It seems like the world is constantly at war. Turn on the news, or head to a popular news website, and there’s a good chance that you’ll see headlines from wars in the Middle East or coup d’état in Africa, or something similar. Yet for every major conflict that the world news bothers to report on, numerous others barely get a mention.
Even when mentions are made, it’s often because some Western country is intervening, or perhaps there was a “terrorist” attack, or something similar. The world is supposedly living in an age of relative peace, with governments largely avoiding conflict with one another. Yet, numerous conflicts have broken out over the past few decades, often garnering little attention.
Let’s look at some of these lesser known wars (no particular order).
1. The Cambodian Vietnamese War
In the 1970’s Cambodia and Vietnam were both Communist governments, so they should have gotten along, right? Actually, despite its socialist aspirations, Vietnam has long been a rival of China. Even during the Vietnam War with the United States, most of the Communist aid flowing to North Vietnam came from the Soviet Union, rather than nearby Communist China.
In 1978, leaders in Vietnam were becoming increasingly concerned over the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge had carried out one of the bloodiest mass genocides in modern history, killing an estimated 1.5 to 3.0 million people, primarily for being urban and educated. That wasn’t why Vietnam decided to go to war with Cambodia, however.
Instead, Vietnam was worried that the Khmer Rouge was becoming too close with Communist China. Interestingly, the Khmer Rouge actually started with the assistance Vietnam’s Communist Party, and had supported the Viet Cong during its war with the United States. Yet as the 70’s were drawing to a close, China’s influence was growing.
For Vietnam, this was unacceptable. Starting in May of 1975, the two competing Communist parties experienced a series of small clashes and border disputes. By 1977, the conflicts were involving large numbers of troops with both sides launching brief excursions across the border. In some cases, thousands of civilians were killed.
In response to one such Cambodian excursion, the Vietnamese mobilized an estimated 60,000 troops, and in December of 1977, launched a large excursion into Cambodia. The Vietnamese forces quickly overwhelmed their Cambodian rivals, and by January had come within 40 kilometers of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh before deciding to pull back.
Instead of being dispirited by their crushing defeat, Cambodian leaders took Vietnam’s withdrawal as a sign of victory. Cambodian officials only grew more defiant. The Khmer Rouge continued to launch attacks, primarily against unarmed Vietnamese citizens, culminating in the massacre of Ba Chuc in April of 1978, which saw at least 3,000 Vietnamese civilians slaughtered.
At the end of June (1978), the Vietnamese once again launched a major excursion, pushing Cambodian forces away from the border. As soon as the Vietnamese soldiers withdrew, however, Cambodian forces returned and resumed attacks on Vietnamese villages.
On Christmas day in 1978 full-scale war broke out with 13 divisions (approximately 150,000 soldiers), supported by air artillery, invaded and overwhelmed the Cambodian forces. Just a few weeks later, in January 7th of 1979, Vietnamese forces entered Phnom Penh, putting an end to the Khmer Rouge’s rule of Cambodia.