The One Minute War: The Birth of The Conch Republic
In 1982, America won the shortest war the world has ever seen. It didn’t even last a minute. There were no casualties, but one unfortunate soul did have a loaf of stale bread broken over their head. The war took place in the Florida Keys, the 1,700-island archipelago off the southern coast of Florida. You may have not heard about this war, but it was significant in the birth of the Conch Republic.
Like every war, it began with a simmering tension. The Florida Keys had always felt quite distant with America, quite literally since Key West is in fact closer to Cuba than it is to Miami, but the people felt their concerns were never recognised by the mainland. This was apparent when the United States Border Control organised a blockade on the only highway going in and out of the Keys. Now, if you wished to reach the mainland, you were forced to go through customs and have your vehicle searched by surly officers. The locals were enraged.
The Conch Republic Flag. Photo via Sam Howzit on Flickr
Mayor of Key West, Dennis Wardlow was particularly riled by the disrespect shown to the Keys. If America wanted to treat them like a foreign state, they’ll be just that! On April 23, 1982 Wardlow read a Declaration of Secession, and christened the Florida Keys the Conch Republic. Not one to take a backward step, he declared war on the United States and attacked an American Naval Officer with a piece of stale Cuban bread. Quitting while they were ahead, the Conch Republic surrendered, but requested $1 billion in foreign aid. Curiously, the request was ignored, but the Americans were rattled by this attack and the blockade was suddenly lifted.
For many years, the Conch Republic and United States lived in peace and harmony, until one fateful day historians refer to as the invasion. In 1995, a message was intercepted by the Conch Republic. The United States Army Reserve were planning to simulate an invasion on a foreign country, using Key West as an exercise. The Conch Republic didn’t like that one bit. In their eyes Key West was a foreign country and they were under attack!
They had to act fast. The Conch Republic navy - a handful of fireboats - was mobilised and proceeded to spray water and hurl more stale Cuban bread at the attacking American ship. The defence was a success. The Army Reserve retreated and officially apologised to the Conch Republic. Since then, the relationship between the two nations has been stronger than ever with the rights of the people from the Conch Republic finally being respected by the United States.
This of course was all a tongue in cheek reaction to the disrespect shown to the people of Florida Keys. The Conch Republic, however, has become a symbol for the Keys. It has become a representation of their laid-back and friendly culture even in times of distress, and is best summarised in their motto: “The mitigation of world tension through the exercise of humour”.