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Why the Friend of My Enemy is My Enemy


The saying, “the friend of my enemy is my enemy,” is a proverb that has been used to describe relationships in a wide range of situations, from political alliances to personal conflicts. The proverb reflects the notion that if an individual or group is allied with an adversary, then they too become an adversary by association. This concept is grounded in social and psychological dynamics, game theory, and geopolitical considerations. Here we explore the reasoning behind the statement “the friend of my enemy is my enemy” by examining historical examples, sociological theories, and practical implications.

Historical Examples

One of the most illustrative examples of this adage comes from the era of World War II, where various countries formed alliances based on mutual interests or shared enemies. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States entered the war on the side of the Allies, which included the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and other nations that were fighting against the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan). In this context, anyone who supported the Axis powers, directly or indirectly, was considered an enemy of the Allies.

This notion was solidified with the signing of the Tripartite Pact by Germany, Italy, and Japan in 1940, creating the Axis powers. Any country that supported or befriended these nations was immediately considered an enemy by the opposing side. The concept of “the friend of my enemy is my enemy” played out on a global scale during World War II.

In more recent times, geopolitical tensions have also demonstrated the relevance of this concept. For example, during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a series of proxy wars, in which each superpower supported opposing sides in regional conflicts. In these scenarios, any nation that supported or befriended the opposing superpower was viewed as an enemy by the other side.

Sociological Theories

Sociological theories can also provide insight into why the friend of one’s enemy is often considered an enemy. In-group and out-group dynamics play a significant role in shaping human behavior and relationships. These dynamics can be observed in various social contexts, including politics, religion, and ethnic or national identity. People tend to identify more strongly with those who share their beliefs, values, and experiences and may view those outside their group with suspicion or hostility.

The concept of “social identity theory,” proposed by Henri Tajfel and John Turner in the 1970s, sheds light on this phenomenon. According to this theory, individuals derive a sense of belonging and self-esteem from their membership in social groups. When an individual’s group is in conflict with another group, the individual is likely to view members of the opposing group as a threat to their identity and well-being. This perception extends to anyone who supports or befriends the opposing group, leading to the sentiment that the friend of one’s enemy is also an enemy.

Practical Implications

The idea that the friend of one’s enemy is an enemy can have profound implications in various contexts. In politics, parties may form coalitions to unite against a common adversary, and anyone who supports the opposing party may be viewed as an enemy. In the business world, companies may form alliances against a competitor, and any organization that supports the competitor may be seen as an adversary.

However, this sentiment can also have negative consequences. It can exacerbate tensions and polarize relationships, making it difficult to build bridges or find common ground. It can lead to a cycle of animosity and retaliation that perpetuates conflict. In some cases, it may be more beneficial to seek dialogue and understanding with those who may be perceived as enemies, as this can foster cooperation and create opportunities for resolution.

The sentiment that the friend of one’s enemy is an enemy has been expressed in various contexts throughout history, reflecting the dynamics of alliances, in-group and out-group relationships, and social identity theory. While this concept can be observed in political and social situations, it is important to recognize the potential for negative consequences that may arise from this perspective. It is essential to consider the broader implications of such a stance and seek ways to foster dialogue and understanding, even with those who may be perceived as adversaries.


  1. “Tripartite Pact.” Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  2. Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). “An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Conflict.” In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks-Cole.
  3. Lebow, R. N. (1994). “The Long Peace, the End of the Cold War, and the Failure of Realism.” International Organization, 48(2), 249-277.
  4. Axelrod, R. (1984). “The Evolution of Cooperation.” Basic Books.

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