“War is politics by other means”, as one Prussian general famously quipped. And just like politics, one should not be surprised at how ludicrous it can sometimes get. From a losing battle with the emus to a war that started over a bucket, in this list, we bring you the 10 most absurd wars in history.
10. Emu war (1932)
Emus | Royal Australian Artillery
A few hundred dead birds | The Pride of the Royal Australian Artillery
The machine-gunners’ dreams of point-blank fire into serried masses of Emus were soon dissipated. The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month. – Dominic Serventy
In response to complaints of some emus running amok in the crop fields, the Australian government dispatched a squad of machine gunners to deal with them. What was thought of as a few days of good target practice turned out to be a protracted guerrilla war with the Australian military unable to deal a decisive defeat on their feathered foe. Eventually, unable to achieve their goal, the soldiers were withdrawn. The Great emu war was a defining moment in the history of avian kind, an event where the technologically superior forces of man were soundly dealt a humiliating defeat at the proverbial hands of the defiant Emus.
9. The Great Goat War (1998 – 2007)
Goats | Charles Darwin Foundation, United Nations, New Zealand, Ecuador
120,000+ Goats, 18,000+ pigs & numerous donkeys
The Galápagos islands are home to a number of exotic and endangered animal species found nowhere else on earth, which is why the presence of the Al-Goat regime (not a real name obviously) on the islands was a cause of concern among ecologists, conservationists and the public in general. The Al-goat regime, with an army numbering in the tens of thousands, were waging a policy of destruction on the archipelago, endangering the lives of many native animals.
With the backing of the United Nations, a campaign was organized to liberate the islands from the goat menace and their allies for good. Unfortunately, despite initial successes, the goats themselves proved to be a stubborn foe, as they turned to guerrilla tactics to counter humanity’s technological superiority. The war would continue to last for many years but steadily, the goats lost ground. In the final stages of the war, so-called Judas Goats were released by humans to lure other goats out from hiding into an ambush. With the elimination of their last remaining holdouts, the goats were eradicated from the islands for good.
8. Three Hundred and Thirty-Five Years’ War (1651 – 1986)
Isles of Scilly | Netherlands
….we could have attacked at any moment – Ambassador Jonkheer R. Huydecoper
The war has its origin during the English Civil War. The Netherlands, looking to keep their alliance secure with the country, chose to fight on the side of the winning team, the Parliamentarians. Thus, they declared war on the Royalist forces and sent a large fleet to the Isles of Scilly, where the Royal Navy was stationed. However, before the Dutch could fire a single shot, the Royalist fleet had already surrendered to the Parliamentarian forces. Thus, the Dutch left, forgetting to officially declare peace. For nearly three and a half centuries, the Dutch Republic technically remained in a state of war with the tiny isles, until one historian wishing to confirm the myth, contacted the Dutch Embassy. Founding it to be accurate, the good-humored Dutch ambassador visited the island and signed a peace treaty, finally bringing an end to the ‘conflict’.
7. Pig war (1859)
United Kingdom | United States
One unfortunate pig
One fine day an American farmer residing on the disputed Britsih-U.S territory of San Juan Island found a large pig eating his precious potatoes. Enraged he shot it dead. However, unbeknownst to him, the pig belonged to a guy named Charles Griffin, an employee of the British Hudson’s Bay Company. When the British Authorities attempted to arrest him, he and other American settlers called in the U.S military for protection.
The situation quickly escalated into a military stand-off, threatening war between the two great powers. Fortunately, when the news of the crisis reached Washington and London, alarmed officials from both countries quickly took action to calm the situation, agreeing to joint occupancy of the region until a settlement could be reached. The impasse continued to last for nearly 12 years before the dispute was finally resolved, concluding with the Treaty of Washington.
6. Kettle War (1784)
Habsburgs | Netherlands
One soup kettle | The career of Duke Louis Earnest
Sensing an opportunity while the Dutch were occupied in their war with England, the Holy Roman Emperor demanded an end to the Barrier system, which was constraining cities in the Belgian region from engaging in maritime trade. Threatening war, the Habsburg Ruler hoped to intimidate the dutch onto the negotiating table. Instead, the Dutch retaliated, intercepting an imperial merchant ship by firing at it; the shot hitting a soup kettle. War followed as the imperial forces invaded Dutch territory.
However, after a short skirmish, negotiations were reopened under the arbitration of France, concluding with the Treaty of Fontainebleau of 1895. Under the agreement, the barrier system was retained but the affected imperial cities were given monetary compensation by the Republic. Accused of having ties with the enemy, the career of Duke Louis Earnest, advisor to the Dutch Stadtholder, was also affected, arguably one of the first victims of the media in the country’s history.
5. War of the Bucket (1325)
Bologna | Modena
Relations were already tense and hostile between the competing city-states of Bologna and Modena when somehow, a bunch of Modenese soldiers managed to sneak into the center of the rival city and steal a bucket. Having seen their pride hurt, the Bolognese demanded the return of their bucket but the Modenese sternly refused. War followed as the Bolognese mustered a mighty force of 32,000 men in a bid to retake their precious bucket. Opposing them were a Modenese force of 7,000 men. Incredibly, the far smaller Modenese army managed to completely route their enemies in battle and thus, retained their ownership of the esteemed bucket. Casualties combined from both sides neared to around 2000 people. Near three centuries later, the Italian poet Alessandro Tassoni would compose a mock-heroic epic on the events of the war.
4. Pastry War (1838 – 1839)
France, United States | Mexico, Great Britain
32 dead, 60 wounded | 95 dead, 129 wounded
An embittered bakery chef demanding compensation led to war between the recently independent state of Mexico and the Kingdom of France, with Great Britain and the United States joining in the scene later as well. In view of the chef’s complaint as well as that of many other French nationals who were victims of looting, France demanded a sum of 600,000 pesos from Mexico, a hefty sum for the time. Receiving no payment, the French Navy blockaded and bombarded the country’s ports.
In response, the Mexicans started the good’ole tradition of smuggling goods through the US border and the U.S, in turn, began patrolling the border as well as sent a ship to help France with the blockade. Desperate, the Mexican authorities accepted an offer of help from a disgraced but talented general, who came out of his retirement only to see his leg blown apart as he was repelling the France forces. He gave his leg full military honors and an elaborate funeral. A British-brokered peace soon followed and Mexico agreed to pay 600,000 pesos (though in actuality, they wouldn’t pay the amount). Exploiting the propaganda value of his crippled state, the now one-legged general seized power in the country.
3. War on Neptune (~40 AD)
The Roman Empire | The Sea
The valuable time of the Roman military and probably their patience as the Roman Emperor was murdered a year later.
The details of the event could largely be ahistorical; Roman historians weren’t exactly known for their impartiality and honesty. After the invasion of Britannia was aborted, Caligula ordered his men to start stabbing the water and then collect sea shells as ‘war trophies’. Aside from the convenient explanation that many contemporary historians of the time gave of him that he was batshit insane, a more likely theory is that assuming the event actually did take place, Caligula may have ordered this stunt as means to humiliate his troops and remind them of their place.
2. Chicken War (1537)
Polish Nobles | King Sigismund I
The newly appointed Polish Monarch sought to strengthen the Polish Kingdom against her many enemies and found the many privileges granted to the many nobles as a hindrance to consolidating the power of the state. His reforms, of course, angered the nobility and they gathered near the city of Lwów to organize and present the King their demands or face the threat of rebellion. The King outright rejected most of their demands, save for a few token measures. Too weak to start a civil war and with their leadership divided, the nobles called it a day and left, having accomplished very little. Supposedly, the local chickens were nearly eradicated, having all been eaten by the nobles gathered at the area.
1. War of the Golden Stool (1900)
British Empire | Ashanti Empire
1,007 | 2,000
Where is the Golden Stool? I am the representative of the Paramount Power. Why have you relegated me to this ordinary chair? Why did you not take the opportunity of my coming to Kumasi to bring the Golden Stool for me to sit upon? – Sir Frederick Hodgson
The relations between the Ashanti Empire and the British colonial administration in Africa were already difficult when one ignorant English gentleman created a diplomatic scandal that resulted in war. Immaturely demanding to sit on the golden stool (the symbol and embodiment of the Ashanti state and it’s people), instead of an ordinary wooden one, the governor unintentionally triggered the casus belli for war.
The enraged Ashanti mobilized a large host and attacked the colonial forces, only a rainstorm saving them from complete annihilation. The survivors retreated to the nearest colonial office buildings and fortified their positions. What followed was a protracted siege as the Ashanti surrounded the fortified buildings and blocked all roads to the area.
Some of the besieged tried to escape and met up with a rescue party. Their numbers dwindled as they were subject to enemy harassment and ambushes; the few that survived managed to reach safety. A new rescue force was then assembled, augmented by friendly tribal warriors. The British finally relieved the siege and then after quelled the resistance in the surrounding region.
The Ashanti Empire was annexed but retained a large degree of autonomy. As for the golden stool, it was never captured by the British, despite their attempts to acquire it in the following years after the war. Some local laborers, however, did accidentally stumble upon it and despoiled the stool, making it worthless literally and symbolically. The British officials had to intervene to prevent their brutal execution. The idiot governor who started it all managed to survive unscathed and lived comfortably to old age.