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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 what color scarf they wear, 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, 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 Sub-Trope of Serious Business. Related to Fantastic Racism. See What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous? 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 squable, it might be a Toilet Seat Divorce.
Anime & Manga
- 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.
- 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'm normal.")
- 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.
- In the Civilization III fanfiction Vegetarian Vengeance, the Indians end up going to war with Rome over the contents of Caesar's sandwich!
Films — Animation
- The 1939 Fleischer 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 The Movie has them go to war with Canada because they didn't want to take responsibility for letting their kids see a movie.
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.
- Piranha Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death is about two feminist tribes who have fallen out over whether men should be eaten with guacamole dip, or with clam dip.
- 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.
- In Real Life,"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.
- Inspired by the Swift, The Butter Battle Book had two peoples fighting over which side of the toast should be buttered. It escalated to ridiculous extremes, becoming an obvious parody of the then-current Cold War, and ends with an ambiguous Mexican Standoff. Seuss himself liked to butter the crust.
- 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. 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.)
- 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.
- Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock dramatizes a real-life incident that happened to friends of his, wherein a young lady's fiancee stole a lock of her hair without asking permission ("rape" here meaning "seize forcibly", as in the case of the infamous bucket, above). The brouhaha was so ridiculous that Pope turned it into a full-scale epic, complete with miniature gods, a Battle Royale With Cheese, and descriptions of coffee, card games, and petticoats that would make Achilles weep.
- 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 breaking Genre 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.
- 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 Barrayaran Vor 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 protoganist 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 was pointless...
- In Jingo, two smaller nations nominally claimed by the Klatchian empire 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'.
- The war that nearly takes place in the book itself is over something equally silly: a small island that has no usable resources, and no potential for any use economically or industrially and with very slight strategic value (which is only relevant because there is a war being fought over it in the first place), pops up in between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch. What it basically comes down to is that 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.
- Which is itself 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.
- 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 beacuse 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 years towards the Milky Way, only to be swallowed by a little dog.
- German philosopher Oswald Spengler pointed out in his non-fiction book The Decline of the West that many wars in Real Life were started like this - more than one, apparently, because some courtier wanted to break up the developing relationship between some general and his wife.
- The Lamorks in the Elenium are in a constant state of war, with the minor nobles declaring war on each other for any perceived slight. One war ended up getting started over a bee sting.
- 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 before the issue was finally resolved by sorting out a legal technicality qualifies.
- 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.
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.
- On Red Dwarf, 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Mythology and Religion
- In The Bible's Book of Judges, Samson killed a thousand men (with a donkey's jawbone), burned down the Philistines' granaries and vineyards, and humiliated their gods, and for what? His wife was given to Samson's companion by her father, a Philistine.
- 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.
- 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"
- In the Armenian legend "Ara the Handsome", Queen Semiramis of Assyria goes to war with Armenia because King Ara refused to marry her (besides being politically advantageous, Ara was, as you might have guessed, handsome), so she wanted him brought back to her alive.
- Orcs/Orks in Warhammer and Warhammer 40000 don't need any reason to kill their enemies (or each other), but they'll take any opportunity at justification in order to do so. For example, there's two Orkish gods, Gork and Mork, one being the god of cunning brutality and the other of brutal cunning. If given the chance, Orks will fight over which is which.
- This specific schism was used in the late 90s spin-off game Gorkamorka in which a load of Orks stranded on a planet got into a civil war over whether the space hulk they were (kind of) trying to rebuild to escape was Gork or Mork - in the ensuing conflict, the hulk was destroyed, but they continued to nominally work on it afterwards anyway, and still remained divided between "Gorkers" and "Morkers". This would be a Downer Ending in any other universe - here, it just kind of makes sense.
- 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, Bretonnian nobles 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.
- Any given Beholder in Dungeons and 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.
- 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.
- Team Fortress 2. At first the battle between RED and BLU was an Excuse Plot, and recent revelations have just made things worse: it's a feud between two bickering brothers who were each left half of their father's land in his will. So what's the sensible thing to do? Hire mercenaries to fight each other in hopes of killing the other brother and gaining all the land for themselves.
- Both brothers have taken steps to outlive the other... By becoming immortal.
- It gets better: this is exactly what their father wanted. The boys had never done a damn thing in their lives worth doing, so he left them the land with the express, written reason of having them fight over it. Also, the land is worthless.
- Kingdom of Loathing. The Cola Wars were fought between the followers of Dyspepsi-Cola and Cloaca-Cola. The war between the Hippies and Frat Boys gets started over the (apparent) murder of an animal mascot.
- 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 petty squabble.
- Starcraft II Blizzard Defense of the Ancients has two gods at war with one significant difference: one blue, one red. They wage massive war to amuse themselves.
- The entire conflict in Red vs. Blue. This is a rare example where those involved in the conflict are fully aware of how silly it is (except for Sarge and Caboose).
- The "pro-/anti- Skub" comic from Perry Bible Fellowship.
- 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.
- Done during the Trent-Mercia War from Sluggy Freelance. It was waged partly because the king of Mercia said the Trent king's mustache smelled like parmesan, and partly because, well, they're warlords. Going to war is just part of the job description.
- Upon being told this, Torg promptly asks if he can become a "keglord" or possibly a "Salma-Hayek-lord."
- 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.
- In Whats New With Phil&Dixie, two powerful forces went to war over stripes vs spots.
- Phineas and Ferb http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IHCB6FmLiY
- 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.
- An episode of the Jumanji animated series was centered around the conflict between two warring tribes, one of giant Black Ants and one of giant Red Ants, of which Judy, Peter and Alan were caught in the middle. The former accuse the latter of stealing their "Black Bahoot" and the latter accuse the former of trying to steal their "Red Bahoot". The "Bahoot" turns out to be an apparently useless big ball of slime that, what do you know, happens to be colored black and red. All this was supposed to teach an Aesop on getting along... until the episode ends with Judy and Peter arguing over who gets the last remaining cookie, just as they were doing in the beginning of the episode.
- Veggie Tales 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".)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- In the 1939 MGM short Peace on Earth, the warring factions includes the meat eaters fighting vegetarians, and flat-footed people fighting buck-tooth people.
- In 2002 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Adam reminds himself that he has to learn diplomacy etiquette because one wrong use of a spoon or fork during dinner with ruler of other country can cause a war.
- The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest: 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.
- 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.
- 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 Go: the losing royal pitched a fit and beaned his playing buddy to death with the goban; 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 believed to have started over ownership of a hog, though the families did not like each other even before then.
- 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". See the Torre della Ghirlandina for a photo.
- The true reason for the battle of Zappolino was the control of the region during the war between Guelphs and Gibbelines (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.
- Narrowly averted 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.
- The Spartans liked to take this trope one step further by going to war for no reason at all. At one point, according to Xenophon, they attacked the city state of Elis, literally and entirely "because they had no one else to fight at the time."
- The Macedonia naming dispute. That is all.
- 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 desperate need 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!"
- Cracked has a list of the five most retarded wars ever fought.
- One of the many incidents over Chaco in South America was inflamed by a postage stamp showing it as part of Paraguay.
- 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.
- Once upon a time, relations between Greece and Bulgaria were rather strained. One day, a dog ran away from his owner in Greece over the boarder into Bulgaria, and his owner, a soldier, ran after him. The solider 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. 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.
- The war of Jenkins ear: Britain was looking for a reason to go to war with Spain, and someone pointed out the eight years earlier Spanish coast guards had boarded a English ship, captained by the aforementioned Jenkins, and cut off his ear. Parliament was outraged, war begun, and it destabilised the Hapsburgs to the point that it was the major cause of the far bloody war of the Austrian succession, with in turn kicked of the Seven years’ war: 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.