Header Image source: Léon Morel-Fatio
War is a crazy thing. People fly half way around the world to kill men they’ve never even met, under the orders of men who they’ve only seen on television. It would be hard to find a hippy in a protest who didn’t agree that the very concept of war was bizarre. It is however an apparently constant presence in human society.
Now, anything that’s been around people for that long is guaranteed to have been done in stupid ways and for stupid reasons. What follows is a list of ten wars so bizarre, either in why or how they were fought, that even a soldier marching down the street would be forced to break step and agree.
The War of the Whiskers
Despite how it may sound, this war wasn’t fought over the hairs on a cat’s face, but because of the beard of a king. This oddly sprouted war led to fierce rivalries between France and England. A war which would be the main stage for the knights and ladies of medieval court that we imagine today.
Although the glamorous appeal of the era remains, maybe we wouldn’t be so romantic about it if we knew how it all started.
The English Historian Charles McKay tells the story of how, at the end of the 1100s, the Pope in his Vatican declared long curly hair a sin among men. Any who did not crop their hair close like a monk would be prayed for in neither life nor death.
Louis VII of France was a very devout man, who instantly shaved all his hair. His wife, the powerful and landed Eleanor of Guienne, was not so devout. She hated her husband’s trim new look. Her bullying and name calling soon led to the couple’s divorce.
Eleanor didn’t have to look far to find the luscious locks she missed in her king. Instead she looked to England, and their young Henry II. Her new marriage brought powerful, once French, lands under English rule.
With two jealous lovers in charge of each country, and the English’s solid claim to France, war was inevitable. This war was no five o’clock shadow however, it lasted for 301 years.
The al-Basus War
Image source: Grzegorz Zbinski
The al-Basus War is one of the more embarrassing moments in the history of Saudi Arabia. In fact this four decade long cycle of vengeance was so embarrassing that it has become a by-word in Arabian culture, warning about the stupidity and futility of seeking needless revenge.
Now any camel that can start a war must have been a pretty camel indeed, but this one wasn’t stolen, like a Helen of Troy with humps. Instead this unlucky camel wandered into the herd of one nomad leader named Kuylayb. Kuylayb saw the strange camel, and promptly shot it dead.
What Kuylayb didn’t count on the owner of this camel, al-Basus, being absolutely inconsolable. She considered her camel’s death a heinous insult, and begged her nephew kill the offender. Unfortunately, her nephew and the offender were both rather powerful nomad leaders.
The revenge spiralled out of control. Brother killed brother and tribesman killed tribesman for forty long years, all over a wandering loose camels.
The Monkey Headscarf Incident
Image source: Frans de Waal
Incidents like the al-Basus war may be 1500 year old stories, but humans never change and this next one is from just two years ago. Although not technically a war, it was four days of carnage waged by rival factions in Sabha, Libya. And like the tribes of centuries before, it was all sparked by the death of an animal.
The monkey in question was the pet of a local shopkeeper from the Gaddadfa tribe. Inevitably at some point, the monkey broke loose. Unfortunately for everyone, he started to be overly playful with a group of schoolgirls.
The monkey, as his play turned rough, pulled off a girl’s headscarf. It was killed by members of the rival Awlad Suleiman group almost instantly. But they didn’t stop there. They also killed three other members of the Gaddadfa tribe. Not apparently ones to learn from history, this led to retaliation after retaliation.
16 people died and over 50 were injured in the four days after the monkey’s death, with tanks and mortars firing upon the city to restore order after the third. The monkey incident may not have been a war, but it was a tragic battle that shows sometimes we still have a lot to learn about revenge.
The Sicilian Vespers
Image source: The Yorck Project
When the citizens of Sicily rose up against their French oppressors, it was a first for European history. It showed the monarchs of the world the power of the people. Despite its wide reaching political effects however, the spark of the rebellion was as stupid as could be imagined.
The French were used to taking liberties in Sicilian land, and one soldier one Easter Sunday went a step too far. He stopped a woman and frisked her for weapons, while in reality he just wanted to have a sleazy grope.
His contemptible and obvious actions enraged the populace. They rose up and killed the offender, followed by just about every other Frenchman on the island.
To identify the French they would ask everyone to pronounce the word ‘ciciri’. A Frenchman would never be able to hide his accent, and the Sicilians were merciless.
The people became calmer as the weeks went by, and began deporting Frenchmen rather than killing them, but the damage was done. One man’s inability to handle himself decently led to France’s loss of Sicily forever.
The Curthose Revolt
Image source: Wikicommons
Robert Curthose was a medieval Prince, but Curthose was not his real name. It was a nickname given him by his father meaning short-legs, so hardly the most loving moniker. It didn’t help that his father wasn’t just any king, but William the Conqueror.
Although Robert was to all reports a strong fighter, eloquent speaker and able man, William always preferred his younger sons. What finally drove poor Robert Curthose over the edge? It was a childish prank played by those younger siblings.
Henry and William (the other younger brother not the king) were waiting in the gallery of the palace. They had a bucket full of their excrement and a plan to humiliate their older brother.
Unfortunately, they were successful. Robert was completely covered in the contents of the bucket in front of his own father. King William’s jovial response and failure to punish the offenders angered Robert so much he led a rebellion the very next day.
The rebellion was unsuccessful, and although Robert went relatively unpunished, he and his father would never truly reconcile. They would fight many more times over the years, although Robert would once even spare his father’s life, he never forgave him. Childish pranks have been causing conflict for centuries apparently.
The Cod Wars
Image source: Isaac N.
These real life conflicts in the North Sea sound like they were named as a parody of Star Wars, and although they first started long before that movie came out, they too came as a trilogy of sorts.
The First Cod War occurred in 1958 when Iceland decided to extend their fishing borders from 4 miles off shore to 12. The British were not happy about the Icelandic people keeping all the best cod for themselves, so ignored these new rules. Icelandic boats fired across British ones, Britain mobilised their entire navy, the second largest in the world.
This all happened again 14 years later, as Iceland got greedier and went for 50 miles of exclusive fishing. It was settled after Britain mobilised its navy again and secured 130,000 tonnes of cod a year for itself. However this was short lived agreement, expiring in November 1975. Can you guess when the Third Cod War began?
At the end of 1975. Iceland claimed not 50, but 200 miles of exclusive ocean. This infuriated the whole of Europe and war came close. The Royal Navy rammed just about everyone they saw, the Icelandic cut nets and ran away.
But the Icelandic had one big ally, and one very useful base that ally couldn’t live without. They cried to the USA, who cracked the whip. Europe had to give in. Iceland had won the Cod Wars.
The Pastry War
Image source: Blanchard Henry Pierre Léon Pharamond
This light-heartedly named war raged between Mexico and France for three long months back in 1821. But I know what you’re thinking, what could ever have made the French so angry that they would sail the Atlantic to fight the Mexicans?
It was the desecration of that most holy of French sites, a bakery.
Damaged in riots near Mexico City, the bakery’s distraught owner appealed to his French King. Equally appalled, the King demanded 60,000 pesos from the Mexicans for the damage done to the bakery, which had an entire value of around 1,000 pesos.
That’s like damaging the paintwork on someone’s BMW and them asking you to pay $3,000,000. The Mexicans were understandably outraged and refused to pay. The French were less understandably insulted and invaded.
They captured the whole Mexican Navy. The Mexicans mobilised under General Santa Anna of the Alamo and stormed their city back. It was all very dramatic, Santa Anna lost a leg, but the Mexicans paid the price of the bakery tenfold in the end.
The Guano Wars
Image source: Sanchezn
Guano is bird poo. But it’s not just any old bird poo, like you can find fresh all over the city. It is in fact a very special collective build-up of bird poo. It only occurs in arid and hard to reach areas, but it is very useful for a couple of main reasons. Firstly, it is a great fertiliser. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, it is an ingredient in gunpowder.
Many wars have been fought over taxing or mining rights related to Guano, especially in the Pacific Ocean in the late 1800s.
When you know it’s for gunpowder it almost makes more sense, but you have to imagine an uneducated outsider, watching our ancestors blow each other’s brains out over rocks covered in piles of excrement, would have been pretty bewildered by these bizarre battles.
And nor were they insignificant. Bolivia ultimately lost its shoreline to Chile in these wars, a loss the whole country still mourns today.
The Walton Wars
Image source: National Guard Bureau
These wars are bizarre for three distinct reasons.
First: they were between two neighbouring US states.
Second: they really weren’t so long ago.
The third reason? They were all over a piece of land nobody wanted in the first place.
An ‘orphan strip’ of land between Georgia and North Carolina was full of outlaws and Cherokee. As a way of getting rid of it, the government generously gifted it to the Cherokee. After a few years, no doubt realising the raw deal they had been handed, the Cherokee handed the land back.
What followed were years of Georgians and North Carolinans moving into the land, trying to tax the others under their own state law. Neither side was happy and tensions reached breaking point after the death of a North Carolina constable.
The Carolinian militia had orders to execute the whole Georgian judiciary, who were fortunate enough to escape. The furore died down, but it didn’t stop there. In fact, this all happened again as recently as 1971.
Georgia claimed the land out of nowhere, North Carolina mobilised its militia to defend itself. Thankfully, the anger died before a person did this time, but tensions apparently still ran high over that orphan strip.
The People’s Crusade
Image source: Gutenberg
Really a part of the First Crusade this war is bizarre not because of why it was fought (we all know the Crusades were ostensibly fought for religious reasons) but for how it was fought.
On 27th November 1095 Pope Urban II made a rousing speech decrying what he called the evils of Islam, and calling for the First Crusade. Peasants, priests, nobles and knights all through Western Europe responded. What Pope Urban didn’t count on was how long it would take any particular group to respond.
As it turned out the priests and peasants were almost a whole year faster than the trained knights or armies of Europe. Unfortunately the priests were barely as educated as the peasants, and completely unable to control them.
The rabble of around 20,000 marched across Europe raping and pillaging even Christian settlements en route. When they arrived in Turkey they were told to wait for the main armies, but they didn’t. Finally they met with the trained Muslim cavalry and armies and were put to the slaughter.
It’s no surprise then that the Pope instantly distanced himself from the ‘People’s Crusade’ and nowadays we remember them as starting in 1097, when the armies arrived, not 1096, when the people did.