6 Reasons Famous Wars Were Even Worse Than You Imagined

6 Reasons Famous Wars Were Even Worse Than You Imagined

Unless they're of the star or cupcake variety, wars are always terrible things. There have been times, however, when the Universe saw these sad situations and decided that things could get even suckier and just ... weirder. We're guessing you already know about the flying limbs and the gangrene, but here are some war-related problems from history you probably didn't see coming ...

The Most Dangerous Thing On The Battlefield Is ... Diarrhea

Most war movie characters die in a blaze of glory, gunned down while heroically leading a charge or jumping on an explosive to save their buddies. If historical accuracy was called for, however, then a lot of them would simply shit themselves to death. Not only should there should be dozens and dozens of extras clutching their bellies in pure, dignity-free pain, but a stench cloud the size of a zeppelin should be hovering over the camp at all times. As the rugged hero contemplates his own mortality in his bunk at night, his thoughts should be accompanied by a symphony of tent-flapping farts.

You see, there is no conflict in history during which brave soldiers have not crapped themselves inside out. Twice as many people died of diseases like dysentery and acute diarrhea as from injuries during the Civil War. In fact, it was such a problem that the rules of engagement forbade the shooting of men "while attending to the imperative calls of nature" -- or shrieks of nature, depending on what they'd been eating lately.

6 Reasons Famous Wars Were Even Worse Than You Imagined
Kurz & Allison/Library of Congress
Those clouds aren't from explosions.

This wasn't the best situation for the British during World War II, either. Thanks to Hitler's shipping blockade, which prevented vital supplies from getting into the country, their troops had a daily toilet paper ration of three sheets, which (take it from me) is barely enough to shine a single cheek. By way of comparison, 'Murican troops stationed in Britain had a daily ration of 22.5 sheets, which frankly is just gratuitous. All's fair in the love and war, except when it comes to toilet paper, it seems, in which case y'all can suck it.

The Military Euthanized Thousands Of "Expendable" Working Dogs In Vietnam

Not all of the American soldiers who served in Vietnam were human. No, we're not doing an article about the military's secret vampire division ... yet. This about dogs. And if you're a fan of dogs, we have to warn you that this is about to get sadder than Marley & Me meets Saving Private Ryan.

During America's time in Vietnam, soldiers fought alongside 4,000 h*ckin' good doggos, who worked in many capacities -- as trackers, sentries, patrol dogs, tunnel dogs, you name it. This came at a price, however. Not only were their handlers targeted by the enemy for being awesome, but over a thousand dogs died of everything from gunfire to booby traps to disease. So how did the military repay these dogs for their service? Did they get a parade or bone-shaped medals or, you know, the chance to come home?

Ummm, no.

6 Reasons Famous Wars Were Even Worse Than You Imagined
Rick Claggett /U.S. Army
In case it isn’t obvious, that was your cue to gather up all the tissues, toilet paper, and especially soft receipts in your house.

In our rush to pull out of Vietnam, the military ordered -- against the pleas of handlers -- that all military dogs be classified as "surplus equipment" and thereby left behind or euthanized. Command claimed that the dogs could've picked up diseases during their time in the jungle which could prove disastrous at home, or that the dogs would start mauling random civilians as soon as they touched down, unable tell the difference between a small child and the Vietcong. Then again, considering how the government generally treats them, the veterans were lucky they didn't also get ditched for the same stupid reasons.

British WWII Soldiers Were Forced To Work In The Mines, Even After The War Ended

If war ever breaks out and your country asks you to stand up and be counted, the least you'd expect in return is a badass nickname, a hearty handshake, and a few words of thanks. Thousands of British soldiers during World War II had to settle for something different: a pickax and a miner's helmet.

Why? Because in 1943, Britain realized they'd made a huge mistake by not letting miners be exempt from being conscripted into the army. Soon the country started running out of miners, which meant that they were also about to start running out of coal. To prevent that, the government decided to divert a number of the newly conscripted away from the trenches and into the mines, which only sounds like a good alternative. Alongside the anger that some felt at being conned out of their destiny as war heroes, the mines were so underfunded that the newbies were required to buy their own tools and equipment, including picks, shovels, and helmets. It's small wonder they weren't asked to provide their own dirt.

Tom Hickman Author of The Call-Up' CALLED UP SENT DOWN The Bevin Boys' War
The History Press
These guys look pretty happy about it, though.

Between 1943 and 1948, 48,000 of these "Bevin Boys" were sent to work in dark, rat-infested, dangerous mines with unsafe machinery and whatever equipment they themselves could afford. They also didn't have much in the way of quality accommodation. The majority were forced into living in metal Nissen huts, which often proved suffocating in the summer and hypothermia-inducing in the winter (so at least there was variety). On top of that, the local communities often hated their guts, figuring they must be a bunch of wussies who decided to stay behind and steal the jobs of braver, no doubt sexier men.

Some Bevin Boys had to stick around in the mines until long after the shit had finished hitting the fan and been hanged at Nuremberg. As they weren't "real" conscripts, however, they received no benefits, no thanks, and weren't immediately placed back into their old prewar jobs. Even the sweet release of death held no reward. If a Bevin Boy was involved in a bad mining accident, they (or their surviving family members) received no compensation aside from an "Aw, too bad," if that.

Ministry of Information
It’s has to be a pretty rough job to make getting shot at by Nazis seems like the comparatively better option.

It wasn't until 1995 that the government recognized the Bevin Boys' service and commemorated their work. Although "recognized" is a pretty strong word, considering that a fire in the 1950s destroyed what few records were kept as to who served in the mines. "Want some acknowledgement for having helped defeat the Axis? Hope you haven't lost any paperwork in the last 40 years!"

Rich People Could Legally Pay The Poors To Fight The Civil War On Their Behalf

War is meant to be the great equalizer. Everyone dresses in the same uniform, everyone marches out with the same gun, and everyone faces down death with a sneer and an anus trying not to explode like a grenade. Or at least, that's how things should work. In the 1860s, see, men of wealth could buy their way out of battle by paying someone else of ... much lesser wealth to take their place.

6 Reasons Famous Wars Were Even Worse Than You Imagined
Via Wikipedia
In the North, that is. In the South, the rich beat conscription by default.

To ensure that the Union Army was less a concept and more an actual army, the government passed the Enrollment Act of 1863, which effectively conscripted everyone in good health and of fighting age. The rich, however, were so loath to fight that many took advantage of a loophole that allowed them to get out of patriot duty by paying a "substitute" to take their place for the princely sum of $300 (5k, adjusted for inflation). Amongst the people who bought their way out of battle were Grover Cleveland, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, George Templeton Strong, and Abraham Lincoln -- although that last one had a pretty good reason to stay out of the trenches.

6 Reasons Famous Wars Were Even Worse Than You Imagined
Fletcher C Ransom/Library of Congress
He was way too tall. His head would have stuck out.

This was a pretty good deal if you were an able-bodied man with money to burn and a desire to not have your body exploded across a cornfield. But it was a huge smack in the face to the people who couldn't exploit this loophole, not least of all because they were risking life and limb to save the butts of the posh pricks who decided that they were too good to help out. Also, it's hard to feel bad that they had to shell out such a high amount since, in the case of industrialists like Rockefeller, they made that money back (and then some) from the war itself.

The loophole was so despised that it gave rise to the Draft Riots, wherein roving gangs of men would beat wealthy-looking folks (the "three-hundred-dollar-men," as they called them), who could seldom find an understudy to lay down on the floor and take kicks for them on such short notice.

Most "Fragging" In 'Nam Targeted Non-Combat Officers Over Petty BS

If you've seen any Vietnam movie, you know what "fragging" is. That was how pissed-off or bullied soldiers (permanently) dealt with the asshole officers who were making their lives hell. In the movies, the "victim" is always some dangerous maniac who is clearly about to get the whole platoon killed if someone doesn't do something fast, usually with a well-placed grenade.

6 Reasons Famous Wars Were Even Worse Than You Imagined
Warner Bros. Pictures
Or, failing that, he has committed the unforgivable crime of being R. Lee Ermey.

The truth is more complicated, however. Although fragging was real, the 900+ attempted attacks that were recorded mostly didn't target bad guys or crazy people -- they were aimed at non-combat officers over insignificant personal crap. When one researcher looked into the motives of fraggers, they found incidents, for example, in which officers were killed for forcing troops to cut their hair, for not giving someone enough cigarettes, or for chewing someone out for falling asleep on guard duty. The mature way of dealing with such situations is laying a wet turd inside their sleeping bag, not an explosive device.

So what the hell was happening? Well ... the war. That same researcher found that the number of fragging incidents increased steadily as the war raged on and on and on and on, with most occurring between 1968 and 1972. It was a consequence not only of everyone realizing that this invasion was some pointless BS, but also of the fact that conscription was starting to pull in the sort of petty, self-absorbed jerks who don't belong near high explosives. Fragging, then, was the result of a military-wide breakdown in morale and discipline, not an upsurge in heroic figures dealing with complex moral dilemmas.

Hawaii Was Turned Into A Military Dictatorship After Pearl Harbor

When all you have is racism, every problem looks like an excuse to put entire groups of people in camps. We are, of course, talking about that time in 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. government responded by calling up the National Guard and placing Hawaii under martial law -- not to protect the citizenry from further attacks, but because putting the island's 150,000-strong population of citizens of Japanese descent in prison would have been too much of a hassle.

Shockingly, life in Escape From New York (well, Honolulu) wasn't good. During the day, the population was forced to help fortify the islands by laying barbed wire, digging foundations for bomb shelters, and all around doing whatever the military wanted them to.

Anyone caught taking photos of the coastline or these new defenses (for their ... scrapbook?) risked being imprisoned or shot. At night, meanwhile, a strict curfew meant that everyone had to be off the streets by 9 p.m. or, again, risk becoming a casualty right in their own neighborhood.

The Constitution? They'd certainly heard of it. The governor, however, suspended the islander's constitutional rights to "discourage concerted action of any kind." Among other things, everyone was fingerprinted and forced to carry ID cards, newspapers were banned, speaking in a language other than English was no bueno, everyone had their mail read, and restrictions were placed on how much cash an individual could carry. And if you were caught breaking these rules? Good luck going in front of a military tribunal. They look like a cheerful bunch.

After a few years, it became obvious that not only were the Japanese not interested in invading Hawaii, but also that a military dictatorship might've been a bit much for the islands. There was one positive benefit, however: The piss-poor treatment of the islanders galvanized support for giving statehood to Hawaii. Because mass imprisonment of minority groups would never happen in the real states, no sir.

Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter about depressing history that you should definitely subscribe to.

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For more, check out 5 Insane True Stories That Change How You Picture WWII and The 5 Creepiest Stories In The History Of War.

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