Won the War, Lost the Peace

"Conquering the world on horseback is easy. Dismounting and governing it, is not."

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.

Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Navy of One Piece experience this after winning the Paramount War against Whitebeard;
    The Navy's victory did not necessarily bring peace. The death of Whitebeard caused a power vacuum that threw the oceans into further turmoil.
  • Played for Laughs in Maken-ki! In episode 9, the boys declare that the swimming pool should be coed, while the girls want segregated pools at the previously all-girls school. So they decide it by having a water calvary battle. In the end, the boys do win, but then the girls make one of the boys turn them invisible, so while they can hear the girls playing in the water, the guys can't see any of them.
  • The Universal Century setting of the popular Gundam franchise is plagued by this. The One Year War from the first series is followed by multiple smaller but still extremely destructive conflicts going hand in hand, each as a result of the previous conflict and the actual issues which led to the war are often not resolved. Additional side stories between the major series further add conflicts which create a more and more bleak picture of the Universal Century.
    • The Cosmic Era of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED is not much better seeing two major world endangering conflicts in just 2 years and each series also ending without the actual issues being resolved.
  • The early second season of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is all about this. Hot-Blooded lunatics highly skilled at piloting enthusiasm-powered mecha work great during war, but during peace they work as well as you expect.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.

    Film 
  • 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.
    • This is a chronic problem for the Star Wars universe in general, as the two major Force-wielding orders are caught in a cyclical religious war and Cycle of Revenge for over 20,000 years. One side fights the other to a handful of scattered survivors who go into hiding - sometimes for decades, sometimes for centuries - rebuilding until they have enough resources to take revenge and fight the other side down to a handful of scattered, angry survivors who have every intention of repeating the cycle. The Muggles end up as mere cannon fodder and casualties in the crossfire of the Jedi-Sith religious war.
  • Explored in Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Cap took down the Red Skull and the Allies won World War II, but Hydra would ultmately prove that "Cut off one head and two more shall take its place" was no idle boast; by infiltrating SHIELD from the beginning, they came closer to success than any villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date.

    Literature 
  • Arcia Chronicles: In the second duology, based heavily on the Wars of the Roses, Alexander (Richard III'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. They ultimately make peace and sign a military alliance thanks to the discovery of a common enemy and the most audacious diplomatic gambit ever seen in the series — and by "diplomatic gambit" we mean "the President of Haven shanghaied most of her Cabinet and paid an entirely unannounced call on the Queen of Manticore" — but not before a cataclysmic attack on the Manticore System guts both navies and leaves hundreds of thousands dead.
  • 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 was only the outbreak of another war (the Greyjoy rebellion) that allowed Robert to actually consolidate his grasp on the throne. 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 this 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 inevitably 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.
  • This is the focus of the second half of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. The rebellion overthrows the tyrannical Lunar Authority months earlier than they had planned to, and thus find themselves in charge with nothing in place to govern themselves. This forces them to improvise by, among other things, pretending to Earth that the Authority is still in charge so they don't send attack ships to end the new government before it can begin.
  • In the Animorphs Spin-Off novel The Ellimist Chronicles, the Ellimist seeks to end a war between two planets by creating an impenetrable Asteroid Thicket between them, forcing the two sides to call off the war because their ships are no longer physically capable of prosecuting it. He returns after a Time Skip to discover that rather than end the war, the Asteroid Thicket gave one side the idea to plant Space Mines in the other planet's path, nuking the enemy into extinction. Suddenly without an enemy, they fell into civil war and ended up bombing themselves to a preindustrial state.

    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.

    Theater 
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
    • Imperium doesn't seem to make it work with the Tau Empire. Imperium wins most major military engagements, but Tau get more and more ground by diplomatic means and by attacking poorly defended regions when Imperium is sufficiently distracted. Also Tau technological growth easily outpaces the Imperium's one (which used to rival/surpass the Tau before they lost it all).

    Video Games 
  • In Bravely Default, you are supposed to awaken 4 crystals in about 5 different worlds so that Airy the evil bug monster can help her master Ouroborus awaken and consume all worlds. Instead, you can blow up the crystal, perhaps not stopping her in the long run, but it is satisfying since it completely pisses her off.
  • Suikoden III: Used to set up the Backstory and opening chapters. The tribes of the Grasslands are brokering a cease-fire with the Zexen Confederacy, but neither side really respects the other. When the Karayan chieftess sends her son to the capital, the council takes great joy in jerking him around and demonstrating just how powerless they see him as. Then to add further insult, they attempt to kidnap and hold him hostage.

    The Flame Champion didn't do much better. While he brokered a secret peace treaty with the Holy Kingdom of Harmonia, the Harmonians are simply waiting for it to expire, positioning their agents so that they can act the moment it expires. He also failed to get them to release the tribes they'd already conquered, leading to Le Buque and Franz's situation in the main game.
  • Each of A.S.P. Air Strike Patrol's normal endings, in which the one or more of the Force, Supplies, or Opinion Ratings were too low to get the Golden Ending, result in this. The Zarakis are defeated and the war ended in victory, but (depending on which meter was low) a Closing Scroll will narrate the disastrous effects the war has had on your country.
  • Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy is a remake of Ace Combat 2 that ties the game's events more closely into Strangereal's timeline. During the debriefing for the final mission, unit commander Ulrich Olsen explains that defeating the Usean Rebellion has led to a state of "armed peace" as the rebelling countries of USEA will seek to expand their military, and that another war looms on the horizon—a Call Forward to Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies.
  • In the backstory of Skyrim, the Empire managed to drive out the Thalmor from Cyrodiil, but were unable to secure true victory because the Legion was in no condition to continue. The best the Empire could manage was the White-Gold Concordat, an uneasy treaty/cease-fire that banned Talos worship. The Stormcloaks couldn't accept that and started a civil war in Skyrim. No one is under any illusions that the peace with the Thalmor will last either, and there are many hints in the game that the Thalmor are preparing for another war and are working behind the scenes to weaken the Empire. Even the Stormcloaks' civil war is just another Thalmor scheme against the Empire.
  • Happens to the Dwarf Fortress Succession Game Waterburned. One overseer crushes The Legions of Hell and establishes a small colony, but hands over the reins to his successor before any of the actual governing starts. Cue an earwig monster kicking down the doors and the colony being sealed off until some other crazy bastard sets up shop down there.
  • In Saga Frontier 2, Kelvin manages to outlast Cantal and claim Hahn Nova for himself, but two years after his victory, his alliance crumbles and the world descends into complete anarchy anyway.
  • In the backstory for Kanako from Touhou, it's written that she had conquered Suwako's realm in a war, but found out that she couldn't get its inhabitants to worship her, and had to ask Suwako to come back to reign alongside her.
  • In many Paradox Interactive grand strategy titles, Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis,, Victoria, and Heartsof Iron, winning the war often results in a hollow victory. You gained a single province at the cost of most of your manpower, political relationships are in ruins, your economy is in shambles, people are at the brink of revolt, or your vassals decide the time is ripe for a new king to rise.
  • Killzone is one long string of phyrric victories lined up in a row, but the cake-taker with losing the peace added is the ending of Killzone 3. The heroes manage to stop the new big bad Stahl from deploying his super weapon on Earth to kill billions of civilians, by destroying his cruiser above Helghan. The heros are about to cheer, having just managed to end the war... only to watch in horror as the super weapons on the exploding cruiser goes off in Helghan's orbit and the entire planet is turned into a wasteland in literally seconds, with almost no survivors, signaling the birth of a new age of terror. The end result is an unholy peace treaty, turning the heroes' capital planet Vekta into a refugee camp for the Helghast. Neither side takes losing their home planet well and Vekta is thrown into a state of cold war between them.
  • Guild Wars 2 has several examples of this between it and the original game. After the Destroyers were driven back the races became complacent thinking it was the end of the threat in the Dwarven prophecies, rather than preparing for the Elder Dragons. The original fanatics behind the Ministry of Purity were defeated and it was reformed, but the hardline ideals the founders espoused persisted and led Cantha into a dark age of racism, xenophobia, and oppression. Jalawa Poko used the freedom he received in exchange for defeating Abaddon to reform his armies and successfully conquer Elona.
    • Also between the two games, Prince Edair of Kryta allied with Ebonhawke and pushed back the charr in Ascalon... but despite his victories, he didn't make much progress and ruined Ebonhawke's chances for peace with the charr for another century, until just one year before Guild Wars 2. All of this "just so a human boy could play with real soldiers instead of wooden ones". Then he attempted to reclaim Lion's Arch for Kryta, and would have got this trope again — a resentful conquered city royally pissed off for expunging all its non-human population — if a sudden attack by Orrian Dead Ships hadn't forced him to ally with Lion's Arch instead.
  • Attila the Hun of all people believes it is your fate after you defeat him in Civilization V.
    Attila: It is easy to take a land by force but not to rule it. You have won half the battle, but the hardest part is yet to come.
  • This nearly happens to the Bureau of Internal Investigation in Escape Velocity Nova — as part of their schemes to place themselves as the The Men Behind the Men of all humanity, they help arrange a war between the Federation (the government the Bureau ostensibly answers to, and the first to be suborned) and the Polaris (the last remaining independent power, and a very powerful one at that). Thanks in much to one of the Bureau's agents, the Federation wins... followed by the Polaris using the Bureau's inability to directly control the Federation to put forward a peace proposal that is highly favourable to the Federation but has clauses that (without actually saying so) would allow the Polaris to subtly work against the Bureau's control over the Federation. The Bureau ends up having to bomb the peace conference and restart the war to ensure the peace is in line with their goals.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • 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.
  • The Wars of the Roses kept restarting all the time because no one faction was able to build a lasting peace.
    • 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.
    • The principle reason was the constant redistribution of land between various lords, barons and magnates after the defeat of their faction in one rebellion or another. Richard III on his accession had hoped to avoid this but even he had to transfer Northern magnates in Southern lands after ousting the Woodville faction. The end result ironically was that the constant land exchanges over time made the Royal Crown the biggest landowner (since they claimed land for which no dispute could be resolved and with the constant deaths and in-fighting this was easy enough). Henry Tudor, reclaimed the throne and established the House of Tudor and he put a stop to all the land-exchanges and used his old base to build a solid centralized monarchy.
  • 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.
    • 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, in addition to the burden of reconstruction in various Warsaw Pact countries (and then supplying them with subsidized energy to keep them on the USSR's side). The start of the nuclear arms race also put them to invest into military expenditure which despite being cut back by Khruschev in The Fifties eventually ballooned out of control under Brezhnev and his successors, which coupled with some military failures paved the way for the eventual fall of the Soviet Union.
  • 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 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 Bonaparte 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 won the majority (though not all) of individual battles they were involved in, they never achieved a decisive victory. The Americans underestimated how durable the spirit of their Vietnamese enemy was: they wanted to win far more than the Americans wanted them to lose, meaning that a prolonged war and large casualties were not enough to stop them. The Americans eventually headed back home, the cost of victory being too high and substantial political pressure building against the war. However, even with the opposing force 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.
    • Americans themselves were left pretty bad off. The war brought distrust of the government, a generation of young men dead, wounded, or mentally scared for life. Even their main objective, stopping the spread of communism south, was only delayed for a few years and eventually the theory behind that intervention was discredited when Communist Vietnam invaded Communist Cambodia ended the Khmer Rouge's genocide and fought Communist China (Allied with America and Cambodia) in another brief war.
  • 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 to 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 (as illustrated here), some would say they're on their 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 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 Muammar Gaddafi was dead, the country is left in disarray with the new government now trying to restore proper order while fighting rival militias.
    • Philippines' peaceful EDSA Revolution did overthrow then President Ferdinand Marcos for abusing his power during the Martial Law era. But as two decades past, the country is still suffering from corruption and decadency which doesn't help that Marcos' wife and children are elected in several government positions with the son running for vice-presidency for the 2016 elections. Several political analysts noted that incompetence and the lack of political will in the previous administrations resulted the current state of the country and people who were born after EDSA became cynical and disillusioned on the price which the revolution left for them.
  • The Paris Peace Conference that ended World War I is commonly regarded as this, though why it was lost and who is to blame is a subject of debate.
    • 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 (Russia, China), they gained something from it but not all they wanted (Italy, Japan, France) or the believed they lost everything (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Turkey), and thus, instead of making peace, it only really sowed the seeds for more conflict. Not to mention that the various governments reasons for going to war, stiffling internal dissent, cracked with the rise of Red October, greater demand for democracy at home and in the colonies.
    • 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 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.
    • The case of Germany was long argued by John M. Keynes who felt the treaty was overly punitive to Germany and unfairly targeted their economy and held them guilty for the war. This argument was rebutted by Etienne Mantoux, a liberal French economist who died in La Résistance. Mantoux pointed out that the reason the peace the failed was because other governments were too lenient on Germany which had an economy that could have easily paid the reparations to no point. Mantoux also noted that Keynes' beliefs of the war hurting Germany's resources and economy is not borne out by statiscal examinations of their output in The Twenties. Furthermore, as later German historians such as Hans Mommsen have admitted, the Treaty of Versailles became a rallying cry among Nazis and other nationalists, and internalized by leftists and liberals, because it never categorically and fully extracted responsibility for the war from Germany. Other historians have pointed out that from a strategic point of view the treaty actually made Germany a lot stronger than before the war. While its army was almost entirely disbanded and they lost some territory, they kept pretty much all of their industrially viable territories and population so they could easily rebuild it. Their entire eastern frontier was also no longer covered by two huge empires that could keep it in check and replaced by several smaller, weaker states with their own internal and external feuds.
  • 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 despite being won by the North was eventually reversed by the South via Jim Crow.
    • 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. The Klan and associated goon squads in effect to harass and disenfranchise black voters were shut down after Ulysses S. Grant sent reinforcements. However, the North and the Union lost interest in Reconstruction by the end of Grant's tenure, with fence-sitters and other liberals no longer feeling content to stand up for African-American suffrage.
    • 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 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.
    • Neither was it a true victory for Southern Whites. Some members of the planter elite who formed the aristocracy were dispossessed of their lands, and since the US government abolished slavery without compensation (the Confederates who fired on Fort Sumter spat on Lincoln's mercy when he offered this, which put this forever off the table), they were never quite able to properly replace their losses and industrialize. The sheer scale of destruction and the economic tumult basically destroyed the independent yeoman class, which was seen for a hundred years prior as a bastion of American Republicanism, as previously self-sufficient farmers were forced into a sharecropper system that essentially amounted to economic serfdom. If anything the Scorched Earth policies of Sherman may be a case of Gone Horribly Right, with the economic damage being so horrific that only in the closing years of the 20th century would citizens of modern Southern states achieve economic parity with their pre-Civil War ancestors.
  • This article goes into extensive detail about how this happened to ancient Sparta; while their rigid social castes and harsh internal pressures produced the peerless military elite of their era, it also meant that they were utterly unable to adapt and maintain a stable empire — after their overwhelming victory over Athens in 404 BC, they wasted their strength on internal political struggles, offended literally everyone in the region with their arrogance, and ultimately set themselves up for total defeat from which they never recovered mere decades later.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WonTheWarLostThePeace