Generally speaking, Australians can list the “important” wars – the ones that shaped us through Breaker Morant and the Boer War, Gallipoli, the Kokoda Trail and Nui Dat. But beyond the international conflicts our nation took part in, there have been some devastating wars that changed the course of history and continue to influence the way the world works.
Here are six horrific examples that you might not know about:
The First Congo War began with the invasion of Zaire by Rwanda in 1996, and led to the country being renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo – as well as hundreds of thousands of deaths, the overthrow of military dictator Mobutu and the Second Congo War the following year.
The latter conflict, dubbed the deadliest war in modern African history and the deadliest conflict worldwide since WWII, continues to have an impact on the region despite officially ending in 2003. Sexual violence and other human rights abuses are rife in the east, near the Rwandan and Ugandan borders.
The Falklands War
This 10-week conflict isn’t the bloodiest in history, but in terms of flow-on effects it was major – especially when you consider the whole thing was fought over two tiny overseas territories that, depending on who you spoke to in 1982, belonged to either the UK or Argentina.
Hundreds died, thousands were wounded, relations were severed between the nations, the Argentinean government was destabilised (falling the following year) and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s popularity at home received a major boost, paving the way for Conservative rule through to 1997.
Up against the Triple Alliance of Argentina, Uruguay and the Empire of Brazil, Paraguay was always going to have a rough time winning this 1864-70 war. But the extent of the carnage was unprecedented in Latin America, with an estimated 400,000 people killed – including nearly 70 per cent of Paraguay’s adult male population. In the aftermath, Brazil became the most powerful nation in the region, albeit one crippled by war debt, and Paraguay lost 140,000 square kilometres of territory to its victorious foes.
Across 14 years and an estimated 20-30 million deaths (that’s quite a range), a Christianity-inspired uprising tore 19th-century China apart. A group called the Heavenly Kingdom of Peace, led by a man who considered himself to be Jesus Christ’s brother, rose up against the dominant Qing Dynasty in pursuit of the establishment of a theological kingdom. They managed to carve out a 30-million-strong territory in southern China before eventually being defeated by the Qing government – which called in British and French assistance.
If we think about Armenia at all, it’s most likely in connection to the country’s most famous progeny – the Kardashians. But in 1915, the Ottoman Empire allegedly declared war on its minority Armenian people, slaughtering an estimated 1.5 million of them in a targeted campaign than began with the rounding up, deportation and killing of prominent Armenian intellectuals. Controversial to this day, the Turkish government continues to refuse to label the campaign as “genocide”, claiming the Armenians were merely a subset of all Ottoman civilians affected by war violence.
Second Schleswig War
Denmark used to be a lot bigger than it is today, but that all changed in 1864, when this war between them, Prussia and Austria came to a brutal end. Forced to concede around a quarter of its territory – in the form of the Schleswig, Holstein and Saxe-Lauenburg duchies – Denmark became far less cavalier about war, taking part in no fighting outside their borders until 1999. Meanwhile, 18 months later the former allies Austria and Prussia were at each other’s throats in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.
1864: Denmark’s War is available on SBS On Demand. Watch the first episode right here: