These 5 Military Defeats Could Have Ended Far, Far Worse

June 17, 2021 Topic: History Region: World Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: SpartaJapanAmericaMilitaryHistoryArmyNavy

These 5 Military Defeats Could Have Ended Far, Far Worse

Is there such a thing as a "good" defeat?

Thermopylae was a defeat that set the stage for strategic victory. A Greek army assembled on the field at Plataea a year afterward and administered a final defeat to Xerxes’ forces. It’s tough to imagine how history would have turned out otherwise. How would Plataea have happened without Thermopylae, or how would have Greece enjoyed its golden age of arts and letters had it lost at Plataea and been reduced to servitude? Finally, and most importantly, how would have the modern West emerged without its Greek patrimony? Thermopylae was a tactical defeat that saved the Western world—and that qualifies it as the best defeat ever. Ultimately, losers sometimes prosper.

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific. The views voiced here are his alone.

This article first appeared in May 2018.

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kaysee Lohmann