak goes about as well as you think it would.
  • The Archon in Immortals is sure that he can negotiate with King Hyperion, right until the moment where Hyperion kills him.
  • In Pacific Rim, when Jaegers start actively losing the war against Kaiju, the UN's response is to redirect all their funds and efforts into building massive walls blocking the Pacific Ocean from the rest of the continents. Even after a Kaiju tears through Australia's wall like tissue paper (it later gets killed by Australia's Jaeger pilots), they outright state their intention is to continue building the wall instead of continuing the arms race against the Kaiju. Later on in the film, the next-gen Kaiju develop wings, making the UN's efforts All for Nothing.
  • Actually downplayed in Darkest Hour. Chamberlain is portrayed as a perfectly capable peacetime Prime Minister, he just hasn't got what it takes to handle the difficult job of protecting the country from a hostile Fascist invasion.
  • Shin Godzilla is a dark analysis of this trope and Obstructive Bureaucracy. Godzilla only ever evolved to the point where it was a threat because Japanese and American scientists laughed off Dr. Goro Maki, the one person who predicted its existence. Then when Dr. Hiromi Ogashira warned of Godzilla's imminent landfall, she was laughed off, and government officials instead told the public it wouldn't happen... only for their announcement to be disproven while they were saying it.
  • It's shown that Secretary Ross and the Sokovia Accord-mandated council overseeing the Avengers have become this in Avengers: Infinity War following Thanos' attack on New York and Tony Stark's subsequent disappearance into space. Rather than pushing forward on a mission to counter the alien forces, Ross spends his time arguing with the one remaining Avenger at the compound, Rhodey, over his and fellow Avenger Vision's loyalty to the accords. When the Secret Avengers come out of hiding to offer a truce and their services, Ross instead orders their arrest, which Rhodey ignores.

  • The Alice Network: Captain Cameron tells Major Allenton — correctly — that it isn't safe for the Alice Network to remain in the field any longer, but he won't believe it.
  • Cornelius Fudge in Harry Potter does this quite a bit in the first few books and films, but this behavior is at its worst in The Order of the Phoenix. Fudge desperately tries to deny that Big Bad Voldemort has returned, even setting up a smear campaign against Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore for even suggesting Voldemort was around. His denial even extends to actively interfering with Hogwarts' ability to teach their students self-defense by making their Defense Against the Dark Arts class ineffectual fluff only good for passing standardized testing. This all blows up in Fudge's face when Voldemort appears right outside the Ministry of Magic, thus removing all possible doubt to his return. Fudge ends up getting the sack after the true nature of the threat becomes apparent; a lot of deaths could have been avoided if his pride and cowardice weren't ruling his actions. It's also hinted that Fudge is jealous of Dumbledore's success, and that Fudge realizes deep down that he's a weak man trying to play a strong man. This puts Fudge's actions in an even worse light to the public, since Fudge let people die and put even more people in danger just to spite Dumbledore. The moral outrage around the denial of Voldemort's return leads to Fudge going down as one of the worst Ministers of Magic in history.
  • None of the Trojan leadership in The Iliad ever listens to poor Cassandra (though that was divinely ordained). Same thing happens with Laocoön, who gets killed along with his sons for trying to warn the Trojans against bringing the Trojan Horse inside the city walls.
  • Prince (later King) Meurig of Gwent in The Warlord Chronicles. He starts out by convincing his fellow Gwentians to back out of the war with Powys, which any realist would see would quickly lead to Dumnonia becoming a Powysian puppet-state, thus surrounding Gwent on three sides. In the second book, while king, he refuses to intervene in a civil war in Dumnonia in support of Arthur, potentially leaving governance in the hands of a group of Saxon-backed conspirators. In the third, he refuses to join with the other British nations in resisting the Saxon invasion of Dumnonia, which proves a bridge too far: his father Tewdric returns to the throne briefly to resist the invasion. The series' framing device makes clear that Meurig's kingdom was within his lifetime mostly conquered by the Saxons.
  • Mr. Desjardins, the Chief Lector of the House of Life in The Kane Chronicles, spends most of the first book either ignoring or seeming not to care that Set is about to destroy the world, being more concerned with killing the god-hosting heroes. He eventually graduates to Divided We Fall.
  • Star Trek Novelverse:
  • Star Wars Legends gives us the Fallanassi, who are such pacifists that, even when billions of people are dying, they refuse to take up arms.
    • The New Republic hardly does anything useful, and its senators are either corrupt or easily manipulated by the latest threat to the galaxy, and most of the time they either hamper or ignore the heroes' warnings about the next galactic threat. Such as the Yuuzhan Vong.
  • Lord Darlington in The Remains of the Day is one of the proponents of appeasement in the 1930s.
  • The Pre-War Presidential Administration in World War Z, who ignored the solutions to preventing the looming global zombie outbreak, instead performing a few token solutions that ranged from unhelpful to genuinely harmful (i.e. allowing a bogus vaccine to pass through the FDA). When interviewing the former Chief of Staff, Grover Carlson, Max Brooks calls him out on this.
  • Every. Single. Character with access to military resources in A Song of Ice and Fire. After thousands of years, the Others have returned and are raising an army of the dead beyond the Wall? What imaginations the men of the Night's Watch have. Zombies or not, there's definitely an invasion underway and the Wall is hopelessly underdefended? Great, that should keep the King in the North busy and out of the fighting for the Iron Throne.
  • The White Council in The Dresden Files. The Merlin and his people want to appease the Red Court (by offering them Harry's head) when it's fairly clear that the vampires want a war. They also completely deny the possibility of a rogue faction within the Council, despite mounting evidence. At least some of this behavior was probably due to a traitor using mind magic to subtly influence their decisions as the Merlin seemed to have pulled up his head out of the sand and was preparing to go on the offensive in Changes.
  • Zeus/Jupiter from Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus is aware of the rising threat of the Titans and Giants, but tries to deny and ignore it until his fellow gods force him to confront it with irrefutable evidence. By the time he decides to take action, it is too late and he has to rely on mortal heroes which is partially what galls him in the first place.
  • The Age of Fire series has the Hypatian Directory (a mix of Parliament and a bureaucracy) acting like this when the Red Queen of Ghioz declares war. They write off the reports of her barbarian allies invading as a common and unimportant matter, even as their own lands are being overrun. And when they finally accept what's happening, they immediately surrender (not that it saves any of them).
  • In The Initiate Brother, Emperor Akantsu refuses to accept that the barbarian incursion he secretly invited has actually turned out to be a full-scale invasion. As the barbarian army advances through the empire, he insists that it's small and insignificant - you see, the forces retreating ahead of the barbarians are rebels, and are only pretending to be fleeing as an excuse to advance towards him. He sends first his guard commander and then his son to deal with the situation, and they both tell him that the barbarian threat is real... so they're traitors too, obviously. He does eventually see the truth but is defeated and killed without ever accepting any responsibility for being so catastrophically wrong.
  • In Stark's War, the army's top brass is pretty much incapable of understanding or accepting anything that doesn't fit what they were planning to do anyway. The enemy has defenses that would complicate a planned advance? Our troops are dying in scores because we keep charging right into enemy heavy artillery fire? No, sergeant, our intelligence reports assure us that you're just imagining it, and clearly, the plan can't be wrong. Further comment from the ranks is not required.
  • Wings of Fire: Queen Magnificent of the RainWings completely ignores Glory's petition to find the missing dragons in their village, saying that it's not her loss. This is what gets Glory to challenge her for the RainWing throne.
  • In Song of the Lioness, Jonathon's father King Roald was known for being a peacekeeper and wanted to avoid confrontation at all costs. On one hand, he did not punish Alanna for lying about her gender to be a knight. But on the other hand, he forgave Roger who had attempted to kill the Queen.
  • President Yancey and the other Neo-Confederate leaders in Victoria, who refuse to accept the seriousness of the situation and deal forcefully with the Commune when they launch their bid for power. They are saved by protagonist John Rumford and his allies in the Confederate military, who are willing to do what it takes to win.
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series:
  • Amberdrake hints that this is what allowed Ma'ar to become the threat he has in "The Black Gryphon." In the beginning, the King and his nobles just wrote Ma'ar off as an ambitious warlord with delusions of grandeur, the sort that showed up every few years. They failed to notice how he was unifying and strengthening the formerly chaotic barbarian hordes under his rule, or how he used propaganda to sow discontent amongst the population while demonizing outsiders. By the time they recognize they're about to be hit with a war of conquest, Ma'ar is far too powerful to be curtailed, and Amberdrake finds himself bereft of his family and a prisoner in his own school.
  • The Diabolic: The Empire and the theocracy are both deeply invested in ignoring the fact that all their technology is breaking down. It is explicitly blasphemous to understand how any of it actually works, or to study the science behind it. Everything is maintained by robots maintaining robots, but that chain of maintenance is breaking down over time.
  • Fire & Blood:
    • King Viserys I's approach to the strife between his second wife and his daughter, who openly despised one another, as well as the fact Alicent was doing what she could to consolidate power for herself and her family, and additionally had the support of everyone who hated Visy's brother Daemon (who was married to Rhaenaerya). So long as it looked like Alicent's family and Rhae's weren't about to kill each other, he was content. The minute Viserys died, all Hell breaks lose.
    • Dorne's approach to some of the Vulture Kings was say they were going to do something about it, followed by doing nothing. Then again, given the Vulture Kings tended to prey on Westerosi, and Dorne's history with the rest of the continent, there might be reasons for this...

    Live-Action TV 
  • President David Palmer on 24 is accused of being this by his Vice President in season two, though he turns out to be right.
  • Chernobyl: Everywhere. Nearly everyone in power at the Chernobyl plant (except Legasov and Scherbina) spends the aftermath of the disaster desperately trying to downplay what happened and cover their own asses over, y'know, containing the horribly radioactive exposed core. Notably, at the highest levels, this isn't the case; Gorbachev listens to Legasov and authorizes any measure necessary for containment. It's just that Soviet political culture has so deeply ingrained backstabbing and cover-ups that nobody is willing to confess any problems even when the bosses are willing to listen.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • In the History and Lore videos on The Vale, Petyr Baelish (admittedly biased) regards this as the chief failing of the Vale, noting that their geographical defenses have kept them isolated from matters of real concern, like making peace with or destroying the Hill Tribes and it feeds them an unjustified sense of security and superiority.
    • In the series proper, amoral Mad Scientist Qyburn accuses the Maesters of this, directly accusing them of being behind Westeros' Medieval Stasis. Initially, this seems to be just a Never My Fault justification for his For Science! attitude, but then comes The Reveal in season 7. Namely, that the Maesters know, and have always known, that the White Walkers are real, but they see no reason to bother with alerting the rulers of Westeros and possibly dooming millions of innocent people because they assume that the Wall in the North will keep them at bay as it has done for centuries. They are completely right.
    • Tywin's review on Tytos Lannister's rule. The eldest son had to step in when brewing, unattended conflicts were mismanaged for far too long.
  • Used many times in all incarnations of Star Trek. Chamberlains can be found liberally sprinkled among Starfleet's admiralty, the Federation's civilian leadership, and the councils of many alien worlds. The stick they wield is the Prime Directive, originally drafted to prevent the Federation from imposing its will on defenseless alien species, now ironically aiding and abetting the very same.
    • Discussed in the popular Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "In the Pale Moonlight." Sisko sells his best arguments for why the Romulans should stop aiding the enemy, while Dax role-plays as a Romulan proconsul. If it goes this badly in rehearsal, just imagine how unpleasant the real deal would be.note 
      Dax (as Romulan): From where I'm sitting, the Dominion isn't a threat to me. I have a non-aggression pact with them. They're my allies.
      Sisko: You're not going to put your faith in some piece of paper, are you?
      Dax: Not at all: I've been watching them very closely since the beginning of the war, and so far, they've kept their part of the bargain...
      Sisko: They're violating your territory almost every day! What kind of an ally is that?!
      Dax: So they're crossing my backyard to give the Federation a bloody nose. I can't say that makes me very sad.
      Sisko: (getting incensed) You can't be naive enough to think that the Dominion is going to stop with the Federation! When they're finished with us, they're coming after you!
      Dax: That's speculation—
      Sisko: The Founders see it as their sacred duty to bring order to the galaxy — Their order! Do you think they'll sit idly by while you keep your chaotic empire right next to their perfect order? No! If you watch us go under, then what you're really doing is signing your own death warrant!
  • Legends of Tomorrow is kicked off when Rip Hunter assembles the titular team to deal with the threat of Vandal Savage because the Time Masters won't do so themselves.
    • Double subverted when it turns out that the Time Masters were actually working with Savage because they believed his leadership was needed to stop an alien invasion in the future, and then it was later revealed that Vandal manipulated them so that he could use time travel to further his own plans of conquest.
  • seaQuest DSV: Secretary General Arthur McGath of the United Earth Oceans Organization (UEO) refuses to consider military action regardless of the threat.
  • Babylon 5:
    • In the second-season finale, as the station is gearing up for possible conflict with the newly (re-)militarily expansionist Centauri, a high-level diplomat comes to the station from Earth...and reveals that he's there to make a non-aggression treaty with the Centauri. He even says "peace in our time." However, while he was serious in his intent, he was chosen for this task by superiors who were working with the Shadows (who didn't want their pawns fighting).
    • Early in the fourth season, the Drazi and Hyach ambassadors who want to prevent Delenn and her few remaining supporters from continuing attacks on the Shadows. They believe that if the Army of Light doesn't antagonize the Shadows, they might well go back to sleep for another thousand years, but if Delenn and company press on, it will drag everyone down into the abyss. As is usual with this trope, the Drazi and Hyach ambassadors aren't evil... they're just wrong.
    • The Expanded Universe reveals that this and internal politics nearly doomed the League of Non-Aligned Worlds during the Dilgar War: when the Dilgar started expanding against the neutral worlds of Alaca and Balos, the Abbai and the Drazi, who were the League members closest to Dilgar space, raised the alarm and called for a united response to the Dilgar atrocities, only for the rest of the members to buy the Dilgar propaganda about having launched a retaliatory invasion for their attacks against Dilgar colonies and the League having been created to defend against a potential Centauri remilitarization, with some saying the Abbai (who founded the League in the first place and held a great influence through their superior technology) and the Drazi (the foremost military power in the League) trying to use the Dilgar as an excuse to increase their power over the League. Fast forward ten years, the Dilgar, having built-up their forces in the meantime and knowing their homeworld's sun is about to explode and none of their other worlds can support their population on top of extreme racism, launch a genocidal invasion of the League, breaking past the defensive-minded Abbai, pinning down the Drazi, and picking off the rest of the League one by one because they won't join forces while the major powers watched (the Narn because their government had deals with the Dilgar and was locked in a power struggle with elements that felt it was immoral, the Centauri because a future enemy and their current enemies were bleeding and weakening each other for a future battle, and the Minbari because in their isolation didn't care or even know). To add insult to injury, when the Centauri remilitarized and returned into an expansionist phase during the series the League was powerless to stop them, in no small part because they still hadn't fully recovered from the losses of ships, manpower, and infrastructure from the Dilgar War.
      • Luckily averted at the turning point of the war: when ambassadors from the Abbai and some League worlds that had been overrun reached Earth and plead their case to the Earth Alliance Senate, some were of the idea the Dilgar weren't their problem and planned to vote against up until the ambassadors successfully pointed out the resemblance between the policies and attitude of the Dilgar and those of Nazi Germany, resulting into Earth Alliance intervening with its massive military and turning the tide out of a combination of indignation and realization that if the Dilgar won they were next.
  • Happens a few times in Stargate SG-1, notably Kinsey and Woolsey (though the latter got character development). Repeatedly, when there is an Obstructive Bureaucrat, their problem is that they don't think that the enemy of the season is a real threat.
    • It gets worse after the introduction of the I.O.A., who insist on inflicting ridiculous policies on SGC personnel, all whilst ignoring the various major threats that are poised to annihilate Earth or the galaxy at any given moment. For the most part, the SGC personnel seem to consider the I.O.A. to be a joke organization and are well aware that its members are such slaves to PR, they'd never want to be seen complaining about Earth being saved because they were ignored.
  • In the original Battlestar Galactica, the President worries about offending the Cylons, brushing off some very concerning warnings, only to lead his people into an ambush that nearly accomplishes the genocide of his entire people. The chief peace broker was working for the Cylons the whole time. He dies moaning at what a gullible fool he was.
  • The former Trope Namer is referred to in an episode of Seinfeld when Jerry is assuring George that an executive at NBC won't cancel their pilot just because Kramer threw up on her.
    Jerry: Vomit is not a deal-breaker. [...] If Hitler had vomited on Chamberlain, Chamberlain still would have given him Czechoslovakia.
    George: Chamberlain? You could stick his head in the toilet, he still would have given you half of Europe!
  • Veronica Mars can't seem to meet an authority figure who isn't a complete horse's ass with the exception of her father when he is temporarily reinstated as sheriff (after Sheriff Lamb's death).
  • Yes, Minister, when Humphrey lists the "Five Standard Excuses", includes this bit:
    Humphrey: Fourth, there's the excuse we used for the Munich agreement: It occurred before certain important facts were known, and couldn't happen again.
    Hacker: What important facts?
    Humphrey: Well, that Hitler wanted to conquer Europe.
    Hacker: I thought everybody knew that!
    Humphrey: Not the Foreign Office.
    • In Yes, Prime Minister, it is established that this trope is the "standard Foreign Office response in a time of crisis", in the form of the "Four Stage Strategy":
      Richard: In Stage One we say nothing is going to happen.
      Humphrey: Stage Two, we say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it.
      Richard: In Stage Three, we say that maybe we should do something about it, but there's nothing we can do.
      Humphrey: Stage Four, we say maybe there was something we could have done, but it's too late now.
  • Oz:
    • Em City's unit manager Tim McManus is well-meaning, but he's overly idealistic and clueless to a lot of what goes on in the prison, and he frequently makes extremely stupid decisions that result in a lot of deaths.
    • His temporary successor Martin Querns is even worse. Whereas McManus at least tried to do his job and stop violence from happening, Querns gives Adebisi full control over Em City and lets him terrorize and rape other prisoners with impunity so long as nobody dies under his watch.

  • Daniel Amos: In the short story that accompanies the album ¡Alarma!, one scene has the Reverend James Cursory reassure his church congregation. He tells them that everything is okay, that there are no problems at all—and the rampaging giant outside is just their imaginations. All they need to do is sing and feel good, and their imaginary problems will go away! The giant levels the church while they’re singing.

    Tabletop Game 
  • Happens frequently in Warhammer 40,000; depending on which side of the galaxy, many Imperial worlds are governed by corrupt and inept rulers who ignore any signs of possible danger thinking that sending a few thousand Imperial Guardsmen (or worse, Planetary Defense Forces, who unlike most Guardsmen tend to be either vanity affairs more fit for pageantry than combat or jackbooted thugs to oppress the local populace; neither type have much in actual military training) can stamp it out. Only for the threat to have escalated into near unstoppable, whether its an Ork WAAAGH!!!, a Chaos horde, or a Tyranid Hive Fleet, the imperial rulers would mostly remain oblivious to it, or just flee the system. Assuming that they weren't working with said Chaos horde/Tyranid fleet in the first place.

  • Fudge's stupidity, also present in the original Harry Potter books, is brilliantly parodied in A Very Potter Musical when Voldemort breaks into Fudge's office to take over the Ministry of Magic:
    Voldemort: Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic!
    Fudge: I still don't believe you're back.
    Voldemort: Believe this, Fudge! Avada Kedavra!
    Fudge: Oh, heart attack... surely. [dies]

    Video Games 
  • Referenced in Civilization IV, where after meeting a rival civilization for the first time and you don't immediately declare war on them, your response is "There shall be peace in our time!" It's a very rare game indeed when such optimism isn't proven to be misplaced.
  • LEGO Harry Potter: Fudge's whole stance is summarized by him putting his hands over his ears and going "bla bla bla".
  • Much like the later council in the Star Wars prequels, the plot of the Knights of the Old Republic series is kick-started by the Jedi Council being content to sit and wait as Mandalorian armies ravage the Republic, with a number of Jedi going against their wishes and following Revan off to war. What's left of the council continues this sort of behavior in the second game - when the Exile finds them on their own, they're reasonable enough, but bring them all back together on Dantooine and they immediately turn on the Exile, out of fear because the Exile became a Force black hole after Malachor V, declaring them to be Sith and contemplate having the Exile killed.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Trooper storyline has you go after a highly competent and ruthless Sith general. After a lot of hard work, luck and Heroic Sacrifice you succeed in capturing him. You are given a medal and told that the Republic has traded the prisoner back to the Empire for some trivial concessions. This can be averted, but it requires certain choices to be made and shouting down the Supreme Chancellor while they're giving you a medal. There is an undeclared war going on with the Sith Empire that the Republic is losing but the Senate sees no reason to be concerned and thinks that they can still negotiate with the Sith.
  • In the Mass Effect series, the Council has this attitude towards the Reapers despite Shepard repeatedly telling them that they're coming, especially Sparatus, and Shepard has the opportunity to not only call them out on it, but can even refuse to save them in the first game, not that their replacements are any better. All three quickly do a 180 in Mass Effect 3 when the Reapers finally arrive, and amusingly Turian Sparatus is the most supportive of the three. Salarian Valern requires Shepard to rescue him from Cerberus, and the supposedly reasonable Asari Tevos first states that, "The cruel and unfortunate truth is that while the Reapers focus on Earth, we can prepare and regroup". Later its revealed that she had extremely important information regarding a Prothean Beacon that the Asari had been hiding for centuries and doesn't tell Shepard until the last minute. This ends up resulting in Laser-Guided Karma when Thessia falls to the Reapers about as fast as Earth did once the Reapers actually reach it.
    • Lampshaded during the Citadel coup attempt. When you tell them Udina sold them out to Cerberus, Tevos admits that every time they've doubted you before (i.e. every time you've spoken to them except when you proved Saren's treachery), it hasn't ended well for them.
  • Grand Cleric Elthina of the Kirkwall Chantry in Dragon Age II. You can warn her about anti-Qunari fanatics abusing her seal, but she doesn't act against them until the Viscount's son is murdered and violence is all but inevitable. Her refusal to take a stand in the Mage-Templar conflict leads to both sides becoming radicalized - the Templars turn Kirkwall into a borderline police state, while cornered mages turn to blood magic in droves. Anders gets so fed up that he blows up the entire Chantry with her in it, forcing the issue. Her refusal to take action continues to cause problems years after her death, as mages cite her example as the reason that they don't trust Divine Justinia to address their grievances.
    • Viscount Dumar also tends to take a very quiet route in regards to the Qunari. He clearly doesn't like them and doesn't like his son hanging around with them, but his only actions amount to sending Hawke to try and appease them. Part of the problem is that the Viscount doesn't want to do anything lest he incur the wrath of the nobles, but neither can he take a direct approach as the Arishok refuses to say anything to him other than "Begone", forcing him to rely on Hawke, as the only person in Kirkwall the Arishok considers worthy of his attention. After the murder of his son by Chantry zealots hoping to frame the Qunari, he stops caring altogether, leading to the situation deteriorating rapidly, the Qunari beginning a military coup of the city and his subsequent execution by the Arishok.
  • The Argent Crusade and Cenarion Circle with regard to the Horde trampling on their stated purposes in World of Warcraft. To clarify, the Argent Crusade was made to fight The Scourge, but remained silent when Sylvanas started using the same methods as them once they were dealt with, and the Cenarion Circle explicitly forbade the use of fel magic and molten giants, viewing them as too corrupting and destructive of nature respectively. Guess what Garrosh used? Out-of-Universe the Argent Crusade and Cenarion Circle's inaction makes sense since making them take part in the faction war (and fight against the Horde) would be unbalanced, but In-Universe, it comes across as the two organizations being this trope.
  • The Arcane Council of Guild Wars 2 is the governing body of the Asura. They accept the Inquest and will side with them on most matters, even in the face of overwhelming evidence against them. This includes when an Inquest agent openly attacked the Council and they decided to have the event sent to a sub-committee rather than censure the attacker. They also chose to bury information on the Elder Dragons consuming magic so they could protect themselves rather than help defeat them.
  • The undead endings of Age of Wonders, when the Player Character comes to their senses and sees Inioch for what he is. In one version, the PC realizes this too late and their own forces come to kill them; in the other the PC escapes, knowing Inioch will hunt them endlessly.

    Web Animation 
  • Deconstructed in RWBY with Professor Ozpin. His approach to villains threatening to upend 80 years of general peace is to essentially wait on the matter and occasionally dump his life-threatening burdens onto kids. This culminates into the Fall of Beacon which led to the loss of life and the Kingdoms riling up to go to war. When he returns to the heroes and is informed of the updated situation, he decides to, again, wait on the matter, leading to the villains having set the table for the fall of another Academy that they would have succeeded at were it not for some villains being too greedy in their ambitions. Eventually, his insistence on keeping everything hush hush caught up to him when his omission on a powerful relic's ability to attract the Grimm became the last straw for the group and they force the truth out of him before he eventually retreats.

    Web Comics 
  • In Sluggy Freelance the leaders of the Dimension of Lame jump head-on into this trope when they're attacked by Demonic Invaders. Their entire defense strategy consists of two phases: first, ask the demons to stop killing them really nicely; second, if the first phase doesn't work, ask the demons to stop killing them really nicely a few million times. Sending them fruit baskets is optional, but a plus. This is somewhat justified by it being a dimension of Actual Pacifists, to the point where the most violently psychotic person in the entire dimension is horrified when he stubs a demon's toe. And when two people come to the reluctant conclusion that fighting might be necessary, they implement that plan by arguing with each other in an attempt to scare away the demons.
  • The Trenches: Mr Credenza.
    Credenza: What you're telling me is incredibly frustrating and I don't like hearing it.
    Isaac: That's why I brought it to your attention, sir.
    Credenza: No, this is what's frustrating. That you are bringing it to my attention.
  • Lighter Than Heir: The Steinbech Chancellor tried to use diplomacy to prevent another war even after the Zamoran Military attacked an extraction convoy and tortured three of his own soldiers. He ends up being assassinated and control of the government is given over to the Steinbech military.
  • Sam & Fuzzy: The Committee, the Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering which is tasked with upholding The Masquerade of the setting, is normally very proactive, but with one glaring omission; The Pit, a mysterious secret so horrific that the original Committee gave themselves amnesia just to erase all traces of its location. What really invokes this trope is the last few storylines where it's increasingly clear that several forces are trying to find the Pit, including Impossible Thief Hazel Kim and Mad Scientist Mr Sin (who happens to be a member of the Committee) but the rest of the group refuses to even consider doing anything to stop them, mainly because majority votes are required for them to take action.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Long Feng, the Evil Chancellor of Ba-Sing-Se, has elements of this. While he's clearly aware of the war with the Fire Nation, he seems more interested in keeping it under wraps than actually doing anything about them, and he spends far more time scheming against the Avatar, the world's last realistic hope, than against his enemies. It's not a completely straight example, as he is quite active (and very ruthless) in enforcing his own power—he just doesn't want to jeopardize it.
    • The leadership of the Northern Water Tribe also falls under this, having spent 85 years of a 100-year world war doing absolutely nothing following an earlier skirmish with the Fire Nation. They only rouse themselves to fight off a second invasion of their fortress-city, and after that, they resume doing absolutely nothing for the rest of the series (contributing no forces to the last-chance invasion on the day of Black Sun, for example), although quite a few of them, including their greatest waterbender, were busy rebuilding the Southern Water Tribe. The second case is quite justified though, as said battle brought heavy losses on the Northern Water Tribe, putting them in no condition to fight an offensive war.
    • On a much smaller scale than the above, the leader of the village in "Avatar Day" seems more interested in executing the Avatar for crimes committed in a past life than in helping the Avatar save the world until Fire Nation soldiers arrive on his doorstep.
    • All in all, the reason the two Nations were losing the war became increasingly clear over the course of the series.
    • A Subverted example from "Return to Omashu" would be King Bumi who when Fire Nation troops attacked immediately surrendered and simply cackled about doing nothing, but subverted in that he was simply waiting for another moment to strike.
    • Also subverted with the Earth King. He was practicing Head In The Sand Management because he genuinely didn't know about the war (thanks to Long Feng). When he discovers it, he laments how long it took for him to act and immediately works with Aang to help coordinate an invasion plan.
    • The order of the White Lotus, a secret society dedicated to harmony between all three kingdoms, and including every Master of every discipline from the show, sat out the war until the literal last day. Although in keeping with the group's board game theming, a lot of that is justified by getting all of their pieces into place; in fact, their leader was directly involved with events from the very first episode.
  • Raiko from the sequel series The Legend of Korra refuses to help to Korra free the Southern Water Tribe from the Northern Water Tribe because it's something that does not directly involve the Republic, and when told later on of Unalaq's evil plan to free the terrible Vaatu from his prison he still declines because he feels it's better to simply try to prepare for the worst-case-scenario and ready Republic City's forces to try and weather the storm. Naturally, due to his lack of help, Korra fails to prevent Vaatu's escape, and Republic City's defenses are utterly useless against the hybrid form of Unalaq/Vaatu, who would have destroyed the city had Korra not arrived in time to stop them. Raiko, of course, wasted no time spinning things to blame Korra for the mess. Subverted in the fourth season, when he recognizes the threat posed by Kuvira and the Earth Empire and mobilizes all United Republic defenses to stop her. Ironically, he then has to deal with this trope from Fire Lord Izumi, who doesn't want to commit to a first strike given her nation's history, and Tenzin, who's a pacifist and also won't condone a preemptive attack.
  • Transformers: Animated: Years of peace left Ultra Magnus and the Autobot High Council complacent to the point they disbelieve Optimus Prime and his team warning them that the Decepticons are rising again. Once they get proof, however, they quickly wise up and take the threat seriously... except for Sentinel Prime, who still insists they should cover up the Decepticon attacks to prevent panic and just pretend things are fine. Things really hit the fan when Ultra Magnus is assassinated by a Decepticon spy; Sentinel Prime is just high-ranking enough to take over as Magnus, over the objections of the Council, and he proceeds to turn Cybertron into a borderline police state. He tells the public about the Decepticon threat, but only as a way of controlling them, otherwise not doing anything to combat them, even as groups like Team Chaar tear their way through Autobot territory. He spends most of his time harassing or illegally detaining any Autobots who question his reign too much or discuss the Decepticons too openly for “treason”. His lieutenant, Jazz, is so disgusted that he defects to Optimus’ team, while Alpha Trion begins openly searching for a way to unseat Sentinel.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, this is Celestia's plan once Discord betrays them to serve Tirek. Hand her powers (along with Luna and Cadance's powers) to Twilight Sparkle and advise her to essentially hide and not tell her friends what happened. This fails spectacularly as Tirek finds out within seconds of imprisoning Celestia, thanks to Discord who has a bit of knowledge on Twilight due to close ties with one of her friends.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Chamberlain


Oh, So Sleepy

Blackstar can't fight the new cats in camp- so he decides to sleep until they go away.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / HeadInTheSandManagement

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