War and Ignorance

Kirk@GettysburgI am a child of the late 70’s born in the U.S. My parents were politically contemplative, opinionated and sometimes active. They actively disagreed with the world. They actively disagreed with each other. They actively agreed as well. They talked, argued, discussed and I ignored…mostly. My father was an active republican and my mother diametrically opposite. My father is a morning person, my mother is a night owl. My father has coffee brewing for you before you wake and cleans up behind you before you are done. My mother tells you that you are welcome to anything and you are perfectly capable of making, getting, and cleaning up your own coffee. They have been married and in love so long, it seems that they are the stories of fate.

As I get older, I see how much I tuned out. What I missed was a vast abyss of information. It may be a cliche, but it’s true. With knowing, comes more questions. With more questions comes the realization of how little one knows. But I also find I have areas of complete ignorance. I had no idea that in the short history of the United States, no person has lived a full life without seeing war. Until yesterday, I’m ashamed to admit, I did not know that Vietnam lasted 20 years which is a quarter of many peoples lives. I was clueless that the United States went directly from fighting in Korea to fighting in Vietnam with less than two years between the conflicts.

I’m an archaeologist. I rely on history. But mainly I need to put it all into perspective for my own personal understanding of the world. I had no idea that the last surviving member of the Union Army,  Albert Woolson, died in 1956. 1956. The last civil war Union widow died only 10 years ago and one “child” of a vet is still receiving benefits. I used to think the civil war was far beyond our collective consciousness, but the truth is that first hand accounts have disappeared in the last few years. It is a passing of a historical era, but it didn’t pass when the war ended and new wars fought. It is passing in this new millennium.

We are not a nation of peace. We are nation of war and it pervades our culture in ways we cannot even imagine for better or for worse.

I apologize for the completely U.S. centric view of the table below. While it doesn't necessarily mention the beginning of each war, it does give information about the years of direct U.S. involvement in select wars as well as estimates of the U.S. death toll. 

U.S. Involvement in War

 Select Wars  Start  End  Length  Previous Big War  US Death Toll (estimate)  Presidents
American Revolution 1774 1783 9 0 25,000
Various Wars with American Indians 1783 1891 108 0 3,875 Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, Harrison
War of 1812 1812 1815 3 29 15,000 Madison
Mexican American 1846 1848 2 31 13,283 Polk
U.S. Civil War 1861 1865 4 13 625,000 Lincoln
Spanish American 1898 1898 0.25 33 2,446 McKinley
Philippine American 1899 1902 3 1 4,196 McKinley, Roosevelt
World War I 1917 1918 1 15 204,002 Wilson
World War II 1941 1945 4 23 670,846 Roosevelt
Korean War 1950 1953 3 5 92,134 Truman
Vietnam War 1955 1975 20 2 153,303 Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford
Various Involvement in Mid East 1981 1989 8 6 321 Reagan, Bush Sr.
Gulf War 1990 1991 1 15 849 Bush Sr.
War on Terror (ongoing) 2001 2013 12 10 6,717 Bush Jr., Obama

Note: Numbers are estimates. If you find data to be incorrect, please contact me. Source is mainly wikipedia accessed in 2013 (don’t knock crowd sourcing, it’s better than you think). Perhaps for a different and terribly depressing post, I will discuss all deaths rather than just U.S. deaths.