I need to figure out what sentence means:

A successful war may … be as dangerous as an unsuccessful one?

  • Can you explain where your difficutly is? It seems quite plain to me. – Colin Fine May 1 '19 at 18:00
  • When you explain which parts of the sentence are confusing you, also include where it comes from in your edit. (See Why you should cite your source on meta.) – J.R. May 1 '19 at 22:01

There is a term known as a Pyrrhic Victory that should probably be known in many other languages as well given its origin.

The term refers to a victory or success that has a cost that outweighs the victory itself. In other words, "a successful war may be as dangerous as an unsuccessful one."

Taken from the linked Wikipedia article:

. . . Pyrrhus replied . . . that one other such victory would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders; there were no others there to make recruits, and he found the confederates in Italy backward. On the other hand, as from a fountain continually flowing out of the city, the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war.

— Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus


Supposing a discussion scenario, where one person is speaking to an audience (of any size) and they say, "A successful may be as dangerous as an unsuccessful one."

The meanings can shift on why this is being said and to whom, and what we are defining successful to be.

If some adviser just recommended our team/country/entity/etc. to go to war to achieve some desired end-state, a "successful war" would be one where we achieved that end-state.

Actually fighting the war will result in loss of life, and losing the war would certainly be bad for the objective and the people. However, winning the war may cost more money and lives, and in the end you achieve your objective but at a cost that results in you being worse off than had you never fought the war in the first place.

On the other hand, if you were not the one initiating the war, but rather the ones being attacked. Then you have a few possibilities:

  • you surrender and you don't lose any life or resources fighting the war but now you are subject to the attackers - who may slaughter your people and steal your resources
  • you defend yourself and win - you lose lives and resources
  • you defend yourself and lose - you lose lives and resources

As an aside, war is never truly successful. War occurs when politics fails, or is never tried. You may be victorious, but not truly successful. There's an old saying that goes, "History is written by the victor"

But time and again history has been written by the survivor. This occasionally occurred because those who won spent too many lives and resources to maintain the power or the land they acquired and faded out of history.

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