Showing posts with label silly things in history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label silly things in history. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Football War

Sporting events can be intense, especially when rivals meet. Large groups of highly emotional people can sometimes result in riots, but in 1969 a football match¹ ignited an all out war between neighboring Central American countries--Honduras and El Salvador.

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Newspaper announcing the start of the conflict.
Translation: Futbol War
El Salvador and Honduras looking for qualification
It is important to note that 'The Football War', or the '100 Hours War' was not entirely over football. Tensions between Honduras and El Salvador had been running high for months before they met for the pre-qualifying games for the 1970 World Cup. Football was just the straw that broke the camel's back.

In 1960s Central America, El Salvador was not doing so great. The country was overcrowded, and most of the land belonged to coffee exporters. Most citizens lived in extreme poverty, and unemployment was common. However, just over the border in Honduras, things were looking pretty swell. Large swathes of the country were uninhabited, and the banana plantations were always looking to hire. As might be expected, thousands of El Salvadorans started illegally migrating to Honduras, often settling in the uninhabited lands by the borders.

This wasn't really an issue with the Hondurans until times started to get a little less good. In 1966 the Honduran government passed a land reform bill that heavily favored the fruit corporations, and disenfranchised the smaller land owners. This lead to an economic drop, unemployment, and rapidly rising land prices. Needless to say, the Hondurans weren't too keen on this, and blamed El Salvadoran immigrants for depressing the wage rate and contributing to job scarcity.² Native Hondurans started harassing El Salvadoran immigrants, ransacking their businesses, repossessing their land, and assaulting their families. The El Salvadoran government politely asked the Honduran government to knock it off, but Honduras refused.

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Map of Central America
Cut to June 6. It's one of the first qualifying matches for the World Cup, and Honduras is hosting El Salvador in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. Emotions were running high, especially when Honduras beat El Salvador 1-0 in overtime.

A few weeks later El Salvador and Honduras met again, this time in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. Things between the two countries were incredibly tense; Honduran supporters were harassed by El Salvadorans, and crowds of El Salvador supporters surrounded the hotel that the Honduran team was staying in, and spent the night shouting and banging pans together so the Honduran team couldn't get any sleep. Their tactics worked, because on June 15, El Salvador beat Honduras 3-0.

Riots happened after and during both games, but hell didn't really break loose until after El Salvador won the qualifying game in Mexico City on June 27. Shortly after the game, El Salvador announced that it would be severing all diplomatic ties with Honduras, and the borders were locked down.

After the borders closed both Honduran and El Salvadorans started making incursions into each other's countries. Both countries tried to buy arms from the United States, but the US wasn't having that, so they had to turn to European governments and collectors of WWII arms for weapons.

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Protesters in Tegucigalpa
Things really came to head on July 14. The El Salvadoran air force attacked Honduran airports, as well as the towns of El Poy, Amapala, Choluteca, and Santa Rosa de Copán. The El Salvadoran armed forces also made incursions into East Honduras on the ground. They drove armored jeeps into the country, but only made it about 30 kilometers in before running out of gas.

The Hondurans retaliated, destroying much of the El Salvadoran air force as well as the majority of El Salvadoran oil reserves. However, El Salvador had also entered Honduras on foot from the north, and they were doing very well. They had captured the main roads, several major towns, and they were within striking distance of Tegucigalpa. However, without oil the El Salvadorans were having trouble moving forward.

On July 15th the Organization of American States (OAS) got involved. They demanded that El Salvador cease fire, and return to their country. The El Salvadoran government refused unless the Honduran government made repartitions to the El Salvadoran citizens who had been displaced within Honduras. The Honduran government, predictably, refused. It wasn't until the OAS threatened El Salvador with trade sanctions that the El Salvador troops withdrew from Honduras on August 2nd.

Though the ceasefire was signed in 1969, the peace treaty wasn't ratified until 1980. Though the Honduran government passed laws protecting El Salvadoran immigrants, El Salvadorans in Honduras were still harassed and attacked by Hondurans, and things between the two countries have been extremely tense. However, in recent years, the tensions have cooled, and the two countries are making efforts to repair their damaged relationship.



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Honduras Flag

¹This is the compulsory reminder to all my American readers that football=soccer.
²Sound familiar? It should. The same thing has happened between Americans and Latinx immigrants (legal or not) in recent years.



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El Salvador Flag
Sources
Latin America: The Football War
The Real Football War! When El Salvador Invaded Honduras Over a Soccer Game
The 1969 'Soccer War' Between Honduras and El Salvador
The Soccer War

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Milk War

The Russian-Belarusian 'Milk War' of 2009 lasted a little over two weeks, and during those two weeks no shots were fired. One of the pettiest wars of all time, the only victims were Belarusian wallets and Russian dairy consumers.

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Belarus and Russia are neighbors, and have traditionally
had good diplomatic relations.
This war started when Russia banned all dairy imports from Belarus, supposedly because Belarusian dairy didn't meet Russian health standards, but more likely because Belarus wasn't doing what Russia told it to. Russia has a history of banning imports from countries that make it made, and they were pretty upset with Belarus for a few reasons.

  1. Belarus refused to recognize the breakaway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia had assisted South Ossetia and Abkhazia in declaring independence from the country of Georgia. The only other country than Russia to have recognized those countries was the Central American country of Nicaragua. Russia wanted some support, but Belarus just wasn't there for them.
  2. Russia depends on a Belarus pipeline to pipe its oil to the rest of Europe. Russia tried to buy this pipeline from Belarus, but Belarus refused to sell.
  3. Belarus had become decided more pro European, releasing political prisoners, and trying to make good with the rest of Europe. This angered Russia, who isn't very friendly with Europe.
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Russian and Belarusian military marching together
on parade in 2011, two years after the end of the milk war
Belarus responded in a spectacularly mature fashion by imposing stricter border checkpoints on the Russia-Belarus border, and by refusing to attend the meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a confederation of former Soviet states. The meeting had been to solidify a confederation wide military union. Belarus, formerly one of Russia's biggest supporters, not being present really infuriated the Russian government.

You can essentially envisage the Milk War as an argument between two particularly passive-aggressive teenage girls. Belarus won't give Russia what it wants, so Russia won't let Belarus bring its stuff over to Russia's house. This upsets Belarus, who decides that Russia can't come over to their house either. There had been a party planned for Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and a whole bunch of other people, but Belarus was still pissed off at Russia, so Belarus decided not to show up, which made Russia mad. A couple weeks later, they realize they need each other, and talk it out.
Today, dairy products pass freely through Belarus and Russia. Belarus still doesn't recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and continue to make pro-European overtures. Russia isn't very happy about this, but for the sake of regional security, they bite their tongues.

Sources

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Micro-est of Micronations?

If you've never heard of Sealand, rest assured, I am not making this up. Sealand is a very real principality located on a very real WWII fortress island seven miles off the coast of the United Kingdom. Not only is Sealand very, very real--they celebrated 50 years of independence last month.

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The nation of Sealand. In its entirety.
During WWII, Great Britain built several fortress islands in the middle of the North Sea. A few of these fortresses were built a little bit outside of Britain's territorial waters, which extended about 3 miles out from Britain's coast in all directions. Construction of these buildings was, technically, against international law. But given that Hitler was intent on destroying most of Europe, Great Britain building small forts wasn't really a big priority.

Luckily, WWII ended, Hitler was defeated, and the island of Great Britain was still around, if a little pockmarked. Not needing them anymore, the military abandoned the fortresses, in the early 1950s and turned their attention to more sensible things, like spying on the USSR. They made efforts to tear down some of the illegal fortresses, but their efforts were halfhearted at best, leaving several fortresses in international waters.

Fast forward to the 1960s. BBC Radio sucks, and pirate radio stations located on these off shore fortresses is the newest fad. Enter Roy Bates, former army major and radio enthusiast. He sailed out to an unused fortress called Knock John, and set up a radio station. He was very popular with the locals in Essex, but not so popular with the local law enforcement. Several years of court battles ensued until British courts declared that since Knock John was inside of their territorial waters, Bates was technically within their jurisdiction, and could no longer broadcast. Roy Bates stormed off in a huff, and abandoned Knock John.

Related image
Prince Roy, Princess Joan, and their daughter Penelope. I've
read nothing to suggest that the children of the prince and
princess were titled, so I have referred to both Penelope 
and Michael by their first names.
However, Britain had not seen the last of Roy Bates. Determined to continue his radio station, Bates set his sights on the abandoned Roughs Tower seven miles off the coast of Britain, technically in international waters. Roy took up residence on Christmas day of 1966. After some thinking and consultation with legal counsel, Roy declared Roughs Tower the independent Principality of Sealand on September 2, 1967, declaring himself and his wife, Joan, the Prince and Princess.

As grandiose as being a prince is, Sealand kinda sucks to live on. It's cold, wet, and in a constant state of disrepair. Additionally, it's difficult to do business on a concrete platform in the middle of the sea. Roy moved back to the mainland, but left his son, Michael, on Sealand to maintain sovereignty of the fortress.

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Prince Michael, reigning monarch
of Sealand since 2012
Now, here's where I have to verge into speculation. Prince Michael hasn't given a lot of interviews, and the official Sealand website is mum on the issue, but an interview from Prince Michael given in 2013 makes it sound very much like he was all alone on this platform in the middle of the sea. He spoke of being ecstatic to escape the boredom of school, but of the loneliness of the open seas, especially the lack of feminine company.

Michael took to sneaking local girls in on the weekends by fishing boat, but his father Roy put a stop to that as soon as he found out. History has proven that this was an extremely wise move, not only for avoiding teen pregnancy, but because Sealand wasn't (and still isn't) always the safest place to live.

Sealand has had a grand total of two armed conflicts, pretty impressive for a country with less than 30 permanent inhabitants. However stressful these conflicts may have been for the tiny nation, both conflicts led to the only two de facto recognitions that the island has.

The first conflict wasn't long after Sealand declared itself a nation. In an act of supreme overreaction, Great Britain declared Sealand the 'Cuba off the east coast of England'¹, and sent out their military to tear down the rest of the fortresses located in international waters. The soldiers were buzzing overhead with helicopters, blowing neighboring fortresses to pieces, filling the air with debris. Soldiers approached Sealand, shouting threats that Sealand would be next. In addition to the threats, some soldiers also shouted some unsavory things to the sixteen year old Penelope, Michael's sister.

Michael, who was only fourteen at the time, took offense to these comments, and shot at the soldiers with his sawed off shotgun. The soldiers took off. Once again verging into speculation, I'm guessing that they were unarmed, given that a whole crew of soldiers can most certainly take one fourteen year old boy. Luckily, the soldiers left Michael and Penelope alone.
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Sealand national flag
They may have escaped the British Army, but Michael didn't escape the consequences of his actions. The minute he stepped back on land, he was hauled off to jail for violating local firearms regulations. A long and complicated court battle ensued, during which the courts had to refer back to statues from the seventeenth century. Eventually, the judge ruled that Britain had no jurisdiction over Sealand, and Michael was cleared of all charges. Sealand claims this as de facto recognition from the British government.

The second incident happened in 1978. Prince Roy was in negotiations with some Dutch and German men to set up a casino on Sealand. These dudes were some pretty shady fellows, and while Prince Roy was off at a 'business meeting' in Austria, they landed on the fortress, taking Michael hostage and claiming it for themselves.

Michael was released after a few days, and he and his father started their mission to take their country back. They convinced a friend, a stunt pilot for the James Bond films, to fly them in by helicopter. There was no way for the helicopters to land on the platform, so Michael, his father, and two others slid down ropes to reach the fortress. The Dutch and Germans came out to see what was happening, and Michael's gun went off by accident, nearly taking his head off. The usurpers surrendered immediately. They were all kicked out of the country except for German lawyer Gernot Pütz, who also held a Sealand passport (yes, they issue passports). Prince Roy declared Gernot a traitor to the country and, using his power as prince, sentenced Gernot to life on the platform. Luckily for Pütz, the German embassy got a little worried after a few weeks, and went to rescue their citizen. The German ambassador to England went out to Sealand, and Prince Roy released Gernot immediately. Sealand claims this as their second de facto recognition.

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Official Sealand passport. You probably can't travel with
this, but it is an option.
In the 21st century Sealand has retired its warmongering ways. Prince Roy died in 2012, passing his title down to his son Michael. Prince Michael has a son and heir apparent, James, and though Michael and his family no longer live on Sealand, they show no intentions of giving up their tiny country. Smaller than the Vatican by quite a bit, modern Sealand makes most of its income from the sales of passports, titles, and merchandise, as well as being a server haven for VPNs.

The official motto of the country is 'E Mare Libertas', or 'From the Sea, Freedom.' This motto perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Sealand. Dissatisfied with the restrictions in England, Roy Bates left his life for freedom on the high seas, and that's what attracts people to Sealand to this day.²

Sources
Prince Roy of Sealand
Notes From a Small Island: Is Sealand an Independent Micro nation or an Illegal Fortress?
Principality of Sealand
I Rule My Own Ocean Micronation


¹Despite the fact that Sealand has zero things in common with Cuba. They had no nuclear weapons, they weren't backed by the USSR, they weren't communist. The biggest threat that Sealand posed to England was the threat of causing the English government a minor headache. Comparisons to Cuba were more than a little over dramatic.
²Not that Sealand gets any tourists. It is, as I mentioned, tiny. Only 43,060 square feet, Sealand is a little less than the size of a full acre. I've met people with bigger backyards.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Time Da Vinci and Machiavelli Teamed Up to Steal the River Arno

Coming up with a way to steal an entire geological feature is the sort of whimsical nonsense that you would expect from inventor/engineer/artist/scientist/architect/professional hand model* Leonardo da Vinci. Scheming to deprive a rival city of life necessities to gain the upper hand politically is the sort of unethical dickery you'd expect from Niccolo Machiavelli. Put these two together, and you have the plotline of a Renaissance buddy heist comedy.

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Niccolo Machiavelli
It's the turn of the century--the sixteenth century-- and Italy is, as ever, a hot mess. Florence and Pisa are fighting, the Borgia family is causing problems (again), and Milan now has tanks and fancy siege machines thanks to the genius of one Leonardo da Vinci.

Due to a recent Florentine regime change, political mastermind Niccolo Machiavelli is in a position of power at the Florentine court. He's looking for a way to enrich Florence and end the conflict with Pisa once and for all--preferably without bloodshed. He found his answer when visiting the court of Cesare Borgia in 1502.

Leonardo da Vinci was residing at Borgia's court when Machiavelli came to visit. He had just finished up working for the Duke of Milan, and when he wasn't busy spying on Borgia for Florence, he was pretty fascinated with whole concept of water.

Presumably, at some point these two men met, or at least were put in contact with each other. Between the pair of them, they hatched a brilliant scheme to make Florence rich, and screw over Pisa once and for all. They were going to steal the river Arno.

The river Arno was the main water source for Florence, as well as for Pisa. By stealing the Arno, Machiavelli and da Vinci hoped to not only deprive Pisa of the ability to grow their own crops, bathe, and stay alive, but to irrigate the farmlands of Florence, and turn a profit by selling the water to local farmers. Additionally, the water would be diverted into a series of canals that made it possible for ships to sail from Florence to the Mediterranean. Stealing the Arno would be a real win for Florence, and a death sentence for Pisa.
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da Vinci worked on the Mona Lisa while plotting to steal
the Arno, and he included the Arno as the background into
his painting.

Stealing a river is a pretty big task, but da Vinci didn't care. He gleefully set about making plans that involved tunneling under a mountain, moving millions of tons of dirt, and required some 50,000 workers. Once Machiavelli signed off on them, his plans went to the engineer Columbino--the real villain of this story.

Columbino isn't really a villain, he was just under a lot of pressure, and he didn't listen to da Vinci. Instead of digging one massive trench, Columbino decided to build two shallow trenches, and let the river erode them into one. Additionally, he underestimated the amount of time and men he'd need to build the canals. This wouldn't have been an issue, except war broke out, and Columbino and his workers were under frequent attack by the Pisans.

Needless to day, Columbino's construction failed. The Arno destroyed the two canals, and more or less stayed on its course. The Florentines and Pisans worked it out, and Machiavelli and da Vinci parted ways, never to discuss their project again.

*I'm joking

Sources
Leonardo da Vinci
An Intriguing Partnership on the Arno
The Leonardo-Machiavelli Plan to Divert the Arno
Leonardo's Plan
Columbino's Plan
Plan to Regulate the River Arno in Florence

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Operation Nifty Package

We've talked quite a bit about war, especially ludicrous and unnecessary wars, but today we're going to talk about one of my all time favorite ridiculous military operations, Operation Nifty Package.

It's late 1989, and the US Navy Seals are chasing after Panamanian dictator and all around bad dude Manuel Noriega. They've destroyed his private plane, and now Noriega is on the lamb. US military is chasing after him, and his best option for leaving the country undetected has been destroyed, so like so many men before him, Noriega claims sanctuary from a church.

Well, kinda.

Manuel Noriega
Noriega actually claimed sanctuary in the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See, which is basically the Vatican Embassy (kinda a church, right?). He threatened Nuncio Laboa that he'd initiate guerrilla warfare if he wasn't allowed to take refuge. The Nuncio (basically a Vatican ambassador), reluctantly agreed. Noriega was given a stark, un-air conditioned room, and whiled his days away reading the bible.

Meanwhile, US military forces are assembled around the Nunciature scratching their heads. International law prevents them from attacking the embassy and dragging Noriega out by force. They could have broken international law, after all, the Vatican isn't exactly a powerful military force. But Catholics have long since proved that they are not a group to be pissed off (see the Crusades), so breaking international law wouldn't be worth it, even to capture Noriega.

So, denied the option of using bodily force, the Navy Seals resorted to psychological warfare, and in a supremely dick move, used enormous loud speakers to blast the Nunciature with heavy rock almost constantly.

Noriega was known for being a man of highbrow tastes, and rock was Not His Thing. Additionally, a helicopter pad was set up in a nearby field, surrounding the Nunciature with a deafening cacophony of noise at almost all times. Requests were taken from nearby military forces, and included such topical melodies as 'Dead or Alive', 'Give It Up', and 'I Fought the Law and the Law Won'.

Eventually, someone inside the Nunciature cracked, and Noriega emerged from sanctuary after ten days of hiding, delivering himself into the custody of delighted US military forces.

He was extradited to the United States where he served 30 years as a prisoner of war for his crimes, and was later extradited to France to serve prison time for his crimes there as well. He was sentenced to seven years imprisonment there, but after one year was successfully extradited back to Panama, where he is still in jail.

What music would you use to flush out Noriega? Make my day, and leave your suggestions in the comments below. :)

Sources
CNN
Post Combat Reports
Catholic take on the whole affair (they are not very forgiving of the Nuncio)
Special Operations Website (includes the entire playlist)