America and War

October 12, 2023
America and War
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American and war - drums of war have sounded many times in America's history. From breaking away as 13 small colonies to becoming a global superpower, military conflict has shaped the growth and identity of the United States. Let's take a look back  through the major wars that have impacted this nation.

The Revolutionary War (1775-1783) marked the beginning of our country. The ragtag Continental Army led by George Washington went up against the mighty British forces and somehow prevailed. Key victories at Saratoga and Yorktown and the assistance of the French eventually secured independence for the new United States of America.

But growing pains awaited the young nation. Faced with attacks on American ships and demands to take sides in the Napoleonic Wars, the US struggled to maintain neutrality. This led to the War of 1812 with Britain, where we got our butt kicked trying to invade Canada but redeemed ourselves by beating back British invasions. The Star Spangled Banner was written during the Battle of Fort McHenry, immortalizing this conflict.

America's westward expansion brought more clashes with Native Americans. Tecumseh's Confederacy fought hard but lost to future president William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Andrew Jackson crushed the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend and pushed the Seminoles south during the First Seminole War. Displacing and relocating tribes would facilitate America's "manifest destiny" to spread from coast to coast.

The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) was another land grab, resulting in the US Southwest becoming part of the United States. But conflict was also brewing from within over the issue of slavery. Abolitionist John Brown led a failed slave rebellion at Harpers Ferry, foreshadowing the Civil War (1861-1865) between North and South. This bloody four year struggle under Abraham Lincoln cemented the Union victory and abolished slavery. But Reconstruction failed to fully integrate freed slaves, setting up decades of division and racism.

America looked outward again with the Spanish-American War (1898), acquiring Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines after decisively defeating Spain. Victory catapulted the US onto the world stage as a colonial power.

When World War I erupted in 1914, the US stayed neutral for three years until finally joining the Allies in 1917 to defeat the Central Powers. America provided the manpower and equipment needed to break the bloody stalemate in Europe. President Wilson hoped the newly created League of Nations would preserve peace, but isolationist sentiments kept the US out of this precursor to the United Nations.

After the Great Depression and rise of militaristic regimes in Japan and Germany, America was drawn into World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbor (1941). Under Franklin Roosevelt, the US allied with Britain and Russia, turning the tide against fascism in Europe and the Pacific. Developing the atomic bomb hastened Japan's surrender after years of island hopping battles and horrific loss of life.

The postwar period saw the start of the Cold War against the Soviet Union and rise of the nuclear arms race. Communist expansion into Korea led to the Korean War (1950-53), where UN forces pushed back North Korean/Chinese troops from the South after seesawing battle lines. Tensions mounted during the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) but mutually assured destruction deterred direct confrontation between the US and USSR.

But communism took root in Vietnam, embroiling America in a long, unpopular war (1964-1973). Despite superior firepower, US and South Vietnamese troops could not suppress the Viet Cong insurgency or roll back the North Vietnamese army. This failure dealt a blow to US prestige. Domestically, the anti-war movement created huge divisions as over 58,000 US soldiers died in Southeast Asia.

Other military operations during the Cold War era stayed more limited in scope. In 1983, Reagan ordered an invasion of Grenada after a coup threatened American medical students there. US forces quickly overwhelmed the island's defenders. The First Gulf War (1990-91) occurred after Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia's oil fields. President George H.W. Bush assembled a UN coalition that decisively defeated Iraqi forces and liberated Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. But Saddam clung to power, setting up future confrontation with the US.

The shocking terrorist attacks on 9/11 (2001) led to America's longest war in Afghanistan (2001-2021) to root out al-Qaeda and take down the Taliban government sheltering them. Quick initial victory gave way to 20 years of grueling counterinsurgency and nation-building attempts. But tribal dynamics, endemic corruption, and Taliban resurgence forced a chaotic final US withdrawal. Over 2,400 American soldiers perished trying to stabilize this graveyard of empires.

Seeking to eliminate Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction, Bush also launched the controversial second Iraq War (2003-2011). But faulty intelligence was exposed when no WMDs were found, fueling insurgencies that killed over 4,400 US troops. Hussein was deposed and later executed, but sectarian violence continued even after free elections.

American military interventions since have stayed limited in scope like the NATO-led overthrow of Libya's Gaddafi in 2011. Battling the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq beginning 2014 achieved major territorial gains before Trump partially withdrew US support for Kurdish allies in 2019. Drone strikes and aid for Saudi Arabia continue in the stalemated Yemen conflict.

Today the US spends nearly $800 billion annually on defense to maintain global primacy while also providing security guarantees for allies like Europe and Japan. But endless small wars and focus on counterterrorism has shifted attention from great power rivals Russia and China. Meanwhile cynicism about foreign interventions grew after the debacle of Afghanistan, along with concerns about the enormous cost in lives and resources.

This is obviously an abbreviated tour of America's major military conflicts that covers patterns and turning points over nearly 250 years, but glosses over the individual stories that form the fabric of our shared history.

The courage, fears, triumphs, mistakes, and costs binding war to national identity continue impacting policies and politics today. Military force has preserved, divided, expanded, defended, and redefined the United States throughout its existence. Diplomacy and remembrance must balance martial strength to avoid forever remaining a nation born and bound by battle.

In closing we honor all United States service members and first responders along with all human beings that have been negatively impacted by war. Because of those sacrifices, we get to sit comfortably behind our computers writing articles like this and we sincerely thank all of you for that privilege.

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