Top 5 most brutal and pointless wars ever

Kyrylo Danylchenko

War is not only terrible, but also stupid. Here are five conflicts that have brought nothing but casualties and decline.

Since history began to be documented, more than 15,000 wars took place on Earth. Centuries later, some of them seem absurd, and most of them futile.


1. The first catastrophic

A few hundred skeletons with broken bones and piles of ammunition for slings among the ruins of ten-feet-high clay walls. All that’s left of Hamoukar, one of the first, if not the very first city on Earth. Before it was attacked by southerners from Uruk, the city occupied more than 100 hectares in the north of modern Syria.

Uruk people controlled the irrigation system and wheat trade in Mesopotamia. Hamoukar’s has grew on the export of tools made of obsidian and copper. In the last hours of the battle, the inhabitants of the rich but poorly defended city tried to turn clay seals marking the ownership of their property into sling ammunition.

The causes of the conflict are unknown, and there were no winners. Uruk people have also destroyed a colony of their fellow merchant tribesmen in Hamoukar. The desert swallowed up the artisans’ neighborhoods for thousands of years. The technology of copper production in the area was lost for a long time.

Sling ammunition from the ruins of Hamoukar. Photo: University of Chicago
Plan of Hamoukar ruins
Plan of Hamoukar ruins. Photo: University of Chicago
Remains of a Hamoukar citizen
Remains of a Hamoukar citizen. Photo: University of Chicago

1st cent.

2. The tax holocaust

In 66 AD, the Roman Empire was at the peak of its military power and had no rivals in the Mediterranean. Recruits for the best army of that time were trained by the first system of drill training. The first engineering troops on Earth did not know what an ‘impregnable fortress’ was. And yet the province of Judea rebelled.

The chief priests did not want to offer daily sacrifices for the emperor’s health. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were outraged by the rudeness of the Roman soldiers and the greed of the officials. The city rose up when the procurator confiscated a large amount of silver from the Temple, allegedly on account of unpaid taxes. The Roman garrison was destroyed.

In the early years the uprising was successful. Jerusalem was ruled by priests, the XIIth Legion was defeated, and the rebel pirate fleet destroyed grain shipments from Egypt to Rome. In 70, a 60,000-strong army under the command of Titus, the son of Emperor Vespasian, invaded Judea. Radicals among rebels burned food supplies to make people fight to the end, and moderate citizens were stabbed to death in the streets.

Jerusalem surrendered when the Romans smashed the walls with machines, attacked and set fire to the Temple. As a result of the fighting, famine, and epidemics, more than a million people died, amounting to a half of the inhabitants of Judea. Jews lost their chance to build their own state for centuries. Only a fragment of the supporting wall, the Western Wall, remained of their main shrine.

Catapulta, by Edward Poynter, 1868. Source: Wikipedia
The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus
The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, by David Roberts, 1850. Source: Wikipedia

8th cent.

3. Nomadic calling

In 755, An Lushan, a commander from Central Asia in the service of the Chinese, was quickly rising to success. When the first minister under the weak emperor Xuanzong died, Lushen has already been controlling three of the ten border provinces. Having recruited an army of nomads, Lushan played on the imperial court’s contempt for the ‘barbarians from the north’ and led them to the capital of the Tang dynasty. Soon the commander declared himself the first emperor of the new Yan dynasty.

The Turkic nomads helped An Lushan to defeat the two armies of the ruling clan, totalling 150,000 soldiers, to force the current emperor to abdicate the throne and to split the country in two. Opposing him, the son of the former emperor Li Heng called for Uighur, Burmese, Arab, and Tibetan troops to enter the country.

The war lasted 17 years and directly affected 36 million people. Not all of them died. Most managed to escape or were taken prisoner, but the human losses of one sixth of the world’s population could not but undermine the country’s strength. Cities died out, and for hundreds of years, the history of China was not written by Chinese people.

An Lushan and Emperor Xuanzong
An Lushan and Emperor Xuanzong's escape to Shu. Imperial Palace Museum / Wikipedia
Tang dynasty pottery figurines
Tang dynasty pottery figurines, 618-906. Photo: British Museum

19th cent.

4. Massacre for the coast

To export timber, minerals, cotton and mate tea, and to import technology and weapons, Paraguay desperately needed its own port on the Atlantic coast. The country was deliberately preparing for a large-scale massacre, manufacturing cannons and refitting civil steamships. 400 pieces of artillery and 60,000 trained soldiers were a formidable army for that time and region.

In 1864, Paraguay began a six-year confrontation with a coalition of Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil for access to the ocean. The triple alliance initially had only 30,000 regular troops, but was far superior in artillery and navy. This has determined the outcome of the conflict. Paraguay invaded Argentina and raided Brazil. But the allied forces, relying on the fire support of numerous river vessels, moved along the La Plata basin. Bypassing enemy fortresses and cutting off fortified areas, they defeated the Paraguayan fleet and occupied the capital in Asunción after five years of hard campaigning.

90% of the male population of Paraguay died at the front and due to the cholera epidemic. The president of Paraguay was killed in the battle. The country has never completed industrialisation, and even now its exports are based on cotton. The bloodbath proved to be pointless.

Uruguayan artillery, July 18, 1866. Photo: Ricardo Salles. Guerra del Paraguay: memoria & imágenes. // Rio de Janeiro, Biblioteca Nacional / Wikipedia
Brazilian soldiers, May 30, 1868
Brazilian soldiers, May 30, 1868. Photo: Ricardo Salles. Guerra del Paraguay: memoria & imágenes. // Rio de Janeiro, Biblioteca Nacional / Wikipedia
Uruguayan soldiers' sconce. Photo: Ricardo Salles. Guerra del Paraguay: memoria & imágenes. // Rio de Janeiro, Biblioteca Nacional / Wikipedia
Remains of Paraguayan soldiers at the battlefield. Photo: Bia Corrêa do Lago / Wikipedia

20th cent.

5. Exporting the revolution

Having defeated the dictator Batista, Castro’s team developed a strategy to export the revolution. Che Guevara fought in Congo and Bolivia, and members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba were captured in Guinea. The fighting qualities of the Cubans in Angola were legendary. Cuban centres, rebel groups and missions operated in Chile, the Caribbean islands and throughout Latin America.

Up to 70,000 Cuban fighters and instructors were on ‘foreign missions’ at any one time. Impressive figures, given that the size of the Cuban army rarely exceeded 45,000 men. While the men were dying abroad, their families at home received rationed rice, minced meat, surrogate coffee, and soy milk.

Fierce battles on two continents, confrontation with elite units of South Africa, endless losses in guerrilla wars, Che’s death in Bolivia, and the ongoing American blockade. Nothing left of the idea of a world revolution, but sick old people in the presidium, thousands of dead and maimed, poverty and loss of hope.

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, marching at the memorial service for victims of the La Coubre explosions. March 5, 1960. Photo: Che Guevara Mausoleum in Cuba / Wikipedia
Che Guevara holding a child during the Congo Crisis, 1965. Photo: Che Guevara Mausoleum in Cuba / Wikipedia