These Wars from the 20th Century Don’t Get Enough Attention in History Classes

Photo Credit: CORBIS / Getty Images
Photo Credit: CORBIS / Getty Images

Militarily speaking, the 20th century was dominated by the First and Second World Wars, Korea and Vietnam. Between 1900 and 2000, conflict claimed the lives of well over 100 million people. While the majority of these deaths happened in the four conflicts mentioned above, many occurred during smaller-scale, local wars, too.

In the following list, we discuss six conflicts from the 20th century that don’t get discussed as often as they should.

Russo-Japanese War (1904-05)

Japanese troops walking together in front of Gen. Nogi Maresuke
Japanese troops entering Port Arthur, part of the modern day Lüshunkou District in China, 1905. (Photo Credit: DEA / BIBLIOTECA AMBROSIANA / Getty Images

The Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) was fought between, as the name suggests, the Empires of Japan and Russia. The two nations clashed when the former felt threatened by the latter’s goals of expanding its influence into Asia. While peace talks occurred, they concluded without any agreements being made.

Before long, relations had broken down. After negotiations failed to solve the dispute, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) launched a surprise attack against the Russian Eastern Fleet at Port Arthur, China. While no clear victor emerged out of this battle, it was a severe knock to Russia’s morale and confidence in their military superiority over Japan.

After a series of defeats, Russia retreated into Manchuria, pursued by Japan. The war cost the latter power a larger number of casualties, but the nation won a decisive victory. Russia and Japan signed the Treaty of Portsmouth, mediated by US President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, in September 1905, which officially put an end to the war.

First Congo War (1996-97)

Zairean Armed Forces soldiers walking down a dirt path with captured weapons
Zairean Armed Forces soldiers celebrating after they seized weapons from Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s rebels, 1997. (Photo Credit: Christophe Simon / AFP / Getty Images)

The First Congo War (1996-97) is the most recent on this list, and took place mostly in the Republic of Zaire, in Central Africa. Today, the country is known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

At the time, Zaire was broken after years of dictatorship and economic struggles. This resulted in a civil war breaking out among the different factions within the country. While the conflict was taking place, Rwanda invaded, along with more African nations. The Zairean forces attempted to fight back, but they were crushed and a new government was instated.

Even though the war only lasted six months, it claimed a significant number of lives, with 222,000 refugees listed as missing.

Winter War (1939-40)

Two Swedish volunteer machine gunners aiming a weapon in the snow
Swedish volunteer machine gunners, 1940. (Photo Credit: Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone / Getty Images)

The Winter War (1939-40) was fought between the Soviet Union and Finland in the opening months the Second World War. The conflict only lasted just over three months, but it had far-reaching implications on the larger war in Europe.

The conflict began after Finland refused to hand over land to the Soviets, who’d claimed it was needed to safely defend Leningrad. Upon the former’s refusal, the latter invaded. However, as its forces would soon discovered, Finland was an incredibly tough opponent. The USSR had a numerical advantage in almost every single way, but the Finns used a combination of superior tactics and their familiarity with the environment to overcome the Soviet troops.

Initially, Finland repelled the enemy, but, toward the end of the winter of 1939-40, which they’d used to their advantage, the Soviets reorganized with renewed tactics. As a result, they were able to force the signing of a peace treaty.

The nation’s valiant and unexpected resistance against the USSR increased Finland’s international reputation, and the Soviets later used tactics learned from the Finns against the Germans..

First Indochina War (1946-54)

Troops sitting atop a tank in the middle of a village
French tank waiting to support Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) infantrymen, 1954. (Photo Credit: CORBIS / Getty Images)

The First Indochina War (1946-54) set the groundwork for the Vietnam War. During the conflict, the French forces battled the Việt Minh, but were eventually defeated.

Vietnam had been a French colony until 1940, when Japan occupied the country. When the Japanese surrendered in mid-1945, Vietnam experienced a power vacuum, which was quickly filled by Ho Chi Minh. His Communist allegiances resulted in France attempting to re-establish control over the country.

In 1946, negotiations between France and the Việt Minh government broke down and the two clashed. The conflict ended in 1954, shortly after France’s crippling defeat at Điện Biên Phủ. After the war, Vietnam was split in two, with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and the Republic of Vietnam in the south.

Chaco War (1932-35)

Paraguayan troops manning a large field gun
Paraguayan gun battery, 1934. (Photo Credit: Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

The Chaco War (1932-35) was fought between Bolivia and Paraguay. The two South American nations battled for control over an area of Gran Chaco – split between northern Argentina, eastern Bolivia and western Paraguay – after oil was discovered. After this, Bolivia became interested in extracting oil from the region and accessing the Paraguay River, which led to the Atlantic Ocean.

Paraguay had already lost vast amounts of territory in the late 1800s, and, unwilling to lose more, fought hard throughout the conflict. Bolivia was better equipped, but poor morale and a lack of motivation among soldiers meant Paraguay had the upper hand; the entire country gathered to aid in the war effort.

Both sides didn’t possess their own armaments industries and relied on foreign shipments to arm their troops. In addition, they were both severely affected by a lack of supplies and any substantial communication networks. Despite this, Paraguay came out victorious.

Sino-Indian War (1962)

Indian troops standing along a ridge
Indian troops manning a makeshift fort facing their Chinese opposition in the disputed Ladakh border region, 1962. (Photo Credit: Hulton-Deutsch Collection / CORBIS / Getty Images)

On October 20, 1962, the Chinese forces crossed a large section of a disputed border area with India in the Himalayas, prompting a war between the two nations. The conflict, known as the Sino-Indian War, lasted just a single month and one day, and occurred in brutal conditions, high up in the Himalayas.

Chinese troops outclassed India’s less numerous forces, forcing the latter to make a number of retreats. The former announced a ceasefire at midnight on November 21, ending the war, and pulled back troops to the country’s “Line of Actual Control.”

More from us: Five Bloodless War That Have Been Fought Throughout History

The conflict showed India that changes were sorely needed if it wanted a more capable military, resulting in the country’s armed forces doubling its manpower over the next two years.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE