Feb 04 201666 Longest War Ever

Depending on how you measure and define things, the longest war in human history may very well have been between the Netherlands and a tiny¬†collection of islands 28 miles off the coast of Britain known as the Isles of Scilly (the flag of which is pictured below) . The “war” lasted for three hundred and thirty five years and consisted of zero battles. It was a “war” only in the sense that the Netherlands had made a declaration of war in the 1600s, and then simply forgot to rescind it.

In 1986 a historian on Scilly set out to debunk what he thought was a local legend but, instead, ended up confirming that, yes, his small island community was technically still at war with the Netherlands. The historian alerted the relevant authorities, the Dutch ambassador visited the isles, read a scroll aloud, and declared peace. After 335 years of “war,” one of the longest declared military conflicts ended without the loss of a single human life.


Nov 05 201555 The Pig War

Nowadays the US-Canada border is one of the most peaceful international boundaries in the world, but in 1859 the US almost went to war with British North America in what is now Washington State. A war sparked by a pig.

The 1846 Oregon Treaty was poorly worded and it left San Juan Island itself in something of a state of limbo. This island was claimed both by the British Empire and the United States, and for several years American settlers and the Hudson’s Bay Company mutually occupied the island. However, an American frontiersman shot a British pig, and the squabble between neighbors threatened to turn into an international incident. The two powers were ready for armed conflict and, had a British rear admiral not disobeyed orders to engage the Americans, the conflict might very well have turned violent. In the end, it was a bloodless conflict. There were no casualties, excepting, of course, the pig.

San Juans

Sep 24 201549 Destroy All Emus!

1932 was a bad year for farmers in Australia. Hot weather withered grain, because of the Great Depression, promised agricultural subsidies were not forthcoming and, worst of all, there were emus. The large flightless bird devoured Australian grain, prompting the government to go after them with machine guns.

It was called the Emu War, and the emus won.


Related Links:

Veritable Hokum did a delightful comic about the Emu War. It features an emu in a hat. Emus probably did not wear hats.

Attack on Emus from the Melbourne Argus, 1932.

Apr 30 201528 Attack the Rock

The foreboding form of Alcatraz Island looms just beyond San Francisco, an obvious symbol of isolation and punishment. Alcatraz was never the biggest, or worst, or longest-lived prison in American history, but it’s definitely the most iconic. The island fortress seems to invite resistance and escape attempts, a setting like Alcatraz demands a narrative just as striking. In 1946 a handful of convicts attempted to violently escape from the island, giving that dramatic setting a dramatic narrative to match it. The resulting conflict, known today as the Battle of Alcatraz, claimed the lives of five people and wounded just over a dozen others. Ordinary San Franciscans were able to watch from their city as guns, explosives, and conflict raged just beyond the bounds of civilization.

The image below shows the exterior of Alcatraz as U.S. Marines pelt the prison with mortars in an attempt to kill and suppress the rebels inside.


Related Links:

Watch 1946 newsreels of the events here and here, in all of their retro media glory.

Read more about the battle and other Alcatraz history here.

This map via Wired of how other Alcatraz escapees could have, possibly, maybe survived.

Jan 08 201512 Shortest War Ever

The Anglo-Zanzibar war comes up all the time on lists of curiosities, records, weird things, etc., as the shortest war in recorded history. It certainly is a historical curiosity, but it was still an actual, real war, with stakes and politics behind it. This week’s episode gets into a few details about the shortest war in history, and why (for Zanzibar at least) it was more than just a curiosity.

The photograph below shows a part of the Sultan’s palace complex after the war which, depending on which source you read, lasted either 38, 40, or 45 minutes.



Related Links:

The Anglo-Zanzibar War is a favorite for factoid sites like Neatorama and Mental Floss.

Reporting on the war from the AP in 1896 (requires login).

National Geographic on the SE African coast.

Oct 30 201402 Axe Murder

The Korean Demilitarized Zone is a strange place. In 2008 I was a tourist visiting the peninsula, and I learned about one of the strangest incidents in the DMZ’s history. It was something straight out of a slasher movie, and has gone down in history as The Axe Murder Incident.

Remnants of the tree that started it all. This picture was taken by U.S. Army personnel, and is in the public domain.

Related Links:

Footage of a DMZ tour. I did not take this footage, but the tour shown here is very similar to the one I went on.

A photograph of the fight itself. While the picture is old and blurry, it does portray fatal violence, so I felt it would have been in poor taste to put it directly on the sight.

An article about the Soviet defector who ran across the DMZ, mentioned briefly at the end of the episode.