Wikipedia, just because it’s handy and because somebody worked pretty hard at this, says the U.S. has been involved in 107 wars.
Can you name five? Six of the most known are The Revolutionary War, The Civil War, World War I, World War II, The Korean War, and The Vietnam War.
The War on Terror (officially the Global War on Terrorism) is the most recent “war” for the U.S. It began after the attack on the United States by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, and lasted until 2021.
According to the folks on Wikipedia, the U.S. and its allies won 79 of its 107 wars, lost 11, and the rest are either ongoing or the result is “inconclusive.”
But I’m less interested in who won than I am in why the war was fought at all.
It would take brilliant historians and investigative journalists working together to unpack that answer. I am neither, but I do have some observations.
Look into all these wars a little more deeply, and you’ll see that they aren’t always simple.
The Spanish-American War, for instance, began for the U.S. in Cuba and resulted in the United States acquisition of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. It ended with The Treaty of Paris.
Figure all of that out geographically and you’ll be at the head of your class.
What many Americans remember from the Spanish-American War is Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders and their charge up San Juan Hill. Some have heard the phrase “Remember the Maine,” but today more people know the phrase than know what it was.
In short is was, perhaps, the 1898 equivalent of the twin towers in New York. It turns out America has never liked being attacked.
Basically, no one does.
If you want to start a fight, attack.
Russia attacked Ukraine and got much more of a fight out of it than they anticipated.
Hamas attacked Israel, and is getting a fight that will not end well for them.
In fact there are few things that can unite a people more deeply than being attacked. And so, when the USS Maine, an American ship that was anchored in Havana to protect American citizens there, was blown up, the United States entered Cuba’s fight with Spain for independence.
American newspaper publishers decided that Spain had bombed the ship, killing 260 American sailors, and stated that as fact in their papers. The phrase “Remember the Maine” became the battle cry.
America took Cuba’s side for independence, blockaded the island from the Spanish, and Spain declared war on the United States, which responded in kind.
And that war was shorter than an American family feud.
Hatfields and McCoys
Perhaps the most famous family fight in American history was the feud between the Hatfields, mostly from West Virginia, and the McCoys, mostly in Kentucky. It started in 1863 and lasted almost 30 years. It ended officially with a truce signed by both families on June 14, 2003.
Whether it was 28 years or 140 years, that’s a long time to fight.
A lot of things contributed to that feud, but one that is little known is genetics. According to History, in 2007 scientists did a deep dive into the Hatfield and McCoy descendants. They found a very high incidence of Von Hippel-Lindau disorder, a disease that can make people very short-tempered and easy to provoke.
You and I probably don’t have that disorder, but all of us are sometimes easily provoked.
Without a genetic component in play, what causes that?
In other words, what are you fighting for?
Fighting for good
I started this with fighting in the form of wars because I believe we can learn something about ourselves from those. There are things to learn from the Hatfields and McCoys as well. That includes the resolution written by a Hatfield and a McCoy in 2003.
A big part of what brought them together at that time was the attack on America on 9/11. Until then the Hatfield and McCoy descendants often made light of the feud. In fact they even appeared on Family Feud in 1976.
But after 9/11 they became more serious, and part of the truce signed by more than 60 descendants says, “We ask by God’s grace and love that we be forever remembered as those that bound together the hearts of two families to form a family of freedom in America.”
They were fighting to no longer be remembered for fighting, but for peace.
The Civil War was fought initially to restore the Union. Once the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln (best use ever of an Executive Order), there was a second cause for the war.
It was a war that was being fought for good.
Fighting for gold
But the United States government has not always fought for good. The Nez Percé Indians were very friendly with the government. Chief Joseph had become a Christian and flew an American flag.
In 1863, during the Civil War, gold was discovered in Nez Percé territory, and in a few short years the government rescinded their land agreement with the tribe, reducing their territory by 90%. Chief Joseph resisted, and when he died in 1871 his son, also Joseph, succeeded him.
The Nez Percé resisted orders to move from Oregon to Idaho, but knew they could not win a military battle. Joseph reluctantly led his people toward Idaho. They didn’t get there, because 20 of his young warriors, frustrated by it all, raided some nearby settlements and killed some white people.
The Army began to pursue, and according to sources, what followed was a brilliant military evasion.
During a period of just over three months, the band of about 700 (fewer than 200 were warriors) fought 2,000 U.S. soldiers and Indian auxiliaries in four major battles and numerous skirmishes.
Finally Chief Joseph surrendered. His speech on the occasion was sad, beautiful, and a lesson for us all. It ends with this famous line:
“From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”
Are the fights you are in for good? Then fight if you must. Otherwise may we all be like Chief Joseph and “fight no more forever.”
Do good. It’s in you.