TV NEWS – “Welcome to ‘Larry, Moe and Curly try to start a war.’” Well, that’s not verbatim, but you get the idea. A group, probably Iranians, tried to blow up some ships in the Strait of Hormuz where much of the world’s oil passes through. They didn’t sink the ships, one of their charges failed to explode and was stuck in plain sight on the side of the ship. The stooges had to go back and pry it off, except they left part of the device still stuck there, probably marked: “Walmart-Tehran.” One theory is that a bunch of hardliners in Iran are trying to goad the U.S. into a war by igniting bombs on the sides of ships, shooting down our drones, getting a million demonstrators to march and chant “Death to America!” while burning the Stars and Stripes. This raises a question: Where do these demonstrators get their American flags? Are there shops in Tehran, Cairo, New Delhi and Berkeley that sell easy-to-light Stars and Stripes?
But the more serious question is: Could these relatively minor escapades lead to something worse – like big wars? (Texas got into an international dispute over a pig.) We start with The War of Jenkins’ Ear. Robert Jenkins was the captain of a British merchant ship which was boarded by Spanish coast guards in 1731. They cut off his ear for reasons I can’t fathom. The Spanish and the Brits had been going at it for some time, and this was the straw that broke the Brits’ back – or ear. The war lasted from 1739 to 1748 with tens of thousands killed on both sides.
Our own revolution was brewing for years, and led to the British Army marching to seize some ammo the colonists had stored. The subsequent Lexington and Concord skirmish involved only a few hundred men but, again, flamed into a bloody war. On June 15, 1859, Lyman Cutlar, an American farmer on an obscure island off Washington State – claimed by both the U.S. and Britain — found a large black pig rooting in his garden, eating his potatoes — again. Cutlar shot the pig, which was owned by Charles Griffin, who ran a British sheep ranch. The two men got into an argument over payment. The situation escalated until the Brits sent three warships loaded with Royal Marines and the U.S. countered with 461 infantry with 14 cannon. Nothing happened and the two forces got along. Twelve years later a deal was worked out.
The most extreme example of a small kerfuffle booming into a major conflict was, of course, World War I. Most Americans had never heard of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but his assassination led to a worldwide conflict that left between 15- and 19-million deaths including 117,465 American troops. On a smaller scale was the Soccer War between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969. It was the culmination of growing tensions on other matters, but led to rioting during a FIFA World Cup qualification match between the two countries, which led to a war. It only lasted 100 hours, I think both sides ran out of arrows, but left 3,000 dead.
On August 2, 1964, the USS Maddox engaged in combat with three North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Maddox fired first, “warning shots” the Navy reported. In the ensuing battle, the Maddox badly damaged at least one of the North Vietnamese boats while sustaining a single bullet that lodged in its superstructure. President Lyndon Johnson called the incident “open aggression on the high seas.” Congress almost unanimously passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, essentially giving LBJ the power to wage war in Southeast Asia as he saw fit. Johnson “saw fit” to expand the incident into the Vietnam War. It cost $1 trillion in today’s dollars. Since 1970, the post-war benefits for veterans and families have cost $270 billion. It is estimated that there were 1.4 million deaths on all sides, including 58,220 U.S. troops. If the Maddox had been hit twice, OK, that’s war.
If there was ever an unnecessary war it was the Second Gulf War. Of course, in order to have a Second Gulf War we had to have a First. You remember that one: Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf and Shock & Awe, which sounded like an English pub. It started with the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on August 2, 1990. By the following spring Iraq’s armies were defeated. We might call that war necessary because Kuwait was invaded by Iraq and needed our help. We needed their oil. But the Second Gulf War was unnecessary. It was built on a lie: that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Remember poor Secretary of State Collin Powell in front of the entire U.N. General Assembly making his pitch for an invasion of Iraq, complete with charts and photographs. The cute catch phrase was, “I don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” We invaded on March 20, 2003. As of June 29, 2016, there were 4,491 American troops killed in Iraq, along with 136 journalists. There were no WMDs.
Texas had its own problems over (again) a pig. In 1841, Alphonse Dubois de Saligny, French chargé d’affaires to the Republic of Texas, complained that pigs, owned by Austin hotelkeeper Richard Bullock, invaded the diplomat’s horse stables, ate their corn and even got in his bedroom to devour his linen and chew his papers. Bullock, charging that the Frenchman’s servant had killed a number of his pigs on orders from his master, thrashed the servant and threatened to beat the diplomat himself. Dubois de Saligny broke diplomatic relations and left the country in May 1841 for Louisiana, where he resided for more than a year, emitting dire warnings of the terrible retribution that would be exacted by France. France had no intention of armed conflict over a pig, and the dispute died. But Larry, Moe and Curly are still trying.
Ashby wars at email@example.com