Genocidal wars dominate US history

Feb 12, 2024
An engraved illustration of George Washington crossing the River Delaware during the American Revolutionary War, from a Victorian book dated 1886 that is no longer in copyright

US politicians and others are always boasting about the US being the greatest in just about any category you can think of – from the record for eating hot dogs in a given time to their so-called democracy.

But perhaps the greatest boast is that it is a peace-loving state committed to protecting the world.

A classic manifestation of this was a recent statement by US President, Joe Biden this week who said: “The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”

Most of the harms to Americans over its history have been to each other – with the Civil War being the most obvious and the wars against First Nations peoples being close behind – with the First Nations people being seen as ‘the other’ and the US as the Americans.

But the genocidal wars against First Nations people were just one part of a US history dominated by war. After all the US has been at war for 92% of the time since independence in 1776. Before that the British settlers were intent on annihilation of First Nations people just as Early Australian settlers were.

Jill Lepore’s book – The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity details a devastation racial war involving colonists against Indians – that erupted in New England in 1675 and was, in proportion to population, the bloodiest in American history.

It has been argued that the massacres and outrages on both sides were too horrific to “deserve the name of a war.”

With some help from Wikipedia and other sources you can find innumerable pages listing the wars – starting with the 1775-1783 War of Independence – a war largely won because of French help although help not that often recognised by many Americans today. The descendants of British refugees from the Stuart Restoration also helped but other English settlers hightailed it to Canada.

Immediately after the war was finished the US launched a war against the Cherokee Nation and followed that by the Northwest Indian Wars; and, the Quasi War which encompassed the Atlantic, Caribbean, Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. Not bad for the first 20 odd years of independence.

Come the dawn of the 19th century the US was allied with various European countries in the First Barbary Wars off the coast of Tripoli. Within a couple of years the US was involved in Tecumseh’s War which managed to be part of two wars – that one and the war of 1812 where the White House was burnt by marauding British soldiers and the US got their national anthem. While fighting that war the US also took the time to wage war against the Creek nation.

Not content with fighting one war off the Barbary Coast the US was back again in the Mediterranean in 1825. Two years later they embarked on the Seminole Wars in which Spain ceded Spanish Florida to the US and the Seminoles in norther Florida were forcibly relocated – an early example of US enforced trails of tears.

But a decade after the first Seminole War there was a second go at it with a further 3800 Seminoles expelled from the Everglades to the Indian Territory. Trump’s hero, Andrew Jackson, played a part in this one. Sadly, but for the unfortunate outbreak of war and a mysterious foot problem, Donald Trump missed the opportunity to be drafted and go on to emulate Jackson’s military career.

In a rare exception to the norm the US actually signed a peace treaty after the Arikara War in 1823. Needless to say they didn’t keep to it.

The Indian Wars took a back seat for a few years while the Mexican American War was fought and much of the area the Spanish had stolen from the original inhabitants, which had then become part of Mexico, were stolen by the US. This was the war which drove General Grant to drink. Rapidly following were the Cayuse War (ethnic cleansing); Apache Wars (imprisonment on reservations); Navajo Wars against the Haida and Tingit: Puget Sound War against the Nisqually, Muckleshoot; Klickitat; the Rogue River wars against the Tututni; a third go at the Seminoles; and against the Nez Perze nation and others.

In the midst of all this the US had time for intervention in the Opium Wars and the Mormon Wars in the Utah Territory and Wyoming.

But it all paled into significance with the American Civil War (or as some Southerner’s still call it, the war of Northern Aggression).

Ostensibly this was won by the North although given the persistence of African American subjugation after the war it was a pyrrhic victory for many.

In one of those strange counter-factual views of history one wonders what would have happened post the War if Mrs Grant and Mrs Lincoln hadn’t loathed each other. If they had both attended, as planned, there would have been a military guard from Grant’s staff outside the box and the assassination might have failed.

Incredible as it might seem, during the Civil War slaughter, there was also time for another war involving Texas and Mexico.

After the Civil War the US got back in earnest to its most common wars – against First Nations people – this time including wars against the Dakota Sioux, the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux, Paiute, Bannock, Shoshone and the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho again.

These Indian wars extended into the 20th century with the last war in 1923 – to be replaced by other forms of oppression and harm.

Meanwhile in the late 19th century and early 20th century the US started to exercise international muscle much like the invasion and annexation and of a large swathe of Mexico.

Testing the waters for later Asian wars the US undertook expeditions to Korea and Formosa while also supporting the British in a war against Egypt in 1882. Sites for US involvement in the late 19th century included Samoa but the turn of the century was marked most by the Spanish-American War; the Philippine-American War; the action against the Moro rebellion in the Philippines; and sending troops to help put down the Boxer Rebellion.

In their own hemisphere around the same time there was another Mexican Border War; the Cuban ‘Banana Wars’; the occupation of Nicaragua, Vera Cruz, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

Then there were the big wars starting with World War One and the failed involvement (along with the British and us) in the Russian Civil War after the Revolution.

Most of the rest of the list is largely well known – WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Laos. But there were also military actions in Indonesia, Lebanon, Cambodia, Grenada, Libya, Yemen as well as the Panama invasion, the Gulf War, Iraq, the Somali civil war. There are other intervention in countries and regions which most Americans would either have never heard of or couldn’t find on a map.

And many of these include CIA sponsorship of the overthrows of democratic governments and their replacement by military dictatorships which practised systematic murder and torture.

The big question is where next and for what reason? An equally big question is whether once again we will be dragged into the mess.

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