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Mirroring Factions

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Image by Tom Gauld. Used with permission.
Two organizations which seem to be diametrically opposed turn out to be more alike than either ever realized. They have the same organization structure, they use the same methods to achieve their goals, their goals look a lot more alike after they've been met than they ever claimed: whatever their differences, they're overwhelmed by the similarities.

Often, this trope will be used to give The Hero a pair of Jade-Colored Glasses when they realize the people they've worked for all this time have the same flaws as the ones they've been opposing. In more hopeful and idealistic stories, however, this trope will be used to show that even the enemies are just as human and want the same things and love the same way the good guys do. This trope is also common with Star-Crossed Lovers.

Compare and contrast We ARE Struggling Together for cases where the same organization is fighting amongst itself and Evil Counterpart Race for cases where an organization is an evil version of another. Contrast The Psycho Rangers and Similar Squad, where each character is mirrored instead of the group's values as a whole. See Mirror Character for individual characters who are oddly alike.

This trope is likely to be the effect of some version of The Horseshoe Effect. It may overlap with Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters. Video game examples may also qualify as Cosmetically Different Sides if the technology is what matches.

While many people find this trope to be Truth in Television, given how likely those discussions are to turn into heated debates, No Real Life Examples, Please!

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Other Examples

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    Comic Books 
  • The sides of the war in Arrowsmith. Underlined with a Description Cut.
    Captain Foxe: That's the difference between us and them — even if our wizards had the sort of minds that could even think of such things, we would never, never use them.
    [cut to magister Boisrond testing the new weapons of mass destruction]
  • Paperinik New Adventures has an entire issue discussing this, in which Gorthan, one of the Evronian Empire's top scientists has to work with The Hero to survive. It's played with a bit, since the Evronian admits that he and PK aren't actually alike at all; Gorthan is a high-ranking member of the scientist cast who thinks human culture is fascinating with a particular fascination for Shakespeare, while PK is a self-described Book Dumb hero who's preferred hobby is mindless television. When he's comparing them, he's actually talking about their respective species' as a whole. Evronians and humans are fundamentally the same, Evronians are just a bit more militaristic. Whether or not he's right is heavily Depending on the Author.
  • In Runaways there was conflict between them and the students and faculty of Avengers Academy, which culminated in two groups trying to use magic to better understand each other and ending up experiencing how much they really have in common.

    Fan Works 
  • Code Prime: The Decepticons and Britannia - both are empires bent on conquering others to advance themselves and treat their opponents like crap, while indulging in fair amounts of Fantastic Racism. That being said, even at their worst, it's emphasized that Britannia are A Lighter Shade of Black than the Decepticons, due to the more open comaraderie the Britannians share with each other, as well as Britannia having more standards than the Decepticons do. And while the fall of Britannia to the Decepticons is certainly enjoyable, it's also a harbinger of worse things to come.
  • Equestria Girls: Friendship Souls: Of all of factions Equestria and the Vandenreich. Both are run by powerful and long-lived monarchs, both of their leaders want their subjects to follow a harmony based ideology of working together and putting aside their differences for the greater good, the only difference is that King Sombra uses it to forge an efficient and well-organized military while Equestria uses such an ideology for peace. You gotta wonder how the ponies would react to such similar ideals ended up creating the Quincies martial culture.
  • In Eternal Fantasy, both the inhabitants of Little Whinging and the remaining "earth wizards" hate how the world has changed and do everything possible to pretend they're still on Earth rather than Gaia. Furthermore, both group despise adventurers and arrogantly believe they're better than everyone else.
  • In Fractured (SovereignGFC), a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands crossover and its sequel, the characters find out many factions are more similar than they might want to admit or appear at first glance.
    • The Trans-Galactic Republic dubs the asari "self-righteous" (and later calls them out for hoarding technology)...when the Trans-Galactic Republic does the same thing of "You'll have what we think you are ready for" in Fractured.
    • The asari Councilor complains the Trans-Galactic Republic could use its technological superiority to impose on her galaxy...after the asari engaged in some Hiding Behind Religion technology-hogging of their own to secure a dominant place in Citadel politics.
    • Certain Neglectful Precursors believed themselves to be acting for the greater good thus allowing the ends to justify the means, but proceed to screw up just like their child races in trying to do so. Except on a much larger scale.
    • The Trans-Galactic Republic criticizes the Citadel Council for its centralized structure and race politics. It falls prey to exactly that.
    • In another nearby galaxy, bombing civilians with nukes in a war is considered completely normal. The Trans-Galactic Republic gets all high-and-mighty about it by branding those people war criminals...who are then hired to build more weapons while the Republic retains heroes with questionable pasts, runs spy ships that it denies having, and keeps ultra-powerful Force-sensitive Sirens on retainer.
    • The "Local Cluster Council" and "Federated Cluster Union" introduced in Fractured are revealed to be really advanced beings Eridians, also known as Forerunners who muck about in the galaxy/universe as a scientist would with smaller experiments rather than being the benevolent hands-off guardians they think themselves to be. Their interference has caused more than a few problems, but may also offer a solution, depending on how certain people change...
  • Some humans in Mass Effect: End of Days see the Council races as rather similar to the Krogan and Yahg in that they were artificially uplifted and granted interstellar technology before they were ready for it. While the Asari, Turians, and Salarians did so through discovery eezo-tech, the Krogan and Yahg were uplifted directly. All five ended up stagnating scientifically and culturally, unlike the humans who had no eezo-tech and required centuries to develop to interstellar levels.
  • Used as a legal defense in the Mass Effect/Sword of the Stars story Shepherd Of The Stars. Following their ruthless attempt to exterminate the Batarians the Council attempts to charge the Liir with war crimes. Though they decline to answer the charges themselves, a Hiver Prince gets them Off on a Technicality by pointing out that from the Liir perspective the Genophage was exactly as morally repugnant as the retrovirus the Liir invented to kill the Batarians.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Solvernia, Nia undergoes through a small Heroic BSoD in the beginning, after realizing that the beastmen are people just like she and other humans are. It's part of her inner conflict to protect herself and her friends and trying to make peace with the beastmen.
    Nia: I don't understand... if they're like us, then they wouldn't have any reason to hate us, would they?
  • In the Uplifted series, it is an overall theme of the stories. To the average grunt, World War II wasn't that different irregardless of who you fought for, as seen during the Invasion of Malta with Rommel's troops. Seen particularly in Skorzeny and Churchill.

    Films — Animated 
  • In the Disney film Pocahontas, the Native Americans Pocahontas comes from and the colonizers John Smith come from are portrayed as much more similar than they should, most famously in the song "Savages", where they have almost the same lines and sing the chorus together.

  • A recurring theme that crops up repeatedly throughout Star Wars Legends (and, to a lesser extent, the Disney EU canon) is highlighting how the various warring factions — Jedi and Sith, Rebel and Empire, Republic and Separatist, New Republic and Imperial Remnant, Jedi and Mandalorian, etc. — frequently aren't as different as they'd like to imagine they are, nor as morally superior:
    • This gets repeatedly called out with Jedi and Sith, with it being noted that not only do they come to identical conclusions about some philosophical matters (similar views of attachment to others as being a corrupting "weakness", self-righteous certainty that they are objectively correct over everyone else, using vague "greater goods" to justify morally questionable behavior, determination to destroy the other side no matter what, etc.) and that the average person in the galaxy can see no clear distinction between them beyond fashion sense and lightsaber color, but that the sheer fact that they both exist despite possessing exactly opposite philosophies suggests, at the very least, that neither of them have a grasp on the full nature of the Force that empowers them.
    Atton: The Jedi... The Sith... You don't get it, do you? To the galaxy, they're the same thing: just men and women with too much power, squabbling over religion while the rest of us burn.
    • Stories set Post-Endor regularly show how the New Republic and Imperial Remnant have a great deal in common and are both about equal in how good and honorable or evil and corrupt they can be. Despite the names, each side is largely made up of a slurry of both former Rebels and former Imperials, plus the countless civilians and unaligned factions they rule over in whatever patch of space is controlled by either side. As time goes on, despite ostensibly having diametrically opposed philosophies, they gradually become more and more similar in actual function, while also experiencing more and more situations where they have to work together against a common threat… threats which frequently take the form of renegade members of their own factions who threaten the balance of power in the Space Cold War. The X-Wing Series particularly highlights this when Republic and Imperial forces collaborate to bring down the rogue warlord Zsinj and it becomes increasingly hard to discern any actual difference in their military operating procedures, to the point that even the soldiers in question are cracking jokes about how absurd it is that they'll be going back to shooting at each other as soon as Zsinj is eliminated.
    • Clone Wars media frequently shows the Republic and Separatist forces alike committing horrific war crimes against one another like executing disabled enemies, false surrender, targeting civilians, assassinating enemy leaders, and so on, as well as pointing out how the Republic and CIS are fighting the war in identical ways — with legions of unwilling, mass-produced, and artificial soldiers, the only real difference being that one army is made from meat and one from metal. Through it all, both claim to be democracies while becoming increasingly authoritarian and autocratic, just as planned by the conspirators who orchestrated the conflict.

  • In My Wife Is a Demon Queen, aside from cosmetic differences, the demons shown to date could easily pass for humans, in appearance, culture, and behavior. In fact, Isabella does so, once she's lost her magical power completely and sports a human body.

  • The Aztec and Chinese in in the Twilight Histories “Aztec Steel” are presented this way. On the one hand, the Aztec take several Chinese colonists as hostages, forcing them to compete in the ball game and serve as human sacrifices. On the other hand, the Chinese invaded the Aztec’s homeland and use brutal inhuman slave labor in their mines.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Curse of Strahd: In the town of Vallaki, players get confronted with the cruel and strict laws of the Burgomaster and the ambitious, wealthy Lady Fiona Wachter. Initially, Wachter seems like the reasonable choice for leader over the paranoid Burgomaster who thinks that putting people into stocks for not smiling will keep them safe. But searching the Wachter estate reveals her as the head of a blood magic cult and helping her become Burgomaster will lead to Vallaki falling under the arguably even worse control of Strahd, with vampire spawn instead of soldiers patrolling the streets. Most players sooner or later get rid of both or return to see that the town had been razed to the ground.
  • Pathfinder Society: The Pathfinder Society and the Aspis Consortium are engaged in pretty much the same thing— looting artifacts from ancient dungeons—but the PFS likes to get on a high horse and to claim recovery and preservation of knowledge as its objective, whereas Aspis are much more ready to admit that it's just business for them.
  • A major theme with the warring tribes, concordats and nations of Venus in Rocket Age, who are often very like their neighbours and rivals. An telling point is how many of the various groups call themselves 'the people'.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade: For all of the Camarilla's Civility and the Sabbat's "You're a monster, ACT like it" mentality, much of the rules that govern the Camarilla also govern the Sabbat, they just come about it from different angles. For instance, the Camarilla's masquerade is in place to keep mortals from finding out about vampires and mobilizing accordingly. The Sabbat employs a similar law, but with the justification that they're better than mortals anyway and don't need to associate with such rabble.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • One planet hasn't been visited by the Imperium in millennia, which hasn't stopped them from breaking out in civil wars for supposed heresies as they await the Emperor's return. Chaos warriors who raid the planet for slaves take sadistic joy in either making the captives realize the Imperium doesn't even remember they exist, or by showing them a battle between the "righteous" and "heretical" factions on their own planet to show there's no difference between the two.
    • Expect this to come up in stories where the Tau Empire and the Imperium of Man are on opposite sides. Both sides are characterized by Realpolitik, and both sides are convinced of the superiority of their virtues over the wrongness of the other, each holding its adherents to an impossible ideal. Sometimes, this is even brought up by the characters themselves, with the Tau using this as proof that any human can abandon the brutal dictatorship of the Imperium and join the Greater Good, while the Imperials use this in turn to cynically point out that the two empires are not so different and the Imperium is at least honest about its own darkness. In the Ciaphas Cain novels, the protagonists, an Imperial Guard platoon, meet a mirror in a Tau Fire Warrior squad and the two are surprisingly quite co-operative.
    • Also, the Imperium and the Eldar. They're both elitist xenophobes with a smug superiority complex, they both once had great empires that were brought low by Chaos, and they're both now slowly dying out and beset by enemies on all sides, bitterly fighting for survival. Also, there's what Inquisitor Kryptman did to avert a Tyranid assault (lure it into Ork territory), which is little different than what Eldrad did to avert an Ork invasion (lure it into Armageddon).
    • What is the difference between an Imperial Crusade and an Ork Waaagh? "Very little". "Unorky" and "heretical" are the same basic concepts: the other side is different from us, and because they're different, they're wrong and deserve to be exterminated. What's worse, "Orky" and "religiously sanctioned" are still valid targets. Ork Waaaghs may have a War for Fun and Profit side to them, but otherwise that, ladies and gentlemen, is it. That should tell you everything you need to know about this setting.
    • Horus Heresy also pulls this on, of all people, the Thousand Sons and Space Wolves. While the Space Wolves' militancy and disdain for written knowledge is the exact opposite of the Thousand Sons' artistic and scholarly bent, both suffer from undesired transformations (Wulfen, the Flesh Change) and both defied the Emperor's edict banning the use of psychic powers, although the Wolves believed that their Rune Priests instead channelled the power of Fenris. Ahriman even shatters a Rune Priest's sanity by demonstrating the latter to him.
    • Sisters of Battle specializes in fighting against Chaos, but there's very little difference between the two factions other than their object of worship. Both are hyperfundamentalists who come in battle decked in various religious icons, sigils and motifs, with prayers in their lips and the capacity to create magical effects through their faiths. And there are hints that the Living Saints are actually empowered by the Warp, making them the Imperium's equivalent to Greater Daemons or Daemon Princes.
    • The Iron Hands despise the ordinary citizes of the Imperium as much as any Chaos follower, considering them weak cowards barely worthy of being alive who must be ruled by the strongest. And their obsession to overcome what they call the Weakness of the Flesh -which includes basically everything that makes them still human- through the Machine God´s mechanical enhancements is similar to the Chaos followers´ ambition of trascending mortality by being blessed again and again by the Dark Gods until they have lost any semblance with their former selves.
  • WitchCraft: The Knights Templar have much nobler goals than their sworn enemy, the Combine, but use the same shadowy conspiracy tactics, from media manipulation to assassination. To their credit, the Knights try to avoid "collateral damage" as much as possible, but they will do what they must to defeat the Combine.
  • The Witcher: Game of Imagination: Humans and elves. Both races are almost enirely made out of jerks, bastards and monsters. Both treat every other race with a smug smile of superiority, almost always undeserved. First thing both did after arrival to the Continent? Starting a war with the local population. Elves like to use every opportunity to point out how barbaric humans are, glossing over their own equally horrific deeds. Meanwhile, humanity is over-jealous of many elven traits, be it longevity, beauty, or magic powers. Which leads to constant conflicts, pogroms and wars.

  • In Romeo and Juliet, the titular characters are from "two houses, both alike in dignity" and standing in society. While they hate each other viciously, they're pretty clearly inclined to the same type of behavior, down to ignoring their children so thoroughly the two are pushed to suicide.
  • Like its Shakespearean inspiration, West Side Story has this with the Jets and the Sharks, two street gangs who both claim the high ground but are just as hateful and bigoted as they claim the other to be.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: Season 14's "The Triplets" and "The 'Mission'" follow a trio of Project Freelancer agents who are given a dead-end transfer to a frozen wasteland. There, they meet a trio of soldiers who are from opposing faction Charon Industries and wear red-trimmed armor in contrast to their own blue armor. As the two groups discover, they have all been abandoned there by their respective organizations for being the worst soldiers around. Further highlighting their similarities, each trio consists of two men and one woman, with the woman being the closest they have to a leader.

  • In Drowtales, despite being a Superior Species the drow in particular are not actually that different from the goblin races. Just take a look at how the drow consider the goblin races. Now take a closer look at the drow. Ironic that the ones who consider halmes akin to locusts almost destroyed their own planet for mana-based life a millenia ago, isn't it?

    Web Original 
  • The three interstellar superpowers in Ad Astra Per Aspera, much like their terrestrial counterparts from Nineteen Eighty-Four, have radically different ideologies but only in theory. The Coalition fights to "preserve Christian civilization and liberty", the Conseil fights to "liberate the proletariat from their bourgeoisie oppressors", and the Technocracy fights to... well, preserve its own power. However, in practice, all three are just as expansionist and dictatorial as each other, all three wage Forever War to keep their people down, and all three pump out massive amounts of brain-rotting propaganda. Practically everyone also agrees that democracy is a weak and obsolete form of government.
  • Hockey writer Down Goes Brown did a Played for Laughs case in a "printed too early recap of the 2011 finals game 7", which along with vague writing and sure things, noted the similarities between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins, like wearing black and yellow in the 90s and losing a final to Mark Messier,note  having an European captain that wore #33,note  and the path to the finals featuring a fierce rival beaten in 7 games, a team that had Peter Forsberg, and a town with warm weather,note  with the first ending in a series-winning overtime winner scored by someone who later inspired controversy.note 


    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: Despite the long-running rivalry between Springfield and Shelbyville, episodes dedicating any screentime to Shelbyville, such as "Lemon of Troy", show that the two towns are practically carbon-copies of each other, down to individual Springfielders having almost identical counterparts in Shelbyville, with Milhouse's counterpart even sharing his name.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: As shown in "Heroes on Both Sides", aside from the military commanders, most of the Separatists are not the greedy bloodthirsty monsters the Republic makes them out to be. In fact, they are being manipulated into believing the Republic are the ones who started and are perpetuating the war and many members of their civilian government sincerely believe that they are fighting for democracy against the oppressive and corrupt Republic.


Video Example(s):



The English colonists and the Powhatans call each other "savages" in song form

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Main / MirroringFactions

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