America, And The Only 5 Wars It Has Ever Fought

Washington Crossing Delaware Painting by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

The United States has fought in countless wars.   Yet despite all of our battles, the United States has fought only five wars in which we actually declared war.  Five.  And the last time it happened was almost 70 years ago.  According to the United States Constitution, only Congress may declare war, yet despite this, the President of the United States has acted without the prior consent of Congress in at least 125 conflicts.  Beyond this, there have also been many incursions authorized by Congress that stopped short of a full declaration of war.

British Burning Washington DC and the White House in War of 1812

In 1814, over three decades after the Revolutionary War, the British army burnt Washington DC to the ground.  Most people don’t seem to know that we fought a second war with the British after the revolution was over: The War of 1812.  The reasons are complicated and many.  We had invaded Canada.  The British were not treating us fairly as a sovereign nation.  Whatever the reason, this would be the first time the United States declared war against another nation.  Fitting perhaps, that it was against the United Kingdom.  There is debate as to who actually won the war.  The United States failed to absorb Canada, but the British were forced to stop enslaving our sailors within the Royal Navy (which they had been doing).  Today, our National Anthem tells the story of The Battle of Fort McHenry from The War of 1812.  And indeed, the White House was originally painted white to cover the scorch marks from being burned.  Fortunately for us, the First Lady Dolly Madison saved many of the artifacts in the White House, by taking them with her when she fled.

Buena Vista Nebel in Mexican American War

You might sometimes here off-color jokes about the United States going to war with Mexico, but in 1846 it actually happened.  In what is known today as the “Mexican-American War”, Mexico became the second country the United States declared war against.  Why did it happen?  One word:  Texas.  The American settlers in Texas had recently won a revolution against Mexico, and declared Texas an independent nation.  Texas wished the join the United States, but Mexico refused to acknowledge Texas’s sovereignty.  After the declaration of war, the US military attacked on multiple fronts.  The army invaded from the north, while the navy blockaded Mexico’s eastern coast.  Another American fleet even sailed past the southern tip of South America in order to bombard Mexico’s western coast and what is now California.  Finally, a group of 12,000 troupes landed on Mexico’s shores in America’s first amphibious assault.  These soldiers would go on to seize Mexico City, the nation’s capital.  Losing the war, Mexico was forced to sell the United States the territory now known as California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, as well as portions of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming.  Texas was also now a state.  The war was considered highly controversial, even back then, as its sole purpose was to gain territory for the US.

Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders Capturing San Juan Hill in Cuba

After our war with Mexico, it would be another fifty years until the United States would declare war again, this time on Spain.  Whereas the war against Mexico had started with Texas, this time the war would start with Cuba.  As a province of Spain, Cuba had been fighting for independence for decades.  Suffice to say, the Americans had empathy for Cuba’s plight.  Then– two things happened.  The Spanish government began gathering the native Cubans into camps, and a US warship docked in Havana Harbor mysteriously exploded (the USS Maine).  War was declared.  The United States Navy would go on to decimate Spain’s armada, and the land war was equally one sided due to the United States army’s superior numbers.  As a result of victory, the US gained temporary control over Cuba and indefinite colonial authority over Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.  Cuba would go on to gain itself independence and only a few decades later become a communist nation (good times).

The Zimmermann Telegram

Seventy years after the Mexican-American war, the United States had become a country of isolationists.  World War I was raging, but that was Europe’s problem.  So what was it that brought us to war?  The answer is simple: The Zimmermann Telegram.  And what was in this telegram?  A message from Germany to Mexico, promising Mexico that if it declared war on the United States, Germany would assist Mexico in reacquiring most of the territory it had lost due to the Mexican-American war.  The telegram had been intercepted by the British and given to the United States.  The newspapers then published it throughout the country.  Shortly thereafter, the United States declared war.  War was first declared upon Germany, then upon the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  America’s late entrance into the war tipped the scales in favor of the Allies and Germany was ultimately forced to surrender along with the rest of the Central Powers.  This defeat would reshape the map of Europe and the Middle-East in ways that persist to this very day.

Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor Brought the US into World War II

The Germans were a strong, proud people, and they had been defeated.  Worse though, they had been consciously humiliated.  The allies, especially France, had gone out of their way to cripple Germany and punish them for the war.  The war reparations forced upon Germany would take until 1988 to pay off (it actually ended up taking until October, 4th 2010).  So– here you have a proud, humiliated nation.  Small wonder then why they were so eager to listen to a man proclaiming they had nothing to be ashamed of.  Unfortunately, that man turned out to be a maniac.  World War II was caused by the gross mishandling of the end of World War I.  Across the Atlantic, the United States had once again reverted to isolationism.  It would take a direct attack on American soil to awake the “sleeping giant”.  We know it as “Pearl Harbor”.  In World War II, the United States declared war on six different nations: Japan, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania.  The United States has not declared war on a single country since then.

While the United States has involved itself in countless military actions, there seems to be at least one common thread throughout the conflicts in which we actually declared war:  We never lost.  That’s probably because a declaration of war requires a focused target, which results in a focused war.  Perhaps we ought to consider sticking with officially declared wars more often?

Photo credits: Wikipedia

Join the discussion

  • The United States never declared war on Austro Hungarian Empire during the Great War. This allowed the US to conduct the war their way and not fall under the command of the British or French.

    • Are you sure it wasn’t because we didn’t want to be portrayed as backstabbers for fighting the Soviet Red Army right after we arrived to watch the end of said Great War? Because that is what we did, along with the White Movement and Armies, Czechoslovakia, the UK, Canada, Australia, India, South Africa, France, Japan, Greece, Estonia, Serbia, Italy. All of these countries turned on the Soviets. And the Soviets still won. Wikipedia “soviet civil war” for more details.

      All there to fight Germany’s enemies for it, turning on the early Soviets as soon as they had defeated the Prussians. (that was a consistent theme through the next century for the USA. For instance loudly in Vietnam, then covertly in Afghanistan alongside bin Laden, and also covertly in South America- we were far more fond of the Nazis than the folks who destroyed them.)

    • America won the British Revoulution when we over-threw British rule and became and independant nation. America won WW2 when we fought on the Allie side and defeated the Axis powers. These are just 2 well known wars that America came out on top of.

      • America didn’t win WW2. The Soviet Union won WW2. The US, UK, France, Poland, India, Canada, etc. only neutralized 20% of the Nazis. 80% of them had deployed to the Eastern Front to fight Ivan. Ivan lost almost 30 million lives (mostly civilians) to the Nazis- but he finished the job. Oddly, the US took the time to rescue lots of Nazi scientists and spys from Ivan, promising they could take revenge on their great enemy from the safety of our government labs. We also helped establish the Vatican ratline to reduce the chance of accountability for Germans who had the blood of millions on their hands. It was the Christian thing to do, according to General Patton, Senator Joe McCarthy- and obviously the 97.5% Protestant/Catholic Weimar Republic as well. A lot of US citizens aren’t taught these things (I had to look them up myself- my school would never mention this stuff).. because the truth isn’t always patriotic. To be fair, few bald-faced lies were given to us back in high-school;; just omissions of truth. Although they did say that the USA was on the allied side in WW1. It wasn’t though. We were basically ‘independent’, and entered the war the year before it ended, then used the fact that we were already over there as an excuse to fight the Soviets. This was at a time when the KKK was 6 million strong- so naturally, we joined the “White Army”.

        If Japan hadn’t pursued Pearl Harbor, theres a decent chance we would have joined them and the Nazisin WW2. Most people the USA considered the Nazis the lesser evil. Some still do to this day.

  • Well…yes and no. The constitution gives congress the power to declare war, but it doesn’t require that congress actually use the phrase “we declare war.” It’s a less nifty argument, but every time congress authorized the use of force, they were declaring war.

  • Not bad, few historical errors, but I will let them fly for sake of anglo-usa relations. However, I was wondering if America had gone to war on it’s own/as Leader and or when the (?) war started and actually won without help? I can only really think of one and that was the vietnam war, and we all know what happened there. I’d be intrigued for discover a war that you can honestly say you won! Good Luck

  • Seriously………………..
    First of all, America has SEVEN wars that are officially declared!!!!!!!!!!! Who made this website??????????????????????? ugh

    • Itachi,
      i think you need to calm down, this website is pretty good over all and although there are some errors in it, you should not be rude in correcting an honest mistake. But if you ever feel the need to comment on someone eleses work again please try to use correct grammar; you wrote as though all of the wars are going on presently. Your has should be “has had” and your are should be “were”.

      All I’m saying is that if your going to insult; please try to do it correctly. Your own, Holly.

  • Yes, you are correct, though you do not have to show attitude…
    People are trying their best to help other people, and i f you can help, then make your on website

      • As a matter of fact, i believe i have had seen you in various websites on education…
        If you are that smart, then why won’t you use your on knowledge?
        and…. you are not the one to tell me if i am cool, people who are mean are not cool….