A Brief History
On October 1, 2001, Mullah Omar agreed to a proposal by the head of Pakistan’s most important Islamic party to have terrorist Osama bin Laden taken to Pakistan where he would be held under house arrest and tried by an international tribunal. This proposal was not realized and soon after an American-led coalition invaded the country, overthrowing Omar’s Taliban, but remaining in the country even to this day. Here 9 places that have seen bitter fighting for control of territory that is not exactly prime land are listed. Some of the places may briefly have had a strategic military value but quickly reverted to worthless land.
This large, barren, mountainous area now constitutes a southwest province of Pakistan. Though it makes up 44% of the country’s land mass, only 5% of the total population inhabits it. Primarily under British rule for 60 years from 1887 til 1947 but actually governed by Balochi tribal chiefs, the British had secured it after a disastrous war in Afghanistan to protect their back door to India. Other than for this aforementioned reason, it was of no value to the British. Then in 1952 natural gas was discovered, but the British had left by this time, and the Baloch people were left on their own to find their place in the independent and newly formed country of Pakistan.
8. Attu and Kiska.
These Aleutian Islands off Alaska were occupied in 1942 by Japanese forces, largely as a diversion to their attack on Midway Island. Cold, wet, inhospitable, the U.S. fought to take the islands back more for the sake of preventing a possible Japanese invasion of American territory rather than for any practical reasons. The G.I.s that had the misfortune of fighting there probably wondered it the effort was worth it.
7. Sinai Peninsula.
Currently belonging again to Egypt, the Sinai is a barren, miserable desert. The northern strip was valuable as the land-bridge between Asia and Africa, but the bulk of the peninsula is wasteland. Nonetheless, it was fought over by Egypt and Israel in 1956 and 1967, with Israel keeping it after 1967. In 1973, Egypt attacked Israel, largely to take back the Sinai, but it resulted in a catastrophic defeat for Egypt. Israel willingly gave it back in 1979, which kind of shows the place is not worth that much. (Honorable mention: Gaza and the West Bank.)
6. “Pork Chop Hill” (Hill 255).
Much like its counterpart that will be discussed below, Pork Chop Hill was the Korean War’s version of “Why are we here, and what are we doing?” Held by U.S. forces who were under extreme heavy attack by masses of Chinese infantry, the American G.I.s got hit with over 375,000 artillery shells. In turn, the Allies hit the Chinese back with 2 million artillery shells along the length of the battle line (including but not limited to Pork Chop Hill). The fighting resulted in over 29,000 U.S. and over 72,000 Chinese casualties. The Chinese managed to occupy a small part of the hill, and despite fighting so hard to keep it, Gen. Maxwell Taylor, the U.S. commander, decided to abandon it. Only 2 weeks later, the armistice was signed, and the hill became part of the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ), making all efforts to keep it a testament to wasted money and lives. The only good that came from fighting for this useless land was the 1959 movie Pork Chop Hill.
5. “Hamburger Hill” (Hill 937).
Scene of a fierce 1969 battle between the U.S. forces and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), Hamburger Hill had no real strategic value, and after the U.S. forces took it, they quickly abandoned it. The American public was outraged that the U.S. suffered 400 casualties for basically nothing, and this discontent resulted in the end of the U.S. military initiating major ground actions for the rest of the war in Viet Nam. Like #6 above, the only good thing that came from this battle for land nobody wanted anyway was the 1987 film Hamburger Hill.
The 4th poorest country in Europe, Albania’s gross domestic product (GDP) ranks below such “resort” countries as North Korea and Equatorial Guinea. Over the course of its history, it has been fought over by the Turks, Persians, Greeks, Italians, Germans and Soviets, among others. Although Albanian people have been valuable members of various empires through history and their country is now a member of NATO member, the land itself is just not that good. Recent exploitation of oil and natural gas resources, however, give the land some value, but that does not explain the historical fighting over it.
3. Iwo Jima.
This tiny Pacific island also known as “Sulfur Island” is a volcanic rock covered in volcanic sand and little else. There is no reliable source of water, no agriculture and no wild game. Its value came only as a place to put an airstrip for Japanese fighters to interdict American B-29s that were on their way to bomb Japan during World War II. U.S. bombing and naval shelling removed that threat entirely. U.S. forces then invaded the island to take control of the airstrip. While U.S. control over the airstrip did save the lives of some Americans, the cost to conquer the island was much greater at almost 7,000 U.S. and almost 19,000 Japanese lives; all for a 21-square kilometer speck of hell in the ocean.
Comprising half of the island of Hispaniola, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Once a French colony, Napoleon Bonaparte squandered thousands of French lives trying to keep this miserable place in the French Empire. A clue to why Napoleon should have just let it go is the fact that the vast majority of the approximately 50,000 French troops who died trying suppress the slave rebellion did not die of battle-inflicted injuries but rather of disease. Even today disease is common; a relatively high percentage of the Haitian population has HIV (approx. 2% of all adults), and 90% of Haitian children have intestinal parasites or other waterborne illnesses.
Historically, many outsiders have tried to take over this barren and mountainous area whose main products seem to be opium-producing poppies (heroin) and terrorists. The British found the territory to be uncontrollable, and the Soviets made such a long and mighty effort to subdue the place that their failure contributed to the breakdown of the Soviet Union. For the past 13 years, the U.S. has thrown away lives and money beyond comprehension, achieving almost none of its goals there.
Question for students (and subscribers): What places do you think deserve a spot on this list? Which of them do you not agree with? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Barthorp, Michael and Illustrated. The North-West Frontier British India and Afghanistan A Pictorial History 1839-1947. New Orchard Editions, 1986.