America’s Wars In The Past 75 Years

Posted by on Dec 15, 2015 in Perry's Blog | 0 comments

This is part two of a series of articles on major threats to the American republic since the early 1940s. By exploring the past, we may be better able to understand the present and to consider how the future may play out.

When examining the major crises that America has faced in the past three quarters of a century a term that is commonly used is “existential threat”. This is a threat, either external or internal, which is so ominous and so profound that it endangers the very existence of a nation and its basic norms and values. This phrase, “existential threat” may help us sort out the truly important dangers from those that are worrisome but of lesser concern.


Threats can emerge from a number of directions.

  1. An internal threat: think of the Nazi takeover of the German government in 1933—ending the emerging democracy of the Weimar Republic with all of its potential blessings (the rule of law, freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, etc.).
  2. An external threat from a state or coalition of states: think of the Axis Powers of Japan, Germany and Italy in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
  3. A threat from a non-state actor: think of Al Qaeda in 2001 and the years following and ISIS today.


America has faced dozens of threats during the past seventy five years but only a few can be described as something that could end the America that we know and love. This article will focus on World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the attacks on 11 September, 2001. ISIS will be analyzed in my next article.


Clearly, the axis powers, Germany, Japan, and Italy, put us in grave danger. This threat was not fully recognized until December,1941. This existential threat existed from 1941 until the summer of 1944. By that time, Japan, Germany and Italy were in retreat and it became quite clear that the Allies would prevail and the existential threat had been defeated.


A major crisis emerged in the Spring of 1948 when the Soviet Union cut off all land access to the divided city of Berlin. There was a fear that there might be war between the two superpowers. America had a great advantage: we possessed nuclear weapons and the Soviets did not. It soon became clear that the Soviets would not move militarily into West Germany and would not shoot down our cargo airplanes that had begun the resupply of Berlin. The Berlin airlift helped define the rules of the game for what was to be a forty-five year Cold War. A war that would end peaceably in 1991.


June of 1950 was the next major international crisis for the United States. The Korean War lasted for three years with a major Chinese military intervention in the late fall of 1950 being especially worrisome. When President Eisenhower secretly threatened China with nuclear weapons, the war ended. No existential threat developed.


The first existential threat that America faced since the early 1940s was when the Soviets placed nuclear armed missiles into Cuba in 1962. This was the only time during the Cold War that there was a real possibility of nuclear war. When both sides recognized the grave dangers, negotiations took place, the Soviets removed the missiles and the Cuban Missile Crisis ended peacefully. This was an example of an existential threat ending quickly through negotiation.


By 1965, the United States was fully engaged in a major war in Southeast Asia. Although 58,000 Americans were killed in this ten-year war, America never faced an existential threat.


The Gulf War of 1991 lasted only six weeks. There was no existential threat to America in 1991 nor during the second Gulf War (2003).


Bombings of the embassy and the Marine barracks in Lebanon (1983), the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (1988), the World Trade Center (1993) and the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen (2000) were all precursors to the major attacks on September, 11, 2001. Although many senior officials in our government realized, by the summer of 2001, that the threat was huge, it was only on September 11 that the entire nation recognized that we were facing an existential threat. The attacks against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan commenced in October, 2001. The 9/11 attacks, if they had been quickly followed by many similar attacks throughout the United States, could have caused us to abandon the many freedoms we enjoy in the name of national security.


In my next article, I will point out some of the strengths and the vulnerabilities of ISIS and recommend some of the fine books on ISIS which have been published recently.

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