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Otters Oddities

I said - WAR! Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing, except population control, stimulating the economy, creating jobs, Say it again!

I'm sad to say that my opening joke isn't really a joke. Amongst a multitude of other things was does, it does do all three of the things I mentioned.


And humans, as history has shown us, are a very war-like species. It's been that way for time immemorial. Even before humans were human, our ancestors fought each other for dominance.

And, throughout history, wars have been ought for many reasons. The most common of them are: Religion, Land, and I Disagree With You, Butthead!

It really doesn't take much to make nations go to war with each other. With modern warfare, diplomacy is usually used to avoid conflict, but that doesn't always work. Sometimes a nation want's to go to war, and they use any reason as an excuse. Even if it's a fabricated reason. (think really hard, and you will be able to come up with a few examples.)

I early human history, when we were hunter/gatherers, human tribes fought with each other over hunting ground. Until a couple of elders from a couple of tribes decided that, instead of fighting, they would exchange children. This allowed the different tribes to learn about each other, and injected new genes into the gene pool.


Plus, tribes were less likely to fight another tribe where they are related to some of them.

The practice of sending children to live with your enemy lasted for a long time. The Greeks and Romans frequently did it, but it has always been common amongst the more primitive civilizations.


And then, religion popped up. And now, people had a different reason to go to war with each other. Everyone can name several wars fought over religion. And, some wars you wouldn't even consider were actually about religion. (or religion at least, played a part in it.)

I remember, in high school, when my friends and I were sitting around smoking pot, talking about how the government should either legalize drugs, or ban religion. Our reasoning was sound. (at least, while we were young, dumb, and absolutely baked). We reasoned that almost every war was caused by religion, but no war had ever been fought over drugs.


Now that I'm older, and have actually studied these things, I know that's not true. Drugs have started several wars.

And, in the past, many, many wars were fought because people were bored and had nothing better to do. It's true. In fact, the reason the Pope called for the first crusade was to get the French nobility to stop killing each other by sending all their knights to 'save' Jerusalem. Even though he knew full well the Muslim rulers of Jerusalem weren't looting churches, or killing christians, or doing anything that would prevent them from going to the holy land.


Some people will say war is always stupid, and should never be fought. They say war, for any reason is wrong.

And, the sad truth is, that's just not true. The world had to stop Hitler and the Nazis. Iraq had to be forcefully removed from Kuwait. The Japanese had to be stopped in the 1940's.


And the reason those wars, and wars like them had to be fought is because of the crimes being committed. The Nazis, the Iraqis and the Japanese were all killing hundreds, thousands and millions of innocent civilians. People who never lifted a finger against them were killed because of their religion, their profession, their race, and for entertainment. (Read up on the Holocaust, or what the Iraqis did in Kuwait, or about the rape of Nanking.)

Sometimes, war, although unpleasant, needs to be fought.

But most of the time, war is stupid.

Speaking of stupid wars, have you ever heard of the Pig War? No? Well, this is your lucky day.


In 1859, England and America were going back and forth over the San Juan Islands. They sit up in the Pacific Northwest, between Vancouver and Washington.

America laid claim to the islands with the Oregon Treaty, while England felt they were a part of Canada. So, they argued about it for years without really doing anything about it.


An American, Lyman Cutlar, had moved to the islands, claiming land under the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850. He built himself a house and was living happily. Well, except for one thing. There was a large, black pig that kept coming into his garden and eating his vegetables.

On June 15th, 1859, Cutlar found the pig digging up and eating his potatoes. That was enough! He was fed up! He grabbed his gun and shot the pig dead.


The pig was owned by an Irishman, Charles Griffin. Griffin and Cutlar had been neighbors for years, and the only issue between them was the fact that Griffin let his pigs roam free. Cutlar had asked that Griffin keep his pig out of his vegetables. Legend has it Griffin told Cutlar it was up to him to keep his vegetables out of the pig.

To avoid bad blood with his neighbor, Cutlar offered $10 as compensation for the pig. Griffin demanded $100. Well, that was clearly more than the pig was worth, and Cutlar was upset that his fair offer of compensation was rejected. So, he refused to pay anything due to the fact that the pig was trespassing on his land.


Griffin took his complaint to the British authorities. They were quite distressed that this evil American, with wanton disregard for the law, killed someone elses pig. So, the British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar if he didn't pay up the $100 Griffin demanded.

When the other Americans heard about the threat of arrest, the demanded military protection for Cutlar and themselves.


The Americans sent 66 soldiers, commanded by George Pickett, (later to become famous for his charge on the last day of Gettysburg), to the island to prevent the British from landing the forces needed to arrest Cutlar.

The British saw this as an American effort to lay claim of the islands and remove them from British control. So, they sent 3 ships of war to threaten the Americans.


And, as military things have a tendency to do, things kept escalating until, on August 10th, there were 461 American soldiers with 14 canons facing off against 5 British ships packing 70 canons and 2,100 men.

The Governor of Vancouver ordered the commander of the British forces to land his troops and arrest the Americans. The commander disregarded the order as he thought it was not worth the armed conflict and loss of men because of a fight over a pig.


In fact, all soldiers on both sides were told, "It's ok to shoot to defend yourself, but under no circumstances are you to fire the first shot."

For several days, both sides occupied themselves with insulting their opponents, but maintaining enough composure to not start shooting.


Eventually, word of the standoff reached Washington and London. Both governments were shocked that a dispute over a pig had escalated so far. So, with the approval of the British ambassador, President Buchanan sent Winfield Scott, (another man about to gain fame in an upcoming war), to negotiate with the governor of Vancouver to resolve the situation.

By October, it had been decided that both sides would back down. They would both leave a small garrison of 100 troops on the islands, and the rest of the military would go home. These two forces would keep the peace until a final resolution could be decided on by the governments.


That arrangement lasted for 12 years. During those years, a lot happened. There was the Civil War in America. And in 1866, Vancouver, (which had been a colony), formally joined British Columbia. (which was also a colony at that time). And in 1871, British Columbia formally joined the Dominion of Canada.

Finally, in 1872, England and America signed a treaty formalizing borders. Except, there was still the issue of the San Juan Islands.


It was decided that a neutral arbitrator would hear both sides claims to the islands and then decide who got them. England and America agreed to abide by the decision.

In the end, it was decided that the islands were the property of America. So, England removed her troops. And, as a show of trust to their ally, America removed their garrison as well. The situation was finally defused.


One would think that, with the two sides facing each other, there would have been tensions on the islands. Well, there wasn't. It seems that the British and American garrisons spent their days hanging out with each other. The had many parties, and would celebrate each others notional holidays. And, quite a few men were sad to see the situation resolved, as they had made many friends amongst their 'enemies'.

San Juan Islands are now a national park. And every day, park rangers raise and lower the Union Jack over the former British camp. One of the few places where American government employees raise the flag of a foreign countryoutside of a diplomatic mission.


As for the pig? One of the first things Pickett did when he landed his troops was to have Cutlar arrested. He was held for one day, and ordered to pay a fine, equal to the value of the pig, to the Hudson Bay Company, who Griffin had worked for.

The pig War, really wasn't much of a war. Neither government officially declared war, and the only shot fired was into the pig.


But, it does show that almost anything can be used to start a conflict.

Now, I think I'll go make a ham sandwich.

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