“No one wins a war. It is true, there are degrees of loss, but no one wins,” Brock Chisholm, WWI veteran and first director-general of the World Health Organization, once said. And there may be some truth to that, as even victorious wars are often attained at great cost to the winner. Of course the alternative is losing a war which often comes at an even greater cost. Some losses in the history of war were painfully humiliating that they teach us the lesson that winning a war can come at a cost that is close to losing one. Here are three of them:

Battle of Jingxing 

This was a battle between the Han and the Zhao army in 205 BC. Han’s 30,000 soldiers faced off against the 200,000-strong Kingdom of Zhao.  The outcome should have been entirely predictable.  It is important to remember that ancient armies were not often comprised of trained and battle-hardened soldiers.  They tended to be a levied rabble of men called up by their rulers for temporary service and then return to their farms and other jobs. As a result, many battles were enormous melees of barely trained troops hacking at each other with loaned weapons. The exception to this in the ancient world was the Romans who had a trained and professional army that won victory after victory against untrained troops all over Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

 The night before the battle, Han Xin, the Han commander, ordered his 2,000 mounted men to the rear of the Zhao Army’s camp, each carrying a red battle flag of the Han army. He told them to occupy Zhao camp as soon as their army moved out to press the attack. He also sent 10,000 men across the Tao River to dig ditches with their back to the river, giving his men fortification but leaving them no route of retreat. When the battle was joined Han Xin’s men feigned defeat and retreated on their fortified ditch on the river with the Zhao’s chasing them behind. Once in their trench with no option but to fight or die, the Han fought with the courage of despair and held the Zhao at bay.

When the Zhao withdrew temporarily to regroup, they saw thousands of enemy flags in their camp, making them think they were about to be taken from the rear by fresh troops. The result was panic and disintegration among the Zhao who themselves tried to flee with an open route of retreat. The Han cavalry and infantry ran them down and killed them.

The Zhao army took 150,000 casualties

It also gave rise to the military axiom, “You achieve survival by fighting from a position of certain death.”

Battle of Carrhae

Gnaeus Pompeius, Licinius Crassus, and Gaius Julius Caesar. (Mary HarrschCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Battle of Carrhae happened in 53 BC and was considered one of the most crushing defeats in Roman history. Here’s why:

Motivated by his insatiable greed, the already wealthy Marcus Crassus wanted to invade the Parthian Empire. And so, he teamed up with Julius Ceasar and Pompey in hopes that his military reputation would improve.