an emu in front of a bunch of pastries

Stools, Sports and Sows: 7 Truly Weird Wars That Really Happened

People look for any reason to fight. Sometimes, those reasons happen to be really really ridiculous. Over the centuries some truly weird wars have occurred that symbolize the heights of human pettiness. Whether it’s fighting because of a chair, an ear, or just because you hate emus, these are 7 truly weird reasons people went to war.

7. The Pastry War

a bunch of pastries

The Pastry War was a brief conflict between France and Mexico that lasted from November 1838 to March 1839.

During this period, many French citizens lived in Mexico City, including a pastry chef by the name of Monsieur Remontel. The issue began when one night a bunch of allegedly drunk Mexican soldiers damaged and ransacked his beloved restaurant.

In recompense, he demanded 60,000 pesos from the Mexican government. This was despite his restaurant’s value sitting at the princely sum of 1,000 pesos; a sixtieth of the price he sought.

Given already poor relations between the two countries, not to mention Mexico’s large unpaid debt and reported lootings of French citizens, it seemed this latest incident was the cherry on top of France’s proverbial cake.

The French King Louis Philippe ordered a fleet to blockade all Mexican Ports and seize Veracruz and its port. In response Mexico declared war on France, henceforth to be known as the Pastry War.

60,000 pesos and some lost cakes seems a stupid reason to start a weird war. However, tensions had been brewing between the two nations for some time. Someone just needed to light the candle.

Luckily, a peace treaty was signed a few months later in March 1839; except now the Mexican government didn’t need to pay 60,000 pesos… but 600,000. The dough had risen.  But not before Mexican dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna lost a leg in battle, only further solidifying his position and admiration across the country.

6. The War of the Golden Stool

a stock image of a stool

The Ashanti Empire of West Africa, now recognized as Ghana had, like most of the world, a bit of trouble with the Brits. Back in the good old days of the British Empire when they were busy colonizing most of the world, the Ashanti’s didn’t escape their notice. After multiple occupations and uprisings, the conflict eventually boiled down to one, single item of furniture: a golden stool.

In Ashanti culture, the golden stool wasn’t just a fancy seat. It metaphorically and spiritually represented the seat of power in the Empire, passed down from one monarch to another. It was a crucial piece of Ashanti culture and power.

So, it’s unsurprising that when in 1900, Sir Frederick Hodgson of the British colonial office demanded he be allowed to sit on the stool, he was met with silent disdain from the Ashanti people. The lack of understanding of the important place the stool had in the Empire’s culture, combined with the audacity of Hodgson’s request was to many Ashanti Chiefs, the final straw that sparked the War of the Golden Stool.

They met with the Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa, the official guardian of the Golden Stool who famously rallied them all with a speech that roughly translated to:

Now I see that you are afraid to go forward and fight for our king. If you, the chiefs of Ashanti, are going to behave like cowards and not fight, you should exchange your loincloths for my undergarments.

And with those scornful words, the War of the Golden Stool began. Initially successful the might of the British Empire eventually beat down the revolt; although they got to retain one, important item: the Golden Stool.

Later, MP David Lloyd George, recognized the ridiculousness of the whole War of the Golden Stool from the British perspective. Thousands of lives were lost, all for the sake of one Brits over-inflated ego.

5. The Pig War

cute pig staring straight at camera on a wartorn background

From golden stools, to a simple pig that roamed too far in the wrong direction. The Pig War of 1859 was a conflict between the United States and the United Kingdom over ownership of the San Juan Islands.

After a land dispute 13 years earlier, the US and the UK signed the Oregon Treaty. This led to a strained but shared sovereignty of the San Juan Islands. The uneasy truce lasted until an American farmer, Lyman Cutler, got fed up of a pig eating his plants one day. In the trigger-happy fashion Americans are known for, Cutler shot the poor pig for daring to steal a snack.

Unfortunately for Cutler, however, the pig in question was owned by an Irishman, Charles Griffin. With the death of his pig, an argument ensued between the two men, who were unable to agree on a compromise or fair compensation for the shooting.

Unbelievably this argument led to what is now known as the Pig War. Soon, both sides sent multiple soldiers to the San Juan Island, in an attempt to stop the other from claiming control.

The conflict escalated into a big game of chicken. US forces threatened to occupy the island and the Brits sent three fully-fledged warships to deter them. Both sides established separate camps on the island, building up armaments and threats… but with no one actually making any sort of move. Eventually, news of what was going on reached both countries’ home offices, who both recognized the stupidity of this truly weird war. Something no one else seemed to have done since the start.

They began to negotiate in earnest, agreeing to both reduce their military occupation of the island to just 100 men each until they could reach a settlement. This didn’t happen until 12 years later when attention was diverted elsewhere and both sides sort of just stopped caring about who occupied the island…

Finally, the Pig War had ended, and 12 years of stupidity could be put behind both countries. The only casualty, was one poor pig.

4. The War of Jenkins Ear

a sketch of parliament the day jenkins presented teh ear, with two big comedy ears around it

Van Gogh isn’t the only one with a famous ear. In the 1700s a 9-year conflict between Spain and Britain began due to the loss of one Captain’s ear.

The actual loss of Captain Robert Jenkins ear occurred some time before the conflict began, in 1731. Allegedly a Spanish patrol boat happened upon Jenkins’ ship the Rebecca, and cut off Jenkins’ ear as punishment for suspected smuggling.

It was only in 1738 after rising tensions between the two countries that Jenkins testified before Parliament. According to some sources he produced his now pickled severed ear as part of his account. The British of course, were immediately offended that the Spanish would dare lop off their Captain’s body parts (and looking for an excuse to hit back at the Spanish), thus began the War of Jenkins Ear.

Over the next 9 years, Britain would lay siege to various Spanish ports. In return, the Spanish mistreated British merchants and resisted the insurgents.

The Brits sustained heavy casualties. Although the fighting largely ground to a halt by 1741, thousands of Brits had died. Eventually it just sort of petered out, becoming absorbed into the much more important War of the Austrian Succession; making the whole affair utterly pointless.

3. The Football War

people playing football overlaid with an explosion

Although Americans might be tempted to rename this ridiculous war to “The Soccer War”, it was triggered by events relating to the 1970 FIFA World Cup and so its correct name remains ‘The Football War’. Or if you prefer, the Hundred Hours War.

Bet you can’t guess how long it lasted.

But despite its more light-hearted name, and the initial trigger for the Football War, it was actually one of the most serious conflicts on our list. Both countries suffered due to the increased hostilities and it was one of the reasons the Salvadoran Civil War began 10 years later.

By 1969 Honduras and El Salvador were already at serious odds when they met on the pitch in a two-leg FIFA World Qualifier match. It started with violence between fans and ended with El Salvador completely shunning Honduras and severing all ties.

Things got bad fast. Blaming Honduras for the murder, displacement and terrorism towards its people, El Salvador immediately started sending passenger planes strapped with explosives into Honduras and invaded three major regions. Within 24 hours they had reached Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital.

In response however, their air force attacked Salvadoran airbases and an air fight subsequently began. In such a short window thousands of casualties stacked up, and Honduras desperately reached out to the OAS (Organisation for American States) for help.

Thankfully, El Salvador caved to OAS pressure and conceded to a ceasefire. And it all started with a game of footy.

2. The Emu War

Emu stock image with emu at front wearing army hat

The Great Emu War of Western Australia has become an unexpected cultural phenomenon due to its sheer ridiculousness.

In 1932 Australians had a lot of failing farmland. They also then found themselves having to contend with an invasion of 20,000 emus who returned for breeding season.

Desperate and worried about the effects the approaching emu would have on their already traumatized land, the farmers ridiculously requested machine guns to fight them off.

Even more ridiculously, the government summoned World War I veteran soldiers to oblige.

And yet even more ridiculously again, the machine guns didn’t work. The emus were literally too clever. They scattered, making it incredibly difficult for the gunners to make any legitimate headway in their fight against the birds.

It was such a sham it even prompted one ornithologist to remark: “The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic.”

After two failed attempts at culling the emu population, the royal Australian artillery, conceding defeat, withdrew. This means that the great emu war ended as ridiculously as it began, with the emus actually winning.  

1.    The Battle of Karánsebes

battle of karansebes painting

Don’t be fooled by its far more normal sounding name. The Battle of Karansebes is quite easily the most ridiculous and weird war on this list.

It was 1788 and the Austro-Turkish War was well underway. It was the Holy Roman Empire vs the Ottoman and the shaky lines they drew for their territories. On the Roman side, the Austrian light cavalry known as hussars was advancing across Transylvania when they reached the city of Karansebes.

Despite their name, the Austrian army was actually a hodgepodge of Romanians, Serbs, Italians, Austrians and many other nationalities. All of whom failed to understand or recognize each other on sight.

When camping, a group of infantrymen descended and demanded they have the alcohol the Hussars were sharing. An argument ensued and a shot was fired. This triggered an all-out brawl that ended in gunfire, bloodshed, and a lot of dead members of the Austrian army. At no point did anyone realize they were all on the same damn side.

Reportedly the dead ranged anywhere between 500 and 10,000.

When the Ottomans arrived 2 days later, they promptly seized the city; winning the Battle of Karansebes without ever even taking part.

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