Lister: Do you mean they had a war over whether the doughnut diner hats were red or blue? Holly: Yeah. Most of them were killed fighting about that. It's daft really, innit? Lister: You're not kidding. They were supposed to begreen.
The protagonists encounter two (or more) groups who are in a deadly serious conflict over what the protagonists (and likely the audience) perceive to be a trivial and petty difference or issue. Like which end of the egg to crack first, or whether toast should be eaten butter side up or down, or even body features such as which half of their face is black and which is white.
This trope is often paired with An Aesop about how what we consider life-and-death, irreconcilable differences may be based on cultural norms and would seem just as petty from an outsider's perspective, and maybe we should reconsider our intolerance. If the writer wants to be extra Anvilicious about the message, expect the alien group to counter any perplexed queries about why they're willing to segregate, oppress, ostracise, or even kill each other over something so asinine with a retort like "humans kill each other over less". Like what pigment their skin has, whose parents they were born from, which phrases they pray with, politics, and gender. And the aliens killing each other over what color hat they wear are far above that kind of petty bickering. The fact that they're comparing what select groups of humans do (or did waaay back in human history) to their entire species being willing to kill each other over this stuff won't really be addressed.
Depending on how idealistic the story is, the protagonists may persuade the aliens/elves/mutants/pastry chefs to reconcile their differences or accept their differences and finally give living peacefully a shot. However, if it's going for the Downer Ending, then expect the hero's efforts to be for naught as the conflict escalates and they wipe each other out.
Most early instances of Fantastic Racism were based on groups at odds over superficial matters but if the groups have real and important differences, it can fall into a Fantastic Aesop that trivializes their conflict just because it's analogous to some real-world group of humans that are at odds for some mundane reason.
This is a subtrope of Serious Business. Related to Humans Kill Wantonly and Fantastic Racism. See Felony Misdemeanor for when it's humans acting like this, and it doesn't (usually) end in war. Compare Pretext for War, where two sides seize upon any reason they can to go to war, without actually caring about the reason itself. When it's a mere domestic squabble, it might be a Toilet Seat Divorce. See also Blue and Orange Morality, which can potentially justify this trope.
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In Slayers Gorgeous, heroes... er, protagonists Lina Inverse and Naga the Serpent find themselves caught in a civil war between a local lord and his daughter, who's raised an army and marched on the palace. Her reason for rebellion? She wants a bigger allowance.
And she already gets a pretty large one (which she is using to bankroll her rebellion - why her father is still paying her allowance while she's rebelling is never brought up), which is why her father is so worked up about her demands — a raise from from 50 gold a month to 200 gold a month is not chicken feed. Even Lina and Naga think her father is justified in being annoyed when they find out she wants quadruple her monthly allowance.
And it also happens in Slayers: Great, where the father and son of a famous golem-making family, Galia and Huey, are fighting a personal battle that they eventually try to settle by building giant golems and having them fight each other. The reason: Galia is obsessed with making Kawaii golems, to the extent he builds his mega-golem in the form of a Chibi Lina Inverse, even going so far as to spend time and effort causing it to make cute sound effects when it steps or does anything. Huey, on the other hand, is into ultra-realistic golems — and his favorite source material are beautiful, buxom women. His mega-golem is designed as a humungous statue of Naga, and he devotes effort to making sure the breasts jiggle like hers. When they finally reconcile, their first combined effort golem is a Betty Boop reference; a Super-Deformed woman's face atop a realistically sculpted sexy woman's body.
Played with among the Proud Warrior Race Guy Giants in the Little Garden Arc of One Piece. Dorry and Broggy have been fighting (as in, straight-up brawling) each other for decades on end, such that they don't even remember what they were fighting for. The original dispute? Who caught the bigger fish? This is related to Serious Business and, again, the Proud Warrior Race trope, so their pride is respected in-universe even as the audience is expected to laugh at the cause for a decades-long bout between comrades.
In comic book Smurf Versus Smurf, a civil war erupts in the Smurf village over whether the word "smurf" should be used as an adjective (south end) or a verb (north end). This gets funnier in languages that allow for many composite words (e.g. Dutch and German) because now the war is about whether the proper term is "corksmurf" or "smurfscrew".
As a whole, this was parodying the language divide issues in Belgium.
In Dilbert, Elbonia erupted into civil war between the left-handed and right-handed people. Dilbert quickly lost patience trying to explain that it's "an arbitrary distinction." ("Geez, you lefties are thick. I'm glad I'mnormal.")
Amusingly, Dilbert is left-handed — at least in the animated series. Where he ends up becoming an (inadvertent) champion for left-handed rights.
During his Not So Different rant in The Killing Joke, the Joker remarks that the last world war was caused by a dispute over how many telegraph poles Germany owed as war reparations. Which, true or not, he evidently finds hilarious. While Germany having fallen in arrears in its delivery of telegraph poles did not cause a war, it was the reason given by France for occupying the Ruhr Valley in 1923. One British observer commented that this was the most devious use of wood since the Trojan War.
One of the earliest Superman stories has Clark sent to cover a war in a small South American nation. After uncovering a corrupt weapon manufacturer and the US senator collaborating with him, Clark drags the opposing generals into the forest and demands they settle it by fisticuffs. The generals admit to having no clue what they're fighting about, and quickly make peace when Clark explains the whole war is a scam to sell armaments.
In an Homage to Dr. Seuss, The Defenders once had an issue where the Defenders found themselves in a dimension with two lands named 'Here' and 'There' who were locked in a war. The Defenders eventually learned that the reason for the war was that the people of 'There' objected to the people 'Here' referring to their land as 'There', when it was obvious that they were really 'Here' and the other side was 'There'.
In the Civilization III fanfiction Vegetarian Vengeance, the Indians end up going to war with Rome over the contents of Caesar's sandwich!
The TSAB certainly views the beginning of the war between the Moon Kingdom and Dark Kingdom as this in White Devil of the Moon: because Beryl, jealous that Endymion fell in love with Serenity instead of her, incited the war.
In The Universiad the Originals once fought a civil war over a paper shortage.
Films — Animation
The 1939Fleischer Studios animated adaptation of Gulliver's Travels, the holy war over egg ends was changed to a fight over which sappy love song should be played at the wedding of the Prince of Blefescu and Princess of Lilliput: "Faithful" or "Forever". In theory, this is supposed to have been a nod to the satirical tone of the source material, but the film plays it completely serious. Gulliver suggests that the couple combine both songs to settle the matter, and it works.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut has the parents of South Park calling for war with Canada because they didn't want to take responsibility for letting their kids see a movie with foul language.
In Animalympics, an announcer speculates that Kit and Rene falling in love during their marathon, and crossing the finish line simultaneously, could start a war over the medal-count.
Films — Live Action
In RRRrrrr!!!, two prehistoric tribes are at war because one has shampoo and the others are trying to get the formula/a sample.
In Duck Soup, a devastating war between two countries begins because of Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) taking offense at getting called an "upstart". Rather a Berserk Button, wouldn't you say?
It gets worse/funnier: when peace talks are declared, Firefly waits for his opposite number to show up, prepared to shake his hand. However, he then wonders about the implications if the other man refused the handshake. He gets so worked up over this he slaps the guy when he finally shows up, and the war continues.
Life of Brian: The People's Front of Judea, The Judean People's Front and the Campaign for Free Galilee all seem to hate one another, possibly because they can't agree on who hates the Romans the most, to the point where the People's Front of Judea and the Campaign for Free Galilee start fighting one another over who gets to carry out a stealth mission to weaken the Romans… while already on said mission and surrounded by enemy soldiers. When Brian urges them to unite against their common enemy they all assume he's talking about the Judean People's Front.
In Gulliver's Travels, the Lilliputians fought a long war over which end of a boiled egg should be broken (the Big-Endians and the Little-Endians). This was a metaphor for the contemporary conflicts over the eucharist, specifically the belief and disbelief in transubstantiation.
A similar but less violent Seuss story is The Sneetches, in which the presence of a star on their bellies is used as a sign of racial superiority by the titular Sneetches until Sylvester McMonkey McBean shows up with a contraption that applies (or removes) stars, all for a modest payment. In the end, he has all their money, and the hopelessly confused Sneetches get the Aesop.
And The Zax, in which a North-Going Zax and a South-Going Zax happen to meet face-to-face, and they both refuse to budge "an inch to the east, nor an inch to the west" to let the other pass. Like The Butter Battle Book, it just ends with them at an impasse (also under an overpass). Dr. Seuss loved this trope.
La Secchia Rapita (The Rape of the Bucket) is a mock-heroic epic poem by Alessandro Tassoni first published in 1622. It tells of a war between the Italian cities of Modena and Bologna over the possession of a wooden bucket. It was a real war. Honest. See the Real Life section for some details. (That's "rape" in the archaic sense of the word, "carried off, seized by force", by the way, not a Cargo Ship.)
These are the kinds of wars Jidai Geki Japan is presented as waging in one Where's Waldo? where Waldo is wandering around various eras of history.
Hari Seldon from Isaac Asimov's Foundation prequels once mentions a youth subculture conflict on his home planet between people who shave the left side of their head and those who shave the right side of their hair.
In a Spellsinger novel, two tribes of prairie dogs went to war periodically over possession of an ugly statue, which gave the victors exclusive rights to use the nearby hot springs' water. The springs produced enough hot water to meet the needs of both tribes, but their egos were too caught up in the competition to care.
The Ravenloft novel Carnival of Fear was set in a country where criminals were transformed into circus freaks and mind-wiped, then gleefully mocked and abused by the ordinary citizens. Hating the odd-looking became so essential to their mindset that, when the Carnival's performers learned the truth and fled the region, the remaining citizens turned on one another: in the epilogue, a gang of children are seen throwing stuff at another boy because his eye color is different from theirs.
In Welkin Weasels, the protagonists come across an island that is home to a pair of dodo tribes. They apparently hate each other because of the color of their eyes, and over ownership of a bunch of little models made of fish bones. Apparently, whenever they go to steal the other tribe's, the other tribe gets the same idea and they're back where they started. They manage to solve this by the protagonists having them burn all of the models. It doesn't really work, though, as the chieftain of the tribe they first met recommended that the group leave before the darts started flying.
In the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Planet of Twilight, the titular planet is inhabited by a species known as the Drovians, who had been at civil war between two tribes for centuries... because one tribe thought the world "truth" was singular and the other thought it was plural.
The Star Trek Expanded Universe novel I, Q told of a war between the Q and another race of similarly omnipotent beings, the M. These two impossibly advanced species both admitted the real reason for their catyclysmic conflict was "there's just something about you that just really pisses me off." The war itself is kicked off when one of them blurts out, "Your mother!"; nobody now knows who said it or who it was directed at. Both sides also show near fourth-wall breakingGenre Savviness: they're both aware enough to realize that in their reality every race always manages to get balanced out by some other race which exists to be an opposing force and source of plot. If they made up with their obvious opposite numbers, it would inevitably lead to a serious threat to both of them showing up.
Another Expanded Universe novel, Imzadi mentions two feuding worlds whose centuries-long strife ultimately stemmed from the hard feelings caused by an unintentional diplomatic incident. Specifically, a dog analogue owned by a dignitary from one world killing a cat analogue owned by a dignitary from the other. When this was discovered, this resulted in the first ever peace treaty to include a section about leash laws.
In A Civil Campaign, it's mentioned that the Barrayarans once fought a minor war over whether the Emperor or his District Counts had control over a substance extremely useful in the terraforming effort. Since Imperial power is Serious Business on Barrayar, and since terraforming a planet with almost no technology is hard, this war isn't that silly—but since the useful terraforming substance is horse manure, the whole thing sounds kind of ridiculous to most readers.
The way Miles tells it in-story, it was the sort of war that underemployed minor aristocrats start whenever they have a cashflow problem or feel like expanding their territory and think they can get away with it, but it seems to have ground to a halt quite quickly when the BarrayaranVor ruling class became dimly aware it was a silly Pretext for War even by their standards.
In Use of Weapons, part of The Culture series of sci-fi novels, one of the many, many, many military conflicts the protaganist took part in was an unending and brutal war on an ice planet. Ostensibly, the war was for control of the constantly shifting iceberg masses that made up the only land surface on the planet. But since these icebergs are inevitably destroyed/melt as they move towards the equator, no victory ever means anything for more than a few months, but the war continues on and on, as both sides had grown to hate the other too much to admit the whole thing is pointless...
Jingo has a twofer, in the main plot and an anecdote.
The war that nearly takes place in the book is over a small island with no usable resources, and no potential for any use economically or industrially, that suddenly pops up in the water between Anhk-Morpork and Klatch. While neither side actually wants the island, they don't want the other side to have it either, since both sides believe it belongs to them. Humorously, the war is ultimately prevented when Vetinari, after visiting the island, surrenders it to Klatch because he had determined that the island will inevitably sink again, making it even more worthless than it already is. This is a reference to an actual island between Sicily and Malta, called Ferdinandea by Italy, Julia Island by France, and Graham Island by the British. In mid-1831, the volcanic island emerged after an eruption, sparking a brief diplomatic row by the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, France, Britain, and Spain over who would claim the new island, until the "island," actually made of weak tephra, washed away over the course of the next six months. The Italians (or to be specific, the Sicilians) recently renewed their claims in 2000 by inviting the heir to the defunct Bourbon throne out for a ceremony to plant both a flag and a plaque on the summit, by sending a diving team down.
There's also a story about two smaller nations nominally claimed by the Klatchian empire, who had only recently eased off on a centuries-old war, having run out of rocks to throw. The reason for the conflict is a one-word difference in their holy book, which one country translates as "man" and the other translates as "god". This trope is applicable because the difference between the two words, in Klatchian script, comes down to how a single dot is positioned over one letter ... and it especially applies if, as heretical theologians suggest, the dot is actually a bit of fly poo. Apparently if the dot was moved slightly more it would mean "licorice". This (well, the first part, not the licorice) is a reference to the split between the Eastern and Western Churches over a Greek word that could mean either 'of God' or 'of man' in the Nicaean Creed depending on if it differed by an iota (the smallest Greek letter). Hence the phrase 'not one iota of difference'.
Another Discworld example; in Thud!, Commander Vimes discovers that the Battle of Koom Valley, which ignited a long-standing animosity between Dwarfs and Trolls, was actually caused by a misunderstanding. The dwarf and troll leaders intended to broker a peace in Koom Valley, but a thick fog caused their armies to mistakenly believe the other side was ambushing them. With the leaders washed away by a flash flood, the survivors spread the story of the "double ambush" and continued their racial feud. A group of conservative dwarfs tried to prevent this knowledge from spreading in order to prevent a new peace accord between the two races.
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, higher-dimensional beings like playing Brockian Ultra-Cricket, a game so complicated that a complete compilation of its rules became a black hole. The more popular it gets, the less it is being played because almost all the teams (and substantial parts of the population) are now in a state of permanent warfare with each other over the interpretation of these rules. This is, however, all for the best, because in the long run a good solid war is less psychologically damaging than a protracted game of Brockian Ultra-Cricket.
Also, the Vl'hurgs and the G'Gugvuntt fought a long war because the Vl'hurg leader was supposedly insulted by the G'Gugvuntt leader. After noticing that it was actually Arthur Dent (and a hole in the space-time continuum), they teamed up and flew thousands of light-years towards the Milky Way, only to be swallowed by a little dog.
Similarly, the Arends in the Belgariad also tended to fight constantly for foolish reasons. Their civil war over which Duke would become King was fairly significant, but the fact that the fighting continued for an additional five hundred years after the issue was finally resolved due to a legal technicality qualifies. (The Asturians refused to swear fealty to the crown because they had already sworn fealty to their Duchess. The fact that the Duchess of Asturia and the Queen of Arendia were the same person was irrelevant.)
Tristram Shandy has a chapter-long aside about a war between France and Switzerland that starts when the countries disagree about what to name the French heir.
British statesman Lord Chesterfield wrote in Letters to His Son: "Such closet politicians never fail to assign the deepest motives for the most trifling actions; instead of often ascribing the greatest actions to the most trifling causes, in which they would be much seldomer mistaken." (letter 93)
In The Chromium Fence by Philip K. Dick, a meek man is unsure of which side to take in a social conflict which seemed to be leading his future-society towards a full-blown civil war. The issue at stake? Mandatory shaving and hygiene laws (up to and including minor surgery to reduce body odor and sweating for egregious offenders). As violence begins to erupt on the streets and even in his own home (between his hygienic son and his politically active, hairy, sweaty, and stinky brother-in-law), the main character refuses to take a side and can't understand why either side is taking the issue so seriously. He confesses to his less-than-helpful robotic psychologist that he feels like the Only Sane Man, but worries that feeling is a sign that he is the one who is really insane for not caring about it.
The first war depicted in the Deverry novels was between two nobles who were fighting over whose peasants had the right to forage in the local woods for pig fodder. It should be noted that the two families had been feuding for three generations at this point, and had already exhausted just about every other reason they could find to go to war with each other, including who owned the forest in question.
Cullyn: Pity we can't arm the swine. Everyone will fight for their own food.
Andre Maurios's children's book Fattypuffs and Thinifers is set in an underground world where people are divided according to their weight, which is deliberately stupid in the first place. When the book begins, they are in an uneasy truce in a war over something, which is never made clear, to do with an island in the sea between their countries. At a hopeful peace conference, the Fattypuffs insist on calling the island "Fattyfer", while the Thinifers demand it be called "Thinipuff". And so the war resumes over the name of an island (of course, neither side asked the natives for their opinion). In a happy ending, the reconciled Fattypuffs and Thinifers agree to call it "Peachblossom Island" instead.
In one of The Three Musketeers novels, the Duke of Buckingham was willing to go to war with France if diplomatic relations broke down... because it would keep him away from the Queen of France that he was in love with.
Live Action TV
Rather than hold elections or have kings, the Drazi in Babylon 5 randomly divide their population between "green and purple" scarf wearers, fight non-lethally, and the side with most victories got to rule for the next year. This causes all manner of problems on Babylon 5 when the faction war breaks out on the station in the vicinity of non-Drazi, especially when the greens decide that the 'non-lethal' part of the rules can be glossed over in the interest of victory. And just to make matters worse, it turns out there Ain't No Rule that says the winner has to be a Drazi citizen themselves, as opposed to... say... a station security officer responding to a breach of the peace.
In one episode of Cold Case the team comes across a family that has lost 4 sons successively in a years-long feud with a drug dealer. What started the whole thing? The smallest son ran into a dealer with his kick scooter and the dealer stole it. The eldest son went to ask the dealer for it back, tried to grab it by force and was killed. Then the second son tried to avenge the elder's death and everything went downhill from there. The scooter in question was actually a prize the youngest son won at a contest and a symbol that the impoverished family, or at least the youngest son, could have a future. Which only makes it worse.
On Fraggle Rock, two groups of Fraggles apparently once fought a civil war because they didn't share the same sense of humor. A repetition was averted when it turned out that both groups laughed at the sight of someone slipping on a banana peel, even if the non-humorous ones were reacting to this delightful opportunity to clean up the mess.
Cat's people wiped themselves out fighting a war over what color the hats at Lister's hot dog stand were supposed to be. What's particularly sad is that neither side got it right.
In the novelization, it again conjures the dispute over the Nicaean Creed, as the dispute is over Lister's name — the difference between the two guesses is one letter, and yet again, both sides were wrong, as both added an extraneous "c" to the beginning of the name; although, admittedly, the ones who thought he was Clister were at least slightly closer than the ones who thought he was Cloister.
The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" featured two aliens with their face divided in two halves by black and white, one with the right side white and left side black and the other with the colors reversed. One is a lawman out to capture the other for inciting "race riots", and after he hijacks the Enterprise to help him return the fugitive to their planet, they discover it had long since destroyed itself in a race war. Despite this, they just keep fighting and descend to their ruined world, after which a dejected Kirk orders the Enterprise home.
An episode of Enterprise featured a slightly updated version of the same basic plot - a War on Terror allegory instead of a Civil Rights one, and not quite as Anvilicious - with the titular ship getting caught in the middle of a war started by religious schism over whether creation took nine days or ten. At the end of the episode, it turns out their civilisation had destroyed itself, just like the previous incident.
The Star Trek episode "A Taste of Armageddon" has neighboring planets Eminar and Vendikar fighting for the silliest reason of all: it's easier to continue their centuries-long computer-simulated war than it is to organize a cease-fire. If it weren't for the executions, it'd be just a game. When Kirk destroys the computer, they quickly come to a peace treaty, since they have no actual hostility or disputes.
The Tomorrow People: "The Blue and the Green" has most of the world's population on the verge of mass violence and riots between those who preferred the color blue to those who preferred the color green. It eventually turned out that this was being psychically induced by the onset of the pupal stage in a brood of aliens left as eggs on Earth during the fall of Rome. The Tomorrow People save both the aliens and the Earth by knocking everyone on the planet unconscious and giving them violent dreams to provide the necessary psychic energy to the aliens in a comparatively harmless way.
Averted in The West Wing as Kate Harper finds a way to defuse the situation, but the buildup of tensions after Canadian ranchers take American hunters hostage leads to a rather amusing B-story.
Homer's Iliad. Yes, a ten-year siege over a jilted husband. No-one questions this enough to stop fighting in the original, but commentary from Euripides onwards pulled the thread of that logic, e.g.:
Hector: She is not worth what she doth cost the keeping.
While it seems a silly reason now, it wasn't then. The men were just keeping their oath. Every man who wanted to be a suitor for Helen had to agree to abide by her father's decision and defend the right of the chosen husband should anyone try anything funny. Also, Menelaus inherited his throne via his marriage to Helen - if he doesn't get her back, he loses the right to rule.
Also, Paris kidnapped Helen while being a guest at Menelaus' home, a breach of hospitality. For most ancient societies, Sacred Hospitality was Serious Business (to the point that, in the Iliad, two warriors on opposing sides ditched the battle to celebrate upon learning the grandfather of one of them had been guest of the grandfather of the other), and a prince kidnapping a queen while being a guest was a perfectly acceptable reason for war. Menelaus declared war for that (and his right to rule, but would have done the same even if it didn't depend from Helen), Agamemnon joined him because it was his brother who had been besmirched by this breach, and the rest of the Greeks joined due their oath or because they were Agamemnon's subordinates.
Herodotus cites this absurdity as evidence for a slightly different theory about the Trojan War. Egyptian priests told Herodotus that Helen never made it to Troy, because she and Paris were shipwrecked in Egypt along the way, and the Egyptians decided to hold onto Helen for her husband until he came to get her. The Greeks think the Trojans are just lying when they say that Helen is not in Troy, hence the ten year war. Herodotus argues that this makes more sense than Homer's version, because the King of Troy "assuredly was not so mad, nor yet the others of his house, that they were desirous to run risk of ruin for themselves and their children and their city, in order that [Paris] might have Helen as his wife"
Thersites, a commoner in the Mycenean army, calls Agamemnon out on this at one point, telling the Myceneans they should go home and let their king deal with his own problems, especially since the elites in the army help themselves to plunder and women captured by the common soldiers. Oddyseus promptly beats Thersites with a staff for this, telling him that commoners need to shut up. At one point in the Iliad they even try it - Menelaus and Paris duel, with the winner getting Helen. Menelaus won, but then Aphrodite got a Trojan soldier to break the truce, restarting the war.
To make it even worse, one version of Greek Myth claims that the Trojan War was the first war among men, and that it was caused originally by the vanity of three goddesses, which, in turn, was started by Eris, who was angry for not being invited to a party. In short, going by this story, the long, bloody conflict was started out of spite and jealousy.
Warhammer 40,000 encourages this when players need to justify why the Ultramarines and Salamanders, two undisputably good Space Marine chapters in a setting filled with Black and Gray Morality, are fighting each other. Obviously they were sent to retrieve a holy relic independently of each other or something like that, now roll to see who goes first.
Something similar happens in the Dawn of War: Dark Crusade campaign - both General Alexander's 1st Kronus Regiment and Brother-Captain Thule of the Blood Ravens 4th Company are trying to liberate the planet Kronus for the Imperium. The problem is that Alexander refused Thule's order to evacuate his men (because the Blood Ravens are also after some chapter relics they want to keep secret), so the two end up clashing, which canonically ends with Alexander's death and Thule ordering the surviving Guardsmen shipped off to Segmentum command, with his compliments for following their orders. This move did not endear the Blood Ravens to Imperial Bureaucracy, coupled with their penchant for secrecy some organizations went so far as to call them heretics.
In other bits of background fluff, this is why the Imperial Guard tries (unsuccessfully) to adopt a standardized uniform across the countless regiments raised from across the galaxy - there have been occasions when two loyalist forces ended up fighting because they looked so different, each assumed the other was the enemy.
Orks (and Orcs) don't really need any reason to kill their enemies (or each other) beyond boredom, but they're good at finding justifications. For example, the two Greenskin gods are Gork and Mork, one the god of cunning brutality (he hits you when you're not looking), the other of brutal cunning (he hits you really hard even when you are looking). The question of which is which regularly leads to a happy round of religious warfare, at least until the Greenskins find something more interesting to fight.
The backstory of the late 90's spin-off gameGorkamorka involved a load of Orks stranded on a desert planet after their ship crash-landed. Repairs slowed as a civil war spread over which deity the vessel better resembled, to the point that the ship was destroyed. Afterward the name Gorkamorka was chosen as a compromise, and reconstruction nominally continued, though the "Gorkers" and "Morkers" kept fighting. A Downer Ending in any other universe, but here, it just kind of makes sense. Oh, and the world they landed on is strongly hinted to be aNecron Tomb World.
Meanwhile, in Warhammer Fantasy, just about any non-Black Orc unit has to make a Leadership test at the start of each turn they aren't in combat (called an Animosity test, in game). If they fail, they have a 1 in 6 chance of attacking the nearest friendly unit, a 1 in 6 chance of charging the nearest enemy unit, and a 4 in 6 chance of basically grinding their advance to a halt as they start bashing each other out of boredom. They'll even do this despite having a Black Orc Boss or Warboss in the unit... who will basically kill any troublemakers the first time they start punching each other up. And they can potentially go right back to doing this even after he cracks some heads together!
In Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Orcs have a special rule that requires them to make a willpower check to avoid picking a fight with the nearest Orc if given the slightest provocation to do so — with exceptions if any Black Orcs are nearby or the orc is already in melee with someone.
Also in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Bretonniannobles are noted to be notoriously thin-skinned and will war with each other for the silliest of reasons (such as an flippant insult) if not restrained by their liege lords. This is especially true in regions of Brettonia where there are no orcs or beastmen to fight. In fact, one particular pair of Feuding Families are still going at it over an alleged ravishing that happened several hundred years ago (if it happened at all) and which both sides claim to be the victimized party in. The feud is so formalized the time and place of any battles are agreed upon in advance, fought according to a timetable, and are apparently a great spectator sport for neighbouring nobility and peasants.
Dwarfs maintain the Book of Grudges, which lists every single slight against their race (Including any perceived slights incurred while settling an existing grudge, and any slights incurred while settling that grudge, ad infinitum), and are grimly dedicated to settling accounts by blood or compensation. This could very well mean that an army of Dwarfs will attack your keep because your great-great-grandfather uttered an ill-timed short joke. A White Dwarf battle report featured a Dwarf king leading a bloody siege against an Imperial noble because of his horrible betrayal of the Dwarf engineers who helped build the castle - the noble shortchanged them by twelve gold crowns. The hardcover Empire army book for 8th edition mentions a similar event happening in 2410, when dwarfs raze Fortress Kreighof to the ground after realising their payment was two and a half pennies short of the twelve dozen wagonloads of gold they had been given.
Though the empire-shattering war between the High Elves and Dwarfs might have been inevitable, and the main cause was a Dark Elven false flag operation that attacked a Dwarf caravan, it could have been avoided had the High Elven King not ordered that the Dwarf ambassador be shaved and sent home in disgrace. The Dwarfs refer to the ensuing conflict as the War of Vengeance, while the Elves call it the War of the Beard.
The hardcover Tomb Kings army book for 8th edition mentions the ongoing (it started in 210, Imperial Calender, so it's been raging for over 2300 years) "War of the Hammer", between dwarfs and the undead legions of King Alkharad. The cause? The Hammer of Algrim, an ancient dwarf-forged weapon. Problem is that it contains, as its centerpiece, a bronze coin minted for King Alkhared before the fall of Nehekhara. The dwarfs won't give it up because it was forged by a dwarf; the Tomb King refuses to lose one of his coins.
Any given Beholder in Dungeons & Dragons is engaged in a never-ending race war against any Beholders not of its breed, killing them on sight. While there are some varieties that are vastly different in terms of appearance and philosophy, they will fight over any difference at all, even ones that anyone other than a beholder would never notice. Of course, there is the true Beholder, whose form would clearly be the correct form for a beholder to have. Unfortunately, whenever any beholder sees it the thing looks exactly like them.
The Blood War has been tearing across the lower planes for eons, routinely spilling into many other planes, and the Baatezu and Tanar'ri see no reason to stop. Why? One side is Lawful Evil, and the other is Chaotic Evil. Evidently they've been fighting since the first moment they met. (There's evidence, however, that certain other parties encourage the war to continue, either for profit or because they really don't enjoy the prospect of the combatants deciding to attack them instead.)
Dwarf Fortress. "The War of Ignition was waged by The Imperial Fells on The Council of Lances. One of the most significant causes of the conflict was a dispute over the treatment of plants."
This is often the main cause of war between the elves and anyone else. Unless the anyone else involved is controlled by the player, in which case odds are that the war started because the player decided that the best economic resource to trade to the elven emissaries was MAGMA.
Players have also waged war on the underworld itself on the robust grounds of "why the hell not".
Team Fortress 2. The whole battle between RED and BLU is an Excuse Plot, a feud between two idiot brothers when their jerkass father gave them a bunch of worthless land for the exact, written reason of fighting over. Said brothers have constructed immortality machines in an attempt to outlive each other, and hired armies of mercenaries, all so they can conquer a bunch of gravel. The Mann vs Machine update has altered this situation, however...
Downplayed thanks to the Announcer, who secretly owns the controlling stock in both RED and BLU and used their resources to take over the world. She keeps RED's and BLU's mercs attacking each other so Redmond, Blutarch, and the rest of the planet don't notice.
At least the latter groups were raiding and killing each other well before the mascot's death (or before you have any quest relating to the war), and were in an arms buildup at the time of it. The mascot was just the final straw.
Battlefield Heroes. The nationals apparently cheated during an Olympic cycling event and then mocked the king's mustache. The royals proceed to launch a full-scale invasion.
Mystic Ark. We never find out exactly what started the longstanding feud between the crews of the Bloodhook and the Gunboss, but when the captains of the two ships are asked just what they were fighting for, neither one can offer any answer other than embarrassed silence.
The conflict between the Federation and the Revolutionaries in R-Type Tactics II: Operation Bitter Chocolate, thank to the newly found Excuse Plot. The reason they fight each other is nothing else but the dispute over the Force Device weapon system with the R-Fighters. Still, they both fight the real evil against them both - the Bydo.
In the Zork games, a bloody war was fought between the city-states of Phee and Bor. What was it over? Whether the name of the river that started near Phee and ended near Bor should be named Pheebor or Borphee.
Pokémon Black and White. The two brothers destroyed Unova in a battle over what was arguably a theoretical debate on philosophy.
Not even that. The brothers were fighting over whether it was better to live your life according to your ideals, or to live your life searching for the truth. The brothers weren't even fighting over specific ideals; they were just fighting over the concept of ideals themselves.
While we're on the topic of Pokémon, let's not even get into the idiocy that is the Team Magma / Team Aqua war. One side wants to dry up all the oceans because more land is good for Pokemon. The other wants to flood the entire landmass because more water is good for Pokemon.
Europa Universalis is played between nations; declaring war on another nation requires a casus belli ('cause for aggression') which can take a number of forms and has different effects on the peace settlements that result from the war. The 'Diplomatic Insult' casus belli can be used to attack a nation that has recently insulted you (over border disputes, recent aggression against their neighbors, buttering toast on the wrong side...) The resulting conflict is called a War of Honor and only has one effect on the peace: double the normal Prestige gain for making them admit defeat.
However, since the winning nation doesn't have to demand what they actually declared for, it's possible to have a war over an insult that results in the defeated nation being totally annexed. Don't insult France, kids, it's not worth it.
In Runescape, the goblin village is locked in a conflict over which armor color to wear, green or red. It is up to the player to resolve the conflict. These being goblins, in the end they decide on brown, the color that their armor originally had before they started fighting over red and green.
In Terraria, you may frequently find yourself stuck in the middle of a goblin invasion, which can result in the wholesale slaughter of your NPCs, and which only ends after the player has killed dozens of goblins. According to the pacifist Goblin Tinkerer, the goblins are waging war over cloth (which is also a reference to the fact that you can summon an invasion with the Goblin Battle Standard.)
Played for Drama in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. On the surface, the Civil War is about religious freedom, the Empire having signed a treaty with the Thalmor outlawing the worship of Talos. The Stormcloaks accuse the Empire of being oppressive elven puppets, and the Empire accuses the Stormcloaks of being racist traitors. The thing is, the Empire never really enforced the Talos ban except in the most flagrantly public cases, and before the Civil War just about every home in Skyrim had a shrine to Talos so they could worship in private. And EVERYONE hates the Thalmor. So in practice, the war is between those who want to worship Talos openly and make war on the elves now, and those who want to worship Talos in private until the Empire has the strength to fight the elves later. To make things even worse, some characters imply that the late High King Torygg may very well have agreed with Stormcloak leader Ulfric about openly defying the Talos ban, if Ulfric had just asked him instead of Shouting at him until his head exploded.
In Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm, the Kuma (bear-like beastmen) and Fairies are fighting over the Posporia Alterworld, and trade dominance back and forth over the game. Why are they fighting? Because the Fairies wrote all over the Kuma Chief's clothes as a prank, and the Kuma thought the Fairies had issued a challenge. Now both sides fight because they've been fighting for so long. Their young get together in neutral zones and commiserate over how idiotic they think their parents are acting.
In Star Control, the humans and Very Ugly Xenoforms go to war because a human called an alien "ugly". This had actual plot impact. (If the human commander insults a Spathi's appearance, the Spathi will merely insult them back.) In addition, the Orz got *frumple* and *danced* with the Androsynth (and can go to war with the human commander) if you ask them the wrong questions. The Ilwrath sparked wars For the Evulz and the player can literally force them to commit mutual genocide with another race just by messing with their broadcasts.
The entire conflict in Red vs. Blue is initially presented as two color-coded teams fighting to control two bases in a box canyon, and a rare example where those involved in the conflict are fully aware of how silly it is (except for Sarge and Caboose). But later it's revealed that the real reason for the war is to give the Freelancers as many combat scenarios as possible, and that the soldiers recruited for the war were all military rejects who were put there as Cannon Fodder.
The Finley/Lashway war in The Overture began over a dispute as to who owned desolate rock. Desolate Rock is exactly what its name implies; a small, mile long island in the middle of the ocean with no natural resources or strategic value.
In Antihero for Hire, the main character is up on a space station prison where there is a turf war between the orange-shirted prisoners and the blue-shirted prisoners, for no other reason then the differences in their shirts. They admit that they're doing this because there's not much else to do.
Invoked on the first page of Gone with the Blastwave, as part of establishing the setting. The protagonists are fighting a war. But all the land is ruined, money is useless since there's nothing left to spend it on, and it's not about religion... so, why do they fight? To win the war.
Thisxkcd strip presents a gang war about to break out over a question of punctuation.
In one Kevin & Kell storyline, carnivore propaganda splits rabbit society into antagonistic "ears up" and "ears down" factions. The purpose is to ensure no-one will support Kevin's place on the Rabbit Council (since he has one floppy ear).
The Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Great Divide" combines this with The Rashomon, with Aang trying to settle an ancient grudge between two gangs, neither one of which can agree on what started the grudge. Since there was no way to know which side was right or wrong, Aang just fibs and tells both tribes the "real" story, exonerating both sides in the dispute over who started the grudge and making them think the reason for being at odds really was a silly one after all. The Aesop of the episode was that, no matter what the reason, you shouldn't hold grudges forever.
A Ben 10: Alien Force episode did this quite poorly, coupling it with They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot about opportunistic arms sales. They go to this planet, first it looks like the (comically identical) aliens are fighting over being different colors, then each gives the "self-defense" excuse, then it appears to be a religious squabble, THEN both generals admit to using war as a scapegoat for all their problems. In the end they don't even bother to solve it.
Well, Ben pulls a Take a Third Option by accidentally destroying the giant statue of their former united leader (while trying to paint it purple to stop the Blue Vs. Red war), turning both sides against HIM. The episode ends with the same little alien girl who wrote to Ben asking for help at the beginning, writing him a letter about how much she hates him now (but she does reveal that her world has finally found internal peace as they unify to against their new common enemy)
In "The Doonkleberry Imperative", the boys discover that all the industry in Drusselstein is powered by "the Shaft", which is powered by bunnies running on treadmills. The Shaft has recently upgraded from "bunny power" to "goat power", but the nation has split into two factions who can't agree on which direction the goats powering the Shaft should walk, and as a result the Shaft has ground to a halt. The two eventually resolve things, and the grateful citizens plan to celebrate Phineas and Ferb's help with a holiday in their honor... but as soon as the boys leave, the Drusselsteinians immediately begin arguing over whether to call it "Phineas and Ferb Day" or "Ferb and Phineas Day".
Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures: The episode about the Jersey Devil has the Quest team encounter two families who are descendants of the Redcoats and Minutemen and fighting over possession of the original Declaration of Independence. Dr. Quest resolves the conflict by explaining that they've lived in the deep woods so long they don't realize the Revolutionary War has ended ~200 years prior and they agree to live peacefully with each-other.
The Simpsons did it, not for war but for religion. Flanders explains that the bad blood between their religion (The Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism) and Catholicism goes back to when the former split off from the Catholic Church over the right to attend services with wet hair... which they've since abolished.
In the episode where Bart becomes a Catholic (The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star) and there's a fight between churches to make him pick the "right" one he comes to the conclusion that the minor differences aren't important and that they should bond over the big similarities. A thousand years into the future, Bart is considered the last prophet of God and two factions are at war over whether Bart's teachings were about love and tolerance, or understanding and peace.
An episode of South Park set 1000 years in the future shows a huge war between three atheist factions (who each speak of how silly it was for people to fight for religious reasons in the past). By the end, it's revealed that the war was over what name to call the atheist society.
Plus the otters felt that eating off of tables was stupid when you had nice furry bellies.
VeggieTales did an anti-prejudice storyline involving two nations on the other side of a mountain who were at war because one of the nations wanted to wear shoes on their heads, and the other wanted to wear cooking utensils on their heads. (It was also an adaptation of "The Parable of the Good Samaritan".)
In an episode of The Wild Thornberrys, Eliza and Darwin end up on opposite sides of a war between two groups of monkeys who fight each other because one troop has stubby tails and the other has long tails. They attempt to reason with them, and finally Eliza gets them to see eye to eye when she makes them armor out of coconuts, which means they don't figure out who is on which side until after they fight.
The 1941 Merrie Melodies cartoon "The Fighting 69-1/2th" had two armies of ants at war over a picnic. At the conclusion, the family packs up their picnic, leaving behind a chocolate cake. The two ant generals decide to call a truce and divide the cake evenly, and the truce doesn't last long. The two generals are at odds over who gets the cherry on top, and it leads to yet another war.
In Family Guy, Ernie the Giant Chicken and Peter Griffin started a running series of battles over an expired coupon. In a later battle, the two make up and have dinner, but then fight for the right to pay for the meal.
Note: While many of these wars were caused by ridiculous things, they are often the culmination of larger tensions between two enemy states that may go back for generations.
Whilst the reasons for the War of 1812 were not especially silly in and of themselves, what makes it silly is that the British had actually ended the trade practices and policies of impressment that caused the war in the first place. Unfortunately, news traveled slowly back then, and by the time the good news reached America, they had already invaded Canada and destroyed any chance for peace.
Of course the reasons given by the Americans were actually mostly an excuse, as largely Southern politicians were looking for what they thought would be trivial and easy territorial expansion (famously stated as "A mere matter of marching"—it wasn't). Ironically, one of the legitimate American complaints, that the British were arming native groups opposing the westward expansion of settlers out of the new United States, almost never gets mentioned these days, possibly due to modern sentiments that the Indians were justly trying to protect themselves.
One thing making this whole exercise even sillier was that there were bits of Canada for which conquest might well have ended up "a mere matter of marching," namely Lower Canada (i.e. Quebec)...but the Americans never actually bothered with that, because that would entail marching through and getting supplies from New York State and New England, where the people were anti-war Federalists and the hawks were mostly Democrats.
To make it even more ironic, the Battle of New Orleans, considered by most to be America's greatest victory in the conflict, was actually fought a little over a week after the war technically ended, due to the signing and ratification of the Treaty of Ghent. (Again, slow methods of communication were at fault here.) Despite the fact that the battle was technically fought for nothing, it was seen by most Americans as a great victory and proof that they had won the war, and Andrew Jackson, who commanded the American forces, was regarded as a hero as a result, which among other things, contributed to him becoming President later.
The Pastry War of 1838. A Franco-Mexican war that expanded to include Great Britain and United States. During the course of the conflict, France captured almost the entire Mexican fleet, the Republic of Texas moved further into the orbit of the USA, and former Mexican dictator Santa Anna was wounded in a clash with Mexican soldiers, paving the way for him to return to power. In the end, the British intervened and forced Mexico to pay France the 600,000 pesos compensation that France had demanded in the first place. Compensation for what, you may ask? The property of a French baker in Mexico having been damaged by Mexican army officers, 10 years previously.
The Nika Riots of 532 AD, when supporters of two rival teams of chariot racing (supported by two different Christian sects) broke out in fighting that ended up snowballing into riots that burned half the city of Constantinople and a full-fledged coup attempt, and resulted in the deaths of thousands massacred by the professional army. Chariot racing was Serious Business — it was closely tied to Imperial politics and the legal system to such an extent that toughs representing a team that was in favor often had nothing to fear from law enforcement, almost regardless of what they did.
"The Football War" was a brief four-day war between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969 that started with a soccer riot. 3000 people (soldiers and civilians) died and 300,000 people were displaced. However, this is more a case of the riot lighting the fuse on existing tensions than actually going to war over the match.
Whilst the degree of collateral damage rarely approaches the same level as the above two examples, team sports in general count as a pretty silly reason for mass riots. Usually subverted in practice, however, as the game's outcome is merely a pretext for violence mostly fueled by Misplaced Nationalism and/or historical bad blood; Glasgow-based football teams Rangers and Celtic are a famous example of the latter, having become the focal point of the city's longstanding sectarian tensions.
In the Han dynasty, a brief war erupted between the nobles of the royal family due to a game of weiqi: the losing royal pitched a fit and beaned his playing buddy to death with the board; the grieving father blamed the other boy's father for being a terrible host and attacked.
Though not a war, exactly, the violent Hatfield-McCoy feud, which lasted over ten years and caused a number of deaths, is popularly believed to have started over ownership of a hog. However, the families did not like each other even before then and while significant, the Pig Incident was just one of the many disputes between the two clans. The feud proper started after three McCoy brothers shot dead Anse Hatfield's brother in a drunken brawl and Anse then summarily executed them.
By some accounts, the rebellion of William Wallace began because some English soldiers tried to steal his fish and he killed some of them, so they put a warrant out for his arrest. And his wife was killed for hiding him, which is why he went to the nearby fort and burned it down.
In 1325, Italy was still divided into city-states. A regiment of solders from the city-state of Modena invaded Bologna to steal a brown, oak bucket. During the raid, several hundred Bolognese citizens were killed by the Modenese troops. The ensuing war lasted 12 years. Modena won, and still has the bucket. It's still on display in Modena's cathedral tower, the "Ghirlandina". Here's a photo.
The true reason for the battle of Zappolino was the control of the region during the war between Guelphs and Ghibellines (which definitely counts as Serious Business) and the bucket was taken as a mock trophy when the battle, although bloody, ended in the stalemate. This is also exactly the reason that a large battle (comparable with battles of Agincourt or Tannenberg numbers-wise) is largely unknown and usually mentioned only in reference to the mock-heroic poem written three centuries later.
Downplayed in 1859 with "the Pig War", when an American farmer on the San Juan Islands near Vancouver, Canada, disputed between the US and Britain, killed a British-owned pig rooting in his garden. British authorities tried to arrest the farmer, and the American community on the islands called for US protection. When both sides realized that it was insane to "involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig," in the words of the British commander on the scene, they set up a joint military presence and called in German mediation. (Which eventually decided in favor of the Americans.)
In 1900, in what is now Ghana, a war broke out between the British and Ashanti Empires over a golden stool. To the Ashanti, the golden stool was an object of immense cultural and spiritual significance, representing the souls of all Ashanti, dead, living, and unborn. The British governor, Frederick Hodgson, was unaware of this, believing it was simply a throne and rather unfortunately demanded the Ashanti hand it over so that he could sit on it. The result: 3,000 deaths, the dissolution of the Ashanti Empire, and the British never found the stool. The Ashanti to this day consider it a win, since their objective has been fulfilled — no Brit sat on it.
In fact, the Ashanti were happy, since they had already been defeated by the British in another war, for Queen Victoria to sit on the stool, seeing as she was ruler of the British Empire and someone they saw as a equal and victor. Hodgson? Not so much...
The Macedonia naming dispute. Now, none of those countries have openly declared they want each other's territories (although Greece is afraid of an implied Macedonian expansion). This is more the political equivalent of a Flame War.
Originally, the pre-conquest Mesoamericans had a general agreement to not begin a war until a messenger had been sent to the enemy and announced the reason why war was being declared. This worked just fine for a time, but after the Aztecs and their desperateneed for war prisoners came to power, wars began to be declared so often that they soon ran out of good excuses, and the reasons became increasingly sillier. For example, in 1473 the Aztec emperor declared war on the king of Tlatelolco (who was his brother-in-law) because he didn't sleep with his wife often enough and that made her sad - the king was thrown off Tlatelolco's main temple and his state annexed to the Aztec Empire. It's safe to assume that everybody else eventually ran out of excuses too, because by the time the Spanish showed up, all the surviving states had agreed to have some limited wars with each other each few years, the "flowery wars", with no single purpose but to provide sacrifice victims to everybody.
This came back to bite the Aztecs hard - their neighbors had long memories, and when the Spanish made it clear they were willing to beat down the Aztecs, everyone around them basically said, "You know what? We don't like them, either. Let's be friends!"
One of the many incidents over Chaco in South America was inflamed by a postage stamp showing it as part of Paraguay.
Let's stress the fact that the main reason Paraguay and Bolivia had a conflict over Chaco in the first place was because they had been told that the area was likely rich in oil fields by rival oil firms aiming to exploit it. After the war, it turned out it wasn't.
Subverted and Lampshaded by one King of Prussia who was angry with the King of England. He wanted to issue a challenge to a Duel to the Death on the grounds that their respective kingdoms had no interest in it, so they shouldn't be dragged in. The Obstructive Bureaucrats were of course appalled by this display of comparative common sense. The King of Prussia was still angry but unwilling to start a war over it. So he comforted himself by exchanging insults with the King of England.
Following World War One, relations between Greece and Bulgaria were rather strained. One day, a dog ran away from his owner in Greece over the border into Bulgaria, and his owner, a soldier, ran after him. The soldier was shot dead by Bulgarian sentries. The resulting war was called "The War of the Stray Dog."
In 1976, Operation Paul Bunyan was started because two US Army officers were killed. This operation included two eight man tree trimming squads backed up by three platoons of soldiers with a supporting company waiting in helicopters. This was further backed up by major air support including an aircraft carrier. The reason? They were chopping down a tree in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Granted, South Korea and North Korea had quite a lot of tension between them, this was supposedly a scheduled trimming. Note that the high level of military force was intended as a deterrent to prevent a more serious conflict from erupting.
This wasn't quite as silly as it initially seems. A previous work detail had been sent out to chop down the tree, which was blocking the view of a South Korean observation post, when they were attacked by DPRK troops. The massive show of force was basically to dare the North Koreans to mess with them a second time.
And, the first detail was hacked to death by North Koreans, so Operation Paul Bunyon was less about over-kill for security in trimming a tree as it was about protecting the lives of the men sent to trim the tree after two men were killed.
The War of Jenkins' Ear: Britain was looking for an excuse to go to war with Spain, and someone eventually pointed out that eight years earlier, Spanish coast guards had boarded a English ship, captained by the aforementioned Jenkins, and cut off his ear. Parliament was duly outraged, war was declared, and its events partially caused the Seven Years’ War. Final result: three wars and two million dead over an ear.
There's even considerable doubt about whether Jenkins really lost his ear that way in the first place.
The Dog Tax War, the last of the Maori wars fought in 1898. The Hokianga County Council in New Zealand introduced a tax of 2/6d on dogs, the local Maori rose in armed protest and a short military campaign was fought. The war was bloodless and the upshot was the dog tax stayed.
In 1870, the throne of Spain was offered to a Prussian prince. The French government vehemently objected, so the Prussian prince withdrew his candidacy. Then the French government demanded that Prussian government never allow such an offer to occur again. The Germans refused. The French declared war on Prussia (despite Prussia's bigger army). Prussia quickly defeated the French, taking Alsace-Lorraine. The festering dispute over Alsace-Lorraine helped cause both world wars.
Interestingly enough, both the Prussian king and the French emperor Napoleon III (nephew of the first) realized it was a really silly pretext for war and were slowly backing down, but Bismarck, who wanted a war to kickstart the German unification, published part of their messages, enflaming German public opinion over the perceived harsh language (thanks to Bismarck's cautious editing of what got published). That in turn enflamed French public opinion because they thought it was a perfectly legitimate request (because last time someone ruled over Germany and Spain at the same time, France got crushed in a war and nearly wiped off the map), who forced the government to declare war. Napoleon III is recalled complaining about this a few days before he had to sign the declaration.
Speaking of Bismarck "Europe today is a powder keg and the leaders are like men smoking in an arsenal ... A single spark will set off an explosion that will consume us all ... I cannot tell you when that explosion will occur, but I can tell you where ... Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans will set it off".
One common subversion is an incident that knocks the Balance of Power out of kilter. It might well be ignored except for the slight superiority of resources and prestiege that is just enough to frighten other powers into thinking it a threat.
Not one yet, but the current Senkaku/Diaoyu/Tiaoyutai/Pinnacle (Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese and English name respectively), has become a point of contention between Japan and the People's Republic of China (and Taiwan). Granted, much of it has to do with the rise of nationalism and current political disputes since World War II.
"On Holy Wars and a Plea for Peace" Is a famous essay by Danny Cohen on whether data should be transmitted from the most-significant bit to the least-significant bit or vice versa. It draws heavily on Gulliver's Travels down to the names for the sides: Big-Endian (most significant first) and Little-Endian (least significant first). To this day, those are the "official" names of those groups.
North Korea once claimed that South Korea had broken the ceasefire treaty when soldiers erected a Christmas tree on the southern side of the DMZ.