Last week the Washington Post ran a blog post titled “Washington Post Story: Here’s how much of your life the United States has been at war.” The author Philip Bump used a chart to show the percentages of a lifetime an American has spent at war, based on their ages.
This got me thinking about just how many American wars I’ve experienced during my lifetime.
I was born in 1956, near the end of the Baby Boomer generation, a generation defined as the years of 1946 – 1964. My generation in itself was an offshoot of World War II and our returning American veterans, which included my father and most of my uncles.
Quickly following cessation of active shooting in World War II, the United States and the newly formed Soviet Union entered into the nuclear-armed Cold War starting in 1947. Despite some extremely tense moments during those years, including the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, we managed to not actually launch nuclear-tipped missiles at each other and not actually end human civilization as we know it.
I do remember the “Duck and Cover” drills we used to have in school, and the television ads encouraging us to know where our nearest nuclear fall-out shelters were. Even though I was only six years old at the time, I can remember my school teacher’s grim faces during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the hushed whispers they were exchanging as we practiced our Duck and Cover drills. Those regular school Duck and Cover drills lasted until I was in fifth grade, in 1966.
Historians consider the Cold War as officially ending in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved, 34 years after it started. I remember the near-surrealistic images of the Berlin Wall being torn down by German citizens in 1989.
Layered on top of the Cold War we had the Korean War. The active shooting lasted from 1950 to 1953, before I was born, but this war has never officially ended. We continue to remain at a truce, but in a state of war, with North Korea on behalf of our ally South Korea, and the Demilitarized Zone is one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world today. On occasion over the years this truce has become tense, as the recent sinking of a South Korean Patrol Boat by North Korea indicated. The Korean War has now effectively involved the United States military forces for 65 years.
After ending active shooting in Korea, we sent in troops and Intervened in Lebanon in 1958.
We sent in proxy troops trained by our Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and supported by our military, to invade Cuba in the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961.
Immediately after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, we became involved in Southeast Asia, in the action that has become known as the Vietnam War. Although focused on Vietnam, our military also became involved in the Cambodian Civil War (which included enthusiastic aerial bombing campaigns, helped create the Khmer Rouge and triggered Cambodian Genocide). We also “secretly” became involved in the Laotian Civil War during those years.
The Vietnam war and our side conflicts in Southeast Asia lasted from 1962 – 1975, 13 years.
Not content to only be involved in only one war at a time, we became involved in the Dominican Civil War between 1965 to 1966.
Until 1974, we had a mandatory conscription policy for military service, otherwise known as “The Draft.” Our involvement in Vietnam almost torn apart our nation with protests from young men who saw no reason to be drafted and forced to go overseas to the meat-grinder that was Vietnam. The outcome of those protests, besides ending our involvement in Vietnam, was to end our policy of mandatory conscription. The Draft ended in 1973, just before I enlisted in the Navy, but mandatory registration with the Selective Service System continues. Ending The Draft and mandatory conscription meant relaying on an all-volunteer military force, with the impact that the war’s we’ve fought since 1974 appears to be largely invisible to most Americans.
Having ended our involvement in Vietnam, we sent our military back into Lebanon as part of a multinational force between 1982 – 1984.
We invaded the Caribbean island nation of Grenada in 1983.
We invaded and occupied the Central American nation of Panama between 1989 – 1990. A feature of this invasion and occupation was arresting the de facto Panamanian leader, general, and dictator Manuel Noriega; a man we had originally installed and propped up as Panama’s leader.
Just as the Cold War was winding down we became involved in the Gulf War of 1990 – 1991, what has now become known as our first war in Iraq. As with Panama in 1989 – 1990, the Gulf War was about fighting a dictator (Saddam Hussein) that we once helped install and support as Iraq’s leader.
We followed the active shooting portion of the Gulf War with the Iraqi No-Fly Zones Conflict starting in 1991. This No-Fly conflict only ended with the second Iraqi war in 2003, lasting 12 years.
Immediately following our fist Iraqi War, we became involved in the Somali Civil War of 1992 – 1995. This war gave us the movie “Black Hawk Down,” which is all that most Americans seem to know about this particular war.
We involved ourselves in a civil war in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, between 1994 – 1995.
While our troops were in Haiti, we also sent troops to fight in Bosnia between 1994 to 1995.
Following our involvement in Bosnia, we fought the Kosovo War between 1998 – 1999.
Our Global War on Terror (GWOT) officially started on September 11, 2001, with the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks. Fighting GWOT officially ended in 2013 when President Obama announced we would be pursuing specific enemies instead of using the War On Terror as a tactic.
Alongside GWOT, we went to war in Afghanistan as a result of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. This war continues to the present, now 14 years and counting.
President G.W. Bush took us into our second war with Iraq in 2003, which officially ended in 2011. We left that nation in chaos, which continues to this day and is now considered responsible for the general instability in the Middle East.
We effectively went to war in North-West Pakistan for the purpose of hunting down terrorists starting in 2004. This war primarily involved US Special Forces and remotely operated drone aircraft, and continues to the present. We’ve also become involved in hunting terrorists in the middle-east nation of Yemen using drones and Special Forces.
We became involved in yet another civil war, this time in Libya, in 2011.
Last year we started what looks to be a protracted military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
So, in my lifetime I have never actually know a single year when our nation was not involved in some type of war or military conflict. I think this is something worth considering on this Memorial Day holiday.
I think it is worth considering just what we as a nation could be if we weren’t spending our national wealth, and the lives of our American citizens, on wars without end.
Crossposted on Daily Kos at “A Lifetime Of War.”