Four Hilariously Teeny-Tiny Wars
The last century or so has been a big one for big wars — we even had not one but two that encompassed the entire world. It’s easy, then, to think of war as this massive machine, but that would ignore all the rest of the combat-happy history of warfare. People used to break out into battle over the slightest misunderstanding, and as a result, there were a lot of tiny wars, from duration to area to casualties to plain old fucks given.
The Anglo-Zanzibar War Lasted About 40 Minutes
The Anglo-Zanzibar War can be blamed on the latter’s insufficient succession laws and also the British Empire (get ready to see a lot of them). The death of the sultan in 1896 left several claimants to his throne, including Prince Khālid ibn Barghash, the son of a previous sultan. The Empire preferred a different guy who they expected to be easier to control, but they didn’t have to stick their noses in it at all, although one of their major interests in Zanzibar was ending slavery, so they’re actually not as bad of the guys here for once.
It all came to a head after Khālid occupied the palace and called the Empire’s bluff when they told him he had to be out by the morning of August 27, 1896. He didn’t think they’d actually fire on him despite their several-hundred-year history of doing exactly that, but he immediately found himself in a palace under heavy siege. Khālid surrendered only about 40 minutes later, after 500 of his soldiers were killed, and nobody in Zanzibar so much as stuck their tongue out at the British until their independence 60 years later.
The Nauru Civil War Spanned Eight Square Miles
Nauru is the smallest island nation in the world, only about eight square miles in area, or about one-third of a Manhattan. In such cramped quarters, people are gonna get sick of each other, and in 1878, a fateful argument erupted over dining etiquette at a Nauruan wedding. This was before Reddit, so instead of simply asking the community who was the asshole, the participants began shooting at each other, and one of their bullets hit and killed the son of a clan chief. Things just kind of spiraled from there.
For the next 10 years, outsiders knew little of the Nauru Civil War, only that merchant ships kept landing on the island with the hope of trading for coconuts and finding otherwise perfectly friendly Nauruans more strapped than a 1990s gangsta rapper and other Europeans desperate to escape the conflict. That’s right: 10 years, over a wedding brawl. It didn’t stop until Germany set its sights on colonizing Nauru and its coconuts and seized all 800 rifles on the island. For those keeping track, that’s 100 rifles per square mile. Not even Texas boasts those kinds of numbers.
The Kettle War Had a Single Inorganic Casualty
The Kettle War took place on October 8, 1784, but it really began almost 200 years to the day earlier, when seven states of the Netherlands rebelled against Spain, forming the Dutch Republic and taking the River Scheldt with them. That might not seem like such a big deal today, when rivers are mostly pollution baths that we occasionally get drunk and float down, but back then, it was like cutting off the only highway into town.
Two centuries and one transfer to Austria later, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II asked the Dutch Republic to pretty please give back the river, seriously, you guys, and when they continued giving him the silent treatment, he sent three ships out to take it by force. The Dutch responded with a single ship that sent a single shot, which hit a soup kettle on board one of Joseph’s, spooking his troops into turning tail. It’s totally unclear why — they could have easily defeated the Dutch, even without a kettle. Maybe they were deeply attached to that soup.
Not that it mattered. A few years later, the Dutch Republic reached an agreement with Austria that allowed them to keep the river in exchange for a big payoff, but then France ordered them to give it up anyway. Moral of the story: Never pay for what France will just make you give back later.
The Three Hundred and Thirty Fives’ Year War Didn’t Actually Happen
You might think a war lasting 335 years is a pretty big-ass war, and that would be true — if it actually were a war. It was the middle of the English Civil War, which is a whole thing we can’t even get into or we’ll be here all day, but basically, the Parliamentarians and the Royalists were duking it out for the kingdom in the 17th century, and it was not going well for the latter. They’d let themselves get backed into a corner consisting of the Isles of Scilly, and the Netherlands — who the Royalists had raided after they’d placed their alliance bets on the Parliamentarians — were like, “Hey, while we’ve got you, give us back our shit.” The Royalists refused, so the Netherlands declared war on them.
Then they… did nothing. It’s possible they were waiting on approval from back home, but in the meantime, the Parliamentarians forced the Royalists to surrender and everyone went back home before things got cloggy up in there. The only problem was that the Netherlands neglected to actually declare peace. They presumably figured it wasn’t necessary for a defeated faction that they may or may not have even had the authority to declare war against.
Nobody thought about it again until the ‘80s — yes, the 1980s. A Scilly historian got curious and wrote to the Netherlands, “Hey, um, weird question, but are we currently at war?” and learned that, technically, the answer was yes. The Dutch ambassador traveled to the Isles of Scilly in 1986 to sign a peace treaty, officially putting the conflict behind them. “It must have been awful to know we could have attacked at any moment,” he ribbed, delightfully. We like our ambassadors a little ribby.