Conflicting Loyalty

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"So many vows...they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It's too much. No matter what you do, you're forsaking one vow or the other.”
Jaime Lannister, A Song of Ice and Fire

Many people have more than one thing they consider worthy of Undying Loyalty: religion, country, family and friends, promises, perhaps a cause or whatever the author imagines. If a character is lucky these differing claims can actually reinforce one another. But what happens if they conflict? Then we have Conflicting Loyalty.

Whichever the character chooses, he may regard it as Dirty Business.

Related to Sadistic Choice. Compare Rebellious Rebel, Anti-Mutiny. Sometimes invokes Honor Before Reason. Super-Trope to Even Mooks Have Loved Ones and To Be Lawful or Good.

Examples of Conflicting Loyalty include:

Anime and Manga

  • Gunslinger Girl can get into this sometimes with the handlers trying to balance making the girls effective weapons while still letting them retain some semblance of happiness.
  • Naruto. Itachi, anyone? I mean, the guy killed his family to protect his village, despite the fact they were being accused of trying to destroy the village without any proof other than some not-so-long-dead leader of the clan could do it (the same not-so-long-dead leader who actually HELPS HIM KILL THEM ALL). Someone here really has screwed up loyalties.
    • Uh there was proof. Itachi had no choice but to execute the clan after the negotiations with the Third Hokage failed. Only Madara-the Complete Monster Big Bad claims the Uchiha were oppressed.
    • Actually This was affirmed by Danzo, who tried to Hannibal Lecture Sasuke for "wasting" Itachi sacrifice, from being a failure as a Ninja (who are selfless, replaceable tools) and declaring that without the Uchiha genocide there would have been a 4th Ninja war. It didn't stick and that the Nidaime Hokage did snub the Uchiha Clan because Senju prejudice. The entire Complete Monster, Villany of the Uchiha is in fact Fanon from haters of the Uchihas (especially Sasuke). This show also in Sasuke, who had the loyalty of his brother wishes against his Clan desire. He chose the latter.
  • A major part of the second-season arc of Saiunkoku Monogatari centers around Ran Shuuei being caught in a conflict of loyalty—between his loyalty to his Emperor (who has shown him absolute trust) and his Big Screwed Up Clan, the Rans, who dislike the emperor and only care about their own people and lands. Getting it resolved takes a lot of work (and, ultimately, intentionally getting himself disowned so that he can freely swear his unconditional loyalty to Ryuuki).
  • Le Chevalier d'Eon has this as a major theme. Events really start unravelling around the topic of loyalty to an individual versus loyalty to a cause, or when loyalty to "king and country" ends up as two conflicting loyalties. The first event to really drive this home is when Durand - an unconditionally loyal secret agent - is ordered by his king to kill his friends to protect a state secret. This screws him up enough to nearly get him killed. In the end, he insists on protecting his friends while still trying to have it both ways. A villain later tries to persuade Durand to join him by calling him out on it, asking why Durand would serve a king who would give him such an order. Even then, Durand doesn't give in.
  • In Code Geass, Suzaku Kururugi is Japanese by birth, and only wants to protect his country - and is working in the military of The Empire that invaded it. And then there are his loyalties to the people he cares about, many of whom are at various points on opposite sides of the conflict. And then there's his personal ideology...
  • Vice Admiral Garp of One Piece has a pretty severe case of this throughout the Whitebeard arc. He's torn between his loyalty to the World Government and Navy as a Vice Admiral and as a friend/comrade of Fleet Admiral Sengoku, his feelings towards his grandsons Ace and Luffy who are both notorious pirates along with Ace facing execution, and his own promise to Gold Roger to take care of his son Ace. It's so bad that he all but throws the fight against Luffy when he tries to stop him from saving Ace. Ultimately, he fails to uphold any of these promises due to this conflict. Sengoku realized he threw the fight, Ace is killed by Akainu anyway, and Luffy suffers total mental collapse.
  • Athrun has this big time in Gundam Seed Destiny. On the one hand, Durandal sweet-talked him into rejoining ZAFT to protect his former nation PLANTs from EA attack. He also has loyalty to the crew of the Minerva as fellow soldiers who have tried to save a world that hates them. On the other hand, his adopted nation Orb was effectively blackmailed into joining the EA, and his best friend and his ex-fiancees were forced to flee with the Archangel. This all comes to a head when Orb is ordered to send a fleet out to fight ZAFT, and Athrun's ship the Minerva is sent out to fight it, and the Archangel ends up intervening against both ZAFT and the EA to protect the Orb fleet. Cue ten episodes of Athrun wrestling with his loyalties until he finally jumps ship (again) and joins Orb.
    • He never even really gets to totally make the choice. After learning of this Durandal decides he doesn't need someone that isn't completely loyal to him and sends soldiers after Athrun branding him a traitor to Zaft before he really did anything and forcing him to flee back to Orb.
  • In Wild Rock, Yuni and Selim are from feuding clans and both future chieftans, and choose to place duty before their feelings. Their sons later end up falling in love, but Emba chooses Yuuen over loyalty to his clan, which ultimately reunites them.
  • Winter Cicada is about Star-Crossed Lovers during the great Boshin civil war in Japan (1864 to 1869). Akizuki is on the isolationist side (expel foreigners and keep the Shogunate system) and Kusaka is on the imperialist side (open the borders and embrace modern culture). Somewhat subverted in that both main characters want to keep the borders open, but nonetheless they end up going along with their clans.
  • Transformers Energon gives an interesting variant with Demolisher, whose loyalties are both to Megatron. In this case, the conflict comes down to whether he obeys the last command Megatron gave at the end of Armada, or whether he disregards that to go along with the dramatically different orders Megatron starts giving after being resurrected.
  • In Black Butler, Wolfram has to choose between Sieglinde's life and his duties as an officer in the German army. He chooses Sieglinde and to protect her even shoots a superior officer.


  • The pivotal plot point of Scion: Ethan has to choose between loyalty to his family and kingdom in the war against the Raven Kingdom and loyalty to Ashleigh and her movement to liberate the Lesser Races.


Arab: You are loyal to England...
Lawrence: And other things...

  • In Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker fell to The Dark Side when circumstances forced him to choose between his loyalty to the Jedi and his loyalty to Palpatine. He chose Palpatine.
  • Ringo Lam's City On Fire is all about this, as Chow Yun-Fat plays an undercover cop who has to choose between loyalty to his fellow cops and loyalty to the triad gang that he's infiltrated.
  • Tony Leung's Alan from Hard Boiled also has to deal with conflicting loyalties, both due to having to choose between Johnny Wong and his old triad boss, and also being an undercover cop as well.


  • Lancelot is torn viciously between his place as Arthur's general and Guinevere's knight, to say the least of the romantic involvement. The original Chrétien version makes little of this, as Arthur is mostly an inept and impotent king, but from Le Morte Darthur onwards it tends to be one of the driving forces of the tragedy. Idylls Of The King cranks it up to the point where the conflict inside him prematurely ages Lancelot, and the longest book of The Once and Future King is dedicated to Lancelot's story, at which this struggle is the focal point.
  • The Chosen: Danny must choose between his father and friendship with Reuven.
  • In the 1632 series, Badass Spaniard Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz is torn between loyalty to his new American wife, and to Spain.
  • The Bhagavad Gita makes this at least Older Than Feudalism. Arjuna's family has usurped his crown with the only hope of getting it back being to fight them for it, and he is stuck between two conflicting dharmas (duties): his duty to his family and his duty as a soldier and a king. Eventually, Krishna sorts him out and tells him that he should suck it up and fight the battle.
  • The Bible: The Israelite Prince Jonathan was caught by his insane father's paranoia of Jonathan's comrade David. He chose David.
  • Temeraire: At the end of Empire of Ivory, the British government has sent a dragon infected with a highly contagious disease to France, where it will infect Napoleon's dragons -- and from where the disease will likely spread and kill off most of the dragons in the world. Laurence and Temeraire bring Napoleon the cure, an act of treason against Great Britain. Then Laurence goes back to England, fully intending to let them hang him for it.
  • The Assassins of Tamurin: Lale is torn between loyalty to her Cult mother and her lover after she becomes the mask.
  • Sebastian in The Gardella Vampire Chronicles, whose behavior is ambiguous because { (a) he comes from the Gardella vampire slayer line, and yet (b) has a relative who is a vampire that he is very close to.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel Horus Rising, Loken's distaste for lodges springs from the conflicting loyalties and secrecy entailed.
  • Daisy Miller: Winterbourne must choose between Daisy (Rome's local Strange Girl who has caught his eye) and the approval of his peers (who scorn her for being a shameless flirt).
  • In the juvenile novel Treegate's Raiders by Leonard Wibberley, at the Battle of Cowpens , upon seeing some highlanders advance one of the title character's men shouts, "Go to the other end of the line, there are Frasers here", thus showing a conflict on both sides between military duty and tribal ties.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Deus Encarmine, Rafen realizes that his brother's transformation is a danger to the Chapter, despite the oath he swore to their father.

My brother is lost to me, and I am caught between the ties of blood to my family and my duty to the Chapter. . .

  • In Brothers In Arms one of the commanders mentions that this is why he didn't want to be a knight. He feared the potential for his lord and his god to demand conflicting things of him.
  • In War of the Spider Queen, half-demon Blood Knight isn't partial about who is giving him orders as long as he can brutaly tear someone to shreds. He is ordered by his mother, the high priestess of Menzoberanzan, to accompany his aunt Quenthel on her quest and follow her orders without question. However, when Quenthel starts to eat herself up with doubt and loses her faith in the Spider Goddess, he is conflicted between his loyalty and his believe that Asskicking Equals Authority, which is the foundation for their races entire society. Danifae however, who as a slave is nominally the groups lowest ranking member, proves herself to be a Manipulative Bitch who plays the game of lying, betraying, and instilling fear like no-one else. When Jegrred finally switches his loyalty, Quenthel helplessly resigns and doesn't try to stop them, but when she gets all her powers back, she sacrifices him for punishment.
  • Drives the plot of On My Honor: the POV Character is a Double Agent, working as a trusted assassin under a queen while secretly remaining loyal to his homeland. This puts him in a tight spot when the queen sends him to murder the current king of his country...
  • In Warrior Cats, the Warrior Code is very strict about inter-Clan relationships to prevent this kind of situation. It is broken many times, though, and results in cats having to choose between loyalty to Clan, family or love.

Live Action TV

  • NCIS: Ziva is torn between her father and Gibbs in the last few episodes of season six.
    • She choses her father, after Tony kills Michael and she believes Gibbs no longer trusts her. When her father promptly throws her under a bus when a mission goes south, it's Gibbs and his team who save her, prompting her to revise her earlier decision.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series
    • "Amok Time": Captain Kirk must choose between obeying Star Fleet orders and going to Altair VI or taking Spock to Vulcan to save his life, which could result in Kirk being court-martialed.
    • Several times Kirk has to decide whether to violate the Prime Directive in order to save the Enterprise. Each time he goes ahead and breaks it, always coming up with a plausible rationale for doing so. The only time he ever enforces it is when another starship captain violates it.
    • In "The Menagerie" Spock shows his loyalty to his former captain Christopher Pike by risking the Starfleet death penalty for taking him to Talos IV. He spends the two-parter torn between his loyalty to Kirk and his loyalty to Pike - committing mutiny against the former to help the latter.
  • In Star Trek Depp Space 9, Odo must choose between his loyalty to Starfleet and his feelings towards his race.
    • He finds it quite easy to chose once he learns what his people are doing. He doesn't hate them or wishes them any harm, but that doesn't mean he is going to let them get away with their blatant disregard for Justice.
    • Later Garak and Damar are faced with similar choices.
  • Kings, episode "Insurrection". David is sent to his home town by King Silas to convince the locals to accept the decision to give their land away in a peace deal. His family turn out to be the leaders of the protestors.
  • Firefly: Simon chooses to rescue his sister, not only against the wishes of The Government but against those of his parents.
    • He also chose her over a calling he loved which may have been even harder.
    • Also, in "War Stories", Mal admits that he was initially against Zoe's marriage to Wash, concerned that it would split loyalties amongst the crew.
  • Merlin is often conflicted this. Should he protect Arthur or reveal himself as a wizard, where he would be executed?
  • Wesley had this big time in season 3 of Angel, during the baby Connor storyline. He was struggling over whether to stay loyal to the team and Angel or help the baby even if made the team hate him-which is ultimately what happened. Lampshaded in That Old Gang of Mine. Wes was addressing his speech to Gunn, but it's really easy to tell it was being pointed at Wes himself as well.
    • And Gunn, between his own vamp hunting team and Angel's group, in the same episode.


  • Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
  • Antony and Cleopatra: A major part of Antony's character. He's stuck between his love for Cleopatra and his duty to serve Rome.
    • Enobarbus is also conflicted between his love for Antony and his duty to Rome.
  • The ancient play Antigone is about a woman choosing between law and loyalty to her brother. She chooses burying her brother though it is against the law, forcing her uncle to choose between her and the law. He chooses the law.
  • Pierre Corneille's plays are full of this. In Horace, Camille has to choose between her Roman brother and her lover, who is fighting against Rome. In Polyeucte, Polyeucte chooses his (banned and persecuted) Christian faith over his wife and country.
  • What about Becket? His loyalty is most definitely torn between king and church.
  • Billy Elliot the Musical; When Billy's dad (who has been on strike for almost a year) becomes desperate to afford Billy a future, he must choose between breaking strike and betraying the community and his son Tony, or staying on strike and betraying Billy.

Video Games

  • The Kingdom Hearts series has Axel. Although he apparently suffers from Chronic Backstabbing Disorder and has no issues with being a Double Reverse Quadruple Agent when necessary, he's shown some capacity to be conflicted in which side to stick with:
    • In Kingdom Hearts 358 Days Over 2, Axel's friendship with Roxas and Xion conflicts with his orders by the Organization to "let things run their natural course" . Even his friendship with the pair suffers from this trope, as he comes to realize that only one of them can survive, and one of them has to perish to ensure the survival of the other.
    • In Kingdom Hearts II, his friendship with Roxas is again the driving factor of his Conflicting Loyalty. While he has no qualms with his orders to bring Roxas back, he starts to grow disgruntled with his superiors when he is tasked to eliminate Roxas. He eventually screws over the Organization, and starts working independently, leading to a Tear Jerker when he dies at Sora's side, lamenting the fact that he never got to revive Roxas.
  • In Yggdra Union, Nessiah's first prerogative may be to ensure the safety and growth of the Gran Centurio, but he's also implied to care fairly deeply for the Imperial Army. When forced to choose between protecting the Imperial Army by killing the player's army, thus ensuring that the sword's current wielder will die, or joining up with the player to rescue Yggdra and oversee the Gran Centurio's growth personally, he decides to Take a Third Option and kills himself to let things play out as naturally as possible. (Which isn't as extreme as it sounds, because Nessiah's pretty nonchalant about dying for obvious reasons.) This is probably also done to preserve the balance of the game, but Nessiah having conflicted loyalties is the most reasonable explanation in-plot.
  • In Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, Saturn realizes in the postgame that what he'd been working for was truly terrifying (he tries to tell you that he didn't know what his previous leader, Cyrus, was really after, but he was the first character to tell you the extent of the plan, so either he's lying or he's trying to convince himself that he didn't know). But he still believes in the ultimate ideal, which is a peaceful world. Having been left in charge of Team Galactic by default, he says he's going to try to work for basically what he's always worked for, having realized that "extremism is never the answer".
  • Etna from Disgaea has great loyalty to King Krichevskoy, so great in fact that it remained with her even when she lost her memory. But she also made a promise to him; to protect Laharl and make sure he become a great Overlord, which may or may not be more then Etna can stand.
  • This trope is the basis for Steiner's character development in Final Fantasy IX, where he stands torn between his sworn duty to protect Princess Garnet, and his loyalty to Queen Brahne who means to kill the girl.
  • The entire world of Dragon Age is designed to create lots of conflicts of interest, which are the main reason for many of the plotlines. But in the second game, this trope seems to be the primary theme of the whole story.
    • Ser Thrask is a templar, whose job it is to monitor mages and prevent them from falling to demons. But he also hates the inhumane treatment many mages see from other templars.
    • Avelline's duties as member of the city guard sometimes are at odds with Hawkes activies, who can be a good friend of hers whom she owes her life.
    • Isabella asks Hawke to help her find an "artifact" that she was supposed to transport to a crime boss so he calls off the assassins waiting for her in her homeland, while at the same time Hawke is trying to negotiate with the Qunari army to leave the city without causing trouble before rioters start a fight with them. What she neglects to tell Hawke is the artifact is a holy relic she stole from the Qunari and the army has been in the city causing problems for four years, because they are looking for her and the relic. Which shortly after leads to a full out battle that destroys half the city.
    • Anders had always had problems with his loyalties, but at the end of the second game, his conviction that the mages can only be safe if the Templar order is destroyed, leads him to ignore Hawkes attempts to find a diplomatic solution by killing the Grand Cleric, who had always been the only person who could stop both sides from attacking each other. By blowing up the entire temple with a magic bomb.
    • As a Keeper, Merrill regards it as her duty to restore ancient elven magic, even if the rest of her clan thinks it is madness to get help from demons to repair a cursed magic artifact.
  • Mass Effect 2 - Miranda is loyal to the end for Cerberus, having given up everything so they could protect her from her father. Then Shepard comes along and wins her loyalty by treating her as her own person and helping her out with a personal issue without expecting anything in return. In the endgame, if she goes with Shepard into the Final Boss area, when forced to choose between Shepard and Cerberus, she chooses Shepard. Without hesitation.
  • This is ultimately Giygas's undoing in Earthbound Zero. He's sort of a subverted Superman, sent to our world as an infant in the hopes that he would grow to conquer it, but he still feels love for the human couple who raised him. Playing a music box tune that was his childhood lullaby is enough to get him to back down.
  • In Solatorobo, Elh must choose between her duty to seal Lares (which requires the sacrifice of Red) and her loyalty to her friend. She ultimately can't do it and stops the Rite mid-way, unable to bring herself to finish.
  • In Asura's Wrath, Yasha had to choose between his family and his duty to protect humanity from the Gohma, since Deus' plan required Asura (Yasha's brother-in-law) being scapegoated as a traitor and Mithra (his niece) enslaved as the Brahmastra's Mantra-channeler. After witnessing many people suffering after the Gohma's recent attack, Yasha sided with Deus. It Got Worse for Yasha since his sister Durga (Asura's wife and Mithra's mother) was also killed though it's unclear whether Deus ordered it or Sergei did it on his own just to anger Asura. 12,000 years later, Yasha has to make the choice again when Asura returns, hell-bent on saving Mithra. He initially remains loyal to Deus since he still believes stopping the Gohma is more important than anything. Ultimately, Yasha turns against Deus after battling Wrath Asura helps Yasha realize that if there's even the slightest chance to stop the Gohma without resorting to Deus' horrific plan, then he has to take it.

Visual Novels

  • In Fate/stay night for the third route, there's a choice between killing the innocent Sakura or putting hundreds or thousands of lives at risk. The first is Shirou wanting to save as many lives as possible and the second is based on trying to have there be no sacrifices and everyone be happy instead.
  • Comes up a few times in Maji De Watashi Ni Koi Shinasai: Jun between Touma and his own wishes in the Ryuuzetsuran route, Chris between Yamato and her father in her own route, the entire group between Miyako and Wanko in Miyako's route, so on and so forth.
    • Miyako seems to act like one at times.

Web Comics

Web Original

  • Phase of the Whateley Universe. Brought up as an heir in the Goodkind family to hate mutants and know they are a threat to everything one should care about. Then Phase manifests as a mutant and ends up at Whateley Academy and in Team Kimba, where he is expected to support mutants and hate the Goodkind family. He's loyal to his family even after what they did to him. He's loyal to his friends and has risked his life for them.

Western Animation

  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003), Karai's loyalty to the Foot and her father will often clash with her loyalty to the turtles, who helped her restore the Foot when she asked for their aid.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has a slight example of this in the third season. Mai has to choose between her love of Zuko and her fear of Azula in "Boiling Rock," and chooses her love of Zuko. When Azula goes to kill her for this, Ty Lee makes a quick choice between her friendship-based love of Mai and her fear of Azula, and she also chooses the love. Either Azula isn't really that scary (which, let's be honest, isn't completely true), or both of her friends are much more loyal (to other people) than Azula previously thought.
    • Lampshaded in Mai's case, since she outright confirms which side of this trope she was on in the exact same scene
  • Anything involving the Supertrooper project on Galaxy Rangers will send Shane Gooseman, the team's Lancer, straight to this trope. Goose was the youngest of the Troopers, and the only one who remained loyal to Earth's government after the disaster that ended the project. His loyalty was "rewarded" by BETA forcing him into becoming a Hunter of His Own Kind. It's not so much of an issue with Psycho for Hire Kilbane, but a much bigger problem when it came to Darkstar (who just wanted to be left alone with her boyfriend), and Max Sawyer (who may or may not have been guilty of the crimes he was charged with).
  • Kaldur/Aqualad went through this in the Young Justice episode "Downtime", wondering if he should stay on the team or return home to Atlantis where his crush Tula was. This was eventually resolved when he found out Tula was already in a relationship with his best friend Garth and he decided to pull an I Want My Beloved to Be Happy and thus return to Young Justice in good terms.
  • The My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic villain Discord manipulates Rainbow Dash this way by tricking her into thinking she has to make a choice - stay and play the game by the rules or retake her wings and fly off to save her hometown from being destroyed. She picks the latter, and Discord uses this as an excuse to declare the game over because someone cheated. Not that it mattered anyway, as reguardless of which choice she made she'd play into his hand by betraying something she cares about and going against her Element Of Harmony which was Discord's intention.

Real Life

  • There is a Medieval story where the King of France was invading Italy and met a local Prince. Both happened to have Swiss mercenaries and it was decided that "kinslaying" wouldn't do but both had their contracts. The Swiss officers on both sides met secretly. The agreement was that the ones on the Italian side would defer, but that the ones on the French side would spirit the Italian prince away by disguising him as a soldier in a sort of inversion of I Am Spartacus. The French King's general offered gold to whomever would betray the Italian prince and finally one did. This man was beheaded by the Swiss government for disgracing Swiss arms.
    • This was at Noverra in 1499. See The Mercenaries by Anthony Mockler.
  • The Thespians at Thermopylae were a curious clash between one interpretation of Patriotic Fervor and another. The Thespians were all exiles, yet stood and fought beside the 300 Spartans. In other words they put the honor of their city ahead of the laws of their city.
  • George Washington in the Whiskey Rebellion. As the hero of the American Revolution, he had a certain sympathy for people revolting against being taxed: as the President of the United States he had a duty to uphold the Constitution and the laws made under it, including the tax laws. He resolved the conflict by exercising the office of President: as President, he led an army that captured the rebels; as President, he put them on trial for treason; and when they were convicted, as President he pardoned every one of them.
  • In his social history A History of Honor James Bowman suggests that Western Civilization is based on an uneasy tension between Christian values, old fashioned tribal/aristocratic values (and though he doesn't mention it, or not much, Greco-Roman Civic values) that formed something of a yin-yang which was ultimately quite fortunate. In his opinion the "Victorian Gentleman" was an attempt at compromising between these.
  • Many soldiers and sailors fighting for both the Federals and Confederates during the American Civil War.
    • Sam Houston, considered one of the founding fathers of Texas and the 1st and 3rd president of the Republic of Texas (and many other things as well), was forced to resign as governor of Texas when he refused to take the oath of loyalty to the Confederacy. When the US Army offered him a commission to lead an army and stop the rebellion in Texas, he refused. He was very pro-union, but he could not bring himself to cause misery to the people of Texas.
  • The early days of the Irish War of Independence constituted this for many Irish policemen, who were primary targets of the [IRA]. As one history book put it "the Irish policemen needed to decide if their loyalty lied with the British who payed their wages, or their fellow Irishmen who were shooting at them". Even more pronounced in the Irish Civil War (which began less than a year after the end of the War of Independence, and was the culmination of tensions which had been building since that time), which, as a result of the split in the [IRA], meant that many men who had been comrades only a short time before were now fighting one another. It has been speculated that part of the reason the anti-government forces got such an early foothold was because Michael Collins was unwilling to use maximum force against people who had recently been his close friends.