History class fills us in on the big ones like the World Wars, the Civil War, etc. But for every major war in world history, there are a dozen smaller ones that don’t make the textbooks. Some are hilarious and some are terrifying, but they’re all worth learning about. Impress the water-cooler crowd with these wars they probably don't know anything about.
The Pig War
This little-known conflict in 1859 could have changed the course of American history forever, and it all started with just one swine. On the tiny island of San Juan off the coast of Washington state, both America and the British Empire claimed possession. The two nations kept an uneasy peace until an American farmer shot a British pig that was in his potato patch. The death of the hog caused the British to try to arrest the farmer, who called in the American military in support. The two nations squared off on the tiny island, with the British Navy sending three warships and over 2,000 men. No further shots were fired and eventually the island was ceded to the Americans.
The Stray Dog War
Sticking with animals kicking off international conflicts, we’ll look at the long-running rivalry between Greece and Bulgaria. The two nations have never gotten along, so when a Greek soldier chased his runaway dog across the border in 1925 and was shot dead by a Bulgarian border guard, that was all it took to set off a firestorm. The very next day, the Greek army mobilized and invaded the border region of Petrich, routing the Bulgarian army there and preparing for further incursions. The League of Nations (the predecessor to the U.N.) quickly stepped in and cooled things down, ordering Greece to withdraw and pay Bulgaria about $90,000 in damages.
The War of Jenkins’ Ear
Wars get started for all sorts of reasons -- land disputes, religious differences, assassinations -- but this is the only one that we know of that involves a severed ear. When British sea captain Robert Jenkins’ boat was boarded by the Spanish in the Caribbean, he was accused of piracy and had his left ear cut off. He brought the ear to Parliament in 1738 and it was enough to cause Great Britain to declare war on the Spanish, but after seven years of conflict, both parties backed out with no major territorial changes on either side.
The Moldovan-Transdniestrian War
The fall of the Soviet Union left the myriad countries subsumed into the Communist juggernaut looking for something to do. In some cases, that something was war. Moldova was a country caught in the middle, with one partisan faction wanting to stay allied with Romania and the other with Mother Russia. Nearly a thousand people were killed before hostilities were quelled, but the weirdest part of the war was the relationships between soldiers. During the night, it was common for fighters on both sides to mix and mingle at bars in the disputed zone, often apologizing to each other for the day’s events.
The Honey War
Back in the early days of the United States, the federal government didn’t have the iron hand of control that it does today, so states would often get into ridiculous squabbles with each other that sometimes escalated to violence. In 1839, the governor of Missouri decided to redraw that state’s border with Iowa for giggles, and then sent tax collectors into the disputed area to get some cash from its new citizens. This didn’t go well, with the only spoils from the raid being three beehives full of honey. The Missouri militia was dispatched and got into armed conflict with Iowa citizens, who captured a sheriff before Congress finally got involved, drawing a permanent border line and telling both states to chill the F out.
Holding the world record for the shortest war in history, this conflict lasted a staggering 38 minutes. Imagine stepping out for a sandwich and coming back to find that a war happened while you were at Quiznos. In 1896, a new Sultan of Zanzibar came into power, but Khalid bin Bargash wasn’t satisfied with having his protectorate be a British puppet like his predecessors. So he refused, declared war and barricaded himself in the palace. Less than an hour later, the British had shelled him out, removed him from power and installed a new Sultan in his place.
The Football War
Lasting just four days, this conflict between Honduras and El Salvador was about more than just a soccer game. By the late 1970s, Salvadorans had been emigrating to Honduras in the hundreds of thousands to find work. Tensions between the two nations were at a boiling point, and the spark that started the fire was the FIFA World Cup qualifying matches between the two. After each side won a game, the Salvadoran Air Force (made up of passenger planes with bombs strapped to the bottom) started attacking Honduran targets, occupying a decent amount of territory in the rival nation. Obviously, an extended war could never be supported, so a cease-fire was negotiated, but the countries would remain bitter enemies for more than a decade.
The Watermelon War
Here’s another war that started over a totally trivial thing and quickly spiraled out of control. In the late 1800s, the United States’ occupation of Panama to build the canal displaced much of the nation’s white-collar workforce, leaving tons of natives unemployed. When a boat carrying an additional 1,000 American workers landed in Panama City, things got real. One passenger, a man named Jack Oliver, grabbed a piece of watermelon from a Panamanian vendor and refused to pay for it. The vendor pulled a knife, Oliver pulled a gun, and before long we had two nations duking it out, with casualties on both sides. A railroad car of riflemen eventually arrived and brokered a peace, but the brief war laid the groundwork for the later American occupation of Panama.
The Emu War
We’ve seen animals start wars, but an actual war on animals? It happened in 1932. Australia found itself ravaged by emus, the large, flightless birds that resemble ostriches. Over 20,000 of the creatures were wreaking havoc on crops, which prompted the Australian government to actually declare all-out war on the species, dispatching machine-gun-toting soldiers into the desert with orders to shoot emus on sight. The birds proved tougher than estimated, however, and after a week, the commanding officer gave up, having killed barely 10 percent of their target.
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The Chaco War
Another South American conflict, this one started over a postage stamp. The Chaco region lies on the border between Bolivia and Paraguay, and both countries believed that it was incredibly rich in oil. (It wasn’t.) In 1932, Bolivia issued a postage stamp featuring a map of their country, including Chaco. Paraguay struck back by issuing their own stamp with their own map, also featuring Chaco. It didn’t stop there, though. In 1932, hostilities erupted for real in the region, with both sides buying armaments from the United States and Europe. After all the dust settled, Paraguay was on top, the proud owners of a completely useless bit of land.