What has America learned from its war experiences? The nation has a long history of wars as it began with a war of liberation from England, of course. There were 39 wars between the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War. While we often lecture developing nations about making the great leap to democracy, our own national history is one of violent evolution.
Most of the American wars during that span of history had to do with exterminating the American Indians. Some had to do with American colonialism and conquest of Central America.
Consider the next span of wars post the Civil War. The United States was drawn into WWI on the side of France, United Kingdom, Russia, China, Italy, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Serbia, Romania, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, and Brazil. America’s contribution was technology and fresh manpower that made a difference in settling the stalemated war. The outcome was the formation of the League of Nations and remapping the Middle East, for instances.
The next big war was a civil war inside Russia in which the US took sides. America chose “White Russia”, and lost to the “Reds” with war ending in 1922.
Next came World War II. War was waged against the Axis Powers: Germany, Vichy France, Japan, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Finland, Thailand, Manchukuo, Croatia, and Slovakia.
Hostile empires were defeated; the United Nations was born, as were superpowers, the US and Soviet Union. The Cold War began as a resulting outcome pitting democratic values against communism and dictatorial powers. It was also framed as a war for individual freedom and liberty.
A small and forgotten war was that between the US and Puerto Rico in 1950. The US maintained control over the “strategic territory.”
The Korean War emerged as a proxy war between the free world led by the US and communist alliance led by China and the Soviet Union. The result is a stalemate. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, China’s support for North Korea keeps the war smoldering.
The first Indochina War was fought with the US supporting France in the lead against the Viet Minh, Pathet Lao, Khmer Issarak, and United Issarak Front.
Now, that brings us to truly modern American history with the Vietnam War that began in 1953 and lasted until 1975. That is a 22 year war. It is another proxy war with America and free world allies against the following enemies: North Vietnam,Viet Cong, Khmer Rouge, Khmer Issarak, Pathet Lao, North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union.
The Vietnam War ended with America withdrawing and Vietnam uniting as a single nation. Very soon, Vietnam became engaged in international commerce once again. Its people are strengthening autonomy with China, for instance. America lost 211,454 lives in Vietnam.
By comparison, America lost 57,614 in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As a point of contrast, Americans lost about 650,000 citizens fighting among ourselves in the American Civil War. We lost 320,518 in World War I and 1,076,245 in World War II.
Now, one might argue the merit of American participation in WWI and WWII. One might argue justification for America’s conquest of Native Americans in pursuit of developing the nation albeit with moral caveats.
Yet, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan appear to be American catastrophes in terms of foreign policy. They seem to underscore the need for greater ability to solve problems and to advance the cause of freedom in the presence of apparent ineptness. We can’t continue to make excuses and hide incompetence and immorality under the guise of patriotism. As a people, we must do better.
"War is not the answer to a peaceful existence
Policymakers could learn from considering a nonviolent approach to past conflicts
By Kristin Christman, Commentary
Published 3:04 pm, Saturday, February 8, 2014
Martin Luther King Jr. Day has passed, but his question remains: How can we improve our potential for peace?
Here's one answer: change our education about wars. Question the usefulness of each past war. Imagine, if we could travel back in time, nonviolent options that could have been more beneficial.
When we evaluate war, we are not smearing with shame ancestral soldiers. Troops are at the mercy of policymakers. And policymakers are in the grips of cultural and psychological habits. So the point is not to condemn anybody but to figure out whether there were better options and why they weren't pursued.
Let's begin with the centuries of war against Native Americans. Why? Because the fears, biases, and goals driving U.S. foreign policies back then continue to steer U.S. policies today in Latin America, the Mideast, and beyond. And, just as policymakers thought they were doing the right thing back then for the sake of national security, profits, railroads, miners, ranchers, and Westernization, policymakers think they are doing the right thing now."