Sunday, May 16, 2010

The World's Longest and Shortest Wars Revisited


Man has been at war with himself since time immemorial. Some wars have been short; others lasted many, many years. Some wars have been quick and decisive while others continued until the emergence of a conqueror; other wars dragged on for centuries even after the death of the masterminds. Usually, a war may be ignited by flimsy issues like a love affair, competition for scarce resources, and rivalry over leadership, disagreement over ideology or it could be over major issues like retaliatory measures over grievances, religious superiority; it could be a row over diplomacy, forceful annexation of new lands, and territorial expansion. Wars may result from internal turmoil leading to civil disobedience or it could be caused by external aggression. In almost all wars, clever men intervened to reconcile warring parties. Some wars end for good after warring parties opt for an armistice or negotiated settlements.

The longest war in human history erupted during the reign of Alexander the Great III who succeeded the throne after the assassination of his father Philip of Macedon II in 336 BC. Alexander the Great III waged war against Persia between the years 320s and 330s BC. The man who would claim the titles Hegemon of the Hellenic League, Shahanshah of Persia, Pharaoh of Egypt and Lord of Asia died at age 32 in 332 BC after capturing Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Bactria. His short-lived reign lasted only 13 years. His ambition of capturing India ended in disarray after his soldiers mutinied prompting him to turn back thus shuttering his dream of capturing Arabia. Alexander’s desire was to reach the "ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea". Thus, the wars inherited from Alexander the Great left a geopolitical vault that continue to drag on 2,500 years later between the forces of Europe and the Middle East.

In the past, many battles exploded between Europe and the Middle East with North Africa, Spain, France, the Balkans, Palestine, and Asia Minor serving as battlefields. The rise of Islam in the 7th century consolidated and strengthened the forces of Western Asia by significantly Islamizing the Middle East and tipping the poise in support of Mid-Eastern superiority for several centuries. The falling behind of the Arabs and the Turks in economic and military terms in the 19th century enabled the French and the British to impose colonialism on Muslim lands.

Another prolonged war worth mentioning erupted between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly (Dutch: Driehonderdvijfendertigjarige Oorlog) which lasted for three hundred and thirty five years. Strange as it may seem, not a single shot was fired for 335 years making this war the longest war with the fewest casualties. This war ignited during the Second English Civil War between the Royalists and Parliamentarians in 1642 to 1652. It was Oliver Cromwell who pushed the Royalists and secured Cornwall for the parliamentarians in 1648. Under the command of Admiral Robert Blake, the Parliamentarians finally forced the Royalists to surrender in 1651.

Because of the exact dates remaining sketchy, many historians are of the view the Vietnam War was fought against the French for 11 years (1946-1957) and 18 years against the United States (1957-1975). In total, the Vietnam War lasted 30 years. The Korean War was far much shorter than the Vietnam War as it lasted from 1950 to 1953.

Of all wars the world has seen and recorded by historians, World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945) left unforgettable scars in the memory of humanity. Industrialization, abundance of resources, advanced military technology and the mastering of modern tactical warfare by the nations of the western hemisphere, the former U.S.S.R, and Japan culminated in the speeding of aggression that led to the loss of life and property on both sides of the warring parties.

The shortest war recorded in history occurred on 27 October, 1896. Known historically as the Anglo-Zanzibar War, it was fought between the Sultan of Zanzibar and the powerful United Kingdom. This war is said to have lasted 38 minutes and has been documented to have started at 9:02 AM and ending at 9:40 AM-approximately 38 minutes though many disputes exist among historians as to the exact timing of this brutally devastating war that took tremendous life and property.

It all started after the sudden death of Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini who died on the 24th of August, 1896. At this time in history, the British monarchy was pushing for an end to slavery in Zanzibar that was started by Omani Arabs in the 17th century. The British were in favor of Hamud bin Muhammed for the throne because he was a royal cousin of the deceased and because he did not extremely support the advancement of slavery.

However, a hot-blooded nephew of the deceased sultan, a man named Khalid bin Bargash who was an extreme supporter of slavery seized the throne in a coup. At this juncture, the British colonial administration delivered an ultimatum to Bargash ordering him to give up the throne. The big-headed Bargash challenged the British by hurriedly assembling an army of 3,000 men; he ordered the fortification of his newly-usurped Beit el-Ajaib palace or the House of Wonder; he also put into action a hurriedly-created navy in the form of the ex-Sultan’s yacht, HHS Glasgow.

At this juncture, the Royal Navy of Britain, the strongest navy in the world at that time, deployed two warships in the harbor aiming their heavy guns at Bargash’s newly-usurped abode-the Beit el-Ajaib. By now, the Royal Navy had three ultra-modern cruisers in action: the Edgar- class armored cruiser HMS St. George, the pearl class protected cruiser HMS Philomel, and the archer-class cruiser HMS Raccoon and two gunboats, the HMS Thrush and HMS Sparrow.

On the other hand, the British dispatched a landing party under the command of General Lloyd Mathews. By the time the war ended, Bargash’s palace had been razed to the ground, approximately 500 of his poorly-trained soldiers perished, and his navy was obliterated. Bargash sought refuge in the German embassy. Eventually, he escaped to Dar es Salaam in mainland Tanganyika where he was captured by British forces in 1916. Finally, the imposing but trounced Bargash was released by the British. He died in Mombasa, Kenya in 1927.

Whether short or prolonged, in essence, wars are catastrophic in nature for they exacerbate death and destruction and accelerate human suffering. Wars are known to be agonizing for fauna and flora alike and never at anytime nurture living things. Had there been no wars for all the years men have been up to their throats, the shape of the current world would have been habitable.

In the current era of globalization, the prospect of the world experiencing another major war remains slim mainly due to internalization of trade and investment and the interconnectedness of nation-states through mutual cooperation and the observance of internationally-sanctioned organizational commitments which ultimately will put an end to the concept of unilateralism and hegemony experienced in the past.

The current politically motivated wars raging in Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Somalia will come to an end in the near future. The only wars that will remain mind-boggling to the international community will be the current unsolvable Israeli-Palestinian conflict whose ideals rest on religious and ethnic dividing lines and China's domination of the world's economy 2050 and beyond.

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