10 Shortest Wars of All Time
Americans tend to think of wars in terms of years and decades. President Obama recently announced that the last official combat brigade has left Iraq after a campaign that began in the spring of 2003, though 50,000 troops are still in the region and aren’t set to leave until August 2011. The Afghan War is another lengthy conflict, having started in 2001, and the United States’ recent history when it comes to war is of multi-year commitments like World War II or Vietnam. But world history is dotted with wars on the other end of the spectrum, conflicts that raged fierecely but dissipated after only weeks or days. These are the shortest wars ever recorded, but don’t let the length of the battles fool you. Even fleeting fights like these changed the world.
- Falklands War (74 days): Running from early April to mid-June of 1982, the Falklands War was fought between the United Kingdom and Argentina to decide the fate of the Falkland Islands and the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, groups of islands off the eastern coast of South America. The war was a result of more than a century of dispute over sovereignty of the islands, with the U.K. and Argentina alternately claiming sovereignty for more than a century. In April 1982, Argentine forces invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, which did not sit well with British rulers, who subsequently launched a naval task force to take back the islands and re-assert dominance. War was never technically declared by either party; rather, it was an escalating conflict that led to combat in which 257 British fighters and 649 Argentine ones were killed. The battle spanned a couple of months and resulted in the continuation of British rule, though Argentina still claims the lands, as well.
- Polish-Lithuanian War (37 days): Official accounts differ on the length of the Polish-Lithuanian War: Polish history records it as running from September 1 to October 7, 1920, while Lithuanian history marks the beginning all the way back in the spring of 1919 and the end in November 1920. The discrepancy comes from the fact that Lithuanians say the conflict was part of the larger Lithuanian Wars of Independence, while Poland says the war was more limited in scope and part of the Polish-Soviet War. Poland had captured the Vilnius Region in April 1919 and found Lithuanians there fighting againt the Soviets. An uneasy peace born of a common enemy quickly gave way to infighting, and border disputes led to a full-on war between Polish and Lithuanian forces in fall 1920. A ceasefire was signed in November, but disputes over the ownership of the land continued for years.
- Second Balkan War (32 days): Unfolding in June and July of 1913, the Second Balkan War was triggered when Bulgaria attacked former allies Serbia and Greece over a dispute with its spoils from the First Balkan War, which had ended that May after beginning the previous October. Serbian and Greek forces were predictably unhappy with this and pushed back, invading Bulgaria. The escalating conflict also brought Romania into the fold against Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire also joined the fight to regain some land lost in the earlier war. Beaten into submission and with their capital almost under siege, Bulgaria surrendered and signed the resultant Treaty of Bucharest in which they gave up much of what they’d taken in the previous war. The most important part of the war came after it ended: the splintering of the alliance between Russia and Bulgaria meant that Serbia was the only Russian ally in the region, and that leverage enabled them to engage in the July Crisis of 1914, which would lead to World War I.
- Greco-Turkish War (30 days): Also referred to as the Thirty Days’ War, this 1897 conflict between Greece and the Ottoman Empire was waged to determine the fate of Crete. Greeks on Crete were still under Ottoman rule, and began to rebel in 1896. In early 1897, Greek ships landed at Crete and announced their plan to unite Crete with the rest of Greece. A European alliance of rulers tried to broker a solution in which Greece would withdraw in exchange for the island receiving autonomous rule, but Greek forces rejected the offer. War broke out when Greece invaded Macedonia, and though they fought with strength, the Greeks were ultimately defeated.
- Sino-Vietnamese War (27 days): Although it ran for less than a month in 1979, the Sino-Vietnamese War racked up a horrible body count; though each side would go on to declare themselves the victor, some Western sources estimate that as many as 26,000 Chinese and 20,000 Vietnamese fighters were killed, and that doesn’t even count civilians or injuries. The conflict started when Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia to take down the Khmer Rouge, which was backed the People’s Republic of China. In retaliation, the PRC attacked Vietnam, which led to the bloody border conflict. PRC forces retreated just shy of one month later, and both sides maintain that they won the quick war.
- Georgian-Armenian War (24 days): During World War I, areas along the border between Georgia and Armenia that had largely been populated by Armenians became occupied by Ottoman forces. When they left, Georgia and Armenia both claimed possession of the areas, which led to armed war over the land in December of 1918. Both sides achieved successes in the fight, but they agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Britian and ended the war shortly before the new year. As a result, both parties jointly ruled the Borchalo district until 1920, when Armenia fell under Soviet rule.
- Serbo-Bulgarian War (14 days): We’re getting down to the shorter wars now, with conflicts lasting only a couple of weeks. Case in point: the Serbo-Bulgarian War, which unfolded over the second half of November, 1885. The short version is that it was, as is often the case, a border dispute coupled with a desire for revenge. In September, Bulgaria united with an Ottoman province against the will of European powers and to the consternation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, still intent on expanding its Balkan holdings. Serbia’s leader was also annoyed that opposition leaders were being given asylum in Bulgaria, so in exchange for Balkan land in a deal with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Serbia declared war on Bulgaria on November 14. Bulgaria rallied to a win and preserved their international strength.
- Indo-Pakistani War (13 days): Running just under two weeks in December 1971, the Indo-Pakistani War was triggered by the Bangladesh Liberation War, which itself has roots in the 1970 Pakistani election. (The entire thing is, understandably, highly detailed, and you can get more information here.) East Pakistan did well in the elections but was subsequently repressed by West Pakistani forces, so much so that millions in the eastern portion of the nation fled into neighboring India, which had opened its border to the refugees. Resulting tensions led to the war in which Indian forces defeated Pakistanis. As a result, Bangladesh became an official independent nation.
- Six-Day War (self-explanatory): The formation of modern Israel came about in the Six-Day War of 1967, one of the most important and influential conflicts of the 20th century. Following the Suez Crisis of 1956, there were multiple clashes between Israel and its neighbors, including Syria. Many acts of political one-up-manship followed, including the signing of mutual defense agreements and the escalation of troop levels by multiple countries. Israel went to war with Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq in a lightning-fast brawl that lasted from June 5 to June 10. The Israeli forces were triumphant in the end, and the nation expanded its territory to include the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. The action put a million Arabs under Israeli control in the newly seized territories, which has contributed to unrest since.
- Anglo-Zanzibar War (40 minutes): Estimates vary, but most agree that the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 lasted about 40 minutes. Total. The war between Zanzibar and the U.K. is the shortest in history. When the pro-British sultan died, he was succeeded by one who was less partial to British interests. The new sultan had not abided by an 1886 treaty requiring him to be approved by the British consul, so Britain viewed his act as cause for war. They ordered the sultan to vacate the palace, but he barricaded himself inside. Soon enough, the time limit on the ultimatum expired, at which point British forces which had been sent to the island invaded and laid pretty efficient waste to the locals. The shooting was over less than an hour after it began. The sultan took asylum in the German consulate before fleeing, and Britain soon put a sultan on the throne more to their liking. Swift and brutal.
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