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How Much of Your Life Has the U.S. Spent in War?

During the drawdown of the Vietnam War, I recall feeling surreal about the U.S. not being at war, because, while we weren’t involved in Vietnam all my life, it sure felt like we were. That was an in-your-face war, with film footage dominating the evening news, war protesters, and fear of the draft. Times have changed. Journalist Martha Raddatz included this line in her commencement speech at Kenyon College:

You have spent more than half your lives with this country at war. And yet the huge majority of you, and those your age, the huge majority of all people in this country have not been affected by these conflicts.

The Washington Post, ever on alert for factual errors, checked to see if that was true. Students graduating from college in 2015 were mostly born in the early ‘90s, and have lived between 60 and 70 percent of their lives during the War on Terror. To see how this compares to other age groups, they made a table for all Americans born in the past 100 years. I see that while our country has been at war for 43% of my life, that figure is 83% for my two youngest children, born in 1998. The graph is a bit small in the image above, but you can see it much larger and read how it came about at The Washington Post. -via Digg


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So, they invent this idea of "peacetime" by leaving out all the little "wars" that would have almost completely filled out all of that time period, and truncate off the Reparations time after each war "ends". Ok, that's awfully convenient....

All of the past wars involved stopping a country, as a whole, from doing something they shouldn't be doing. The "War on Terror" is about trying to stop a poorly defined group of people with poorly defined, yet clearly bad, ideas, like "let's kill all the people that we don't like". For instance, if a whole country, or the leadership of such, decides it's time to kill everyone that doesn't belong to their "group", we go to war against that country to stop them. At least, we do once they start trying to kill people in our "group". When a religious group decides they're going to do the same type of thing, we call out the police, or maybe the National Guard (which is domestic military) if it gets serious enough. In that sense, the "War on Terror" is more like police-work that takes place on foreign soil rather than a war against another country.

"Militarily-Assisted Police-Work on Terror" doesn't have the same ring to it, though.

How do they go about deciding when a war ends for this graph? They seem to use one definition for things like WWII and a different one for the "War on Terror". Specifically, the only part of the "War on Terror" that could be considered an actual war in the same sense as the previous ones (war against a country as a whole) is the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, which ended in about 3 months, so nothing like the years and years indicated by the graph.

Reparations is what we've been doing in Iraq since the end of that war. Reparations time is not War time, otherwise we would have to consider WWII as lasting several more decades, since we were in Germany and Japan helping them rebuild for a very long time. In fact, Reparations time for Germany lasted until several years after the Berlin Wall came down in '89, and we still have a base in Okinawa, Japan, which could be interpreted as meaning that WWII is still "going on" today, 70 years after the "end", if we count Reparations time and time-till-all-troops-are-pulled-out.

The point is, what we're going through now is exactly the same as all the "peacetime" portions of the graph above, since the last actual war ended 12 years ago, and the stuff happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan are militarily-assisted police-work on foreign soil.

If there is no real "peacetime", the reality is that everyone has been in a country at war for their entire lives, they just live their lives as if it doesn't matter most of the time.
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Miss Cellania, very interesting. Just to help me understand I'd ask about your comment: didn't the government pay back war bonds with money from regular taxes? They do involve the will of the people, but how do war bonds not-involve taking money out of the budget?
I wish the Washington Post would give us the Excel file for the chart - it would be interesting to plug in other factors. For example, $ spent on war vs US tax revenue per year. ie "A 50 year old has experienced the US spending 20% of it's tax revenues on war". I wonder if the chart would be similar? maybe inverse?
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The WaPo article does say it's subjective, and leaves out Kosovo and other minor wars for, I assume, being too minor. The US has been at war at least at a low-level war for most of its lifetime, since that also includes the Indian wars, the Banana Wars, and our imperial attempt in the Philippines. I think that "war" got a new meaning during the 1900s. Many Americans were enthusiastic about foreign war when it was part of our manifest destiny, and when we so often fought people who weren't as well equipped we were. I think when the Rough Riders assembled for the Spanish-American War, they were eager for battle, and our easy success in Cuba made it a popular war at home.
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Exactly. And the difference is that our wars today are fought by an all-volunteer force, even if they joined up because they couldn't get a job otherwise. And the military is paid for through regular income tax and other regular taxes instead of war bonds which would involve the will of the people. The more we pay for war out of the budget, the less we get for schools, bridges, social programs, etc. but many citizens don't realize that.
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As a history buff, this kind of thing is really problematic. I mean, what this seems to say is that the definition of war has really changed in the last few decades. We live in an increasingly globalized world where non-intervention is becoming untenable. Definitely, even if the younger generations has spent more of their lives in a country at war than the older generations have, I don't think that they feel that way (as Martha Raddatz points out). There's no draft, no war shortages, unless you have family in the armed services, being at war has no effect on your life that you are conscious of.
I guess the question that this chart raises is: is there something really different going on now than before? Are we applying the word "war" to something that wouldn't have gotten that label in previous generations? Or has the way that wars are fought fundamentally changed?
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