Seven Wars with Strange Names Since 1777

Quasi-War (1798-1800) – Did you know that the United States and France once fought against each other? An undeclared war fought entirely at sea, the Quasi-War came about as a result of a breakdown in the relationship between the two former allies. The United States had declared its neutrality in the ongoing British-French conflict, but signed the 1794 Jay Treaty to settle commercial issues with the United Kingdom. France perceived this as both a betrayal of the 1778 Treaty of Alliance and a violation of the declaration of neutrality. The US was also not paying debt owed to France as the government’s position was that the debt was to the French crown and not the new French Republic. Incensed, France refused to receive the minister sent by the US, and began seizing American ships doing business with Britain (via both the French navy and the use of privateers) in order to reclaim the debt. An American delegation sent to Paris to negotiate terms in April 1798 was refused an audience by the French government unless a bribe, a loan for the French war effort, and a formal apology were given. Naturally, this was refused. The US Congress rescinded all agreements with France on 7 July 1798, and the Quasi-War began.

Final result: While France seized over 300 US merchant ships over the next two years, actual losses incurred by the Unites States Navy were rather light. In the meantime, the US captured 93 French privateer warships, mainly in the Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the East Indies. Battling the Americans and British on two fronts taxed the French, and the emergence at the same time of Napoleon as ruler of the Republic marked a positive change in attitude toward the US. A September 1800 treaty peacefully cancelled all previous agreements and grievances and basically pushed the reset button on US-France relations. Three years later, the restored relations between the two countries led to the Louisiana Purchase, transferring the claim over French Louisiana to the United States from France and doubling the size of the young country.

War of Knives (1799-1800) – During the Haitian Revolution, the former slave Toussaint Louverture emerged as the preeminent commander of the revolutionary forces in the north of the country. When the French Republic abolished slavery in what was then called Saint-Domingue (modern Haiti) in 1794, Toussaint allied his forces with the French to fight British and Spanish invaders and progressively took over the entire island of Hispaniola (Haiti plus Santo Domingo – the modern-day Dominican Republic). Toussaint began to consolidate power over the island by himself, which angered various local rivals looking to maintain influence over their own section of Hispaniola. One of these rivals was André Rigaud, a mulatto and army commander who held power in the west and south of Haiti. When Toussaint’s forces made moves toward Rigaud’s territory in June 1799, battles between the two commanders and their troops ensued, with Toussaint pushing Rigaud back toward the southern port of Jacmel by November. Jacmel finally fell to Toussaint the next March.

Final result: Louverture declared himself governor-for-life and announced plans for black sovereignty, angering Napoleon, who sent an expedition to enforce control over the whole of the island and reintroduce slavery at least for the formerly Spanish section. Rigaud immediately departed Saint-Domingue for Guadeloupe, returning as part of a Napoleonic force in 1802 to retake the island from Louverture (likely unaware that Napoleon intended to reintroduce slavery). When that failed, he was sent to France and held as a prisoner for a time. Louverture was also sent to France and died in prison in 1803. When the plan to reintroduce slavery became public, the black rebellion reignited, and the French were eventually defeated in November 1803. Haiti became the world’s first black-led republic on 1 January 1804.

Toussaint_L'OuvertureAndré_Rigaud

Toussaint Louverture and André Rigaud.

Rum Rebellion (1808) – This might be cheating a bit; it wasn’t a full-on war as much it was a coup by military junta. What’s interesting is where it took place: Australia. The governor deposed by the junta? William Bligh of HMS Bounty fame (evidently, he had a habit of being forcibly removed from power). Bligh had been appointed governor of New South Wales in 1805, partially to reign in the New South Wales Corps, and evidently made himself unpopular rather quickly thanks to his rash temper and a variety of actions (the cessation of massive land grants to the colony’s elite, the prohibition of the use of spirits for payment in exchange of commodities – hence the name the rebellion later acquired – and the use of colony stores to distribute relief to flooded farmers which undermined the trading racket of many Corps members and wool baron John Macarthur, and the dismissal of many high-ranking officials, among others). In this clash between the governor’s control and frontier military entrepreneurialism, the Corps took it upon themselves to forcibly remove Bligh from power on 26 January. Captain George Johnston installed himself as lieutenant-governor.

Final result: Bligh was confined for a year before being granted leave to England, but instead headed for Tasmania where he remained for another year. The short-lived rule by Corps officials was unremarkable except for the sacking of multiple Bligh-era officials. Once word reached Britain, the NSW Corps were immediately recalled back to Britain. Lachlan Macquarie was installed as governor, and all officials sacked by the Corps were reinstated. The leaders of the overthrow were court marshalled back in Britain, but ultimately returned to Australia. George Johnston was cashiered and lived the rest of his life as a private citizen in New South Wales. John Macarthur became one of the most prominent businessmen and political figures in Australia over the next 25 years.

Klang War (1867-1874) – If war made a sound, it very well could be ‘klang’ (there has yet to be a ‘Boom War’). This particular Klang, however, is the former capital of Selangor, Malaysia prior to the emergence of Kuala Lumpur, and is now one of the world’s largest container ports. Klang’s emergence as a major international port came during the mid-19th century as Western demand for locally-produced tin increased. When the incumbent sultan of Selangor died in 1867, a power vacuum formed as local chiefs fought for control of the river estuary that formed the main port. Raja Mahdi (Mahadi), the son of one of these chiefs, rallied the support of Sumatran Malays in the region who had no loyalty toward the new sultan, Abdul Samad, and used them to capture Klang from the sultan. A prince from Kedah named Tengku Kudin, meanwhile, married into the sultan’s family in 1868 and was appointed viceroy. One of his tasks was to regain Klang. Unable to negotiate terms with Raja Mahdi, Tengku Kudin blockaded Klang, preventing food and tin from entering and leaving. Raja Mahdi was eventually deserted by many of his starving followers and retreated to Kuala Selangor. There was also the matter of gaining favour with the Chinese mining moguls who controlled the tin-mining areas, and the British, whose nearby Straits Settlements were dependent on Selangor’s economy and thus wanted more control over regional politics. Yap Ah Loy, the developer of Kuala Lumpur, sided with Tengku Kudin for economic reasons; the British also fell in once pirates from Raja Mahdi’s base of Kuala Selangor plundered one of their ships and murdered 34 people on board. This prompted the British to send two ships of Marines to shell Kuala Selangor and take the fort from Raja Mahdi.

Final result: Tengku Kudin used his monetary resources to hire mercenaries to quash the last of Raja Mahdi’s forces by 1874. The British won Kuala Selangor for Tengku Kudin, and as compensation forced the sultan of Selangor to take on a British advisor, essentially making Selangor a British protectorate. In 1895, the British joined Selangor with three other Malay provinces as the Federated Malay States.

War of the Golden Stool (1900) – Not many wars are fought over whether or not someone gets to sit on a chair. The Golden Stool is no ordinary chair, however.A gold-plated chair dating back to 1700, it embodies the seat of power of the Ashanti (Asante) Kingdom, and the soul of the people. The war that resulted in 1900 from defamation of the stool marked the end of the Ashanti Kingdom as an independent entity. After centuries of trade along the Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana), the United Kingdom formally established a colony there in 1874, extending north from the coast to the edge of Ashanti territory. By 1896, the British had formally annexed Ashanti as a protectorate, exiling the Asantehene, or king, Prempeh I, to the Seychelles. In a 1900 meeting with Ashanti chiefs, British governor Sir Frederick Hodgson demanded that since the Asantehene had relinquished his power to Queen Victoria, and that Hodgson was the Queen’s representative, the representative was entitled to sit upon the Golden Stool. Hodgson then sent out soldiers to track down the stool, triggering a revolt led by the Queen Mother of the Ashanti intending to retrieve Prempeh from exile and drive out the British. The British were besieged for much of the spring of 1900 before calling in forces from across West Africa to drive back the Ashanti.

Final result: After a summer of fighting, Ashanti was finally subsumed at a nominal level into the Gold Coast colony, although it maintained much self-governance until the creation of Ghana in 1957. The Golden Stool was kept hidden during the conflict, protecting its sanctity. The stool was kept buried for two decades until accidentally discovered by foreign road crew labourers – who stripped the chair of its gold adornments and rendered it destroyed in the eyes of the Ashanti people, who sentenced the labourers to death (the British intervened and the punishment was changed to permanent exile). Prempeh returned from exile in 1924 and his monarchy was restored in 1935. The hereditary monarchy continues today as at the sub-national level, and remains rather influential.

Golden_stool_31_January_1935

A new stool was created for Prempeh II’s 1935 coronation.

Sand War (1963) – A war over sand? Well, more about what was under said sand. Much of the desert border between Morocco and Algeria had remained undefined since an 1845 border agreement between Morocco and French Algeria that declared borders through uninhabitable land superfluous. Adding to the confusion were the various borders employed by French administrative officials over the years. When iron and manganese were discovered near Tindouf and Colomb-Bechar in 1952, the French switched the two areas from Moroccan to Algerian control for administrative purposes. Moroccan independence in 1956 was quickly followed by Algerian independence in 1962. Both sides claimed Tindouf and Colomb-Bechar. Hoping to exploit the ongoing chaos in Algeria (and feeding the nationalistic fervour sweeping Morocco), the Moroccan government sent troops into the region in July 1963 and scored early victories including the capture of Tindouf. Algeria manged to retake Tindouf in September, and a stalemate was reached. Arab League intervention forced a ceasefire.

500px-Frontière_Maroc-Algérie_1963

The French map above shows the various borders employed by France between 1845 and the end of colonial rule to separate Algeria and Morocco. The green limite operationelle became the final, permanent border after 1972.

Final result: Negotiations between the two sides after the skirmish lasted from 1969 to 1972, an agreement was reached that implicitly accepted the French limite operationelle (in other words, nothing had changed).The agreement may have been ratified, but the border has yet to be demarcated thanks to other disputes between Algeria and Morocco, most notably over the status of Western Sahara. Tindouf has been heavily built-up by the Algerian government in the ensuing decades in order to entrench its claims on the land and guard the Moroccan, Mauritanian and Western Saharan borders.

Football War (1969) – A four-day war between El Salvador and Honduras, this conflict had been building for years, and not over football. Salvadoran peasants had been emigrating en masse from the crowded El Salvador to the far less densely-populated and comparatively poorer Honduras in search of land to work. By 1969, 300 000 undocumented Salvadorans were living in Honduras, creating panic amongst many on Honduras that they would be overwhelmed by the new immigrants. Under pressure from the major landowners in Honduras, Honduran president Oswaldo Lopez Arellano enacted a law confiscating land from squatters and redistributing the land to native-born Hondurans. With many of the Salvadoran immigrants now completely landless, tensions between the countries escalated. The tension between the two countries escalated over the spring of 1969, leading into June when the national football teams of Honduras and El Salvador were due to play a best-of-three series to determine which team would advance to the finals of North American qualifying for the 1970 FIFA World Cup. Fighting between fans of both sides took place after a Honduran victory in the first game at Tegucigalpa, during which a despondent Salvadoran fan shot herself in the heart, becoming a national martyr and raising nationalistic fervour even higher. In the return match later that month at San Salvador (won by El Salvador), fan violence erupted on an even greater scale. The following week (the day of El Salvador’s series-winning victory in Mexico City), the Salvadoran government severed all ties with Honduras and likened the action of immigrant eviction to genocide. Border clashes ensured. Two weeks later, the Salvadorans officially began military action with air strikes inside Honduras.

Final result: The Salvadoran air force was ultimately bested by Honduras, but Salvadoran ground fighters were much more effective, pushing deep into enemy territory. The Organisation of American States quickly negotiated a ceasefire, and Salvadoran troops were withdrawn from Honduras by August. The conflict reinforced the military rule in both countries. Salvadoran peasants having lost their ability to migrate to Honduras, the 300 000 deportees returned home to a continually deteriorating social fabric, as the crowded country had no way of dealing with (and the military government was uninterested in dealing with) such a large number of returnees in addition to the already-rapidly-growing population and high levels of economic disparity between social classes. By 1980, El Salvador had descended into civil war.

Further Reading

BBC World Service (n.d.). West African Kingdoms: Asante. The Story of Africa. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/4chapter6.shtml. Accessed 26 March 2011.

Farsoun, K. and J. Paul (1976). War in the Sahara: 1963. MERIP Reports 45: 13-16. Available at http://www.jstor.org/pss/3011767. Accessed 26 March 2011.

Hickman, K. (n.d.). The Quasi-War: America’s First Conflict. About.com: Military History. Available at http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/navalbattles16001800/p/quasiwar.htm. Accessed 26 March 2011.

Joffe, G.(1987). Frontiers in North Africa. In Boundaries and State Territory in the Middle East and North Africa. Wisbech, Cambs: MENAS Press. Available at http://replay.waybackmachine.org/20060927153421/http://arabworld.nitle.org/texts.php?module_id=4&reading;_id=119&sequence;=1. Accessed 26 March 2011.

Maxwell, S. (2007). War of Knives. The Louverture Project, 7 May 2007. Available at http://thelouvertureproject.org/index.php?title=War_of_Knives. Accessed 26 March 2011.

OnWar.com (2000). Soccer War 1969. In “Wars of the World”, OnWar.com, 16 December 2000. Available at http://www.onwar.com/aced/data/sierra/soccer1969.htm. Accessed 26 March 2011.

Ramsey, A. (2006). Proof of history’s rum deal. Sydney Morning Herald, 28 January 2006. Available at http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/proof-of-historys-rum-deal/2006/01/27/1138319443948.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1. Accessed 26 March 2011.

Zain, S. (n.d.). The Selangor Civil War. Sejarah Malayu: A History of the Malay Peninsula. Available at http://www.sabrizain.org/malaya/sgor.htm. Accessed 26 March 2011.

Zarzeczny, M. (2002). The Quasi War With France. The Napoleon Series, December 2002. Available at http://www.napoleon-series.org/research/government/diplomatic/c_quasi.html. Accessed 26 March 2011.

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2 thoughts on “Seven Wars with Strange Names Since 1777


  • Very enlightening! I'm staying in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital which was one of the 'prizes' fought over in the Klang War (Selangor Civil War) you nicely described. Just to mention here to give credit to the neighbouring state of Pahang, who sent assistance to Selangor to end the war and resume the trade routes. It's also noted that Malay wars were not much more than "glorified village skirmishes" 😉

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