Red Soldier #1: Do you know the meaning of this war? Red Soldier #2: Hmm? Red Soldier #1: I mean, what's the point? It can't be for the land because everything is burned, bombed, or polluted. It can't be for the money because there isn't anything left to spend it on. So what is it? Religion? Why do we fight? Red Soldier #2: To win the war. Red Soldier #1: Meh, works for me.
Two factions are fighting over... something. The original reason has either been completely forgotten or reduced to a historical footnote. They've been fighting for so long that no one can remember anything except the war. Sometimes, both sides will have an infinite supply of troops via some Applied Phlebotinum.
There are numerous reasons to have a Forever War, but in all cases the two sides cannot reconcile their differences for some reason. One side may exist simply to fight the other but despite their best efforts their foes remain indomitable. Perhaps one group simply enjoys fighting so much that they don't want to stop, or maybe there are political or economic advantages to constant warfare. Though the most common reason would be that the two factions had a reason to fight long ago and at this point the concept of peace is simply foreign to their culture.
If by some miracle one side does manage to win it usually isn't portrayed as a good thing. Questions like "And Then What?" might come up — they've become so used to war that they don't know what they will do now that there is no longer someone to fight. A more common conclusion of hostilities, especially when the wacky heroes become involved, is them trying (and often succeeding) to Reconcile The Bitter Foes.
May overlap with Hopeless War. Due to the traditionally immortal nature of gods, this often overlaps with Divine Conflict. For the science fiction novel which is not the trope namer, see The Forever War. Contrast Curb-Stomp Battle.
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Gundam is something of a meta example. There are 11 TV series in it already and every one is built entirely around a war in different settings and characters. You'd think that the entire Gundam metaverse is in the state of perpetual war (especially true for the Universal Century, where many of the wars are explicit continuations of previous ones). To go even further, the series almost always (with a couple notable exceptions such as Gundam 00) compounds the reality that no matter how many times the heroes win the war, another will come eventually as if war is tied to humanity's existence.
Gundam AGE has the longest-running continuous war in Gundam: by the third generation, the war has been going for over 70 years. Promotional material for the series has referred to the conflict as the "Hundred Year War", so it may last a while longer yet.
∀ Gundam meanwhile implies that the Dark History i.e. ALL Gundam works made up till that point was for the most part the same war between Earth and Spacenoids happening over and over. The only real difference being the names of the sides fighting.
The war between Earth and "Jovian Lizards" in Martian Successor Nadesico, which gets incredibly stupid and pointless once we learn why and how it started.
Super Dimension Fortress Macross/Robotech/etc.: Knowing nothing but war and aggression, most Zentraedi did not realize that there was another way of life. The Invid are aware of the cause of their war, but have lost their identity; their entire society is now reorganized for the sole purpose of revenge.
Brogy and Dorry, two giants on the One Piece island of Little Garden, have been fighting one another for one hundred years when the Straw Hats meet them. They casually admit to having forgotten the original reason (which of their hunted prey was bigger) and fight purely for the sake of honor.
The Cannon Fodder short in Memories. In a walled city perpetually at war, everyone's lives and livelihood depend upon maintaining and firing the enormous cannons that make up most of the city. Nearly every building in the city is equipped with a cannon of varying size, able to fire huge artillery shells over the city walls. Though the story is centered around a young boy and his father, who works as a lowly cannon-loader, the film is dedicated to the lives of the anonymous citizens of the city who slave to fuel and maintain this parody of the twentieth century war machine. All of the shells land in the desert surrounding the city. There is no enemy.
Appleseed It is implied that Deunan thought she was fighting one of these before being brought to Olympus.
"You mean the war's been over?" "For years."
The war between The Federation and The Empire in Legend of Galactic Heroes is centuries old, and much older than any cast member alive at the beginning of the series. It's explained that it's spent a lot of that time being a cold war in stalemate, mostly involving border skirmishes.
And to further the trope, the only people who remember the reason of the war (workers fleeing an at-the-time oppressive state and refusing to come back) are historians.
Armored Trooper VOTOMS uses this trope as there was a century old war between Gilgamesh and Balarant, provoked by the presence of the Overman who are effectively immortal beings with Chirico being the most notable one.
In Sentou Yousei Yukikaze Yukikaze, the JAM invaded Earth, but humanity was able to defeat the invasion and fight them through their hyperspace tunnel back to their homeworld of Faery, where the JAM took such heavy losses they could never attempt to invade again. Humanity then began their own invasion of Faery. However, after 33 years of conflict, the goals of the invasion have become muddled and confused and the war has become a string of pointless battles where humans win against the JAM, the JAM adapt, new tactics are created, rinse and repeat. In the original novel, pundits and politicians back on Earth are becoming irritated with the Faery Air Force being a constant drain on funds, but have no idea what to do with them. And so the war continues for no reason.
A sort of one-sided example in Attack on Titan. While it's obvious why the humans are fighting the Titans — they don't want to get eaten — it's not clear what the Titans are, where they came from, or why they eat people. So their motives, if they're even intelligent enough to have any, are completely unknown, and so the struggle continues.
Saint Seiya: The war between Athena and other Gods, especially Hades have been going for aeons. Just recently the war with Hades is permanently end but as the manga still continue there are other Gods and war the main characters have to face.
Shakugan no Shana: Ongoing war between Flame Haze and Denizens is fated to go on forever considering both side are immortals until their luck run out. which is the reason why the male protagonist Yuji has to take a Face-Heel Turn to end the war.
Suisei no Gargantia: The interstellar war between the Galactic Alliance of Humanity and the Hideauze. The original cause and reason for the war is known only to top officials in the Galactic Alliance, and they have been fighting a Total War against the Hideauze for so long that many of them see "kill the Hideauze" as their sole reason for being. When one soldier is questioned as to what he'd do if they ever won the war, he's completely at a loss. As for the Hideauze, we never see the war from their perspective, so it's unknown if they have a similar outlook on it, but the fact that they've never attempted peace (as far as we know) says something.
In the Marvel Universe, two galaxy-level empires, The Kree and The Skrull, have been at war for approximately one million years. While the cause is known — The Skrulls offered to share their technology with the Kree if they passed a test, but when they failed, the Kree killed the Skrull envoys and stole the technology anyway — it doesn't matter anymore. Both races just wish the other dead, and in at least the Skrulls' case, their warlike tendencies have become hereditary (as in, in their genes). The rivalry was first established in The Kree Skrull War. The Kree because they are Space Nazis who kill anyone non-Kree for "polluting the gene pool" (despite the fact they are a genetic dead end).
The Kherubim/Deamonite War in Image Comics has already lasted millions of years. Earth was a minor backwater of this war that lost contact, and the war kept going. When both sides finally re-established contact, they discover that the war had ended thousands of years ago but no-one told them. So they decided "to heck with them" and went on fighting anyway.
Rogue Trooper - in the Rogue continuity, the conflict on Nu Earth had a definite cause: the planet was situated next to a strategic wormhole, and the planet which controlled it would control the galaxy. In the Friday reboot, however, no particular cause was given, to further drive home the fact that that war sucks.
The Silver Surfer: Requiem story includes an issue with two planets at war. Even before they invented space travel the two planets could communicate by radio. They spent generations building up their arsenals in anticipation of the invention of space travel that would allow them to wage war.
The endless was between Apokolips and New Genesis from the DC Universe has been going on since the beginning of time, and everyone seemed surprised when it abruptly ended. That said, there have been occasional breaks in the fighting, the most notable being when Darkseid and Highfather gave each other their sons to ensure a truce, but it never keeps.
The Transformers IDW: The entire franchise is based on the war carrying out. In Chaos Theory Megatron and Prime discuss the war, which had originally started over an unfair class system, and brutal inequality that the Decepticons were against. At this point in the present Megatron reveals that he doesn't care about the reasons they fight, and merely says that he will kill the last Autobot and anyone in his way, not only to achieve his goal, but because he'd like it.
Transformers: Robots In Disguise and Transformers: More than Meets the Eye explores the Transformers coming to terms with the fact that yes, their Forever War is over. While the former delves into the political fallout, one issue of the latter shows a group of ragtag Decepticon scavengers utterly baffled by the idea. The war has gone on for as long as they can remember, and they can't really grasp the reality of it ending. They also have absolutely no clue what to do about it. Eventually they decide to just say screw it, head back to Cybertron, and hope for the best when they get there.
Deff Skwadron, a Warhammer 40K comic, centers around two ork Waaaaghs! fighting each other pretty much forever, and that's just how they like it.
Sonic X: Dark Chaos. The Demon Empire and Angel Federation have been at war for five hundred trillion years. Most of it is on-and-off however, since both sides constantly fight each other to stalemate and are forced into long periods of cold war to recover.
Screamers: The two sides have all but obliterated each other and forgot to tell the characters in the movie. Made even worse by the fact that the general they've been receiving orders from back on Earth is already dead.
Star Wars: How long have the Jedi and Sith been going at it? While the cause has not been forgotten (their basic philosophies require each to destroy the other, what with the Sith being a Religion of Evil and the embodiment of The Dark Side, and the Jedi...being the opposite of that), the origin presumably has.
Due to the supernatural elements, the war has been raging since before either group actually existed.
The thousand-year New Sith Wars definitely take the cake, though. Whoever was there to see it start wasn't there when it ended (obvious, considering most people's lifespans). A family could have participated in that war for roughly fifty generations if they were in it from start until finish. Even exceptionally long-lived aliens like Hutts and Yoda's unnamed species would've been unlikely to live long enough to see the entirety of the war.
And even not including the Jedi and Sith, war is still the most common event in the series - the Empire, even after Palpatine and Vader's deaths, kept on fighting the New Republic for decades. And then the Yuuzhan Vong came along.
Well, it is called Star Wars, not Star Peacetime...
Pierre LeClerc: Just like Vitalij said it would be, a war fought for so long, no one remembers why it started. Solid Snake: What's sad is that each time people think it'll be the last one, the decisive one.
It's implied at the end of Vantage Point that this trope is the reason Agent Taylor went rogue.
The mostly forgotten 2000 movie For The Cause takes place on a colony world where the two main cities have been fighting for so long that both have been reduced to utter ruin, and the most advanced weapons they started with in common use have been Lost Technology for generations.
The pointless feuds between between the various hillbilly clans in Header.
A major part of the novel Shatterpoint is the war that has been going on for ages between the Korunai native to Haruun Kal and the Balawai, or foreigners.
Likewise the war on Nim Drovis between the Drovians and Gopso'o (seen briefly in Planet of Twilight). The most common theory is that the war started with an argument over the meaning of the word "truth", but the combatants don't really care anymore; the war now contains elements of Feuding Families and Cycle of Revenge.
And when Time Travel was invented, things got worse. Battles started happening before the issues the war was will be about even arose. Will arise. Whatever.
The aliens in Pandora's Star exist as giant colony organisms who are basically immortal. Their "society," if you could call it that, does not recognize the concept of cooperation or coexistence. Each hive-mind has been at war with every other member of its species since prehistory. By the time the story takes place, the hive minds have settled into a stalemate between a dozen or so competing members. The interference of one incompetent human breaks the stalemate, with dire consequences for mankind.
In Gullivers Travels Lilliput and Blefuscu have been fighting so long that they barely remember that it started over how to eat a boiled egg (Big Endians versus Little Endians).
In Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, the shapeshifting Avians and Serpiente have been entangled in a war that spanned over generations and has simply devolved into endless bloodshed.
Turns out, it was all engineered this way by the Falcons because the Serpiente originally contained and wielded the full power of a particular deity, Anhamirak. When the person acting as balancer for Anhamirak's powers fled, the Serpiente powers turned wild and destructive. The Falcons then split the Serpiente leader's power in half and gave the second half to a little girl, whom they turned into a hawk and thus created the Avians. Then both the Serpiente and Avian queens were assassinated with both sides blaming the other. Et voila, endless war that keeps both sides and their powers very separate.
A large part of the Thursday Next series of books is the hundred and fifty year old war between British and Russian forces over the Crimean Pennisula. Many important people believe giving it up would be a disservice to those who died on it. Few recognize the landmass is a bombed out hellhole worth nothing.
Joe Haldeman's The Forever War: Interstellar distances and miscommunications leads to thousands of years of warfare even more pointless than usual. Due to the Time Dilation caused by relativistic travel William Mandella (the narrator) survives the entire war, despite it lasting approximately 1143 years and Mandella going on fewer than half a dozen patrols.
1984: "We are at war with Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia."
A straighter example is the constant crackdown on Goldstein and his supporters. O'Brien outright states to Winston that it will go on forever.
In 1984, the Forever War is actually what makes the Dystopia of the book tick in the first place. According to "The Theory And Practice Of Oligarchical Collectivism", it's possible for the regimes to create a wealthy, antiseptic scientific utopia (or a Brave New World) since they have the resources to create them in the first place, but that will cause hierarchical society, which is based on widespread repression, poverty, ignorance and blind faith to the Powers That Be, to fall apart. War has superseded its former meaning of conquest and has evolved into an excuse to waste resources, decrease living standards and create intense feelings of constant danger and fanaticism, feelings which have long been associated with loyalty to a group.
Fritz Leiber wrote a series of novellas and short stories about the Change War, a war of time travellers between "the Spiders" and "the Snakes." The two sides span galaxies and species as well as ages, and no one, at least no one the reader meets, knows what the war is about. Both sides are trying to redesign the history of the universe, but no one knows to what end, nor does the war appear to even have a history.
The war between Tsort and Ephebe on the Discworld. One can remember what caused it, and it only ever lets up when the thin country of Djelibeybi exists between them. Many notable wooden animals are used. Fitting its Troy parody nature, the cause is suggested to involve a beautiful (though not so much after twelve kids) lady and upset gods.
The Discworld also has the Battle(s) of Koom Valley, a recurring set of conflicts where dwarfs and trolls would wallop the hell out of each other, largely for reasons of tradition. The source of the conflict (your standard tragic miscommunication with a twist or two) was finally revealed in Thud!
The history monks didn't make it any better when they used it to patch a bunch of holes the first time the timeline was destroyed.
The war in The Lost Fleet has been going on for over a hundred years between the evenly matched Alliance and Syndicate Worlds. For the Alliance its a simple matter of "They attacked us first!" For the Syndics, well... they were hoping to wipe out the Alliance with the help of some unseen aliens. Syndic then went and pissed off the aliens who then tricked them into attacking alone resulting in the ongoing war. Not that they'll ever admit that.
In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, Huck gets caught up in a feud between the Grangerford and Sheperdson families. This is a new concept to him. His friend Buck Grangerford explains : "Well," says Buck, "a feud is this way: A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man's brother kills HIM; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the COUSINS chip in—and by and by everybody's killed off, and there ain't no more feud. But it's kind of slow, and takes a long time." "Has this one been going on long, Buck?" "Well, I should RECKON! It started thirty year ago, or som'ers along there. There was trouble 'bout something, and then a lawsuit to settle it; and the suit went agin one of the men, and so he up and shot the man that won the suit—which he would naturally do, of course. Anybody would." "What was the trouble about, Buck?—land?" "I reckon maybe—I don't know." "Well, who done the shooting? Was it a Grangerford or a Shepherdson?" "Laws, how do I know? It was so long ago." "Don't anybody know?" "Oh, yes, pa knows, I reckon, and some of the other old people; but they don't know now what the row was about in the first place."
Subverted in the most horrific way possible when the Grangerfords and Sheperdsons renew hostilities after Buck's sister runs off with one of the Sheperdson boys. The Sheperdsons slaughter the Grangerfords in one terrible night, including Buck in the end.
The Dragonriders of Pern present an interesting twist. Millennia have passed and the only real constant for the residents of Pern over that time has become that the Red Star will bring death from the sky. The thing is, it's only a war for one side—the "enemy" is a nearly non-living fungoid that literally just falls from the sky when the orbital mechanics are wrong. It could still wipe out most life on the planet if left unchecked.
The War against Morgoth and Sauron in J. R. R. Tolkien's works. It does help that both the protagonists and antagonists contain immortal characters (Elves on the side of good, various wraiths, balrogs, dragons and other miscellaneous creepy-crawlies on team evil).
The genocidal "Final War" between the Concordiat of Man and the Melconian Empire didn't end so much as peter out. After all was said and done, both sides ceased to exist as political entities, and what few surviving outposts of civilization remained either made peace with their neighbors or got exterminated by said neighbors.
In Life on Urth, there are two factions who have been fighting for years over that fact that somebody once ate an appetiser that someone else wanted. After this went on for a few years, the soldiers' wives decided that the men should only have to fight from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, and also get a lunch break. During the book, one of the protagonists ends the war by pointing out how silly the entire thing is. A little later, the guy stalking them gets the war started again when he explains how the entire country's economy was devoted to war, and without the fighting, everybody is going to be unemployed and stuck with unfarmable land.
Xeelee Sequence: The eponymous aliens have been fighting against their mortal enemies, the Photino Birds, for billions of years. Humanity's war with the Xeelee, lasting for mere millions, is inconsequential by comparison.
In the Star TrekTerok Nor novels, part of what motivates Cardassian support for withdrawing from their Occupation of Bajor is the idea that, if the 50-year occupation goes on much longer, both sides will be too emotionally invested in it to ever stop.
Kim Stanley Rominson's The Years of Rice and Salt features the War of Asuras, a 60 year long war fought between Dar-al-Islam (which takes up most of the world West of the Himalayas) and an alliance of China, India and Native Americans with pre-nuclear technology. It's usually referred to as The Long War.
This acts as a major background feature of The Legends of Ethshar series. The Misenchanted Sword takes place in the final years of the Great War between the Northern Empire and Old Ethshar. By the time of the novel, Old Ethshar had collapsed due to internal strife, but the massive army and supporting staff fielded against the Northerners had become a self-supporting nation by that point.
The war with the gaijan in Stormdancer has lasted for twenty years, and it's apparently stalemated.
The Canaanite wars in The Bible. King David finally secured control of Jerusalem seven years into his reign, solidifying Israelite control over the land of Canaan, except for the Gaza Strip, which remained under Philistine control. David was the great-great-grandson of an Israelite soldier who fought in the first battle of that war, the Battle of Jericho.
Codex Alera has the war between Alera and the Icemen. In contrast to the conflicts between Alerans and the Marat and the Canim (which are only intermittent and have a definite purpose of gaining territory, slaves or vengeance for a particular incident) the war with the Icemen has been continuous for generations, with nothing whatsoever gained by either side. The destructive pointlessness of this war for both sides means that Isana of Alera and Sunset of the Icemen are both cautiously eager to broker a ceasefire, but unfortunately the war has caused so much resentment and prejudice on both sides that the other Alerans actively try to sabotage any resolution, on the grounds that the other side are monsters and cannot possibly be reasoned with. Efforts to point out that nobody has actually tried to negotiate fall on deaf ears until Isana provokes the Aleran general into nearly killing her in a duel (where both sides can see the result and understand her commitment to the cause) and uses his own shock and guilt to break through his prejudice enough to talk with Sunset, who uses the duel to convince the Icemen that not all Alerans are hopeless killers.
A Series of Unfortunate Events has the Schism that occurred between two groups within the secret society VFD. We (the readers) is never given any information on how or when it started. Heck, we never even find out what VFD is, what each respective group is after, what the hell was in that sugar bowl, who the Big Bad is, or the Big Good for that matter. We don't even know if there IS a central villain or hero in the whole mess. Suffice it to say, it's been going on long enough for it to thoroughly ruin the Snicket family and the Baudelaire family before the Baudelaire orphans were born.
Babylon 5 has the Shadows and the Vorlons, who have been fighting their war of Order Versus Chaos for millions of years. The Shadows ask everyone, "What do you want?", but don't know the answer to the question themselves any more. The Vorlons ask, "Who are you?", but likewise have forgotten their answer. When their respective noses are rubbed in this fact, they rather shamefacedly agree to leave the galaxy forever and let the younger races decide their own course.
The eternal war between the Sontarans and the Rutans, which gets mentioned each time one or other race appears in the series. It was stated to have been going on for 50,000 years as of The Poison Sky and was still going on in the serial The Sontaran Experiment which was set 14,000 years after that.
The long-running conflict between the Thals and the Kaleds on the planet Skaro. It ran for so long, that technology in the war started to run backwards; one soldier was found with a laser and a musket, wearing a radiation detector and a gas mask. A conflict only brought to an end when an Omnicidal Maniac was placed in charge of peace negotiations. Which kinda started a whole bunch of new conflicts.
For that matter the Time War itself counts as both sides can travel through time causing it to be waged across time itself, hence the name. The Time Lords even concluded that the only way to end the war would be to end time itself, which did not sit well with The Doctor. Additionally, Dalek/Time Lord hostilities and smaller skirmishes go back long before the war itself. Furthermore, since The Doctor and a number of Daleks managed to escape the time lock, which almost got broken once and might still cause the return of the time war, the surviving Daleks and The Doctor are still continuing the conflict.
The war between Atrios and Zeos in The Armageddon Factor. It eventually turns out that Zeons have been dead or gone for years, but the supercomputer built to organise the war effort has been keeping things going without them.
"The Doctor's Daughter". Since time immemorial, the two sides have been relentlessly cloning soldiers to keep the war going. The Reveal is that time immemorial in this case is seven days. They go through about twenty generations of clones in a day, so their knowledge gets corrupted incredibly fast.
In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "A Taste of Armageddon", two planets had been at war for centuries. They used computers to launch mathematical attacks and then order "casualties" to disintegration chambers. When Kirk posits that if they could come to an agreement on such a system, they should have been able to end the war, one planet's leader gives the fatalistic reply that they'd just start fighting again later over something else, so why bother with peace at all?
Also happens in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Battle Lines" - casualties are resurrected by nanites at the beginning of each day.
A fate inflicted on them as a particularly terrible punishment: it's set up so they inflict hell on themselves. It's a self-perpetuating cycle, as each day they inflict more pain on each other and hate their enemy that much more. By the time of the episode, the hate has become so deep that even Star Fleet's famed speeches AND a Bajoran Kai can't get them to stop.
According to the leaders this was done to them because their constant fighting and refusal to make peace for generations had pissed off the rest of their race, which apparently liked ironic punishments.
"Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be re-learned. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods."
Paranoia, where The Computer is at war with Commie mutant traitor spies, despite a lack of evidence for them. It's what it was programmed to do.
Dungeons & Dragons features the Blood War, a battle between the Chaos-aligned Demons and Law-aligned Devils which had been raging pretty much since the beginning of existence and was expected to keep raging until the end... or so everyone else hoped, since it's generally accepted that if the two sides were to ever put aside their differences, everyone else would be royally screwed.
Shockingly enough, it actually did end, at least in the Forgotten Realms setting. There, Asmodeus managed to kill, and absorb the divine power of, a lesser god that literally fell right into his lap during the Spellplague. Using his new power, Asmodeus took advantage of the shifting planar cosmology caused by the Spellplague to forcibly "shove" the Abyss from its previous location to the bottom of the Elemental Chaos. While the Abyss and its inhabitants remain intact, there is no longer any easy way for demons to assault the Nine Hells in force from their new location.
Dragon Dice has a setting that features races engaging in war between forces aligned with Nature and forces aligned with Death from a few generations after the creation of the first race throughout recorded history - most of the younger races in the game setting were created expressly to engage in the ongoing war.
The Intersteller Wars in Traveller. Also the fighting between the Third Imperium and the Zhodani.
In BattleTech the Succession Wars lasted more than 200 years, destroying most of the technology base of known space, before seemingly ending with the marriage of Hanse Davion and Melissa Steiner and their combined houses ganging up on the Capellan Confederation. There followed a decade or two of relative peace, then the Clans invaded, then the Successor States formed a new Star League, then they went back to fighting one another again.
The Feuding Families of Romeo and Juliet had been fighting for so long that even the servants were involved and it seemed like no one really knew why they were fighting. It's interesting to know that both the Montague and Capulet patriarchs seemed interested in bringing the war between their families to an end. If it hadn't been for that damned hot-headed Tybalt ragging on the equally hot-headed Mercutio ...
The plot of Total Annihilation was built on this trope. The only real survivors of the conflict are the military. To quote the intro:
"What began as a conflict over the transfer of consciousness from flesh to machines escalated into a war which has decimated a million worlds. The Core and the Arm have all but exhausted the resources of a galaxy in their struggle for domination. Both sides now crippled beyond repair, the remnants of their armies continue to battle on ravaged planets, their hatred fueled by over four thousand years of total war. This is a fight to the death. For each side, the only acceptable outcome is the complete elimination of the other."
Total Annihilation's Spiritual Successor, Supreme Commander, makes it clear that its galaxy is coming dangerously close to this state, especially during the Aeon campaign. They don't call it "The Infinite War" for nothing.
The God Wars in RuneScape occurred thousands of years ago, but the 4000-year-long war's utter devastation could be felt to this very day. The God Wars directly lead to the complete extinction of the Fayrg and Raurg races and decimated countless others. Elder demons, Icyenes, and Ourgs are down to the last of their kinds, the Myriad, Aviansie, centaurs, and more are dying races, the goblins's tribes are reduced to the point they have to live together to survive, oh, and their once paradise of a home plane is now an utter wasteland.
Xenogears, at least near the beginning, fits this quite well with the war between Kislev and Aveh. It gets twisted around like everything else later on, though.
Starlancer takes place in a hundred-years-long war between the Alliance (basically like Future NATO) and the Coalition (Future Warzaw Pact); the Alliance sending its last survivors elsewhere is what kick starts the plot of Freelancer.
Freelancer also has a backstory example with an 80-years war between Rhineland and the Kusari-allied Gas Miners Guild — one of the reasons why Rhineland is depicted as hostile to Kusari.
It's worth noting, however, that due to the futuristic setting and the increased life expectancies that come with technological advances that this is not exactly a straight example, as many would probably live throughout it and most would know why it started.
In Iji, The Tasen and Komato have apparently been fighting for thousands of years. While they still remember why, they seem to have trouble understanding what it would be like to not be at war.
After the Tasen are wiped out by the Komato, it's heavily implied in the ending that the Komato may turn on themselves now that they no longer have an enemy to fight.
In Breath of Fire IV, the conflict between the Fou Empire and the Alliance. The two continents have been in a Cold War that has lasted 600 years, punctuated by four world wars and the incipient threat of a fifth.
The war between the Terran Confederacy and the Kilrathi Empire portrayed in Wing Commander may not be all that old (it lasted from 2634 to 2669), but it fits the rest of this trope to a tee. By the time Wing Commander III rolls around, the war is older than pretty much all of your wingmennote the oldest person on the flight roster in WC3 was three years old when the war began., and the only reason it looks like it could end any time soon is that the Kilrathi are very slowly gaining an upper hand. One battle in the war actually lasted ten years, only ending when both sides stopped sending reinforcements and the remaining troops wiped each other out (The last person to succumb to their wounds was human, so the Terrans technically won).
The various nations of the Iron Grip series have been periodically fighting each other for entire centuries, if not millenia. War is almost an accepted way of life in this steampunky Crapsack World.
World of Warcraft: The ongoing conflict between the two playable factions of the Horde (led by orcs) and the Alliance (led by humans) will not end. Despite numerous cataclysmic threats that are hostile to both sides, and numerous instances in the game of interfaction cooperation, there will always be skirmishes going on at the borders of the respective empires and the constant threat of more serious warfare heating up. Each side can point to several reasons for it, but at this point it's more about racial hatred and pervasive militarization than any good reason. (Well, that, and an excuse to earn Honor/Conquest points in PvP.) As of the end of Mists of Pandaria, an uneasy peace has settled. Varian won't pursue vengeance against the Horde for Garrosh's crimes since he acknowledges that not everyone in the Horde supported Garrosh, but he warns the Horde's leaders that he won't forgive any more breaches of honor.
Days of Ruin has Rubinelle and Lazuria, where both sides have fought each other for over a century. The Great War should have ended with the meteors, but even after civilization ends, the last surviving leaders on both sides (Admiral Greyfield and General Forsythe, respectively) refuse to end it. However, this is ultimately subverted: neither faction is actually fighting for their now-defunct nations. Greyfield was responsible for instigating the conflict to fulfill his imperial ambitions, while Forsythe was called out of retirement to lead the remnants of the Lazurian Army against the aggression of the 'New' Rubinelle Army.
In the Assassin's Creed series, the covert war between the Assassins and the Templars has been raging since the dawn of human civilisation; unfortunately, it appears that the Templars are close to absolute victory.
Mystic Ark has a mostly-comedic version in the war between the Bloodhook and Gunboss. It's been going for centuries by the time the Player Character arrives, and none of the crew seem to have a reason for it besides that they've always been at war. Matoya outright states that none of them actually remember what the war was about anymore, and the captains can only manage an awkward silence when asked directly. It finally ends due to the intervention of the Player Character, Matoya, and a very large, angry mole.
Justified in the case that they're both immortal, Kaguya Houraisan and Fujiwara no Mokou of Touhou have fought each other on a daily basis for several thousand years.
Order and Chaos in Shin Megami Tensei. Five separate realities and counting and they refuse to let up. Even though every human "fulcrum" they attempt to recruit to their sides has turned around and screwed both factions over (assuming Neutral endings, which seems to be the case), YHVH and Lucifer will never end things. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne reveals a multiversal war between Light and Dark with Humanity and demons as their puppets in the war. Lucifer's goal was to put an end to it, though he has abandoned that plan to the Omnicidal Maniac White.
Mass Effect: the Reaper cycle of extinction might not count (certainly it's been going on for a long, long time and was never meant to end), but their one-to-three-hundred-year exterminations do. Javik mentions it frequently — by the time he was born, the Citadel had already fallen and his world had been reduced to a blackened wasteland, and it only got worse from there.
The Rachni Wars deserve an honorable mention. They begin at roughly 1 AD, and the galaxy is on the back foot until the discovery and uplift of the krogan in 80 AD. It's not until 300 AD that the rachni were declared extinct.
To a lesser extent, the Quarian-Geth conflict has existed in a default state of Cold War for over three centuries. It can either end by reconciliation or by either side wiping out the other in Mass Effect 3.
In Halo the Precursors (a Sufficiently Advanced Alien race so powerful one might as well call them gods) have promised the Forerunners that, as retribution for the Forerunner uprising that destroyed nearly their entire race, they plan on causing eternal misery and suffering toward every alien race they created (so, everything). Even after their latest form, the Flood, was defeated, they even set up the Ur-Didact to continue their plans 100,000 years later, immediately after the Flood is (probably) defeated at the Ark. In effect, they plan to ensure that there will always be something to plague the beings of the galaxy that was directly or indirectly caused by them.
Dark Souls is something of an odd example. While it isn't usually outright warfare, there has been a serious conflict between whether the Age of Fire should continue or end, a conflict which has been going on for at least 1,000 years.
Wars in Civilization games can sometimes last for an extreme amount of time given the right conditions. If the enemy civ is far enough away, and neither player either bothers to sue for peace or send units at each other, it very easy to forget you're at war.
The ongoing war between Heaven and Hell in the Diablo series, which is even called the Eternal Conflict. The period where angels and demons fought in the mortal realm of Sanctuary was called the Sin War, and it only ended when Uldyssian, a nephalem (one of the offspring of renegade angels and demons who were the ancestors of humanity), sacrificed himself for the sake of humanity. In Diablo III, Diablo, after being reborn as the embodiment of all seven Great Evils in one being, the Prime Evil, comes very close to destroying the High Heavens and putting an end to the war, only to be destroyed by the player character, one of the first of the new nephalem, resulting in an apparent end to the war on the side of angels and humans. We're not holding our breath though.
The Land-Grab Stalemate in Team Fortress 2 is heavily implied to have been planned as this, for reasons both clear and unclear. It's eventually ends up ending anyway, when Gray Mann kills the owner of RED and BLU, leaving the mercenaries of both to fight his robots defending Mann Co. property.
PlanetSide has three empires locked in an eternal stalemate, due to the presence of the Ancient Vanunanites allowing everyone who is on the planet to be rebuilt in seconds when killed. Any time a temporary alliance is forged between two empires in-game, they immediately backstab each other. Who started the war is unknown, though all sides hate each other and will likely fight forever - even during The Bending, the three sides were murdering each other as the planet broke up under them. The Terran Republic hates the New Conglomerate for their ideas of freedom, and hate the Vanu Sovereignty because they fear the Vanu technology. The New Conglomerate hate the Terrans because of having to live under a thousand years of oppression, and likewise fear the Vanu Sovereignty. The Vanu Sovereignty hate both sides because they are holding humanity back from enlightenment.
The War between the Demi-gods and the Gohma from Asura's Wrath has lasted for 12,000 years, with no end in sight. Made even worse when Chakravartin tells Asura, Yasha and Mithra, that even if the Gohma leader Vlitra was to be destroyed, they are his creation in the end, as he will be able to make stronger and stronger Gohma with no end in sight, turning this into a Hopeless War as well.
By the time we found out about, the Ancient-Kreegan War of Might and Magic has been going on for some 1500 years. There are self-aware beings that still remember the beginning of the war — that is how we found out what's going on, and for how long it has been going on — but considering it's been going on for so long that your average Lost Colony has forgotten that there was a war going on in the first place...
In Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, the N'rrgal and Zoah species have been at war for as long as anyone can remember.
This is the ultimate goal of Ambassador B'Vat in Star Trek Online. To wit, the game starts with the Federation and the Klingons at each other's throat. B'Vat is convinced that if the Klingons don't have a target to take out their urges on, they'll destroy themselves. Thus, he plans on finding a way to keep the war going forever, going so far as to find a Doomsday Machine and plan to use it against the Federation. The war more or less sputters to a halt on its own after the Player Character kills B'Vat.
The only hope for peace is that the protagonist will wage a war so terrible it breaks war itself.
The Light and Dark Kingdoms in Homestuck are locked in a constant, unwinnable war until the arrival of Sburb players.
In Slightly Damned, the Angels and Demons are locked in an apparently divine-mandated war of annihilation, reinforced by numerous Remember The Alamo incidents on both sides. The war is currently in a lull, but now there are conspiracies instead.
After Republican France occupies Spain in the Chaos Timeline, the fighting down there does not end until eighty years later.
The Red and Blue Teams in Blood Gulch aren't really fighting so much as slacking off at opposite ends of the box canyon, and it only feels like they've been there forever, but if one's thing for sure it's that neither side has any clue why they're supposed to be fighting. They later travel to Battle Creek, where two teams of immortal zealots fight to Capture the Flag while spouting comments and insults straight out of X Box Live, and are revived at the end of each match, like a very stupid type of Valhalla.
Aang encountered two tribes who had been feuding for nearly a century. Details were sketchy after nearly a century, but each side claimed that the other side had wronged their emissary for no reason, thus setting off the feud. Aang (who was over 100 years old but spent most of those years as a Human Popsicle) then told the factions that the two "emissaries" were just children playing a game similar to Prisoner's Base, thus encouraging the two sides to iron out their differences. It turned out he was just making that story up.
The War itself. Lasting a century, those who started it, like Sozin, have been dead for decades.
The Transformers in various media. They may know what they're fighting for, but that doesn't change that they've been doing it for more than 4 million years. It's made even worse by the near immortality of Transformers. The same people have been fighting the same war for millions of years, and all over a planet that in some continuities is already doomed. In the original continuity, the war had consumed so much of the planet's natural resources that the war had in effect become about getting enough resources to continue the war.
The war spreads to other worlds like a wildfire, too. The Decepticons won't stop, which means the Autobots can't stop.
For the entirety of global human history, less than 10% of it has passed without a society being at conflict with another. This theory is even challenged as perhaps too high, since many societies have existed without a means of recording their history, or been so thoroughly destroyed, their records were lost.
Ongoing hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians, which has been ongoing for approximately as long as there have been Israelis and Palestinians.
Though this is constantly cited as a real-life example, it would be generous to claim the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has cohesive roots older than 150 years.
The first Arab-Israeli war started in 1948, mere hours after the founding of the State of Israel.
There were riots, raids and skirmishes before that and the Jews took the British side in the 1930's Arab Revolt because of said troubles.
While it hasn't necessarily been the same groups involved, war in the Middle East (specifically, the "Holy Land") has been fairly constant almost since the beginning of recorded history.
Collectively, the Crusades stretched on-and-off across close to 400-700 years, depending on which conflicts one counts.
The Sunni-Shiite divide among Muslims. It started with a disagreement over the legitimate successor of Muhammad, who died in 650 AD. Ali, whom the Shia back, was killed by his enemies in battle, and it went on from there.
The Hundred Years' War between England and France, which lasted 116 years (including some armistices). Given the average lifespans and literacy rates at that point, it's very likely most people had no idea what the war was about.
It was (originally) a dispute over royal authority: King Edward III of England refused to subordinate himself to King Philip VI of France, as previous kings of England dating to William the Conqueror had done (As they held lands in France as French nobles independently of their lands in England). Philip VI responded by confiscating Edward III's property in France. Edward III then declared that Philip VI had no authority to do so, because he was actually the rightful king of France (Edward was more closely related to the previous king than Philip, but the crown was given to Philip because he was related through the male line while Edward was related to Charles IV through his mother). Accusing the king of being a usurper is obviously a big deal, so naturally war resulted. Given that the kings of England at the time were also French nobility, it could rightly be seen as a French civil war. But unlike most succession disputes, this war continued long after the original claimants to the throne were dead. England and France each had five different kings over the course of the war.
Even after the war ended (1453), relations between France and England were far from peachy. Both countries would remain at odds for the next four hundred years over matters such as religion or colonial ambition. In fact, it wasn't until the Crimean War (1853) that either of them actually managed to agree on anything.
Likewise the 80 years war or the Dutch War for independence (actual duration 68 years) ended in 1648. Likewise in the example above, lifespans were not that long back then, and even still; it lasted nearly a century in total until peace was obtained. Lives started and ended in a constant struggle.
Persia's invasion of Greece was kind of like this... for the Persians. The Greeks knew exactly what they wanted out of it (that is, not to become a Persian province), but Xerxes wasn't entirely sure what he was doing there: Greece was a resource-poor and somewhat backwards excuse for a civilization, and the Greeks already in his empire (in Ionia, what is now western Turkey) had proven to be ungovernable. The only reason the Persians even thought about conquering mainland Greece was a peculiar battle in which an Athenian army assisted Miletos (a Greek city in Ionia) in reasserting its independence; in the process, they managed to torch the Persian provincial capital at Sardis. This made Xerxes' father Darius (who was Shah at the time) VERY angry once he got over his confusion (Athens was a tin-pot town nobody important had ever heard of). Darius shot an arrow into the sky, and swore "O God, grant that I may punish the Athenians;" later on, he had a servant remind him of his pledge at dinner daily, and various plans for fighting the Athenians were drawn up. Xerxes was not so preoccupied, and was rather confused with Darius' request that he also try to "punish the Athenians;" supposedly, the only thing that convinced Xerxes to go at all was a recurring dream of a phantom telling him to go to Greece.
Well, that's how Herodotus tells it. There's a recent interpretation that's gaining a lot of credibility that, since the Persian Empire was run on the Tarkin Doctrine, an Emperor had to be seen as living up to the exploits of his forefathers (remember, Xerxes is only the 4th Persian Emperor). This means conquest- and, for Darius and Xerxes, Greece is about the only thing left that's easy to conquer. Or at least they had every reason to expect it to be easy.
It also qualifies as "forever" because it raged on and off for about 160 years until Alexander the Great finally toppled the Persian Empire.
Heck, Alexander's conquest only put a brief pause to the conflict. One thousand years later, Greeks and Persians were still fighting each other. Which is known as...
The group of conflicts collectively known as the Roman-Persian Wars, more than seven centuries of on-and-off conflicts, which was only ended when the Muslims overwhelmed the Sassanids. Therein followed another four or so centuries of conflict with the Arabs, two-and-a-half with the Turks, and then another two-and-a-bit with the Ottomans.
See also the Arauco War, which started in 1536 and ended circa 1883. And some people want to start it back up again.
More bizarre on the list linked above: The Third Punic War ended with the legions of The Roman Republic sacking Carthage, taking its population as slaves and allegedly salting the fields in 146 BC. Since the Carthaginian state was destroyed, the war only officially ended when the mayors of Rome and Carthage (Tunis, nowadays) signed a ritual peace treaty in 1985, over twenty-one centuries later.
It's not a perfect example but the Thirty Years' War continued to be fought after the initial cause of the war had been resolved (mostly because it became a convenient excuse for other nations to advance their political goals.)
It was the longest war that was one of continual fighting. Nearly every example listed here is a series of conflicts.
Conflict between the two Koreas has never officially ended and the two are technically still at war. Hostilities could recommence at any moment, but let's try not to think of what that might entail.
The Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan has dragged on for decades, with each side holding contradictory positions and neither willing to compromise.
The Vietnam War, part of the Cold War, lasted from 1955 to 1975 and was itself the continuation the war the French fought back when the area was called French Indochina... which was in turn a continuation of the war against the Japanese when they occupied French Indochina, which was in turn a continuation of the various conflicts in Indochina between the French and those seeking to evict them since the Annamese war... It goes on.
It continued with the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and the Sino-Vietnamese War.
The War on Terror has no clear end and could potentially go on for decades. Or at least until Terror is no longer used as a tactic.
Not necessarily. In practical terms, the point of the War On Terror, at least according to the West, was to hunt down the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and "spread democracy". At this point, that's more or less already been accomplished; Osama bin Laden and most of Al-Qaeda is dead (reduced to about two hundred guys hiding in caves), Coalition military occupation has ended in Iraq (which is now a US-allied and relatively prosperous democracy, even if it is still quite unstable), and the NATO occupation of Afghanistan continues. There was an Islamic terrorist attack in Boston, but it had relatively few casualties (especially compared to 9/11) and was performed by two angry youths and criminals disconnected from the larger cells.
The Obama Administration has recognized this possibility and declared "ending the war on terror" as a policy goal.
For large portions of history we didn't even bother to name our wars. War was the normal state of being except in the core of large states. In other words the only places where there was peace was where one faction had curb stomped everyone else in the area.
According to a UN statistic published in 2000 in the 100 years of the 20th Century there have been roughly 5 minutes of peace. The rest of the time there was a war being fought somewhere on Earth. Despite that, however, it was actually less violent than any previous century going by percentage of population lost.
Speaking of Afghanistan, there's a reason why it's known as the "Graveyard of Empires". For centuries, foreign powers have fought over the territory due to its strategic value as a buffer against potential invasion, as well as a gateway connecting the Middle East with Asia.
According to Kevin Phillip's The Cousin's Wars, in everysinglecivilwar among English speakers since the seventeenth century the same ethnic and religious groups predictably lined up on opposite sides with the same allies and enemies they had before so that one could predict the line up for the next by the previous. This applies even to elections, which are sort of a nonlethalCivil War.
One could say this about all life in general. Wherever new creatures spring up, there's bound to be a competition among them or other species for resources, breeding rights, and (for humanity) ideals.
The Burmese Civil War has been raging between the military and various rebel factions since 1948, making it the longest shooting war still occurring.
The Wars of the Roses: began in 1455 over a dispute in the succession dating back to 1399 and ended in 1485. The man who won the war and became king wasn't even born yet when it began.
The history of Europe and the Middle East from the Roman Civil War of 69 AD until the Napoleonic Wars has been one uninterrupted series of wars. Factions changed, often new players invaded from nowhere, but the relevant fact is that Europe and the surrounding area were at war for one thousand, seven hundred and forty-six years straight, with the wars sometimes spilling in more distant areas (the Seven Years War had battlefields in North America and India, and the French Revolution Wars and Napoleonic Wars were also fought in Central and South America and India, and the British war effort was one of the causes of the War of 1812). Then, after the last round nearly destroyed every single faction, the current combatants settled down and tried to establish a peaceful world order, so Europe went at peace... For five years, after which Spanish, Portuguese and Italian liberals start rising to obtain constitutions (and Italian unification) and Greek rebels start preparing the Greek War of Independence that will erupt in 1821, thus starting the series of wars that will end in 1945 with the end of World War II. And in those five years, Spain was still dealing with the independence wars in its colonial empire sparked by Napoleon's invasion.
We could say that, in spite of its name, the Cold War caused the longest period of peace in Europe since 69 AD, lasting from 1945 to 1991 (the Yugoslav Wars), a whopping forty-six years.
For an incomplete summary, listen the song Europa, and keep in mind that it's watered down for lack of time.
After Rome destroyed Carthage in 146 BC, no official peace treaty was made until 1985.