Polly Mann in a dress that her mother made. High school graduation ball, 1937, Hot Springs, Arkansas.
I graduated from high school (in 1937), believing that every war in which this country had been involved was a war for justice and that wars were essential, with the United States on the side of justice. Certainly, we fought the British because the British were not living here as we were, and while we might not have been original to the land from the very beginning, we were the first white people here, so, of course, our claim to the soil superseded Britain’s. That made all the wars that followed legitimate. I have long since realized this picture is more than a little skewed—like the way that the four U.S. presidents sculpted into Mount Rushmore are described by the national park devoted to them: “Majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota, tell the story of the birth, growth, development, and preservation of this country.”
Professor David Vine of the University of California has written a book to set the record straight: The United States of War: A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts from Columbus to the Islamic State. Conceived in war from the beginning, the U.S. established military bases or outposts (referred to as “forts”) driving Indigenous people out, claiming territory, and enabling the settlement of European immigrants. Vine sheds light on how the Civil War was used as an excuse to push farther into Indigenous land. One horrific military action was conducted in what are now the states of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah in 1864: The U.S. Army forced 8,000 Navajos to march 300 miles to Fort Sumner in New Mexico, where they were incarcerated for four years; at least a fourth of them died.
An impressive number of maps in Vine’s book illustrate the stages of U.S. expansion. A nation supposedly opposed to empire quickly began building its own empire overseas, much of it through military force — more recently with the U.S. continuing U.S. “War on Terror” in which thousands of U.S. troops patrol Africa—currently: Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan, plus military positioned to surround Russia, China, and Iran.
In the index to his book, Vine lists eight pages of wars, combat, and other combat actions abroad. There have been only two years in the past seven and a half decades when the U.S. was not fighting some designated enemy.
Today Washington controls some 800 to 1,000 U.S. military installations in foreign countries and overseas territories, and we know their purpose isn’t peace.
I’m going to recommend Professor Vine’s book so you may be hearing more about the unpeaceful history of the U.S. military.