In political communication, the phrase "you're either with us, or against us" and similar variations are used to depict situations as being polarized and to force witnesses, bystanders, or others unaligned with some form of pre-existing conflict to either become allies of the speaking party or lose favor. The implied consequence of not joining the team effort is to be deemed an enemy. An example is the statement of the former US President George W. Bush, who said after 9/11 at the launch of his anti-terrorism campaign in the form "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
The statement generally is a descriptive statement identifying the beliefs of the speaker(s), and thus state a basic assumption, not a logical conclusion. It may also be interpreted as a speech act. Sometimes (but not always) it is interpreted as a splitting or a false dilemma, which is an informal fallacy.
Some see the statement as a way of persuading others to choose sides in a conflict which does not allow the position of neutrality. Only when there are no alternatives like a middle ground does the phrase hold validity as a logical conclusion. The phrases are a form of argumentation.
2. Use of the Phrase
2.1. Historical Quotations
- From the Book of Joshua (Chap. 5:13): "It happened, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood in front of him with his sword drawn in his hand. Joshua went to him, and said to him, 'Are you for us, or for our adversaries?'"
- The Synoptic Gospels attribute the following quote to Jesus: "Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters" (Matthew 12:30), as well as the corresponding statement, "Whoever is not against us is for us" (Luke 9:50; Mark 9:40).
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, in an oration before Julius Caesar in 46 BCE, published as Pro Ligario, made the following distinction: "For we heard you say that we looked upon all as enemies that were not with us; but that you looked upon all as friends that were not against you."
- Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, in a speech discussing the Chief Committee for Political Education, told the assembled delegates that "It is with absolute frankness that we speak of this struggle of the proletariat; each man must choose between joining our side or the other side. Any attempt to avoid taking sides in this issue must end in fiasco."
- George Orwell wrote in his 1942 essay "Pacifism and the War", "If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, 'he that is not with me is against me'. The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security."
- Benito Mussolini declared in speeches across fascist Italy: "O con noi o contro di noi"—You're either with us or against us.
- János Kádár, in an effort to unite Hungary after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, announced in December 1961, "those who are not against us are with us."
- Common form of Cold War terminology. On 30 September 1970, the Milwaukee Journal quoted a police official of the Greek military junta of 1967–74 as saying to his political prisoners: "You make yourself ridiculous [sic] by thinking you can do anything. The word is divided in two. The Russians and the Americans, no one else. What are we? Americans. Behind me there is the government, behind the government is NATO, behind NATO is the US. You can't fight us, we are Americans."
- Desmond Tutu as quoted in a book published in 1984 said, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."
- Hillary Clinton said on September 13, 2001: "Every nation has to either be with us, or against us. Those who harbor terrorists, or who finance them, are going to pay a price."
- President George W. Bush, in an address to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001 said, "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
- Vic Toews, Canadian Public Safety Minister, said on February 13, 2012: "... either stand with us or with the child pornographers" in response to questions from Quebec MP Francis Scarpaleggia (Lac-Saint-Louis) regarding extensive Privacy Commission concerns about 'warrant-less access' to all Canadian Internet and Cell phone accounts under the proposed legislation contained in bill C-30 "Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act" introduced the following day (February 14, 2012) in the House of Commons of Canada.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a speech after a suicide bomb explosion in Istanbul on January 12, 2016, said: "Pick a side. You are either on the side of the Turkish government, or you're on the side of the terrorists."
- Sarah Palin, in a speech criticizing Republicans who didn't support Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign, said: "You're either with us or you're against us. That gang, they call themselves Never hashtag, whatever, I just call 'em Republicans Against Trump, or RAT for short..."
- Pennsylvania House Rep. Jordan A. Harris, on June 21, 2020, said, "[R]acism is not a gray area for me. You are either with us or against us."
2.2. In Literature and Popular Culture
- In the movie Beauty and the Beast, Gaston tells fellow citizens of his village that "If you're not with us, you're against us," and thereafter locks up Belle and her father so he can hunt the Beast.
- In the Dirty Harry movie Magnum Force, one of the suspects tells Harry Callahan, "Either you're for us or you're against us."
- In the climax of the film Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker (aka Darth Vader) says to Obi-Wan Kenobi, "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy." Obi-Wan responds, "Only a Sith deals in absolutes." His response is an absolute statement, although linguists are divided as to whether the "deals" part of the phrase makes this not a contradictory statement.
- Towards the end of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Colonels Korn and Cathcart equate fighting for their country with fighting for the benefit of the two of them. Korn tells the protagonist Yossarian: "You're either for us or against your country. It's as simple as that." A reviewer of Catch-22 found this "flawless" logical indulgence by the commanding colonels to be comparable to Heller's parody of Charles Erwin Wilson's statement, often paraphrased as, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country".
- In a 1912 edition of John Bull's Other Island by George Bernard Shaw, an advertisement for The Clarion, a socialist newspaper, used the phrase to attract those interested in the debate on socialism.
- In the movie Ben-Hur, the protagonist meets with his childhood friend Messala. He has barely said hello to Ben-Hur when he is dunning him for the names of those Jews who are speaking out against the Roman occupation. Ben-Hur refuses to act as informer, and Messala utters, "You're either with me or against me".
- In Act III of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Deputy Governor John Danforth states, "But you must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there is no road between."
- A professional wrestling faction in WWE, called The Nexus, used the slogan "You're either Nexus, or you're against us".
- Stephen Colbert has parodied the sentence on several occasions, for instance with "Either you are for the war [in Iraq] or you hate America" and "George W. Bush: great president or the greatest president?", after which he usually adds "It's that simple!"
- In the Smallville episode "Shattered", Lex Luthor tells Clark Kent, "You're either with me or against me, Clark. Choose right now."
- In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 TV series episode "The Shredder Strikes, Part One" The Shredder tells the Turtles "Those who are not with me are against me, and I crush anyone who stands against me!" right before facing them for the first time.
- In the film X-Men: First Class, Dr. Klaus Schmidt / Sebastian Shaw tells the X-Men, "If you are not with us, then by definition, you are against us."
- Futurama makes a parody of this concept, when the character Zapp Brannigan expresses disdain about the members of the Neutral Planet who didn't take side in a conflict by commenting concerns like "With enemies you know where they stand but with neutrals? Who knows? It sickens me" or "What makes a man turn neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?"
- Russell Hantz frequently uses a variation of the line, "You're either with me or against me," as an intimidation tactic towards his competition and fellow allies in Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, the twentieth edition of the show. Sandra Diaz-Twine bluntly replies, "I'm against you, Russell."
- In Red Dead Redemption II, when Arthur Morgan and John Marston confront their outlaw gang leader, Dutch Van Der Linde, about Micah Bell's treachery, Dutch points his guns towards them and asks the others, "which amongst you is with me, and who is betraying me!"