All-knowing Wikipedia tells us that a Pyhrric Victory is “a victory with such a devastating cost that it carries the implication that another such victory will ultimately lead to defeat. Someone who wins a “Pyrrhic victory” has been victorious in some way; however, the heavy toll negates any sense of achievement or profit.”
The phrase derives from the story of King Pyhrris who, in a particular battle with the Romans, lost so many men that his victory ultimately spelled defeat. The Romans lost more men than did Pyhrris, but because they had a much larger supply of soldiers and weapons, Pyhrris’ losses meant that he would be unable to fight another battle. The Romans had effectively won by making him unable to beat them again. The seeds of defeat were sowed in the way King Pyhrris fought and won his battle.
When deciding whether to wage a particular war on an issue, it makes sense to watch out for the seeds of Pyhrric Victory. This is true especially in dealings between people. Think how divorce lawyers end up walking away with a couple’s savings, or how a business feud can result in one side “being right” while losing the goodwill necessary for continuing profitable relations with a client or partner.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that someone waged one such war on me this week at work.
I suppose my consolation is being on the Roman side in the end. I will live to fight another day, while my (now) adversary shot herself in the foot so badly to spite me that she will have trouble walking.
My question, I suppose, to King Pyhrris if he were still among us would be: why? Knowing that the price of a victory is ultimately defeating, why fight in the first place? What use are the efforts and metaphorical lives lost, when the outcome is fairly clear from the start?
I wonder: would there be a case over which I would fight such a war knowingly?
Tonight’s food for thought.