History’s Top 5 Longest Wars

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Carl von Clausewitz, the great military tactician and theorist, often called war the “continuation of politics by another means.” If he was thinking about any of these five wars when he formulated that notion, then Clausewitz had a pretty dim view of the political process. Today we examine some of history’s most protracted conflicts; you might also notice that many of these long wars were nearly pointless in the greater scheme of things. Some wars are brief and violent, but effect change. Some are long and drawn out, but ultimately decisive. Others, like the longest war in history, were pointless.

5 The Thirty-Years War

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This war had it all! Religious strife, territorial disputes, succession issues and more! It began in central Europe with Catholics fighting Protestants, but soon engulfed much of the continent with belligerents citing so many reasons for involvement it is nearly impossible to figure out exactly who was fighting who and for what reason. A series of treaties worked out during the year 1648 that collectively came to be called The Peace of Westphalia halted much of the fighting, with certain countries recognizing each other’s right to exist and certain religious groups agreeing to tolerate the survival of their counterparts.

4 The Cold War

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From the closing days of WWII until the final breakup of the U.S.S.R. in the early 1990s, a state of war almost existed between the Soviet Bloc and the capitalist West. The nearly five decades of the Cold War saw the development of weapons too horrid to imagine, the acceleration of scientific development too amazing to think of living without, and a series of so-called “proxy wars” fought in locations unlikely to draw the two superpowers, the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A., into an actual shooting war. Countries like Korea, Vietnam and Chechnya saw battle, while the world at large saw a cold war.

3 The Punic Wars

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Carthage and Rome hated each other, plain and simple. From its base in modern Italy, Ancient Rome saw its imperial ambitions blocked primarily by the Carthaginian kingdom located in Northern Africa and modern Spain. The Ancient World was not big enough for two growing civilizations, and thus between 264 and 146 B.C., the two empires fought a series of massive wars. The Punic Wars saw battle at sea, elephants crossing the Alps, the fall of Hannibal and, eventually, the largely unchecked dominance of Rome over much of the known world.

2 The Hundred-Years War

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This century-long conflict between the French and the Brits actually lasted more than 122 years, but that doesn’t have the same ring. And it was more like “The Hundred Years of Sometimes We Fight a Lot and Sometimes Things Are Cool,” but that too lacks charm. At stake was no less than the throne of France, with the mixed bloodlines of the English and French monarchs making it hard to tell who had rightful claim. Famous figures such as Joan of Arc and Edward III rose to international prominence; the Black Death changed the course of the war only to have battles such as Agincourt change it right back! And in the end some treaties doled out land among rich nobles.

1 The Three-Hundred-and-Thirty-Five-Years War

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This “war,” history’s longest pseudo-conflict, exemplified the antiwar expression, “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came.” During the English Civil War, a group of Royalists took refuge on an archipelago of the U.K. named the Isles of Scilly. The Netherlands, allied with Cromwell’s forces, declared war on this breakaway region and dispatched their navy. And that was it. The Dutch navy never attacked, eventually sailing home. That was in 1652. In the year 1986, some ambassadors realized that, ever so technically, a state of war still existed between these close modern allies, and formalized a peace treaty between the U.K. and The Netherlands.

Steven John is a published novelist and competitive pole vault champion. (The latter is not true.) His writing runs the gamut from speculative fiction to essays fueled by a mix of mirth and derision. He has never been to Lisbon but, statistically speaking, is probably taller than you.

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