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The Short War

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Mike: Because [the war] lasted seven hours, that's why! Most people are at work longer than that. That means that in less time than it takes for Joe Average to clock in and clock out at the office, the aliens conquered the whole Earth whereas all Joe did was make some spreadsheets.
Dave: Well, that's because they caught us off guard.
Mike: Okay, let's say we were ready for them, then what? We call it the Ten Hour War?

A war is a large undertaking, with the armed conflict between two groups usually taking a lot of resources and time to resolve. Where time is concerned, most large international wars take months to years, and in extreme cases they may drag on and on for far longer than that.

...But on the other hand, you may have the opposite of a Forever War: when the conflict is over in an improbably short time. This may be because the war was a Curb-Stomp Battle, because a surrender or truce was reached before there was a chance to do much fighting, or because everybody blew each other up quickly.

Depictions of the latter case became more common after the advent of nuclear weapons, since with the ability to level cities in an instant it became a very real possibility that vast destruction could be wrought in a comparatively tiny amount of time. Hence a war that lasts mere hours may end up being far more devastating than one that drags on for years, depending on the weapons used.

Contrast with Home by Christmas, which is when people anticipate a quick and easy victory but it turns out not to be so simple.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • 52: The comic featured one issue titled "World War III". Since each issue of 52 represented one week of a year, World War III lasted a little under a week. Also notable in that the war was basically everyone versus one Flying Brick, making an unusually small fighting force.
  • Killraven: The second war of the worlds, also known as the "One Day War", because of how easily the Martians managed to curb-stomp humanity a second time around. It didn't help when mankind tried using nukes and biological weapons, which the Martians were unaffected by.
  • Superman: The year-long New Krypton story arc concluded with a storyline titled "The 100 Hour War", which detailed the "War" between Earth and New Krypton.

    Fan Works 
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Eclipse, reference is made to a Six Hour War between the ponies and dragons—and the prequel Of Dragons and Horses, Songs and Solace directly shows the war. Essentially, the dragon army gathers to invade Equestria, without any declaration of war or other warning. The ponies learn of the planned invasion by dumb luck, so Celestia leads a pony counter-attack in the dead of night, with a magically-created storm supporting them. They take the dragons by surprise and completely rout them.
  • In the Parody Fic Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space, there's a veteran of the Six Second War.
  • In Earth's Alien History, the Alpha Centauri War, also called the Second Fithp War, lasts 75 hours from opening hostilities to the Fithp's official surrender to the Earth forces.
  • Friendship is Witchcraft: If the lyrics to 'How Applejack Won The War' are to be taken seriously, Applejack won said war in only four days, going on the full offensive the whole time and undertaking only about one battle each day, taking no prisoners all the while. In the present day, she looks back fondly on these days as some of her best, in contrast to Rarity's Shell-Shocked Veteran.
  • Peace of Mind, Piece of Heart: According to Steven, when he first entered The Chocolate Car, four kinds of chocolate were in a long-standing civil war. Steven managed to end the conflict in a week. Catra, who herself just came from the middle of a decade-spanning conflict, is incredulous.
    "So, yeah. How did you end a war in a week?" asked Catra. Then, sarcastically, "Positive energy and the power of friendship?"

  • In Battlefield Earth, the Psychlos claim to have crushed all of humanity's military and defenses in only 9 minutes.
  • A Boy and His Dog opens with a title card saying that World War IV only took five days, "just long enough for the final missiles to leave their silos on both sides" as Blood says later. However World War III lasted thirty-three years (though that includes the Cold War as well).
  • The War of 1996 from Independence Day lasts from July 2 to July 4, though supplementary material and the sequel make it clear that conflicts against alien survivors last for several years.
  • Every single on-screen conflict in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Chitauri invasion in The Avengers, for instance, lasts twenty minutes (it was later stated that it actually lasted a few hours). The Outrider/Black Order invasion in Avengers: Infinity War, slightly longer. Thanos throwing everything he has at Earth in Avengers: Endgame, about 30 minutes.
  • Aquaman (2018): King Orm's Atlanteans obtain the surrender of the Brine Kingdom about 55 seconds after beginning their invasion.
  • Star Wars: the Naboo Crisis, the central conflict of The Phantom Menace. The EU specifies that the blockade lasted about a month, while the invasion itself was around a week. It abruptly ends when the Trade Federation's droids are revealed as a Keystone Army.
  • Superman: Red Son. Premier Superman declares he's going to 'liberate' the Korean peninsula from US imperialism. With Superman acting in direct support of communist forces, it doesn't take long.
    Newsreader: The last war was over in three years. This one was over in three hours.

  • There is an old Russian joke about some Soviet region convincing Moscow to give them independence for ten minutes. The first five minutes are used to announce war on America, the next five, to surrender.

  • The Lord of the Rings: the epic Age-ending War of the Ring lasts about a month from Saruman's first attack on Rohan to the Ring being destroyed at Mount Doom.
  • Edgar Pangborn's Still I Persist in Wondering is a collection of stories set in a After the End North America after events known as the 30 Minute War and the Red Plague.
  • The 60 Minute War in Mortal Engines. Given the state it left the world in, you have to wonder just what kind of weapons they were using.
  • In The Mouse That Roared the fighting part of the war between the US and the Duchy of Grand Fenwick lasts less than half a day. The US barely has time to find out that they're even at war before they find out they lost. Of course, Grand Fenwick had been hoping the war would be short, but that they would lose (They wanted Marshall Plan aid). But the declaration of war was lost in the post, so when no attacks came to them, they launched a token attack on New York, which managed to seize a next-generation atomic bomb that could wipe out half a continent, forcing the US to surrender.
  • Discworld
    • Jingo: The war between Ankh-Morpork and Al Khali over the newly risen island of Leshp, which is unhelpfully equidistant between them, is commenced by decree of the Oblong Office while both navies are still on opposite sides of the Circle Sea. Ankh-Morpork's fighting force does make it to Al Khali, but Vetinari surrenders before the two armies have the chance to meet in pitched battle. The most that happens is a small skirmish between their scouting parties. All in all, the two principalities are officially at war for less than a week. And the twist? Vetinari cedes the island to the Klatchian government, in return for some very generous trade treaty concessions, because he knows it's going to sink again in a matter of days.
    • The Ankh-Morpork Civil War ran from 8:32 pm on the 3rd of Grune to 10:45 am on the 4th of Grune 1688 AM, being generally agreed to have ended once the city was set on fire, although that used to happen about once a month anyway.
  • In the 1975 novel Z for Zachariah, World War III took only two weeks to depopulate (and poison) most of the world.
  • Free Men by Robert A. Heinlein has an Invaded States of America after the "20 Minute War". In Sixth Column the PanAsian's launch a surprise attack that defeats an isolationist United States in little more than a day.
  • Free Flight by Douglas Terman is set in a Soviet-occupied North America after the Seven Hour War.
  • Akropolis by Matt Wallace. The United States government discovers that the Chinese are planning to ally themselves with the eponymous eldritch city and decide This Means War! The next paragraph is only: The war lasts approximately 18 hours. This is foreshadowed when the US military first tried to assault the Akropolis, only for the attackers to get turned to ash without the city's inhabitants even noticing that anything had happened.
  • In volume 2 of How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom, King Souma of Elfrieden defeats two rebelling dukes in a Civil War with two battles on consecutive days, then turns around and uses the rest of the week to entrap and destroy the army of neighboring Amidonia that tried to invade while he was distracted and occupies half their country. We are told that later historians alternately call the conflict either the Three-Front War, or the One-Week War.
  • The War Against the Chtorr. When the Fourth World lands an Army of Economic Liberation on the Gulf Coast, the United States wipes it out in less than twenty hours thanks to a combination of top-secret cyber-beast technology and Trojan Horse computer chips that self-destruct on command (which the US had been selling to the Fourth World for decades). The invasion is so short the protagonist only finds out about it as a Noodle Incident related to him after he returns from being captured by renegades.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Leisure Hive", the Argolians are a sterile, dying race because of the radiation damage they sustained in a conflict known as "The Twenty Minute War".
    • In "The Doctor's Daughter", the two sides of a war use cloning to increase their manpower. They say that the war has gone on for countless generations. In a certain sense that's true, but The Reveal is that the war has been going on for only seven days.
  • In The Outer Limits (1963) episode "Demon with a Glass Hand", a Time Traveling alien invader boasts to the hero that "One thousand years in the future, we conquered your planet in nineteen days!"
  • The Klingon/Federation war in Star Trek: The Original Series only lasts the duration of the episode "Errand of Mercy", courtesy of the Organians forcing a stop to it.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: The first Borg invasion lasted a few days, though it did involve the devastating Battle of Wolf 359.
  • On Colony, it's mentioned that it only took the "Hosts" a grand total of eight hours to completely obliterate the combined militaries of the world. Somewhat subverted as the second season reveals many in the government knew of the Hosts since 1969 and rather than try to fight them, made plans to let them win and work under them to save as much of humanity as possible.
  • The Outer Limits (1995):
    • In "The Deprogrammers", the Torkor conquered Earth in a little over a week.
    • In "Final Appeal", the War of 2059 took place over the course of several days in June of that year. Due to the widespread use of nuclear weapons, 80% of the Earth's population were killed.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Shadowrun: The Ten Minute War started on September 10, 2004, with an unprovoked chemical attack on Israel by Libya. It ended shortly afterward with the nuclear destruction of Libya's three largest cities, including Tripoli, killing millions and leading to the complete collapse of Libya as a state.

    Video Games 
  • In Half-Life 2, the Combine conquered Earth in the "7 Hour War". In Episode 2, after City 17 has exploded and rebels are rising left and right, Dr Eli Vance says that if the Combine manage to open their superportal and summon reinforcements, the rebels won't last seven minutes.
  • Before the Great War in Fallout we had the Sino-American War that started when China invaded Alaska. It lasted 11 years before nuclear weapons were used, so it's an aversion. There were also other major conflicts raging in Europe and elsewhere between different nations in the run up to the Atomic Hate as well. In 2077, missiles started flying and all nuclear armed nations quickly responded, resulting in what the series knows as the Great War. The Great War only lasted about 2 hours (thus playing this trope straight), but it destroyed human society, killed many of the poeple and created the nuclear wasteland the series is famous for. Even 200 years later, most major cities (like Washingtion, D.C.) are still chaotic ruins terrorized by outlaws and other ruthless types, though the New California Republic has apparently rebuilt most of it's territory.
  • According to the manual of Star Control, the Ur-Quan subjugated the Spathi after just 6 hours of fighting.
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords has the Onderon Civil War, which begins after General Vaklu rallies his supporters to overthrow his cousin, Queen Talia. Although the Queen and her supporters have most of the military still on their side, Vaklu has an alliance with the Sith that evens things out. When you arrive at the Mandalorian base on Dxun, one of Mandalore's aides tells you Vaklu began the war with his coup attempt that very morning. And after you help whichever faction you sided with in an earlier visit to victory, it seems that the war lasted for about a day. Canonically, the loyalists won with the player characters support and most of the fighting consisted of the player character and the team blasting through the coup forces and the Sith expedition on the moon. Handfuls of traitors retreated with the Sith and were defeated in the next mission, so technically the Onderon Civil War got extended by a couple of days.
  • Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory features a war between North Korea and South Korea that lasts less than a week, abruptly ending when Sam Fisher proves that it started with a False Flag Operation by a rogue Japanese admiral.
  • The backstory of the Trails Series had the Hundred Days War between Liberl and Erebonia, which literally lasted one hundred days between Erebonia invading and Liberl pushing them out of the country, mainly because Liberl was the first nation to have an air force and anti-aircraft weaponry hadn't been invented yet. The civil war in the second game of the The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel subseries lasted just over two months before the capital was retaken, due to the fact that the man in charge of the northern front wasn't all that interested in the war and the man in charge of the eastern front offended all his allies to the point where they abandoned him.
    • Cold Steel IV's world war lasts all of two days. This becomes a plot point in the prologue of The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie where some disgruntled soldiers wanted to restart the world war as they believe they could have won against the Republic of Calvard - never mind that the reason the war was called off was the revelation that the Pretext for War was a False Flag Operation, and that Erebonia had no legitimate grounds to invade Calvard in the first place.
  • The Reaper War in Mass Effect lasts around three months. This would be really short even by Earth standards, but consider that this war involved the conquest of an entire galaxy, and you start to see how ridiculous it is. Single planets such as Earth fall in literal minutes.
  • Backstory for Relicta mentions a "Seventy-Two Minute War", which was just long enough for the Manna-III lunar base to be depopulated.
  • Persona 4 has an in-class question about how short the world's shortest war was- the Anglo-Zanzibar War, as described in Real Life. The teacher notes that the war is shorter than the class period.

    Web Original 
  • The Innocent: The war between children and adults lasts for just months, and many countries surrender in a matter of days.
  • What If? considers some very short real-life wars while trying to find the war with the highest ratio of movie time to actual wartime: [1]

    Real Life 
  • The shortest conflict officially considered a war was the Anglo-Zanzibar War, which, depending on how you count it, lasted 38-45 minutes on August 27, 1896. For context: during that time, Zanzibar was under the control of a British protectorate and ruled by the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini. On August 25, Hamad suddenly died via poisoning, and his cousin Khalid bin Barghash immediately and illegitimately attempted to seize the position for himself (it's widely accepted that he in fact assassinated Hamad for the purpose, but it's never been officially proven), an act seen by the British as a casus belli. The British amassed two cruisers, three gunboats, 150 marines and sailors, 900 pro-Anglo Zanzibaris, and an ultimatum to Khalid to stand down and leave the palace at the capitol, only for Khalid — whose army consisted of about 2,800 untrained civilians and one yacht outfitted with a machine gun — to reject all offers to leave peacefully and remain hulled up in the palace to declare himself Sultan. Sure enough, Khalid's army and the palace were annihilated after a half-hour of noisenote . Regardless of whether you consider the end of the war the time the bombardment finally ceased or when the flag at the palace was taken down, the entire armed conflict began and was resolved in less than an hour.
  • The Russian-Georgian war of 2008, which is often called "The war of 08.08.08" (it actually lasted two weeks, and its active phase only five days).
  • India and Pakistan
    • The 1971 Indo-Pakistan War. After Pakistan launched surprise air attacks on several Indian military bases, India quickly retaliated and also joined the rebel forces in East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh. The war lasted just 13 days. Ending with an Indian victory and the independence of Bangladesh.
    • The Bangladesh Liberation War that this war was attached to, also lasted a short time, just 8 months between the time it started and the Indian intervention.
  • Europe has a history of having short wars. In fact, many believed that WWI would only last a couple of weeks.
    • During the first years of World War II, the German invasions of Poland and France were won in about a month each. The invasions of the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Norway were even quicker.
  • The Football War between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969 (sometimes nicknamed the 100 Hour War). It lasted just 4 days, but still caused 4,000 deaths and created side effects that were felt for years afterwards. It is also, notably, the last war in which both sides used piston engine frontline planes, such as the World War II era P-51 Mustang.
  • The original Persian Gulf War (a.k.a. Operation Desert Storm), which didn't make it past the month it had started and had the fewest casualties of any war with American involvement by the time Kuwait was liberated. While the preceding air campaign lasted weeks, Operation Desert Saber (the ground component of the Gulf War) lasted exactly 100 hours.
  • The Falklands War, which began the 2nd of April and ended the 14th of June 1982 (74 days).
  • The Ten-Day War between Yugoslavia and Slovenia.
  • The three wars that Prussia fought before becoming the German Empire were relatively short for their time: The Austro-Prussian War lasted for around two months (June to August). The war between Prussia and Denmark over Schleswig and Holstein lasted seven months (from February to October), and the Franco-Prussian War lasted nine months and three weeks (July to May) - and it was basically decided in one of its first battles (Sedan) when the French Emperor was captured by Prussian troops - everything after that was mop up operations against the French Third Republic declaring the monarchy over refusing to accept defeat. It got extended by a bit by the Republicans defeating the Paris Commune after a revolt over their own surrender to the now unified German Empire.
  • The reason why the Cold War lasted for as long as it did was because if the war heated up, nuclear weapons would make quick work of any capability to wage war. In fact, the United States believed that if they were ever attacked by the Soviets, only 3% of their nuclear forces would make it off the launch pad... so they built their forces to such a size where they could nuke the whole of Russia with 3 percent of their forces. The Russians were believed to have had enough missiles aimed at Cheyenne Mountain that the force would equal one gigaton of TNT or twenty times the single largest bomb ever detonated. With those kinds of numbers, it wouldn't be a matter that the war was stopped because of diplomacy, but because there would be nothing left to fight the war. It was better to diplomatically work out the problem than blowing up the entire planet because someone you didn't like was on the other side of it.
    • There was also some speculation during the 1980s that if Warsaw Pact forces decided to go conventional, they would use vast numbers to take West Berlin pretty quickly and then storm across Western Europe, with some speculative estimates saying that inside a week of the invasion starting, they would have conquered West Germany, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Again though, nuclear weapons put a stop to that one, however likely such a scenario would have been.
  • The Yom Kippur War of Israel (October 6-25, 1973). Even though the war was short, Israel's initial struggle and retreat (caused by a refusal to launch a preemptive strike, a decision taken from a mixture of overconfidence and PR considerations) served as a Shocking Defeat Legacy that made the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel (and the return of Sinai to Egypt) much more politically feasible. Even still, Israel ended up dominating its enemies militarily by the time the war was over, in part due to US armament support that wouldn't have been forthcoming had Israel launched a preemptive strike.
    • Even shorter was the Six-Day War in June 1967, though it contained many weeks of buildup and proved to be a very eventful six days (Israel defeated five enemy nations threatening to destroy it and doubled its size in the process). It was short partly because Israel's opening move destroyed 90% of Egypt's air force while it was still on the ground. Jordan nonetheless launched an attack even after Egypt's air force was already gone, leading to Israel capturing the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to one of the most intractable parts of the Arab–Israeli Conflict - what to do with the area and the people living in it.
  • The 2003 invasion of Iraq by the American-led coalition, commenced on March 20, routed the million-strong Iraqi military and took over the entire country in less than four weeks.note  Poland actually lasted longer against Germany in 1939.
  • In 1806, the Kingdom of Prussia declared war on Napoleon's French Empire, hoping to blunt his ambitions after his victory at Austerlitz. The first engagement of this conflict took place on October 9. Napoleon entered Berlin on October 27. Over less than 19 days, the Prussians sustained 65,000 casualties (including the deaths of two members of the royal family) lost a further 150,000 prisoners, over 4,000 artillery pieces, and over 100,000 muskets stockpiled in Berlin. The French suffered around 15,000 casualties.
    • Napoleon's last struggle, the 100 Days Campaign/The War of the Seventh Coalition, was a short war compared to the previous six Revolutionary (1 and 2) and Napoleonic (3,4,5,6,7) Coalition Wars. Napoleon knew his only shot was to defeat the British and the Prussians in detail but failed, with the joint force handing him one of his few defeats decisively at Waterloo.
  • The post-Cold War era seems to generally have either short flare ups like the 2020 phase of the Karabakh Conflict (which was decisively won by Azerbaijan) or long and painful low-intensity conflicts with no end in sight, often continuing in civil conflict after major military operations end (like Afghanistan after the 2021 withdrawal of coalition forces, with the Taliban facing major insurgencies against its rule).