Lessons From A Century of American Military Intervention

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What makes us proud to be American?  Has the military been a part of your family history? What makes you care about being American?  Sometimes we try not to care because we don’t want to pay the cost.  This is like trying to stay neutral in the face of conflicts.  In some ways the American military has always been an emotional thing that either brings us together around patriotism or causes us to question the American mission.  Should the American Military in the 21st century be engaged in conflict around the world to protect freedom?

When I was younger my mom always used to talk about her grandfather and how he was in the military.  He served our country in war and I never understood why it was so important to her.  Now I realize that he risked his life for random people he doesn’t even know and that takes courage; to know your going to almost die for people you don’t know. I think the military has a lot of good things about it and it’s helpful to America and the pride in American culture.  I also think there’s no point in military intervention through fighting. I think the whole world should just leave other countries alone but I also know world peace is almost impossible.  This is the reality; there will always be a war to fight if we choose to do so but at what cost?

Thinking about my family’s history in the military has made me realize that there is some benefit to military culture in history.  It’s definitely good to be able to defend our nation from threats but as I study the history of wars with the US military over the last 100 years it is clear to me that sending military force to protect freedom is getting harder.  In fact, we once had great pride in our military successes but recently we have not been successful using military force to protect freedom. 

The facts of the last century of U.S. military engagements show a trend.  

During the era of world wars the American military was praised for success.  Since the Korean war there has been no clear victory for the American military


When? 1914 – 1918

Who was President? Woodrow Wilson 

The War to end all wars…will make the world safe for democracy”

 – Wilson’s Declaration of War before US Congress on April 2, 1917

Why did the US send a military?  

When America faced world war in Europe they tried not to care.  They tried to stay neutral.  Germany was a bully with submarines on the Atlantic ocean and they sent a secret telegram to Mexico to create an alliance of war against the USA.  The United States could not take being neutral anymore.  

What was the outcome?

Germany was punished severely with the Treaty of Versailles and President Wilson’s 14 Points of Peace were not approved by US Congress.






This is a positive view of the American military mission World War I U.S. Navy propaganda poster (1917 or 1918) by American artist and illustrator James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960).



When? September 1, 1939 – September 2, 1945

Who was President? FD Roosevelt and Harry S Truman    


  “a day we will live in infamy” F.D Roosevelt Speaking of Pearl Harbor bombing by the Japanese December 7, 1941

 “It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware.” President Truman in a press release following the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

SOURCE: https://www.atomicheritage.org/key-documents/truman-statement-hiroshima

Why did the US send a military? Despite the horrors of Hitler and the Nazi invasions in Europe, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec 6 1941 brought us into war. Much like World War I it was German military aggression that started the war but unlike World War I it was the American Military superpower in Japan that ended the war.

This comparison of WW2 US soldiers to the troops of George Washington fighting for independence in the American Revolution shows the romantic idea of the American Military through the mid 20th century.

What was the outcome of World War II? Japan surrenders because America drops 2 atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.  This use of the top secret Atomic Bomb would be a spark that started the next period of conflict known as the Cold War. The Cold War between the USA and its democratic allies and the Soviet Union and its Communist allies was a time of great competition, militarization, and technological development.  It had lasting consequences on the idea of direct military intervention as a successful method of protecting liberty.

The Cold War was a long time period from 1945-1990.

Who were the American Presidents at this time and what did they say about the Cold War?

1945: President Harry S. Truman and the “Truman Doctrine”


The foreign policy and the national security of this country….Greece must have assistance if its to become a self supporting democracy…the US has already given economic aid….there is no other country but the United States that can provide the 

One of the primary actions of the US military is to protect the conditions that allow for democracy…. I ask the Congress….$400 million and the authorization of the US military to assist in reconstruction and supervision of Greece and Turkey…we must keep that hope alive….support in maintaining freedom.  If we falter we may endanger the peace of the world and surely the peace of this nation.”


1953-1961: President Dwight D. Eisenhower; beware of the military industrial complex.

Military Industrial COmplex Speech:  https://youtu.be/Gg-jvHynP9Y


Eisenhower warned the American public to watch out for the desires for profits made by militarization of America in the world.


When?  1950-1953

Who was President? Truman got us into a conflict with Eisenhower got out of it.

Truman : “If there is one basic element in our Constitution, it is civilian control of the military.” speaking of his dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur over public disagreement on the Korean conflict.  Source NY TIMES



Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the “falling domino” principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.

Introducing the domino theory, that if Vietnam fell to communism, the rest of Southeast Asia would soon follow. Press conference, April 7, 1954.

Truman: I know that all members of the United Nations will consider carefully the consequences of this latest aggression in Korea in defiance of the Charter of the United Nations. A return to the rule of force in international affairs would have far-reaching effects. The United States will continue to uphold the rule of law. 

Why did the US send a military? On June 27, President Truman announced to the nation and the world that America would intervene in the Korean conflict in order to prevent the conquest of an independent nation by communism.

What was the outcome?  It was a tie. It was a ceasefire agreement that led to the most militarized border in the world and the creation of a DMZ in between.


The bear represents the USSR preventing a clear victory for the USA in Korea.



The Vietnam War

When? Feb. 28, 1961 and ending on May 7, 1975 

Who was President? There were 5 overall

  1. Eisenhower:  Domino Theory
  2.  Kennedy:Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”   https://youtu.be/5C3gqIR8RoI 
  3. Johnson: “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” 
  4. Nixon: What is “Vietnamization”? “we Americanized the war in Vietnam. In this administration, we are Vietnamizing the search for peace.” 
  5. Ford: https://youtu.be/0TVJzum8Z6c “We will stand by our friends.  We will uphold our country’s commitments.”

Why did the US send a military? The U.S. entered the Vietnam War in an attempt to prevent the spread of communism.

What was the outcome? Communist forces ended the war by seizing control of South Vietnam in 1975, and the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the following year.

Vietnam was seen as a total loss. This shows how hard we tried getting out.
This picture shows the conflict between south and north Korea still to this day.

Operation Desert Storm


When? August 2 1989 to January 1991

Who was President? President George Bush; inaugural speech January 1989

Why did the US send a military? Iraqi forces who had invaded neighboring Kuwait refused to withdraw

What was the outcome? Bush declared a cease-fire and victory while allowing Saddam Hussein to stay in power after decisively pushing Iraqi forces back to Bagdhadand out of Kuwait. Some historians argue that the American military presence on the Arrabian peninsula did more harm than good in the long run because of the acts of terrorism that were motivated by arab resentment.

This cartoon shows the shift in how the American Military became a tool for profit and power rather than protecting the ideals of human rights. Many say that it was the oil business that prompted action and not the need to protect freedom.


The War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan

When? Started September 2001 ended 2021

Who was President? George Bush jr. Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Joe Biden 

Why did the US send a military? we were attacked by Osama 

What was the outcome? Inside Afghanistan, American troops quickly toppled the Taliban government and crushed its fighting forces. In December 2001, the Taliban’s spokesman offered an unconditional surrender, which was rejected by the United States but the war was not over because the Taliban did not go away and Al Queida kept fighting.  The Terrorist action eveolved into a threat from ISIS after President Obama successfully ordered the killing of Osama Bin Laden who was hiding in Pakistan.  In Iraq Saddam Hussein was arrested and put on trial and sentenced to death as a new government was established but still with divisions and violent militarist influences.  George Bush declared “mission accomplished” but the war became our longest in history and only just eneded in a messy withdrawl from Afghanistan at the beginning of the Biden Presidency.

Uncle Sam represents the US Military. He turns his back on the woman who represents freedom and democracy for Afghanistan with a false sense of accomplishment. The artist shows ironically that things may be worse not better for the Afghan people at the end of the American military mission.

What is happening in Ukraine and what is the United States doing about it?

When did Russia invade Ukraine in 2022?

On 24 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine in a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War that began in 2014. The invasion caused Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II, with more than 8.8 million Ukrainians fleeing the country and a third of the population displaced.  5 months into this war there is no end in sight as the country is destroyed day by day.


How did western nations including the United States and other NATO countries respond?

NATO does not go to war with Russia but is on Ukraine side.  While they support the defense of freedom and democracy they understand the lessons from World War I.  Once alliances declare war it becomes a total global war.  In this case that could threaten nuclear destruction.  Often this lack of commitment to join the fight is viewed as weak.

The US and the UK stand wearing the NATO blue star symbol. What does this say about sending in military force to stop Russia’s occupation of Ukraine?



The situation in Ukraine today is one more reminder that more war does not lead to more freedom.  We don’t need to be preparing for war we need to prepare for other things that are going on in our own countries.  The back and forth is dumb to me.  People die for reasons that have nothing to do with them.   I understand they wanna serve their country or fight for their ideals but why should there be all this violenceand death just because one country wants something from another.  In the end both sides have so much more lost than gained.


In the editorial above from 2017, the fear of too much militarization is evident.  Reading it now in 2022 it almost seems like it was predicting the current war and destruction.  It seems obvious that the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned people about in the 1950s continues to buy and sell weapons in the 21st century.  America sends weapons to nations we want as our allies but this will only lead to war much like it did in World War I.  The world is more complicated and interconnected today and war has become even more costly for all but the weapons manufacturers.

Just yesterday military leaders from Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey met with officials from the United Nations to discuss humanitarian relief and the release of a Russian blockade on Ukrainian grain supplies.  War anywhere affects people everywhere.  Russia agreed to led the grain trade happen freely but then they bombed innocent civilians ina Ukrainian city today.  It takes two sides to fight any war.  How would things be different for Ukraine if they did not resist the Russian occupation?  What is it that causes us to fight?

Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish military delegations meet with U.N. officials in Istanbul


The causes of war sometimes echoe through history.  Today’s war in Ukraine sounds very familiar to the Crimean War of the 19th century.  Some people say history repeats itself.  It may not be exact but the present day often rhymes with the events of the past because the causes of human conflict do not go away.  What might change is how we choose to respond.


The great tragedy of war is another constant in human history.  It is nearly impossible to seerate military actions from civilian tragedy in war but the actions of Russia are deliberately causing suffering to women, children and families.


A day after the invasion this cartoon paints a picture of weakness and inaction.  Sometimes nations go too war with the mistaken idea that it shows strength.  War most often is an act of selfish pride.  It is hard to watch a fight and not step in.  The lessons of the last century show us that it is very hard to step into a military fight and come out as a winner.  the only victories that can be found come from the tables of difficult dialogue.  This takes a willingness on both sides; something that the Russians and Ukrainians do not have today.