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"The higher level of grand strategy [is] that of conducting war with a far-sighted regard to the state of the peace that will follow."
—Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart
"Conquering the world on horseback is easy; it is dismounting and governing that is hard."
So, you won a war, you bask in the glory of winner, and all that stuff. But when you finally get over all this excitement, you realize your problems still aren't solved; perhaps you were too noble for your own good, or your strategic genius doesn't extend to politics. In any case, your enemy has already regrouped and is ready for another turn, like nothing happened. Yeah, that's it. You won, but you totally botched the peace talks, or didn't care to finish off what you've begun.
A close relative of Pyrrhic Victory; the difference is in that Pyrrhic Victory is a victory achieved through an exertion a bit too big to bear, while what we think of here is a victory that is squandered.
Anime & Manga
- The Navy of One Piece experience this after winning the Paramount War against Whitebeard;
The Navy's victory did not necessarily bring peace. The death of Whitebeard caused a power vacuum that threw the oceans into further turmoil.
- Played for Laughs in Maken-ki!. In episode 9, the boys declare that the swimming pool should be coed, while the girls want segregated pools at the previously all girls school. So they decide it by having a water calvary battle. In the end, the boys do win, but then the girls make one of the boys turn them invisible, so while they can hear the girls playing in the water, the guys can't see any of them.
- This problem frequently plagues the X-Men, particularly when they're against anti-mutant crusaders.
- In the movie Black Rain, Japanese detective Masahiro Matsumoto tells American Cowboy Cop Nick Conklin that this happened to the US after World War II.
I grew up with your soldiers; you were wise then. Now - music and movies are all America is good for. We make the machines, we build the future, we won the peace.
- Charlie Wilson's War suggests that this is what happened in Afghanistan (see below):
Charlie Wilson: These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world... and then we fucked up the endgame.
- This is what The Clone Wars turned out to be for the Republic and Jedi in Revenge of the Sith. In spite of many victories, it was all Palpatine's 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.
- Arcia Chronicles: In the second duology, based heavily on the Wars of the Roses, Alexander (Richard of Gloucester's Expy) wins the war against Ifrana (France) for his royal older brother Philip (Edward IV), but Philip then signs a strategically poor peace treaty (Treaty of Picquigny) with King Joseph (Louis XI) that gives large momentary gains to Arcia and more than enough time to prepare for retaliation to Infrana. What's more, it does a great job estranging Alexander from Philip.
- Lord of Light has an inversion. The protagonist loses the battle of Keenset, but as an eventual result of it his "Accelerationist" viewpoint that technology should be shared wins the day over his opponents' "Deicrat" viewpoint that this is dangerous, as the battle weakens them enough that they can't maintain the same level of strict technological control as they were accustomed to.
- John Christopher's The Tripods trilogy ends with the group defeating the Tripods, and then having to try to tame humanity itself.
- Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy is based on this. In the first book, they defeat the Evil Overlord. In the second and third books, they deal with the consequences.
- In Honor Harrington, the ceasefire between the Star Kingdom of Manticore, led by High Ridge government and The People's Republic of Haven, led by Oscar Saint-Just, is an example for Manticorans. Despite being on the brink of total military victory, the new government following an assassination accepts Saint-Just's proposed ceasefire, then drags on the "negotiations" for several years, in the process screwing up their own military, and giving the next Havenite government plenty of time to build up their military, catch up some technologically, and get good and pissed off that Manticore is stringing them along. When the war inevitably restarts, it starts with Haven at a huge advantage.
- The Witcher: The Elves are against the Northern Kingdoms who oppressed them and broke their forces in a war centuries ago with Nilfgaard, first as guerillas, then openly. When the Emperor finished his conquest, he gave them a little independent state as promised, but naturally this enclave was a weak partner of an overlord whom they couldn't oppose in any way, humans in all affected lands switched from occasional prejudice to deep hatred and... the peace was marked by delivering the most aggressive ones to the offended sides -- who didn't just immediately execute them.
- A Song of Ice and Fire
- Daenerys Targaryen deals with this after leading her own crusade through the slaving cities. Once she settles in Mereen, she hears stories of atrocities carried out in Astrapor, the first city she liberated, and realizes that Mereen is in its own state of fresh chaos. She decides to put the whole "retake the Seven Kingdoms" thing aside until she can maintain some order in her new kingdoms first.
- Even the Lannisters suffer badly from this. They may have 'won' the War of the Five Kings, but as the war reached its conclusion Joffrey is dead, Tywin is dead, Kevan is dead, Jaime maimed, Tyrion driven into exile and Cersei alone]] left to govern for her weak-willed young son Tommen. By the end of Dance of Dragons, the Lannisters are under attack from an enormous Greyjoy fleet, the remnants of Stannis Baratheon's army and Aegon Targaryen returned from exile. There is a strong possibility of Dhorne, Daenerys and the Others joining this list. All this while winter has come and their alliance with Highgarden grows more and more fractured.
- The Children of the Forest suffer this in their war with the First Men. They become allies but the First Men got to keep their conquests and the Children were driven further into the deep woods.
- The Andals conquered the Riverlands but fell into infighting. A hundred years would pass before House Justman reunited the Riverlands, and it was not an Andal but a First Man dynasty.
- The Faith Militant survived Maegor the Cruel's persecution but it was in no position to keep fighting and was disbanded. The Iron Throne took it's place as the Faith's protector.
- The downfall of Numenor as described in the appendix to The Lord of the Rings. The Numenoreans assemble a mighty army and invade to attack Sauron. Sauron surrenders and is carted off in chains to Numenor, where he becomes Ar-Pharazon's evil counselor, egging him on to attack Valinor. This does not go as planned...
- The Third Age prior to the events of The Lord of the Rings is a three-thousand year version of this. The Last Alliance defeat Sauron at the end of the Second Age, but Isildur fails to destroy the Ring, which leads to the estrangement of Elves and Men and his untimely death, which itself causes the split of Arnor and Gondor. Arnor ends up fragmenting into smaller states and slowly being gobbled up by Angmar, with the Elves only helping when it is destroyed, while Gondor spends centuries fighting the Easterlings, Haradrim and itself, leaving it a shadow of its former self by the time Sauron rolls round again.
- Machiavelli points out in The Prince that a Prince who was won a war and want to avoid be perceived as cruel will left the opposition live. This inevitable concludes in a later war, disorders and a lot of people dead. So, the paradox is that a Prince who truly wants to won the peace must crush the opposition (but not the general populace) fast even when the war has already been won, so all their subjects cannot see any hope in opposing their new ruler, and don’t waste time and effort trying it and truly accepting the new peace.
- Referenced in Guards Guards as a common problem of revolutionaries. One minute everyone is cheering the overthrow of the tyrant, and the next everyone is complaining because nobody's picking up the trash.
- 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.
- Forgotten Realms has a civil war variant -- Ten Black Days in Tethyr. With the backing of Guilds and mafia-like Knights of the Shield the monarchy was overthrown and the nobility nearly exterminated. The net result? De-facto a 20 years long Civil War: a swarm of petty warlords, marauders and unholy priesthoods all over the place and 200 people who tried to rule the whole land in this time. Monsters grew bolder. Tethyrian economy, let alone populace, was devastated. Then a force who united at least some people appears, wipes out monsters terrorizing the capitol, and the same people scream "All hail Queen Zaranda!" till their throats are raw.
- In Traveller Intersteller Wars the Terrans defeated the Vilani only to find that they simply did not know how to rule thousands of planets. As a result the whole system disintegrated.
- The Amaris Civil War in BattleTech ended in further dissolution of the Star League as the head of each noble family proclaimed himself as the new Lord of the Star League and inaugurating the Succession Wars.
- 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 thier agents so that they can act the moment it expires. He also failed to get them to release the tribes they'd already conquered, leading to Le Buque and Franz's situation in the main game.
- Each of A.S.P. Air Strike Patrol's normal endings, in which the one or more of the Force, Supplies, or Opinion Ratings were too low to get the Golden Ending, result in this. The Zarakis are defeated and the war ended in victory, but (depending on which meter was low) a Closing Scroll will narrate the disastrous effects the war has had on your country.
- Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy is a remake of Ace Combat 2 that ties the game's events more closely into Strangereal's timeline. During the debriefing for the final mission, unit commander Ulrich Olsen explains that defeating the Usean Rebellion has led to a state of "armed peace" as the rebelling countries of USEA will seek to expand their military, and that another war looms on the horizon--a Call Forward to Ace Combat 04 Shattered Skies.
- In the backstory of Skyrim, the Empire managed to drive out the Thalmor from Cyrodiil, but were unable to secure true victory because the Legion was in no condition to continue. The best the Empire could manage was the White-Gold Concordat, an uneasy treaty/cease-fire that banned Talos worship. The Stormcloaks couldn't accept that and started a civil war in Skyrim. No one is under any illusions that the peace with the Thalmor will last either, and there are many hints in the game that the Thalmor are preparing for another war and are working behind the scenes to weaken the Empire. Even the Stormcloaks' civil war is just another Thalmor scheme against the Empire.
- 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.
- Many historians speculate that Alexander the Great would have fallen victim to this trope if he ever stopped his eternal campaigning and actually tried to govern the lands he conquered. The fact that his empire fell apart almost immediately after his death seems to support this speculation.
- World War I is an example. While the Allies won and forced Germany to submit, they also did it heavy-handedly enough to create enough nationalistic resentment and economic turmoil to let the Nazi Party seize power -- and were too exhausted, in body and mind, with the war themselves to enforce the provisions of their own peace treaty. At least they learned from it -- after WWII, enormous amounts of money and resources were spent aiding and rebuilding Germany to prevent it from happening again. So far, it's worked.
- This was definitely the case for Italy, where despite being on the winning side and having taken more casualties in the war than they would take in WWII twenty years later, got none of the concessions they were promised by the Entente (they went to create Yugoslavia).
- The peace treaty ending the Polish Soviet War. The Polish government was dominated by the Nationalists, who wanted only as much territory as it could be assimilated into Poland, as opposed to commander-in-chief Piłsudski, who wanted as much ground as he could to make it allied buffer states. So, the Poles took less than the Reds were willing to offer.
- Post-WW 2 Britain lost its Empire and was forced to surrender its status as a world power to America. The economic problems caused by the War are more in the realm of Pyrrhic Victory, though.
- For the Western Allies as a whole, there was some bitterness over the European situation after the war. The Cold War was obviously on-coming, and absolutely nothing could be done to prevent Stalin from assembling the Eastern Bloc.
- In the case of Germany, who lost WWII utterly and completely but became a stable, functional democracy and the largest economy in Europe, you could argue that they Lost the War, Won the Peace.
- Russo Japanese War. Japan won it, but was in a strategical dead end that caused an attempt to grab resources on Pacific in World War II and getting burned, nuked and and turned inside out. Other involved sides suffered the same: Russia ended up burned and turned inside out before and would still lose more than the worth of contested resources even if Nicholas II could somehow win it. Korea (the bone of contention) burned and turned inside out after, with aid of the very parties who already did it to Russia and Japan. Instead of an alliance (forced on Korea, but it wasn't this bad) before the war.
- The Iraq War was an easy military victory for the US-led coalition. However, political miscalculation, poor planning and a chaotic post-war situation meant that stabilizing the country still hasn't been accomplished.
- Given the amorphous nature of terrorism (especially given that occupying military forces can even encourage more terrorism), this has been suggested to be the only outcome of the Afghanistan War and Iraq War. Naturally it's far too soon to judge, and Your Mileage May Vary.
- This is a popular stereotype of how Bulgaria's wars end. This arose from two events, and really the only ones that actually happened: the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 (when Russia assembled a vast alliance of Balkan states to fight against Turkish control of the Balkans and independence for Bulgaria and managed to do the nearly unthinkable by pushing into the very suburbs of Constantinople... right before the Congress of Berlin forced the allies to yield most of their gains back to Turkey) and the First Balkan war, in which Bulgaria shouldered some of the heaviest burdens, but its allies got most of the territory, causing them to fall out over the spoils. Then things got worse...
- The other half of the stereotype, of course, is the inversion. Bulgaria was the only Axis power to come out with territorial gains from the Second World War, regaining the ethnically-Bulgarian Quadrilater/South Dobruja and winning the peace despite losing the war.
- This was the common opinion of the Congress of Vienna, which ended the Napoleonic Wars and established a new status quo for Europe. Justified or not, virtually every party felt betrayed by some portion of the outcome. 
- The Soviet-Afghan War. Yes the Afghans defeated the Soviets, but the country devolved into a civil war and eventually an even worse dictatorship seized power.
- Also from the US perspective. America wasn't technically at war, but was supporting the Afghan rebels. After the war, America was quick to pull out instead of trying to rebuild the war-torn country. As a result, many of the very fighters the US trained and equipped turned against them, including an assertive young go-getter by the name of Osama Bin Laden.
- The Vietnam War. The Americans won in any major battle that they ever fought, but underestimated the North Vietnamese tenacity and dedication (they thought a prolonged war would make the North give up -- big mistake), and finally had to cave to political opposition at home and leave.
- Meanwhile, though the North Vietnamese easily assimilated the two countries into one unified Communist Vietnam without America to stop them, Vietnam today is an economically poor country, and they don't even hate the United States that much -- you would think that America had been the winner, given the state it is in today.
- And cityscape throughout the country, but especially Saigon, resembles South Vietnam in its heyday more and more as time goes on. Even the "communist" regime has now become corrupted and endorsed crony capitalism, almost exactly like the former Saigon government did. Oops.
- The War on Terror shaped up to be this. Yeah, America is mostly secure, but at the cost of several violations of the constitution, the respect of much of the eastern world, and an overall feeling of animosity in politics.
- The Korean War was bloody, but only succeeded in effectively permanently dividing the Korean peninsula. And it didn't end in a lasting peace -- it ended in an armistice, which has been periodically violated by North Korea.
- The French King Louis XV's war with Austria ended in victory but his peace terms were so conciliatory to Austria that one would think that France lost. France gave back all it's conquered territory and the dauphin (the future Louis XVI) married an Austrian princess (Marie Antoinette). For years Austria would prove to be an unreliable ally and radicals would point to this alliance as the root of France's ills, leading to the Revolution.
- ↑ Russia's ambitions for a united Poland and dual monarchy were quashed, as were Prussian goals to absorb all of Saxony. The Bourbon French and Hapsburg Austria were annoyed that Murat was to be tolerated in "their" Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (until his sudden but inevitable betrayal in the Hundred Days gave them an excuse to depose him anyways). Denmark's loss of Norway to Sweden was confirmed to compensate the Swedes for their own loss of Finland to Russia and Pomerania to Denmark...the last of which was overturned when Pomerania was granted instead to Prussia to compensate them for being unable to take all of Saxony. Austria ceded the Austrian Netherlands to the new United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was content with that until they eventually rebelled to form Belgium. France was on the verge of coming out ahead in spite of losing the war after Talleyrand successfully divided the Allies against each other and set himself up as a kingmaker player between the two alliances, but Napoleon's Hundred Days overturned all of Talleyrand's careful plotting and cost France all of their gains from 1790-1792, 700 million francs in indemnities, and the restoration of the Quadruple Alliance. Finally, in the defunct Holy Roman Empire, 322 states were eliminated to strengthen the remaining 38, which would make up a new German Confederation. The only major powers to come out in front across the board was the perfidious Albion, Britain, who still had to admit defeat in convincing the other powers to accept anything stronger than a vocal condemnation of the slave trade; the new Kingdoms of Bavaria and Wurtemburg, who had their borders confirmed; and the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont, which regained their old borders with the addition of the Republic of Genoa, but still had to tolerate Hapsburg statelets throughout Italy in addition to Austrian Lombardy and Venetia.