Maybe this is it? Even before reading this article, I've spent much of last week wondering why I spend valuable lifetime discussing trailing whitespace on github, instead of simply solving problems. Did programmers of past decades have other pointless battles to fight? Does anyone remember?
They have been fighting that one for longer than you know. :-)
Seriously, based on http://svn.freebsd.org/base/user/eri/pf45/head/usr.bin/inden... I suspect that in 1976 there was a developer at the University of Illinois who was already sick and tired enough of fighting with others over how to indent code to write a program to just do it The Right (ie his) Way.
Also, from the README:
| Some history. Way back in 1976, the project I worked on at the
| University of Illinois Center for Advanced Computation had a huge
| battle about how to format C code. After about a week of fighting, I
| got disgusted and wrote a program, which I called indent, to reformat C
| code. It had a bunch of different options that would let you format
| the output the way you liked. In particular, all of the different
| formats being championed were supported.