We’ve been at war for 206 of or our 246 years of existence.
If you saw my last post, you know that I started looking at American wars as a way to see how many American Indian tribes we actually went to war with as a country. That led me further, however, to looking at all of our wars. Here is the data that I found, which I’m putting in the sort of overview that was certainly missing from my schooling when I was growing up.
We’ve engaged in 98 different conflicts. That’s one new war every two and a half years. At most, in 1918, we were in engaged in 8 conflicts at once. Many times, we’ve been engaged in seven different wars at once.
1918 (8): Apache Wars, Yaqui Wars, Border War, Occupation of Nicaragua, United States occupation of Haiti, United States occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916–1924), World War I, Russian Civil War
2015: War in Afghanistan, Second U.S. Intervention in the Somali Civil War, Operation Ocean Shield, Operation Observant Compass, American-led intervention in Iraq, American-led intervention in Syria, American intervention in Libya
2016 (same wars as 2015): War in Afghanistan, Second U.S. Intervention in the Somali Civil War, Operation Ocean Shield, Operation Observant Compass, American-led intervention in Iraq, American-led intervention in Syria, American intervention in Libya
I’m taking this list of wars from Wikipedia, so keep in mind it may not be definitive. Some people may want to argue that some of these weren’t “declared” wars, or that they weren’t very “hot” wars, I don’t have any interest in really touching that.
I must confess that I did not even know that we occupied Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic at the same time – while we were participating in World War I. The heavy war years of the 1800’s demonstrate how completely we were fighting against American Indian tribes of that time. The Apache Wars went from 1849-1924, though fighting had mostly stopped a few years before 1924. That’s still a 75 year conflict that I knew next to nothing about – that’s 30% of the entire life of America as a country that we were engaged in the Apache Wars. The list above also illustrates how war-heavy our recent years have been, though we often act as if we are not a country at war in modern times. But I suspect, except for the major wars, it has mostly been that way.
When was the last year that America did not engage in war? 1985. Our last sustained peace was from 1976-1981. Since it doesn’t make a lot of sense to try to view a spreadsheet like this in PDF format, I’ll give you all this link so you can scroll through if you like.
In terms of amount of wars over a relatively short period of time, 246 years, I don’t know how we compare to other nations of the world. I find it unlikely that I’ll make the time to put together spreadsheets like this for a lot of other countries. Knowing that we have engaged in some sort of war every 2.5 years of our existence is quite informative, in my view. In the 96 years since the final American Indian conflict ended (the final action of the Apache Wars) in 1924, the US has engaged in 31 conflicts. That’s a new conflict every 3.1 years. That’s certainly an improvement over our overall average, but it’s still 3 conflicts each decade. In the 149 years that we were fighting American Indians, we engaged in 69 wars in total. During that time, that was a new war every 2.2 years.
What are my takeaways here? The USA has been at war in one fashion or another for 84% of it’s existence. It’s no wonder that we became active in foreign interventions once the ongoing wars against American Indians came to an end – the public and our institutions were already accustomed to near constant war. That energy needed to go somewhere. This year we have been involved in 4 wars, currently we are still active in 3.
It does seem that it would take a sea change in the way America operates, and the realities of international politics, for America’s thirst for war to go away any time. It may morph, a notable short term improvement in the way our military operates would be to simply stop engaging in conflicts with insurrectionists in foreign countries, but I don’t see our politics changing so dramatically that we are going to significantly increase or decrease the pace at which we engage in war.