The Wars We Didn’t Have To Fight

One can make a pretty good case that while the history of the United States reveals great and enduring innovations in business and industry, one could also argue that U.S. history is a history of war. Depending on one’s working definition of war, without doing any research I identify thirteen wars involving the U.S. Our government claims that all of these were not only necessary but largely forced on us. From my perspective the first one seems a little “iffy,” one was definitely forced on us, watin-p and at least eleven were actually of our choosing even though our leaders claimed we had no choice.

I consider the Revolutionary War “iffy,” the War of 1812 definitely forced on us, and the Mexican War of 1846-1848, the War Between The States, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I, Iraq II, and Afghanistan all wars of choice. I probably missed some, but this list tells the tale.

Almost without doubt, almost all Americans would consider that we had no choice but to revolt against England and form a new country. Certainly the Founders thought so. And perhaps in the long run it was inevitable. But were the “facts” at the time so clear that we had to act how and when we did? We all know our Founders’ position on the subject, v but is it possible that the political class in England also thought that the “facts” obviously justified their position? What was their position in their own eyes?

First, England believed in and practiced mercantilism at the time. Mercantilism basically assumes that the home country founded colonies for economic or military advantages for the home country, nadiya not especially for the colonists. While the American colonists were definitely English citizens, it was a citizenship that in the eyes of England was a sort of “secondary” citizenship, one that definitely placed the full obligations of citizenship on the American, without “really” providing them with all of the benefits in practice. The position of the colonists at that time was very much like that of Negroes in America, especially in the South, between the end of the Civil War and the 1960’s. An example will help. The Negroes were indeed citizens, they definitely had to pay taxes, but when it came to voting, attending quality schools, admission to “public” places and so forth, their type of “citizenship” clearly differed from that of whites. England definitely imposed the same duties on the American colonists, but when it came to rights, well, Americans had to realize that they were supposed to provide a net benefit to the home country and not quibble about such things as equal protection of the law and so forth.

The colonists complained about taxes. From England’s entirely rational point of view, sho it had recently spent a great deal of money protecting the colonies during the French and Indian Wars, and considered it totally obvious that the colonies should bear some of the cost, so it enacted taxes to recover part of its war costs. From the colonists’ entirely rational point of view, they had fought side by side with the Crown’s troops and therefore owed nothing more for their “protection.” It was also true that the colonists had no input regarding taxation, or much of anything else, and so complained about taxation without representation. While totally obvious to the colonists, this claimed lack of representation totally perplexed the government. It was, and still is, common practice in England for subjects to be represented in Parliament by Members who did not actually in the districts they represented. Clearly, someone somewhere in England was representing the colonists without residing there, so the colonist’s claims of taxation without representation had absolutely no merit. As the Crown’s total activities proved more and more costly, it levied more taxes on all its subjects, but not necessarily the same taxes on everyone. Thus, the Americans had to pay a stamp tax, a tax on tea, and so forth while subjects in other parts of the realm may have paid different taxes, but pay they did. There were other problems seldom mentioned such as the law that goods could be carried TO England only on “English” ships. Clearly each side thought its positions on the matters entirely logical and proper, and so they were to the respective sides.

We could continue to investigate claims and counter-claims of the two sides, all such claims totally logical to one side or the other, but it would serve no purpose. The central fact that really mattered much more than bickering over taxes, representation, and so forth is the fact that the needs and desires of the colonists had evolved as the colonies had grown from barely functional outposts of the Empire to self-sustaining, reasonably prosperous enterprises. Their dependence on England had greatly declined in many ways, while their fiscal value to England had finally begun to pay dividends on the investment, time, and even blood the home country had expended on behalf of the colonies. I call the war between the American colonies and England “iffy” because given different attitudes on both sides they could probably reached a solution to the real problems between them, but independence was probably unavoidable over the longer term. The position on the side of the Americans that they were “forced” into rebellion reflected their emotional involvement as well as legal and economic factors. So I’ll stick with “iffy.”

The War of 1812 is an entirely different matter. There is nothing “iffy” about it. The British clearly exceeded the traditional rights of nations with regards to other nations. The British stopped American warships and impressed supposed “British subjects” into their navy. The British had unilaterally imposed trade restrictions that affected American commerce. The Americans claimed that the British were supporting Indian attacks on American settlements, probably with justification. Also, both countries habitually attacked warships of the other.

While the Napoleonic Wars preoccupied Britain, forbixindia American had encroached into Canadian lands, still owned by Britain. At the war’s end, Britain became more active in reclaiming its Canadian holdings, reigniting hostilities between the two countries. In the end, it appears that both countries just tired of the constant conflict, which importantly interfered with trade, and just called it a draw. Relatively soon after the cessation of hostilities, they entered into a period of joint prosperity through trade, and eventually began to share common interests, often working together. I count this as a war we had to fight.

The Mexican War of 1846-1848 used to be a straight forward matter of the Mexicans under Santa Anna attacking American territory subsequent to the U.S. annexation of Texas in 1845, which Mexico still considered its territory, meaning the war was forced on us. More recent scholarship by Eisenhower and others suggests that the Americans actually faked an attack on themselves in supposedly U.S. territory, demanding an invasion into Mexico in return. President Polk favored American expansionism, and approved of the war. Seemingly the only member of the American government who smelled a rat was Congressman Abraham Lincoln, who repeatedly demanded explicit information on “exactly” where the supposed attack took place, all of which the government ignored.

Mexico was in no condition militarily to repulse the American invasions. General Scott sent one force south through the middle of the country, capturing towns and cities with little problem. Scott sent another force by sea to a landing area near Mexico City, and mounted an amphibious assault on lightly defended territory. The Americans captured Mexico City with little trouble. But they soon came to realize that they could not possibly govern all the territory they had overrun. The southern areas of Mexico did not interest the Americans, but they offered the Mexican president 30 million dollars for the territory they wanted. When he refused, they made an offer of 15 million dollars to a lesser Mexican official, which was accepted. The United States wound up with parts of Texas, flood dream meaning New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California. Since the most recent portrayal of the episode seems more realistic, I will consider this a “voluntary” war.


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