Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Great Companion of Man

War. I was tempted to do a bad pun, like starting out with: war what is it good for, etc. But that seemed disrespectful, especially given the context in which that song was written (that's one of the burdens of knowing the history behind these songs, I imagine the many comedic videos, such as the Rush Hour trailer, were likely (although not necessarily) made by people who weren't thinking about the historical context of the song (Just to given some more exact information the song in question is "War" by Edwin Starr, written in 1970 in protest of the Vietnam War)). (Actually one of my annoyances with many journalists is their disrespectful use of puns, like for example saying the cultural changes in China are a "Cultural Revolution," I mean it's somewhat forgivable if the article focuses on the differences between the Cultural Revolution and Chinese culture today, but really...)

Actually writing about war is always a dicey endeavor, but people have written about it and in many, many different ways. You can take a funny angle to it (MASH, Hogan's Heroes, etc.), a satirical angle to it (Dr. Strangelove, etc.), a tragic angle to it (Letters from Iwo Jima, etc.), a triumphant angle to it (Glory, etc.), and there are more ways of looking at war. In fact, I say with a decent amount of certainty that war can be written from any perspective of the human experience, because war is so central to the human experience. That's a bit of a weighty, vague sentence, but essentially, war is when humans dispose of some or all of the basic rules of conduct in pursuit of some goal put higher than not only their lives, but the lives of entire peoples.

Yet, the human experience should not be reduced to war. Often that is the prelude to the common 19th century belief that war was not only the great companion of man, but his essential lover. No, humans can pursue just goals just as passionately and just as successfully within the rules of society that prevent such catostrophic conduct. In fact, if one of those just goals is the appreciation of the beauty of the human spirit, war is best avoided.

But one would be naive, and again, disrespectful to ignore war and its impact on history. Wars are often decisive events in the shaping of people and states, and when they are not, that is an immensely important fact unto itself. And thus the historian must be familiar with war, must not flinch from blood nor from horror, and must stare into the abyss, taking care not to let the abyss penetrate his soul.

With that melodramatic introduction, let me give some quick facts for those who enjoy or find useful quick facts. Here is a brief summary of the wars of the United States of America (I apologize that many of the conflicts are generalized, I will try to go into them more particularly later, but I ended up spending more time than I planned covering the general essence of the historian and war).

1775-1783 - The American Revolutionary War

1783-1794 - Conflicts and Rebellions related to the establishment of the US federal and state governments

1798-1800 - Quasi-War

1775-1900 - Wars with various Native American powers, often connected with the wars with Britain, intensifying in 1865-1900

1812-1815 - War of 1812

1846-1848 - Mexican-American War (some might include the Texas Revolution 1835-1836 as part of this, although Texas was not part of the US till 1845)

1861-1865 - American Civil War

1893 - Semi-Intervention against Hawaii

1898 - Spanish-American War

1898 - 1913 - Philippine-American War (till 1902) and suppression of remnants

1903 - Semi-Intervention against Columbia for Panama

1916 - 1917 - Punitive Expedition against Mexico

1907 - 1933 - Latin American Interventions

1917 - 1918 - World War I

1918 - 1920 - Russian Intervention

1941 - 1945 - World War II

1945 - 1981 - Cold War Conflicts

1950 - 1953 - Korean War

1959 - 1975 - Second Indo-Chinese War (Vietnam War, Cambodian and Laos Interventions)

1979 - Grenada Intervention

1982 - 1984 - Lebanon Intervention

1991 - Persian Gulf War

1992 - Somali Intervention

1994 - Haiti Intervention in support of Aristite

1995 - Bosnian Intervention

1998 - Iraq Bombing Campaign

1999 - Kosovo Intervention

2003 - Liberian Intervention

2004 - Haiti Intervention - escorting Aristite out of the country

2003 - Current - Iraq War

Sorry for the briefness, but I got carried away with the intro. I hope to expand on all of this later, but till then, the History is out there.

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