The Strange and Fascinating Lighter Sides of Historic Wars


War destroys lives and property, it destroys trust between nations, it creates an air of fear and paranoia, and is generally a very bad thing. Even wars that were arguably necessary still marked years of even the “good guys” sinking to many levels of brutality before the entire thing was over. As many think of it, war often brings out the worst of man’s inhumanity. However, war can also do the opposite. Sometimes the grimness of war is punctuated by many moments of hope that remind us that even in the worst of times, the very best traits of humanity can shine through regardless.

10. The Great Emu War In Australia

In the early 1930s, Australia was going through a rather tough time. Like a lot of the world, Australia was in the midst of a depression, and in terms of farming, things were looking bleak. Farmers were hoping for subsidies from the government that never showed up, and worrying that the economy was simply not going to stay together in any way — there was very little confidence in the government at the time to fix the situation. To make matters worse, thousands of Emus came along to migrate to the area, and soon started destroying crops, and destroying fences — which allowed rabbits in.

Australia decided to declare war on the Emus, and launched the Great Emu War. Most people would imagine a war on wildlife would involve lots of shooting permits, and people hunting the species, eating them, and perhaps getting a little more food on the table. Instead, the Australian government actually made it a legit military operation, perhaps because they wished to put on a show for the farmers and regain their confidence, and brought out troops with lewis guns to attack the Emus. Their hope was that with machine guns, they could easily mow down thousands. However, the Emus actually proved adept at dodging, and as soon as the shooting started, they would scatter. After a few weeks of intense failure that saw only a few hundred Emus killed (at most, although the commander of the operation estimates only about 50), the whole thing was put to an embarrassing close. While the operation was ridiculous, no humans were harmed, and it helped bring some optimism and humor to a very tough situation.

9. Miltschuppe, The Soup That Ended A War In Switzerland

Back in the middle of the last millennium in Europe, perhaps the most contentious issue was the ongoing battle between Protestant and Catholic factions, both within and between various countries and powers. Switzerland was no exception to this type of conflict, and during the first war of Kappel in the early 1500s, there was looking to be a potentially very bloody conflict. The two sides had marched to war, and their leaderships were negotiating, trying to see if there could be a peaceful end to the conflict. It looked at first like negotiations were going to fall through, and a horrific loss of life would occur.

However, something amazing happened. While the leadership was talking, the soldiers, who were all fellow countrymen, were bonding over a bowl of soup. The soldiers who had marched all the way to fight had brought a lot of bread with them, and the locals had a lot of fresh milk to go around. Both sides were quite hungry, and pooled their resources to make a delicious bread and milk soup that was shared all around, and averted a potentially very bloody battle. The soup is known as Miltschuppe and while it is not exactly regularly eaten in Switzerland, it has a very important place in their traditions. Even today, if politicians are quarreling, they eat the soup together in order to help resolve their differences.

8. The Singing Revolution That Freed The Baltic States From Soviet Rule

After the end of World War II, the Iron Curtain fell dark and hard across much of Eastern Europe, and for many decades, these countries were under the thrall of the merciless Soviet Union, which tried to seed their countries with ethnic Russians in order to cement their hold. The Soviets were brutal, forced censorship, tried to remove the nations’ national identities whenever possible, and always favored ethnic Russians. Instead of going to war in the traditional sense, the Baltic States decided to try an entirely novel, and peaceful, way of regaining their freedom. Starting in the late ’80s and slowly but surely gaining steam, the Baltic States staged massive singing demonstrations on a regular basis, often singing songs that protested the Soviet occupation and treatment of their countries.

This all culminated in June 1988, when over 100,000 Estonians gathered outside, under the guise of singing, in order to protest the ongoing Soviet occupation. This powerful gathering of people, this incredible commitment to sing for their national identity and freedom, bore surprising fruit. Within three years of keeping the pressure up, and using entirely nonviolent methods, the Baltic States had all managed to wrest their freedom from Soviet control. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that singing always works, or that protest always works, but shows that as citizens you could entirely clog the streets and shut things down in a peaceful, loving way. That’s a very hard message to fight, no matter what tactics you may attempt to use — and violence against so many people could not possibly turn out well for the perpetrators. The huge solidarity in numbers, and the nature of the protests, allowed for something incredible to happen all across Eastern Europe.

7. The Kettle War’s Only Shot Fired Hit A Kettle On Board A Ship

In 1784, the Dutch Republic of the Netherlands, and the Austrian Netherlands, were in a bit of a conflict. The Dutch had blockaded a river called the Scheldt for trade, and this was angering the Austrians, who felt they should be able to use that trade route to increase their own revenue. In October 1784, Emperor Joseph II decided to send a fleet of three vessels in order to attempt to reclaim the route. However, the battle almost immediately took a hilarious turn. Only a single shot was fired, from the Dutch ship Dolfijn, and it hit a kettle on board the Le Louis, the lead ship of the Austrian fleet. The commander of the fleet was so terrified he decided, for some reason, to immediately surrender his entire fleet. This action allowed the Dutch to also retaliate and take a nearby fort.

Emperor Joseph II was enraged, and declared war, but he did not immediately set out to attack anyone, probably because it would have been quite expensive to do so, and his first attack hadn’t exactly been a rousing success. The Dutch remained quiet for a while, as they were not sure how to respond to this aggression (none of which had been started by them), but eventually started preparing a fleet for war. However, it turned out that due to an ancient treaty with Great Britain, they were not allowed to actually use the ships they prepared to go attack the Austrians, so the entire idea was abandoned and the war soon officially ended. In the end, the only actual shot fired in the war was the shot that hit the kettle aboard the Le Louis, and the resolution was, for the most part, just status quo ante bellum.

6. The Christmas Truce Of 1914 Reminds Us We Are All Just People In The End

World War I was one of the bloodiest and most brutal conflicts in known human history, and needs no real introduction. It was one of the first wars with true weapons of mass destruction (like machine guns), but no one had really figured out the best way to defend against these weapons. This made for a war with very low morale, and very high casualties on both sides. The whole thing slogged on and on, and didn’t show any signs of ending anytime soon. While it was unofficial, and not supported by high command — or done by everyone — countless soldiers on the Western Front created their own temporary truce on Christmas Day of 1914, and walked into no man’s land to exchange gifts, souvenirs, swap bodies and prisoners, and even sing Christmas Carols together.

Now, the war did continue to drag on for years after that, and there were only a few scattered truces in the next couple years on Christmas, but this was likely not even due to the fact that the soldiers were continuing to war with each other after all this time — as humans still like other humans, regardless of what orders they are given — but because high command had made it very clear that the kind of fraternization seen on Christmas Day of 1914 was strictly forbidden in the future, as it was being too nice to the enemy. While high command may not have felt such behavior was appropriate, the spontaneous decision of so many soldiers to reach out to their fellow human beings on a special holiday reminds us that we can find our humanity even in the darkest of trenches.

5. The Time A War Was Almost Fought Over The Shooting Of A Single Boar

Many people have heard of the Boer Wars, but not so many have heard of the Boar War, also known as the Pig War. The war goes back to 1859, when the United States was still expanding, the British still controlled Canada, and the two were still sort of trying to decide where all of their boundaries officially lay. The two countries had already been through two wars, and no one really wanted another, which would have been three in less than a hundred years. But things starting heating up over a small land dispute. The San Juan Islands, now considered part of Washington state, were hotly disputed between the two, and not really properly laid out in the most recent treaty, as to who actually owned them. So, both countries started trying to stake a claim.

The British sent a sheep farmer to start populating the island with his flock and setting up shop, and at first the British had it to themselves. However, the Americans then sent a few settlers of their own, who started farming crops and preparing to stay there long term. One of the American settlers saw a boar eating his crops, got angry, and shot it. After it turned out that the boar belonged to the local British sheep farmer, he offered compensation, but the farmer gave a figure that he found insulting, and the two sides found themselves in a nasty standoff.

The Americans sent troops to the island, and the British sent ships to stand off the coast, with troops that could have easily squashed the American presence if they really wanted to push the issue. In the end, then-president James Buchanan sent General Winfield Scott to negotiate a peaceful end to the situation, and managed to end the entire thing without further hostilities. The truth was that all the commanding generals involved on both sides had seen previous combat, and none wanted any loss of life over a single boar. 

4. The Time A Bunch Of Young Confederate Soldiers Got Into An Epic Snowball Fight

The American Civil War was one of the most brutal wars in history, and easily the saddest war in United States history. In many cases it was literally brother against brother or family against extended family, and oftentimes the people fighting the war didn’t even really fully understand what they were fighting for (or why), or were even really that particularly invested in it. One thing that many people don’t realize at first about the American Civil War is that the majority of the people fighting the war, especially as it dragged on, were barely adults, many around 15 or 16 years old — basically a bunch of kids, especially when it came to the Confederacy near the end of the war.

Oftentimes more people died of dysentery or malnutrition before the battles even happened, and as is often the case in war, these were basically kids fighting a war for adults, who had convinced them it was important to put their lives on the line for someone else’s cause.

Many people demonize the South — and for good reason, considering slavery — but it is important to remember that many of the soldiers involved were just children who were easily duped into fighting their parents’ and grandparents’ battles for them, and these children were having an absolutely horrific time as they watched their brothers, cousins, and friends die around them. One day, on January 28, 1863, there was a large contingent of Confederate troops from several states stationed in a valley in Virginia, and it snowed heavily, absolutely blanketing the area. While most grizzled adult soldiers would hunker down and complain about the weather, the young Confederate soldiers decided to have a bit of fun, and started a spontaneous snowball fight between two Texas Divisions. When they won, they attacked a division from another state, and then teamed up again from there. Before long several state divisions had put together a gigantic and well organized snowball fight that lasted several hours.

Unfortunately, the commander in charge of the entire area, General James Longstreet, decided that the slight damage it had done to the troops was too dangerous, and banned further snowball fights from taking place. While the Civil War was a very sad and violent period in America, this incident reminds us just for a moment that so many of these soldiers were mostly just children, not battle hardened warriors, and that if given the chance, they could have lived entirely different lives.

3. In World War II, It Was Discovered That Many Soldiers Simply Don’t Want To Kill

War is brutal, depressing, and often brings out the very worst in humanity, at least as far as most cynical people will tell you. However, war often also brings out the humanity in people, and shows us what we are really made of. The truth is that most people are not particularly cruel or violent, and wouldn’t harm another person unless they had no other choice. While it may be easier to shoot someone if you are directly confronted with a gun, and perhaps a little easier the next time, it takes a lot of killing before most initially stable people can do so with ease.

According to a study after World War II by S.L.A. Marshall, a famous war historian, only 15-20% of soldiers willingly fired their guns at the enemy in most situations where their life was not directly threatened — most soldiers simply did not actually want to kill, unless they felt forced to for some reason or another. Now, the methods of his study, Men Against Fire, have been criticized since, and some argue with the exact percentages, but no one has tried to deny his general thesis. The fact of the matter is, psychologically it is hard to kill without extremely adverse circumstances, a lot of conditioning, or previous mental instability. The military has taken note of this, and now often trains people with cutouts of enemy soldiers instead of just bullseyes, to further condition them to shoot enemies on site without thinking about it too much first.

2. Vietnam War Protesters Tried To Levitate The Pentagon… And Even Got A Permit First

The Vietnam War was already one of the most bizarre and tragic wars in modern history. It was one of the first of its type of proxy war, and it slogged on for many, many years, and never really came to much of a satisfying conclusion for anyone involved. Oftentimes the war involved little actual direct fighting, and bad weather drew things out even longer, especially when fighting in the jungles. In the United States, the mood over the war was restive and grim. People were getting increasingly tired of their children (or even themselves) being sent off to die over what looked like an entirely pointless war. The counterculture movement was at its peak, and Michael Bowen, Allen Ginsburg, Jerry Rubin and several other prominent activists planned a march on Washington for October 21, 1967 in order to make a huge political statement, and see if they could start to bring an end to the war.

However, while at first the planning was going normally, it started to quickly take a turn for the weird. Rubin suggested they march on the Pentagon instead of Washington, so people would see they were against war and not against Democracy. This was fine, so far, but then Bowen, who was known for studying occultism and shamanic activities while dropping acid, suggested they use mystical rituals to levitate the Pentagon into the air. While many of the group members agreed to try symbolically, as far as everyone can tell, Bowen believed it would work, and in order to drum up publicity, they even got a permit — although the permit only allowed for three feet and not the three hundred Bowen claimed he was going to do. Unsurprisingly, the Pentagon stayed solidly in place, despite all types of odd rituals and invocations they attempted on their makeshift altar.

1. Many Russian Women Were Celebrated For Their Combat Skills In World War II

Most countries have a pretty poor track record when it comes to women in their country in general, especially when it comes to the military. If you are a woman who really, really wanted to join, you were unlikely to be allowed even back in times of emergency like World War II, unless you were willing to do something like nursing. Open combat was usually completely out of the question. However, while Russia was like that at first (just like most countries in World War II), they decided that necessity outweighed pride, and over time allowed in a number of female snipers who proved to the entire world how incredible female warriors can be.

The first trailblazer was Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who wanted to join the ranks of the Soviet army and fight against the Nazis, but was denied despite having incredible skill with a rifle. Eventually they agreed to let her show them her skills, and despite her being a woman, they were impressed enough to allow her to join, and she quickly earned a place of great distinction. She had 309 confirmed kills, but may have had more that were never witnessed — her confirmed kills alone place her in the top five of all known snipers.

While her contribution was great and she helped get things rolling, we cannot ignore the other roughly 2,000 women in the Soviet Union who served as snipers, and were all known for their skill — 500 of these women would go on to survive the war, something many of their male counterparts in all parts of the Red Army didn’t achieve. Unfortunately, while Russia paved a trail at the time that would have been a great example for the rest of the the world to follow, it’s still rare to see women allowed to participate in combat, and if anything, Russian has gone backward on this issue since then.

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