War is never funny; nothing that involves bloodshed, suffering, and destruction can be seen as humorous. But war certainly can be ridiculous. Would you believe, for example, that thousands of soldiers clashed over something so strange as a cut to a man’s ear? Or that an army of human beings once declared war on a bunch of birds? Or that, technically, the Dutch and the British were at war for more than 330 years?
As strange as it may sound, these wars and many others are indeed historical fact, though many of the conflicts thankfully constituted warfare only in name. Often enough throughout the annals of history tempers have flared, war has been declared, tempers have then cooled, and the whole mess has ended without the clash of steel or crash of guns. And then, at other times, people have actually massacred one another over totally asinine causes. If armed conflict is going to escalate to the level of actual aggression, at least let it not stem from the fact that a lost dog wandered into enemy territory. Or over a ruined pastry shop. Yep, both of those things led to actual fighting and death in wars you won’t believe actually happened… but they did.
15. THE WAR OF THE STRAY DOG
In the early years of the 1900s tensions ran rather hot in much of Eastern Europe and the Balkans (witness the predication of WWI as evidence, for example). In 1925, plenty of anger was still simmering in much of the region, as indeed it would continue to do for, oh, the rest of the 20th Century. On one fateful day that year, the dog of a Greek soldier crossed the border into the territory of Greece’s hostile neighbor, Bulgaria. When the soldier ran after his dog, he was shot dead by a Bulgarian. Reacting without what one would call calm and restraint, the Greek army then invaded Bulgaria and commenced a series of skirmishes that left dozens dead on both sides.
14. THE PARAGUAYAN WAR
In 1864, the nation of Paraguay, under the “leadership” of its president Francisco Solano Lopez, declared war on Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Not that one should be judged by size (as we learned from Yoda), but take a look at a map and compare the size of Paraguay compared to the combined territory of those other three nations, and you can probably predict how things were going to go. Paraguay had aspirations to become a major regional and perhaps even an international player and initiated the conflict as a way to expand territorially and in stature. Instead, after a few modest early victories, they had the hell beaten out of them. As much as 70% of the male population of Paraguay was killed during the six years of war, and the entire population was almost halved.
13. THE EMU WAR
If ever there was a war in name only, it was this one. For indeed one side of the conflict not only lacked awareness of the war, but lacked the capacity for such. Why? Because they were birds. In the 1930s, the Australian emu population had gotten so out of hand that the birds were ravaging farm land and ruining the crops and livelihoods of countless Aussie famers. The ensuing debacle would become known as the Emu War (and sometimes the Great Emu War). The “war” involved only a few human combatants armed with machine guns pitted against hordes of large, flightless birds. In the end, the emus won. While the soldiers killed plenty of the birds, their efforts had no appreciable effect on the emu scourge.
12. THE FOOTBALL WAR
Sports fans can get pretty rowdy, and their passion even leads to violence from time to time. Usually hooliganism is limited to fistfights, property damage, and looting; sometimes, however, it spills over into an international armed conflict. This was the case in 1969 when a massive riot between the fans of rival soccer teams from El Salvador and Honduras enflamed preexisting tensions between the two nations. El Salvador launched an attack against Honduras and, over the next four days, some 3,000 people were killed. The conflict saw the extensive use of WWII era equipment, civilian aircraft outfitted for use as bombers, and other irregular tools and tactics.
11. THE PIG WAR
In the late 1850s, both the British and the Americans laid claim to a small island that is perched between the mainland of the United States and Vancouver Island, Canada. American settlers and British traders were both using the lands of the mild, fertile island to grow crops. However, one day an American farmer spotted a pig owned by a Brit eating some of his potatoes. The American promptly shot the pig, which drew great ire from the English. The latter set out to arrest the American, who was promptly backed up by United States troops. A British fleet was then dispatched and, for many days, a shooting war seemed imminent. Months after the killing of the pig, a treaty soothed tensions and the hog remained the only casualty.
10. THE WAR OF JENKIS’ EAR
In the early decades of the 18th Century, the colonial powers Spain and Great Britain were regularly at odds as they vied for territory in the Americas. Territorial disputes concerning borders and influence in the regions that would become Florida and Georgia were of particular concern, and in the year 1738, all that was needed to lead to outright hostility was an excuse. That excuse came in the form of the severed ear of a British sailor named Robert Jenkins. He testified before parliament that a Spaniard had cut his ear off as punishment, and soon the British declared war on Spain. The rallying cry, “Remember Jenkins’ ear!” was apparently called out regularly.
9. THE 335 YEARS’ WAR
Great Britain and the Netherlands were sort of at war for three hundred and thirty five years. Sort of technically from a certain point of view but not really but sort of. Here’s how it went down: during the tumult of the English Civil War in the mid-1600s, the Dutch Navy allied itself with the English Parliamentarian forces and did battle with Royalist ships, principally those vessels moored at the island of Scilly off the Southeastern coast of England. When these forces won the war (it was a series of wars, really), the Dutch left the area without ever technically signing any peace treaties. Someone realized this in the 1980s, and basically as a joke, peace between the two nations was officially established in 1986.
8. THE WAR OF THE BUCKET
Also known as The War of the Oaken Bucket, this conflict from the year 1325 pitted belligerents from the city-states of Modena and Bologna against one another. This episode is yet another example of long-simmering tensions being brought to a head over something trivial; in this case, more than 2,000 soldiers died in a massive clash over the theft of a bucket from a well. There had been border clashes for months before the fateful bucket theft itself, but when a group of soldiers from Modena snuck into Bologna and stole a bucket from the town’s main well, that was a step too far: more than 30,000 Bolognese took up arms and marched to Modena.
7. THE ANGLO-ZANZIBAR WAR
This war goes down in history as being both one of the most asymmetrical and one of the shortest. In fact, as far as wars that actually saw combat (as opposed to all those bloodless wars), this is the shortest war in history. It took place on August 27th, 1896 and pitted British soldiers against troops from Zanzibar. In the course of the 40-minute conflict (some say the entirety of the fighting lasted 38 minutes) some 500 members of the military of Zanzibar were killed or injured. On the English side one Englishman suffered a wound. Heavy artillery firing against wooden ramparts and walls tend to have quite an impact, it turns out.
6. THE TROJAN WAR
There is nothing comical or ridiculous or strange about the Trojan War. So why is it on a list of wars you won’t believe happened? Because it’s entirely likely that this epic war, once thought to be nothing more than the centerpiece of an epic poem, actually happened. It’s entirely plausible that the events told by Homer in The Iliad were based upon actual warfare that took place in either the 11th or 12th BCE. The Bronze Age wars would have seen Mycenaean Greeks invading the city-state of Troy, which was located in what is today the nation of Turkey.
5. THE ARSTOOK WAR
Remember that epic war between Great Britain and the United States? No, not the American Revolution, and not the War of 1812… the Arstook War! This conflict arose over a dispute at the border between Maine and Canada (then fully under British rule). In the year 1838, some Americans began cutting timber in an area the Brits had considered their territory since the war of 1812, despite the fact that they had no people actually located there. Nonetheless, news of the “incursion” led to hundreds of British troops being dispatched to the area. American forces also arrived in force, and a stalemate ensured. No shots were fired in anger, but hundreds of soldiers died from disease, exposure, and other incidental causes.
4. THE TOLEDO WAR
Today, there is little love lost between fans of rival college sports teams from Michigan and Ohio. But in the 1830s, things were even tenser. In fact, militias from the two states almost entered into a shooting conflict in what became called The Toledo War even though no action took place. This miniature civil war that never quite happened was caused by a dispute over which state had proper claim to a strip of land containing a town called Toledo. (Makes sense now, right?) The issue was settled when the Federal government intervened and orchestrated a transfer of the Toledo Strip to Ohio and a different portion of land to Michigan.
3. THE BAY OF PIGS
When you really understand what went into the Bay of Pigs invasion plans, you will hardly believe this ridiculous, ill-conceived operation went ahead. In April of 1961, a band of counter-revolutionary soldiers “invaded” Cuba at the Bay of Pigs with funding and initial covert backing from the CIA. The force consisted of some 1,500 exiled Cubans who would ultimately be up against tens of thousands of Cuban soldiers. The invaders were routed in less than three days, largely because the United States withdrew air support immediately upon the revelation that America was involved. The uprising and war of liberation the Bay of Pigs invasion was meant to spur failed to materialize, and instead Fidel Castro’s grip on power grew more secure.
2. THE DRUNKEN WAR
Properly called the Moldovan-Transdniestrian War, this conflict pitted the divided forces of former Soviet satellite state Moldova against one another. Some wanted closer ties with Russia, and some wanted distance and to ally with the west. While by day the sectarian fighting was often violent and ruthless, by night the soldiers from each side often gathered, dined, and drank. After all, they had been countrymen just weeks before. The fighting ultimately proved fruitless, with a state of Transdniestria declared but recognized by no one in the larger international community.
1. THE PASTRY WAR
In the late 1830s, the French monarchy was incensed with the Mexican government over a number of unpaid outstanding loans. All King Louis-Philippe needed was a reason to start some trouble. He found it when he learned that a decade earlier a French expatriate’s pastry shop had been destroyed during an 1828 riot in Mexico City. The pastry chef had asked for reparations but was ignored by the Mexican government. When the King of France learned of the outrage, he dispatched a fleet that blockaded a major Mexican port. Several battles ensued with several hundred deaths resulting. Eventually the two sides reached a peace deal and the Mexicans paid back a large sum to settle the matter of the pastry shop and the war.
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