In my various jobs over the past few years, I’ve been involved directly or indirectly in planning and observing several of the major anniversaries of America’s military conflicts. This decade (2010-2020) seems to have quite a bumper crop, more than I can recall occurring at any one time before.
A partial list of this decade’s anniversaries includes:
– The Bicentennial of the War of 1812 2012-2015
– The Alamo 175th in 2011
– The Civil War 150th 2011-2015
– The 125th of Wounded Knee in 2015
– The First World War Centennial 2014-2018
– The 70th of World War II 2009-2015
– The 75th of World War II 2014-2020
– The 50th of Vietnam 2014-2025
– The 25th of the Persian Gulf War in 2016
– The 10th of 9/11 in 2011, Fall of Baghdad in 2013, and the Surge 2017-2018
Add in the 60th of Korea from 2010-2013, and the 65th of that conflict 2015-2018, and there are plenty of chronological milestones to mark the major events in American military history.
The congruence of these anniversaries raises two questions for consideration. First, what does it say about American history? It highlights the (for some, uncomfortable) fact that this nation has fought a lot of wars; at least one major conflict every 25-50 years. Indeed, the U.S. armed forces have been in combat at least once each decade of this nation’s history. Americans fight, fight well, and have fought often – trends which are unlikely to change as we look to the future.
Second, why are we remembering some events more than others? Some of these anniversaries are big national events, while others are less recognized nationally, if even noticed at all. It also seems that World War II’s commemorative push is for the 70th, so as to not conflict so much with the 100th of U.S. entry into World War I and Vietnam’s 50th. The demographics of the U.S. veteran population undoubtedly plays into this tacit prioritization. Internationally, World War II’s 70th is a big push, especially in Poland and the Philippines, while 1914’s centennial is prompting conversations about war’s impacts on Europe and analogies to today.
What do you think? How do you answer these questions?
Top: Uniforms of the U.S. soldier, 1775-present.
Bottom Left: The battleship USS Arizona (foreground) burns during the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The attack’s 75th Anniversary will be marked in 2016, during the Vietnam War 50th Anniversary period and just before the centennial of America’s entry into the First World War on 6 April 1917.
Bottom Right: The Royal Castle in Warsaw burns during the first German bombardment of the city, 17 September 1939. Five years later the Warsaw Uprising occurred from August 1 to October 3, 1944. Commemorations in Warsaw this year are focusing on 1944, with less emphasis on the 75th Anniversary of the 1939 battle.