#2. The Pig War (1859)
The Americans and British had a long, awkward relationship in the century after the American Revolution. In 1859, it almost came to all-out war... over a pig. Not a golden pig, either, a regular one.
How Did It Start?
Back then, there was a boundary between the American land in present-day Washington state and the British territory to the north. The problem was nobody knew where the boundary was. The San Juan islands sat there and both sides claimed to own them. This went on for years with no problems, until the damned pig came along.
At some point, the British-owned Hudson Bay company (formerly a huge trading company throughout North America) set up operations on the islands and turned it into a sheep ranch, for who knows what nefarious purpose.
Then, in 1859, around 25 American settlers arrived on what they assumed to be their land, no doubt surprised at there being a fairly large amount of sheep already there, each probably with tiny Union Jacks taped to them.
What Happened Next?
On June 15, 1859, one of the Americans, Lyman Cutlar, noticed a pig rooting through his garden and shot it. It turned out the pig was owned by Irishman Charles Griffin, a Hudson Bay employee who owned several pigs and was raising them free range-style, by letting them run around other people's yards.
Cutlar offered Griffin $10 to replace his hog. Griffin demanded $100. Cutlar defended himself by claiming that the pig shouldn't have been on his land eating his potatoes. Griffin supposedly replied with "it's up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig."
British authorities tried to arrest Cutlar, who called on American military aid. 66 American soldiers were dispatched but the British, fearing they would lose control of the islands, sent along a couple of warships to counter the Americans. By the 10th of August, 461 Americans and 14 cannons were being faced down by five British warships carrying 2,140 men. No one suggested simply letting the British shoot one of the American pigs to even things up.
The British were ordered to storm the islands and remove the occupying American forces, which could have triggered an all-out war.
But both the British and American commanding officers gave up the orders and gave their respective soldiers strict orders to only fire if fired upon. Sanity had sort of prevailed.
No one really, though the pig totally lost. By September, everyone seemed to get bored of the whole and agreed on a joint military occupation of the island. For the next 12 years, token military forces of about 100 men lived in harmony, regularly visiting each other and having some terrific bacon sandwiches.
#1. The War of Jenkins's Ear (1739-42)
A huge chunk of the history of the British empire rests on one man, and specifically the fact that this one man suffered a wound that would not let him wear sunglasses properly.
How Did It Start?
Barring bouts of drunken Austrian stupidity, the War of Jenkins's Ear is yet another strong case for Britain's stranglehold on the business of stupid wars.
There was a British navy captain named Robert Jenkins. Jenkins's ship was boarded by nefarious Spaniards in 1731, and they, for reasons best known to them, felt it an appropriate time to slice off the good captain's ear.
Relations between Britain and Spain weren't exactly great at the time, though war had thus far been diverted through the actions of Sir Thomas Walpole, the British Prime Minster, who had settled upon a policy of consummate dullness.
By 1739, Britain had become bored of sitting around and not shooting the Spanish, so, to provide a reason to go to war, a Parliamentary hearing was called about Jenkins's de-earing eight years earlier, and he got to parade his severed and probably rather shriveled ear around parliament. Everyone there immediately declared this was a huge insult to the nation and war must begin forthwith.
Sadly, history is unclear if when he returned home, Jenkins's wife asked how the hearing was, only for Jenkins to reply "Awful! I'VE GOT NO BLOODY EAR."
What Happened Next?
The war continued a bit half-heartedly over the next couple of years, with the two nations bitchslapping one another in the Caribbean and on the South American coast. However, because Europe, at this time, was a mesh of alliances and political intrigue, the War of Jenkins's Ear erupted into the War of Austrian Succession, which became one of those all-continent explosions that Europe so loves to do every now and then.
An estimated half a million people died in that war. That war then formed a major cause of the Seven Years War, the first truly global conflict in which approximately one and a quarter million people died, and Britain eventually emerged as the dominant world power.
The Spanish claim a diplomatic victory for reasons known only to them, but in reality, it was the war equivalent of two elderly women bashing each other with moth-eaten handbags. When the war collapsed into the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War though, we hope that during the decades of death, misery, pounding guns and futile charges, there was an indignant, one-eared captain constantly being told to stop bitching about his ear.
Cheer up England, at least you don't live in one of The 5 Most Terrifying Civilizations In The History of the World. And find out about some national anthems lyrics that read like death metal in 6 National Anthems That Will Make You Tremble With Fear.
And visit Cracked.com's Top Picks because it's the only thing keeping the entire Internet from going to war with each other (we aren't worried, though, because we'd totally win that shit).