What War?

Today, a war started and ended.

Great Britain had recognized Zanzibar’s independence since 1858, but it wasn’t until 1890 that tensions with neighboring German colonies moved Sultan Ali bin Said to declare his country a British Protectorate. This gave the British some latitude in eradicating the slave trade there (which it had been doing globally for most of the century). It also spurred popular dissent, so by the time Ali’s nephew Hamad succeeded him in 1893, there were riots in the streets. Hamad was authorized to form a 1,000-man palace guard to protect himself form dissenting nationalists…which proved useless when his nephew, Kahlid, poisoned him, and then turned the guards into his protectors against the British (who would have preferred a different successor). He was given a day to vacate the premises, and instead he barricaded himself in his palace and readied to defend it.

Repeated messages between the sultan and the British forces stationed on warships in the harbor failed, so at 9:02 am on this day in 1896, three British ships — HMS Racoon, HMS Thrush and HMS Sparrow — began a bombardment that all but obliterated Kahlid’s house, firing 500 shells that set fire to whatever they didn’t blow up. The attack ended 38 minutes later, as Kahlid and a small band of followers snuck away to claim diplomatic immunity in the German Embassy, never to set foot in his country again. Over 500 people had been killed in what would constitute the shortest war in history. Zanzibar would abolish slavery completely a few months later. The palace grounds would be made into a garden, and Zanzibar wouldn’t gain true independence for another 67 years.

So it wasn’t a coup d’etat, civil war, rebellion, or insurrection because the adversaries wore different uniforms, or spoke different languages? Does how we label war even matter?

From Today in the Histories of Social Media