Some wars seem important and inevitable. Like World War II or the American Civil War. Others, not so much. Turns out, humans just love to fight. And we’ll use almost anything as an excuse to do it. From wooden buckets to stray dogs, and even one centuries long war that everyone forgot they were supposed to be fighting, these are just a few of the silliest, most face-palmingly dumb wars ever fought. May we immediately forget.
10. Emu War (1932)
The term “war” often conjures up images of intense battles, strategic planning, and significant outcomes. But when it comes to the Emu War, the stakes were… a bit different. Taking place in Australia in 1932, this conflict pitted humans against, of all things, flightless birds.
After World War I, many Australian veterans were given land by the government to take up farming. By 1932, these farmers had a problem on their hands: around 20,000 emus, large native birds of Australia, began migrating inland from coastal areas, trampling fences and ravaging the newly cultivated lands in the process. To combat this feathery menace, the government dispatched soldiers equipped with two Lewis machine guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. What could go wrong?
Well, as it turned out, a lot. The emus confounded the soldiers by running in erratic patterns, making them tough to hit. In one “battle,” only a dozen birds were killed out of a thousand, and the machine guns jammed. After several attempts, the soldiers admitted defeat in the Emu War. It’s yet more proof that people only live in Australia because the wildlife permits it.
9. War of the Oaken Bucket (1325-1328)
Wars have been fought for a multitude of reasons – land, power, honor, or sometimes, just a simple wooden bucket. Enter the War of the Oaken Bucket, which was not an SNL skit but exactly what it sounds like: a war fought over a bucket between the rival Italian city-states of Modena and Bologna.
Let us explain. The tensions between the two cities had been simmering for years due to political and territorial disputes. However, the straw that broke the camel’s back was an audacious act by Modenese soldiers. During a raid on Bologna, instead of going for something valuable or strategic, they brazenly stole an oaken bucket from a city well. This seemingly trivial theft was taken as a grave insult by the Bolognese, who demanded the bucket’s return. When Modena refused, the situation escalated to a full-scale battle, known as the Battle of Zappolino. The Modenese emerged victorious and, adding insult to injury, kept the bucket as a war trophy. To this day, the infamous oaken bucket is displayed in Modena, a reminder of one of history’s stupidest conflicts. And that’s saying a lot.
8. War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748)
Now, while the name might sound like a quirky tale from a children’s book, the War of Jenkins’ Ear was a deadly serious conflict between Britain and Spain during the 18th century. The strange name derives from the incident that became the catalyst for tensions that had been building between the two naval powers.
In 1731, Captain Robert Jenkins, a British merchant seaman, claimed that while his ship was boarded by Spanish coastguards, they had severed one of his ears, warning that the same would happen to King George II. This story might have remained a sailor’s tale, but it gained political traction in 1738 when Jenkins reportedly displayed his preserved, severed ear to the British Parliament, fueling the fires of anti-Spanish sentiments. Although there were deeper issues at play, such as trading rights in the Caribbean and territorial ambitions, this ear-centric incident played a significant role in rallying public and parliamentary opinion against Spain. By 1739, the nations were at war.
7. Pastry War (1838-1839)
No, it wasn’t a food fight. This was an actual war fought between France and Mexico, and it all started with a disgruntled French pastry chef named Remontel.
In the early 1830s, Remontel’s shop in Tacubaya (now part of Mexico City) was looted by Mexican officers. Outraged by the damages which amounted to 60,000 pesos and unable to get compensation from the Mexican government, Remontel took his grievances all the way to King Louis-Philippe of France. The pastry chef’s complaints coincided with broader concerns the French had over Mexican debts and unpaid reparations following the Mexican War of Independence.
Seizing on the pastry incident as the last straw, France decided to take action. In 1838, French forces blockaded Mexico’s eastern seaboard, aiming to force a resolution. This military pressure led to skirmishes, including a significant naval battle at Veracruz.
The conflict came to a close in early 1839 when British diplomat Sir Charles Elliot mediated between the two nations. Mexico agreed to repay the 600,000 pesos debt, including Remontel’s pastry-related damages. The Pastry War serves as a deliciously odd reminder of how seemingly trivial incidents can escalate in the context of larger international tensions.
6. Toledo War (1835-1836)
If two states are going to fight over who gets possession of a city, you’d think it’d be something like Chicago or New York. Not freaking Toledo, Ohio. And yet, there was the Toledo War. The “war” was “fought” from 1835-1836 between Ohio and Michigan, over which state got to control the 468-square-mile Toledo Strip. Both states claimed the area as their own, citing conflicting surveys and interpretations of old territorial laws, and hoping to capitalize on its potential as a rising trade hub due to the Erie Canal.
Both sides mustered militias and rattled sabers. Thankfully, though, nobody was killed. This border spat escalated to the federal level and was eventually settled without a battle. In 1836, as a condition for its statehood, Michigan was “persuaded” to cede the Toledo Strip to Ohio. In return, Michigan was granted the western portion of the Upper Peninsula, an area rich in timber and minerals. At the time, many Michiganders felt shortchanged, but in the long run, the vast resources of the Upper Peninsula proved to be a boon for the state.
5. The Soccer War (1969)
Everyone knows Latin America takes soccer very seriously. But Honduras and El Salvador went a little overboard in 1969. To be fair, while the Soccer War is nicknamed after the sport, attributing the war solely to soccer is an oversimplification. The matches were more the spark than the sole cause. Still, they played an embarrassingly large role.
Both countries had longstanding tensions over land and immigration issues. By the 1960s, many Salvadorans had migrated to Honduras in search of better opportunities. However, these migrants often faced discrimination and hostility. Matters came to a head in June 1969 during a three-game soccer series between the two countries as part of the World Cup qualifiers. Each game was accompanied by violent incidents and media-fueled nationalistic fervor.
After the final game, diplomatic relations were severed, and by July 14, military conflict had erupted. Over the next four days, the Salvadoran air force launched attacks on targets in Honduras, while the Honduran air force retaliated. Both nations suffered, with thousands killed and even more displaced. Fortunately, a ceasefire went into effect before things got nastier.
4. The Pig War (1859)
As its name suggests, the Pig War of 1859, which nearly triggered a third conflict between the United States and Great Britain, was all over a single hungry pig.
Both sides laid claim to San Juan Island, located between the mainland United States and Vancouver Island. Simmering tensions boiled over when an American settler named Lyman Cutlar shot and killed a pig, which belonged to the British Hudson’s Bay Company, for repeatedly raiding his garden.
This incident escalated rapidly. The British threatened to arrest Cutlar. The Americans called in the military. Before anyone could catch their breath, the island was garrisoned with US and British soldiers.
For months, the two sides engaged in a tense standoff, with warships anchored menacingly nearby. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed. Negotiations ensued, and a deal was struck to maintain a joint military occupation of the island until a final agreement could be reached. That agreement came 12 years later in 1871, when the Treaty of Washington awarded San Juan Island to the US. Remarkably, the only casualty in the whole affair was the pig itself.
3. War of the Stray Dog (1925)
Borders have always been a source of tension, but rarely have they been as explosively touchy as the Greco-Bulgarian border in 1925. The bizarre conflict that ensued was known as the War of the Stray Dog.
It all began when a Greek border guard soldier reportedly crossed into Bulgaria while chasing after his runaway dog. Bulgarian border guards, perhaps mistaking his intentions, shot and killed him. This incident, set against a backdrop of existing tensions between the two countries, quickly escalated.
Greece, angered by the death of their soldier, demanded an apology from Bulgaria and also sought compensation for the incident. When Bulgaria didn’t immediately comply, Greece took a more aggressive stance and invaded, capturing the town of Petrich and its surrounding areas. In a matter of days, skirmishes broke out, leading to the deaths of several dozen people.
Before the situation could further deteriorate, the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations) stepped in. The League mandated a ceasefire, called for Greece to withdraw from the occupied areas, and ordered Greece to pay compensation to Bulgaria for the damages. Both nations agreed to these terms, and the potential for a full-scale war was averted.
2. Three Hundred and Thirty-Five Years’ War (1651-1986)
When you think of “war,” you imagine battles, strategy, and casualties. Yet, the Three Hundred and Thirty-Five Years’ War stands out for a completely different reason—there was not a single shot fired, and no casualties reported whatsoever.
Here’s the backstory: The war allegedly began in 1651 during the English Civil War. The Isles of Scilly, located off the southwest coast of England, were occupied by the Royalist navy. The Dutch, having been previously attacked by this navy and being at the time allied with the Parliamentarians, declared war on the Isles.
Sounds like the precursor to a fierce conflict, right? Wrong. After the initial declaration, there’s no record of any military action, and the whole issue was seemingly forgotten by both sides. Fast forward to 1985, and historians in Scilly and the Netherlands realized that a state of war technically still existed between them, as no peace treaty had been signed.
In a move filled with goodwill and a sense of humor, the Dutch ambassador visited the Isles of Scilly in 1986 to finally sign a peace treaty and declare an end to the 335-year “war.”
1. The War of 1812
Spanning from 1812 to 1814, The War of 1812 is one of the most senseless conflicts in history. It was characterized by laughably poor military leadership, unclear objectives. Contrary to the simplistic narratives often presented in seventh grade, the war wasn’t about “good guys” versus “bad guys.” It was far too stupid for that.
In the early 1800s, American Republicans were fuming at Britain for trade disputes and impressing American sailors into the British Navy. But they were looking for a fight anyway, and used these issues as an excuse to try to take over British-ruled Canada. It didn’t go well. U.S. Federalists believed the real threat was Napoleonic France, not Britain. Furthermore, many Americans who had migrated to Canada, lured by the promise of free land, still held affection for their homeland and might have preferred an American victory in the war. Native populations were dragged into the war, facing internal divisions and ultimately gaining nothing but betrayal and loss at the hands of the Americans. Attempts to commemorate this war today risk distorting its messy reality, possibly turning it into a tool of nationalistic propaganda. There’s just not a lot to praise, and few figures to root for.