The Ethics of Neutrality

By Holly Ross

Early on in Blood of Elves, we’re introduced to a major theme that persists throughout the series: war. With a war as impactful as the one that the Nilfgaardians have provoked, along with the many social issues that are present in the world of The Witcher, it’s no surprise that there are so many different views toward the war. From the First Northern War and the Battle of Sodden, many of our characters have already been heavily impacted by all the political unrest. In the midst of this seemingly unavoidable tension, we see an interesting clash of beliefs regarding involvement in the war. Neutrality becomes a key point of tension among our characters, and the way each character approaches their place in the war explores both their history and their place in society as witchers, dwarves, elves, and so on.

For Geralt, as a witcher, he doesn’t involve himself in conflicts that don’t involve him. As witchers are meant to kill monsters, and only kill monsters, it’s logical that they would not involve themselves in any conflict outside of that. The world has done little for them, so what duty do they have to protect it?

Triss, on the other hand, has her duty as a sorceress and cannot stand by and watch as the world falls to ruins. She, like Geralt, has witnessed war and fought and nearly died at the Battle of Sodden Hill, standing against the Nilfgaardian army. Geralt and Triss represent different sides of the same coin; Triss actively involves herself in the war because it is her duty to do so while Geralt chooses to remain sidelined.

Setting those two aside for a moment, Yarpen gives us a far more honest, and a far more realistic take on neutrality. He cannot afford to be neutral because it is his people that have been discriminated against and are stuck between two sides; neither of which will lead to any improvement in the treatment of his people.

We best see how each character’s experiences shape their views on neutrality through Ciri, who at the start, is unfamiliar with the concept. Where the other characters, such as Geralt and Yarpen, have lived long lives which have shaped their unchanging views of neutrality, Ciri’s views are originally shaped by the current war and continue to be molded as she gains more experience. In chapter four of Blood and Elves alone, she goes from not knowing what neutrality is, to being firmly opposed to it, and ends with a realization of why she needs to be neutral. 

In order to figure out how realistic neutrality is for the inhabitants of this world, we first have to answer a couple different questions.

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Is it ethical?

“Because war is constantly hovering over us like a vulture. For you it’s an adventure. For me, it’s a game in which the stakes are survival. I’m involved in this game, and that’s why your indifference and frivolity hurt and insult me.” (Blood of Elves, pg 131)

“The world is falling to ruins,” she repeated. “We can watch it happen and do nothing. Or we can counteract it.” (Blood of Elves, pg 132)

As mentioned above, Triss’ main reasoning for not wanting to remain neutral is that she has the power and influence to make a difference. She calls the witchers out for their indifference; they continue to blame their neutrality on the simple fact that they are witchers, and refuse to change the world view they’ve held for so long.

Ciri, however, thinks differently about the witcher’s duty. She’s witnessed the fall and destruction of her kingdom at the hands of Nilfgaard, and she knows that witchers have the training and experience to be able to defend the people around them. Similar to Triss, she believes that because she can fight, she has the responsibility to do so for the benefit of others. To her, a witcher’s duty is to defend people from any and all evils, even if that evil comes from an intelligent species.

But does power equal obligation? Is it the duty of those in power to risk their lives on something that has little to do with them? Geralt doesn’t want to die in a war that isn’t his—but is that the case for this war?

Is it plausible?

“It’s impossible!” yelled Yarpen. It’s impossible to remain neutral, don’t you understand that? No, you don’t understand anything. Oh, get off my wagon, get on your horse, and get out of my sight, with your arrogant neutrality. You get on my nerves.” (Blood of Elves, pg. 170)

You weren’t….” she whispered, closing her eyes, “you weren’t neutral….”

“No, I wasn’t. But you’re alive. Triss is alive.”(Blood of Elves, pg. 204)

Well, that depends. Throughout the time that Ciri, Geralt and Triss travel with the dwarves, it’s clear that Geralt is set on neutrality. However, by the end of the chapter, he still ends up involved when the Scoia’tael attack.

Why? To protect Ciri and Triss. Neutrality is a luxury that can only be afforded as long as nothing and no one from the neutral party is being threatened. This is the main difference between Geralt and Yarpen. Where until now, Geralt has been able to afford remaining neutral, Yarpen could not. 

Geralt has sound logic for wanting to remain neutral in the conflict between the humans and nonhumans, especially when the nonhumans cannot agree on which side to stand. However, in the larger conflict with Nilfgaard, he can’t afford to remain neutral. He is already caught in the middle due to his responsibility for Ciri, who he knows will undoubtedly play a large role in the ongoing, large-scale conflict with Nilfgaard. 

Seeing the death around her and understanding that neither side of the non-humans was necessarily wrong, Ciri finally comes to the realization that a lack of neutrality only leads to regret. Being on one side means being against the other, and when neither side is wrong, how do you choose?

Neutrality is easy. It allows you to wipe your hands from any negative impact your involvement may have, and allows you to avoid the possibility that your involvement will lead to a worse outcome. However, Geralt’s neutrality is fragile. Even if he maintains it now, it won’t be long before he’s dragged into another war, willingly or otherwise.

“Farewell,” whispered Ciri. “Farewell, Rose of Shaerrawedd. Farewell and…”

“And forgive us,” added the witcher.  (Blood of Elves, pg.207)

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