The Long and Short of War

Although Second World War hostilities in Europe ended in 1945, peace was not formally established between Germany and the Allies until September 12, 1990. On that date in Moscow the foreign ministers of East and West Germany and those of the US, the UK, the Soviet Union and France signed a treaty known as the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany which formally declared peace and enabled Germany to reunite.

This falls into the category of wars extended by diplomatic irregularity. The Three Hundred and Thirty Five Year’s War between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly lasted precisely as long as its name suggests. In 1652, Oliver Cromwell had forced the royalists, his opponents in the Second English Civil War, to retreat to the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago near Great Britain which is today part of the UK. In support, Cromwell’s allies, the Netherlands, declared war on the Isles of Scilly.

But then, nothing happened. Neither the royalists nor the Netherlands did any of the things usually associated with a war like attacking the enemy. The Dutch navy went home without a shot fired. In 1986, the Dutch ambassador to the UK signed a peace treaty formally ending hostilities in the perfect war – there were no casualties.

The Arauco War, a real war between the indigenous Mapuche people of Chile and the colonising Spaniards, began with the Battle of Reynoguelen in 1536 when two hundred conquistadors were attacked by a force of thousands. It continued with Mapuche rebellions in 1553, 1561 and 1598, an insurrection in 1655, an uprising in 1723 and more rebellions in 1759, 1766, 1769 and 1792. It finally ended, two hundred thousand casualties and three hundred and forty-seven years later, in 1883 with the Chilean army taking possession of the Mapuche homeland of Araucanía.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the trigger for the First World War. Philip Bobbit’s theory of the Long War posits that the conflict that ensued has never ended. He proposes that the First and Second World Wars, the Cold War, the Bolshevik Revolution, Korea and Vietnam were all part of a single conflict to determine the successor to European colonialism. Others have suggested the Global War on Terror as a continuance of the Long War.

At the other end of the scale is the Anglo-Zanzibar War. In August 1896, the small African island nation of Zanzibar attempted to defy the British demand that they obtain Britain’s approval when installing a new sultan. The British forces posted an ultimatum. When it expired without resolution at 9 am, the British ships in the harbour opened fire on Zanzibar Town. When the fighting ended, there were 500 Zanzibari casualties and one injured British. The war had lasted 38 minutes, the shortest war in history.

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