Worst. Wars. Ever.

As I mentioned in a previous post, warfare is as much a part of human nature as is romantic love or the need for community. That doesn’t mean that all wars are necessary; in fact, some wars are positively pointless in their origins, destructive in their execution and meaningless in their result. Today’s Friday History List is what I believe to be the five most pointless wars in history. Let’s see if you agree.

5. The Siachen Conflict – This pointless war is to resolve ownership of an uninhabitable glacier that lies on the border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir at a height on 20,000 feet. It began in 1984 and continues to this day, which makes it the only ongoing conflict on my list. The problem started when the treaty ending the Indo-Pak War of 1971 (which would result in the creation of Bangladesh), forgot to mention who owned this icy plateau (frankly, the people who drafted the treaty didn’t think it was a big deal). The war has mainly consisted of raids and counter-raids against enemy outposts, resulting in over 2,000 casualties in 25 years. Certainly not a big number, I know, but completely pointless nonetheless.

4. The War of 1812 – On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain, largely because of British impressment of American sailors. (Impressment was the forcible repatriation of individuals thought to be deserters from the Royal Navy. The United States’ grants of citizenship meant nothing to the English, whose laws did not allow for the renunciation of British citizenship. Therefore, once a limey, always a limey. Americans claimed that many of the repatriated sailors had never been English.) Remember that the British at the time were engaged in a titanic death struggle with Napoleon, and were far less concerned with the complaints of offended Americans than retaining naval supremacy in the Atlantic.  Oddly enough, by the time war was declared, Britain had rescinded its Orders in Council authorizing the impressments – thus removing the major cause of the war. Unfortunately, the news failed to reach the United States in time. After three years of sporadic fighting, both sides could claim victories, but neither side achieved its strategic objectives. Eventually, the Treaty of Ghent ended the war and reestablished the status quo ante bellum (nothing changed from before the war). Four thousand were dead of wounds and twenty thousand were dead of disease, in what was at best a tactical draw.

3. The Iran – Iraq War – In 1980, Saddam Hussein, hoping to take advantage of instability in Iran after the Islamic Revolution, invaded Iran, looking to settle an old border dispute. However, his army quickly stalled and was driven back by the surprisingly resistant Iranians. Soon, both sides settled into its positions as an ugly, costly war of static attrition ensued. Before it ended in 1988, 500,000 were dead and the two nations had suffered economic losses of $1 trillion. When the war ended, nothing had changed.

2. The Russian Campaign of 1812 – One of the many Napoleonic Wars, this was the Emperor’s response to the Russian Czar’s withdrawal from Napoleon’s continental system, and it was a disaster. Russia, dependent on foreign trade but denied it under Napoleon, dared to challenge Bonaparte by removing themselves from his economic orbit. Napoleon, needing to demonstrate the costs of insubordination, invaded Russia in the summer of 1812. The French Grand Army made rapid progress as the Russians withdrew before him. By September, Napoleon had captured Moscow (which had been stripped of anything of value before its abandonment) and then settled in to wait for the inevitable surrender offer. It never came. What did come was the Russian winter. By the middle of October, Napoleon gave up and set out for the return march to France. His Grand Army, 600,000 strong, was caught in an early (and brutal) winter, attacked incessantly by roving bands of angry Cossacks and slowly ground away. Of those that left Moscow in October, only 40,000 made it home alive. The Grand Army had been crippled, setting the stage for the demise of Napoleon in the years that followed.

1. World War I – Easily winning the prize as the worst war ever, the Great War started for almost no reason, killed tens of millions, settled nothing and then, as if needing to prove itself again, set the table for World War II. In 1914 Europe, following years of military buildups and the creation of constricting alliances, was like a tinderbox just waiting for a spark. That spark came in June with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serbian extremists (probably with the tacit approval of the Serbian government). Soon, threats were being exchanged, mobilizations were being issued, and by August the great powers of Europe were at war. Stalemates followed invasions, and a war between the trenches was inaugurated. The war itself was typified by thousands of senseless frontal assaults against heavily armed positions by hundreds of thousands of doomed troops. By the time of the armistice in November of 1918, nearly 40,000,000 were killed, wounded or missing, the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires had fallen and France and Belgium had been laid waste. From the peace came the Bolshevik Revolution, the poorly conceived and only somewhat executed Treaty of Versailles, and an unstable Germany that would soon respond with the greatest evil known to mankind – and an even more deadly world war to settle the remaining issues from this one. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner.

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