For every major war that fills our history books and newspapers—the Revolutionary War of the American colonists vs. England, American Civil War with the North vs. the South, World War I, World War II, what were termed police actions such as Korea and Viet Nam (war by any other name), and the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991, a United Nations action) leading up to the current armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan—there are dozens of small wars that don't receive any attention in history class. Some of them were ludicrous and others were very serious.
Here's a list of 10 wars (in no particular order) that you probably never heard about.
1) The Pig War
This little known conflict dates back to 1859 and had the potential to change the course of American history. And it all started over a pig. Both America and Britain claimed possession of and resided on San Juan Island off the coast of Washington state. The two countries maintained an uneasy truce…until an American farmer shot a British pig he discovered tearing up his potato patch. This action resulted in the British trying to arrest the farmer who called in the American troops in support of his position. The two countries squared off on the tiny island. The British Navy sent 3 warships and over 2,000 men. The Americans responded with military force of their own. No shots were fired (beyond the original shot that killed the pig). San Juan Island was eventually ceded to the Americans as part of the San Juan Islands group.
2) The Stray Dog War
And speaking of animals being the source of an international conflict, that's also the case with the long-running rivalry between Bulgaria and Greece. In 1925 a Greek soldier chased his runaway dog across the border and was shot dead by a Bulgarian border guard. That action set off an immediate retaliation with the Greek army invading the border region of Petrich and routing the Bulgarian army. The League of Nations ordered Greece to withdraw and pay Bulgaria about $90,000 in damages.
3) The War Of Jenkins' Ear
There are lots of reasons why wars start, but there's only one known to have started because of a severed ear. British sea captain Robert Jenkins' boat was boarded by the Spanish in the Caribbean. The Spanish accused him of piracy and cut off his left ear. In 1738, Jenkins brought the ear to Parliament and it was enough for Great Britain to declare war on Spain. After 7 years of conflict, both countries backed off with no major territory changes on either side.
4) The Moldovan-Transdniestrian War
The breakup of the Soviet Union left several countries looking for something to do and in some cases that something ended up being war. Moldova had a partisan faction wanting to stay allied with Romania and another wanting to align with Russia. Nearly a thousand people were killed before hostilities ceased. The unusual part of the war was the relationship between the soldiers of the opposing sides. After battling each other during the day, they would socialize in the bars in the disputed zone at night, often apologizing to each other for the events of the day.
5) The Honey War
In the early days of the United States when the federal government wasn't as strong as it is now, the individual states often became involved in ridiculous squabbles with each other that sometimes escalated into violence. In 1839, the governor of Missouri decided to redraw his state's border with Iowa because…well, apparently because he felt like it that morning. And then he sent in his tax collectors to pick up some extra cash from its new citizens. Needless to say, this didn't go over very well. The only thing the tax collectors were able to collect consisted of 3 beehives full of honey. The Missouri militia got into an armed conflict with Iowa citizens who captured a sheriff. Congress finally drew a permanent border line and told both states to chill out.
6) Anglo-Zanzibar War
This conflict lasted an awesome 38 minutes making it the world record holder for the shortest war in history. Khalid vin Bargash, the new Sultan of Zanzibar, came into power in 1896. He didn't like having his protectorate as a British puppet so he declared war and barricaded himself in the palace. Less than an hour later, the British had shelled him, removed him from power and installed a new Sultan in his place.
7) The Football War
This four day war between Honduras and El Salvador was about more than a soccer game. Hundreds of thousands Salvadorans had been moving to Honduras to find work. By the late 1970s, tensions between the two countries had reached the breaking point. The spark that set off the war was the FIFA World Cup qualifying matches between the two countries. After each had won one game, the Salvadoran Air Force (passenger planes with bombs strapped to them) attacked Honduran targets. Neither nation could support an extended war, so a cease-fire was negotiated. They remained bitter enemies for more than a decade.
8) The Watermelon War
Yet another war that started over a trivial matter and quickly escalated out of control. The United States occupation of Panama to build the canal displaced much of the nation's white-collar workforce, leaving a great many natives unemployed. A boat carrying 1,000 American workers landed in Panama City making the matter even worse. One of those passengers, an American named Jack Oliver, took a piece of watermelon from a Panamanian vendor and refused to pay for it. The vendor pulled a knife. Oliver pulled a gun. And both sides were battling it out with each sustaining casualties. Eventually a railroad car of riflemen arrived on the scene and brokered a peace. The brief war, however, laid the groundwork for the later American occupation of Panama.
9) The Emu War
Unlike earlier mentioned wars started because of animals, this one was a war against animals. In 1932, Australia found itself overrun by emus, a large flightless bird that looks like an ostrich. More than 20,000 emus were destroying crops so the government declared all out war on the birds. They sent soldiers armed with machine guns and orders to shoot emus on sight. The birds proved to be tougher than estimated and after a week the commanding officer gave up. They had killed barely 10 percent of their target.
10) The Chaco War
This was a South American conflict that started over a postage stamp. The Chaco region is on the border between Bolivia and Paraguay with both countries believing the region was rich in oil (which it wasn't). Bolivia issued a postage stamp in 1932 featuring a map of their country including the Chaco region. Not to be outdone, Paraguay struck back by issuing their own stamp with their map including the Chaco region. Hostilities erupted in the region with both sides buying arms from the U.S. and from Europe. When it was over, Paraguay was the winner and new owner of a completely useless piece of land.