Can You Think of Any Respected Losers
October 27, 2008 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Help me identify famous people who were respected for putting up a good fight but still lost the (figurative) war.

I have a friend who is fighting a progressive disease. Eventually the disease will win but in the meanwhile she is doing everything she can to maintain her abilities. I tried to think of some famous people who fought the good fight but still died. She is Chinese so examples from Chinese history would be good, otherwise it should be someone famous enough that she would know the story. For example, Jews at Massada would work except that she wouldn't know the reference. Please help me inspire my friend.
posted by metahawk to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
British history is full of these: the English love their great losers. The two first examples that come to mind are Shackleton (he lived, but the expedition was a failure) and Nelson (he won, but died in the process). Then of course there's the Light Brigade. Looking further afield in the commonwealth, there were the ANZAC troops at the Battle of Gallipoli in World War I.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:25 PM on October 27, 2008

Springing to mind:
Chief Joseph (Nez Perce)
Geronimo (Apache)
(lots of American Indian to choose from, I think)

defenders of the Alamo (ok, so the war was won, but the battle for those guys was definitely lost)

Chinese? I got nothing.
posted by LoraxGuy at 6:26 PM on October 27, 2008

John Henry
posted by oblio_one at 6:27 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Leonidas, of course.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:28 PM on October 27, 2008

Best answer: Have her watch Hero.
posted by Science! at 6:37 PM on October 27, 2008

So back in the Dizay when Virginia said its borders stretched westward to the edge of the continent, they had an expedition to see just how far that actually was. We're talking well pre-Lewis and Clark. Anyway, they put together a wicked group of folks and started westward. They made it as far as the Shenandoah (not far, and only a couple WEEKS into the trip) when they decided it was way too far and crazy, and decided to stop and give away nutty rewards to all the participants of the expedition. The result?

The Order of the Golden Horseshoe.

Governor Spotswood continued to have a pretty illustrious career, and of course Virginia maintained its position as a center of power for some time. In fact, here in West Virginia we have a commemorative West Virginia History test, and the winners...well, become honorable members of the Order. Fancy. (Winner here, of course.)
posted by TomMelee at 6:43 PM on October 27, 2008

Leonidas, of course.

Well, the Spartans lost valiantly at Thermopylae but the Greeks won that war at Salamis and Plataea...
posted by nicwolff at 6:58 PM on October 27, 2008

An obscure example: Omar Mukhtar led the Libyan resistance against Italian occupation in the 1920's.

A less-than-historically-correct movie was made about him.
posted by Class Goat at 7:05 PM on October 27, 2008

From the front page of the Blue: Shackleton. He didn't make the Pole crossing, but brought his men back, every one.
posted by notsnot at 7:08 PM on October 27, 2008

Cool Hand Luke
posted by Rash at 7:15 PM on October 27, 2008

The novels "Fools Crow" and "Things Fall Apart" may also fit.
posted by Science! at 7:22 PM on October 27, 2008

In the Shackleton vein there is Robert Falcon Scott.
posted by troy at 7:24 PM on October 27, 2008

Terry Fox. Got cancer, lost leg, ran half way across the world's second largest country, raised millions of dollars for cancer research, died and inspired millions of people to run every year in remembrance, a charity run that has now raised something like $350 million for cancer research. He was voted the 2nd greatest Canadian of all time, and a goodly number of people think he was robbed of his much-deserved first place.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:26 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks you for so much help already - I hadn't thought about loaning her a movie to watch until Science! suggested Hero. After seeing several suggestions of Leonides, I'm also thinking about getting my hands on The History Channel's version of the Last Battle of the 300.

More suggestions are, of course, welcome!

posted by metahawk at 7:27 PM on October 27, 2008

Rommel was generally highly respected as a (losing) military commander, and ultimately was forced to commit suicide in large part as a result of his anti-Nazi views.

Philip K Dick battled mental and physical illness for much of his life, and managed to churn out some of the most memorable sci-fi stories of his era.

Beethoven, of course, succumbed to deafness and kept going until he died (of speculated-upon illness).

Cicero, Pompey, and Brutus fought to maintain the Roman Republic against the Caesers, and ultimately lost.
posted by rodgerd at 7:48 PM on October 27, 2008

Similar to Hero, try The Emperor and the Assassin.

The Last Emperor
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:49 PM on October 27, 2008

Robert E Lee
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 8:13 PM on October 27, 2008

To follow up on the suggestion of Lee, you might want to get Gettysburgh, which cover's Lee's most notable loss, and particularly of the doomed Picket's Charge. The film is quite the marathon, at 4 hours, but I found it quite gripping.

Gandhi was murdered and his dream of a united India failed, with India splitting first into India and (East and West) Pakistan, and later into India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. He was also opposed to the treatment of the Dalits (Untouchables), but didn't catalyse any change in their status. There is the David Attenborough film, if you want to watch something with your friend.

H P Lovecraft died of cancer at a young age, but is tremendously influential in horror and fantasy.

Wilfred Owen became one of the most notable poets to emerge from WW I, but he's also notable for dying a week before peace was declared, after returning to active duty from a serious injury. In his time he was accused of cowardice, and his reputation as a poet never really took off until long after his death; I highly rate this biography of him.
posted by rodgerd at 8:51 PM on October 27, 2008

Clarence Darrow defended a schoolteacher, John Scopes, in the "Scopes Monkey Trial," a.k.a. Scopes v. State of Tennessee. The case is considered one of the first points of contention regarding the teaching of evolution in American schools. The teacher was ruled to have broken a Tennessee law banning the teaching of evolution, but not before Darrow stated his case forcefully and eloquently. Check out the movie, Inherit the Wind.
posted by dondiego87 at 9:03 PM on October 27, 2008

Best answer: Sadako (of the 1000 paper cranes), a Japanese girl who died of leukemia in Hiroshima.
posted by jacalata at 9:24 PM on October 27, 2008

The actor John Cazale. He died of bone cancer but worked right up until the end. He acted in The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deerhunter (his last film).
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 9:52 PM on October 27, 2008

Terry Pratchett is currently fighting Alzheimer's disease.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 10:13 PM on October 27, 2008

Best answer: Hannibal Barca, of crossing-the-Alps-with-elephants fame, was a military commander of Carthage, the nation that was perhaps the most hated foe of the Roman Republic. He invaded Italy and won every battle he personally led there on the Romans' home turf. Although the Romans eventually won the 2nd Punic War and later annihilated the Carthaginian Empire at the end of the 3rd Punic War Hannibal won their eternal respect as one of the greatest military leaders in history.

Lin Tse-sü or Lin Zexu 林則徐 was a Qing dynasty scholar and government official who tried to eliminate opium addiction from China and halt British importation of opium into the country, consequently igniting the First Opium War. He tried both diplomacy, sending a message to Queen Victoria taking her to task for allowing British interests to profit greatly through the injury the opium trade caused to the Chinese, and force of arms. His armies defeated British forces in Canton and repulsed them but they were successful in invading further North. Lin was scapegoated for the British military success in the other provinces and was exiled to Chinese Central Asia.

China's subsequent defeat in the First Opium War not only perpetuated the rampant social problems of opium addiction but resulted in the Treaty of Nanking, the first of the "Unequal Treaties", and the beginning of the severe imperialist encroachment into China of the European powers and later, Japan.
posted by XMLicious at 10:28 PM on October 27, 2008

Joan of Arc.

A woman military commander, who possibly suffered from mental problems. Her entire life was the definition of ass-kicking awesomeness. Until she was captured, put on trial, and asked questions that were the theological equivalent of "Have you stopped beating your wife?" She was coerced into signing a document, a confession, she could not read and did not understand.

Her big offense, btw, was wearing men's clothes. Which, shortly after signing the confession, she began to wear again, and she rescinded her confession. She was burned to death, several times. Twenty years later, the pope declared her innocent.

Really neat person, and the Carl Theodor Dreyer movie The Passion of Joan of Arc is in fact the best and most moving film I have ever seen. Just stunningly wonderful. Amazing, did I say amazing? And the best film ever made? Well it is.
posted by Nonce at 2:19 AM on October 28, 2008

On the subject of Thermopylae, I'd highly recommend Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire. Not only does it spend a lot of time in the minds of the Spartans as they prepare for battle, but its entire world is one where catastrophic change is always just over the horizon. It's also the single most engrossing book I've ever read; I literally could not put it down.
posted by bjrubble at 2:35 AM on October 28, 2008

Scott, the second man to reach the South Pole who then died upon his return springs to mind.
posted by Carillon at 3:54 AM on October 28, 2008

There's Boudica (a.k.a. Boudicca a.k.a. Boadicea). Here's what Roman historian Tacitus had to say about her. Today mostly famous for her nakedness but back in the day she kicked ass and took names. Also, she features in at least one rockband's claim to greatness, The Libertines' Good Old Days.
posted by Kattullus at 4:49 AM on October 28, 2008

lloyd bentsen lost.
posted by krautland at 6:40 AM on October 28, 2008

How about the story of Magellan? Left his home country to sail for another, survived most of an immensely harrowing journey but died in the shallows of an East Indies island and never saw the completion of the first European circumnavigation of the globe. Read about it in Laurence Bergreens book 'Over The Edge Of The World.'
posted by lpsguy at 7:12 AM on October 28, 2008

Ulysses S. Grant on Robert E. Lee:
I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:44 AM on October 28, 2008

Grave of the Fireflies.
posted by rodgerd at 11:19 AM on October 28, 2008

More doomed explorers, Burke and Wills.
posted by goshling at 3:52 PM on October 28, 2008

William Jennings Bryan was quite a spectacular example of a guy who tried his darndest but lost in the end. He ran for president of the US 3 times and was the prosecuting lawyer in the Scopes Monkey Trial (which he unsurprisingly won, though the decision was overturned by a state court). Bryan is one of America's hardest-fighting failures.
posted by cmchap at 5:33 PM on October 28, 2008

Wendell Wilkie was the opponent FDR is said to have respected most. I believe one of FDR's sons wrote that FDR might have given Wilkie a position in the fourth term.
posted by jgirl at 7:51 PM on October 28, 2008

Eugene Debs, five-time socialist presidential candidate between 1900 and 1920. Sent to prison for his beliefs. He ran his 1920 campaign from a prison in Georgia and won 3.2% of the vote as a write-in candidate. He was a unionist to the core and as patriotic an American socialist as you'll ever find.
posted by The White Hat at 9:18 PM on October 28, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks - this is a great collection of respected losers. For my purposes, Lin Tse-su was the winner. Being Chinese, she was familiar with his name but didn't know very much about his life. She was very interested in reading the wikipedia article about him.
posted by metahawk at 8:11 PM on November 12, 2008

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