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Neutrality Backlash

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"He who is neither one thing nor the other has no friends."

This trope is what happens when someone refuses to choose a side in a conflict, and it ends up biting them in the ass. Perhaps they spend the war sitting on their hands, or maybe they try to play up to both sides. Regardless, at some point one side or the other will come calling for revenge, if Laser-Guided Karma doesn't catch them first.


Contrast With Us or Against Us and Neutral No Longer, where the neutral party is forced to pick a side during the war, either because they got conquered by that side during the conflict, or because one side's atrocities drove them into the other side's camp.

Compare with Pacifism Backfire, Mediation Backfire, No Points for Neutrality (which is about gameplay effects of alignment), and Alien Non-Interference Clause. Can overlap with the Golden Mean Fallacy, Stupid Neutral, and Bystander Syndrome. If the neutral party is attacked by the bad side because it is vulnerable without a potential ally, then this is a case of Head-in-the-Sand Management. If the neutral party is attacked as retaliation for not aiding the good side, then it is a case of Accomplice by Inaction.

However, this trope can be Subverted at times; in some situations, staying Neutral and out of the way can often be the safest (and wisest) choice for one to survive. It can even at times (such as when the conflict is Evil Versus Evil) be more ethical to choose neutrality than to pick a side.


Note: Aversions of this trope go under God and Satan Are Both Jerks, Screw This, I'm Outta Here!, Take a Third Option, or some combination thereof. Or in extreme cases, Omnicidal Neutral.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED has this happen to the Orb Union. Being only one of three areas on Earth that isn't backing either the Earth Alliance or ZAFT (the others being the Kingdom of Scandinavia and the Equatorial Union) and one of the few areas that has the resources and manpower to theoretically protect said resources, it becomes the target of invasion once Blue Cosmos takes over the Earth Alliance. In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, the Orb leaders are so terrified of a repeat performance that they strongarm Cagalli into siding with the Earth Alliance and yet they're still invaded late into the series, this time with ZAFT.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam, we have Side 6, a group of colonies who not only gain independence from the Earth Federation, it declared neutrality from the One Year War. Despite this, Zeon wasn't too keen on letting it stay up if they ever backed the Federation, leading to a few attacks in Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket when the Gundam Alex is moved into a colony there. Eventually, Side 6 was reclaimed by the Federation after the war.
    • Anaheim Electronics, despite being the Federation's primary defense contractor after the One Year War, rose to prominence by the Federation strongarming the defeated Zeon's own defense contractors into being subsidized by Anaheim. Because of this, the company's ranks included enough people sympathetic to Zeon that they saw no problems with selling high-tech arms to both sides in subsequent conflicts. Although initially not suffering any consequences from doing so, Anaheim's backers in the Vist Foundation were eventually unmasked as blackmailing the Federation government to be left alone; once the truth came out, it eventually cost Anaheim their monopoly in the mobile suit development and manufacturing industry due to the Federation, no longer considering Anaheim reliable, forming the Strategic Naval Research Institute as their own in-house competitor.
  • Cells at Work!: The opportunistic bacteria are largely a bunch of fair-weather friends who side with whoever has the upper hand and will switch in a moment's notice. Because of this, they don't get much respect in return; the harmful bacteria consider them a bunch of suck-ups who can't be relied on, while the white blood cells would rather just kill them off even if they're friendly - they're still germs, after all.
  • Kino's Journey, one particular story stands out; two kingdoms were stuck in a Forever War, until they realized that they simply liked murdering innocent people. Now they spend time together sacking all the neutral villages that stayed neutral in the conflict for sport.

    Comic Books 
  • One of the Phantom Stranger's possible origin stories is this. An angel in Heaven, the Stranger refused to pick a side in the war between God and Lucifer. As a result, he was cast out of Heaven and Hell once the war ended, cursed to walk the Earth as a stranger to everyone.
    • The same story sees the present day Stranger observing a young gang member in a similar situation: When the gang he's a part of splits in two, the kid doesn't voice his support for either side, resulting in one side rejecting him and not wanting anything to do with him—while the other ends up violently beating him down.
  • Mouse Guard takes the fable about bats, beasts, and birds as history, and shows the long-term consequences: bats will go berserk if you imply they are untrustworthy. To be fair, the bats claim that they weren't neutral in the old war, but that they were rejected by both sides because of their appearance.
  • Transformers:
    • Not all Cybertronians joined the Autobots or the Decepticons. This rarely worked out well for them.
    • The Transformers (Marvel):
      • In the backstory, the rival city-states of Vos and Tarn went to war with each other, and the city-state of Iacon (the seat of power of the Autobots) opted to remain neutral. Emirate Xaaron urged his fellow councillors to take action and send peacekeepers to put an end to the war, but the High Councillor Traachon declined and even believed it would be to Iacon's benefit if Vos and Tarn destroyed each other. They actually did destroy each other with photon missile strikes, but the survivors of both cities rallied under a charismatic gladiator of Tarn who pointed out the Autobots could've done something, anything, to stop the war... but chose not to. The gladiator in question? Megatron.
      • The neutral town of Yuss in the Stanix region of Cybertron was a frequent target for relieving the boredom of Decepticons stationed in the area.
      • The Dead End is basically a massive slum where Neutrals gather. It's shown as a rundown place, with its inhabitants falling apart due to disrepair and lack of fuel. The Decepticons routinely run patrols to pick up Neutrals (living or dead) and dump them into a smelting pools to be melted down into raw materials. The Autobot resistance has little to no patience nor kindness for them either.
      • The Neutral scientist Spanner was known to be an expert on interdimensional travel. However, since he was a Neutral, the Autobot resistance never kept a close eye on him, and when the Decepticons came for him they were unaware for some time. By the time the Autobots found him, they learned he'd been kidnapped for his knowledge of Space Bridge technology... which the Decepticons took advantage of by building him into a Space Bridge, leaving him a horribly tortured and mutilated figure. A battle between both sides left him brain-dead. Hopefully.
    • The Transformers Generation One:
      • During the evacuation of Altihex, twenty to thirty Neutrals took control of a building, arguing for both Autobots and Decepticons to end the war, renounce their allegiances, and unite. Skywarp took a moment to consider whether or not to take advantage of their idealism... then decided to slag them.
    • The Transformers (IDW):
      • NAILs (Non-Aligned Indigenous Life-forms) are Cybertronians who left the planet during the war, wishing to have nothing to do with it. They've recently returned to Cybertron now that the war is "over" and the planet is inhabitable again. While they haven't been slaughtered outright yet, they've already managed to annoy both the Autobots and the Decepticons who both have the ability to crush them all if they could. The latter are more than willing to kill them when they get the opportunity.
      • Dai Atlas was a strong opponent of both the Autobot and Decepticon factions, and led many evacuees to an off-planet refuge where they remained in hiding for most of the war. And it worked, excepting one battle fought in self-defense. Unfortunately shortly after the war ended another non-affiliated Cybertronian force invaded the refuge and slaughtered 90% of the population, including Dai Atlas. Statistically speaking, they might have been better off fighting. Optimus Prime dismissed Dai Atlas as a cultist.
      • Cyclonus has become a subversion. He's expressed Decepticon sympathies, but in IDW continuity he's never been on either side of the war and maintains a stern refusal to align with either faction now that it's over. He still catches crap from the Autobots, who either assume he's a Decepticon or blame him for deaths he committed while Brainwashed and Crazy.
      • Late in-universe, IDW introduced multiple "lost colonies" of Cybertronians that left long before the war began. Since no one was aware of them during the conflict, and they weren't aware that a war was going on, nobody holds their non-participation against them. A few of them even join either Autobots or Decepticons (despite the war already being over) due to sharing their ideals or simply befriending them (e.g. the character Nickel was rescued from her massacred colony by Decepticons, while Nautica became friends with many Autobots after journeying with them).
  • Corto Maltese: Invoked by a Turkish soldier in The Golden House of Samarkanda, after warning the protagonist not to go into an area torn by conflict between different political and ethnic factions:
    Corto: But I'm neither a Turk, nor a Kurd, nor a Russian.
    Soldier: Which means that no-one will mourn your death.
  • Uatu the Watcher from the Marvel Universe usually inverts the trope. When he maintains his Alien Non-Interference Clause he's generally fine. He's far more likely to come to harm, or run afoul of his people's laws, when he gets involved in Earth affairs. Or stands too close to the Red Hulk.
  • A Red Dwarf comic, "The Cantabellis Tales" had the Dwarfers discover an abandoned spaceship with an Apocalyptic Log in the form of a poem based on The Canterbury Tales. They learn that the pilgrims all discovered they were on pilgrimages for different gods and a multi-sided holy war broke out. The log ends like this:
    Log: "Hoi, look at Chaucer! While we're busy fighting,
    He sits in the corner, bleeding writing!
    Come, man, and choose a side to stick with,
    Speak truly, Chaucer, which boot do you kick with?"
    Kryten: At which point the recording breaks off abruptly.
  • During Marvel's Civil War event, the Runaways elected to remain neutral, as they were not fond of either Captain America or Iron Man. When the war ended with the pro-registration side victorious, the Runaways were driven out of California, with their only remaining allies being the Young Avengers (who were at the time in no position to help them.) This remained their status quo for several years.
    • Inverted in the latest Power Man and Iron Fist series. Luke Cage and Danny Rand both intend to remain neutral for Civil War II, since they still remember how badly things went last time when they did take sides. Of course they then run into unrelated trouble because comic books.
  • In Captain Blood Odyssey, Dr. Peter Blood's troubles began when he tried to avoid taking a side in the Monmouth Rebellion. He disliked being ruled by the Catholic King James II as much as any other Englishman, but doubted that James, Duke of Monmouth would prevail. He tried to be neutral, offering medical care to loyalist and nonconformist alike, but was arrested while treating a wounded nonconformist, and exiled to Jamaica as a slave.
    "I am here because I did not make a choice. Given two curs named James to choose from... I chose neither."

    Fan Works 

  • The Human War (a X-COM and Mass Effect crossover): During the war between Humanity and the Council, the Volus decide it is best for them to cut their home system from the Mass Relay network. Works out reasonably well... until an Ethereal fleet arrives a few days later.
  • The Last Son: Overlapping with Mediation Backfire, thousands of years ago the Kryptonians came across the Kree-Skrull conflict and attempted to mediate with both sides to end the war peacefully. Refusing to yield, both races instead tried to sway the Kryptonians to side with them, but the Kryptonians refused to do so and finally chose to abandon the conflict altogether. It's partially subverted because when both Kree and Skrull fleets tried to attack Krypton in revenge, they were utterly decimated by their Sentrius Battlestation.
  • one day at a time: The original Merlyn (from Jason's original timeline) chose to stay neutral in the League of Assassins' Civil War. Mara al Ghul promptly hunted him down and killed him because she didn't want someone with such uncertain loyalties in the League.
  • The Smurfs That Canon Forgot: When the title characters get into a dispute about how to cope with Papa's absence — and no longer being able to rely upon his protection — Flighty finds himself torn between the factions. Wanting to support his friend Scaredy, but also being intimidated by some of the more extreme methods he and his side argue for. His attempts to stay in the middle and meditate aren't appreciated by either side, with several of Scaredy's other supporters cornering him and declaring that if he isn't helping, he might as well not be doing anything at all.


    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Dogma, Azrael was a Muse who stayed neutral in the war between Heaven and Hell. Unlike the Phantom Stranger above, he ended up in Hell. He is less than happy about this.
  • Zeus spends most of Immortals trying to keep his fellow gods from getting involved in a mortal war, going so far as to kill Ares for interfering. As a result, Hyperion succeeds in unleashing the god-killing Titans, something Zeus or any other god could have easily prevented.

  • One of the many origins Europeans gave to fairies was that they were neutral angels who refused to pick a side when the Devil revolted against God and Heaven. Rather than be turned into demons and cast into Hell, they were left to their own devices on Earth without ever returning to Heaven since they were neither good nor evil. Whether this is actually a punishment from their point of view is debatable.
  • One of Aesop's fables told the story of the war between birds and beasts. In the war the bat changed sides at whim, claiming his wings to make him a bird and his teeth to make him a beast. When the war was eventually ended in a truce, he was ostracized from both groups for his actions and forced to only emerge at night while others slept.
  • In one Jewish midrash, a young Abraham was brought before King Nimrod for refusing to worship idols, and cast into a furnace. His brother Haran, watching this, thought to himself that he would support Abraham if he survived but side with Nimrod if Abraham died. When Abraham miraculously emerged unscathed, Nimrod asks Haran where he stood in this debate. Haran said that he sided with Abraham, was thrown into the furnace, and did not get a miraculous survival.

  • One of Aesop's Fables, The Bat, the Birds, and the Beasts, tells of a Bat who refused to take sides in a coming war between the Birds and the Beasts. The war is avoided at the last moment, but when the Bat tries to join in the revelry, both sides threaten to tear him apart. Probably the Ur-Example of this trope.
    "He that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends."
  • This is one possible reading of Eurymachus' role in The Odyssey. He presents himself as the most reasonable of the suitors and unlike the others does not overtly work against Odysseus, but at the same time he does not ally with him. Ultimately, while Odysseus returns to slaughter the suitors in the book's finale, the most vicious and overtly villainous of the suitors actually dies a relatively quick and undramatic death, while the final and most gruesome kill by Odysseus is reserved for Eurymachus, as a possible commentary against those who fail to choose a side. The other interpretation is that Eurymachus is The Walrus, a Manipulative Bastard who's getting exactly what he deserves.
  • The Magic: The Gathering novel The Prodigal Sorcerer inverts the trope. A sorcerer from an order of true neutral sorcerers comes down from his mountain to bring a quick end to a long-running three-way war. While he succeeds in this, attempts to forge a permanent peace in the aftermath go very badly and the sorcerer is manipulated by outside forces into nearly letting a foreign army in to curbstomp everyone. Arguably all sides, and especially the mage, would have been much better off if he'd just stayed out of it.
  • In The Sneetches, Sylvester McMonkey McBean offers his services to both the star-bellied Sneetches and those without indiscriminately. He ends up averting the trope completely, walking off with all of the Sneetches's money and laughing about how silly they are. This probably also qualifies him for Magnificent Bastard status.
  • Silverwing has the same premise as Aesop's fable. Many years ago there was a battle between the birds and the beasts. Because of the bats' actions in the war (the bats claim they didn't choose a side, the birds claim they switched sides) all bats are banished to the night.
  • In the Sword of Truth series, the nation of Galea withdrew from a war against the Imperial Order after a new queen came to power, declaring itself neutral. It had previously been allied with the Order's enemies. To absolutely no one's surprise (except apparently the queen's), the Order quickly conquers Galea.
  • Briefly discussed in Mariners of Gor when there's a mutiny on board a ship. The narrator and some of his friends consider just staying out of the conflict altogether, but then they realize that whichever side wins will punish them for not taking their side, so they arm themselves and fight on the side of the established authority.
  • Early on in Dante's The Divine Comedy, he meets the Uncommitted, who refused to choose good or evil in life. They are even rejected by Hell, and as a punishment, they are forced to eternally chase after a banner while being stung by wasps.
  • In Melisa Michaels' Skyrider series, although they admire her skill, a lot of belters don't trust Skyrider because she tried to remain neutral in the last war. On the other hand, a lot of Earthers don't trust her because she's a belter.
  • The Vorkosigan Saga has Komarr. When Barrayar was rediscovered, Cetaganda saw it as an area ripe for expansion. The Komarrans, who occupy the only route to Barrayar, let the Cetagandans through in exchange for protection and trade rights. The Barrayarans fought off the Cetagandans, and proceeded to attack Komarr in revenge, making a colony of their empire. Although as a Komarran character points out to Miles, who is trying to prevent Komarr's own rebel group pulling off a terrorist plot at the time, the alternative to accepting Cetaganda's terms was being occupied by them instead.
  • The Arn from Animorphs wanted no part in the war with the Yeerks, and went as far altering their own physiology so they couldn't be forced into it by the Yeerks, who can possess other species. They thought this would make the Yeerks leave them alone, but instead the Yeerks just used them for slave labor, and target practice.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The Late Lord Frey gained his nickname for his (in)actions during Robert's Rebellion, in which he was a Tully vassal (and so supposedly on the side of Robert Baratheon), but while he called his banners and mustered an army, the Freys stayed at home until the decisive Battle of the Trident, at which point the Freys arrived just after the battle had been fought. While they claimed to have merely been delayed and always intended to join in on Robert's side note , no-one really believed or trusted them sincenote .
    • Also of note is House Lannister, who remained completely neutral throughout Robert's Rebellion also until the Battle of the Trident. However, unlike the Freys, they had no liege to be sworn to outside of King Aerys, and once it was clear Robert was going to win, Lord Tywin sacked King's Landing to endear himself to the new king. Also unlike the Freys, no one called him on this behavior, and several characters privately expressed chagrin that they couldn't, given House Lannister's riches and Lord Tywin's reputation of bringing down Disproportionate Retribution on anyone that slighted him or his house. Tywin also took steps to avoid this. Walder Frey arrived after the battle was over and effectively did nothing, Tywin meanwhile realized that he had to do something to gain any prestige from the war. He also committed himself to doing what was necessary, but something a hero like Robert would never do: exterminate the royal family.
  • The world during the Tribulation period in the Left Behind series isn't a place for anyone to claim neutrality. If you don't get killed by Nicolae Carpathia and the Global Community for not being loyal to him (and even if you are loyal, you're still screwed no matter what), God will send you to Hell for not taking His side in the cosmic conflict.
  • In Island in the Sea of Time, Pamela Lisketter and her followers make the incredibly short-sighted decision to aid Walker in betraying Nantucket, in part because they don't want the fledgling republic to enter the war between the Fiernan Bohulugi and the Iraiina. Not only do their decisions actually end up ensuring that Nantucket goes to war (because Walker immediately goes off and begins arming the Iraiina), but they themselves are mostly wiped out when their subsequent attempt to make an alliance with the People of the Jaguar God goes horribly, horribly wrong...
  • The druids in Villains by Necessity tried to keep both sides in the war between good and evil from winning, as they knew that either side achieving absolute victory would be a disaster. This got them declared an enemy by both sides. By the start of the story (a century after the Victory), Kaylana was the only druid still alive.
  • In the ancient backstory (i.e. the Creation Myth) of The Old Kingdom, there were Nine Bright Shiners, and Seven of them decided to join their power to create a world and a Charter to sustain it. The Ninth Bright Shiner wanted to destroy this world. There was also an Eighth Bright Shiner who wanted no part of either side, and it's not clear why. The Seven won their battle with the Ninth Bright Shiner, and when they were finished with him, they found the Eighth and "made him pay." More specifically, by forcing him to serve as a familiar of sorts for the Abhorsen line, most often in the form of a talking cat. These days, he usually goes by Mogget.
  • In Tales of the Otori, Kaede's father chose to stay neutral in the conflict between the Otori and Tohan clans, then, after the Tohan won a decisive victory at the Battle of Yaegahara, then tried to suck up to the Tohan leadership. He was "rewarded" by having his daughter taken hostage and forced into servitude in the household of one of the Tohan's more strident allies.
  • In The Book of Revelation in The Bible, Jesus criticizes the church of Laeodocia for being "neither hot nor cold," wishing they would be one or the other. He says because they are "lukewarm", "I will spew you out of my mouth."
  • Discussed in Space Opera, where Musmar the Night Manager notes that staying neutral is a careful balancing act between being militarily threatening enough that you won't be immediately annihilated, but not so threatening that you become an enticing target. Averted in the case of Musmar's people, the Elakhon, who successfully stay neutral in the Sentience Wars in part because their home planet is a lightless dumping ground for every other race in the galaxy's trash, including dirty secrets no one wants to get out.
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: Ehrenfest, the duchy in which the protagonists live, stayed neutral during a Civil War. As a result, it's better off in the duchy rankings than before the war thanks to duchies on the losing side being in worse positions than they used to be. However, its influence is non-existent and its only ally is one obtained with Frenbeltag via Double In-Law Marriage between archducal couples. Among the two, Frenbeltag came out worse from the war and had the oldest sibling from both families, making it quite hard for Ehrenfest's archducal couple to refuse their requests for help.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • In the Revenge of the Sith novelization, the planet Utapau is said to have remained neutral in the Clone Wars. This lasts right up until General Grievous conquers it:
      "Neutrality, in these times, was a joke; a planet was neutral only so long as neither the Republic nor the Confederacy wanted it. If Grievous could laugh, he would have."
    • The Corellian Jedi were a schism from the mainstream Jedi Order that formed out of disagreement with the Order's stance on raising families. They chose to remain neutral during the Clone Wars, citing loyalty to Corellia over The Republic. Not only were they caught with their pants down during the Second Jedi Purge and wiped out by The Emperor, but in an ironic twist their successors who remained part of Luke Skywalker's New Jedi Order were forced to fight against Corellia in the Second Galactic Civil War. Although even if they had helped against the CIS it wouldn't have made much of a difference considering Darth Sidious was Running Both Sides.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Motherland: Fort Salem: Scylla's parents were "dodgers" - witches who refused to join the US Army despite being required to by law resulting in her spending her childhood moving around to avoid detection. The Army caught up to arrest them, but Scylla's parents died in the scuffle.
  • Survivor: A common theme on contested votes is for one or a few players to become the swing vote. While on paper, players in this position have the luxury of choosing who they want to align with, in practice, neither side trusts the swing as much, especially the side that loses out. In two famous examples, Christy in The Amazon and Big Tom in All-Stars were both in a swing vote position but misplayed it so badly that the two sides came together to take them out instead.

  • Pretty much everything that goes wrong for Sam in Revolting People is because he doesn't want to upset the British, but he doesn't want to reject the rebels either. One episode opens with him having a nightmare that he's gone to Hell for refusing to pick a side.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Because Warhammer 40,000 is a crapsack universe, this trope is rarely in play. Most Imperial citizens don't get the option of staying neutral or even picking a side. If someone does stay neutral in a conflict, the best outcome they can expect is summary execution once the fighting is over. Generally everyone knows this and is not stupid enough to tempt fate. Of course there have been exceptions.
    • During the early days of the Horus Heresy, the planet Bastion declared itself neutral and invited representatives from Horus and the Emperor to make a case for which side the planet should join. Horus's representative blew up Bastion as an example to any other neutral planets: Ally with the Imperium and die.
    • Some suspect the Dark Angels stayed out of the Horus Heresy to wait and see which side won. The truth is more complicated, but it's one of many things that have raised suspicions about the Chapter's motives.
      • This gets elaborated on in the book Angels of Caliban. Luther and his renegade Dark Angels try to turn Caliban into a truly neutral planet ruled by neither Horus nor the Imperium. Dark Angels players know how well this ends for Caliban.
    • The planet Vostroya managed to pull this successfully during the Horus Heresy, declining to send troops to fight Horus in order to continue producing weapons. They paid for this voluntarily by giving their firstborn sons to the Imperial Guard.
  • Historically a problem for the Independent Sidereal Exalted. The Sidereals are politically divided between the ruling Bronze Faction and the opposition Gold Faction. As factional politics almost completely supersede the official duties of the Sidereals, the few Sidereal Exalted who refuse to get involved and instead do their official jobs got politically dumped on by both factions. However, this is breaking down in the Time of Tumult, and more and more Sidereals are refusing to play their elders' games.
  • This happened in Mage: The Ascension with the various magical Crafts, during the Ascension War. While some ancient magical groups formed together into the Traditions, against the rising Technocracy, others refused to join. Usually this was a result of either a particular craft being long-time enemies of a particular tradition, or because the craft was steeped in a particular local and culture, and didn't think the Ascension War affected them. Jump ahead to present day, and the Technocracy has eroded almost all belief in magic, the Traditions lost their most powerful elders, and the Ascension War was basically over. Guess who the Technocracy set their sights on then? One source book directly stated that the Crafts - such that survived without being picked off over the years - had the choice between being absorbed by specific Traditions or dying off completely.
  • In the Nentir Vale setting for Dungeons & Dragons, "Dusk Elves" are an elven sub-race that tried to stay neutral during the big war between Corellon and Lolth that created the Elves (from Eladrin that were stranded in the mortal world) and the Drow (the Eladrin who sided with Lolth). No sooner was the war over than Eladrin and Elves alike turned their hands against the Dusk Elves, blaming them for the cost of the war, with full support of Corellon. If it wasn't for the goddess Sehanine deciding to shield them because they had, technically, been loyal to her teachings, they would have been wiped out.
  • In the Greyhawk setting for Dungeons & Dragons, Snow Elves are despised and shunned by all the other elven races because, during the great war between the elves and the drow, the snow elves allowed a drow army to pass through their territory unimpeded after the drow paid them, which in turn let the drow achieve some major tactical victories before their ultimate defeat. The snow elves' protestation that they had no idea at the time that the drow and the elves were at war is generally ignored by the other elves... perhaps in no small part because the snow elves are major jerkasses. Even by elfin standards.

    Video Games 
  • Another very bitter part of Shin Megami Tensei games. The Order Versus Chaos war that forms the core conflict of every game and the Vicious Cycles of Full Circle Revolutions mean both sides are going to be baying for your blood should you refuse to outright ally with them. This especially hits the Neutral heroes of the series. The Heroine of Shin Megami Tensei ends up suffering a Trauma Conga Line and only really gets closure in the Neutral ending. And the less said of Isabeau from IV if you pick the Chaos or Law sides, the better. On the other hand, surviving the backlash usually nets you the closest thing to a happy ending you can get.
    • In Devil Survivor 2 Daichi insists against using Brainwashing for the Greater Good, but gets (rightly) criticised for not having an alternative plan. If you choose Daichi's Way, he ends up with an Esoteric Happy Ending. But if you play your cards right, you can get the closest thing to a Golden Ending instead, playing into the series wide idea that neutrality is hard.
    • In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, the Demi-fiend has the option to reject all the Reasons and not gather the menorahs for The Old Gentleman. However, if he doesn't play his cards right, then he'll "create" a stillborn world ruled by demons. The Final Boss won't even look his way if he doesn't back a Reason or gather the menorahs.
  • Warcraft: Genn Greymane, the king of Gilneas, refused to help the Alliance retake Azeroth/Stormwind from the Horde, though they did second-line actions in the campaign against the rogue human nation of Alterac. When Lordaeron was overrun by the undead, he bricked up his entire city behind a giant wall. Then the werewolves came...
  • In Civilization 4, if you try to remain neutral and not ally with other countries involved in a war with each other, they'll get mad at you, causing your reputation with both countries to go down and making it more likely that either of them (or worse, both) will attack you in the future.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Dragon King Dheginsea stubbornly tries to have the country of Goldoa remain neutral for 1,000 years to satisfy the terms of the covenant with the goddess Ashera. He ends up having one of his children killed and another one forced into exile because of his insistence on neutrality.
    • Subverted in Fire Emblem Fates. The Revelation path, where the protagonist refuses to side with either kingdom, ultimately results in the happiest ending of all three routes and is the only one where all the royal siblings live, and the only one where the real Big Bad is fought. However, it does start out with both families angry and confused about Corrin's choice. In fact, Xander, crown prince of Nohr, is even more upset about Corrin staying neutral than joining with Hoshido, since while he could understand Corrin going back to their birth family, he doesn't understand why Corrin would fight both nations.
    • In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Claude attempts to stay neutral after the timeskip, orchestrating internal struggles in the Leicester Alliance in order to maintain the facade of being too busy to join in the war between the Adrestian Empire and the Kingdom of Faerghus/Church of Seiros. This works for a little while but backfires on him when the Empire decides to attempt to steamroll the Alliance to get to the Kingdom, resulting in Claude joining the war, leaving Fódlan, or dying depending on the choices you make.
  • Total War: Shogun 2 has your daimyo get points detracted from their honor if you refuse to come to an allies aid in a war (declaring war on the faction they are against).
  • In Star Trek Online, this is the fate of the Romulan player - he/she refuses to get involved with everything going on and live a peaceful life in another world away from the wars going on. Then, the Elachi and the Tal Shiar descend on his planet and ravage it.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • The Hist, a race of ancient, sentient, and possibly omniscient trees chose to be neutral during the Dawn Era "War of the Ehlnofey". Despite their neutrality, much of their realm was destroyed in the conflict. Their modern home of Black Marsh is said to be a fragment of their realm which survived.
    • In the backstory, after using Numidium to complete his conquest of Tamriel, Emperor Tiber Septim began using it to destroy the neutral ruling families of the provinces in order to enthrone those he knew to be be loyal. The mysterious figure known as the Underking took action and attempted to reclaim the power source of Numidium (the Mantella) to stop Septim, but caused an explosion which badly damaged Numidium and flung the Mantella into Aetherius. Part of the main quest of Daggerfall involves getting it back.
    • In Skyrim Jarl Balgruuf attempts to remain neutral in the conflict between the Imperials and the Stormcloaks, but the city winds up subject to a siege regardless and, depending on which side you pick, Balgruuf may wind up losing his position.
  • This happens to Narshe in Final Fantasy VI. The snowy town insists on remaining neutral early in the game, which results in an invasion from The Empire. After that point they side with the Returners.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, when the Empire finally goes on the offensive and the Grand Alliance is forced to mobilize, Ul'dah, Limsa Lominsa, and Gridania call for aid from the fellow Eorzean city-state of Ishgard. The Ishgardians, however, are occupied in a holy war against all of dragonkind, and the city's theocratic rulers refuse to help. This created much ill will, with Ul'dah's representative being particularly bitter that Ishgard's crusade takes precedence over The Empire bearing down on the whole of Eorzea. At one point in 2.4, one of your allies insists to the alliance that they must assist Ishgard, only for him to be told that the alliance has their own problems with the empire and the beastmen and they can't spare any more soldiers (making this an Ironic Echo). Ishgard slowly comes to terms that they need to aid their allies and they becomes the player character's greatest ally when they slay a monstrous dragon threatening their city and granting them asylum after the player is falsely accused of murdering a political figure. Throughout the story in the 3.0 series, Ishgard reunites itself with the Grand Alliance, finally joining their cause instead of sitting by the sidelines, and the other city-states are very happy to welcome them back.
  • Knights of the Old Republic features the planet Manaan, which declared neutrality in the war between the Sith Empire and the Republic because their world is the only one in the galaxy that can manufacture kolto, the primary healing solution that both sides use to treat their wounded. Neither side is happy about this, but the Selkath defend their neutrality aggressively (a fight between groups of soldiers is once defused because if anyone takes a swing they'll all be arrested, and at one point a court case is decided that both sides will pay reparations after a fight breaks out). This turns out badly for them after the war, when bacta is discovered to be better than kolto, so the Selkath's economy collapses since they aren't needed anymore.
    • Upgraded in Star Wars: The Old Republic, where they are neutral on paper, but due to the Empire carpet-bombing their planet, entered into the Rift Alliance, which allied with the Republic due to the actions of the Jedi Consular. Their representative, and possibly other members of their government, are actually aligned with the Star Cabal, which would just as soon see both superpowers destroyed.
  • In a Vision Quest in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Atton and the rest of your party confronts Kreia, a Manipulative Bastard. You can either take the side of Atton or Kreia, or say you won't defend nor attack Kreia. Both Kreia and the party react badly, each saying "Apathy is death" before attacking you.
    Kreia: "So you will do nothing? Apathy is death. Worse than death, because at least a rotting corpse feeds the beasts and insects."
  • Played with in Dragon Age II, in that one of these technically kicks off a war rather than occurring afterwards. Grand Cleric Elthina is seen by some as a voice of moderation in Mage-Templar tensions, and by others as an enabler who refuses to actually do anything about abuses committed by people under her authority. In the game's climax, one of the latter camp vaporizes the entire Chantry with her inside it.
  • Played with in EndWar. Britain... Uh, sorry, the "New Commonwealth", had pretensions to be neutral in the outbreak of World War III, but then allowed European Federation troops to garrison the ICBM-shield Uplink clusters on British soil. After that, all bets are off, and Britain is now fighting for survival alongside the other European nations. Averted by Israel, who manage to remain neutral throughout the war with no lasting repercussions.
  • In Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, the player can reach the endgame by siding with one of four morally dubious factions, or upgrade their ship and go it alone. While all four of the factions have flaws and ask the player to stain their conscience, the chaos that's left in the wake of the player ignoring the other factions and going it alone is greater still.
  • Telltale Games, particularly with their The Walking Dead series, utterly loves to rub this in the face of players who try to always take the neutral ground. When two sides are arguing you always have the option to try and take the middle ground or at least remain silent, and you will be called out on it if you keep it up. Not to mention, doing this tends to result in the most deaths and the least number of people on your side, since you're never willing to stick your neck out or stand up for anyone else. For one final coffin in the nail, players who think they can get away with always taking the neutral ground tend to get a cruel Player Punch when one of the life-or-death "pick one of two choices with equally bad consequences" pops up.
  • Played for Laughs in Disco Elysium, where repeatedly stating you have no opinion or take no side in the ideological frictions between Revanchol's communists, neoliberals and nationalists grants the player the achievement "world's most laughable centrist".

  • In The Order of the Stick, Therkla the half-orc falls in love with Elan while on an assignment from her master, Lord Kubota, to kill Hinjo (whom Elan is bodyguarding). She tries her best to protect Elan while still serving Kubota, and in the end tries to convince Elan and Kubota to simply let each other be. Unfortunately Kubota believes in With Us or Against Us and fatally poisons Therkla. Doubly painful in that Elan was never going to reciprocate Therkla's love.
  • In Outsider, the Loroi do not recognize other races' claims of neutrality in their war against the Umiak. When Jardin asks Tempo, a Loroi diplomatic officer, why this is the case, she explains that it's partly because the Umiak are an imperialistic species that absorb, if not outright enslave, other races, and partly because a number of races that proclaimed themselves to be neutral ended up betraying the Loroi.
    Tempo: You may choose to be friendly with the Loroi or with the Hierarchy, but it is no longer possible for any nation to be friendly with both. [...] Those who do not actively oppose the enemy will inevitably end as their servants, one way or the other.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Transformers, Paradron was a pacifist colony founded by Cybertronians who fled the Fourth Great War (whatever that was) and refused to do anything when Decepticons Cyclonus and Scourge located them. As a result the Decepticons conquered their planet. The Autobots then staged a rescue mission that resulted in them blowing up the planet to keep it out of Decepticon hands.
  • In Beast Wars, Tigatron resigns from the Maximals and the Beast Wars after he accidentally causes the death of a friend. Dinobot pretends to invoke this trope to get Tigatron back on their side, but it doesn't work. At that point Dinobot tries to invoke the trope for real, and would have killed Tigatron if Optimus hadn't turned up in time. In the end Tigatron rejoins when the Predacons make it clear that they'll only do more damage if they aren't opposed.
  • One episode of South Park has Stan being exiled from his hometown simply because he refused to vote for one of two potential new school mascots, based on the fact that they both suck. (It's a giant douche and a turd sandwich, for the record.) After learning An Aesop that you have to learn between bad choices, because in politics all choices are bad, he comes back, casts a vote, only for the school to keep its old mascot. So yeah, his vote didn't even matter, which is Played for Laughs.
  • Archer: In one episode, Mallory claims that she hates the Irish because of Ireland's neutrality during WWII, to the point that Archer grew up honestly believing that Ireland was on the Axis side. This is obviously just a flimsy excuse for her flagrant bigotry, however, as Mallory has no trouble associating with people from other neutral countries or even former Axis countries.
  • Played for Laughs in Futurama, as Zapp Brannigan is enormously suspicious of the Neutral Planet.
    Zapp: I hate these filthy Neutrals, Kif. With enemies you know where they stand but with Neutrals, who knows? It sickens me.

    Real Life 
  • Under the laws of Solon in ancient Athens, citizens could be stripped of their citizenship if they refused to get involved when the city was in stasis (a form of civil war).
  • Niccolò Machiavelli explicitly advises against taking the neutral position: you'll only end up as a prize for the winner. Better to be winners together, or even losers together (you'll support each other) than someone's dessert.
  • Neutrality in any conflict can also risk incurring the hostility of both sides rather than neither, leading to the expression "those who stand in the middle of the road get hit by traffic going both ways".
  • The Neutral Nation was a group of Native North American tribes of the Iroquoian branch of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic stock that occupied territory along the northern shore of Lake Erie. The French gave the Neutral Nation its name because of its neutrality in the Iroquois-Huron wars. They were able to remain neutral because they controlled flint grounds useful for making spears and arrowheads. Once gunpowder was introduced into the conflict, and once the Neutral Nation absorbed the remnants of the Hurons, the Iroquois practically destroyed them. Possibly doesn't count because of the influx of Hurons, although the Neutral Nation would certainly have been better off allying with the Iroquois early on.
    • Speaking of the Iroquois, the Iroquois Confederation's neutrality during the American Revolution is largely what doomed them. To be fair, they were pretty spent after being very much involved in many of the preceding wars, and were understandably a bit confused about the people they had previously known only as the British suddenly fighting each other. Still their neutrality caused the colonists to view them as fair targets to raid for supplies while the British made a point of leaving their fate in the hands of the newly formed United States during the Treaty of Paris. Though given the way that Native American tribes were treated by the US over the next two centuries, the situation probably would not have improved for them in the long run had they actually taken a side.
  • The French State - dubbed 'Vichy' France because while they were still fighting the Germans they set up a temporary capital in the spa-town of Vichy (Bordeaux, Marseilles, and other cities were the personal fiefdoms of various parties and so unsuitable due to the risk of assassination, espionage, and desertion) - was this played straight. It still controlled a large empire and decent navy but the Allies stomped on it several times, either because it happened to be in the way of planned operations or because its possessions were perceived as a threat. After Operation Torch the Germans got in on this, finally dissolving the country and assuming direct control over it. In essence Vichy was everybody's Butt-Monkey.
    • Oddly enough Marshal Petain had little interest in remaining neutral and it was only later groups which attempted to portray him otherwise. Many in the French State's government, including the Marshal himself, wished to ally with Hitler's Reich. These included forming a French militia which fought for the Axis even after France's liberation by the Allies. It was Hitler, of all people, who had no interest in taking France on as a full partner because they were just so demanding and insubordinate. For their part the Allies only grudgingly decided to work with the rebels after they realized that the French government had no intention of resisting.
  • Belgium attempted to be neutral during the opening years of World War II, even refusing the Allies to build any defence lines inside their borders or let them to land on their beaches; so when Germany invaded Belgium, they didn't have anyone to help them defend their country from German conquest.
    • To be fair to the Belgians, the Allied war plan was to fight on the Belgian soil so that they didn't have to fight on the French, and they sort of succeeded because the Maginot Line made a very bad idea for the Germans to attack France directly—except that they didn't plan for any kind of enemy action on the grounds that it was too risky for Germany to try it. This was poor (Campaign/Operational) planning in the extreme - the whole point of planning is to be prepared for all possibilities, not just the ones you want to be true!
    • The Netherlands attempted this as well, on the basis of "Staying neutral worked out for us in WW1, so why not now?". Unfortunately for them, they didn't count on the idea of the Nazis deciding to conquer them anyway, so when they were invaded in 1940, they were forced to pitch weaponry last used in the Napoleonic era against arguably the most modern army of its day. Unsurprisingly, they got steamrolled, only managing to hold out for five days.
  • The Norwegians attempted to be neutral at the beginning of World War II. Both British and Germans would have preferred that they stayed neutral, too—as long as the neutrality would be bent to their own advantage. When it became clear that their enemies would happily violate Norwegian neutrality when it suited them and Norwegians lacked both ability and willingness to resist meaningfully, both British and Germans decided to intervene militarily in Norway.
  • Averted with Sweden, who actually did stay officially note  neutral during World War II and didn't suffer any harm from it, making it through the war virtually unscathed. It wouldn't have lasted, as the Nazis did have plans for all of Scandinavia which they considered the hallmark of Aryan civilization aside from themselves, but the war turned against them before they had a chance to move against Sweden, and Germany soon had bigger things to worry about.
  • However this backfired spectacularly on the axis when it came to South America. Rather frustrated in the continent's neutrality during the conflict and the previous world war while they de-facto aided the allies, Hitler declared South American ships (sans Argentina) to be fair game for U-boats. The sinking of several Brazilian ships caused that country and several of its neighbors to formally join the war on the Allied side where they began to actively hunt down U-boats and even send expeditionary forces.
  • After a surprise victory in the 1979 election, new Canadian PM Joe Clark and the Progressive Conservative party were left just short of a majority in parliament. The Social Credit party offered to lend Clark their votes in exchange for certain concessions towards Quebec, but Clark immediately rejected their offer, declared that he didn't need their support to form a viable government, and just to stick the knife in he persuaded one of their MPs to join his party. Nine months later, Clark proposed a crippling rise in fuel taxes, which prompted the opposition parties to call a vote of no confidence in his government. Despite his earlier actions, the Socreds again offered their support in exchange for Quebec getting a slight reduction in the proposed tax. Once again, Clark refused. Since they hadn't gotten what they wanted, they weren't going to support Clark, but they liked the opposition leader, Liberal Pierre Trudeau, even less. So ... the Socreds sat out the vote of no confidence, which made it hard for anyone inside or outside government to take them seriously, and they quickly lost support even among their own followers. That would probably have happened anyway, given the trends in Canadian politics during the 1980s, but their decision to abstain from what is the most important vote a parliamentary body can take led to them being delisted as a party in federal elections by the middle of the decade as they could no longer field enough candidates.
  • This is perceived as one of the reasons that newspapers are dying. Lots of people would rather get their news from an explicitly ideological source on cable TV or the Internet rather than read some bland centrist account in a newspaper, presuming they are centrist and don't have their own biases. The latter in fact is more likely; historically newspapers were more than happy to take sides on just about any issue, and were usually published with a specific agenda in mind. Said initial agenda could be alluded to in the names of some of the smaller papers. The ideas that news should be 'neutral' and that 'commentary' should be separate from the news are relatively recent concepts.
    • This also applies to the American cable network CNN. The channel came into being in the 1980's and quickly established a reputation as a highly-respected news organization. Like most large reporting outfits in the USA, they followed the standard conceit of being "absolutely unbiased", which was fine when they were doing straight reporting. However, competition from the extraordinarily biased Fox News Channel (and later MSNBC) starting in the late-90's resulted in the network getting squeezed from both sides. Keeping their reporting "unbiased" fed into Fox's allegations of CNN's "liberal bias", while their efforts to stylistically ape Fox News drove liberal viewers away to MSNBC (which had shifted significantly to the left after the 2006 midterm elections). By The New '10s, cratering viewership forced CNN, now a distant third in the ratings, to mostly give up on the investigative journalism they were known for and simply report on whatever story might attract the most attention. Like celebrity news, or fixating on a missing plane for over a month.
  • During Argentina's National Reorganization Process, General Iberico St. Jean, one of the more hardcore ideologues, threatened that when all the leftists had been executed, the junta would move onto the undecided.
  • Subverted for some nations in the Cold War, some like India who are more neutral in siding with either the West or the Soviets, but their neutrality is respected as they are very much a valuable ally to both sides.
  • Often immediately after elections in the United States, people vote for a third party or don't vote at all get called out for their decision by those sharing their political beliefs. This is particularly prominent when the election results in the party elected has in little in common with the non-voter's beliefs. The people who do vote often feel that the non-voter split the vote and allowed the lesser evil win. However, the non-voter is quick to point off that they let their conscience guide them.
  • Many heated debates online will always have people taking a side and sticking with it. People that try to Take a Third Option or try to make fun of both sides for their extremes will usually get called out by both sides for wasting everyone's time.
  • Though he has been Vindicated by History since, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was known during his tenure for avoiding numerous social issues and refusing to talk about them, which wound up causing him to take heat from both sides and be known as a "do-nothing" President. The truth was that he preferred to take action slowly and gradually, as he believed the sudden action both sides urged him to do would only cause the other side to be even more hostile than what actually happened.
  • This seems to be happening to the U.S. health insurance industry as of 2018. While they had initially opposed some aspects of the Affordable Care Act during its trip through Congress a decade earlier that would cost them money in the short term, such as the ban on refusing coverage due to pre-existing conditions, they never explicitly opposed the bill as a whole, realizing that in the long term its insurance subsidies would provide them with a windfall from new customers,note  but they didn't bank on opposition to Obamacare so vigorous that it would lead to the election of a Republican Congress (and, later, president) that, having realized that it would become popular in the meantime, instead tried to do everything they could to sabotage it ... introducing more and more instability into the health-insurance market, exactly the last thing they wanted.
  • Come election day, a long standing gripe is that if someone doesn't vote, it's as good as voting for the other guy.
  • Sports broadcasters on nationally-televised games in sports where regional coverage is the norm are often accused of being biased against both teams participating in the game simultaneously. Joe Buck, who does play-by-play for Fox's Major League Baseball and National Football League coverage and is a frequent target of this criticism, attributes this to the more neutral approach which is necessitated by the game being broadcast nationally appearing biased for long-time fans who are used to their home markets' coverage where the announcers are going to be slanted towards the home team — he admits to falling victim to it himself when he was watching NBC's coverage of the Stanley Cup Finals when his hometown St. Louis Blues were playing for it in 2019.
    Buck: Fans are used to hearing their hometown guys. When you come at it objectively, people aren't used to it.
  • In the era of social media, certain celebrities get hit hard with this trope if they don't speak up about whatever hot button sociopolitical issue that exist at the time. (Of course, if and when they do, they'll still get backlash because they didn't talk enough about it, or they were "late to the party," or didn't say what they wanted to hear, or because the audience thinks they really should "stay in their lane" and not get on their soapbox.)
  • On December 18, 2019, the House of Representatives voted on articles of impeachment towards President Donald Trump, accusing him of abuse of power. While it passed on mostly party lines, one notable dissent was Hawaii Democratic representative and 2020 Presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard, who voted "present" instead of "yes" or "no". She reasoned that the entire impeachment ordeal with purely political and that the voters should decide if Trump should go or not. Making matters worse was that she attempted to introduce a bill that would instead censure Trump rather than impeach him. Liberals and conservatives both called her out over this, feeling that she was trying to suck up to the other side at best or that Hillary Clinton's accusation of her being groomed by Republicans as a spoiler candidate, like Jill Stein was in 2016, might have some merit to it. Ironically, Gabbard's favorability numbers fell precipitously afterwards with Democrats, potentially harming her ability to serve as an effective spoiler.