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Won the War, Lost the Peace

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What comes next?
You've been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You're on your own (Awesome, wow!)
Do you have a clue what happens now?
Oceans rise, empires fall
It’s much harder when it's all your call
King George III, "What Comes Next?", Hamilton

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 bungled the endgame negotiations, your enemies are still strong, 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. You won, but you totally botched the peace talks or didn't care to finish off what you've begun.

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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. A Myopic Conqueror tends to experience this as well. For someone who fought and had trouble adjusting, see No Place for a Warrior.

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. Also, you know the trade.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: The Kingdom of Midland in the Hundred Year War. Griffith and his Band of the Hawk win the war for Midland by recapturing the strategic fortress of Doldrey from the Tudor Empire, forcing the Empire to sue for peace on terms that give back the territory they had occupied. While this historic victory earns Griffith the gratitude of the King and the people, who look forward to a new era of rebuilding the country's prosperity, the benefits of this peace are already threatened from within by the Queen, Minister Foss, and their disgruntled noble conspirators who want to assassinate Griffith and restore the hereditary control over the military and government that they used to exercise before that common mercenary leader's rise marginalized them. Even though Griffith succeeds in eliminating this nest of vipers through counter-intrigue, he brings about his own downfall by deflowering the King's daughter, Princess Charlotte, a Tragic Mistake he made because Guts defeated and left him in what would turn out to be his own Tragic Mistake. The formerly good King devolves into The Caligula as he moves to imprison Griffith under torture and destroy the Band of the Hawk, and after Griffith's followers manage to break him out of prison, he wastes his kingdom's resources trying to find the disappeared Griffith while his subjects are dying in droves from famine and plague. This state of affairs creates the perfect opportunity for the Kushan Empire to conquer Midland virtually unopposed.
  • In One Piece, the Marines and World Government experience this after winning the Summit War against the Whitebeard Pirates. Their victory did not bring peace as the death of Whitebeard created a power vacuum in the New World that other big-name pirates would fight over. Whitebeard's last words confirming that, "One Piece does exist", inspired a second Great Age of Piracy even wilder than the one started by Roger's last words, and the large casualties the Marines suffered during the conflict meant that they were severely understaffed to deal with the sheer amount of pirates. All of this combined caused the world to fall into chaos over the two year timeskip, so much that the Marines were forced to institute a Worldwide Draft to conscript more people just to get the manpower necessary to police the world's oceans, and even that is implied to still not be enough.
    • Before that, the execution of the Pirate King Gol D. Roger became this, as the execution was supposed to serve as an example to others in order to suppress piracy in the world. Instead, Roger's final words spurred a frenzied search for his lost treasure that created the Golden Age of Piracy.
  • 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 by having a water cavalry 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 Gundam franchise
    • The Universal Century setting is plagued by this. The One Year War from the first series is followed by multiple smaller (if for no other reason than the fact that having a second war on the scale of the OYW less than a generation later would likely render humanity extinct) but still extremely destructive conflicts going hand in hand. Each is a result of the previous conflict and ends with the issues which led to the war being left unresolved. 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 both series ended without the underpinning issues being resolved.
    • Inverted by the finale of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. Tekkadan lost to the Arianhrod Fleet in the final battle at Mars, but has managed to limit their casualties to a few actual combatants (including their Gundam pilots); with half of Gjallarhorn's Seven Star families gone, Rustal was forced to abolish the system in favor of a more democratic setup, while reducing the organization's control over the Mars colonies, allowing the formation of the Martian Union and the abolition of the heinous culture of Human Debris alongside Kudelia.
  • In Saga of Tanya the Evil, after Tanya defeats the Republic and occupies Paris, the Empire agrees to an armistice with them and refuses to let Tanya destroy their fleet at Brest before they can escape. The Republic's remaining military forces flee to Algeria and vow to continue the war, just as Tanya had predicted they would.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann gives us a downplayed example in the early episodes of Season 2. Hot-Blooded badasses are vital during crises and wartime, but as rebuilders of society, it's a mixed bag to say the least. Rossiu is the only one who really knows what he's doing (though Leeron is still engineering and Yoko became a teacher.) Simon is only a bit better off than the others and that's mainly because of Rossiu. Deconstructed since this leads to escalating tensions when the Anti-Spiral shows up and Rossiu's pragmatic decisions just bite them in the ass and Simon has to save them all. Everyone does acknowledge and knows Rossiu was doing the smart thing, though Rossiu is so consumed by his guilt that he nearly kills himself out of atonement before Simon snaps him out of it. By the end of the second season, most of the veterans are dead with Simon becoming a wanderer and letting Rossiu and the survivors lead humanity. Even in the second film (a retelling of the second half) where there are more survivors (only Kittan's death remains), things still play out similarly, though Simon also lives to accomplish Nia's goal.)

    Comic Books 
  • This problem frequently plagues the X-Men, particularly when they're against anti-mutant crusaders. Every battle they fight against anti-mutant forces, they end up hated more and more by even more radical groups in response to their victory.
  • 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.
  • Usagi Yojimbo is set in Japan towards the end of the 16th century, shortly after one of the many warring daimyo manages to cement his authority as shogun, and return the realm to an approximate state of peace. This, of course, means that the warlords' armies are disbanded, leaving legions of samurai unemployed and unemployable in honest work and so turn to banditry, providing an inexhaustible supply of mooks to terrorize villages and get cut down by Usagi.

    Fan Works 
  • Essentially the premise of The Night Unfurls. The advent of the Good Hunter leads to the defeat of Olga Discordia, hence the end of a centuries-old war. However, Olga is revealed to be the Disc-One Final Boss, with Vault immediately seizing the opportunity to rally the Black Dogs and the orcs in the North and declare war against Eostia. There is also the implication that Vault has spent an ample amount of time garnering support from prominent members of the nobility and clergymen within Ken, even during the centuries-old war. Securing long-lasting peace in Eostia has never been more difficult than ever before.
  • In Innocence Once Lost, the ponies and humans signed a peace treaty after the war, but there are extremists on both sides trying to restart the conflict.
  • The premise of the Fire Emblem: Three Houses Continuation fic To Those Who Are Never Going Home is that Edelgard and the Empire have won the war, but 15 years later Edelgard has completely failed to uphold her promise to wipe out "those who slither in the dark" and Fódlan is once again a house of cards waiting to collapse.
  • In Towards the Sun, the war is finally over, great! Now the Gaang, a bunch of kids with no political knowledge or experience, are playing ambassador trying to hash out a peace treaty with recently crowned new Fire Lord Zuko, who they don't trust. Not great. What's worse is that things are so screwed up at the end that Iroh's usurpation of Zuko's throne has pushed the Fire Nation into civil war, which means no reparations to the Earth Kingdom, which means no food since Ozai burned down a major food production province when the Comet came. Even worse than that is that the Southern Water Tribe and a good chunk of the Earth Kingdom are totally leaderless, so things could very rapidly get far more devastating than the actual war was.
  • The premise of the Avatar: The Last Airbender Alternate Universe Fic Traitor's Face is that Aang remains frozen in his iceberg for one extra year, and by the time Mai stumbles upon him and unfreezes him the Fire Nation has long since won the war. However, due to the Fire Nation's atrocities and war crimes, the spirits took it upon themselves to scourge the world as karma.
  • Wish Carefully: In the wake of Dumbledore's death, Harry Potter negotiates a treaty with the Death Eaters that gave them almost everything they thought they wanted: Britain was theirs in perpetuity, with the Light-side wizards banished and bound by treaty not to oppose or interfere with their government, and the Light would return once a year to gather up and take away all the Muggleborns so that the Death Eaters never had to deal with them. All the Death Eaters had to agree to was to allow the Light to leave in peace, to let them take away the Muggleborns instead of killing them, and to leave the Muggle world strictly alone. And so the Death Eaters were left under the rule of an insane tyrant, with an economy gutted by the loss of skilled professionals and customer base, and with inbreeding gradually crippling their descendants' minds and magic.
  • The Pride: While the five major villages did team up to fight against The End of the World as We Know It, all their grievances with one another still exist. Once Naruto's no longer running around trying to make sure everyone stays on friendly terms, the relationship between villages, especially between major nations and minor ones, deteriorates until the continent is once again engulfed in war.
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    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.
  • Star Wars:
    • The two major Force-wielding orders are caught in a cyclical conflict 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.
    • 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, and the ultimate fall of the Separatist faction, 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.
    • The sequel series ends up being this. The Force Awakens shows that while the rebels successfully defeated Darth Vader and the Emperor, resulting in the defeat of the Empire, that massive threat didn't go away. Forces that remain from the fallen Empire eventually regrouped and created the First Order. They're even led by a powerful Sith who found his own version of Vader in Kylo Ren causing the nightmare to happen all over again.
  • Explored in Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Cap took down the Red Skull and the Allies won World War II, but that did not bring peace. When Steve wakes up decades later, he finds a world that is more unstable. As he finds out, Hydra infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and stirred up conflict to achieve their conquest in another fashion.

    Live Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Robert Baratheon crushes the Targaryen dynasty during the rebellion and becomes king. However, he is such an irresponsible ruler that his government is in massive debt and only a few steps away from civil war.
    • Daenerys conquers the cities of Slaver's Bay and ends slavery there. Within a few months, there are uprisings against her rule and the former slavers are working to regain control. Violence gets so bad that some people are asking to be made slaves again so they can at least be safe.
    • House Lannister as a whole falls into this by the end of Season 4. They've won the War of the Five Kings and now rule Westeros, but the kingdom is a mess, and they are millions in debt to the Iron Bank of Braavos, casting serious doubt on their reputation for repayment and have to rely heavily on the Tyrells. The king whose rule they fought to cement has been assassinated and the next king is just an untrained boy. The Riverlands are in ruins and the North is not pacified. Stannis is back in the fight thanks to a loan from the Iron Bank — another result of the Lannisters' mounting debts. Other forces are working to undermine the Lannisters; Littlefinger controls the Vale, the Reach is maneuvering to control the new king, and the Martells hate the Lannisters more than ever after the demise of Oberyn. Rather than deal with these problems, they spend most of the post-war period fighting among themselves. Their armies are decimated from all the fighting and the gold mines have run dry for years. When the dust settles, their very capable patriarch is killed by Tyrion, who flees to Essos, and the realm is now in the hands of the very unpopular Cersei, who is prone to infighting with Jaime.
    • In the Season 6 finale, Cersei has managed to eliminate all threats to her rule in King's Landing, and the suicide of her son means she now sits on the throne. However, her actions have alienated pretty much every ally the throne might have had. The Reach has sided with Dorne and Daenerys Targaryen in retribution for the deaths of most of their family line. House Bolton has been extinguished by the joint forces of surviving loyal Northern houses under Jon Snow and the Knights of the Vale, so the North is in rebellion once more. Walder Frey and his male descendants have been assassinated by Arya Stark, freeing the Riverlands from the Freys' control. Finally, the last Targaryen is coming to Westeros to reclaim her right to the Iron Throne. Cersei will be hard-pressed to retain her power in such a climate. However, as of the Season 7 finale, Cersei was able to retain her position, even after her forces were crushed by Daenerys Targaryen, thanks to the bigger White Walker threat coming from the North forcing everyone to make a truce and fight together against it. That said, Cersei has no intention of honoring it and plans to stay back and watch her enemies bleed each other, never mind that whoever comes out of the conflict will come after her.
    • Played straight and then utterly inverted in Season 8: Daenerys is driven mad by a combination of backstabbing / dying advisers, Surprise Incest, the death of two of her dragons, and her last loyal living adviser revealing his own insanity. Mere moments after King's Landing unconditionally surrenders, Dany orders her entire army to purge the city, and the Unsullied obey while the Dothraki enjoy, utterly failing to keep up the appearance of a balance between Order Versus Chaos, in favor of Pillage Rape And Burn. With Daenerys' credibility in shambles, she's quickly assassinated by her own fiancee before she can begin a genocidal conquest. Weeks later, Daenerys' leaderless army and the utterly defeated survivors of King's Landing simply elect a new king. They vote in Bran, who they believe will make the perfect Puppet King, only for Bran to use his sociopathic omniscience to turn the crumbling empire of the Seven Kingdoms into the foundations of the future Federation of Westeros with no one the wiser. The winners utterly lose because they could no longer see that they already won and kept killing their rewards, while the losers utterly win by being tricked into doing the one thing they opposed with all their might — republically electing a benevolent tyrant with supernatural foresight and centuries of wisdom, over their 'rightful', politically-inexperienced, and utterly naive king.
  • House of the Dragon: in "The Black Queen", the learned princess Rhaenyra tries to defy this trope when her advisers urge her to take a stronger stand against her rivals the Hightowers, knowing that the dragons on both sides will destroy the peace her father worked hard to maintain.
    Rhaenyra: Viserys spoke often of the Valyrian histories. I know them well. When dragons flew to war, everything burned. I do not wish to rule over a kingdom of ash and bone.
    Bartimos: Are you considering the Hightowers' terms, Your Grace?
    Rhaenyra: As Queen, what is my true duty to the realm, Lord Bartimos? Ensuring peace and unity, or that I sit the Iron Throne no matter the cost?
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: After centuries of waging war against Morgoth; the Elves, Men, and Valar won the greatest war on Arda, but at such a big cost for Middle-earth that the Valar sworn to never get directly involved in any other war in Middle-earth. Centuries later, the aftereffects of the war start to wear down on the peace, the orcs multiplied in secret for centuries, Sauron is still looming somewhere in Middle-earth, affecting everyone in different ways, the light of the Eldars might disappear, the Harfoots are tracked down worshipers of Sauron, The Dwarfs of Khazad-dum have no idea that a Balrog lives right under their mountain, the orcs claim the Southlands for themselves, and the cherry from the top, Sauron just walked in Mordor.
  • 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 in 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.
  • Deus Salve O Rei: The war between Montemor and Artena results in the former coming out as the victor and solving its water shortage issue by seizing the latter's supplies. However, with Artena completely devastated and its royal family either missing or taken hostage, a refugee crisis ensues as the defeated's people are absorbed by the winners, with famine ensuing due to so many mouths to feed. To make matters worse, the King of Montemor is an egotistical and incompetent Royal Brat that looks only after himself and made things much worse and that the entire conflict was staged between him and the crown princess of Artena so that they could unite the two kingdoms by marrying each other (since their formal union was forbidden by her father), only for said princess to plot to get rid of her new husband so she could rule over the two kingdoms, even if she cause thousands of innocent deaths to get it.

    Podcasts 
  • In 1865 Edwin Stanton and his fellow Radical Republicans feel this way regarding Reconstruction. True, the North defeated the South militarily, and the nation is reunited. However, not nearly enough is being done to protect the rights of African-Americans, and it will only get worse if the South receives amnesty, and thus Southerns are able to oppose Reconstruction from within Congress.

    Theater 
  • Hamilton: After America liberates themselves from the revolution, King George assumes that they'll have trouble establishing a functioning nation. Washington is conscious of this possibility as well, saying "Winning is easy, young man, governing's harder."
    George: What comes next?
    You've been freed
    Do you know how hard it is to lead?
  • 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 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The Githyanki were once a Slave Race to the Illithids, but rose up and overthrew their empire. While they were totally successful at that to the point where modern Illithids are essentially scattered refugee enclaves, after they'd won, they descended into a civil war over their leader Gith's plans to conquer the universe. Half of the race seceded and became the Githzerai, both sides suffered catastrophic losses, and they were unable to complete their goal of utterly exterminating the Illithids (which isn't to say they're not still trying).
    • 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.
    • Ultimately up to the Dungeon Master in Eberron, since the setting's history doesn't go past 998 YK. However, most of the sourcebooks make it abundantly clear that the peace established by the Treaty of Thronehold is very tenuous at best. Tensions between Aundair and Thrane are high, two of the newly established nations are inhabited by races that are considered monstrous other places and most of the Five (now four) Nations are eyeing up the territories they lost to the enemy or who seceded. The populations of several nations are also very unhappy with the war, and many (namely Karrnath) are convinced that they would have won if the war had continued, and/or that they deserve to (Aundair). The whole situation is about as volatile as Europe in the early 1900s, and we know how that mess ended.
    • Also in Eberron, the hobgoblin empire technically won the war against the daelkyr and trapped them in Khyber...but the aftereffects of that war led to the empire's eusocial bond fraying, the empire falling apart, and the hobgoblin empire as it exists today is basically just a few surviving groups lurking in Fallout bunkers and trying to assess whether the currently active goblinoids could potentially be brought back into the old ways or not, and if not, what to do about them.
  • In Traveller Interstellar 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 surpass the Tau before they lost almost all of it).
    • Even though the Imperium as a whole is always at war, individual systems that don't border the territory of a hostile xenos race can often be at peace for decades or centuries at a time. However, since the leaders of said worlds spend the time between wars on political intrigue and enriching themselves rather than making sure their people will be ready for the next war, they invariably aren't, so each world individually slides slowly down the drain.
  • This is the premise for Spears of the Dawn. The Sixth Kingdom of the Eternal was defeated forty years ago, but since then the Five Kingdoms have done nothing but bicker and fall apart, all while outdated war-time customs linger and cause social unrest. It doesn't help that a number of Eternal survived and are busy sabotaging things however they can — oh, and one of the Five Kingdoms has gotten it in its head that it can learn the Sixth Kingdom's secrets and use it for its own ends.

    Video Games 
  • In Final Fantasy X-2, the world of Spira is still in conflict despite the death of Eldritch Abomination Sin two years prior. Yuna, as the High Summoner, has to deal with the ramifications of the Church of Yevon and everything it was doing to lie to the people of Spira for a thousand years. The Youth League and New Yevon constantly butt heads as a result of what to do with this newfound freedom, with Yuna caught in the middle of all of it, forcing her and the Gullwings to save Spira in a new way.
  • This trope is both the main premise and Central Theme of Red Flood, a Game Mod for Hearts of Iron IV. Red Flood is set in an Alternate History where no one won the First World War. Great Britain's empire was almost completely shattered, with the London Stock Market crash resulting in TTL version of the Great Depression. The British Raj, Belgian Congo, and Russian Empire all fell into various squabbling warlord states, with the remains of Russia proper becoming a dictatorship under Alexander Kolchak. The German Empire was savagely beaten by Russia and then had the Spartacist Revolution succeed, making Germany the first Communist country ITTL. And France easily had it the worst, with the Great War having so completely broke French society that this is where the utterly insane ideology of Accelerationism first rose in power.
  • 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 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 Elder Scrolls series, just prior to the events of Skyrim, the declining Cyrodiilic Empire was invaded by their re-formed ancient enemy, the Aldmeri Dominion under the leadership of the extremist Thalmor, in what would come to be known as the Great War (though the Dominion gave the event the much more ominous name of "The First War Against the Empire"). Emperor Titus Mede II opted to withdraw his forces from the Imperial City and met up with Nord reinforcements from Skyrim. Together, they were able to recapture the Imperial City and repulse the Dominion from Cyrodiil. However, Mede sensed that his forces (the Imperial Legion no longer being the continent-conquering Badass Army of old) were in no condition to continue the fight and he risked a Pyrrhic Victory (at best) if he pushed for complete victory. Instead, he decided to sue for peace, and the best he could manage was the White-Gold Concordat, an uneasy cease-fire treaty with terms heavily favorable to the Dominion (in fact, it was noticed that the treaty was in effect not that different from the Aldmeri Dominion ultimatum which had started the war in the first place). Included was the ceding of large tracts of the Hammerfell province to the Dominion, the official dissolution of the Blades, a ban on Talos worship, and the right for the Thalmor to enforce these terms even within the boundaries of the Empire itself. Feeling betrayed by the Empire, Hammerfell immediately seceded and waged their own war to push the Dominion out of Hammerfell (in which they actually succeeded single-handedly, raising even more questions and doubt about whether Emperor's decision to sue for peace was sound to begin with). Also feeling betrayed were the Nords, to whom Talos was their most popular deity. Under the leadership of Ulfric Stormcloak, the Stormcloaks initiated the Skyrim Civil War in an attempt to gain independence. Further, none of the parties involved are under any illusions that the peace between the Empire and Dominion will last and all believe that a second Great War is inevitable. There are many indications in Skyrim that the Dominion is already preparing for another war while working behind the scenes to weaken the Empire. Even the Skyrim Civil War is part of a scheme to weaken the Empire, with the Thalmor working to ensure that it lasts for as long as possible, draining both sides of manpower and resources for eventual takeover.
  • 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 Project, 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 Hearts of Iron, winning the war often results in a hollow victory if you mismanage how the war was conducted. You gained a single province at the cost of most of your manpower through Pyrrhic Victories, political relationships are in ruins, your economy is in shambles, people are at the brink of revolt (the previous three largely due to the war dragging on for far too long), or your vassals decide the time is ripe for a new king to rise.
    • The concept of winning the war, but losing the peace is also very present in many of the more well-known Alternate History Game Mods for these titles. One of the more well-known examples of this is the narrative-driven Alternate-History Nazi Victory mod The New Order Last Days Of Europe, in which a victorious 1960s Nazi Germany is plagued by aggressive factionalism and corruption within the high echelons of the NSDAP, has an economy that needs to be hooked up to life support (A.K.A. droves upon droves of slave labour) 24/7 just to not fall apart, and is pressured by a powerful left-leaning student movement in spite of heavy repression. The only thing holding all of this together is a senile Hitler, such that once he kicks the bucket, things immediately break down into a four-way civil war.
  • Killzone is one long string of Pyrrhic 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 heroes are about to cheer, having just managed to end the war... only to watch in horror as the super weapons on the exploding cruiser go 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. Palawa Joko 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. Funnily, Attila himself is often susceptible to this, as his Rape, Pillage, and Burn playstyle means that he tends to struggle to take advantage of territorial gains due to razing cities to ash instead of rebuilding them.
    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. Then it nearly happens again: the President of the Federation tries to outmaneuover the Bureau by planning to officially announce a massive budget cut (thanks to their generally indirect methods of control, it would be very hard for the Bureau to stop this once announced, as in the eyes of the Federation bureaucracy the President does have that authority, and without their bloated budget the Bureau would lack the resources to keep the Aurorans and Polaris under their thumb), forcing Bureau agents to rush to Earth and violently threaten the President to abandon the plan at the last minute.
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has Sigi Reuven criticize Radovid for this exact reason.
    Sigi: Mass mobilization, inciting peasants to take up their scythes, straighten them — where's the art in that? Much harder to build a strong state with healthy commerce, manufacturing, solid alliances, progressive science, and fair, independent courts that hand down just judgments. Vizimir and I managed to do just that — through years of fucking hard work. I will not sit on my hands as that little shit squanders that. "Radovid the Stern" my arse. Radovid the Witless, I'd say. Will you help me, Geralt?
  • This is the premise of the second half of Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem: after the destruction of Dolhr, the good guys try to rebuild the kingdoms of Archanea to create a lasting peace, installing a number of loyal members of the various royal families to rule over newly-liberated kingdoms. However, many of them were left as largely puppet states of other regimes (Grust), never got properly rebuilt and built up a major grudge against the victors (Gra), or got a leader who wasn't up to the task of governing a whole nation (Macedon). The key to this was installing the morally-redoubtable Hardin as the Emperor of Archanea by marrying him off with the last surviving heir to the throne—which then resulted in a loveless marriage, Hardin falling into a deep depression, and eventually becoming susceptible to The Corruption. This led directly into the War of Heroes only a few years later, as when Hardin ended up corrupted, he was able to subvert or conquer the new kingdoms rather easily, forcing Marth to go to war again. In the process, a lot of characters from the original storyline die or are never seen again, and the game's ending has the various nations in such a state that Marth is forced to take over Hardin's old post and annex most of the continent.
  • In the backstory to Knights of the Old Republic, Revan and Malak's decision to join the Mandalorian Wars ahead of the rest of the Jedi, might have brought the conflict to a close sooner, but the moral compromises they made along the way ultimately led to these war heroes, and those who followed them, becoming the next threat to the galaxy.

    Webcomics 

    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.


 
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Apollyon's Wolves

After having riled up the three factions into an all-out war, the Orochi delivers the killing blow to Apollyon to destroy the Blackstone Legions' leadership hoping to stop further bloodshed; only for Apollyon to point out that fighting is in their species' very nature.

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