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The writing reads, 'Day trip to Paris' and 'See you on the boulevard'. Harsher in Hindsight, indeed.

"Months earlier, when Siétamo was taken, the general commanding the Government troops had said gaily: 'Tomorrow we'll have coffee in Huesca.' It turned out that he was mistaken. There had been bloody attacks, but the town did not fall, and 'Tomorrow we'll have coffee in Huesca' became a standing joke throughout the army. If I ever go back to Spain I shall make a point of having a cup of coffee in Huesca."
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So you're at war, and you're preparing for a big offensive that will finally turn the tide in your favour. You have A Simple Plan for the whole affair, and your Redshirt Army far outnumbers the Mooks defending the city, bridge, fortress or whatever strategical MacGuffin you're planning to seize. You are all but assured that the upcoming battle will be a Curb-Stomp Battle in your favor... and you confidently announce, 'Nothing Can Stop Us Now!!' After all, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Quite a lot, actually. This trope is about overconfidence in a war situation, be it about the entire war or a specific attack – the point is that what is assumed beforehand to end in a quick and easy victory will turn into a long and grueling battle (or even a quick and easy defeat) instead. If it goes really wrong, it could end up as a Shocking Defeat Legacy. This makes any statements of confidence about the matter, such as "Tomorrow we'll have coffee in Huesca" in the page quote, a lot Harsher in Hindsight.

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Very often Truth in Television. Compare It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Fan Works 
  • Along Came a Spider: The Clans' leaders plan assumes that they'll require only a fraction of their forces to sweep across the Inner Sphere due to their superior training and weapons. It doesn't quite work out that way

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Discussed in the opening narration of A Bridge Too Far: 'The plan, like so many plans in so many wars before it, was meant to end the war by Christmas and bring the boys back home.' See below for Operation Market Garden, the Real Life example on which this film was based.
  • In Stalingrad, one of the German soldiers says they'll take the city in three days. In three weeks, the city still won't have fallen. In three months, most of the soldiers will be dead.
  • Lampshaded by Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind: "Poor devils. They were gonna lick the Yankees in a month."
  • General Hancock makes a similar comment from the Union perspective in Gettysburg.
  • In The Worlds Fastest Indian, which takes place in the mid-60s, Burt Munro picks up a hitchhiking American airman who's on leave. The airman describes how they're going to start using something called "Agent Orange" in Vietnam, and it should end the war in six months.
  • This happens in Troy with the Greeks being confident that the titular city will fall within days. Instead, it takes far longer than that, and many Greeks are killed before Troy falls. However, the condensed time frame omits the full ten year long conflict.
  • In Octopussy, Soviet General Orlov tries to convince the Politburo that the Red Army can win a conventional war against NATO within five days.
  • Discussed in Australian film The Lighthorsemen (1987). When a soldier snaps at the New Meat, "What do you know about war?", the man snarks back that at least he didn't think it would be over by Christmas.
  • They Shall Not Grow Old: Actual veterans of WWI recount in voice-over how they figured that a British soldier is worth 10 Germans and so the war would be over quickly. One veteran recalls how worried he was that Britain would win before he saw any combat.

    Literature 
  • In the Discworld book Jingo, the Upper-Class Twits leading the Morporkian army thought that they'd have a jolly good time teaching the Klatchians a lesson, that the enemy would run at the sight of their steel, and that they'd be home by Hogswatch. This despite the fact that they were badly armed, hopelessly outnumbered, and the Klatchians who actually saw their steel tended to start sniggering. Later in the book, one character bemoans that "We were going to sail into Klatch and be in Al-Khali by teatime, drinking sherbet with pliant young women in the Rhoxi," mirroring the confident statements of some WWII soldiers that "We'll be drinking coffee in Berlin by teatime."
  • In The Short Victorious War, The People's Republic of Haven leaders decide to resort to war against Manticore. A short, victorious war, they believe, will both distract the proles from their current economic problems and allow them to use the riches of the Manticore system to prop up their welfare state. Needless to say, the war is a disaster for Haven and ends up lasting for almost 20 years. They even lampshade this with a quote from V.K. Plehve (see the Real Life section below), providing the Title Drop for the book in the opening epigraph, followed by a quote from Robert Wilson Lynd:
    "The belief in the possibility of a short decisive war appears to be one of the most ancient and dangerous of human illusions."
  • The page quote is a fine example from the Spanish Civil War, as recounted by George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia.
  • After the break-out from Normandy and a two-hundred mile blitzkrieg that took British forces to the Dutch border against a disintegrating German Army, the tank crews of Mailed Fist felt they could well be home by Christmas 1944. This hope was dashed by Monty's Arnhem failure and shattered by growing German resistance.
  • In the opening chapter of Without Remorse, Colonel Zacharias has just finished his bombing run and is heading back to base, thinking that his tour will be over soon and he'll be home from Vietnam by Christmas. He promptly gets shot down and spends the next fifteen months as a prisoner of war.
  • Andrey Livadny's Dabog describes the start of what would become known as the First Galactic War (to be fair, though, the scale of the war is far from "galactic", being limited to a few dozen systems and involving only humans). Earth Alliance President John Winston Hammer decides to send a powerful strike fleet to perform a preemptive strike on Dabog, one of the more prosperous of the colonies, in order to show all the colony worlds that Earth is the center of human space. Hammer's goal is to force the colonists to accept the millions (if not billions) of people that need to be resettled in order to relieve the overpopulated Earth. At this point, the colonists don't even know about Earth Alliance (they're all Lost Colonies, who haven't yet regained contact with their homeworld). While the fleet is on the way, the troops boast about how they'll beat those "stinking" colonists silly for daring to hog their lands, while Earth is an overpopulated hellhole. The EA admiral is also confident that there's nothing the colonists can do against such an overwhelming force. The fleet arrives in Dabog orbit and "announces" itself by nuking two large cities on opposite sides and landing troops. Unfortunately for them, the Dabogans had to reinvent certain pieces of technology to handle the planet's harsh climate and large dinosaur-like predators. This includes developing Walking Tanks with superior mobility that turn out to far outclass the more traditional vehicles used by EA troops. After being forced off the planet by "a bunch of farmers", the furious admiral orders the planet sterilized with massed nuclear bombardment, hoping that the other colonies will see this as a valuable lesson. Instead the other colonies band together and form a unified force that ends up resisting the EA juggernaut for nearly 5 decades and eventually takes the fight to Earth itself. On the one hand, Earth ends up being no longer the dominant force in human space, being replaced by the Confederacy of Suns, based in the colonies, on the other, Hammer's initial goal of reducing Earth's population ends up being reached, just not the way he intended. The massive casualties on both sides and the steady flow of people fleeing the technological destruction results in most of Earth's population either dying or leaving. Centuries later, Earth is populated by a few hundred million people with most of its cities are abandoned and overgrown. Meanwhile, the name "Dabog" stands for defiance in the face of overwhelming odds, and the still-radioactive planet remains the silent monument to the fallen.
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    Live-Action TV 
  • The final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth (the fourth and last Blackadder series, set during World War I) features characters making remarks like "It's ice cream in Berlin in 15 days", "See you all in Berlin for coffee and cakes", and "We'll be sucking sausages in Berlin by teatime!" about the upcoming battle. Eventually Blackadder hangs a lampshade on this by snarking, "I hope their cafés are well stocked; everyone seems determined to eat out the moment they arrive."
  • Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: during a two parter where a cast member's brother is being held hostage in Afghanistan, we see a Flash Back, during which the President of the network (who was only a VP then) opines that the war will be over in a month.
  • The Battle of Serenity Valley in Firefly was assumed by Alliance command to be an easy victory. Though the Independents would ultimately lose the battle due to massive Alliance air support, the browncoats were nonetheless able to hold the Alliance for far longer than anyone thought possible (the fact that the Alliance had to call in the air support was a victory of sorts). Unfortunately, it's implied that the "victory" in the valley was ultimately disastrous for the Independents, who surrendered not long after.
  • In the NCIS episode "One Shot, One Kill", a Marine recruiter tells a pair of nervous potential recruits, "What with boot camp, S-O-I, follow on schools... we're talking over a year and a half of training. Iraq will pretty much be over by the time you boys graduate." The episode aired in February of 2004, and Reality Subtext ended up putting that assertion squarely into this trope.
  • In the opening scenes of the German miniseries Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter, five friends have one last drink in Berlin. Two of them are leaving for service in Operation Barbarossa, one of them has volunteered to be a nurse on the front, another is an aspiring singer, and the last one is Jewish. They leave, hoping that by Christmas, Russia will be crushed and all of them will be reunited in that bar. The war ends four years later, Germany is defeated, and two of the friends don't make it back.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Dominion found its hopes for a quick victory smashed by being cut off from reinforcements. Then after the Breen join, they again start to dream of a quick victory, but again the situation is turned around. On the other side of the battlefield, Gowron also kept thinking his incompetent tactics would lead to swift victory.
  • There are a few examples of this in early episodes of Enemy at the Door, with the Germans fresh from rolling over France. In "Steel Hand From the Sea", Reinicke expresses confidence that they will be in London before the summer's end.
  • Anne Frank: The Whole Story. When announcing the D-Day landings, the BBC assures those living in occupied Europe that "1944 will be the year of your liberation!"

    Music 
  • "I'll Be Home For Christmas" by Bing Crosby is about a World War 2 soldier who writes to his family about how he'll be home by Christmas. At the end of the song he says "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams", admitting it's unlikely he really will be home by Christmas.
  • Subverted in the anti-war Protest Song Stop the Cavalry by Jona Lewie - the line Wish I was at home for christmas not only shows the singer realizes how unlikely it is, but also ensures this song will be played year after year in winter.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The BattleTech universe certainly has seen its share of this trope. Two large-scale examples — smaller ones abound, but these are really just perhaps the two biggest ones in the entire history of the setting — would be the Reunification War (as initially viewed by the newly-minted Star League) and the Clan invasion of the Inner Sphere (from the original point of view of the Clans); needless to say, neither actually worked out that way.

    Video Games 
  • Often happens in Real-Time Strategy or Turn-Based Strategy games when a player attacks another player or an AI opponent with an army which is slightly too small.
  • Halo:
    • The Covenant believed that their war against humanity would be a short venture. Instead, the war would drag on for another twenty-seven years, and contribute to a series of events that would divide Covenant society to the point of Civil War.
    • In the opening cutscene of Halo Wars, Cutter notes that humanity themselves initially expected to easily retake Harvest from the Covenant. Instead, the Harvest campaign became "five years of Hell".
  • The opening of Hogs of War, as with any other War Tropes parodied, literally ends with this: "With some luck, it will all be over by Christmas". The obligatory Harsher in Hindsight part comes when, in the ending, we find out that the glasses-wearing soldier seen in the opening got dumped by his girlfriend and is now homeless due to his house having been destroyed during the war.
  • As revealed by backstory fluff, the Taiidan Empire from Homeworld attacked Kharak in the belief that a short victorious war against the surviving Hiigarans, ancestral enemy of the empire, would have quelled the internal opposition by both finishing the job with their most hated enemy in history and showing the might of their all-powerful emperor. Not only the destruction of all life forms of Kharak triggered the revolution and civil war (as the people realized their ancestral Hiigaran enemies had forgotten the treaty forbidding them from using hyperspace technology ever again that they had broken), but some Kushan, the descendants of the Hiigarans, had survived, and would cause the collapse of the Taiidan Empire by killing the emperor in battle. On a smaller scale, the fleet that laid waste to Kharak met with much more opposition than expected and was forced to withdraw before destroying the sleeper pods in orbit. The Kushan mothership ended up catching up to the damaged fleet and obliterated it in retaliation for Kharak.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Cailan is confident that his forces and the Grey Wardens will be able to stop the Blight in one epic battle at Ostagar. That...doesn't end up happening, due both to King Cailan's stupidity and Loghain's treachery. The trope is also inverted by the end. Blights usually last for years or even decades — the first Blight lasted nearly two centuries because the Wardens hadn't yet discovered how to end Blights. The Warden and their allies end the Fifth Blight in less than one year.
  • At the beginning of the second The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel game, the rebels are certain that the war will be over within a month or so (to be fair, the surprise attack they launched at the end of the first game was so successful that they had good reason to believe so). A month later, the rebels have lost the war.

    Web Comics 
  • In Crimson Dark, at the beginning of the war, the CDF proudly proclaimed that it would be over in three weeks, because that's the time it takes to jump from Daranir space to the Cirin homeworld. It's been over a year since then.

    Web Original 
  • In the story "Heart of the Lion" from The Wulf Archives, the White Empire attempts to conquer the Veldt Lands in order to enslave the natives. This "quick campaign," led by an arrogant Upper-Class Twit by the name of Lord Heatham, fails miserably — less than half of the forces fielded actually make it to the battlefield due to adverse sea conditions and local diseases on land, and the battle with the Sholanti ends with everyone on the battlefield (except the protagonist) slaughtered to a man.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "Tales from the Public Domain," Homer starts the Joan of Arc story by saying the Hundred Years War was originally called "Operation Speedy Resolution."

    Real Life 
  • At the start of The American Civil War, both sides assumed it would end in a quick victory. Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker even predicted he would be able to mop up all the blood spilled with a handkerchief. The fact that Fort Sumter surrendered without any casualties from the shelling contributed to this idea. Instead it killed more Americans than any war before or since.
  • In 1903, on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War, V.K. Plehve, Russian Minister of the Interior, said: 'What this country needs is a short, victorious war to stem the tide of revolution.' The war was neither short nor victorious for the Russians, and the first Russian Revolution came in 1905, immediately after the war, partly because of the war itself, to be followed by two more in 1917.
  • All sides at the outset of World War I were confident that their soldiers would come home victoriously within months. While the 1916 Olympic Games in Berlin were cancelled, planning continued well into the war because it was not expected to last that long. Instead the war lasted four gruelling, blood-soaked years.
  • At the beginning of the Winter War, Stalin was expecting Finland to surrender in a couple of weeks - after all, it was a small backwoods country up against a world power - but the war went on for three and a half months and ended in a Pyrrhic Victory for the Soviets: they did force the Finns to concede their border territories, but at a huge cost in both lives and international prestige; the Red Army griped, "We won just enough territory to bury our dead." In addition, this "victory" was the key reason Finland allied with Germany in World War II as Churchill and Roosevelt had refused to tell Stalin on behalf of the Finns to give up his ambition in the country, considering him too vital an ally (the Finns even call it the "Continuation War").
  • Subverted in the early stages of World War II, in that Germany really did conquer much of Europe without much effort. Both the Polish and Western campaigns were completed and won well before Christmas of their respective years. Played straight when they advanced against USSR. Despite suffering severe blows at first, Russians quickly recovered and met the onslaught with fierce and, as Germans themselves admitted, surprisingly (given their lackluster performance in war with Finland) capable resistance. The Blitzkrieg was essentially dead by the August, and the meat grinder settled in.
  • Russia believes that the Chechen rebels would be mopped up quickly, but the result was a long and bloody war that ended in humiliating defeat for the Russian army, ultimately doing little more than showcasing that the once-feared Red Army was not even a shadow of its former self.
  • Before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, one Arab general infamously claimed, "This time next week we will be eating lunch in Tel Aviv." Turns out, not so much.
  • During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese predicted that Shanghai would fall in three days. However, they were not prepared for the strength of their opposition, including a million of Chiang Kai-Shek's elite soldiers trained by German advisors. It took three long and hellish months involving fierce urban warfare before Shanghai finally fell. Then there was the entire war itself; the Japanese were confident that they could take all of China in three months, or at least force a surrender in that time. Instead, China held on for 8 years, tying down half of the Japanese Army until Japan's surrender following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the prospect of a Soviet invasion of the home islands.
  • During the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur was quoted saying this almost word-for-word about the progress of coalition forces, despite Chinese troops having already crossed the border and successfully ambushing UN forces. Because the Chinese troops retreated after running out of logistics. MacArthur assumed the UN forces' massive advantages in firepower and air support would mean that his "Home-by-Christmas Offensive" would easily succeed. Instead the Chinese army launched a second, even larger offensive that drove the UN out of North Korea and turned the war into a bloody stalemate.
  • A complaint occasionally fielded about the American public about the War on Terror was that the initial organizers vastly underestimated its length and complexity despite warnings from US military officials that they were in for a very long campaign. Only two months after the invasion of Iraq, President Bush declared that major combat operations had concluded in Iraq with his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech. The Iraq War would actually continue for another eight years. The greater War on Terror, begun in 2001, is still ongoing.
  • While no timetable was ever mentioned, American War Hawks at the beginning of the War of 1812 declared the conquest of Canada to be "a simple matter of marching." All invasion attempts ended in failure, though the Americans did succeed in burning York (now Toronto), the capital of Upper Canada... which led to the British and Canadians burning Washington, D.C. in response.
  • When Suleiman II began the first siege of Vienna in 1529, he sent a letter to the defenders saying that he'd have his breakfast within the city walls in three days. Three days later, the Viennese sent back another letter telling him that his breakfast was getting cold.
  • The battle against the Islamic State is currently still on-going, but Iraq said they were going to "retake Tikrit from IS in a week." The battle for the city ended up lasting a month and a half.
    • And now, Nigeria is claiming that they'll push out Boko Haram in about a month.
  • Subverted during the last leg of The Vietnam War. When the final offensive began in December 1974, the North Vietnamese declared that they would win the war by Ho Chi Minh's birthday (May 19). They captured Saigon, ending the war, on April 30, 1975. This was helped by how the South Vietnamese military completely collapsed during the early weeks of the campaign, beyond what the North had expected.


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