Day 836: When Wars Simply Won’t End

originally published April 15, 2014

I don’t like to get overtly political on this site, but I’m going to roll the dice and potentially alienate some of my audience by taking a firm stand: war, for the most part, is not good. What’s worse is a war that doesn’t end when it’s supposed to. You know the deal – people sign papers, citizens throw parades, social studies textbooks get updated and B.J. spells out “GOODBYE” in rocks for Hawkeye to see as he’s flying away. Wars end.

Except when they don’t. Every so often there’s a logistical glitch, a “diplomatic irregularity” that causes two sides of a conflict to skip out on writing the war’s final chapter. Sometimes the paperwork just doesn’t seem necessary – the fighting ends, the troops go home and have little troop-babies, and the historical record simply reflects the moment when hostilities ceased as the end of the war. But paperwork does need to happen. A declaration of war gets filed, and a declaration of peace should follow suit.

This is how World War I and World War II are still – technically speaking – underway. This is how our official records tell us that one war lasted for over 2000 years before finally being settled. This is the weird side of peace.

The Punic Wars were a trio of individual wars fought between Rome and Carthage – currently a suburb of Tunis in Tunisia. These were the two big muscle-flexers of the ancient world and they were well matched. Carthage had a kick-ass navy that Rome couldn’t possibly fend off, but Rome had the most powerful army on the planet. The two empires started fighting in 264 BC, and it was fierce. The third Punic War wrapped up when Carthage was burned to the ground in 146 BC.

So… Rome won?

Sort of. Carthage was down but not out, as its present state of existence proves. Rome won the glory and earned all the subsequent fame, fortune and movie rights for running the empire that dominated that part of the world at the time, but the captured leaders of Carthage never signed a surrender. It wasn’t until 1985 when the mayors of the two cities signed an actual peace treaty. That’s right, Huey Lewis & The News were on the charts and Max Headroom was shilling New Coke at the same time that a war from Ancient Rome was finally being settled.

This is the lovely city of Huéscar, Spain, population: just over 8000. As a result of the Napoleonic wars for Spain back in 1809, Huéscar declared war on Denmark. The Danes were supporting France while Spain was doing its best not to become another French field office under Napoleonic rule. Peace came in 1814, and everyone forgot about the hostility between the two nations. At least I think so – it’s entirely possible that the population of Huéscar still hates the Danish people. I don’t know how long Huéscarians hold grudges.

A local historian stumbled onto the official declaration of war in 1981 and discovered that hey, someone forgot to sign something to finish this thing. And so because tax dollars could not possibly be better spent, a formal peace treaty was signed on November 11, 1981 between Huéscar’s mayor and the Danish ambassador. That’s 172 years of war with zero fatalities, zero injuries, and zero shots fired. Not bad.

Early in the 20th century it seemed that the Tsar of Russia was pissing off everyone in the world, including his own citizens. In 1904 Russia got into a territorial dispute with Japan and the Russo-Japanese War kicked off. The Principality of Montenegro, located way on the other side of Russia’s massive land-mass, declared their fidelity with Russia and also declared war on Japan. They didn’t have any navy or even much of an army at the time, and no actual conflict took place between the two countries. A year later the war was over, Russia was fighting off the Bolsheviks inside its borders, and Montenegro went about their business.

In 2006, when Montenegro opted to declare its independence from Serbia, part of their economic plan included trading with Japan. But as they had been excluded from the peace talks in 1905, the two nations had to sign an official peace treaty in order to begin diplomatic relations, thus making a fleet of lawyers a lot of money.

That’s just how business is done.

When the final curtain dropped on the first World War in 1918, there was a massive shit-pickle of logistics to attend to. It was a world war, which meant that nations all over the globe had to settle scores with their enemies and that didn’t always get handled neatly. For the tiny little microstate of Andorra, sandwiched between Spain and France like a chickpea trapped between two sleeping walruses, that meant getting a seat at the table for the Treaty of Versailles. But they weren’t invited.

Eventually Andorra settled things with Germany, but it took until 1958 for the paperwork to go through. Costa Rica is another matter.

Federico Tinoco Granados and his brother had seized power in Costa Rica in an illegal coup in 1917. Woodrow Wilson (along with most of the western world) refused to acknowledge the military-based government, choosing instead to recognize the deposed leadership as the rightful rulers of the Central American nation. This meant no invite to Versailles for Costa Rica either, and therefore no official end to their war on Germany – a war they didn’t really do much about anyway.

But unlike Andorra, no effort was ever made by Costa Rica to finalize this matter. World War I – at least the officially-declared war between Costa Rica and Germany – did not technically end. When WWII rolled around, Costa Rica never officially declared war on Germany. They didn’t have to, I guess.

World War II also saw a complicated close. The U.S. didn’t want the war to end as they needed a legal basis to keep troops stationed in West Germany after the fighting was over. The state of war was formally ended in 1951, but it wasn’t until the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany was signed in 1990 – that’s after the Berlin Wall came down and after East and West Germany had decided to hold hands and open up a joint bank account – that the peace from WWII was formally cemented.

As for Italy, well that’s where things get a bit more confusing. Fascist Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943. When this happened all the Italians in Japan were rounded up and questioned. Those loyal to the King of Savoy (who had orchestrated the surrender) were tossed into concentration camps. The new crew in charge in Italy formally declared war on Japan on July 14, 1945 – exactly one month before V.J. Day. Nothing came of it, but the new government wanted an invite to the San Francisco Peace Conference.

Winston Churchill and US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles said no; that declaration of war was never resolved. Technically Italy is still at war with Japan and WWII lives on, despite the two nations presently getting along just fine with one another.

Sometimes, as insane as war can be, peace can make just as little sense.

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