Since man first walked the earth, we have been obsessed with war. Whether it’s over territory, resources, power, or differences, it’s one of humanity’s oldest customs. As we have advanced as a species, so have our military tactics and weapons, leading to far greater numbers of casualties. As of right now, the best estimation for the total death toll for war throughout history is an optimistic 341.7 million people, showing the true devastation of military conflict. Here’s a list of wars that almost happened, but thankfully didn’t. You won’t believe how a bear almost destroyed the world!
The Day The Earth Almost Ended
On September 26, 1983, Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces was the officer on duty at the command center. He was in charge of observing the early satellite warning network to notify his superiors if there was a threat of a nuclear attack against the Soviet Union.
After midnight, there was a report that there were five missiles heading towards the Soviet Union fired from the U.S. Petrov considered this a computer error because there would more than likely be hundreds of missiles fired rather than a few. He dismissed it as a false alarm, which it turned out, it was. If he had ordered a retaliation, it would have resulted in a nuclear war of apocalyptic proportions. Thank you, Petrov!
Arkhipov’s Daring Decision
On October 27, 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the American Destroyer USS Beale began firing non-lethal warning shots at a Soviet submarine B-59 in attempt to force them to the surface. However, the Soviet captain mistook the shots for live explosives and believed he had just been a part of the beginning of World War III.
So, in a panic, he ordered his men to load one of their nuclear-tipped torpedos and prepare for an attack. However, all three submarine senior officers had to sign off on a nuclear launch in which second in command Vasili Arkhipov would not. Instead, Arkhipov calmed the captain down and convinced him not to attack. The submarine returned to Russia with no incident, avoiding WW III.
Stalin Wasn’t Satisfied
In 1948, not long after the end of World War II, Joseph Stalin began to act up again. At this point in time, Germany was split in half. The Eastern half was in Soviet hands and the Western was controlled by the Allies. Stalin didn’t just want half of Germany, he wanted all of it, so he blockaded Berlin from all Western military and civilian traffic.
General Lucius D. Clay, the head of the Occupation Zone in Germany was not okay with this at all and requested to send an armed convoy through East Germany, essentially going to war with the Soviets. They even debated attacking all of the Soviet Airfields in Germany. However, instead, they gave peace a chance and waited for Stalin to eventually get bored and back off. Everyone had to be sick of fighting at this point.
The Sino-Soviet Border Conflict
During the Cold War, the predominant communist superpowers were the Soviets and the Chinese. Although they both had constant disputes, they managed to stick together over their combined hatred for the United States. Yet, in the late 1960’s a big argument broke out after the Soviets refused to help the Chinese build a nuclear bomb.
So, in 1969, the Chinese invaded the Soviet-occupied Zhenbao Island claiming they had original ownership. Ownership of the island went back and forth until the two powers were on the verge of an all-out war. Then, Mao of China backed off figuring it wasn’t worth it. Good thing he did, because there was about to be a slaughter of the two biggest armies in the world with or without nuclear weapons.
Mexico Prods the United States
In 1916, during the Mexican Revolution, a man by the name of Poncho Villa was attempting to get rid of Venustiano Carranza. So, Villa decided to lead an attack on the United States attempting to frame Carranza. However, although he raided some parts of New Mexico, the United States knew it was Villa and not Carranza. At this time, the United States was clashing with the Mexican army.
It was a recipe for war. However, Woodrow Wilson realized he couldn’t get involved in such a conflict with the brink of the first World War on the horizon. So, in 1917, Wilson pulled out all of his troops from Mexico and forgot about Villa, allowing the United States to focus on WWI.
The Bear That Almost Destroyed the World
In 1962, United States spy planes saw Soviet missile silos being constructed in Cuba. Since this was at the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy put the United States Air Force on high alert in preparation for an engagement. Security was heightened and bombers were loaded with nuclear weapons.
Then, on the night of October 25, 1962, a guard on duty at the Duluth air base shot an intruder assumed to be a Russian spy attempting to climb the fence. This set off an alarm to all of the nearby bases. At one of the nearby bases, the wrong alarm rang and the pilots got ready to get in their planes to fly and fight. As it turns out, it was all a false alarm, and the intruder had been a brown bear climbing the fence at the Duluth base.
If you thought that was a close call, keep reading to learn how a computer glitch also almost caused World War III.
The Trent Affair
In 1862, the United States was deep amidst a harsh time in our country during the American Civil War. With the Northern Union against the Southern Confederates, our country was in near-ruin. During this time, the North was cutting off the South’s supply routes with a shipping blockade. The South didn’t stand a chance against this, so they attempted to get Britain to come fight for them. The Confederates then sent diplomats to settle a deal in Europe, and when the Union got word they boarded their ship and arrested them.
However, they were flying under the British flag so they technically had just attacked Britain. The British didn’t take this lightly, and the North reacted with hostility. Nevertheless, Lincoln utilized his political cunning, apologized to Britain and eventually calmed them down. This is good because there might have been a way different outcome if the British became involved. This is known as the Trent Affair.
The Fashoda Incident
Before World War I, there was a dispute between France and England over who would control Egypt as well as the territories of the Nile River and the Suez Canal. In 1898, France grew tired of the back and forth with Britain and sent an armed expedition to the Niles Fashado area, so Britain did the same.
So, both countries prepared for war, ready to mindlessly slaughter one another simply based off of their old medieval rivalries. France then realized they would have to go against the British Navy, one of the greatest forces in the world, so they backed down. They ended up making amends and even became allies when they stood together against Germany in World War II.
France Had Planned to Take Australia
In 1802, there was an Australian expedition led by the French explorer Nicholas Baudin. During the expedition, a French scientist named Francois Peron argued that Australia could be better utilized in the hands of the French rather than being a dumping ground for British exiles. He noted that they should occupy the British colony for future use by sending at least 1,800 soldiers to take over, along with the help of the current exiles living there.
Peron added that it was crucial for the French to capture Sydney first and then the rest of the settlements would follow. However, the attack never happened. This is believed to be due to the outcome of the Battle of Trafalgar, in which the British Navy fought against both the French and Spanish fleets and won.
The Soviets Almost Invaded Israel
In 1967, during a small conflict between Israel and the United Arab Republic, known as the Six- Day War, the Soviet Union warned the United States that if Israel did not cease fighting immediately, they would be forced to protect their interests in the Middle East. By protecting their interests, they meant completely wiping Israel off the map.
This was dismissed as an empty threat, however, it was later discovered that the Soviets were not bluffing whatsoever. They had already prepared an invasion force unit made up of nuclear-armed airplanes and ships. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. Some historians even argue that the Soviets caused the Six-Day War as an excuse to destroy Israel’s nuclear capabilities.
The Norad Computer Glitch
On the morning of November 9th, 1979, in Colorado’s North American Aerospace Defense Command, the unbelievable almost happened. Technicians received reports that the Soviet Union had launched a series of nuclear missiles at North America. So, in response and retaliation, those at the Defense Command were prepared to launch 10 interceptor fighter planes, get the president on the presidential escape plane, as well as prepare to launch a retaliatory nuclear response.
As this was all being prepared, it was discovered by a technician that a training program designed to simulate a Soviet attack had accidentally launched. Everyone had believed this glitch to be real and was ready to engage in World War III, and essentially a nuclear holocaust. Close call.
The Dogger Bank Incident
During the Russo-Japanese war in the 1900’s, warships of the Russian Baltic Fleet in the North Sea had engaged with what they thought was a Japanese torpedo boat. However, as it turns out, it was actually a British fishing vessel. For some reason, the Russians didn’t make the connection that the Japanese were in the Pacific and not the Atlantic. The Russians sank a boat, killing two British crewmen as well.
In response, the British rose up to fight against the Russians for their mistake, which they took as an act of war. So, they went after the Russian fleet to get their revenge. Yet, the Russian Tsar made a very sincere apology, as well as fair compensation to the victims which ultimately saved Russia as well as Britain from war.
The India-Pakistani Standoff
Since the 1940’s, India and Pakistan have been at conflict at least “four times every five years”. However, in 2001-2002, they had their greatest conflict yet, one that almost ended in nuclear war. On October 1, 2001, there was a Pakistani terrorist attack. This enraged the Indian government who then mobilized around 1 million men in preparation for retaliation. In response, Pakistan then organized hundreds of thousands of men as well in preparation to fight.
This led to a 10-month standoff at their respective border which only became more intense with the introduction of nuclear weapons into the mix. The Pakistani government even showed a willingness to pre-emptively strike on India with Nuclear Weapons. Thankfully, before it got to that point, India make the decision to withdraw their troops, and Pakistan shortly after did the same.
The First and Second Taiwan Strait Crisis
Since the creation of Taiwan in 1949, it has largely depended on the United States for protection against the Communist nation of China, almost resulting in the United States going to nuclear war with China twice. The first time was during the First Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1954. The Chinese were hitting Taiwan with heavy artillery fire until the United States demanded them to stop, threatening with nuclear war.
This eventually happened again with the same outcome and the United States threatened with nuclear war once again. However, this time, the Chinese realized that they could no longer simply rely on the Soviets to back them up in a nuclear conflict, so they decided to build there own nuclear arsenal. Great.
“Fall Grun” (Operation Green)
Although World War II began on September 1, 1939, when Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, it almost started one year earlier with Hitler planned invasion of Czechoslovakia known as the “Fall Grun” or Operation Green. This alone would have changed the entire dynamic of the war. At the time, Czechoslovakia was allied with Britain, France, Poland, and the Soviet Union. If there was an attack on Czechoslovakia, Germany would have undoubtedly lost the war, and fast, which the German military leader clearly understood.
They were ready to arrest Hitler if he attempted to execute the plan. The German military leaders agreed to make the arrest only if France and Britain helped them fight for Czechoslovakia. However, Hitler lucked out and the French and British just let him have the country. It would have been a very different war with a swing of allies like that.
Keep going to learn how California almost started a war with Japan before World War II.
Napoleon Almost Invaded Britain
On January 13, 1858, a man named Felice Orsini lobbed three bombs at Napoleon III and his wife in an assassination attempt. Although Napoleon was unharmed, in an investigation, it was discovered that Orsini had come into possession of the explosives in Britain a few weeks prior. The French assumed that this attack had been a conspiracy in which Britain was a part of and the French wanted war.
At the time England was, for the most part, undefended with the majority of their national army deployed across the empire. So, a volunteer movement spread across the nation in preparation for a French invasion. Thankfully, Napoleon never really intended to go through with his invasion because he was heavily involved in a war with Austria already.
The “War In Sight” Crisis
in 1870, France was embarrassingly defeated by Prussia. In order to ensure that they no longer experience such a loss, they began to build a larger and stronger army. By 1875, the actions by France had begun to make Germany suspicious. So, the Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck attempted to rally support for a preventable strike against France.
So, Bismarck led a propaganda campaign to fire up the nation. An article was eventually released by the chancellor himself which was entitled “War in Sight”, which made the country of Germany ready and hungry for war. Yet, diplomatic pressure from Britain, as well as Russia, managed to help Bismarck realize that they would then be fighting a two-front war which helped to diffuse the intensity.
The Gentleman’s Agreement
In 1907, California had enacted a series of laws that did everything but exclude Japanese immigrants from participating in society, and the Japanese government took offense. In San Francisco, racist gangs and individuals went out of their way to attack the Japanese and their businesses. This infuriated the Japanese who then began to cry for war in the name of their own honor.
At the time, the United States had numerous commercial interests in the Pacific, most specifically, the Philippines, so they hoped to avoid any conflict if possible. So, Roosevelt promised to press down on California to stop the violence, if Japan promised to slow down the Japanese immigration. These diplomatic discussions are known as the Gentleman’s Agreement and everything was solved.
The Baltimore Crisis
In the late 19th Century, as America was expanding over the Pacific, it began to face changes from unlikely contenders, this time Chile. After their war with Spain, Chile had acquired a sizable navy and was making powerful moves in South America. In 1885, they had occupied parts of Panama against the United States and had also seized Easter Island.
Soon after that, it appeared that the U.S. and Chile were going to go to war. Then in 1891, two American soldiers on leave from the USS Baltimore were killed by a mob in Valparaiso, Chile. The Benjamin Harrison Administration then mobilized a fleet in preparation for a conflict. However, Chile realized their hopelessness in such an engagement so they backed down and paid $75,000 in reparations.
The U-2 Spy Plane Incident
On October 27, 1962, an American U-2 spy plane took off from Alaska for a reconnaissance mission near the North Pole. Due to the glow of the aurora borealis (northern lights), he lost his direction and could no longer use celestial navigation to find his way. He eventually drifted off course and across the border of the Soviet Union.
The Soviets picked up the pilot’s plane and thinking that it could be a nuclear bomber, sent several aircrafts to destroy it. The U.S. air force in turn then sent two fighters with nuclear-tipped missiles to shepherd the pilot back to the border. Thankfully, this was all accomplished without a hitch, because any confrontation between the two fighter groups could have resulted in war.