It's time for the Second TV Tropes Halloween Avatar Contest! Details here
Won the War, Lost the Peace
"Conquering the world on horseback is easy. Dismounting and governing it, is not."
"This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years."
— Ferdinand Foch
So, you won a war, you bask in the glory of victory, and all that stuff. But when you finally get over all this excitement, you realize your problems still aren't solved; perhaps you were too noble for your own good
, or your strategic genius doesn't extend to politics
. In any case, your enemy has already regrouped and is ready for another turn, like nothing happened. Yeah, that's it. You won, but you totally botched the peace talks, or didn't care to finish off what you've begun.
A close relative of Pyrrhic Victory
; the difference is in that Pyrrhic Victory
is a victory achieved through an exertion a bit too big to bear, while what we think of here is a victory that is squandered.
If you wish to add examples from Real Life
, try to keep it as straight as you can, as otherwise there'd be way too many of them. And, well... You know the trade.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- This problem frequently plagues the X-Men, particularly when they're against anti-mutant crusaders.
- Star Wars: Legacy in the Sith-Imperial War the Galactic Empire has defeated the Galactic Alliance, but almost immediately the Sith quickly turned on the Empire splitting it in two, the Sith and the Loyalists.
- In the movie Black Rain, Japanese detective Masahiro Matsumoto tells American Cowboy Cop Nick Conklin that this happened to the US after World War II.
I grew up with your soldiers; you were wise then. Now - music and movies are all America is good for. We make the machines, we build the future, we won the peace.
- Charlie Wilson's War suggests that this is what happened in Afghanistan (see below):
Charlie Wilson: These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world... and then we fucked up the endgame.
- This is what The Clone Wars turned out to be for the Republic and Jedi in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. In spite of many victories, it was all Palpatine's Evil Plan to kill off as many Jedi as possible and corrupt Anakin, it also allowed Palpatine more popularity, allowing him to begin The Purge and become Emperor.
- Arcia Chronicles: In the second duology, based heavily on the Wars of the Roses, Alexander (Richard of Gloucester's expy) wins the war against Ifrana (France) for his royal older brother Philip (Edward IV), but Philip then signs a strategically poor peace treaty (Treaty of Picquigny) with King Joseph (Louis XI) that gives large momentary gains to Arcia and more than enough time to prepare for retaliation to Infrana. What's more, it does a great job estranging Alexander from Philip.
- Lord of Light has an inversion. The protagonist loses the battle of Keenset, but as an eventual result of it his "Accelerationist" viewpoint that technology should be shared wins the day over his opponents' "Deicrat" viewpoint that this is dangerous, as the battle weakens them enough that they can't maintain the same level of strict technological control as they were accustomed to.
- John Christopher's The Tripods trilogy ends with the group defeating the Tripods, and then having to try to tame humanity itself.
- Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy is based on this. In the first book, they defeat the Evil Overlord. In the second and third books, they deal with the consequences.
- In Honor Harrington, the ceasefire between the Star Kingdom of Manticore, led by High Ridge government and The People's Republic of Haven, led by Oscar Saint-Just, is an example for Manticorans. Despite being on the brink of total military victory, the new government following an assassination accepts Saint-Just's proposed ceasefire, then drags on the "negotiations" for several years, in the process screwing up their own military, and giving the next Havenite government plenty of time to build up their military, catch up some technologically, and get good and pissed off that Manticore is stringing them along. When the war inevitably restarts, it starts with Haven at a huge advantage.
- The Witcher: The Elves are against the Northern Kingdoms who oppressed them and broke their forces in a war centuries ago with Nilfgaard, first as guerillas, then openly. When the Emperor finished his conquest, he gave them a little independent state as promised, but naturally this enclave was a weak partner of an overlord whom they couldn't oppose in any way, humans in all affected lands switched from occasional prejudice to deep hatred and... the peace was marked by delivering the most aggressive ones to the offended sides — who didn't just immediately execute them.
- This ends up biting Robb Stark in the ass hard in A Song of Ice and Fire. He wins every battle he leads against the Lannisters, but dealing with his own bannermen is a hell of a lot harder, especially after he chooses to disregard his oath to one of them to marry his daughter, having fallen in love with another. This eventually results in him getting stabbed in the back.
- This is essentially what happened to Robert Baratheon after the Robert's Rebellion was over and he was crowned king of Westeros. A decent general and a great leader, but a lousy administrator and politician, it Robert took another war (the Greyjoy rebellion) to actually consolidate his kingship. Control of the seven kingdoms slipped out of his grasp due to courtly intrigues he did nothing to rein in, and upon his death his heir was left with only the Lannisters as allies while all the other great houses rebelled or stayed neutral.
- Daenerys Targaryen also deals with this after leading her own crusade through the slaving cities. Once she settles in Mereen, she hears stories of atrocities carried out in Astrapor, the first city she liberated, and realizes that Mereen is in its own state of fresh chaos. She decides to put the whole "retake the Seven Kingdoms" thing aside until she can maintain some order in her new kingdoms first. She explicitly considers a training run so she knows what she's doing later, and as expected things go badly.
- Even the Lannisters suffer badly from this. They may have nominally 'won' the War of the Five Kings, but by the time the war reached its conclusion, Joffrey, Tywin, and Kevan are dead, Jaime is maimed, Myrcella is disfigured, Tyrion has been driven into exile and the recently humiliated Cersei was left alone left to govern for her weak-willed young son Tommen. By the end of Dance of Dragons, the Lannisters are under attack from an enormous Greyjoy fleet, the remnants of Stannis Baratheon's army and Aegon Targaryen returned from exile. There is a strong possibility of Dorne, Daenerys and the Others joining this list. All this while winter has come and their alliance with Highgarden grows more and more fractured.
- The downfall of Númenor as described in the appendix to The Lord of the Rings. The Númenóreans assemble a mighty army and invade to attack Sauron. Sauron surrenders and is carted off in chains to Númenor, where he becomes Ar-Pharazôn's evil counselor, egging him on to attack Valinor. This does not go as planned...
- The Third Age prior to the events of The Lord of the Rings is a three-thousand year version of this. The Last Alliance defeat Sauron at the end of the Second Age, but Isildur fails to destroy the Ring, which leads to the estrangement of Elves and Men and his untimely death, which itself causes the split of Arnor and Gondor. Arnor ends up fragmenting into smaller states and slowly being gobbled up by Angmar, with the Elves only helping when it is destroyed, while Gondor spends centuries fighting the Easterlings, Haradrim and itself, leaving it a shadow of its former self by the time Sauron rolls round again.
- Machiavelli points out in The Prince that a Prince who was won a war and want to avoid be perceived as cruel will left the opposition live. This inevitable concludes in a later war, disorders and a lot of people dead. So, the paradox is that a Prince who truly wants to won the peace must crush the opposition (but not the general populace) fast even when the war has already been won, so all their subjects cannot see any hope in opposing their new ruler, and don’t waste time and effort trying it and truly accepting the new peace.
- As if it were that simple. After all, people will seek revenge on slight injuries, for major injuries they cannot. Thus if you cannot harm your enemies to the point where they can never strike back (ie. you have conquered a nation only partially, with lots of armed family members of your subjects living outside your reach) and/or they don't have particular animosity towards you (maybe their previous ruler was even more evil and incompetent to boot, it is wiser to give them well-calculated gifts rather than attempt a massacre. The point is to avoid half-assing things - if you give them both the reason to fight you and let keep their footing, they will fight you. If you can take at least one of those away (and keep it away), they won't bother even trying.
- Referenced in Guards! Guards! as a common problem of revolutionaries. One minute everyone is cheering the overthrow of the tyrant, and the next everyone is complaining because nobody's picking up the trash.
- Happens in Heimskringla's "Saga of King Harald Hardrada", where Harald fails to conquer the Kingdom of Denmark, even though he is almost always victorious in battle against his rival Svein Estridson. The trope is lampshaded and discussed later by Earl Tostig of England in conversation with Harald, when he points out that Harald's failure was solely because of his lack of favor with the Danes, who clung to the popular Svein in spite of defeat.
- In the World War books by Harry Turtledove, a group of aliens invade Earth in the middle of World War II. The aliens prove to be so politically naive and diplomatically inept that at one point Josef Stalin tells his Number Two Vyacheslav Molotov that as long as the Lizards cannot achieve complete victory in war, they will certainly lose during peace time.
- He's proved right: by the time of the final book in the series (set forty years after the initial four books dealing with the invasion) Earth culture is invading the Lizards' one, their military position on Earth is weaker than ever, and the US, having developed FTL travel, have technologically outpaced them.
- The novel Xala by Senegalese author Ousmane Sembène is set just after Senegal gains independence from France, and satirises the failure of post-colonial African governments to improve the lives of their people.
- Brought up early in Maoyuu Maou Yuusha as one of the Demon King's arguments for peace with humans. Even if one side were irredeemably evil and killing them was fully justified, in the aftermath their lands and resources would swell the influence of the most greedy and corrupt, while regions dependent on wartime trade would have their economies collapse and rebel, leading the winning side to tear themselves apart.
- The Treaty of the Iersen Bridge in A Song For Arbonne ceded all the northern lands of Gorhaut to Valensa in exchange for money, dispossessing a significant part of Gorhaut's population and squandering the victory in the actual Battle of the Iersen Bridge. The shameful deal motivates many Gorhautians: some want to restore Gorhaut's honour, others just treat it as opportunity to invade the titular Arbonne.
- After the first war with Voldemort in the Harry Potter novels, many of his top followers were able to bribe their way out of prison and were quickly reestablished as pillars of the community. By the time Voldemort returned, they were effectively running the government, making the Death Eater takeover pathetically easy once Voldemort finally decided to move.
Live Action TV
- In the back story of Revolution Sebastian Monroe and Miles Matheson fought a series of brutal campaigns to pacify most of the American Northeast and Midwest and bring the territories into their new Republic. However, with the wars won they quickly realized that they were over their heads when it came to actually governing a new nation in a world without electricity. Monroe became more tyrannical and brutal in his rule and a disenchanted Miles decided to just walk away from the whole enterprise since he would have been just as bad a ruler as Monroe. By the time the series has started the Monroe Republic is a technologically backwards place that is on the verge of being attacked and defeated by its more advanced and better ruled neighbors.
- In Urinetown, after Cladwell is deposed and the toilets are free again, things go downhill pretty quickly as without Cladwell's rationing, all the water dries up.
- Forgotten Realms has a civil war variant — Ten Black Days in Tethyr. With the backing of Guilds and mafia-like Knights of the Shield the monarchy was overthrown and the nobility nearly exterminated. The net result? De-facto a 20 years long Civil War: a swarm of petty warlords, marauders and unholy priesthoods all over the place and 200 people who tried to rule the whole land in this time. Monsters grew bolder. Tethyrian economy, let alone populace, was devastated. Then a force who united at least some people appears, wipes out monsters terrorizing the capitol, and the same people scream "All hail Queen Zaranda!" till their throats are raw.
- In Traveller Intersteller Wars the Terrans defeated the Vilani only to find that they simply did not know how to rule thousands of planets. As a result the whole system disintegrated.
- Warhammer 40,000: The Imperium "won" the Horus Heresy, and despite devolving into a fascist nightmare they're doing their damnedest to not lose the "peacetime". So far they've managed to mostly hold together for eleven thousand years, but they have no idea how much longer they'll be able to last.
- The Simpsons: Bart imagines himself as King David, ruling high on the hog after killing the giant Goliath. After Goliath's son, Goliath II, beats Bart/David up and takes over, Bart/David goes through some Training from Hell to kill Goliath II and reclaim his kingdom. Except it turns out that the Israelites were so happy with the work Goliath did as their king, so now Bart/David has got himself a nation full of enemies who put him on trial for assassination.
- Many historians speculate that Alexander the Great would have fallen victim to this trope if he ever stopped his eternal campaigning and actually tried to govern the lands he conquered. The fact that his empire fell apart almost immediately after his death seems to support this speculation. Although some historians have leveled the failure of Alexander's empire as his subordinates not having nearly the same level of charisma and leadership abilities as their now dead master, only Alexander's cult of personality could keep his empire together. As Alexander the Great died at 32, way before his time, there is no way of knowing if Alexander could have prevented the fall of his empire.
- This ended up being the downfall of the House of York. By 1461, the Lancastrians were a spent force. Their king was captured, their queen was in hiding, and their generals were dead or captured. London was firmly in Yorkist hands and Edward of York had been crowned Edward IV. Unfortunately for him, he inherited a country run by a Dysfunction Junction of noblemen who represented the worst of feudalism. His main benefactor, the Earl of Warwick, was alienated by the King's refusal to marry one of his daughters, rather than the Lancastrian widow who became his queen, and raised a rebellion with the help of his transparently treacherous younger brother George, which briefly put Henry VI back on the throne. Edward got the throne back, in battle, but he could never quite achieve enough political control to ensure a smooth succession. Two years after his death, the House of York was ousted, and a rejuvenated Lancaster, under Henry Tudor, reclaimed the throne and established the House of Tudor.
- The peace treaty ending the Polish-Soviet War. The Polish government was dominated by the Nationalists, who wanted only as much territory as it could be assimilated into Poland, as opposed to commander-in-chief Piłsudski, who wanted as much ground as he could to make it allied buffer states. So, the Poles took less than the Reds were willing to offer.
- The main problem was that both Germany and the Soviet Union felt that Poland had taken too much and wanted "their" territories back, so there was a strong possibility of another Russo-Polish war in any case, no matter how many territorial gains the Poles were able to enforce with French support.
- Post-WW2 Britain lost its Empire and was forced to surrender its status as a world power to America. The economic problems caused by the War are more in the realm of Pyrrhic Victory, though.
- For the Western Allies as a whole, there was some bitterness over the European situation after the war. The Cold War was obviously on-coming, and absolutely nothing could be done to prevent Stalin from assembling the Eastern Bloc given the world has just exhausted itself defeating the Axis.
- In the case of Germany and Japan, who lost WWII utterly and completely but became stable, functional democracies with incredibly powerful economies, you could argue that they Lost the War, Won the Peace. Some of their former opponents thought that the opposite, i.e. this trope played straight, applied to themselves.
- It can also be agreed that USSR won the war - and certainly gained influence and superpower status - but lost the peace in the long run. USSR had suffered horrendous losses both economically, materially and in manpower that it took her decades to recover, and even then the inefficient central planning economy, authoritarian government and keeping up the humongous conscription army drained her resources for good. Already in the 1970s the situation was evident.
- The Iraq War was an easy military victory for the US-led coalition. However, political miscalculation, poor planning and a chaotic post-war situation meant that stabilizing the country still hasn't been accomplished. Given the amorphous nature of terrorism (especially given that occupying military forces mostly encourage more terrorism), this has been suggested to be the only outcome of the Afghanistan War and Iraq War.
- The Persian Gulf War was pretty much this. It accomplished nothing meaningful except for inflaming already growing resentment of America in the Middle East, leading to 9/11 and The War on Terror.
- This is a popular stereotype of how Bulgaria's wars end. This arose from two events, and really the only ones that actually happened: the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 (when Russia assembled a vast alliance of Balkan states to fight against Turkish control of the Balkans and independence for Bulgaria and managed to do the nearly unthinkable by pushing into the very suburbs of Constantinople... right before the Congress of Berlin forced the allies to yield most of their gains back to Turkey) and the First Balkan war, in which Bulgaria shouldered some of the heaviest burdens, but its allies got most of the territory, causing them to fall out over the spoils. Then things went From Bad to Worse.
- The other half of the stereotype, of course, is the inversion. Bulgaria was the only Axis power to come out with territorial gains from the Second World War, regaining the ethnically-Bulgarian Quadrilater/South Dobruja and winning the peace despite losing the war.
- Of course, it should be pointed out Bulgaria did not declare war on the USSR and only made a token declaration on the Western Allies. Its participation in the war was mostly limited to gobbling up territory from Greece and (pre-Axis) Romania.
- This was the common opinion of the Congress of Vienna, which ended the Napoleonic Wars and established a new status quo for Europe. Justified or not, virtually every party felt betrayed by some portion of the outcome. note On the other hand, the system established in Vienna proved able to preserve peace in Europe for a long time, at least until the revolutions of 1848. In particular it is notable that the Vienna system managed to avoid a major European war over the revolutions of 1830 and 1831 and after the Oriental Crisis of 1840, when the government of France was itching to compensate for its loss of face in Egypt by starting a war to "regain the natural frontier" on the Rhine.
- Before 1814, Revolutionary and Napoleonic France proved itself incapable of concluding a lasting peace, which led Prince Metternich to tell Napoleon during his negotiations in Dresden in the Summer of 1813 that all his peace treaties had just been armistices.
- The Vietnam War is a complicated matter to be certain. While it should be noted that the American Military never lost a single battle it ever engaged in with the Vietnamese enemy, having a higher win-loss ratio than its enemy proved to be an indecisive manner of victory. The Americans underestimated how durable the spirit of their Vietnamese enemy was, that they wanted to win far more than we wanted them to lose, a prolonged war and large casualties would not be enough to stop them. The political mess this ended up becoming made the Americans head back home, because the cost of victory was way too high. However even with the Americans out of their hair, governing the new Communist Vietnam was not easy for the victors. There were rebels to quell, and even a war or two with its neighbors to the East before things became truly stable. After all that fighting with the Americans peace did not come easy for the Vietnamese.
- For the Americans themselves, who technically won the war, also were pretty bad off. The war brought distrust of the government, a generation of young men dead, wounded, or mentally scared for life. Even our main objective, stopping the spread of communism south, was only delayed for a few years.
- American Military never loosing a battle during the Vietnam War is a common myth, but just a myth. For details, see here.
- The jury is still out on The War on Terror, but the outlook isn't rosy. The primary goal of the War On Terror has thus far been achieved: the security of the United States, though at the cost of dancing distressingly close the limits of constitutionality (whether the line was actually crossed is a matter of interpretation; what is undisputed is that it has been extremely unpleasant for all involved), and the thousands of lives lost and tens of thousands wounded, plus billions and billions of dollars. And with Iraq's and Afghanistan's democratic governments in ever-more-dire straits, it seems disappointingly likely that the secondary goal to create stable democracies in the Middle East will fail.
- In general, there is often a feeling that the military "successes" of the US have only placed it in a worse position, as military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan has merely created a new generation of terrorists who loathe America for killing innocent family who played no part in Al Qaeda. Not to mention, the fear of terrorism that gripped the country following 9/11 has lead to an increasingly pervasive surveillance state; and given the militarization of US police departments, some would say we're on our way to a police state.
- This seems to be the case for a lot of modern day coups and revolutions. Hoping (perhaps) to use other successful revolutions, the two major ones that stand out are the American and French (which is a borderline case anyway), as a source of inspiration, many of these countries fall into relative disarray shortly afterwards. But perhaps a cause why many of these revolutions fail is because they weren't led by people who actually know how to run a country (or any large body of people). As one historian put it "They win, have a big party, wake up with a hangover, and ask 'Now what?'" The Libyan civil war may be given a an example. Although the anti-Gaddafi forces had won, and Gaddafi is dead, the country is left in disarray with the new government now trying to restore proper order while fighting rival militias.
- This is becoming an increasingly popular consensus among historians regarding the Paris Peace Conference that ended World War I. In the end what the Allies produced was, to paraphrase the words of Ferdinand Foch, "Not a peace treaty, but an armistice for 20 years." When it was all said and done, everyone on both sides had reasons to be resentful of the treaty, either because they were ignored entirely (Soviet Russia, China), they gained something from it but not all they wanted (Italy, Japan, France) or they lost everything (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Turkey), and thus, instead of making peace, it only really sowed the seeds for more conflict.
- Italy's case is particularly notable, because the lack of some gains (namely Istria, Dalmatia and some of Germany's African colonies) was caused by both the incompetence of the Italian delegation *and* Woodrow Wilson's stubborn refusal to award them the former two regions. The diplomats walked out in protest when the American president tried to stop the acquisition these Austro-Hungarian territories and did not rejoin until he had failed, by which point the German colonies had already been assigned. That (along the appalling economic situation) nearly caused a three-way civil war between the Italian government, war veterans on the anarchist side and war veterans on the far right side (with at least one incident where far right activists and Royal troops nearly fired on each other), and paved the way for the rise of Fascism.
- The underlying problem here was often that many of the victors immediately got into conflicts over territories and spheres of influence with each other, e. g. Italy and Yugoslavia, Poland and Czechoslovakia, France and Great Britain (over parts of the former Ottoman Empire and also over the policy towards the new Turkish state). Another problem was that the League of Nations and the European system of defense treaties was irreparably weakened by President Wilson losing his domestic support, which led to the United States refusing to ratify the peace treaties or to join the League.
- Italy's conquest of Libya in 1912. The actual invasion and defeat of the Ottoman forces was relatively easy, given the difference in firepower between the Italian invaders and the Ottoman Army, supported by the local tribes. Then corruption and incompetence among the bureaucracy prevented the defeat of a revolt in southern Fezzan when it was still small, the attempt at defeating it in open field ended in defeat due a combination of incompetence on the part of the Royal Army's upper echelons (who failed to provide the Italian or colonial Eritrean troops needed to do the job) and arrogance of the field commander (who could have still won the day or limit the damage had he not brought too many supplies with him) - therefore, by the time Italy entered World War I the Italians had been forced to the coast. They eventually managed to "pacify" the colony, but only in the early '30s and after a long, bloody and expensive war of reconquest.
- The American Civil War only looks like a victory for the North if you end it when Lee surrendered to Grant at the Appomattox Court House. However, the actual war was followed by the twelve-year-long Reconstruction Era, which was a definite victory for the South. For those twelve years, the South was more-or-less under martial law with Northern troops forcing the Southern states to observe reforms being made by the federal government, such as black men being granted the right to vote. There was massive resistance from the South, including the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan. Eventually, Reconstruction grew expensive, so the North basically gave up and left. At the end of the day, the South got pretty much everything it wanted, with slavery traded for segregation and black suffrage taken away through a set of sneaky laws known as Black Codes, or Jim Crow laws. These included but were not limited to poll taxes, literacy tests, and having to guess how many items were in a full jar — but you were exempt from these tests if your grandfather had been eligible to vote, which mean all white males were in and black males were out. This situation lasted for almost one hundred years, until the Civil Rights Movement picked up in the 1950s.
- Slavery itself really didn't end. It was replaced with "prison labor," with all kinds of new laws targeted at blacks (requirements for jobs they didn't have, to be literate even though just a few years before they would face all kinds of punishments if they tried, or just flat out pay off debts that didn't exist). The white judges and all white juries would convict any black man that came into the court. The worst part about this was, slaves were an investment, prisoners are expendable.