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"I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."
Attributed to Naval Marshal General Isoroku Yamamoto, after the attack on Pearl Harbor

Everyone knows about the Big Good and the Big Bad, but what about the Even Bigger Neutral?

In most conflicts, there are a variety of neutral parties. From the Precursors to the Retired Badass to the King in the Mountain to the Hidden Elf Village, they always exist. And there's usually one that can kick the shit out of both other sides at the same time, using only a kitchen whisk and a sheet of tissue paper. But... they're not involved. So don't ask them for help, because they will refuse to get involved.

That is, unless someone does something stupid or evil enough to repulse them utterly. Whether it was the heroes or the villains, anyone who steps over some inexcusable line will invite their wrath, and this isn't the regular Neutral No Longer give-the-other-side-some-reinforcements wrath ... this is "we have an army of Cthulhu clones" wrath. Expect an Oh Crap taken Up to Eleven from the receiving end; if and when the former neutrals start whipping out the doomsday weapons. On the other hand, for the beleaguered friends of that power, this is a moment of celebration as they gain a powerful ally and they will fight alone no more.

There are two key points to look for before and after this trope comes into play.

  • Before: There is an established conflict, of any sort, between any number of parties, with a prominent neutral party that wishes to remain uninvolved.
  • After: When the neutral party enters the conflict, it drastically alters the balance of power.

A Sub-Trope of Neutral No Longer and related to Heroic Neutral. May serve as a Deus Ex Machina and/or Game Breaker. Compare Default to Good. If the entity is an individual, then they won the Superpower Lottery.

Examples of Awakening the Sleeping Giant include:


Anime & Manga

  • At the end of Princess Mononoke, Lady Eboshi decapitates the Shishigami, which nearly causes the destruction of the entire forest and nearby town.
  • In Gundam Seed Destiny, Durandal attempts to kill the retired Kira Yamato and Lacus Clyne so they don't get in the way of his plans. This alerts them to his evil intentions several months before anyone else on earth suspected a thing, causing them to take the Freedom, Archangel and Eternal out of storage, which all become instrumental in his defeat.
    • As a matter of fact, near the end of the series Kira himself says "If not for that attack, we probably would have gone along with anything Durandal wanted."
  • The Flying Pussyfoot arc of Baccano! would already have been a clusterfuck: A cult, a bunch of Ax Crazy mafia goons, and a gang of delinquents were all planning to attack the train, which also happened to be carrying three immortals, the wife and daughter of an influential senator, and a surprisingly badass agent of The Daily Days. However, one of those mafia guys made a huge mistake: he killed the elderly conductor Tony, then tried to kill a younger conductor when he found out. Unfortunately for him, his would-be victim was Claire Stanfield, a nigh-unstoppable, Ax Crazy, Crazy Awesome Badass Professional Killer and Torture Technician who did not appreciate someone murdering his mentor. Carnage ensues as the Rail Tracer makes its merry, blood-soaked way up the length of the train.

Comic Books

  • In the 1960s X-Men comics, this happened to Magneto when he tried to recruit the Stranger via intimidation.
  • In the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, Darkseid is somewhat of a example of this.

Fanfiction

Film

  • Godzilla, frequently (and literally).
  • The United States as per the final voice over of the trope quote in Tora! Tora! Tora!. Maybe Yamamoto never said it - but he should have.

Literature

  • The Ents from The Lord of the Rings Curb Stomp Battle Saruman's fortress of Isengard after he cuts down their forest to burn it for fuel.
    • Though the Ents weren't really neutral; they were pretty much Lethargic Good. The only thing keeping them from acting is the fact that, being essentially tree-people, they don't do much of anything without a whole lot of convincing.
    • In Peter Jackson's film adaptation, the ents decided not to intervene -- until Merry and Pippin steered them toward the site where all the trees had been burned down.
  • Rowan And The Zebak does this with a dragon.
  • Played straight in The Dark Is Rising in the novel Greenwitch, in which the titular Greenwitch is part of the Wild Magic, which is neutral between the Light and the Dark. She is not powerful enough to present a direct threat to either faction on her own (although Tethys is), but she does end up in a situation where she has something both sides desperately need and can't take without her consent.
  • This is the premise of the next few Honor Harrington Novels, with the giant in question being a massive star nation whose populace comprises 80% of all of humanity in the galaxy.
  • The Culture, from the Iain M. Banks novels. From Use of Weapons: "You might call them soft, because they're very reluctant to kill, and they might agree with you, but they're soft the way the ocean is soft, and, well; ask any sea captain how puny and harmless the ocean can be." Or, if that's a bit flowery for you, there's the universal adage of the civilizations which have dealings with them; "Do not fuck with The Culture." See Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward for what happens when those civilizations don't follow that advice.
    • Someone phrased it as "The first rule of dealing with The Culture is that you do not fuck with The Culture. The second rule of dealing with The Culture is that you do not fuck with The Culture. The last rule is that you don't fuck with The godsdamned Culture!"
  • Another Iain M. Banks example: in the non-Culture novel The Algebraist, the Dwellers (in gas giants) have a reputation for wiping out civilizations that piss them off...but they don't care what the inhabitants of rocky Earthlike planets do to each other as long as they leave the Dwellers alone. One of the book's many subplots concerns trying to persuade the Dwellers to help defeat an invasion fleet before they get around to attacking the local gas giant.
  • The protagonist becomes the ultimate Even Bigger Neutral by the Third (and last) Part of Tranquilium. He has some very long-term plans in operation, but mostly he just sits there, confusing enemies and allies alike with his apparent inactivity. Then a cult kidnaps his son to either use him for or blackmail his father into working with their occult plans. The father arrives and dismantles the entire cult, dashing their last chance to carry out their scheme in the process and finishing with a (jaded) good guy version of the Hannibal Lecture.
  • David Weber's Out of the Dark: when the alien invaders are about to make the human race extinct, someone on Earth (Count Dracula) finally decides to come out of his self-imposed exile and show them what real monsters can do.
  • By introducing late 20th century technology and ideas in early 17th century Europe the time traveling americans of 1632 have awoken the interest of the Ottoman Empire: the mightiest military power of its time, ruled by a Sultan named Murad the Mad, who is, according The Spymaster Francisco Nasi, as intelligent as he is insane and bloodthirsty.
  • Used in The Dresden Files books to explain why the various supernatural factions upkeep The Masquerade: they fear what would happen if mortal humanity became aware of what else was out there. Bringing mortal authority around into a supernatural argument is compared to the nuclear option.

Video Games

 Seth: Kane's been loathe to attack America, but I feel that it's time, and that you're the one to do it. This is the Pentagon. A full frontal attack with your strongest forces should render their military center of operation-- *BLAM*

    • Looking at Nod's arsenal, and some information of the Official Strategy guide, it's clear that Kane doesn't attack the US simply because he gets a lot of his weapons from US arms dealers. (Nod's units include the M2 Bradley, the Chenowth Desert Patrol Vehicle, the M-110 artillery, and even the Apache helicopter)
    • Killian Qatar in Tiberian Wars disapproved of Nod's attack on GDI Blue Zones precisely for this reason. She even paraphrases the trope line. And she was correct.
      • Might be a subversion, however, as Kane knew it as well but was counting on a massive GDI counterattack to fulfill his master plan.
  • In Final Fantasy VI, the Evil Empire wakes up the sleeping magic creatures. They aren't happy about this.
    • Along that same line, in VII humanity finally pisses of Mother Nature enough that she awakens the Weapons, literal sleeping giants. There is no vengeance like a Gaia scorned.
  • Yukari Yakumo of Touhou is a powerful Reality Warper who's normally too lazy to get involved in anything. However, in Scarlet Weather Rhapsody, Tenshi Hinanai destroys and then subverts the Hakurei shrine, putting Yukari's precious Gensokyo Barrier in jeopardy. When Yukari finally catches her, we see for the first time just what Yukari looks like when she's truly angry.
    • Gensokyo has too many Sleeping Giants for its own good. It's strongly implied that shall Reimu ever fail in protecting the border (which is saying a lot), the dragon of Gensokyo will swoop down to deal with whatever problem there is. And it's not your standard fire-breathing Western fantasy dragon either: this dragon, when he/she/it appeared once in the past, fill the entire sky with his/her/its body. His/her/its presence alone cause extreme rain, enough to flood the entire Gensokyo. The dragon might be Gensokyo itself.
    • Giants that have awakened are: Sakuya in Perfect Cherry Blossom; Yukari, Remilia and Yuyuko in Imperishable Night; Medicine and Yuuka in Phantasmagoria of Flower View. Those people normally don't overstep their domain, but you can't be so sure when Spring Is Late/Bad Moon Rising/Death Takes a Holiday...
  • Begnion in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. There is a war between two similarly sized nations, immediately south and bordering both of them is one three times as big as the two put together.
    • The Dragons count for the sequel Radiant Dawn as well.
  • Sonic The Hedgehog: Sonic Unleashed - Despite being a horrifying Eldritch Abomination depicted nearly destroying the earth each millenia since time began, Dark Gaia is not so much evil as simply a force of nature (shown by the fact that whenever it tried to destroy the world upon awakening, it would be rebuilt by its other half, Light Gaia, and start the process all over again). It wasn't until Eggman tried to control the monster's power by firing his beam from space and woke Dark Gaia prematurely that he really put himself and the entire fate of the world in deep shit. Only Sonic and a formerly amnesiac Light Gaia make everything right again.
  • Both Galactic Civilizations and Mass Effect have a strange version of this. In both series, the humans are the galactic newcomers with little military to speak of, but our tenacity, bravery and the speed of build-up from token military into a powerhouse REALLY scares the other races. In Gal Civ, the Drengin (an evil warrior race) are scared of the humans and in ME the turians (the resident galactic police race) generally don't harbor a grudge over the First Contact War, but rather because they're the big, bad military and while the humans are a much smaller force, we're just as good, and did it in a tenth the time.
    • In Gal Civ, the Drengin are terrified because humans operate in an entirely different method than they expect as far as militaries are concerned. They have a large, standing military fleet. Humans had no fleet at all beyond trade and exploration vessels, until another species attacked them... at which point the humans rapidly built a fleet large enough to give the Drengin nightmares, completely slaughtered the offending race (As in total genocide; that race no longer exists)... and promptly decommissioned and took apart all of it's military fleet, returning to having no military at all. The Drengin are both terrified of the results the humans achieved and the fact that they would voluntarily go back to a completely demilitarized state afterward. They cannot wrap their minds around it.
      • And yet, in the sequel, the Drengin are on the verge of beating the humans back to the Stone Age.
    • Mass Effect 3 has another example. Not that they were exactly sleeping by this point, but Kai Leng stealing the data on the Catalyst out from under Shepard's nose finally pisses the Alliance off enough to focus their entire military might on Cerberus.
  • Sort of in Overlord II. The elves futilely try to stop the Overlord from clubbing baby seals. Due to these actions, the Overlord and his horde of Minions decide to kill some elves and knock down their Sanctuary. He then decides to enslave or destroy both the elves and The Empire.
  • The Trade Order in Sins of a Solar Empire had no standing military to speak of. Just local planet-operated defense flotillas mainly consisting of frigates and cruisers in order to protect shipping lanes against Space Pirates. Then the Vasari invade with a massive fleet and thousands of years of technological advantage over the humans. They rapidly take a number of human colonies. Then the Trade Order gets reformed into the Trade Emergency Coalition, using its industrial and financial might to build an unprecedented number of warships, mostly using militarized versions of civilian ships. While the Vasari are still stronger in terms of technology and firepower, they can't possibly match the industrial capacity of the TEC. Even when the Advent join the conflict, the TEC are fully capable of waging a two-front war. Basically, We Have Reserves is in full effect for the TEC.

Western Animation

 Wilykit: You just woke a village of sleeping giants!

Ssslithe: The elephants... the elephants never fight!

Anet: Only rarely. But when we do, we fight to win!

Real Life

  • The American Revolution
    • British General Burgoyne invaded New York from Canada in 1777. Facing him was a much smaller, poorly motivated American Army ... until British allied Mohawk Indians murdered a young woman named Jane McCrea. Burgoyne was not able to discipline the killers for fear of losing his Mohawk allies. The atrocity, and Burgoyne's seeming acceptance of it, was a propaganda/recruitment dream come true for the Patriots, who would soon amass an army of about 17,000 to force Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga.
    • By 1779, a considerable number of rough'n' tough settlers lived west of the Appalachians. Since they were cut off from much of the goings on in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, they honestly didn't care who won the Revolutionary War (either way, government would not be a big factor in their day-to-day lives). In 1780, British major Patrick Ferguson firmly pushed them into the American camp by threatening to cross the mountains and destroy their homesteads and towns unless they swore loyalty to the Crown. The backwoodsmen, who had played no part in the American Revolution up to this time, responded by killing Furgeson and most of his men at the Battle of King's Mountain.
  • Real Life: Happened twice in one year during World War II:
    • The Soviet Union was neutral until Germany invaded it in June 1941, and we all know how that turned out.
      • Hitler despised Soviet Russia, as outlined in his 1926 autobiography Mein Kampf. His primary goal all along was to expand Germany into Russia. Western Europe was just a bonus.
        • Rather disputable, considering his long-term aims and desires for revenge from World War One. Western Europe and beyond was not just a target of opportunity.
      • Some recent authors have claimed that Stalin was planning a preemptive invasion of Germany at the same time Germany was planning its attack on the Soviet Union, and that the Wehrmacht beat the Red Army to the punch by, at most, a few weeks. These claims are highly disputed and not taken seriously by mainstream historians. Even if one doesn't buy into them, the speed at which the Soviet Union was modernizing was a very genuine concern, particularly in the military sphere. The Soviets had already curb stomped the Japanese, who while a vastly weaker force than Germany had defeated Russia before, and were roughly half-through modernization and were quick recovering from the purges. Such assessments very much favored striking while the iron's hot, and it's worth noting that similar concerns about Tsarist modernization are what triggered the decision of the Central Powers to seek at least a limited war in the East against the Slavic side of the Allies, which was rewarded with a comprehensive victory in the East that was only ruined by intervention from the West. So while Barbarossa might not have been *smart*, it might have well been the very best chance the Reich was going to get. Pearl Harbor, though? Yeah.... banking on your supposed military prowess to fight pretty much the entire Western world *and* its' colonies after being stalemated by a hand-to-mouth China and defeated by half-obsolete Soviet forces is not such a good idea.
        • Basically, both sides were preparing to invade, but neither was prepared to defend. The Red Air Force was all but annihilated early into the invasion as they put all their fighters and bomberg tightly grouped together, expecting to eliminate the Luftwaffe in one fell swoop. Instead, the opposite happened.
    • In December 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy implemented its 'southern strategy' before its fuel reserves ran out under the United States' oil embargo. Invading British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, they also took the American Philippines and attacked the US fleet at Pearl Harbor. The Imperial Cabinet had, however, made a grievous error: the USA's national pride was such that it would much rather fight an incredibly expensive war that had little to do with it than be seen to back down, especially not to a non-European power. The film depiction in Tora! Tora! Tora! provides the trope-naming quotation.
    • To paraphrase John McWhorter: "By the end of 1941 Hitler would invade Russia and declare war on the United States, which as mistakes go were both quite big ones."
  • The actual quote, featured in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!, appears to be a case of Beam Me Up, Scotty, as there is no reliable record of Yamamoto ever saying it.
    • While he did not explicitly say those words, Yamamoto did express similar sentiments to his superiors prior to the attack. Yamamoto was of no illusions that all the attack would accomplish in the end would be the destruction of Japan as a Great Power, and the only question he could raise was whether the attack would buy six months or a year of grace with which to act before the hammer fell. (Midway was six months to the day after Pearl Harbor, bizarrely).
    • Pearl Harbor was rather inept as a First Strike - but in all fairness, it was supposed to deter US entry into the war. [1] The whole thing would appear to be a case of the Empire's top echelons believing what they want to believe, rather than what their intelligence analysts tell them. What's more, this wasn't the first time they had so grossly misread another country's motivations; that they even went to war with Britain and the Netherlands - and the USA - is a testament to this inability.
  • This is what happened on 9/11, only the giant had no visible enemy to lash out at.
    • When Osama bin Laden was killed and his records seized, it turned out that he was completely Genre Blind to this trope. He was actively holding his forces back from several planned attacks until someone came up with a plan for a massive attack on a date of great symbolic importance to Americans, in the hope they would be intimidated into withdrawing. Christina H at Cracked.com compared this strategy to repeatedly kicking a bees' nest in the hope that all the bees would give up and go home.
  • The SOPA and PIPA bills have ultimately unified the internet (yes, the entire internet) against censorship. Not only that, but tech companies, who have until now tried to not meddle too much in politics, have finally realized the only way they can fight back against Hollywood lobbyists is to use the same tactics - and since Silicon Valley's biggest companies MASSIVELY outgun even the biggest Hollywood congolomerates and are the single biggest contributors to the American economy, it seems all these bills have done is ruin Lamar Smith's chances at re-election and make Darrel Issa's OPEN act far more likely to pass. By the end of the internet blackout, several lawmakers and a number of Congresspeople withdrew their support for the bills.
  • They haven't done it yet, but imagine the sort of trouble the Swiss could cause if provoked. There's a reason they're the ones guarding the Pope. Switzerland is supremely well defended, riddled with nuclear bunkers (including hospitals, schools and other infrastructure) with some reports of hollowed out mountains that contain heavy artillery ready to mobilize at any point in the country, has access to vast amounts of economic wealth from all around the world, and a ready-armed military reserve composed of every one of its citizens. On top of that, a high quality of life worth fighting for, and one of the most defensible borders any landlocked country can boast. No one will ever declare war on the Swiss because they actually are a force to be reckoned with in every respect. Especially because they wouldn't indiscriminately freeze all banking, but rather would choose their targets wisely. Don't underestimate Switzerland, there's a reason it's gotten away with remaining neutral for so long.
  • Napoleon considered China a sleeping giant. Given China's "rise", he was probably on to something.
  • Even American historians agree that the US's decision to declare war on the most powerful country in the world in 1812 was a monumentally stupid thing to do.

Notes

  1. Why 'inept'? Well, it did just enough damage to shock, enrage, unify, and motivate America like nothing else could, while doing as little truly significant damage as possible. Most of the battleships sunk at Pearl Harbor were relatively easily raised, repaired, refitted, and sent back into the war. In the biggest naval battle in history (Battle of Leyte Gulf), these Back From the Dead battleships utterly annihilated a third of the remaining Japanese fleet. Hundreds of aircraft were destroyed, but they were all very outdated or obsolete anyway. The massive oil reserves, submarine pens, intelligence/cryptology buildings, and most of the cruisers and destroyers were untouched, and none of the three fleet carriers were even there. And, because the attack took place in the middle of a very shallow harbor in warm waters, surrounded by military bases and a city, relatively few people died. So the end results? America began relying on what it had left, which turned out to be the most effective possible means to fight Japan--submarines, intelligence, and carriers with destroyer/cruiser support. Further, it made Japan extremely overconfident, as they thought that battleships were the true capital ships of the day, and that by destroying America's battleships, they had essentially struck a fatal blow. This actually also applied to America, who thought that it had taken far more crippling damage than it actually had, galvanizing its population and military like never before. As a result, you'd see marines, crews, and pilots alike going Beyond the Impossible against Japan. The only truly major damage done was to morale--which was remedied by the Doolittle Raid, whereby large (but stripped down) bombers would be launched from aircraft carriers deep in Japanese waters to fly over Tokyo, bomb some targets of opportunity, and try to reach Free China (some didn't even have enough fuel to make as far as Korea). This turned out to be the opposite of Pearl Harbor--extremely cost effective, a huge morale boost for America, a major blow to Japanese confidence (which caused them to call back their entire carrier force that was wrecking Allied assets near India for a while), and caused a lot of confusion for Japan (as they wondered where these heavy bombers had come from, since even the idea of launching them from a carrier would never even occur to them).
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