The Australian Army Once Went To War With Emus (And Lost)
I hate birds. Almost entirely across the board, there's not one of nature's bird offerings that I'm down with. I might throw a couple hawks or owls onto my Ark when the big one hits, but other than that, there's just no room. This is important, because as someone who genuinely -- and mostly without any good reason at all -- hates birds, even I can't necessarily endorse going to war with them. But that's exactly what Australia did in 1932, when they had their actual military load up actual machine guns to try to murder as many emus as possible. It was exactly as ridiculous as it sounds.
Before The Battle
World War I has just ended. Soldiers are returning home from an absolute horror show, and many don't know what to do with themselves. For those heading down under, the government had an idea: Give them a bunch of absolutely dogshit land to "farm" in Western Australia. It was the equivalent of getting a starting tile in Sim City without any toolbars, yet they somehow made it work. But then two things happened: The Great Depression hit, and the emus started rolling in. If you've never seen an emu, here's a short video to give you an idea of what they're like:
Tens of thousands of these hideous hellbirds began to ravage the already-shitty farmland. Can you imagine how pissed you'd be if you finally made some progress on truly terrible land, after years and years of backbreaking labor, only to have 20,000 of these Jim Henson rejects start gobbling up the wheat?
Keep in mind, emus are birds by definition, but they're basically dinosaurs. Topping out at over six feet and reaching max speeds of around 30 mph with razor-sharp beaks, they're as close as we've got to damn velociraptors. They're one of those creatures that reaffirm my suspicion that if there is a big man up there, he's a mean drunk. They look and behave like someone hot-glued a bunch of feathers on a naked Andy Dick and set him loose.
I'm just trying to paint a picture of the foe the Australian military would soon be going up against. Also, to be clear, the emus were there first. From the emus point of view, this was an Independence Day situation.
The Kill Order
Even though the farmers were military-trained, there were too many damn emus for their rifles to make any sort of impact. To make matters even more difficult, emus were officially under protected status by the Australian government. You weren't supposed to put on a ghillie suit and just snipe the damn things all day. That is, until the government legally declared open season.
Officially, the emu's status changed to "vermin," which seems a bit dismissive of these genuine monsters. Regardless, the kill switch was flipped, and the farmers got the all-clear to set up shop like Lee Harvey Oswald. But it still wasn't enough. The emus kept coming, and the farmers realized that not only were they wasting money on ammo, but also that their new foe was unstoppably resilient.
And imagine how awful the cleanup would be for this sort of kill. You can't just drop one and forget about it. For each emu a farmer did manage to take down, they had a man-sized creature to dispose of. The entire thing was a goddamn mess, and all these farmers wanted to do was try to turn Tatooine into a farmable place, and maybe forget about all of the people they had to kill in the Great War along the way. So ...
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"Fuck It, Let's Go To War With Birds"
On November 2, 1932, bird war was declared. The Australian government decided to send in the military to deal with this problem once and for all. I'd like to think that the guy in charge of making this call was up for an agonizing 24 hours, staring at a red phone. He's puffing on a cigar. He pushes his eye patch to the top of his head, pops out his glass eye, polishes it, pops it back in, finally picks up the phone, and says, "They've left me with no other option. It's emu war. May God have mercy on our souls."
One Major Meredith was put in command. He was an experienced military man who had been trained in conventional, non-bird war, and must have been a bit surprised by that knock on his door. Like when they go find Rambo and pull him out of that monastery to fight one more war, Meredith was probably a bit confused to be called back in action for a war on emus. But he went for it. He put together a unit and got a shitload of machine guns and ammo, spun up "Fortunate Son," and they rolled out to Western Australia to light up some goddamn birds. And almost immediately, they got their asses handed to them.
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Emu War Is Hell
First, Major Meredith had his men prepared to sneak up on an unsuspecting gang of 50-100 birds. Unbeknownst to the emus, a genuine, bona fide military unit was approaching their position, armed to the teeth. But whatever confidence Meredith's men had in their mission would disappear completely the second they opened fire. Because emus are fucking wild.
The soldiers laid into the unsuspecting birds with a salvo of lead, and the birds just booked it all over the place. The few that got hit seemed to take the bullets in stride, and kept running in unpredictable patterns like ... like some sort of giant bird being attacked by a machine gun. There's really no better metaphor.
In the end, only a few emus were actually killed, and the army had a taste of what was to come. Here is a quote from Major Meredith: "If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world ... They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks."
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It's Actually An Inspiring Story From The Birds' Point Of View
On the next attempt, Meredith's men happened on about 1,000 emus in a field. Seems like you couldn't miss, right? The soldiers laid into the emus at point-blank range .... and killed 10 of them. TEN. One of the men in the unit described the tactical masterminds they were up against thusly:
"The emus have proved that they are not so stupid as they are usually considered to be. Each mob has its leader, always an enormous black-plumed bird standing fully six-feet high, who keeps watch while his fellows busy themselves with the wheat. At the first suspicious sign, he gives the signal, and dozens of heads stretch up out of the crop. A few birds will take fright, starting a headlong stampede for the scrub, the leader always remaining until his followers have reached safety."
These soldiers were being so thoroughly rocked by their bird foes that they were quite clearly losing it. It was time for a new tactic. This time they were going to put their guns on trucks and smoke these emus drive-by style. So the Aussie military skipped to "Picture Me Rollin'" on their bird war mixtape and cruised up on the emus to open fire. Guess what? That shit didn't work either.
As they sprayed bullets wildly, the soldiers barely killed any birds, and one of the few they did fell before them, and its corpse got stuck in their jeep. The jeep ran off the road, hit a ditch, and plowed through a farmer's fence. This, if we're sticking with the Independence Day comparison, is like the moment when Randy Quaid crashes his plain into the alien spaceship. The Australian military had seen enough. They knew that they were facing an unwinnable war, and they pulled out.
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In The End, Humans Pretty Much Always Win
With the military in retreat, the emus were able to look out upon their land and know that they would finally be able to see peace after these years of war. That they could finally chomp on all the wheat they could handle without fear of expertly trained killers rolling up on them with machine guns. Or not so much. Over the next few decades, some 200,000 emus were killed.
The farmers were finally able to get back to their shitty land, and even though a ton of emus were killed, there's still a happy(ish) ending, as they somehow did not go extinct (though the government did have to put some legal protections back in place). And somewhere, out in the wilderness, you can probably find a crude emu-constructed memorial to the one who managed to wreck that jeep.
For more, check out Why The Cassowary Is The Most Terrifying Animal Ever:
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