Robert E. Lee famously said, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”
Whether terrible or otherwise, war should be so significant that it should never be overlooked. When two nations are at war, it’s hard to imagine anything that could take priority over the resolution of the conflict.
What would happen if we did forget about it? Is it possible that something as monumental as a state of war could be so unimportant that it slips the minds of the the countries that are supposed to be fighting each other to the bitter end?
Take a journey with us as we explore a number of wars where someone was just too busy to get around to calling it to an end.
The Netherlands vs. Scilly — 1651-1986 — 335 Years
As detailed in this article, the Dutch Republic (now the Netherlands) and the Isles of Scilly (now part of the United Kingdom) entered into a state of war in 1651 in the midst of the Second English Civil War. Before any actual fighting could break out, the Second English Civil War ended, and the Isles of Scilly ceased to be an independent state. This did not end the state of war, however.
It wasn’t until 1986 that this embarrassing oversight was rectified when the Dutch ambassador visited Scilly and entered into a formal cessation of hostilities.
Huéscar, Spain vs. Denmark — 1809 -1981 — 172 years
On November 11, 1809, the Spanish town of Huéscar declared war on Denmark. Europe was in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars at that moment, and Huéscar wanted to declare its support of France by hurling a gauntlet in the face of French adversary Denmark.
The saber-rattling proclamation failed to impress Denmark. It apparently failed to excite many of Huéscar’s people, either. After declaring war, both sides seemed to have forgotten about it. No shots were fired and no one was hurt.
It wasn’t until 1981 that a researcher stumbled across the official proclamation of war. Unable to find a correlating peace treaty, the news was publicized, letting everyone know that any perception of peace was a false one.
On July 7, 1981, the Municipal Corporation of Huéscar met in a plenary session and authorized city officials to enter into peace negotiations with Denmark. The peace overtures were gratefully received by the Danish ambassador to Spain, who wrote to Huéscar officials, stating that it was never too late to settle the “bellicose affair.”
On November 11, 1981, the 172nd anniversary of the declaration of war, representatives of both warring factions met to sign the formal instruments of peace. Vicente Gonzalez Barberan, the individual who first uncovered the fact that the two parties were still at war, officiated as the designated mediator. In his remarks, he said, “The only thing left for us, united as we are in a single heart of human beings, is to wish and ask God that all the warlike conflicts of this tormented world end as this one that ends, 172 years after its beginning, having been first forgotten, and celebrated later with a strong embrace, without regretting a single scratch by either side. You can only forget that which has left no bad memory. “
Montenegro vs. Japan — 1904-2006 — 102 Years
In 1904, Montenegro was allied with Russia and enthusiastically joined in the Russo-Japanese War with a declaration of hostilities against Japan. What Montenegro had in enthusiasm, it lacked, unfortunately, in terms of things that would allow it to actually join in the fighting. A navy, for example, would have been nice. Montenegro had none.
It is perhaps understandable that when the Russo-Japanese War came to an end in 1905 with the signing of the Peace of Portsmouth, no one remembered that Montenegro was a participant. Consequently, the country was not mentioned in the treaty, leaving the state of war in effect.
This all appeared to be moot when Montenegro ceased to exist as an independent nation and became part of Yugoslavia. When it declared its independence in 2006 and again took on status as a sovereign nation, one would think it would be a fresh start for the country. It was only when attempting to normalize trade relationships with Japan, however, that someone pointed out that the two countries had yet to shake hands and set aside that troubling old war business from over a century before. A hastily-arranged peace treaty signed in 2006 brought an end to yet another long war that did not actually result in anyone getting hurt.
Andorra vs. Germany — 1914-1958 — 44 Years
Andorra was one of the first states to declare war on the German Empire in 1914 at the beginning of World War I. Its enthusiasm was not matched by its ability to carry out any meaningful acts of aggression, since it had no standing army. It did, however, send three volunteer combatants: Valentí Naudi, Josep Estany, and René Huguet.
Although it had been quick to declare war, Andorra was not invited to the Paris Peace Conference. Consequently, it did not sign the Treaty of Versailles. It would not enter into a formal peace agreement with Germany until 1958.
It should be noted that this war and peace agreement are disputed. Newspaper stories in 1958 assert that the peace agreement was signed on September 23, 1958. In 2014, however, the news outlet Ràdio i Televisió d’Andorra looked into this and was unable to find any official record of a declaration of war. Historian Pere Cavero turned up an exchange of letters between the German consul in Marseille and the Catalan Ombudsman, where the former asks if there is a state of war with Andorra and the latter responds they could find nothing in their archive to indicate this.
The inability to find official records is not necessarily dispositive of the matter. Paperwork gets misplaced all the time. Fiji, for example, lost its Declaration of Independence and had to request a photocopy of the original from the United Kingdom.
Costa Rica vs. Germany — 1918-1945 — 27 Years
Costa Rica declared war against Germany in 1918. It was not invited to the signing of the Treaty of Versaille, however, because of questions over the legitimacy of its government under Federico Tinoco Granados. When World War I came to an end for most of the rest of the world, the state of war between Costa Rica and Germany continued.
When World War II started, Costa Rica stayed out of it, but since its war declaration from twenty years earlier had yet to be resolved, it was still at war with Germany. The Allies included Costa Rica in the terms of the Potsdam Agreement, however. As a result, the end of World War II brought an end to Costa Rica’s World War I.
Allies of World War II vs. Germany — 1939-1991 — 52 Years
One of the biggest days in history was May 8, 1945. Known around the world as VE Day (Victory in Europe), it is remembered as the day Germany surrendered, bringing an end to World War II in Europe.
Germany was occupied by the Allies, and there was no sole representative of a single German state that all of the Allies found acceptable to sign a treaty. In 1949 the U.S. made some modifications to its declaration of war against Germany, allowing the U.S. to relax a bit while still retaining the right to retain troops in West Germany. It wasn’t until October 24, 1951, that President Harry S. Truman signed the official proclamation, declaring an end to the war between the United States and Germany, effective October 19, 1951.
It was only after the reunification of Germany that a formal peace treaty was signed with all Allied powers. That treaty went into effect on March 15, 1991.