I'm curious to know if there have been any armed conflicts that are generally regarded as full blown wars (i.e. not border skirmishes) which were started accidentally. By accidentally, I mean something along the lines of some person(s):

  1. Killing someone by mistake (e.g. an important person of one party)
  2. Unknowingly crossing borders that should not have been crossed
  3. Misspeaking in an important official gathering (e.g. offending another party)

or things along similar lines.

closed as too broad by Pieter Geerkens, congusbongus, Mark C. Wallace, Bruce James, user69715 Feb 4 '16 at 18:01

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Perhaps this question is worded poorly or mis-tagged; please do not hesitate to edit or ask for clarification! – Chris Cirefice Feb 4 '16 at 14:27
  • The idea of a "declaration of war" is a really modern concept that covers only a very small portion of the history of warfare. Furthermore, it is a uniquely western concept. So the answer to your question is likely no but only because of your definitions – Stuart Allan Feb 4 '16 at 14:35
  • @StuartAllan Do you have any idea how I might re-word it to make the concept more applicable to non-western societies? Perhaps conflict? That seems to broad. I'm having trouble narrowing it beyond that - war was the most applicable term I could think of, but I suppose that it doesn't suffice. Do you have any suggestions? – Chris Cirefice Feb 4 '16 at 14:45
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    The problem with this question is that typically, those types of events are used as excuses to start wars. Wars are only an extension of politics; there are plenty of cases where one started "accidentally" in that one side miscalculated, but in general one side (or a faction therein) wanted the war. – Semaphore Feb 4 '16 at 14:53
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    You should look for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, which triggered the Great War. It is pretty close to accidental, considering they avoided the terrorist squad, and then met another terrorist just by unlucky as he was lost. – Bregalad Feb 4 '16 at 15:03

The Spanish-American war was almost certainly started by an accident. The Casus Belli was an explosion that sank the USS Maine in Havana Harbor. There's a good chance it wasn't even an external source that caused the explosion. Even if it was a mine, it is highly unlikely the mine was placed where it was in hopes of sinking a US ship. Even one of the newspaper magnates who was hyping it up in his papers publicly admitted this at the time.

However, US public opinion was strongly in favor of Cuban independence (from Europe, that is), and it didn't take much to get it thinking this was a stellar pretense to use war to force the issue. So was the start of the war itself an accident? Not really. But it was almost certainly started by one.

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