CLOSE
iStock
iStock

7 Foods That Have Led to War

iStock
iStock

As authors Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett mused in Good Omens, "civilization is 24 hours and two meals away from barbarism.” Human history is indeed filled with moments of violence that broke out because groups of people found themselves running on empty. Some scholars even argue that human warfare itself may have evolved alongside our move from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle into an agricultural one, given that any growing population (even a prehistoric one) will likely strain its available resources sooner or later.

Whether the cause of conflict was threats to a nation’s entire grain supply or simply the loss of a lone pig, these foods all ended up in the same place throughout history: smack in the middle of war.

1. PASTRIES

Prior to the Pastry War, a.k.a. the First Franco-Mexican War, tensions were high in the new Mexican republic as competing leadership factions, European nationals, and just about everybody else struggled for a better place in the new order. Clashes in the street reportedly destroyed the bakery of one French chef, and one thing led to another until the French government demanded 600,000 pesos as reparations for his losses and other French businesses that had been destroyed. King Louis-Phillippe was already miffed at Mexico over the matter of un-repaid loans, so he allowed these pastries to be the ones that broke the camel’s back. He dispatched his fleet to Veracruz, and kicked off what would be a three-month conflict between the countries from 1838 to 1839.

2. RICE

World War II took an enormous toll on the stability, economics, and resources of French Indochina, and was one of several major factors (including colonial occupation and unseasonable weather) leading to the Vietnamese Famine of 1945. As war was waging in Southeast Asia, some regions of Vietnam had rice surpluses, but the effects of the war made transportation between regions much more difficult. Meanwhile, both the French and the Japanese were more concerned about fighting then averting famine, with the French being accused of storing harvests past the point of edibility.

The scarcity of the regional staple crop caused physical and financial “rice war” struggles throughout the region, drove many (understandably) angry Vietnamese peasants to foment rebellion and seek independence, and led into the almost eight-year First Indochina War. Current estimates of the number of north Vietnamese lives lost during the 1945 famine are typically between one and two million.

3. A SINGLE PIG


iStock

Often enough, reasons given for the eruption of a war will involve some minute detail or other that leaders have chosen for their "breaking point." In the case of the Pig War, an 1859 conflict between British and American forces on the West Coast of what's now Washington state, the "shot heard round the world" was fired at one very special porker.

Also called the Pig Episode and the San Juan Boundary Dispute, the confrontation occurred at the tail end of the period in which the U.K. and U.S. were expanding into the lumber- (and possibly gold-) rich Pacific Northwest of present-day Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. As the finer points of the border lines were being drawn, the San Juan Islands, located between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland, were disputed territory.

With tensions running high, representatives of the British Hudson Bay Company on the small island chain suddenly found themselves living next door to U.S. settlers. When a British pig (worth either $10 or $100, depending which party you asked) started rooting around in a nearby American's garden and was shot for its trespass, both competing powers were ready to throw down. Fortunately, no shots were fired, and there were no casualties—except for the pig.

4. BREAD, GRAIN, AND FLOUR

As age-old staple crops for many millions of people, wheat and other grains have often been the focus of serious conflict when their supplies are threatened or running low. Food Republic points out, for example, that when the broad Roman Empire’s increasing demanding for bread “was leading to social unrest at home,” Roman forces responded by doing “what they do best: they brandished their imperial muscle and took other people’s grains, in this case Egypt’s, to placate their citizens.”

The struggle for access to grain-based food didn’t end there, though, and has followed Western culture throughout history. To name just a few examples: In the spring of 1775 (shortly before the French Revolution would finally erupt), the Kingdom of France was host to an ongoing series of riots referred to as the Flour War, when the price of flour skyrocketed thanks to a combination of poor harvests and new government trade policies.

In 1917, when Russia’s “average working woman was spending 40 hours per week” in bread lines, groups of such sick-and-tired women kicked off riots that quickly grew to over 100,000 people, and which led to the country’s first of two revolutions that year.

Conflict over bread and grain continues today, and was a perhaps lesser-known factor in the recent Arab Spring. Noting that Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco are the world’s absolute largest wheat importers, Salon explains that the movement “started in Tunisia when rising food prices, high unemployment, and a widening gap between rich and poor triggered deadly riots and finally the flight of the country’s autocratic ruler Zine Ben Ali,” whose last act as ruler (“too little too late,” Salon says) was “a vow to reduce the price of sugar, milk, and bread.” And with wheat and corn prices almost doubling through 2010 and 2011, “it was not just the standard of living of the [region’s] poor that was threatened, but their very lives as climate-change driven food prices triggered political violence.”

5. BLUE CRABS

Almandine viaWikimedia Commons// CC 3.0

After the partitioning of Korea, questions remained about the maritime boundary between the two countries—a matter of significant concern in a region that has, in recent years, fostered increasing competition and conflict for the seafood on which it relies. In particular, extremely valuable blue crabs can be found along this disputed line, and have sparked a number of clashes [PDF] between North and South Korea.

6. SUGAR AND SPICE (NOT ALWAYS SO NICE)

When many of us Yanks think of our split from Britain in the Revolutionary War and the foods that spurred it, tea (and a certain party with it) often comes to mind. When it comes to clashing over edible resources, though, England, France, and the soon-to-be U.S.A. were much more concerned about the fate of two other commodities: spice and sugar. As one financial advising firm explained to Business Insider:

From a European perspective the U.S. revolt was a sideshow to a larger British/French conflict fought mainly over the agriculturally rich East and West Indies trade routes. While the British lost to the colonists at Yorktown, the Royal Navy's victory over a French [and] Spanish fleet at the Battle of the Saintes was bigger news at home as it secured [sugar-rich] Jamaica as a British possession.

7. SALT


Salt Riot on Red Square, Ernest Lissner via Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain

Frankly, salt has been a source of conflict among humans for about as long as we’ve been utilizing it. Trouble tends to arise whenever one group (usually a ruling and/or powerful one) puts strain on another group’s access to this vital resource—something we’ve relied on through the millennia for preserving our food, treating our ailments, and balancing our bodily fluids.

There was the Salt War of 1482-84, for example, involving the duke of Ferrara, salt mining, and the Papal forces of Sixtus IV, and also the Salt War of 1540, involving the rightly fed-up denizens of Perugia, a new salt tax, and the Papal forces of Paul III. In 1648, too, the people of Moscow responded to Tsar Alexei I’s new universal salt tax with days of violent uprising.

Of course, as Mohandas Gandhi and co.’s famous Salt March across India proved, the struggle for fair access to salt—or anything else, for that matter—doesn’t always have to get rough.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
arrow
History
A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Universal Home Video
arrow
entertainment
15 Surprising Facts About Scarface
Universal Home Video
Universal Home Video

Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


Universal Home Video

Producer Bregman offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay, but Stone—who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand—wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


Universal Home Video

De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
Universal Home Video

In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios