With tensions rising in Ukraine, the idea of the United States going to another war has become a possibility. War has been an active part of the history of the country since it earned its independence in 1776 via the Revolutionary War. In its 200 year history, the United States has fought 100 plus military excursions, some of them full fledged wars, others more military campaigns. It averages out to military activity about once every two years.
Why do countries engage in war? Some of the reasons over the years seem to be petty and ridiculous to us on the other side of history, but at the time could have been passionate issues. In the early 1900s, the British Empire goes to war with a the African Ashanti Empire over a sacred golden stool. The British Governor demands the stool as a way to show his power over the nation. However, the people didn’t go for it and a short war broke out, which the Ashanti Empire lost, but Britain never got the stool.
For the United States, there have been numerous times when it was on a brink of war for some shocking reason. For example, in 1859, blows were almost exchanged with the British Empire, because they got into a military standoff over a pig. In the 1850s, the Northwest boundary between the British Canada and the United States was up to dispute with both sides claiming the San Juan Islands. When one Irish Farmer let one of his free range pigs wander onto the land of an American citizen, the pig was shot. An argument ensued between the two farmers over the value of the pig until troops got involved. The standoff lasted most of the year in 1859, with both sides getting order to attack. Neither side did as sanity won out. A negotiated peace was established with both sides deciding to occupy the islands.
There have been others like the Pig war. These historical moments range from the very minor to the very dire, like a being on the brink of nuclear war.
10. Jefferson’s Embargo
In 1805, the young United States had declared its neutral stance in the fight between the two world powers: France and Britain. It was Thomas Jefferson’s hope that this move will pacify both sides and keep his country out of the larger conflict. The only problem, however, is Britain’s were taking possession of both the American ships and their men. By 1807, over 400 ships had been taken and over six thousand American soldiers were involuntarily recruited into the British Navy. Jefferson was left with two options. He could declare war or place a trade embargo on any country in the practice of taking American ships. He decided on the pacifist approach and places the country in isolation from the rest of the world. It saved the country from war. However, the war came later under James Madison in the War of 1812.
9. Utah War
In 1857, the Utah Territory had been in existence for over ten years. The Church of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, had moved out west to avoid persecution for religious beliefs. Brigham Young, the church’s president and Utah’s territorial governor, had been leading both with the same approach, relying on church laws to govern both the church and the territory. In an attempt to bring the Utah people back in line with Federal laws, President James Buchanan sends in troops. The conflict officially lasted about 13 months with a few causalities and few battles. In the end, it ended after some negotiation. Many historians think it was scaled back from total civil war because the country was too distracted by the slavery issue.
8. Tampico Incident
Did you know that the United States engaged in armed conflict with Mexico in 1914? Yes, we are surprised as well. The Mexican revolution was in full swing with several factions fighting for control of the country. In the port city of Tampico, a long siege took place in the city held by the official national government and the local state troops. President Woodrow Wilson sent some American ships to the port city to protect American interests. While stationed there, several sailors went ashore to retrieve supplies from the Mexican government, except not all the Mexican federal troops got the memo and the American troops were arrested. The USt gets offended, demands retribution, which offends the Mexican government in return. The United States sent in more troops to clear out the city and stayed until the two sides decided to sit down at the table to work things out.
7. XYZ Affair
France was an ally of the new United States in 1792 when a war broke out between France and the rest of Europe. George Washington declared the United States’ neutrality in the conflict and then signed the Jay Treaty with Britain. France wasn’t happy and decided to interfere with trade between Britain and the United States. Egos got bruised and war looked inevitable. Three diplomats, referred to as XYZ in French documents, were sent to France. When the French Foreign Minister requested a bribe to start negotiations, tensions reached the breaking point. Luckily, one diplomat was able to talk the tensions down and war was averted. However, the XYZ affair did eventually lead to the outset of Quasi-War several years later.
6. Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions
In 2010, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declares his country a nuclear state, with uranium enrichment at 20%. The Obama Administration has stated on several occasions that Iran does not possess the right to nuclear arms, and pushed for additional embargo against Iran. Many in the United States’ press spoke of how war between the two nations as the only logical conclusion to the conflict. One former ambassador predicted the US to be at war with Iran by the end of 2013. However, tensions have eased somewhat since Iran changed administrations, which seemed to have led both sides to consider talks to overcome the issues. In November 2013, a interim partial lifting of sanctions occurred with Iran agreeing to hold talks with the six main powers over its nuclear program. In May 2014, the talks ended with no agreement, but hope.
5. Expansion Issues
During the period between the War of 1812 and the Civil War in the 1860s, the United States expanded west at a torrent pace. It added Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. With each new addition, sectional conflict arose over slavery, leading the two sides to issue strong aggressive language about consequences. The northern states wanted to have new territories slavery free while the southern states pushed for its continuity. Each new conflict brought with it the threat of states succeeding and armed conflict. This tension intensified during the 1850s with John Brown leading raids in Kansas. War was averted until the fateful election bringing Abraham Lincoln to office, which ultimately led to the Civil War.
4. North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions
Ever since the end of the Korean war in the mid-20th century, North Korea has been an aggressive dictatorship with ambitions of extending their influence onto the world stage. In the early 1990s, North Korea signed a nuclear ban agreement with its sister, South Korea. However, it does not take long for them to break this agreement and pursue enriching uranium and test missiles, capable of reaching other countries. The drama reached a crisis point in 2012 when North Korea launched a satellite into orbit, and doubles its enrichment program. All this brought the two countries closer to war and it has not been resolved yet with North and South Korea recently exchanging fire between navy vessels.
3. Syrian Civil War
With the Syrian civil war in full swing and more than 100,000 causalities including those killed with biological and chemical weapons, the United States stood ready to launch an air strike against the Syrian government. In summer/early fall of 2013, the US was shocked when their staunch ally, Great Britain, decided against air strikes, leaving us alone in our ambitions to get involved in the crisis. The United Nations and Arab League refused to act as well. Faced with a tough decision, the Obama Administration decided to seek approval from Congress. Congress, however, is on vacation and in no hurry to get involved in another Middle East conflict. With no vote in sight, Obama decides on the diplomatic route to help rectify the threat of chemical weapons, which happened later that Fall.
2. Cold War
World War II was over. Nazi Germany is defeated and Japan is put down with two nuclear bombs. From the dust of the conflict, two superpowers emerge: The Soviet Union and the United States. An immediate tension arose out of the ashes, with both superpowers making moves to outdo one another. The Cold War lasts for 44 years from 1947 to 1991. During this whole time, there was a sense that one false move by either side coul lead to an all out war. Brinkmanship is the term used often by historians to describe the strategy utilized by both sides. It is a concept where the best offensive is a good strong defense; both countries built up their arsenal of both conventional and nuclear arms in the hope of containing the other side. In 1991 when the Soviet Union fell, the world breathed a sigh of relief from 40 plus years of being on the brink of war.
1. Cuban Missile Crisis
In 1962, the Soviet Union decided to arm its ally Cuba with nuclear arms, a move that forced President John F. Kennedy to react strongly by ordering a naval quarantine of their island nation, located just off the coast of Florida. The Soviet Union did not listen and sent a fleet of ships carrying nuclear missiles to Cuba with the apparent intention of breaking the US blockade. With the world watching and cities around the United States practicing nuclear drills, the Soviet ships turned around at the last instant, preventing an all out nuclear war.