Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes

Khalid Elhassan - November 8, 2023

A dispute can, all too often, escalate into a diplomatic crisis or a bloody war. Even if the initial cause was petty, once the violence starts, it is hard to stop. A great example of that is a dispute over an injured camel in fifth century Arabia, that escalated into a tribal war that lasted for forty years. Below are twenty five things about that and other odd dispute and war causes from history.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
The Al Basus War lasted for four decades. Pinterest

Dispute Over a Camel Sparked a 40 Year Tribal War

Kulayb ibn Rabiah (440 – 494) was chieftain of the Arab Taghlib tribe in the pre-Islamic era. A celebrated warrior, Kulayb was infamous for his pride (or arrogance) and fondness for asserting his dominance over others. At pain of death, none could graze their camels, water their flocks, or hunt in any land claimed by him without his permission. While others defined their territory with physical markers, Kulayb wanted to be different. His first name, which means “doggie”, was a nickname bestowed because of a little dog he kept in front of his tent. He defined his territory by the radius of the sound of its barking. If you could hear Kulayb’s dog, you were in his territory. His followers ate up Kulayb’s exaggerated machismo, but others were not so thrilled.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
TV series depiction of Kulayb’s dying message, written in his blood, demanding vengeance. Al Zeir Salem

Kulayb’s wife was Jalilah bint Murah, a beauty from the Bakr tribe, with whom the Taghlibs traded and sometimes raided. He asked if she knew of a prouder man than him. She replied that she did: her brother, Jassas. Kulayb didn’t like that, and decided to punk his brother-in-law. Jalilah’s aunt, Al Basus, had a favorite camel that accidentally wandered into Kulayb’s grazing lands Kulayb. So he shot and wounded it with an arrow. In response, Basus raised a fuss, and berated her nephew Jassas for allowing his aunt and the Bakr tribe to endure such an insult. Stung, Jassas stabbed Kulayb with a spear, and mortally wounded him. The dying Kulayb wrote a message on a rock with his blood, demanding vengeance. The result was the Basus War between the Taghlib and Bakr tribes, which lasted for forty years.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
The Dutch-Scilly War lasted for more than three centuries. History With Hilbert

The Silly Dutch-Scilly War, History’s Longest War, Lasted So Long Because Nobody Remembered to Sign a Peace Treaty

History’s longest war, admittedly not a very violent one, reportedly lasted for 335 years. It pitted the Isles of Scilly off England’s southwest coast against the Netherlands. The origins of the dispute date to the English Civil War, when the Parliamentarians forced the Royalist Navy to retreat to the Isles of Scilly. The Netherlands were allied with the Parliamentarians, so the Royalists preyed upon Dutch ships. Dutch Admiral Maarten Tromp arrived in Scilly to demand reparations, but the Royalists failed to offer satisfaction. So he declared war on April 17th, 1651. Since most of England was in the hands of their Parliamentarian allies, the Dutch declaration was limited specifically to the Isles of Scilly.

Shortly thereafter, and before the Dutch had fired a shot, the Parliamentarians forced the Royalist fleet to surrender, and took over Scilly. However, the Dutch never got around to a peace declaration, so technically, a state of war continued to exist between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly. In 1986, a historian contacted the Dutch Embassy in London to double check if a peace had ever been signed. None had been. So the Dutch ambassador visited Scilly on April 17th, 1986, the 335th anniversary of the declaration of war, to officially end the bloodless dispute.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
The match between Honduras and El Salvador, that sparked the Soccer War. Fox Sports

Dispute Over Soccer Sparks a War

The soccer teams of neighbors Honduras and Salvador met in home-and-away matches in June, 1969, to qualify for the 1970 FIFA World Cup. The rivalry on the pitch became a proxy for real life tensions caused by Honduras’ mistreatment of immigrants who crossed the border from the more populous Salvador. The matches exacerbated the preexisting tensions. Instead of soccer acting as a proxy for war, real war ended up acting as a proxy for soccer. The first game, played in Honduras and won by the home team 1-0, was marred by fan fights. In Salvador, a girl killed herself in grief over the loss. She was transformed into a popular heroine, and her televised funeral that ramped up the emotions and exacerbated the dispute.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
From war on the soccer pitch to real war. Sports Ilustrated

Salvador won the second leg, played at home, 3-0. Fans fought once again, and some Hondurans were killed. In retaliation, the locals in Honduras took it out on Salvadoran immigrants. Hondurans did so again, when Salvador won a final tiebreaker match played in Mexico on June 27th, 1969, 3-2. That supercharged the dispute into a crisis, and the Salvadoran government severed diplomatic ties in protest over the mistreatment of Salvadorans in Honduras. Two weeks later, on July 14th, Salvador’s military marched into Honduras. By the time a ceasefire was declared on the 18th, about 900 Salvadorans, mostly civilians, had been killed, while the Hondurans lost about 250 military dead, plus 2000 civilians. About 300,000 Salvadorans became refugees, after they were forced to flee Honduras.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
William the Aetheling. Pinterest

Drunk Boat Race Causes a Succession Dispute and Plunges England Into Anarchy

William the Aetheling (1103 – 1120) was the heir and sole legitimate son of King Henry I of England. He was also the Duke of Normandy in his own right, after his father fought successful battles in France to compel the Norman barons to recognize William as their Duke. From an early age, William was spoiled rotten. A contemporary chronicler wrote that he was pampered so much, that it was clear he was “destined to be food for the fire“. That indulgence would have fatal consequences, when the young prince got himself killed in a stupid accident that wrecked his father’s plans, and plunged England into a succession dispute and violent chaos. It began in November, 1120, after a diplomatic visit to France, when a fleet was assembled to transport King Henry and his court across the English Channel back to England.

The seventeen-year-old Prince William made plans to cross in a vessel known as the White Ship, the English navy’s pride and fastest ship. William and his companions turned the affair into a wild party, and delayed the crossing while they got plastered on shore with the ship’s crew. Then, in a state of high intoxication, the prince and his entourage, about 300 people, boarded the White Ship to cross the Channel at night. By then, King Henry had already sailed hours earlier. The drunk prince and his friends challenged the ship’s captain and crew to make a race of it and catch and bypass the king’s ship before it reached England. As seen below, it did not end well.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Wreck of the White Ship. K-Pics

A Boat Wreck That Led to a Succession Dispute, Civil War, and Anarchy

Captain and crew were confident of the White Ship’s speed, and so accepted their highborn passengers’ challenge to overtake the king’s ship. Rowing furiously, fueled by copious amounts of wine as they were cheered and urged on by the drunk prince and his friends, the equally intoxicated crew set a good pace. However, in their inebriated state, the crew failed to keep a good lookout. They mistakenly rowed into a hazardous stretch, where they struck a partially submerged rock. The White Ship was holed and quickly sank, and hundreds drowned, including the prince. William was his royal father’s only legitimate male issue, and his early death led to a succession dispute and crisis.

King Henry failed to sire another son, and so sought to designate his daughter, Matilda, as heir. The king’s barons reluctantly agreed, but after Henry’s death in 1135, most of them backed his nephew, Stephen of Blois, when he claimed and seized the crown as the eldest male royal relative. The result was a succession dispute and crisis. Stephen’s claim was challenged by Matilda, and the two plunged England into nearly two decades of civil war and chaos that aptly came to be known as The Anarchy. It only ended after Stephen agreed to designate Matilda’s son, Henry Plantagenet, as his heir. The latter ascended the throne as Henry II after Stephen’s death in 1153, and founded the Plantagenet Dynasty that ruled England for centuries.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Francisco Pizarro. Artsy

A Betrayal that Destroyed an Empire

Conquistador Francisco Pizarro (circa 1471 – 1541) attacked the Incan Emperor Atahualpa at a conference. That initiated the destruction of a native empire, and its replacement by a vast Spanish domain. In 1525, Atahualpa had inherited the Incan Empire’s northern half, while his brother Huascar got the southern half. Five years later, Atahualpa attacked Huascar, and by 1532, defeated him and reunited the empire. His reign proved brief, however, for Pizarro showed up soon thereafter. Pizarro had landed in Peru in 1532. He established a small colony, then set off to conquer with a small force of about 200 men. En route, he was met by an envoy from Atahualpa, inviting him to visit him at his camp. There, the Incan emperor rested with 100,000 soldiers after his recent victory and reunification of the empire.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Atahualpa. Wikimedia

Pizarro set off to meet Atahualpa with 110 infantry and 67 cavalry, armored and armed with steel, plus three arquebuses and two small cannon. A meeting was arranged for November 16th, 1532, in the town of Cajamarca’s plaza. On the night of the 15th, Pizarro outlined to his men an audacious plan to seize Atahualpa, in emulation of Cortes’ seizure of the Aztec Emperor Montezuma a few years earlier. Atahualpa failed to prepare adequate safeguards against possible treachery. He left his army camped outside Cajamarca, and arrived at the town’s plaza on a fine litter carried by 80 prominent courtiers, and trailed by about 5000 nobles and officials. The entourage were richly dressed in ceremonial garments, and unarmed except for small ceremonial stone axes. Atahualpa should have been more cautious: Pizarro was itching for an excuse to start a dispute and escalate it into violence.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru, by John Everett Millais. Fine Art America

Bible Disrespect as an Excuse for Massacre

The Spaniards concealed themselves in buildings around Cajamarca’s plaza, with cavalry hidden in nearby alleys. When Atahualpa arrived, Pizarro sent a friar carrying a cross to meet him. At some point, the friar handed Atahualpa a Bible, which the Incan, who had never seen a book, tossed aside. That was all the excuse the Spaniards needed. They attacked the Incans at a signal from Pizarro, and massacred them. The unarmored natives proved no match for the Spaniards’ steel swords, pikes, bullets, or crossbow bolts, while the locals’ ceremonial stone axes proved useless against Spanish plate armor. Thousands of natives were killed, the survivors fled in panic, and not a single Spaniard lost his life. Captured, Atahualpa sought to buy his life with an offer to fill a room with gold, and twice over with silver.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
The execution of Atahualpa. Encyclopedia Britannica

After he was paid, Pizarro again betrayed Atahualpa. He put him through a staged trial that convicted him of rebellion, idolatry, and the murder of his brother, Huascar. Sentenced to death by fire, Atahualpa was spared that fate when he agreed to get baptized, and was strangled instead. Treachery paid off for Pizarro. He amassed considerable wealth and power, until some measure of karmic justice caught up with him in 1541, when a violent dispute erupted between the Spaniards in Peru. On June 26th of that year, a group of heavily armed supporters of a rival stormed Pizarro’s palace, and in the ensuing struggle, stabbed him in the throat. Falling to the ground, Pizarro made a cross with his own blood while gurgling cries for help from Jesus to no avail, and bled to death.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Medieval depiction of Ali, second from right. Biruni’s Chronology of Ancient Nations

The Origins of the Sunni-Shiite Dispute

The death of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad was followed by a bitter succession dispute. On the one hand were those who believed that leadership of the Islamic community should be confined to Muhammad’s family and bloodline. On the other, were those who thought that leadership should be open to whomever the Muslim community chose. The former were a minority, and they coalesced around Muhammad’s cousin and son in law Ali. They became known as the Shiites, or faction, of Ali. The latter, the majority, became known as the Sunnis.

The factions’ dispute, while heated, could well have ended within a generation or two after the participants shuffled off the mortal coil. However, an assassination superheated the controversy, and led to a lasting and at times violent division that rifts Islam to this day. Muslims elected the first three Caliphs, or successors of the Prophet, from outside Muhammad’s family, bypassing Ali each time. Finally, after the assassination of the third Caliph, Ali was elected. However, his predecessor’s relatives alleged that Ali was implicated in the assassination, and engineered the election of a rival Caliph, Muawiyah I.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
The assassination of Ali. Lubpak

A Bungled Medieval Double Assassination Triggered a Violent Dispute That Endures to This Day

The rival Caliphs went to war, but before the issue was settled in battle, Ali accepted arbitration. That led some of Ali’s supporters, known thereafter as the Khawarij, or “Outsiders”, to abandon him. Viewing the Caliphate as the Muslim community’s collective property, they reasoned that Ali lacked authority to decide on who gets to be Caliph. Election by the community was the sole legitimate process to bestow the Caliphate, argued the Khawarij, and the Muslim community had already elected Ali. When Ali accepted arbitration to decide who would be Caliph, he overstepped his boundaries to make decision that was not his. Ali went ahead with the arbitration to settle the dispute, but it turned into a fiasco without settling the issue, and weakened him politically.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Khawarij. Islami City

The Khawarij soured on Ali, whom they now viewed as much of a usurper as his rival. So they decided to get rid of both, and hatched an assassination plot to kill the rival Caliphs on the same day during Friday prayers. Ali’s assassins were successful, and stabbed him to death in the Great Mosque in Kufa, Iraq. However, those sent after his rival only wounded him. Muawiyah survived, emerged as sole Caliph, and went on to found the Umayyad Dynasty. The Khawarij rose in rebellion against Muawiyah, who eventually crushed them. Embers remained, however, and the Khawarij became the anarchists of Islam’s first centuries. Rejecting the Caliph’s authority, they engaged in a campaign of terror and assassinations, combined with a low level insurgency that flared up every generation or two into a major rebellion. They became the model for modern Islamist terrorists, such as Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. History Hit

The Inept Terrorists Who Sparked WWI

No act of terrorism has had a greater impact than did the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo by Serbian Black Hand assassins. A comedy of errors ensued, in which various assassins tried but failed to kill Ferdinand. One threw a bomb that didn’t kill harm its target, then attempted to commit suicide by swallowing cyanide that had expired, and finally tried to drown himself in a river that was only inches deep. Fate finally intervened, however, when the royal’s convertible took a wrong turn that brought it within a few feet of Gavrilo Princep, an assassin who had given up on the affair and gone to grab a bite.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
The arrest of Gavrilo Princeps after he shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia. BBC

Princep stepped up to the open vehicle, and fired two shots that killed the archduke and his wife. That triggered a diplomatic dispute that morphed into a full blown crisis, and Austria eventually declared war on Serbia. Russia, as Serbia’s protector, rushed in to fight Austria. That in turn drew in Germany, Austria’s ally. So France, Russia’s ally against Germany, mobilized its army. That prompted Germany to invade France via Belgium. That in turned gave Britain a more palatable justification to join. It declared war as an outraged guarantor of Belgium’s violated sovereignty, instead of on realpolitik European balance of power considerations which would have compelled her to fight Germany anyhow.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Serbian Black Hand logo. Wikimedia

From Assassination, to Diplomatic Dispute, to Crisis, to Global War

In the resultant war, that contemporaries called The Great War until a bigger one came along a few decades later, over seventy million men were mobilized and ten million were killed. Four empires vanished, and the global center of power shifted from the Old World to the New. A staid age of aristocracy and traditional forms of government came to an end, and a new fervent and fast paced era of democracies juxtaposed with radical ideologies and totalitarianism emerged in its place. The dispute triggered by the Black Hand’s bullets in Sarajevo irrevocably changed the world.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Germans march through Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, in WWI. Pinterest

The Serbs did not fare well. They stood off an initial Austrian onslaught, but in 1915 the Germans joined and helped the Austrians overrun Serbia. One fifth of Serbia’s population perished during the war – the highest casualty percentage suffered by any country in WWI. Serbia’s prime minister finally had enough of the Black Hand, which had grown too powerful and too meddlesome. In 1917, its leaders were arrested and tried on trumped up charges for conspiracy to murder the Prince Regent. They were convicted, sentenced to death, and executed, and the group was outlawed.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
German territorial losses after WWI, and the demilitarized Rhineland. Cambridge University

The Rhineland Dispute

After Germany was defeated in World War I, the Treaty of Versailles forbade it from stationing armed forces in the Rhineland – a region in western Germany bordering France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The treaty expressly specified that a violation “in any manner whatsoever… shall be regarded as committing a hostile act“. The demilitarized Rhineland was the single greatest guarantor of peace in Europe. It kept Germany from attacking her western neighbors. Simultaneously, it made it impossible to attack her eastern neighbors, as well.

To do the latter would leave Germany open to attack from those eastern neighbors’ ally, France, on Germany’s unprotected west. However, although a demilitarized Rhineland was a positive for European peace, it was a humiliating negative for German pride. One of Hitler’s most popular campaign promises throughout the Nazis’ rise to power was to remilitarize the Rhineland. In 1936, he decided to send soldiers into the Rhineland. It was a huge risk, because Germany’s military at the time was in no condition to fight.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
German troops cross into the Rhineland on March 7th, 1936. The Article

Britain and France Could Have Stared Hitler Down, but Blinked Instead

If the Western Allies had responded with even minimal armed force, German commanders knew that they would be forced to hastily and humiliatingly retreat. Hitler faced great pressure from his generals, who warned him of the risks involved. However, the Fuhrer gambled that while the Western Allies had the power to thwart him, they lacked the will to use that power. So on March 7th, 1936, Hitler ordered 19 German battalions to occupy the Rhineland, in direct violation of post-WWI treaties.

The Fuhrer had a weak hand, but he played it anyhow, and won the gamble. The British and French protested, but took no direct action. That whetted Hitler’s appetite for more and ever-riskier gambles. So he initiated and escalated dispute after dispute. He calculated that he could act egregiously, secure in the knowledge that the Western Allies would strongly protest and vehemently condemn, but not act. He kept escalating until he invaded Poland in 1939, and was stunned when Britain and France finally had enough and declared war.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Dinar coined during the reign of Caliph Al Must’asim. Wikimedia

Trolling the Mongols Turned Out to be a Bad Idea

Al Musta’sim Billah (1213 -1258) was the last ruler of the Abbasid Caliphate, and Islam’s last Caliph. A weak ruler of a weak rump of what had once been a mighty empire, Al Musta’sim was surrounded by ineffectual advisors. When the Mongols demanded his submission, the Caliph rejected their demands, ignored some, and answered others with bluster and empty threats. Significantly, he failed to prepare adequate defenses against what was sure to follow such rejection. The Mongols had first erupted into the Islamic world in the 1220s, when Genghis Khan destroyed the Khwarezmian Empire and conquered as far west as Persia up to the edges of Mesopotamia. That outburst was followed by a decades-long lull, as far as the Middle East and the Islamic world were concerned.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Hulagu. Portal Islam

The Mongols directed their energies elsewhere, against China, Kievan Rus, Eastern Europe, and in internal squabbles amongst themselves. The lull ended in the 1250s, when a new Mongol ruler, Genghis Khan’s grandson Mongke, turned his attention to the Middle East and sent his brother, Hulagu, to assert Mongol power over the region. Hulagu began with the destruction of the Assassins, a murderous cult led by a shadowy mystic known as The Old Man of the Mountain. It operated from a string of mountain holdfasts, and had terrorized the Middle East for over a century and a half. Hulagu wiped them out by 1256. He then turned his attention to the Abbassid Caliphate, based in Baghdad, and ordered it to submit to Mongol suzerainty and pay tribute.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Hulagu at the Siege of Baghdad. Pinterest

The End of the Caliphate

The Abbassids were once a powerful dynasty that ruled the world’s largest, strongest, and most prosperous empire. They were centuries removed from their heyday by the time Al Musta’sim became Caliph. By the 1250s, the Abbasid Caliphate’s sway did not stretch far beyond Baghdad, and the Caliph had been reduced to a mostly ceremonial figurehead, a puppet of Turkish or Persian sultans who wielded real power and acted in his name. What the Caliph did have left was a remnant of spiritual and moral authority, and enough pride to refuse Hulagu’s summons to submit.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
German troops cross into the Rhineland on March 7th, 1936. The Deadliest Blogger

The Abbasids were not prepared to face the Mongols, who had conquered bigger and tougher opponents. However, Al Musta’sim believed that the Mongols would not be able to seize Baghdad, and that if the city was endangered, the Islamic world would rush to its aid. Hulagu marched on Baghdad, the Islamic world did not rush to its aid, and after a twelve-day-siege, the city fell. The Mongols sacked Baghdad, massacred its inhabitants, burned its vast libraries, and put the city to the torch. Al Musta’sim was captured, but the Mongols had a taboo against spilling royal blood. So they rolled him in a carpet, and their army rode over him when it marched off to further conquests, their horses trampling the last Caliph to death.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
The Romano-Britons welcome the Saxons to Britain. Old Puzzles

A Dispute Over Mercenaries’ Pay Led to the Conquest of Britain

Throughout much of the fourth century, Saxon raiders devastated the Roman province of Britain. Then, in one of history’s worst “it takes a thief to catch a thief” brainstorms, the Romano-Britons struck a deal to hire the Saxons as mercenaries, and settle them on British soil. In exchange, the Saxons promised to defend Britain from other barbarians. Once they settled in, the Saxons complained that their hosts had skimped on the monthly supplies promised them. A conference to resolve the dispute was arranged between native nobles led by a Vortigern, and the Saxons led by two chieftains named Hengist and Horsa. However, the Saxons’ idea of dispute resolution was to suddenly murder the Britons mid-conference.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
The slaughter of the Romano-Briton leadership in the Night of the Long Knives. K-Pics

In what came to be known as the Night of the Long Knives (the first recorded use of the term), the Briton leadership was slaughtered, and only Vortigern was spared. Declaring the deal void, the Saxons forced Vortigern to sign a new treaty that ceded them southeastern England. It was still not enough. The Saxons continued to attack the Britons, and launched a war of conquest to seize the entire province, displace the locals, and replace them with Germanic settlers. They were joined by Angles from today’s Schleswig-Holstein, between Germany and Denmark, plus Jutes from today’s Jutland in Denmark and Lower Saxony in Germany.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Hengist and Horsa plunder Britain. Pinterest

History’s Costliest Pay Dispute?

With the dispute over pay and unfulfilled conditions as an excuse, the Saxons launched a massive onslaught. It lasted for decades, until the Britons won a crucial victory at the Battle of Mons Badonicus, sometime around 500. That temporarily stopped the invaders, who by then had overrun roughly half of Romano-Britain. It was this period of warfare that gave rise to the stories of King Arthur, the heroic monarch who led the Britons against the Saxons. Although King Arthur is a mythological figure, archaeology supports a Saxon setback around 500.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
The Saxon invasion of Britain. Look and Learn

The pattern of steady Saxon settlement expansion westward and replacement of Britons suddenly reversed. Briton settlements began to expand eastwards, as they displaced the Saxons and reclaimed previously lost lands. That supports accounts of a major Briton victory sometime around 500. The Britons’ reprieve proved only temporary, however. The Anglo-Saxons recovered, resumed their expansion at the expense of the Britons, and eventually conquered and settled nearly all of what is now England. The indigenous Britons lost their most productive lands, and their last independent remnants were pushed into the peripheral regions of Cornwall and Wales.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Gamal Abdel Nasser. Kaiser Images

Trolling the Israelis at the Wrong Time

In the lead to the Six Day War (June 5th – 10th, 1967), the temperature of the Arab-Israeli dispute rose steadily. Raids from Palestinian guerrillas based in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, increased, and elicited massive Israeli reprisals. That put Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser in a bind. He was the Arab world’s most popular politician, a hero of the masses for his defiance of Britain, France, and Israel during the Suez Crisis of 1956. Now, however, he faced criticism for his failure to aid other Arab states against Israel. He was also accused of hiding behind a UN peacekeeping force stationed on the Israeli-Egyptian border.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Jordan’s King Hussein and Gamal Abdel Nasser smile after signing a defense pact. K-Pics

Nasser knew that the Egyptian military was in no shape to fight Israel, but he sought to regain his stature in the Arab world by bluster and bluff. He broadcast increasingly heated speeches that threatened Israel, and sought to convey his seriousness with demonstrations short of war. However, Nasser got carried away with his own rhetoric, and escalated the demonstrations beyond the point of prudence. He massed Egyptian forces in the Sinai, and a few days later, requested the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers separating the Israeli and Egyptian forces. Shortly thereafter, he closed to Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping. A week later, Jordan’s King Hussein arrived in Egypt to ink a mutual defense pact, followed soon thereafter by a defense treaty with Iraq.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
UN peacekeepers in Sinai were expelled by Nasser. K-Pics

From Bluff to Dispute to Disastrous War

Unfortunately for Nasser, what might have been intended as bluff seemed all too real from Israel’s perspective. Moreover, the Israelis, who actually were prepared for war, had long been itching for an excuse to cut Nasser down to size. So on June 5th, 1967, they launched preemptive air strikes that destroyed ninety percent of Egypt’s air force on the ground, and put paid to Syria’s planes as well. Then, with aerial supremacy secured, the Israelis launched ground attacks. They routed the Egyptians and seized Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula within three days, and defeated the Jordanians and seized Jerusalem and the West Bank within two.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Israeli soldiers guard Egyptian soldiers captured in the Six Day War. Greanville Post

Egypt and Jordan accepted a UN ceasefire but the Syrians unwisely did not. So the Israelis attacked Syria on June 9th, and captured the Golan Heights within a day. Syria accepted a cease fire the next day. The defeat was humiliatingly lopsided: about 24,000 Arabs killed vs 800 Israelis, with similarly disproportionate rates for wounded and equipment losses. Nasser’s prestige in the Arab world, which he had sought to burnish with warlike rhetoric and demonstrations short of war, took a severe hit from which it never recovered.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Genghis Khan statue at the parliament building in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. ABC News

A Dispute Started by a Poorly Thought Out Attempt to Punk Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan once stated that: “Life’s greatest joy is to rout and scatter your enemies, and drive them before you. To see their cities reduced to ashes. To see their loved ones shrouded and in tears, and to gather to your bosom their wives and daughters“. The kind of person who says stuff like that is not somebody a wise ruler would go out of his way to insult. Yet that is precisely what Shah Muhammad II, ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire from 1200 to 1220, did. Worse, he then doubled down on the stupid, and dared Genghis Khan to do something about it.

Genghis Khan (1162 – 1227) founded the Mongol Empire, the world’s largest contiguous empire, and was one of history’s scariest figures. His conquests were often accompanied by widespread massacres, even genocide. As a percentage of global population, the estimated forty million death toll of the Mongol conquests initiated by him would be equivalent to 278 million deaths in the twentieth century. In 1218, Genghis Khan was busy fighting the Chinese, when he sent an embassy and trade mission to Muhammad II. In addition to diplomatic emissaries, it included numerous merchants with valuable trade wares.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Mongols during the invasion of the Khwarezmian Empire. Weapon News

When Genghis Khan Tried to Play Nice

Genghis Khan had hoped to establish diplomatic and trade relations with the Khwarezmian Empire, which encompassed most of Central Asia, and stretched from today’s Afghanistan to Georgia. The Khwarezmian ruler, however, was suspicious of Genghis’ intentions, and went out of his way to initiate a dispute. He had one of his governors halt the Mongol embassy at the border, accuse it of espionage, arrest its members, and seize its goods. Despite the insult, Genghis tried to keep things diplomatic. To contain the dispute before it turned into a war, he sent three envoys to Muhammad II, to request that he disavow the governor’s actions, and hand him over to the Mongols for punishment.

Muhammad executed the envoys, and followed it up with the execution of all members of the earlier embassy and trade mission. Those turned out to be bad decisions. Genghis interrupted his campaign in China, and concentrated a force of over 100,000 against the Khwarezmian Empire. It was smaller than Muhammad II’s forces, but the Mongols struck in 1218 with a whirlwind onslaught that caught Muhammad off balance, and he was never given an opportunity to recover. Genghis’ invasion was a military masterpiece that overwhelmed Muhammad’s empire, and extinguished it by 1221.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Mongols lead Shah Muhammad II’s mother into captivity. Wikiwand

The Destruction of a Prosperous Empire

As to the unfortunate Muhammad II, he was forced to flee, but the Mongols never gave him a chance to find sanctuary and recover for a comeback. Genghis put two of his best generals, Subutai and Jebe, in charge of hunting the Khwarezmian ruler. Muhammad was chased and hounded across his domain to his death, abandoned and exhausted, on a small Caspian island as his relentless pursuers closed in. It was in this invasion that the Mongols gained their reputation for savagery. Millions died, as Genghis ordered the massacre of entire cities that offered the least resistance, and sent thousands of captives ahead of his armies as human shields. By the time Genghis was done, Khwarezm had been reduced from a wealthy empire to an impoverished and depopulated wasteland.

At the grand mosque in the once prosperous but now wrecked city of Bukhara, Genghis told the survivors that he was the Flail of God, and that: “If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you“. Muhammad II brought catastrophe upon himself when he insulted somebody he assumed was just another upstart barbarian nomad chieftain from the Steppe. He discovered, too late, that he had challenged history’s greatest conqueror. Muhammad’s subsequent flight, as he was chased across his ever shrinking domain by relentless Mongol pursuers, could probably be set to chase scene music from Benny Hill.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
1944 photo of Hiroo Onoda, right, and his brother Shigeo. Wikimedia

Hiroo Onoda’s One Man War

In 1944, as US forces fought to retake the Philippines, a 22-year-old Japanese Imperial Army lieutenant, Hiroo Onoda, was sent on a reconnaissance mission to Lubang Island in the western Philippines. An intelligence officer specially trained as a commando, Onoda was directed to spy on American forces in the area and conduct guerrilla operations. He was ordered to never surrender, but also expressly ordered that, under no circumstances, was he authorized to take his own life. On Lubang, senior Japanese officers meddled and prevented Onoda from carrying out his mission. Within months, American forces invaded the island, and killed or captured all Japanese personnel, with the exception of Onoda and three other soldiers. Onoda took charge of the survivors, and took to the hills.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
American soldiers liberating the Philippines in 1945. National WWII Museum

The US overran the Philippines and overcame organized Japanese resistance on the archipelago. As Onoda, scurried about the rugged terrain of Lubang, he was cut off from communications with his chain of command. As such, he did not receive official word of the Japanese capitulation in 1945. Without new orders to countermand his last received instructions to fight to the death, Onoda displayed a single-minded devotion to duty. He hid in the jungles and mountains of Lubang, and as seen below, fought on for nearly three decades.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Lubang’s jungles and rugged terrain enabled Onoda to hide for years. Flickr

A Decision to Continue History’s Bloodiest Dispute Because of a Refusal to Face Reality

Onoda and his men erected bamboo huts, and to survive, hunted and gathered in Lubang’s jungle, stole rice and other food from local farmers, and killed the occasional cow for meat. Tormented by heat and mosquitoes, rats and rain, Onoda’s band patched their increasingly threadbare uniforms, and maintained their weapons. Throughout the long holdout, Onoda and his tiny band came across various leaflets that announced the war’s end. They dismissed them as enemy propaganda. When they encountered a leaflet upon which had been printed the official surrender order from their commanding general, they examined it closely to determine whether it was genuine. They decided that it must be a forgery. Even when they recovered airdropped letters and pictures from their own families that urged them to surrender, Onoda’s band convinced themselves that it was a trick.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
A search party for Hiroo Onoda in 1972. The Observer

As the years flew by, the tiny four man contingent steadily dwindled, as Onoda lost comrades to a variety of causes. In 1949, one of them simply left the group, wandered alone around Lubang for six months, and eventually surrendered to authorities. Another was killed by a search party in 1954. Onoda’s last companion was shot dead by police in 1972, who came upon the duo as they attempted to burn the rice stores of local farmers. Onoda was thus finally alone. Yet he continued to fight a one man war, faithful to his last received orders. In 1974, a Japanese hippie backpacker found Onoda and befriended him. He managed to convince the holdout that the war had ended decades earlier, but Onoda still refused to surrender, absent orders from a superior officer.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
Hiroo Onoda, on his way to surrender. Rare Historical Photos

Hero, or Murderous Idiot?

Back in Japan with photographic proof of his encounter with Onoda, the holdout’s new friend contacted the Japanese government, which in turn tracked down his former commanding officer. Onoda’s wartime commander travelled to Lubang, to personally inform him that the war was over, that he was released from military duty, and order him to stand down. In 1974, clad in his battered and threadbare uniform, Lieutenant Onoda handed in his sword and other weapons to representatives of the US and Filipino military, and finally brought his war to an end nearly three decades after the conclusion of WWII. He returned to a hero’s welcome in Japan, but admiration for his single minded devotion to duty was not universal. Lubang’s inhabitants did not see Onoda as a conscientious and honorable man devoted to duty. Instead, they viewed him as a bloody-minded idiot.

Weirdest and Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes
An aged Hiroo Onoda in Brazil. Pinterest

In his 29-year-holdout, Onoda inflicted sundry harms upon the Lubangese. He stole, destroyed, and sabotaged their property. He also needlessly killed about 30 local police and farmers with whom his band had clashed as they stole or “requisitioned” food and supplies in order to continue a war that had ended decades earlier. A militarist through and through, Onoda believed that the war had been a sacred mission, and the pacifist and futuristic Japan to which he returned was unrecognizable to him. He found himself unable to fit in a country and culture so radically different from the one in which he had grown up. Within a year of his return to Japan, Onoda emigrated to Brazil, where he bought a cattle ranch, settled into to the life of a rancher, married, and raised family. He died in 2014, aged 91.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading


Ancient Pages – Hengist and Horsa: Legendary Anglo-Saxon Warrior Brothers, and Leaders of First Settlers in Britain

Association For Diplomatic Studies & Training – The 1969 ‘Soccer War’ Between Honduras and El Salvador

Ayoub, Mahmoud – The Crisis of Muslim History: Religion and Politics in Early Islam (2005)

Bowley, R. L. – Scilly at War (2001)

Cracked – 15 of the Weirdest, Pettiest Causes of Wars and Diplomatic Disputes

Geni – Wreck of the White Ship

Grunge – How One Camel Caused a Ruthless 40-Year War

Hastings, Max – Catastrophe, 1914: Europe Goes to War (2014)

Hemming, John – The Conquest of the Incas (1970)

Herzog, Chaim – The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East From the 1948 War of Independence to the Present (2005)

Hildinger, Erik – Warriors of the Steppe: Military History of Central Asia, 500 BC to 1700 AD (1997)

History Collection – The Devastating Consequences of the Cold War

How Stuff Works – Japanese Holdouts

Kershaw, Ian – Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris (1998)

Madelung, Wilferd – The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate (1997)

Military History, May 2006 – Facing the Wrath of Khan

Morgan, David – The Mongols (1986)

Onoda, Hiroo – No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War (1974)

Oren, Michael – Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2002)

Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 10th, 2014 – Hiroo Onoda: Hero, or Villain?

Prescott, William H. – The History of the Conquest of Peru (1874)

Ratchnevsky, Paul – Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy (1994)

Shirer, William – The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (1990 Edition)

Spencer, Charles – The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream (2020)

ThoughtCo – The Black Hand: Serbian Terrorists Spark WWI

World History Encyclopedia – Vortigern