From its beginning, the United States of America has often been at war.
What follows is a brief, partial list of some of the United States’ major wars. The approximate figures for dead and injured refer to American soldiers. Most of the financial cost estimates below were compiled in 2010 by the Congressional Research Service.
Although this background information is helpful, your ability to comprehend the essentials—Main Idea, Detail, Inference—from what you are given to read is more important for answering questions than tapping into an encyclopedic memory.
Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783)
Cost (1783 dollars): $150 million
Cost (2011 dollars): $2.4 billion
Incited by “taxation without representation,” as well as a common desire to be on their own, Great Britain’s thirteen American colonies banded together, fought for, and won independence.
Civil War (1861 – 1865)
Injured (North and South): 300,000
Dead (North and South): 700,000
Cost (1865 dollars): $4.1 billion
Cost (2011 dollars): $79.7 billion
In an effort to preserve “states’ rights,” otherwise known as slavery, eleven Southern states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America (Confederacy).
Under the leadership of President Abraham Lincoln, the Northern states (Union) won the war, the United States was reunited, and slavery was abolished.
World War I (1917 – 1918)
Cost (1918 dollars): $20 billion
Cost (2011 dollars): $334 billion
In the face of unrestricted German submarine attacks on American merchant ships and the Zimmerman Telegram (Germany’s urging Mexico to join its side), the United States entered World War I. President Woodrow Wilson felt that the United States’ entry would turn World War I into a moral War To End All Wars, through which a League of Nations could be formed to preserve lasting worldwide peace. However, congressional opposition blocked representation by the United States when the League of Nations convened in 1920.
World War II (1941 – 1945)
Cost (1945 dollars): $296 billion
Cost (2011 dollars): $4.1 trillion
Drawn in by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, the United States and its allies defeated both Imperial Japan in Asia and Nazi Germany in Europe. After the war, the United Nations, arguably the successor to the failed League of Nations, got off the ground with most of the world’s nations, including the United States, represented.
The Cold War got its name from the lack of direct military confrontation between the United States, its Western Allies, and Democracy vs. the Soviet Union, its Eastern allies, and Communism. It started with the Soviet Union’s cooptation of Eastern Europe at the end of World War II. It ran through such non-military or near-military confrontations as the Berlin airlift, Cuban missile crisis, and space race. It ended with the destruction of the Berlin wall in 1991 and the release of most of Eastern Europe from Soviet domination.
Between 1945 and 1991, the following military conflicts were offshoots of the Cold War:
Korean War (1950 – 1953)
Cost (1953 dollars): $30 billion
Cost (2011 dollars): $341 billion
When North Korea, backed by the Soviet Union and Communist China, invaded South Korea, the United States, operating under the Truman Doctrine of resisting Communism’s spread, came to South Korea’s aid. The war ended in a standoff, with North Korea remaining communist and South Korea democratic.
Vietnam War (? – 1975)
Cost (1975 dollars): $111 billion
Cost (2011 dollars): $738 billion
From the United States’ standpoint, it is difficult to say when the Vietnam War actually started, although it ramped up after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964. Operating under the “domino theory,” in which the fall of one democratic Southeast Asian country to Communism was hypothesized to lead to the fall of many others, the United States fought for democratic South Vietnam against Soviet- and Chinese-backed communist North Vietnam. In 1973, the United States signed a peace treaty with North Vietnam, ostensibly ending the war. In 1975, North Vietnam overran South Vietnam, creating a unified Communist country.
War on Terror
Cost: ? ($6 trillion+)
The United Nations defines terrorism as “criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.”
For the United States, the War on Terror formally began on September 11, 2011 (9/11) with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. It has proceeded through the Iraq War (2003 – 2017), the Afghanistan War (2001 – 2021), and less delineated current operations.
The “enemy” in the War on Terror is difficult to place under one banner. In some instances, however, terrorists have been fighting under an interpretation of the Quran, Islam’s core religious text, in which jihad is a violent, external war against others rather than a nonviolent, internal struggle for enlightenment.
Other American Wars
War of 1812
Persian Gulf War
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans
1 The diagnosis of Posttraumautic Stress Disorder (PTSD) requires the following criteria:
• Reliving a traumatic event (also called re-experiencing or intrusion).
• Avoiding situations that are reminders of the event.
• Negative changes in beliefs and feelings.
• Feeling keyed up (also called hyper-arousal or over-reactiveness to situations).
2 Anyone can develop PTSD from a variety of different traumas, including but not limited to psychological, physical, or sexual abuse (as a child, teen, or adult), serious accidents, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters (like a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake). However, historically PTSD has been linked to military veterans’ exposure to combat.
3 Accounts of psychological symptoms following military trauma date to the Civil War. A good early account of PTSD can be found in Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, which describes the acute reaction of a new Union Army recruit when faced with the first barrage of Confederate artillery.
4 During World War I, some symptoms of present-day PTSD were known as “shell shock,” because they were seen as a reaction to the explosion of artillery shells. Symptoms included panic and sleep problems, among others. Shell shock was first thought to be the result of hidden damage to the brain caused by the impact of the big guns. Thinking changed when more soldiers who had not been near explosions had similar symptoms. “War neuroses” was also a name given to the condition at the time. Treatment was varied. Soldiers often received only a few days’ rest before returning to the war zone. For those with severe or chronic symptoms, treatments focused on daily activity to increase functioning, in hopes of returning them to productive civilian lives. In European hospitals, “hydrotherapy” (water) or “electrotherapy” (shock) were used along with hypnosis.
5 During World War II, the shell shock diagnosis was replaced by Combat Stress Reaction (CSR), also known as “battle fatigue.” With the long surges common in World War II, soldiers became battle weary and exhausted. Some American military leaders, such as General George S. Patton, did not believe “battle fatigue” was real. CSR was treated using “PIE” (Proximity, Immediacy, Expectancy) principles. PIE required treating casualties without delay and making sure sufferers expected complete recovery so that they could return to combat after rest. The benefits of military unit relationships and support became a focus of both preventing stress and promoting recovery. Still, up to half of World War II military discharges were said to be the result of combat exhaustion.
6 From the Korean War, through the Vietnam War, through the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) developed and refined the criteria for diagnosing PTSD. Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) operates more than 200 specialized programs for the treatment of PTSD. Within these programs, there are two main types of treatment, psychotherapy (meeting with a therapist for counseling) and medication. Sometimes psychotherapy is combined with medication.
Practice – Questions
1. Which of the following can you infer from the above passage?
A. PTSD has always been recognized as a legitimate diagnosis.
B. PTSD does not respond to treatment.
C. PTSD is without treatment.
D. PTSD has long been misunderstood.
2. What is the main idea of this passage?
A. PTSD has a long history of affecting veterans.
B. PTSD does not affect veterans.
C. PTSD is completely avoidable by veterans.
D. PTSD is exclusive to veterans.
3. General George S. Patton did not believe “battle fatigue” was:
4. The two main types of treatment for PTSD are:
A. returning to combat and medication
B. psychotherapy and medication
C. psychotherapy and returning to combat
D. not telling anyone and returning to combat
5. Which of the following is implied?
A. Psychotherapy is for weaklings.
B. Medication is for weaklings.
C. Psychotherapy and medication are for weaklings.
D. Obtaining psychotherapy and medication is a sign of strength.
Practice – Answers
1. D. PTSD has long been misunderstood.
2. A. PTSD has a long history of affecting veterans.
3. C. real
4. B. psychotherapy and medication
5. D. Obtaining psychotherapy and medication is a sign of strength.