WWII Naval pilot Joseph P. Kennedy, eldest brother of John F. Kennedy, volunteered for Operation Aphrodite, a dangerous series of 1944 missions to destroy hard-to-reach targets like the German V3 supercannon. He and his co-pilot were to arm the explosives in their bomber, which could not be done remotely, and bail out. The bomber would then be piloted by remote-control, crashing into the V3's bunker complex and exploding. But shortly after the explosives were armed, they prematurely exploded, vaporizing plane and crew. The shaggy dog was thoroughly shot, however, when it was later discovered that the V3 complex had already been damaged beyond repair with a more conventional method by Lancaster bombers from the 617 Squadron on July 6, 1944.
Roman Emperor Heraclius' entire life was this. He rose from relative obscurity to depose the tyrannical and insane Emperor Phocas, who had lost most of the Roman Empire to the Sassinid Iranians. Heraclius retook Anatolia, Syria, and Egypt through years of hard fighting, personally leading his armies and fighting Persian cataphracts hand to hand. Eventually, the Persians made peace and became a subordinate ally after Heraclius took their Capitol. Less than six years after peace was delayed, the newly converted-to-Islam Arabs invaded and conquered almost everything Heraclius had retaken. This didn't go unnoticed by historians; contemporary historians admit that if Heraclius had passed away after the war with the Sassanids, he could have been seen as the greatest Roman general since Scipio Africanus, but instead was seen as in charge of a disastrous loss of territory and prestige. Modern historians hold a far more kinder view, acknowledging that he did wind up losing most of his newly regained territories, but that he still rescued the Empire from the Sassanids, and primarily concede that he was in a terrible situation and did the best he could, with the disaster at Yarmouk primarily on the generals at the scene, and that he did try to salvage the situation in Syria before deciding to abandon it and hunker down in Anatolia.
Aaron Burr's political career. He was taken in by the Democratic-Republican party specifically to be set up as a fall guy over the course of a decade or so, in a Failure Gambit which involved psychologically abusing and publically humiliating him, and eventually when he was nearly able to Take a Third Option and subvert the whole plan, Thomas Jefferson switched the plan to "Make Sure Everybody In AmericaHates Aaron Burr." And then after that, he switched it again to "Kill Aaron Burr At All Costs." Burr survived, but thoroughlytraumatized, spent the rest of his life impoverished and despised by pretty much everybody, and to this day is almost universally depicted as having simply materialized into existence to shoot Alexander Hamilton before disappearing off the face of the earth. It's telling that hischaracterinHamilton is one of the more sympathetic depictions of him.
The July 20th Plot was one of the many desperate attempts by sane Germans disgusted by Hitler and the Third Reich during World War II. As with earlier attempts, the plan was within inches of killing Der Fuhrer and failed only due to the combination of a cavalcade of improbably unfortunate twists of fate. Conceived and coordinated by Henning von Tresckow, planned and carried out in large part by the charismatic one-eyed and one-handed Major Claus Philipp Maria Justinian Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, Brigadier-General Hans Oster, General Friedrich Olbricht, and young Oberleutnant Werner Karl von Haeften, all of whom (along with many, many, many others who were crucial to the plot) paid for their attempt with their lives—and many of them paid with the lives of their families and friends. Valkyrie tells much of the story.
What makes it even more Shoot the Shaggy Dog is the fact that the July 20 Plot only made things worse as Ian Kershaw argued. Hitler used the assassination attempt to strengthen party loyalty and he became virtually unopposed in the final year of the war, with no one standing up to Hitler until the very end and seeking to continue the war on the Eastern Front, which in many ways was the goal of the July 20 plotters as well. In other words, it's perhaps unlikely that the plot would have truly changed things for Germany even if things had been different.
From the perspective of Communism, its sympathizers and its partisans, as well as its enemies, the Cold War, was this. There is an entire trope about this.
After Red October and its hopes, came decades of war, invasions, and conquest coupled with political repression, famine and bad housing, and at the end of it all, there was a new Russia with oligarchs in power, wide income inequality, a radiation disaster over Chernobyl and mixed emotions and regret. At the end of it all, the same inter-regional nationalisms and disputes of the 19th Century have flared up in the former Warsaw Pact leading to conflicts in Chechnya and Ukraine.
The Soviet war in Afghanistan in the '80s. Thousands of Soviet casualties in the name of communism in Afghanistan... just for the whole communist and Soviet system to come crashing down a few years later. The same could be said for the US resources spent resisting them: the USSR fell not too long after, and worse, most of the US-funded resistance armies later became Al-Qaida or Taliban, sowing the seeds for 9/11.
From the American perspective, the Vietnam War turned out to be this, when the Communist Northern side quickly steamrolled over the Southern side that the US sided with, making the entire conflict and casualties on the American side ultimately meaningless. The American veterans who fought in Vietnam were treated poorly, with the press reporting on the massacres of My Lai and other actions, and most of the American public feeling that it was not a "good war".
There's the Second (Third if you count its war with France) Vietnam War of 1979 between Vietnam, Cambodia and China 4 years later, especially meaningless for China and the CIA. China went to help the revolution in Cambodia because of an American "suggestion", which evolved into a war between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnam, flattened the industry and trust it had built in North Vietnam before during the last war, only for the Khmer Rouge to fall. Oh, and small-scale fighting continued until 1990.
In addition, there was Pol Pot's genocide which was enabled by the US bombing campaign, Chinese support and general chaos which ended when the Vietnamese Army invaded Cambodia and put a halt to it. From the perspective of the Cambodians and the Laotians, whose land is still strewn with leftover bombs and whose countries are still poor, there are memories of sufferings and ever-present struggle.
Of course, in the long run, America "won" the Cold War as the USSR ended up being dismembered, Vietnam became an American ally and alongside China, it has moderated its communist vision. However, without a real enemy and with no changes to their vast military spending, and the poor diplomacy in the Middle East, the new conflict of The War on Terror arrived in less than ten years since the end of the Soviet Union.
For the Arab World as a whole, the entire 20th Century is this. After the end of the Ottoman Empire, they were partitioned by the French and the English into many territories. They barely had breathing room at the dawn of decolonization when the Cold War led to the formation of client states for the Soviet Union and the United States. Arab nationalism, once a positive homegrown liberal movement became defunct with the arrival of religious militancy. Then came The War on Terror and the Arab Spring and a 21st Century which as it reaches the anniversary of the end of World War I seems like a huge return to square one, with several people attributing problems in the region to the Sykes-Picot agreement.
This happens in artistic movements and trends. Eventually, something that was edgy, original and avant-garde becomes mainstream and another trend with only the The Theme Park Version surviving and all the Unbuilt Trope forgotten by all but a few. In addition, the mainstream audience never quite opens itself up to outsider art, and the next generation of artists will still have to fight the same battles over and over again to get their voice heard, with only a few worthy artists, getting success.
Surrealism in the early 20th century was a movement in literature, music, and painting that was shocking and transgressive. It attacked conventional morality, Hypocrisy and wanted people to have fun and stop being so stuffed in. Yet, it eventually became an art movement that was preserved in museums and all its stylistic quirks got absorbed in the mainstream:
Luis Buñuel: "I sometimes say that surrealism triumphed in the inessential and failed in the essential. . . . The surrealist movement cared little about gloriously entering the histories of literature and painting. What it wished above all, an imperious and unrealizable wish was to transform the world and change life. On this point — the essential — a quick look around us clearly shows our failure."
The New Hollywood movement was a brief interval where it seemed like one could work in the mainstream and make experimental, adult stories that won an audience, with directors having Auteur License. This decade came after the end of the Old Hollywood and its Epic Movie and by the end of the decade, the failure of some risky ventures and the success of Star Wars and its merchandising led to a new establishment by the 1980s, where ambitious subject matters became exceptions for mainstream film-makers, and where directors still had to struggle for Auteur License, and the next generation of film-makers (Quentin Tarantino, The Coen Brothers, Kevin Smith, Paul Thomas Anderson, et al.) started in the independent scene.
This happens with many other music forms. Initially, its The New Rock & Roll like Opera was, like Richard Wagner was, like Jazz music was, then the true Rock and Roll comes and classical music and Jazz ends up becoming a niche and academic pursuit where formerly it had been a popular art form.
Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov in the Soyuz 1 space mission, during The Space Race. Komarov knew the mission was unsafe, but knowing that his friend Yuri Gagarin was his backup, went ahead with the mission anyway so that his friend wouldn't have to take the risk instead. Everything went wrong. The capsule's solar cells didn't deploy properly. Communications broke down. The maneuvering thrusters that were designed to re-orient the ship lacked pressure. He couldn't see the sun to navigate the ship. After all that, after a heroic effort rigging up a system with the gyroscopes so that at last he could re-enter the atmosphere, the parachutes failed, and he died. Within a year, his friend would die in a plane crash anyway.
The entire universe will eventually give way to entropy. The aversion is Dyson's eternal intelligence hypothesis (or whatever you'd term "God"), and, of course, the possibilities of The Multiverse.
Well, the more science progresses the more theories there are—some people think the whole universe will just implode into nothing, fade completely away, reset and start over from the beginning or just not end at all. Technically, either one could be this trope depending on your personal philosophy.
And then the possibility of the universe just restarting again makes it worse because it means that we're stuck in the real-life version of the eternal reincarnation where failure, in the grand design of everything, is the only option. We'd have been better off with the "everyone dies and nothing really was accomplished" ending because at least there is peace forever, but here it eventually just gets repeated again.
And it graduates from possibility to inevitability when you remember that, really, there isn't anything we know of right now that prevents the universe from starting again since there is no time or anything after the universe becomes literal void. If everything is gone, then everything preventing everything from coming back is gone, too. All it needs is a random spark from nothingness itself getting bored of its own state, which by then might as well be instantaneous, and in a few billion years, we're right back to where we are now - infinitely writing and reading TV Tropes...
Of course, before the universe gives way to entropy, the Sun will expand and may destroy the Earth anyway. Before that, the Earth will be uninhabitable anyway, as the oceans will boil off and the Earth will become a second Venus. Possibly we would have perfected space travel by then and retreat to another solar system. Then again, we'd just give in to the Universe's entropy eventually.
In North Carolina, a pregnant mother on her way to give birth was killed in a car crash, but the baby survived and was delivered successfully. This amazing story got attention in the news, but the baby died a few days later.
Similarly, a girl was born without a trachea in South Korea, and otherwise wouldn't have survived had the doctors not found a small hole near her windpipe. An artificial trachea was to be given to her in 2013, the first surgery of its kind on a child. The effort was successful, but the girl died a few months later.
In 2004, a doctor's last-ditch innovation saved the life of a teenage girl infected with rabies, leading many to believe that what he did could be a breakthrough in the treatment of the disease in humansnote other treatments do exist, but they have to be performed prior to the onset of symptoms; the apparent breakthrough was in the treatment of symptomatic cases. However, over two dozen subsequent uses of the treatment, known as the "Milwaukee Protocol", have failed, leading researchers to conclude that there was probably something unique about the original case that also contributed to the patient's survival, meaning that the treatment will be fruitless in the overwhelming majority of cases.
The would-be second Iranian 'revolution' died with a whimper. After the dubious reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, protests broke out across the country on a scale not seen since 1979, inspiring hope both within and without Iran that real change was possible. Alas, the protestor's aspirations were nipped in the bud, with deadly force.
The entire story of Otto Warmbier, a college student who was held as a political prisoner by North Korea. In June 2017, he was finally released and returned home. Sadly, he died only days after he came back.
The "Arab Spring" protests and uprisings in 2010-11, so called because of widespread optimism that they would lead to lasting improvements in a number of Middle Eastern countries with oppressive authoritarian governments. As of 2017, only Tunisia's revolution has seen any positive change. Every other affected country is either right back where it started, or far, far, worse. Syria is especially noteworthy, as its massive civil war- still ongoing- managed to catapult the Islamic State from terrorist group to terrorist state. It's brutal enough that some commentators (including Wikipedia) actually refer to the Arab Spring's aftermath as the Arab Winter.
Many people believe in an afterlife, but others argue that would still be pointless as you'd simply be bored for all eternity.
In 1943, thousands of American and Canadian forces invaded the island of Kiska to fight the Japanese who had taken it over the previous year. They lost 122 troops due to friendly fire and the difficult landscape of the island before realizing the Japanese weren't there anymore.
The final Antarctic expedition of Robert Falcon Scott ended in the death of the entire party. Making it worse? They actually reached the South Pole... only to find a Norwegian flag. Roald Amundsen had beaten them by months.