Skip to main content

10 Common Items That Triggered Wars and Conflicts


Humans have always been at war, at any given time, for thousands of years and unfortunately, this will not end any time soon. Any human conflict or war is never good news as it often results in the loss of lives and strains the economy of the warring parties, but before we learned of the consequences humans would often go to war over the slightest provocation to assert their superiority. And while people go to war for valid reasons others are sparked by something as mundane as a fruit and the occasional cigarette. Here are 10 conflicts that were triggered by common everyday items.


1. The Banana Wars

This was a six-year conflict over the trading of bananas between the European Union and the United States. In the 1970s the EU established a trade deal with the Caribbean countries by giving them a quota of the EU banana market to encourage financial independence. At the time US companies had set up large scale farms in Latin America and while America did not even export bananas to Europe, they filed a complaint against the EU with the World Trade Organization in 1997 and won, and the EU was forced to amend its rules. After the ruling, the US argued that the new rules were not being enforced and went on to retaliate by imposing 100% duty on all European products. The EU made a complaint to WTO and investigations begun.

Why? The US economy was falling and it could not allow any form of protectionism, and secondly, American based companies based in Latin America pushed the government arguing that it threatened free trade. The case went on for years until 2009 when both parties came to an agreement that the EU would allow tariff-free access to its former colonies while reducing tariffs for Latin America Bananas by 35% over eight years, and in return, the US would drop the case.


2. The Opium Wars of China

In the 1820s China's economy was thriving and at the time had very strict laws on drugs, but the British East India Company kept on smuggling Indian opium. The Great Qing Dynasty passed many decrees to prevent flooding of illegal opium but smuggling continued which created an opium addiction.

In an attempt to curb the vice China wrote an impassioned plea to Queen Victoria that was ignored, and then they asked foreign companies to exchange their illegal opium for tea but that failed as well. Eventually, China resorted to using force by blocking foreign ships and forcing them to surrender all their opium shipments. In return, the British trade commissioner complained and within a year Britain sent forces which led to a series of defeats for the Chinese that led to the Treaty of Nanking. This treaty saw China lose $21 million, five treaty ports and Hong Kong Island.

The second opium war was started by a rival of the Qing Dynasty who declared himself emperor and established his base at Nanking. The new emperor loathed foreigners, declared war on the opium trade and went as far as to seize a British ship; the British retaliated by raiding Canton. The Chinese were defeated and resulted in the Treaty of Tientsin which legalized the Opium trade, cheap laborers, 10 more treaty ports, reparations to the British for costs incurred during the war, open all of China to British merchants and Opium traffickers, rights of foreign traders and missionaries to travel within China and access to cheap labor.

These two wars crippled China's economy for centuries, humiliated China, and created a lasting suspicion and contempt for westerners.


3. The Salt Wars of Perugia

While salt may be an everyday table item in every home and restaurant, it used to be a highly valued commodity that was used for trade and currency. The war was a result of a rebellion by the city of Perugia against the Papal States during the rule of Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese).

Perugia had been a free commune until it was incorporated into the Papal state in 1370 but continued to enjoy some independence as they were exempt from salt taxes and trials by locals (not papal appointed). Prior popes had tried time and time again to reign in Perugia but they often faced resistance from the Perugians and would back down.

In 1539 Perugia had a severe drought which drove food prices up, and it is during this harsh economic climate that the pope imposed a new tax on salt for everyone, in violation of the treaty between Perugia and previous popes. This quickly escalated into a rebellion by Perugians but they were quickly quashed by Papal forces. This forced the pope to build an enormous fortress to protect the Papal, critics argue that the wall was built to slow down the burning of Perugia and get rid of any rebellions against the Holy See. In protest, many Perugians stopped using salt in bread as retaliation which remains the norm to date. The city remained a part of the papal states until the unification of Italy in 1860.


4. The Cocoa Wars of Ivory Coast

You would never think that the beloved ingredient that makes chocolate would be the sole reason at the center of war in the Ivory Coast.

Ivory coast provides half of the world's cocoa supply and it has bankrolled at least forty years of economic growth, massive immigration and the eventual war in the Ivory Coast. Cocoa has always dictated the political climate with a tug of war over land rights and profits from cocoa harvests for more than twenty years. In 2010, Laurent Gbagbo lost the first election since the civil war but refused to step down to his opponent, Alassane Ouattara.

Despite mounting international pressure, Gbagbo still refused to step down and in December 2010 both individuals ascended to the presidency which fueled a civil conflict within the country that led to 3000 deaths. The WTO placed trade sanctions in an attempt to cut Gbagbo's financing but he turned his focus to cocoa to finance his rule and force his stay in power, Ouattara responded by imposing an export ban on Cocoa. Some cocoa traders such as Cargill respected the ban while others such as Nestle did not, which led to increased tariffs and port taxes on cocoa.

Eventually, Gbagbo was ousted and extradited to the Hague in November 2011. At this time the cocoa conflicts seem to have died down under the leadership on Ouattara but with elections slated for this year who knows what the future holds.


5. The Nutmeg War

Most us like to think of nutmeg as a spice with a wonderful aroma and flavor, however, don't let that fool you, plain old nutmeg has a bloody history.

Scroll to Continue

Nutmeg was originally grown on nations bordering the Indian ocean and while it was heavily used in Indian and Asian culture, it only became popular in Europe in the middle ages and soon became worth more than gold. At first, the Portuguese controlled the nutmeg and spice trade but couldn't fully exploit it due to a lack of manpower to control the islands. The Dutch soon followed but opted to use force on the Indian and Asian spice traders and attempted to monopolize the spice trade by invading the British controlled islands (Run and Ai). This action sparked the Anglo-Dutch wars that led to the Treaty of Breda in 1667 which led to the loss of Manhattan Island for the Dutch and Run Island for the British and the Dutch monopolized the spice trade for a decade.

However, the British did attack the Dutch again to break the Dutch stronghold but failed. A third attack resulted in the Treaty of Paris which restored the islands to the Dutch, but during the brief stay on the islands the British stole seedlings and went on to plant them in British controlled tropical islands causing the price of Nutmeg to plummet drastically.

Finally, the bloody era of the spice wars came to an end and Nutmeg became your typical kitchen spice.


6. The Avocado Wars of Mexico

With the new hype around avocado fruit, the industry has ballooned to a two billion industry in Mexico, the fruit has aptly earned its nickname of "Green Gold". At the moment 80% of Mexico's avocados are being exported to the US and they come from the Michoacán area.

The success of Mexico's avocados has brought in an unlikely player, Mexican drug cartels. With the dwindling profits, risks, and danger around drugs, cartels are turning to the avocado industry as a way to keep their operations running. Their tactics often include charging a monthly fee termed as a protection fee and those who fail to pay the fines are met with vicious murders of farmhands or their farms are destroyed. In addition to this, avocados are often stolen as they are being transported from farms during harvest seasons. For instance, in August 2019, 19 people were killed and bodies dumped in various locations to serve as warnings. These violent acts have further been escalated by competing cartels who constantly fight for territory and dominance within the region.

All these vile acts against farmers have brought in the term "blood avocados". And to curb the vice some restaurants and grocers are now turning away from the fruit to reduce cartel influence.


7. The Fish Wars of North America

The fish wars were a series of civil unrests between native American tribes and Washington State over the right to access fishing grounds. In 1885, Washington state and native American tribes signed the Point No Point Treaty, which resulted in some native tribes giving up their lands while still retaining their rights to traditional fishing grounds. Other native tribes rejected the treaty all together escalating the conflicts to the Puget Sound War and by the end of the war, the treaty terms had largely been ignored.

A federal court in 1937 granted a petition to stop Washington State from interfering with the native tribes fishing activities but it was ignored. Native tribes began to stage fish-ins, the first of which took place in Frank's Landing, before quickly spreading to other regions. The clashes descended into violent chaos in 1970 when the tribesmen fired warning shots and one of the protesters threw a firebomb at the authorities but the police responded by throwing tear gas and clubbing them to break up the demonstrations.

This conflict prompted the intervention of the US government by suing the Washington government over their failure to hold up terms of the treaty and in 1974 the Boldt decision upheld that the tribesmen were entitled to 50% of all potential harvests and an equal say in the management of the fisheries. Many demonstrations continued until the mid-1980s when the native tribes united and opted to resolve disputes through legal courts.


8. The Black Patch Tobacco Wars

The black patch was a collection of 30 counties in parts of Tennessee and Kentucky that grew dark-fired tobacco, used in snuff, pipe and chewing tobacco. The American Tobacco Company (ATC) and the Planters' Protective Association of Kentucky and Tennessee (PPA) clashed from 1904 to 1909.

The ATC built its reputation by buying and selling tobacco for a profit and rented the first commercially available cigarette rolling machines which allowed for faster production and cheaper products. By the 1900s ATC had a strong grip on the American Tobacco market and would use their power to lower tobacco prices placing many farmers in financial ruin.

The PPA was formed as a countermeasure to protect farmers from ATC's practices. The associations' ideology was that by pooling together as farmers they could withhold tobacco supplies which would force ATC to pay for higher prices, ATC refused to bow down to pressure and the PPA members undeterred begun to visit state officials and farmers to side with their cause.

Some members grew disillusioned with the slow-paced tactics and gradually begun to use more violent tactics leading to the creation of the Night Riders. The vigilante group would often beat and whip non-conforming officials and farmers, burn down farms, and kill farmhands. The war came to an end in April 1908 when the Kentucky State Guard staged a series of raids against the Night Riders leaders, several of whom were arrested.

After the war, ATC was declared a monopoly and broken up under the Anti-Trust Act, while many of the night riders' members escaped prosecution and others were sued in civil courts.


9. The Pig and Potato War

During the 1800s Britain and the US were in process of carving up colonies and while making the Treaty of Oregon they failed to make it clear who controlled the San Juan Island, a small but strategic military point. For a while peace reigned as the British occupied the North while the Americans settled on the south of the island

On 15th June 1859, a pig belonging to a British citizen, Charles Griffin, accidentally wandered into the farm of an American citizen, Lyman Cutler, and feasted on some potatoes. When Cutler saw the pig, he grew enraged and shot the pig. The two men failed to come to an amicable agreement on the compensation of the pig and Griffin escalated the issue further by reporting Cutler to the local British authorities, who then threatened to arrest him which in turn angered the Americans who petitioned the US government for military protection. The US quickly acted on the petition and sent a 66-man company to assist and in response to this, the British sent three warships to the area as a show of force.

For the next months both Britain and the US begun to gradually increase their military presence in the area. Fearing that the conflict could escalate further both countries entered into negotiations and agreed to reduce their military presence until an agreement was made.

In 1872 it was agreed that indeed the territory did fall under the US and finally the dispute was settled. Today both the northern and southern camps exist and can be visited.


10. The Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party was a raid of three British ships carrying tea by a group of colonists from Massachusetts on 16th December 1773. In the 1770s the East India Company (EIC) was failing and to keep it afloat the British parliament passed the Act of 1773 which drastically reduced taxes on EIC tea thereby undercutting all other competitors, including smugglers, which gave them a stronghold over the tea trade.

In protest of the Act, protestors would often force the ships to return with their tea supplies to England. When they tried to do the same in Boston the governor, Thomas Hutchinson, refused to heed their demands. In retaliation, a group of colonists known as "The Tea Party" disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians, came aboard the three British ships (Dartmouth, Eleanor, and Beaver) and proceeded to dump 342 chests of tea worth $18,000 into the harbor.

Enraged, Hutchinson, advised Britain to take a hardline with the vigilante group, and in 1774 Parliament passed the Coercive/Intolerable Act which introduced formal British military rule in Massachusetts, immunity of British officials from criminal prosecution, closure of Boston to merchant shipping and the quarter of British troops by colonists. The harsh response to the tea party triggered the American Revolutionary War of 1775.

After this many Americans considered tea drinking as a sign of being unpatriotic. Tea drinking drastically declined during and after the revolutionary war, prompting many Americans to take up Coffee as their hot drink of choice, a choice which has transcended down hundreds of generations to this day.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Vivian K

Related Articles