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Secret War

 Secret War
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Secret War
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A war that is kept secret from the public at large. The involved parties may or may not be unknown to muggles as well, but the central concept of the trope is that the conflict itself is somehow hidden, covert or underground. Basic fodder for Conspiracy Theories and naturally fiction in general.
Advertisement:propertag.cmd.push(function() { proper_display('tvtropes_mobile_ad_1'); })In trope-speak, a war that is concealed behind a masquerade. Compare Great Offscreen War, where the war in question is kept from the audience but not from the characters; this trope tends to be the other way around.
The Marvel Comics Crisis Crossovers can be found at Secret Wars (1984), Secret War (2004), and Secret Wars (2015).
As information on a work's Secret War can involve reveals, this page contains untagged Spoilers. Beware.
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Secret War
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The war between the Muineers and the mutineer-Mutineers in the first Empire from the Ashes book, which has been going on since the dawn of human civilization. By the end of the book, it has become very, very not secret—people don't know what the hell is going on, but they sure can see the mayhem.
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Secret War (in singular) has no relations with the other two. It is about a covert operation carried out by Nick Fury, who gave Laser-Guided Amnesia to the heroes that took part in it after their victory. The idea was to keep the whole thing under wraps, but the heroes started to remember it, which caused problems.
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Alphas has the fight between the alpha terrorist organization Red Flag and the Department of Defense and their own alpha team. In the first season finale Rosen breaks the masquerade, realizing that this secrecy ensures conflict where it might be avoided, facilitates atrocities on both sides, and is exactly what the Big Bad alpha Stanton Parish wants.
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Another Trek example: The temporal war from Star Trek: Enterprise.
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As the name implies Deus Ex: Invisible War focuses on a shadowy conflict between several clandestine groups over the future of humanity. The player can end up siding with any faction or even Kill 'Em All.
The events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution fit the bill as well, perhaps more so. A character even comments that the term Invisible War is the best way to describe the events of Human Revolution.
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The war between the Forgotten and Abaddon's forces in Guild Wars: Nightfall qualifies. The Forgotten have spent the last thousand years fighting a slowly-losing war to keep Abaddon and his followers bound in the Realm of Torment. As of present, they maintain only scattered outposts in either dimension.
The Order of Whispers was founded to pursue such conflicts. They have watched over Palawa Joko's tomb, kept the existence of Abaddon and his demons from public knowledge, and a century before the game even interrogated and imprisoned a Titan.
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Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri: One of the books that Lady Deirdre quotes from is titled Our Secret War. From what we can tell it's a war mostly fought with probe teams and Mindworm attacks masquerading as Planet's normal activity.
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Old World of Darkness is rife with secret war, going down between virtually every species of supernatural being, between different factions within the same species, and between supernaturals in general and those few groups of mortals who have been clued in to their existence.
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The Resistance of Zion vs. the Machines inside The Matrix.
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Several Cthulhu Mythos stories take this approach, drawing inspiration from The Shadow Over Innsmouth where the Marines were called in to clear out the Deep Ones after the events portrayed in the story. Subverted in Once More from the Top by A. Scott Glancy about some Men in Black interviewing one of the surviving members of that operation. He asks if they're winning the secret war that's obviously being fought — the MIB's tell him yes, not revealing that the politicians decided to bury the truth about Innsmouth rather than confront it, and the reason he's being interviewed is that all the files were destroyed and the war is hidden not only from the public, but the politicians as well, conducted with whatever resources they can beg, borrow or steal.
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Fittingly enough, a Secret War is what a 40k fanfiction called Secret War is all about.
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The Angaran Chronicles is mostly the efforts of Anargrin and his elite black ops team as they wage a secret war against the oppressive theocratic governments and the church of Jaroai in the continent of Angara.
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RWBY: The world of Remnant is a harsh place for humans and Faunus to live. The planet is teeming with the mysterious Creatures of Grimm, fairytale monsters that appear to exist solely to destroy humanity. Attracted by negative emotions, humanity's very fear of them can empower them and increase their numbers. What the world doesn't know is that the Grimm aren't disorganised, mindless monsters. They are controlled by Salem, a woman who is human in form but who has the strange black and white appearance, and burning red eyes, of the Grimm. She has spent many thousands of years manipulating humans and Faunus from the shadows in her attempt to destroy them. Professor Ozpin, the affable headmaster of the prestigious Beacon Academy, has to be careful who finds out about Salem's existence as her control of the Grimm means that anything that could cause mass fear and panic would give the Grimm the power to wipe out the four protected kingdoms inside which most of humanity survives. Ozpin has been cursed by the gods to walk the earth for thousands of years attempting to stop Salem's evil while she wants to destroy humanity just to destroy Ozpin's faith in their potential. He created the Huntsmen Academies as a way of protecting four divine Relics from Salem, which used together could bring destruction and chaos to the entire world.
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Nephilim. The eons old combat between the title characters and the secret societies hunting them.
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Dragon Age: Inquisition reveals that the ancient elves fought among themselves long before the Tevinter Imperium invaded, and kept it a secret from the outside world. After losing knowledge of it and virtually everything else after the fall of their civilization the only people who know of it are the ancient elves guarding the temple of Mythal.
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Harry Potter: The war between the wizards. Half-Blood Prince shows that the Prime Minister (and likely the Queen as well) are made aware of it after a number of incidents and disasters happen due to Voldemort (such as huge amounts of fog meaning breeding Dementors and a highly destructive "tornado" is actually the work of rampaging giants).
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Between Charon Indusries and the people of Chorus in seasons 11 through 13 of Red vs. Blue. To cover up their attempted genocide of the planet’s inhabitants, Charon has incited a civil war between two prominent factions, the Feds and the New Republic. Once the Reds and Blues find evidence that both sides are being played, they unite to fight the common threat. It’s still a secret war as Charon has blocked all outside communication from the planet and shoots down any incoming ships. The latter being how the Reds and Blues got involved at all, despite their individual actions prior to their ship crashing.
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Several of these in The Dresden Files, primarily among them the war between the White Council of Wizards and the Vampire Courts. There's also an even more secret war known as the Oblivion War, whereby a secret brotherhood known as the Venatori wage a conflict in order to eliminate all knowledge of certain monstrous entities, as knowledge of them possessed by mortals connects the entities to the real world.
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XCOM: Enemy Unknown zig-zags this trope in the base game. XCOM is actively fighting the aliens, but is never officially acknowledged, presumably as a matter of security, and probably because its strike teams can cause a lot of collateral damage, and can't respond to every alien terror attack. The most you'll see are headlines in the Situation Room where civilians report glimpses of mysterious soldiers fighting aliens with advanced weaponry, or performing superhuman feats on the battlefield. Then the Enemy Within expansion plays this trope straight when XCOM comes into conflict with EXALT, an Ancient Conspiracy trying to use the alien invasion as a means to seize power. EXALT's agents never let themselves be taken alive and the group presumably has the influence to stay off the radar, so that when you eventually find and assault their headquarters, in the aftermath you'll hear a news report about a tragic fire in a highrise.
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In A Certain Magical Index, the conflict between the Science and Magic Sides is unknown to most muggles and most members of the Science Side except direct combatants.
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The conflict between Light and Dark Others in Lukyanenko's Night Watch (Series). Although it has become more of a cold war with the occasional black operation or two after the treaty that established both Watches and the Inquisition.
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Secret War
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In the Stargate-verse the US is involved in interstellar conflicts, and doesn't even tell the heads of other nations at first, never mind the world at large. In various alternate timelines where the Secret War becomes a Non-Secret War, things often start to go very badly (such as in the Stargate Continuum movie, where Earth is full-on invaded by the Goa'uld). The fourth Stargate SG-1 movie was supposed to involve the reveal of the program to the general public, but Stargate Universe's cancellation put the kibosh on that.
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The war between vampires and lycans in the Underworld series is kept out of public knowledge, partly thanks to the Cleaners, a group made up of elite human soldiers and headed by the first immortal Alexander Corvinus. Their job is to work behind the scenes to clean up the mess the immortals leave behind. Following the third movie, where Corvinus dies and the Cleaners are all killed, humanity discovers vampires and werewolves and embarks on a full-scale genocide after there's no one left to clean up the two sides' messes.
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The war with the Dire Wraiths starts out this way in ROM: Space Knight.
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In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the war is secret to the Earth King only. The Dai Li took pains to make sure it stayed that way to keep the people of Ba Sing Se from going into a panic and to limit the capital's involvement with the war that would screw up their way of living.
Its hinted that while the Earth King is kept from knowing to make him a puppet, that many of the rest of the citizens don't know either. Brainwashing and control of information keep knowledge down, and constant fear makes those who do know too afraid to talk.
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Call of Cthulhu supplement Glozel Est Authentique, adventure "Secrets of the Kremlin''. The Nodens Brotherhood has long opposed a cult that worships Shub-Niggurath.
On the subject of Call of Cthulhu, the entire Delta Green third-party supplement. Delta Green versus MJ-12, with a second front against the Karotechia (who occasionally also conflicts with MJ-12) and the odd fight or two against a random Mythos cult.
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In Rocket Age the Great Powers of Earth are currently fighting secret battles in the skies of Jupiter for the approval of the Europans.
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The game Conspiracy X also has a secret war involving reptilian aliens and other weirdness.
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On the subject of Call of Cthulhu, the entire Delta Green third-party supplement. Delta Green versus MJ-12, with a second front against the Karotechia (who occasionally also conflicts with MJ-12) and the odd fight or two against a random Mythos cult.
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In Counterpart, the central factional conflict in one universe spilling over into another is known only to a very few people in either universe.
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The various Weird Wars in the Diogenes Club stories by Kim Newman. Every so often an evil Great Enchanter arises, and it's the Club's job to put him down again.
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Star Wars: The Old Republic: On Makeb, the Empire wages one against the Archon, the secret advisor to the Hutt Cartel all the while trying to keep their activities hidden from the Republic.
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The war against the Yeerks in Animorphs. Until everything gets blown wide open in the end of the series.
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Roommates: It's on a bit smaller scale but the battle over Jareth by his parents, would be mentors, both powerful supernatural beings with courts / Magical Lands and all that jazz, qualifies. They still weren't above locking the world of the comic into a Lotus-Eater Machine to keep on fighting.
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A central concept for Sleepy Hollow is that while the American Revolution was going on, both the rebels and the British were covertly using supernatural forces against each other. Only a select few (including Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson) were aware of what was truly happening.
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In The Roboutian Heresy, the forces of the Adeptus Mechanicus have been figthing against the surviving elements of the Dark Mechanicum under the surface of Mars since the end of the Heresy
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The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Assignment: Earth" was a Backdoor Pilot for a series that would've revolved around Gary Seven's secret battles with aliens. Fittingly, Seven was a protagonist in the Expanded Universe material mentioned in this page's Literature folder.
This has at times been proposed as an explanation for why the Eugenics Wars that supposedly happened at the end of the 20th Century don't exist—they did happen, just in secret.
Another Trek example: The temporal war from Star Trek: Enterprise.
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Battlezone (1998) has the Cold War actually be hot between the US and Soviet Union over biometal deposits found scattered throughout the solar system. The opening screen has the Apollo 11 landing be shadowed by an entire NSDF base when the camera reaches a certain angle.
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Iriya is also implied to be involved in one in Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu.
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Get Smart has CONTROL vs KAOS.
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The central conflict in Cats & Dogs.
It is somewhat helped by the fact that the actual war is long over — it's just that the cats (and, it is implied in the sequel, the dogs as well) have their rogues who try to restart the war and win it in one go.
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The actual term is used in the section of The Secret World's website that deals with the three world-spanning conspiracies that are fighting against each other and the encroaching darkness that's threatening Earth. Preventing The End of the World as We Know It seems to be the only thing that the Templar, Illuminati and The Dragon agree on.
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The Great Game between Imperial Russia and Victorian Britain in the 19th Century, which was more or less a precursor to the Cold War. It was mostly fought through proxies in Central Asia, occasionally spilling into regional conflicts like the Anglo-Afghan Wars, but never into direct confrontation between the two empires.
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In Armada, the governments of Earth, under the umbrella of the Earth Defense Alliance, have been at war with mysterious aliens from Europa for decades. While most of it has been preparations for the actual all-out war, there have been a number of alien attacks on both Earth and the Moon.
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The Magnus Archives chronicles human encounters with aspects of Eldritch Abomination's that embody common fears. Those forces often conflict. A flame cult battles unearthly spiders to reclaim a manor house, and the primordial insect hive attacks the Archive because it is aligned with the Beholding (ie the fear of being watched and known).
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The events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution fit the bill as well, perhaps more so. A character even comments that the term Invisible War is the best way to describe the events of Human Revolution.
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Also, the war between vampires and one very angry half-vampire in Blade
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The Holy Grail War in the Fate series of visual novels, games, light novels, etc. Interestingly enough, even to most of the Mage's Association itself, the war is mostly something of a rumour, and only higherups or people who do their research are fully aware of it.
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Warhammer 40,000: The Holy Orders of the Emperor's Inquisition fights a constant war against the forces of the alien, the mutant and the heretic, most of which is kept under wraps from the general public through intensive propaganda. Civilians or even military forces who might have been exposed to the evil simply by knowing about it are executed, even if it's an entire planet. Of course, even the secret war can at times be a front for what really happens, with Inquisitors fighting an even more secret war against each other.
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The Shadowrun universe has rival Mega Corps waging a covert war against each other, with the titular Shadowrunners being the deniable assets that the corps call upon to do their dirty work.
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Cthulhutech gets crazy with the strength of their Extra-Strength Masquerade. The shadow war between the Eldritch Society and the Chrysalis Corporation taking place within the arcologies and suburbs of the NEG-controlled areas is one thing, and the Chrysalis Corporation are very good at keeping things under wraps and discrediting or eating anyone who knows too much and might actually expose anything (plus, they have the leverage to have the government censor Dhohanoid-related reporting to prevent public panic). However, not only are Eldritch Abomination cults are alive and well, but one has formed a military force that has conquered China, under wraps, and the fact that the last Aeon War is still going on and the Migou are attacking again with a force equal to the one that nearly took Earth apart the last time. And the NEG can recruit people to fight on the China front without them knowing a thing about the war until they're already in too deep to back out.
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In War of the Worlds (1988), only a handful of military, intelligence and science personnel know about the alien invasion coming out of dormancy. In the second series, the new aliens appear more human and are able to operate openly, since it's become such a Crapsack World that to most people they're indistinguishable from the corrupt corporations and organized crime.
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In The Laundry Files, The Laundry fights such a war on behalf of Britain. Other governments have their own secret magical agencies.
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In Hellboy, it's mentioned in passing that World War II was simply the public front of the Occult War, which only came to an end with Adolf Hitler's real death in 1958.
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A number of the UNIT stories in Doctor Who work this way, particularly in the classic series.
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The Star Trek Expanded Universe retcons the Eugenics Wars into a secret war, in an attempt to maintain Plausible Deniability after they didn't happen on schedule.
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Secret Wars (1984) takes place in an alien world. A group of heroes and villains is teleported there by an all-powerful being, and forced to fight. People back on Earth only knew that the heroes were missing, but not why or the specific events. Upon their return, Reed Richards convinced everyone to keep everything a secret, because The World Is Not Ready to know about a being such as the Beyonder.
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Secret Wars (2015) has the same name, but it is just an homage, not a sequel. In this story all the multiverse was destroyed, but Dr. Doom achieved godhood at the last moment, and created a new universe with a single world, composed by portions of worlds he saved from destroyed earths. But two ships survived the destruction of the multiverse, one from the Marvel Universe and another from the Ultimate Marvel universe. The multiverse was restored at the end of the story, and only a handful of people (Dr. Doom, a pair who were with him and the people in the ships) remember Battleworld, the destruction and recreation of the universe. Everybody else remember the incursion, and that it ended; surely thinking that the Avengers simply saved the day somehow.
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Call of Duty: Black Ops takes place entirely from the perspective of SOG operatives during the Cold War, predominantly in Vietnam. In addition to taking part in openly historic events like the Tet Offensive, the player attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro (which fails), sabotage a Soviet space program (which succeeds), and uncover the truth behind a brainwashing scheme that he himself is victim to. The game even emphasizes its covert overtones by redacting the character, location, and date information displayed at the beginning of every mission.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II continues this trope before subverting it. Flashback missions show the previous game's protagonist unofficially fighting in African civil wars alongside Joseph Zavimbi and deposing/supporting foreign dictators (like Manuel Noriega), but his son, a Navy SEAL, fights off a VERY visible unmanned drone attack against Los Angeles thirty years later.
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In UFO, humanity is in a low-key state of war with the aliens operating the UFOs, who are constantly trying to infiltrate the earth and kidnap humans. Since revealing this to the public would case wide-spread panic, a top-secret organisation, SHADO, is responsible both for the actual fighting and for covering up all evidence of alien activity.
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In Beast Wars, the Decepticon Megatron's message mentions the conflict between the Earthbound Transformers being a secret war. However, while it was the case in early issues of the comic, it was dropped in later issues, and in the cartoon, it's anything but covert in their interactions with humans (and Beast Wars is intentionally vague about which version is their past). While this could be an error, it's possible in this continuity, the conflict truly was a secret war, with only a few human allies (including the Witwickys) as Secret Keepers.
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In Nomine is often described as a "secret cold war," with angels and demons fighting low-level conflicts behind the scenes of modern society, while waiting for the Apocalypse. Even religions that do believe in Heaven and Hell rarely have more than the vaguest idea of what's really going on, and both sides have explicit orders to keep it that way.
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In Hex Wives, a centuries long war has been waged between a constantly reincarnating coven of witches and all-male secret society known as the Architects. The story starts with the Architects having come up with a new strategy to remove the witches from the board: make them forget they are witches.
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The Ultimates: Although the final battle against the Chitauri is public knowledge, the one in Micronesia (where more than 20,000 agents died) remains classified.
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The Eugenics Wars went unnoticed by the population at large. When they saw the brushfire wars of the 1990s, they were really seeing the children of Chrysalis trying to take over the world.
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The war between the Old and New Gods in American Gods.
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The war between the Prophus and the Genjix in The Lives Of Tao, raging from the Spanish Inquisition to the modern day. Secrecy goes out the window when the Genjix openly attack Washington D.C. at the end of the second book. and the Prophus agents who survive tear down the Masquerade in retaliation.
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Chill. S.A.V.E. (Societas Albae Viae Eterniata AKA The Eternal Society of the White Way) does battle with supernatural creatures from The Unknown.
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GURPS Black Ops. The PCs all work for "The Company", a secret organization with the twin objectives of 1) Kill all the aliens/psis/monsters trying to take over and 2) Don't let anyone outside The Company find out about the aliens/psis/monsters trying to take over.
The Infinite Worlds default setting has the two factions of Centrum and the Infinity Patrol who oppose each other at every turn and vie for control and influence on low-tech worlds, all while trying not to be detected by the natives of that timeline and expose their own existence.
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The XCOM games revolve around an alien invasion of the Earth, which XCOM, as a top-secret organization, is attempting to fight while calling as little attention to itself as possible. Eventually, though, the aliens will begin launching terror attacks, openly striking in population centers in an attempt to drive up fear and cause nations to withdraw from the XCOM project.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown zig-zags this trope in the base game. XCOM is actively fighting the aliens, but is never officially acknowledged, presumably as a matter of security, and probably because its strike teams can cause a lot of collateral damage, and can't respond to every alien terror attack. The most you'll see are headlines in the Situation Room where civilians report glimpses of mysterious soldiers fighting aliens with advanced weaponry, or performing superhuman feats on the battlefield. Then the Enemy Within expansion plays this trope straight when XCOM comes into conflict with EXALT, an Ancient Conspiracy trying to use the alien invasion as a means to seize power. EXALT's agents never let themselves be taken alive and the group presumably has the influence to stay off the radar, so that when you eventually find and assault their headquarters, in the aftermath you'll hear a news report about a tragic fire in a highrise.
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The long conflict between the Dark and the Light in The Dark Is Rising series.
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In Unknown Armies this is the default state of the Occult Underground. Being composed of very driven, obsessed and, a lot of times, outright insane people, the Underground in most cities is either in constant conflict between the different cabals, or is just at the tipping point of an all out war.
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In The Librarians 2014, the Librarians have been at war with the Serpent Brotherhood for millennia over whether the Library's artifacts should be used to gain power (the Brotherhood wishes to use the artifacts, while the Librarians want to lock them away).
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Feng Shui has a secret war that spans at least four different junctures in time, along with the Netherworld that connects these junctures, each with their own different factions vying for the power to remake human history in their image.
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Call of Duty: Black Ops II continues this trope before subverting it. Flashback missions show the previous game's protagonist unofficially fighting in African civil wars alongside Joseph Zavimbi and deposing/supporting foreign dictators (like Manuel Noriega), but his son, a Navy SEAL, fights off a VERY visible unmanned drone attack against Los Angeles thirty years later.
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In the Assassin's Creed series, there is an ongoing, secret war between the Assassins and the Templars, which has been waged since the beginning of the human species, ever since humanity first rebelled against Those Who Came Before.
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Itsuki Koizumi implies multiple times that a particularly big and violent one is revolving around Haruhi Suzumiya in the titular series.
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The following is a list of statements referring to the current page from other pages.

 Secret War
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Star Wars (Franchise)
 Secret War
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Military and Warfare Tropes
 Secret War
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Speculative Fiction Tropes
 Secret War
processingCategory2
The Secret Index
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Secret War
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Secret War
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Secret War
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seeAlso
Secret War
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Secret War
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seeAlso
Secret War
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Secret War
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seeAlso
Secret War
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Secret War
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Secret War
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Secret War