The Korea / Vietnam Memorial
National Education Center
  The History of America at War - Overview  

Throughout our history, America has been involved in numerous conflicts for many reasons, but the underlying motivation for sending our troops to war has been to eradicate oppression throughout the world.

The United States has liberated the oppressed in every war we have entered. US foreign policy states that we are to engage our troops only as a matter of our own national interest. According to Secretary Weinberger, "we cannot assume for other sovereign nations the responsibility to defend their territory -- without their strong invitation -- when our own freedom is not threatened.”

It also states that we should commit forces "wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning." Weinberger further explains this by defining winning as ”achieving our objectives." We did not achieve our political objectives in Vietnam because our objectives were unclear and we failed to obtain national support at home. Conversely, President Bush made it clear that our objectives in the Gulf War were to remove Saddam's forces from Kuwait and restore the lawful government

Point four states that the relationship between the objectives and the forces committed must be continually reassessed and, if necessary, readjusted, because conditions and objectives invariably change during the course of a conflict

Point five declares that prior to committing forces, there must be "some reasonable assurance we will have the support of the American people and their elected representative in Congress." Weinberger says the key to obtaining such support is candidness in "making clear the threats we face.

Point six says the commitment of U.S. forces to combat should be a last resort." This is not isolationist or pacifist language, for Weinberger observes that early strong reaction to a situation may prevent the necessity for later "lion-like" responses. Certainly mindful of the Vietnam misadventure, he cautions against a "gradualist incremental approach" which would draw us into an "endless morass."

Obviously, none of the criteria should be viewed in an isolated context, for as Clausewitz teaches, war is the ultimate tool of diplomacy where force is used to achieve an objective when other means fail. Clearly, in the Gulf crises, as Dubois points out, "by operating under the aegis of the United Nations diplomatically, financially, and in many cases militarily, the Administration clearly signaled our desire to achieve our objectives short of combat." Dubois is correct when he describes our policy as "most patient." Saddam was given every opportunity to avert hostilities. Coalition force was indeed used as a last resort.

The use of force in the Gulf War was necessary, morally justified, and legal under international law. The actions taken were proportional to the threat and designed to accomplish the stated and limited objective of removing a hostile invading force from a sovereign territory. The Bush Administration's approach to the situation was a logical and justified response, which clearly reflects the sound policy considerations espoused by Secretary Weinberger.

The Korea/Vietnam Memorial and National Education Center is being built to honor the Americans who have fought for liberty and freedom thoughout the world - from the Revolutionary War to the recent conflict in Iraq.

To learn more about the history of America at war, check out our "Focus" sections: