Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pax Americana?

Today I was thinking about war and the USA. When, I wondered, was the last year of peace we've had? I knew we've been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001, and then of course we've been in Iraq since 1990, with our No Fly Zones and near-daily sorties. I knew we'd had things like Panama and Grenada in the '80s, but didn't know when they happened.

From 1776 to 2011, that's 235 years of existence as a country. My question was what years have gone by without a military action. It's a bit muddy and uncertain, but it looks like, all told, we have had just 39 years of peace, counting occupations, by using a combination of this list and this list:


We haven't had a year of peace since 1940! Many of these wars, incidents, conflicts and occupations I'd never heard of. All the things in the Carribean and Central American banana republics are not taught in school. I admit, I'm counting the entire Cold War as a war. But if you only count actual military actions like Grenada and Panama, and proxy wars like Korea, Vietnam, we still haven't had a year without US military action since 1988, just before Panama... though even that is pretty debatable as being a "peace" year.

But breaking down the Cold War into actual military actions, of troops-on-the-ground, gets muddy. How do you define when we got involved in the Vietnam war? We had "advisors" there since 1955... but what's an advisor? The date on the list says the war started (for America, that is) in 1959. And while we aren't really occupying South Korea, we have troops there, and technically the war never ended. Of course I didn't count CIA missions, which opens up a whole 'nother can of worms.

I didn't count the many, many instances of troops (usually marines) being sent to this or that country to protect American lives and interests while said country is in a rebellion or whatever, nor did I count "displays of force" which struck me as naval exercises. They're both kinda borderline, so I opted to only include times when the troops were really used for war. If I had counted them, hardly a year passed where it didn't happen somewhere.

Most of the wars and actions that I did counnt were to support American business: anti-pirate actions, support for banana/fruit companies, and so on. Oil, of course. This isn't to say none of our actions were justified. The raids on the African coast against the slavers, after a law banning slave trading was passed, sounds alright to me; but still, many seem greed-influenced. That, or genocidal. We were fighting Native Americans for the entire first half our existence.

Many questions arise: Has there been a president who hasn't ordered troops somewhere? Can a country that is so devoid of peace really understand or support democracy? Why have we been so militant from the beginning? Is there hope for us to become a peaceful, truly prosperous country, without the use of force to ensure said prosperity? Can we ever leave this sick sort of economic terrorism behind?


  1. My father, at the end of his life of 86 years, said we were like Rome. He did not die optimistic. I don't think the last 5 years would have changed his mood.

  2. Besides all the military-type actions you list, there are countless CIA-infused activities as well. While no US troops were involved in the Chilean coup of 70 or 71 (I forget which), our covert agents were involved heavily. So, to add to your question, has there ever been a US president who hasn't ordered troops or undercover agents somewhere?