Quick, what do you think is the dumbest reason anyone has gone to war? If you immediately talk about Iraq or Vietnam, well, history has a whole bunch of stupid examples for you.
As these examples prove, all of the reasons are really secondary. We just really like war.
The War of the Golden Stool (1900)
Just a tip: If you show up at somebody's house and they have a piece of golden furniture, don't sit on it unless they ask you to. It's probably important.
How Did it Start?
So there was this stool. It was an actual golden stool, belonging to the Ashanti Empire (an African state on the Gold Coast, not the estate of the R&B singer). The stool was sacred, believed to house not only the authority of the chief, but also the spirit of the Ashanti nation, as well as the souls of the living, dead and yet to be born.
It's all here in this diagram.
So in 1896, the Ashanti King had been exiled, leaving the Ashanti people without a chief. Fortunately, the British Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Frederick Hodgson, was there to help, in the way that the white man is always happy to do.
In March 1900, Hodgson entered the Ashanti capital and said that since the Ashanti lands were under the rule of the Queen, they had better fetch him this sacred Golden Stool so he could sit his ass right on it. "And probably fart on it," he might as well have added.
The locals sat there in stunned silence at this suggested ass-defiling of their heritage and custom, and when the speech finished, went home and rustled up as many weapons as they could find. Thus began the War of the Golden Stool.
What Happened Next?
The British sent some men out to look for the stool, and were surprised to find themselves under a vicious attack by a force led by Yaa Asantewaa (the mother of the exiled king).
The British column was nearly annihilated, and the survivors managed to scamper back to Kumasi and barricade themselves in their small fort on March 28th, 1900, spraying petrified fountains of poop with every step. Yaa Asantewaa laid siege to them for the next three and a half months with a force of up to 12,000 men.
The British had to bring in several thousand men, under the command of Major James Willcocks, as well as some serious pieces of hardware, to break through the cordon. They finally did on July 14, 1900. The besieged British had been trapped for three months, and had run out of food and ammunition and were in desperate need of fresh underpants.
In retaliation to the Ashanti's impertinence, Willcocks spent the remainder of the summer butchering local villages, razing towns and stealing land.
Though the Ashanti lost on the battlefield, suffered over 2,000 military casualties (plus many more civilians), were annexed, were brutally repressed and had their heads of state exiled, they still claimed to have won the war.
Why? Because through all of it, the British never got to sit on their fucking golden stool.
The Flagstaff War (1845-46)
People tend to get worked up about their flags. For instance, try going to a military base with an ax and cut their flagpole down. See what they say.
How Did It Start?
In 1840, British troops were doing what they usually did, which was hang around a country that was not their own. Specifically New Zealand and, specifically, the town of Kororareka. It was a place of brothels, grog-holes and gambling dens, and was filled with people bereft of scruples and/or one or more limbs who spent their days having comical bar fights.
The British went ahead and hoisted the Union Jack over the town, figuring nobody would mind. Who doesn't love the British flag?
Meet Hone Heke, a chief of some of the natives. He rode into town and chopped down the flagpole, apparently figuring they wouldn't actually be ruled by the British as long as the flag wasn't there. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
What Happened Next?
What followed was a display of splendid idiocy. The garrison instantly erected a new flagpole, which Heke chopped down just as swiftly, and a third replaced it, only to be felled again. Then a fourth was erected, and was reinforced with iron and had an armed guard, all presumably smirking away. We like to imagine all of this taking place in the course of one lunch hour.
Back in England, the House of Commons decided that Heke and his people had no right to chop down flagpoles and live unmolested in their own country, and declared that lessons needed to be taught. Helpful missionaries carried this information to Heke, who was less than impressed.
On March 11, 1845, Heke and his tribe descended into the town with unprecedented savagery, butchering townsfolk indiscriminately. British troops tried to dig themselves in around their barracks, but probably ought to have been shooting as they were swiftly overwhelmed. As a final "fuck you," Heke chopped down that damned flagpole again.
The war dragged on for 10 bloody months. The British managed to quash Heke's rebellion over time, but the war can only really be called a scoreless draw.
And while the British remained in control of the territory, they didn't dare try to erect another flagpole in that spot.
The Battle of Karansebes (1788)
Hey, what if a bunch of soldiers got really drunk, right in the middle of the war? And started shooting at each other, just for fun?
Let's just say things get out of hand really fast.
How Did It Start?
So, in 1788, Austria was at war with Turkey. The Austrian army was marching down to clash with an advancing Turkish army in what is now Romania. Shenanigans ensued.
What happened was the Austrians set up camp for the night, and some scouts on horseback went out to check the immediate countryside for any armed Turks. They came across a band of gypsies with a shitload of schnapps for sale, which they eagerly bought and began drinking with a gusto rarely seen outside of a frat party.
Now imagine they're shitfaced.
A load of Austrian infantry were also out and about, and came across the group of scouts. They wanted to join the drinking. The boozy scouts refused and set up makeshift fortification in what probably seemed a really funny idea at the time. Things got heated, an argument broke out and someone got too excited and fired a shot.
What Happened Next?
All Hell broke loose, infantry and scouts firing wildly at each other. The infantry, in a state of confusion, began shouting that the Turks were attacking them. The scouts, even though it was they who were attacking their infantry, suddenly believed that there actually was a huge, swarthy, mustachioed Turkish army just behind them.
Filling their snazzy cavalry pants with rapidly escaping dinners, the scouts broke ranks and piled through the ranks of infantry. The infantry took this as a sign that the Turks were definitely there. They began a panicky withdrawal, all animosity forgotten in the face of the imaginary Turkish army.
Just when the whole affair couldn't get any stupider, it did. The Austrian army was made up of soldiers from several countries and they spoke different languages. So when the German-speaking officers started shouting "Halt! Halt!" in their own language, the non-German-speakers mistook it for cries of, "Allah! Allah!"
The whole frantic group of soldiers finally arrived back at the main camp. An officer there, in a moment of slapstick brilliance, reasoned that the charging, shouting men must be a Turkish attack, and ordered an artillery strike.
The entire camp then awoke to the sound of an enormous battle and they all did what every disciplined soldier would do at a time like this: ran away in different directions, firing wildly. The situation escalated until the army was called into a general retreat from the imaginary enemy. Finally, not wanting to miss out on the fun, the leader of the whole operation, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, got knocked off his horse and landed in a stream.
The only real winner here was magnificent stupidity. For a more tangible result, we'll say that the points went to the Turks, who arrived at the scene two days later to find almost 10,000 dead and wounded Austrians and, after they had all had a good laugh, promptly captured the town and surrounding countryside.
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.
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).