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Victorious Loser

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"And so my king died, and my brothers died, barely a year ago. Long I pondered my king's cryptic talk of victory. Time has proven him wise, for from free Greek to free Greek, the word was spread that bold Leonidas and his three hundred, so far from home, laid down their lives. Not just for Sparta, but for all Greece and the promise this country holds!"
Dilios, 300

At one point in one character's life, things really go downhill for them. Either they're humiliated in public, their reputation ruined, people they're close to die, and, worst of all, they can never make those who make them suffer pay for their crimes, making the culprit a Karma Houdini. But...why is he happy? Why is he moving on with a smile in his face, as if nothing happened, or it's for the best? Perhaps he can exact revenge on the culprit and hit them with the hammer of karma as payback for making him suffer, but he chooses not to.

This is the Victorious Loser. He may have lost on the outside, but on the inside, he is victorious, and he knows it. Maybe his personality and conviction remains intact despite going through the conga lines of Humiliation or Trauma, or maybe the losses he suffers have no long-term bearing on his life, and he can go on living the way he does. Perhaps he realizes that the things on the outside don't matter as much as what's inside, or perhaps there is a greater good to be achieved by taking the loss as it is. It's even possible that he fears that achieving victory comes at the cost of his personality or mentality, and he wants to preserve them both, or perhaps despite his death, his philosophies will prevail, so while he might be on the backfoot at first (or dead), he will ultimately be the one who has the last laugh, as those who ridicule him would end up miserable, or unable to achieve their goal.

In short, the Victorious Loser wants to avoid unnecessary Pyrrhic Victories as much as possible. Sometimes, he has the mindset of If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!.

This may be the outcome of the nerdy heroes who endured bullies from the Jerk Jock or Alpha Bitch and eventually came out on top.

Honor Before Reason may be this, from the character's point of view.

Contrast Pyrrhic Victory. Compare Silent Scapegoat.

As this is an Ending Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Lelouch Lamperouge in Code Geass. After playing an evil persona for months and gets called out by everyone else, he lets himself get killed just so war will stop and opening a new road for possible peace. He may have been reviled as the most hated person in history and a loser in war, but at least his true goal is achieved.
  • Forest of Piano:
    • Shuhei is disqualified from the Chopin Competition early, but it allows him to develop his own piano and his own self-worth, and not having to live under his father's shadow.
    • Lech, during his performance, understands it was not his fault his sister fell into a coma. He wins third place.
    • Wei Pan, also learns of his own self-worth during his final performance, allowing him to move beyond his dark and troubled past. He wins second place.
    • Kai also qualifies for this in the first half of the series. He lost his first competition but realizes he simply must become better to win future ones.
  • Mikagami Tokiya in Flame of Recca, in the second half of the manga, had two cases of defeat and humiliation, turning into a Distressed Dude. All this could've been rectified had he been more cruel, like the way he was in the past, but doing so would turn him into a Revenge-obsessed man that he has refused to embrace in the end of the first half. This is later shown when one of the Quirky Miniboss Squad commented that by letting go of vengeance and also his suicidal tendencies, he is way stronger, and in the end, he avoids the mistake of killing his own grandfather and evolved into a more mature person in general.
  • In the Hatoful Boyfriend manga there is a chapter where Anghel has to take a test, and realizes as he struggles with it that the teacher has fallen asleep. He then struggles with the temptation to cheat, represented as demonic and seraphic figures each talking to him. Ultimately he does not cheat and flunks the test, but says to himself that he did not submit to temptation, and that is enough.
  • Averted by most of the 'good guys' in Hell Girl. In short, these characters have seen their life go so horrible that they turn to Hell Girl, seemingly victorious as their tormentor is quickly sent to Hell. But in turn, at the end of their life they too will go to Hell, thus submitting themselves into the defeat of equal torment.
  • Hunter × Hunter: It's shown a few times that Gon doesn't care if he's not able to complete a given objective just as long as he can be satisfied with a lesser personal goal. Like the time Gon refuses to accept Hisoka's badge so the latter punched him and forced him to accept it, which made him frustrated at his own weakness and become more reckless for the rest of the exam. Later, it's clear that Hisoka outmatches him in Heaven's Arena and he knows it, but he was able to punch him in the face the same way. He was to return the badge and satisfied at the outcome even after losing the battle.
  • Both inverted and subverted in Liar Game at the end of the Contraband Game. After Yokoya has made a large profit and is prepared to walk away with it, Nao points out that she is this trope and Yokoya is an inversion - a Non-Victorious Winner - because his victory didn't come from domination as he had planned. Yokoya agrees with this analysis and thus stays in the game. The subversion is that Nao's true goal, to save everyone, was not met at all with Yokoya making such a large profit at the expense of his teammates, so she pretended that she was a Victorious Loser in order to get Yokoya to stay in the game so she could win the money back from him.
  • When Naruto had to fight Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy Jerkass Neji and was uncharacteristically depressed, feeling he didn't have a chance, Fan of Underdog Hinata managed to give him his confidence back by telling him that what inspired her most about him was his ability to laugh in the face of his worst failures and keep on going. Her biggest compliment for him was that, to her, he was "a proud loser".
    • Made more notable by the fact that Hinata herself had just gotten out of the hospital after Neji almost beat her to death in the preliminary rounds.
  • One Piece has a scene where Luffy and Zoro are jeered and humiliated for their desire to go to the island in the sky (and for their seemingly undeserved bounties) but the two refuse to fight back. Zoro later tells Nami that if they had fought back they'd have later regretted lowering themselves to their level. Of course, when the pirates later attack their new friend...
  • Rising × Rydeen: Mikan loses the fight against Takara's team and per the condition has to becomes their new member. This lets her stay close to Takara, and since the team is quick to befriend her she gets new friends.
  • Rurouni Kenshin gives us a rare villainous example in the Big Bad of the Kyoto Arc, Makoto Shishio. He fails to achieve his dream of conquering and remaking Japan into a Darwinist, fascist military dictatorship where the strong have the right to abuse the weak. But, as the narration reminds us, his ideals would survive him, and cause great misery and sorrow.
  • The ending of Terror in Resonance. Nine and Twelve lost their lives, but they manage to successfully detonate an EMP destroying most of Japan and with the help of Shibazaki, they manage to expose the world the Japanese government's involvement of the Athena Project and the horrible experimentation Nine and Twelve had to endure.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Shou might've lost his duel against his brother in season two, but he proved he had a stronger grip on the respectful dueling concept than Ryou did in doing so. He proved that unlike his brother, he wasn't willing to abandon the respect concept just for the sake of victory.

    Comic Books 
  • The Batman Adventures: In one issue, the Riddler, tired of all his countless defeats to Batman, decides to go for One Last Job, and if Batman ends up thwarting him he retires for good. Batman spends the issue too focused on going after a bunch of other criminals going after the same score Riddler is to solve his new riddle, and while he does catch Riddler in the end, it's only because he happened to be going after the last of the criminals who was at the same scene of the crime. When Riddler discovers that Batman never actually solved it, despite failing his heist he still considers it a victory for him just for finally stumping Batman and ultimately decides not to retire.

    Comic Strips 
  • Ming in Safe Havens had her documentary nominated for an Oscar. She ended up losing, but didn't particularly care as she never cared for external validation in the first place, she still loved experiencing the spectacle and glamour, and she already had a bigger prize-her son, the topic of her documentary (specifically her pregnancy and giving birth to him).

    Fan Works 
  • Fighting Is Magic Tournament: Flash Sentry loses to Trixie but managed to destroy the Alicorn Amulet and free her from its influence. As such he considers himself the winner after all.
  • In Friendly Foreign Exchange Student Spider Man, this applies to Bakugo, even though he's doesn't see it. Despite suffering a rather huge Pride Before a Fall from a Curb-Stomp Battle caused by Peter in their climactic battle in the finale of the U.A. Sports Festival, all the latter did was proved the harsh words from the explosive teen beforehand to be correct (e.g. Real Heroes never lose and those who do are regarded as no more than trash), which causes Peter to suffer a lingering Heroic BSoD for an entire story arc soon after and realizing that he was never as altruistic or "sane" as he thought since his "death" in Infinity War.
  • Harry Is a Dragon, and That's OK: Cho Chang certainly thinks she is one at the final Gryffindor-Ravenclaw game in Harry's fifth-year. With Gryffindor too far in the lead for even a Snitch catch to allow Ravenclaw to win, she decides to catch the Snitch anyway so that neither team has an overwhelming point lead in the end, meaning that while Gryffindor wins the game, Hufflepuff (and by extension her boyfriend Cedric), who won their last game by a good-sized margin, takes the Quidditch Cup.
  • In Kara of Rokyn, Kara got her Champion belt literally beaten out of her by heel wrestler Jara, but her unwillingness to make her feud a public spectacle, her sportsmanlike conduct and her determination to step back into the ring win the public's hearts, which in turn helps her to win her title back.
    Even though Jasmine held the belt, Kara was the champion.
  • In My Dark King, Misty might have died in her Duel against Aki, but she dies with the satisfaction of successfully convincing Aki that she's nothing more than Divine's pet monster.

    Films — Animated 
  • Cars has Lightning McQueen stop just before the finish line on the final lap in the tiebreaker race at the end of the film after Chick Hicks wrecked Strip Weathers. While Hicks wins the race due to Lightning's reaction, the former is booed upon receiving the Piston Cup and passed over as the Dinoco sponsor car. Lightning, on the other hand, pushes Strips across the finish line before he himself crosses and is offered the spot of Dinoco's sponsor, which he and Hicks were both aiming for. Unfortunately, Cars 3 shows that Hicks got his own talk show which he often uses as an outlet to attack Lightning, meaning even after losing popularity, he didn't learn a thing.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Dark Knight:
    • Batman. The Joker has turned Harvey Dent AKA Two Face from hero to a madman, if this goes public, Gotham City would fall into despair. In order to prevent that, Batman takes the blame for Harvey's murderer and is considered a criminal. So although he physically lost to Joker (couldn't save Harvey, being considered a villain, and can't even kill Joker due to his No Kill Policy), Batman technically won, since he prevents Joker's idea of a mad lawless world, the thing that matters the most for him.
    • Batman also failed to interrupt Joker's "social experiment" where he set up two ferries with the means to destroy each other in a variant of the Prisoner's Dilemma. However, by letting the experiment run its course, which resulted in nobody choosing to murder the other, he proved that Joker's misanthropic worldview was wrong.
  • In the 1983 movie The Dead Zone, Johnny finally decides to kill Stillson. All is in place, he's got his gun, he's in the right position, but he misses. He gets fatally wounded, but until then, Stillson uses a baby as a human shield. As seen in his vision, this turns out to ruin Stillson's political career and drives him to suicide. Not as planned, but he's happy about it before he dies.
  • Strange's final gambit from Doctor Strange (2016) qualifies him as this. He can never hope to defeat Dormammu, the local Eldritch Abomination Dimension Lord of the Dark Dimension. So he forces Dormammu into a "Groundhog Day" Loop where Dormammu kills Strange over and over and over for all eternity. But that also means he's stuck with Strange.
    Dormammu: You cannot do this for ever.
    Strange: Actually, I can. This is how things are now! You and me. Trapped in this moment. Endlessly. (I can never win), but I can lose. Again. And again. And again. Forever. That makes you my prisoner.
  • At the end of Future Sport, as the losing team's boss is berating them for losing and essentially getting caught cheating, their one member who played fair for the whole match comes forward and announces their own popularity went up from the match despite being on the losing team, so they consider this match a victory. And they're leaving the team.
  • The ending of Real Steel. Atom just barely loses the big match against Zeus, but puts up an absolutely incredible fight that manages to knock the supposedly invincible champ down and give him a dose of Humble Pie. Much like Rocky, it wasn't so much about winning as going the distance, and while Zeus won the match, the crowd's cheers make it clear that Atom won the love of people.
  • Rocky loses by decision in both Rocky and Rocky Balboa in his saga, but his goal wasn't necessarily to win either fight; the first was to "go the distance" and prove to himself that he wasn't just another bum from the neighborhood, while his last fight was about going out strong and putting his old demons to rest.
  • In Rush (2013), Niki may have lost the 1976 Formula One world championship title to James, but he was alive to try again, and especially after his horrific accident at the Nürburgring that was more important to him. Besides, the real life Niki Lauda would go on to win two more titles so if anything it was more a setback than a loss.
  • Inverted in Seven Samurai for the samurai who may have won the battle and their reason for going to the village but don't gain anything for themselves. As Kambei points out the townspeople are prospering and planting while singing and nothing but cold graves or hunger and the road await the samurai. Saved from being a Downer Ending by Kambei's wise outlook and the amazing heroism of the seven.
  • This is how things end for the Resistance in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Yes, they lost their base, their entire fleet, countless lives, the majority of their pilots, and their most powerful ally in Luke Skywalker at the hands of the First Order. Yes, an organization that was once spread across three capital ships can now comfortably fit on the Falcon. But they inflicted heavy losses on the First Order as well, most importantly their two most dangerous Star Destroyers, an experienced stormtrooper captain, and even Snoke himself. Luke publicly embarrassed Kylo Ren and prevented the new Supreme Leader from finishing off the Resistance once and for all, likely causing him to lose a great deal of respect among his nominal subordinates and sowing dissent in their ranks. And most importantly, as the coda shows, the story of their heroism is spreading across the galaxy, inspiring countless people to rise up against oppression, and start to believe again that the First Order can be beaten.

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Tom Sawyer when he voluntarily takes the blame for a misdeed Becky Thatcher committed and got the most savage flaying Mr. Dobbins had ever administered.
    Tom stood a moment, to gather his dismembered faculties; and when he stepped forward to go to his punishment the surprise, the gratitude, the adoration that shone upon him out of poor Becky's eyes seemed pay enough for a hundred floggings.
  • The Deed of Paksenarrion: Paksennarion toward the end of Oath of Gold; she accepts being tortured by evil priests because it's the only way to redeem the evil priests' misguided followers.
  • In one of the Goosebumps books (How I Learned to Fly), Jack Johnson gains the ability to fly by reading a how-to book and creating a flying potion. He hopes to use this ability to finally beat his rival, Wilson, at something. Unfortunately, Wilson finds the book as well and challenges him to a race. Rather than use his flight to win, Jack pretends he lost the ability to fly. Wilson wins the race handily, but becomes a celebrity, and is closely followed by both the paparazzi and the government. Meanwhile, everyone else loses interest in Jack, so he's left alone and can fly unharrassed at night, which is really all he wanted anyway. For bonus points, he gets the girl they both wanted, while his rival has to move out of town to dodge the paparazzi and can't even have that.
  • In the short story The Smile of the Chipper by Isaac Asimov two "chippers" (quasi-hackers with the ability to subtly influence others' thoughts) are being considered for employment by the CEO of a company, who can only hire one. Over the course of the story, one of the chippers loses his (very attractive) fiancee, who ends up engaged to the other chipper. The CEO decides to hire the chipper who lost his fiancee, realizing that he wanted to lose her all along and the woman's perceived attractiveness had been a result of the chipper's influence.
  • The True Story of Ah Q gives a negative portrayal of this trope. The title character, Ah Q, is famous for his "spiritual victories". In order to save face, he deludes himself into thinking he had achieved victory when in reality he had been soundly defeated or humiliated. In one example, Ah Q gets beaten and his silver stolen. He then slaps himself in the face and declares himself to be the victor, since he was the one who hit him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Gomez Addams from The Addams Family is an attorney who takes gleeful pride in how many cases he's lost, mainly because winning against an Addams is almost always a horribly painful, if absolutely hilarious, Pyrrhic Victory. Oh sure, Gomez lost to you... but you'll wish he hadn't in the end.
  • New York in Flavor of Love competed in two consecutive seasons; she spent both of them being hated by just about all the other girls yet both times making it to the final round. Both times, Flav chose her opponent over her. In the end, Flav didn't stay with any of the contestants while New York was laughing her ass to the bank with her own dating show!
  • I Love New York: Both Real and Chance competed and made it to the final three. Both ended up placing in third and second respectively. At the end New York didn't stay with the winner while both brothers received a dating show of their own.
  • Lizzie McGuire when Kate broke the school founders bust, the principle will suspend the school party unless the one responsible steps forward, Lizzie decides to take the blame for it and is suspended from the party. But her friends told everyone that Kate really did it, and Lizzie took the blame for them, they instead moved the party to Lizzie's house, while Kate is all alone at school.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • Worf was forced to take familial responsibility for the Romulan betrayal of the Klingons at his home colony. Defending his family honor and providing evidence that it was the Duras family would have thrust the Klingon Empire into a full blown civil war. The Durassholes wound up getting greedy and showed their hand by allying with the Romulans to take over the empire, creating the very civil war Worf tried to avoid... And then said civil war ended with the House of Duras permanently discredited and the new Chancellor owing the Federation a considerable favour.
    • Picard tells a story of how he laughed when stabbed as a young cadet. This is is given more meaning when he is allowed to go back in time and try to stop the fight happening.
  • In Episode 3 of Victorious, Tori takes several detentions and a humiliating punishment rather than tell the school principal that Jade faked the injury Tori was accused of causing, despite having proof. When Jade asked her why, Tori said it was because she didn't want to fight with Jade all through high school.

    Video Games 
  • Ramza Beoulve in Final Fantasy Tactics, in the end of his whole quest to save the world and his sister... either dies or survives but leaves the country in obscurity. (Depending on your view. We now speak about the latter.) In the process, he is also branded as a heretic and villain by the Corrupt Church, but he wouldn't even bother clearing his name because he got what he wanted: life with his sister in peace, which to him counts as a victory. This is a direct contrast to his best friend Delita Hyral, who after losing his sister, changed from an upstanding soldier into one hell of a Manipulative Bastard... who eventually ends up Lonely at the Top with his Pyrrhic Victory.
  • By the end of the The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel saga, the true winner of the game is Giliath Osborne who manages to permanently get rid of his long time stalker, Ishmelga, the embodiment of the curse of Erebonia. All it took was a duel to the death with his son Rean and then instructing his son on how to fully take out Ishmelga which allows the party to permanently destroy him for good. This is without telling what his accomplishments are in the series and keeping in mind that he was deliberately trying to lose on purpose.
  • Milla Vodello in Psychonauts. Despite the fact that the orphanage she once worked for burned down, and all of the children in it died, she's moved on and become a much more cheerful person. Aggressively cheerful. While some think that she's really a Stepford Smiler, because she keeps her bad memories tucked away, her dialogue indicates that she's come to terms with her past, and has had a good life since then.
  • Lamia Loveless in Super Robot Wars: Original Generation series, for refusing the ODE's attempt to absorb her, was shot down by the ODE as an irregular that must be deleted. She was unable to repel it, thus she was defeated by it. Of course, she later came back and managed to help defeat her other manipulator Duminuss, but it is clear that she never have a clear direct shot towards the ODE who shot her down. But considering the ODE is doomed as Duminuss' eternal pawn and was even discarded, while Lamia could live on with her conscience left unscarred, she technically won. She also won against Juergen, whose body was used by the ODE to do the kill, because compared to her, Juergen's defeat, in form of the loss of his family, caused him to drastically change the ODE and was killed in result.
    • Thanks to a certain Drama CD and The Anime of the Game, The Inspectors, Axel Almer manages to run on this trope. General audiences knew that he lost his fight against Beowulf, but the Drama CD makes it clear that in a sense, Axel is the true victor, since he managed to wipe out Beowulf's death squadron singlehandedly, leaving him alone and putting him in a trap and in the same time, stalled enough time that his allies safely escape to the other side, and left Beowulf screaming in rage of defeat despite him kicking Axel's ass and be victorious in battle, since he let Axel succeed his true mission.
  • Subverted in Tekken. King's story in the fourth game revolves around him trying to avenge Armor King's death at the hands of Craig Marduk. He succeeded in beating Marduk within an inch of his life and hospitalizing him, but couldn't bring himself to kill Marduk, realizing that it would end up as an empty victory (besides, he had discovered that Marduk had a family). So although he didn't personally avenge Armor King by killing Marduk, he somehow has felt quite victorious that he beat Marduk in fair combat, and didn't dwindle into a Revenge-driven bastard. This rolls back in the later games where eventually Marduk is Easily Forgiven and becomes one of his allies.

    Visual Novels 
  • The end of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All has this. Phoenix happily accepts his first defeat because his client really did do the crime, for once. When Franziska — who comes from a family of lawyers who only care about winning cases regardless of the truth — berates him for losing his perfect status, Phoenix replied with "Perfection isn't everything."

    Web Animation 

  • The Order of the Stick
    • Vaarsuvius against Xykon. V doesn't accomplish the intended goal of destroying him for good, but does send Xykon's Soul Jar flying into the sewers, causes his right-hand-man to lose an eye, and rescues a prisoner who not only knows most of Xykon's spells, but is best friends with Xykon's secret weapon. It was also a good learning opportunity for Vaarsuvius, because the elf finally accepts not being all powerful, but also that power can take on forms besides powerful spells, and to not discount their victories. The second one, surprisingly, was taught to them by Xykon himself.
    • Tarquin invokes the trope, saying that, as an evil villain, if he wins against a hero, he'll get to continue being ruler of a nation. And if he loses, the battle will be so legendary that memory of him will live on and inspire other villains in his wake. The Order manage to Take a Third Option: they abandon the fight against Tarquin without resolving anything at all, leaving him furiously ranting at the "terrible ending" the story arc had. Though Roy does state that he intends to come back and help Elan defeat Tarquin once they're done with the more pressing matter of saving the world. Tarquin is an evil tyrant who does still need to be removed from power, after all.

    Western Animation 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic:
    • This happens in with Lightning Dust, who is stripped of her rank and expelled from The Wonderbolts in her introductory episode for her dangerous behavior. She goes on to start her own daredevil organization called The Washouts where she and her subordinates are not only allowed, but encouraged, to do dangerous stunts and get money and fame for it along with everything she wanted from The Wonderbolts. Even in the end when she gets her comeuppance for endangering Scootaloo more or less to spite Rainbow Dash, she's much better off than if she'd remained with The Wonderbolts and seems pretty content with how things turned out, taking her defeat in stride from her "rival for life" Rainbow Dash.
    • Iron Will was bested by Fluttershy in his first appearance when she took advantage of his "100% satisfaction or your money back" guarantee to beat him at his own game. By his second appearance he's learned from this and has a staunch no refunds policy which allows him to bounce with everyone's money even after the crowd turns on him for how he cashed in on Twilight Sparkle's popularity.
  • In Total Drama, one ending of the fourth season has Lightning beating Cameron. However, Cameron is happy because he isn't injured so much that he has to return to his bubble, and counts that as a personal victory.

    Real Life 
  • The Day the Music Died: Tommy and Ritchie Valens flip for a seat on the plane with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. Tommy lost the coin toss... and the plane crashed. Bit of a Downer Ending overall, anyway.
  • Jacky Ickx took second place at the 1970 Formula One World Championship and has stated he's glad to only come second because the winner was Jochen Rindt, who died midway through the championship, and he wouldn't have felt right taking the title from a man no longer around to defend it.
  • Despite the excitement he brought to the sport of professional boxing in the 90s, Naseem 'The Prince' Hamed left the sport humiliated after he lost his first career defining fight with Marco Antonio Barrera, or so the critics believed. According to Naseem, himself, he was already tired of boxing. He made more than enough money, unlike most top ranked prize fighters, and he was looking forward to being a father and a business man. There's even a documentary that goes into detail about the final days of Naseem's boxing career.
  • The Doolittle Raid didn't achieve any of its strategic objectives and not all planes could be recovered. However it scared the crap out of the Japanese. This fear lead to Admiral Yamamoto being pressured to take Midway island quickly and secure Japan's defensive perimeter. This battle would end with all of Yamamoto's carrier's being destroyed and the Japanese war machine being stopped in its tracks.
  • The 1956 Hungarian Uprising would end with the revolution being crushed when the Red Army intervened but it could be argued that it played a vital role in the fall of communism. First it would provide a model for the protests that would happen some thirty years later across all the Soviet satellites. Second it caused the USSR to double down on military security - and downright bribery as the "carrot" to the military stick - in the rest of the eastern block, the cost of which played no small part in the economic troubles that plagued Soviet Union that ultimately contributed to its fall.
  • The Finns would technically be considered to be on the losing side of the Second World War, as they lost territory. However they inflicted such staggering casualties on the Soviets to get that territory that no one has since seriously considered aggressive military action against Finland. Finland managed to become the only country attacked by the Soviets during the Hitler Stalin pact and the only country fighting on the side of Nazi Germany to still have basically the same form of government in 1946 that it did in 1938. And then Finland one-upped the whole thing by being directly next to the Soviet Union, having no official alliance with NATO and still outlasting any overt or covert attempts of the Soviets to make Finland their satellite.
  • Ultimately The French Revolution did not win. Napoléon Bonaparte took over and rolled back many of the advances that had been made. And after Bonaparte was gone, the same Bourbon dynasty that had been deposed took over again. The most egalitarian constitution never got enacted and those in any way connected to the "reign of terror" have gotten a Historical Villain Upgrade in pretty much every single work of fiction ever. But the ideals espoused by the revolutionaries - even the most radical ones - ultimately carried the day. The divine right of Kings is not seriously advocated by anybody any more and "one person one vote" is such an universally acknowledged principle that even dictatorships pretend to live by it. The French revolution was probably the most successful failure in the political history of humanity.
  • John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry was a disastrous failure and he himself ended up executed as a criminal, but the trial electrified opinions across the North and the world and Brown's defiant stance at the trial for his abolitionist activism became a potent symbol in the run up to The American Civil War where the song John Brown's Body became a popular marching tune, until Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn For the Republic" co-opted the tune with new lyrics. His actions, while still considered extreme today, are Vindicated by History:
    As summer turned to fall and additional recruits did not arrive, [John] Brown decided to go with what he had. A sort of fatalism stole over him. He wrote a "Vindication of the Invasion" in the past tense as if it had already failed. When he finally moved, in mid-October, he did so without previous notice to the slaves he expected to join him, without rations, without having scouted any escape routes from Harper's Ferry, with no apparent idea of what to do after capturing the armory buildings. It was almost as if he knew that failure with its ensuing martyrdom would do more to achieve his ultimate goal than any "success" could have done. In any event, that was how matters turned out.
    James McPherson, Battle Cry for Freedom.
  • Barry Goldwater did not just lose the 1964 Presidential election, he got clobbered. But his 40% to 60% defeat in the national popular vote and electoral landslide loss showed two things: First the South could be won by a Republican (the only states Goldwater won were his home state Arizona and Southern states) and Second there was a conservative movement in the Republican party. It took decades, but ultimately the Republicans took over the South and Conservatives took over the Republican Party. Without Goldwater, none of this would have happened.
  • In India, direct rebellions against The British Empire often met with failure but they nonetheless provoked major changes and upheavals, ultimately achieving its goal.
    • The 1857 Mutiny was a complex Gambit Pileup of multiple factions who barely tolerated each other and many of the mutineers were originally loyal Private Military Contractors serving the EITC as they invaded and annexed the Punjab and Sindh, the rebellion nonetheless failed despite attracting support from local Indian rulers who were chafing under British rule and it ultimately resulted in the permanent end to any future military threat to the Crown. However, the scale of the Uprising, the quickness of how it spread and level of support it attracted, led to the end of the East India Company, with the British Crown directly taking over and establishing authority in India, forcing them to reverse many unpopular laws that led to the rebellion and ultimately investing in the creation and patronage of an Indian middle class to make themselves acceptable. The 1857 Mutiny failed to liberate India but it did succeed in toppling the government and transforming India.
    • Subhash Chandra Bose is a highly controversial figure in Indian history, who was initially a popular leader of the Indian National Congress, and someone who wanted to put forth socialist policies to erode India's caste system and introduce gender equality, and he advocated building a national army to militarily liberate India, policies which made him unpopular with the liberal reformist Congress and the likes of Gandhi and Nehru who advocated "non-violent resistance". Frustrated at his inability, Bose turned to seeking foreign support from USSR initially, and then, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan by invoking Enemy Mine against the English during World War II, a policy that went nowhere until his death by plane crashnote . Bose's Azad Hind Fauz (Free India Army) was the first army of Indians, by Indians, with desegregated caste, religious and gender lines (which made him distinctly unlike his allies) and while it was a force too small to serve decisively, and was unpopular with the much larger contingent of Indians serving with Kipling's Finest, India's army formed after independence resembles Bose's army more than the English.
    • This was actually how Mahatma Gandhi's protest strategies and tactics worked. The goal of the protest was not as important as the scale, symbolic meaning and visibility of the movement, and its capacity to provoke Disproportionate Retribution from the English to put it down. Winning wasn't important as much as glorious defeat, and Gandhi measured the success of protests by the jails it filled up, the press it generated and the way it embarrassed the English, rather than its direct efficacy. This same tactic was later used by African-Americans in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • The Suez Crisis had Egypt in this position. Their military was defeated by the French, British and Israelis in the Suez Canal; however, they had gained political goodwill of the world, who saw them as victims of imperialist aggression. Especially prominent were the US and the USSR taking Egypt's side, where President Eisenhower condemned the invasion as a reckless act that could get NATO dragged into a costly war, while Khrushchev threatened to deploy nukes in the Middle East. This also turned Gamal Abdel Nasser into a hero for Third World nations overnight.
  • If the descriptions of the Mesoamerican ballgame that say the victors were sacrificed are accurate (descriptions vary and the actual practices may well have varied too), losing appears highly desirable from today's point of view. Sure you lose the game and miss out on a "great honor" but on the other hand you are still alive to tell the tale afterwards.
  • Germany's ability to come out of both world wars with a booming economy (well in the first case until 1929 anyway) compared to Britain's lingering problems which eventually reduced The British Empire to some rocks in the South Atlantic led to the frequent comment "Who won the bloody war anyway". True, Germany lost immense amounts of goods and people in wars it started, but given how they looked just a few years after the end of the war, it is hard to tell victors from vanquished.
    • Likewise with Japan post-WWII.
  • A case can be made about this regarding communism, which became defunct at the end of the Cold War. It lost the war, and failed in many of its goals, but historians argued that its original goals and ideas succeeded by being co-opted by Liberal democracies:
    "Admittedly, besides its moral failure, communism failed in its crusade to convert the whole world...But communism's impact was and still is enormous. In addition to provoking significant changes in capitalist economies, such as vastly increased military spending and the growth of a military-industrial complex, the USSR's existence changed Western social development in fundamental ways. Labor reform in the West in the past century came about under the threat of a radicalized international labor movement protected and supported by the USSR. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal was in part meant to steal the thunder of radicals who looked to Moscow and therefore could not be ignored. Social goals that are commonplace today, including women's rights and racial integration, were planks of the Communist Party platform long before mainstream American parties took them seriously. It was Communists who first went to the American South and began organizing African-Americans and poor whites around issues of social justice. The more politically acceptable young people who followed them in The '60s are heroes today. On the international scene the Soviet Union provided support for Nelson Mandela and other reformers. Communism made life difficult for Western establishments, and it is doubtful that reforms would have come when they did if the USSR had not existed ...Twentieth-century communism was no passing illusion; its legacies are everywhere."