“UNCLE SAM WANTS YOU!” We have all seen these recruitment posters at some point in our lives. Be it on television or in person, there has always a need for men and women to join the armed forces of our nation. Throughout the 200+ years this country has been an independent nation, we have always needed people to step up and defend our rights and liberty. As far as anyone can tell, there haven’t been any shortages of people stepping up to join the military and fighting to our country. But why? Why have so many people willingly given up their lives for the sake of their country? What has changed from our fight for freedom in the Revolution to the fight on Terrorism in the current war in Iraq and how have we advanced from then? Through this project I will answer these questions and shed light on how and why America has become one of the greatest forces in military in the world.
Let’s take a look at the very first war that America ever found itself in; the American Revolution. The people of America were getting fed up with how they were being ruled and used by the British Parliament. They were often treated unfairly and made to pay taxes to a far-off land that most Americans had never and would never step foot on. It was time for a change, and although the simple militias of the states were clearly no match to Britain’s well-trained and experienced army, they stepped up to the challenge. In the beginning, it seemed like a futile fight for the Americans as they soon realized the British clearly had the upper-hand in battle. Many men deserted the fight, and put in substitutes to fight for them. These were usually very poor whites, servants and slaves. Nevertheless, these lower class citizens fought because they believed that through fighting in this war, they would gain their independence; not just from Britain but from the oppressive elites of their own home front.
The tactics used to fight the Revolution were primitive and very inaccurate. The most commonly used weapon used among these soldiers was the musket and bayonet since most battles were fought out in the open. Other weapons that were used were rifles, swords and other smaller cutting weapons, but the most commonly used was the musket and bayonet. These big guns were heavy, messy and took a significant amount of time to reload. On top of all of this, the smoothbore ball used as ammunition was virtually harmless more than 75 yards away. The only real effective way to kill someone was up close with the bayonet, which took out countless cavalrymen. In battle, soldiers used linear tactics which means that they stood shoulder to shoulder and marched towards the enemy with the ability to attack and defend. This way of combat was made to break up the enemy’s lines so they could go in and attack with their bayonets. But, the most effective of all weapons were the cannons. The British used them mercilessly on the Americans. But, not until the French aided America in many of the necessities they were lacking in the war, which included cannons and more muskets with bayonets.
The fatal flaw of this American army was that they already had their own ranks among their states, and that made it difficult for the commanders to keep control over them. This disorganization and insubordination caused many setbacks for the American army. A man named Freidrich Wilhelm von Stueben saw this problem and set out to fix it. Stueben set a single standard that this army would be trained to obey. It wasn’t long before the Americans began to come together and put up a real fight against the British. Stueben united the scattered ranks of militias into an Army of American soldiers.
This way of fighting and the new unified army was carried over into the Civil War, where Americans fought each other on their own ground which lead to the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil. Linear formation was still being practiced, but there were a couple new innovations made for fighting. Minie bullets made rifles easier to load and the percussion lock allowed a faster rate of fire. In time, the rifle replaced the musket and became the standard weapon for the men of the infantry. Although weapons were slowly but surely beginning to evolve, the way in which these men fought hadn’t change at all. Men knew that as rifles and other firearms kept evolving, their primitive way of aggressively attacking their enemy was dying out. They just didn’t know how such an army would work in that way. Individual and small unit fighting was impractical to the commanders because that would make it much easier for the ranks to get out of control, and field fortifications were not well liked because people believed that took away the aggression a man would have to fight. But as increasing amounts of lives were being lost, commanders dropped the idea of aggressive and brutal fighting for field fortifications.
When tried at test ranges, the rifles used by the American army were surprisingly accurate, and it was made clear that those weapons could be very deadly. But, the battle field is a lot different and a lot more stressful than a target range. While fighting, a lot of ammunition was used but only so many shots fired resulted in casualties. It is said that during the Civil War, over a billion cartridges were made, but many were wasted. When a soldier was under that much stress and in the middle of so much chaos, it’s easy to understand that he was more concerned with getting his rifle reloaded and ready to fire again than actually aiming for a target, and all the gun smoke from the black powder made it very difficult to see anything. Regardless of any of the weapons used in the Civil War, it would have still been a slaughter house for all the men fighting. The Union and the Confederacy were fighting for something that could never be settled over a simple compromise. The North fought to preserve the Union, and to get rid of slavery in America, and the South fought to preserve their way of life which was almost solely dependent on slavery. This war showed how men were more than willing to risk their lives to protect their livelihoods. “It’s better to die for something, than to live for nothing.” –George S. Patton.
Just over half a century later, America finds itself engaged in another war but this time we were fighting on a foreign land across the Atlantic Ocean. Tensions began to rise in Europe over things that seemed completely mundane to Americans. When Europe broke out into war in 1914, America immediately claimed neutrality, and did best to try and keep the peace. In 1915 the British liner Lusitania which was carrying about 130 American passengers was sunk by a German U-Boat. Although outraged, President Woodrow Wilson did not want to get involved with their foreign affairs, and settled the matter with one condition; that the U.S. would not put up with unrestricted warfare, and for a little while, Germany abided by this. Just two years later, Germany began their unrestricted submarine warfare once more, and sunk seven American merchant ships. The Germans also sent the Zimmerman Telegram to Mexico, telling them that if they joined the Germans as allies, they would restore the land the Mexicans had lost in the Mexican-American war. America was done with getting made a fool of, and on April 6, 1917 Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany, and the American people were anything but opposed to this act. There was no way any other country would impede on our liberties and right to life.
America had heard about the horrors of trench warfare, and wanted desperately nothing to do with it. By the time they made it to Europe, new and better ways of fighting were being introduced, which included new weapon technology. World War I forever changed how wars were fought. Instead of a marching infantry carrying bulky muskets into an open battle, men were now using cannons aimed directly at the enemy as well as mortars and even machine guns. Fighting wasn’t as up-close and personal as it had been before; new weapons made men just as deadly 100+ yards away. For the first time, armed aircrafts were being used in raids to terrorize people and level enemy cities. Countless new forms of technology were being introduced, which in a way reflected the industrial growth of America as well as the rest of the world. Advancements in technology almost directly meant advancements in weaponry and how wars were fought. Tanks, armored cars, chemical warfare, submarines, wireless communication and even observation balloons were all products of the First Great War.
Only 20 years after the end of World War I, Europe found itself in another widespread war, but this time it was global. Once again, America claimed neutrality in the whole matter. The war in Europe began on September 1, 1939 and it continued to cultivate into the Second World War. Just 13 months after the beginning of the war, on December 7, 1941, Japan bombed the naval station of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in an effort to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet out of the Pacific Ocean so they couldn’t interfere with the Empire of Japan’s plans against the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The very next day, December 8, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan. The American people supported this decision with immense enthusiasm. No one was going to make a deliberate threat on our country, and on our liberties without a fight. Shortly after, on December 11, 1941, Germany declared war on the United States, and was officially part of the Allies in the fight against the Axis powers in the Second World War.
They way in which America fought in World War II is what gave it its infamy and recognition as one of the world’s greatest military superpowers. America had had enough of Germany and now Japan thinking they could threaten our freedom on our own land. It was time to show them what the United States was all about. Britain was not ready for a land-based battle, but once America joined the fight, they were somewhat relieved for a short time to get back on their feet and rejoin the fight. From the south, America invaded North Africa and continued north to defeat the halted Axis powers, while at the same time giving the Soviet Union some relief on the Eastern front. Plus with the draft of almost a million more soldiers, there was definitely going to be a good fight. In the Pacific, aircraft battles ensued constantly, but the Americans fought back harder and harder. Armed with submarines, aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers, America destroyed the Japanese navy in just under a year. As the Japanese military were being cleansed out of the Southwestern Asian islands, America began taking complete control over the Pacific Ocean; Japan still would not surrender. Back in Europe, as the Axis powers began to stall in their advancements, America, as well as the rest of the Allies, began to overpower and move deeper and deeper into Europe. With Allies on all sides of Germany, and constant bombings on the cities and towns day and night, Germany finally surrendered in Italy on April 29, 1945.
With the Axis powers defeated, Japan had no more allies to rely on. Yet, they continued to fight tirelessly without any sign of stopping. America wanted Japan to surrender unconditionally to end the war, but they continued to ignore the Potsdam terms that had already been established with Germany. In a last stitch effort to get an unconditional surrender from Japan, America would use a new powerful and very destructive weapon; the atom bomb. On August 6th and 9th of 1945, President Harry Hoover gave the executive order to have the two bombs (“Fat Man” and “Little Boy”) dropped over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Six days after the bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, Japan surrendered completely to the Allied Powers and finally ended World War II. This was the first and only time nuclear bombs had ever been used as weapons of mass destruction. America had become the true superpower of the military forces of the world, but to abuse that power and to continue using nuclear bombs could result in a world-wide genocide. It would be a long time before another foreign enemy of America would dare to attack it again.
If World War II was American military and patriotism at its highest, then the Vietnam War would have to be America’s lowest point in military history. What started out as simply aiding South Vietnam in their own war on communism against North Vietnam, turned into the longest war the United States ever fought. For 15 years, American soldiers were sent to Vietnam and fought against communism. America was so against any concept of communism that they sent money and military advisors to help them through their fight. By the early 1960’s the number of advisors jumped from just under 800 to over 17,000. In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson reported that North Vietnam had attacked a U.S. Navy Ships on the coast of Vietnam. By the end of 1965, more than 80,000 American soldiers were in Vietnam. When they all arrived, the Americans conducted an air war against North Vietnam, and within just one year, it flew over 150,000 missions on the North Vietnamese territory, and by 1967 America dropped more bombs on North Vietnam than it had dropped over their enemies from World War II. At the peak of the war in 1969, almost 600,000 American soldiers were stationed in North Vietnam.
Many of these soldiers were only teenagers, some of them being no more than 19 years old. Through the draft of these young boys and men to Vietnam they felt a sense of pride, going to fight against anything that would threaten their liberty back at home. (Even though home was all the way on the other side of the world.) Like their father’s before them, they felt honor and pride in themselves for fighting for their country. I’m sure they were planning on doing their tours and returning home to happy families and a country that supported them and revered them for fighting for their freedom. Unfortunately, many of the civilians back at home didn’t think those troops were doing anything noble or honorable. When the troops were finally called back home, they weren’t greeted with warm welcomes or even acknowledgement of their deeds. They went back home to a country that shunned them for something that the government had sent them overseas to do. There was no support, and there was no compassion. They left the battle field in Vietnam to come home to find another battle waiting for home; a battle to survive in a country that they had fought for that didn’t want to help them or even care.
On September 11, 2001, the American people would learn how to support and respect our men and women of the armed forces again. On a beautiful Tuesday morning, our freedom was threatened in such a way that all Americans came together as one nation, despite any differences, to mourn over the many lives lost on this day. At 8:46AM a plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and then another plane crashed into the South Tower at 9:06AM. Two more plane crashes were reported at the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. Without hesitation, the government and military forces went to work to do justice for all of those who had died in that horrible tragedy, as well as secure our freedom from terrorists like the ones that attacked us on that fateful day. Men and women stepped up, without a second’s hesitation to defend the country we all call home. As of recently, our armed forces have captured and eradicated two of the main conspirators behind the September 11th attacks. Soon, our troops will be coming back home, and we will embrace them with open arms and show them our immense gratitude for the sacrifices they have made for us to defend our freedom.
This war in Iraq is being fought like no other war has been fought before. We have come a long way from chasing each other with bayonets to flying unmanned aircrafts over dangerous areas to deliver missions. We’ve gone from huge infantry ranks down to 5-10 men squads that can get the same amount of work done in half the time, and twice the efficiency. As with any war zone, there are always prominent dangers and the soldiers are never really out of harm’s way while stuck in the middle of a war-torn country. It is safe to say, that the way war is carried out now seems more humane, and “soldier-safe” than in any of the previous wars. Casualties are always present in war, but compared to many of the previous wars we have fought in, that number now is relatively low. Men and women now not only join the armed forces for the fight of freedom, but for the honor and pride that comes with knowing that you are ready at any moment to defend your nation’s livelihood at any cost. Many American families have very deep-rooted military histories. With pride and humility they acknowledge and celebrate the great sacrifices that were made for them, and look forward to becoming part of that family tradition.
Our country has come a long way since the Revolutionary War and even since the Vietnam War. From our humble beginnings as a broken up and disorganized militia, we have evolved into a military super power and gained a rich military history that is characterized by tradition, honor and dedication to the pursuit of happiness and freedom for all citizens of the United States of America. The men and women in the armed forces fight to protect the one thing we all hold very dear to our hearts; liberty. Whenever our liberty is threatened, there is never a hesitation from them to defend and secure it for all of us. As our technologies evolved, so did our ways of combating the enemy and as technology continues to grow and expand, so will our military technology and intelligence. One thing will remain for certain though; as long as there is a free nation for our men and women in uniform to defend, we can count on them to fight until the death to ensure that our liberties and happiness are secured.