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Every 30 years (ish) America gets itself into war. Time's up!
December 3, 2002 11:44 AM   Subscribe

Take a peek at this military timeline. And let's figure that the time from when Johnny, sergeant, age 25, gets home from fighting the war and tells 5 year old Junior about the experience to when Junior, Major/Lt.Col, grows up and wants to CAUSE a war, averages 30 years.

Now let's do some math...starting with the French and Indian War, 1754-1763. Add 30-ish years (21). American Revolution, 1775-1783. Add 30-ish years (38). War of 1812, 1812-1814. Add 30-ish years, numerous Indian wars. Add 30-ish years. American Civil War, 1861-1865. Add 30-ish years (37). Spanish-American War, 1898. Add 30-ish years (19). America in World War I, 1917-1918. Add 30-ish years (25). America in World War II, 1942-1945. Add 30-ish years (20). Vietnam War, 1964-1973. Add 30-ish years, and it's the turn of the millenium....it's now.

We haven't learned from 250 years of this cycle, and there's no reason to think we've learned anything since. I didn't count the Gulf War cause it wasn't much of anything, and I know the numbers are a bit forced...but I think this trend is worth discussing.
posted by taumeson (44 comments total)

 
I've noticed this trend. Not sure what to make of it. Instead of the "greatest" generation, maybe Brokaw should have titled his book: The Pathologically Violent Generation.
posted by mygoditsbob at 11:52 AM on December 3, 2002


In the case of WWI and WWII, it's all about numbers. WWI was never really over, it just killed every german 18-25, so 18-25 years later they had a whole new crop of soldiers.
posted by devo at 11:52 AM on December 3, 2002


complex cause

This argument seems pretty simplistic.
posted by cadastral at 11:53 AM on December 3, 2002


Ooo, good call Cadastral!
posted by ericdano at 11:54 AM on December 3, 2002


PROOF that taumeson is evil.
posted by gleemax at 11:54 AM on December 3, 2002


You missed the Korean War
posted by Locke at 11:55 AM on December 3, 2002


Shh. That one doesn't count.
posted by gleemax at 11:56 AM on December 3, 2002


Yes, when does my generation get our war, dammit? Where is my blood, death, political unrest, heartbreak, bombs, and apple pie patriotism?

See, Bush wanting to pick fights in the middle east is just his way of keeping up a great American tradition!

Because it's okay to do stupid things when they're traditions.
posted by katieinshoes at 11:59 AM on December 3, 2002


It's heartening to know that people still can't spell millennium.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 12:01 PM on December 3, 2002


Perhaps people just lose their stomach for fighting. It takes a couple of decades for them to return to "normal"?
posted by blue_beetle at 12:05 PM on December 3, 2002


Actually there are military operations every couple years. They just call them wars every 30. Ya know...keep the economic machine grinding.
posted by Degaz at 12:08 PM on December 3, 2002


Regardless, the timeline was pretty cool. I had no idea about the Battle Of Yu Mu in 1027 BC, or the Chou-Barbarian War from 827-800 BC.

It's kind of interesting to click through it at random and see just how much fighting we humans do.
posted by Fabulon7 at 12:09 PM on December 3, 2002


to when Junior, Major/Lt.Col, grows up and wants to CAUSE a war

I'd like you to point to one American "Junior" who grew up "wanting to cause" World Wars I or II.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:10 PM on December 3, 2002


That was sweet, gleemax. Very sweet.
posted by Ufez Jones at 12:11 PM on December 3, 2002


pardonyou? - Elvis.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 12:14 PM on December 3, 2002


I found this a startling idea: that there've only been about 40 grandfather-to-grandson "conversations" since year 0AD, and only a hundred or so since Babylonian times.

"I remember when I had to walk uphill both ways..." stories, passed from Grandfather to Grandson; age about fifty or sixty, to a kid five to ten years old.

Forty times over. That's all.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:17 PM on December 3, 2002


Damn! Majors and Lt. Colonels are starting the wars these days? I knew I shouldn't have dropped out of ROTC.
posted by shoos at 12:19 PM on December 3, 2002


There was a really interesting book published a couple of years ago called The Fourth Turning. While a quick glance makes it look like a piece of new age crap, it is actually a complex argument outlining generational cycles--"turnings"--in American and world history. Essentially it writes about this sort of topic: why are major wars separated by relatively predictable lengths of time...is there a cycle to social activism (whether in our sense or the more traditional sense like religious "awakenings")...etc.
posted by pjgulliver at 12:23 PM on December 3, 2002


I saw someone point out Korea, but you also missed the Gulf War.
posted by Kellydamnit at 12:23 PM on December 3, 2002


I didn't count the Gulf War cause it wasn't much of anything

He, uh, explained that one, although I don't think his explanation would hold much water with the people of Iraq.
posted by Fabulon7 at 12:28 PM on December 3, 2002


As he said, the wars that don't support his argument don't count. Q.E.D.

taumeson, this would have been an interesting enough post; it's a resource I hadn't seen. Why ruin it with a troll? Especially the weak way you ended your post, basically admitting the argument you were advancing was trash.

Do you honestly think that wars are caused by a handful of gung-ho soldiers? I suggest you need to take a history class. Or twenty. Then get back to us.
posted by dhartung at 12:30 PM on December 3, 2002


If it wasn't for the damn Mesopotamian Wars of the Early Dynastic Period (2924-2900 B.C.) we would be living in an utopia!
posted by jasonspaceman at 12:32 PM on December 3, 2002


kellydammit - No he didn't; he said the Gulf War "wasn't much of anything". Which apparently is some new-fangled way of saying that it doesn't fit his hypothesis, so it can be dismissed.
posted by jammer at 12:33 PM on December 3, 2002


My grandfather objects to the "Greatest Generation" thing of Brokaw's. He didn't see anything that "great" or "heroic" about WW2* or any of his fellows and peers. Brokaw would no doubt find something admirable in his humility. Hmmm. (insert something about finding virtue in what is absent from ourselves here).

*He was in Europe and had something to do with tanks in WW2. I guess he has some pretty ugly stories but I've never heard them and reading this makes me glad I've never heard them. I've a morbid enough imagination as it is and don't need any additional sense of glory about it. And I was the type of child that no amount of ugliness would sway me from seeking it myself (insert something about the price of wisdom being too high).
posted by wobh at 12:34 PM on December 3, 2002


I'm going back to the Sober Santa post. At least the inaccuracies of the amount of alcohol Santa can consume without dying make for an interesting game of avoiding falling off the roof. I just hate this post tremendously.
posted by Mushkelley at 12:36 PM on December 3, 2002


seems like the cluster point is much closer to 20 than to 30. Looks like a bit of stretch to call anything from 19 to 40 "30ish".
posted by pejamo at 12:42 PM on December 3, 2002


I didn't count the Gulf War cause it wasn't much of anything

He, uh, explained that one, although I don't think his explanation would hold much water with the people of Iraq.


do'h, I managed to miss that. I really don't know if the "wasn't much of anything" theory would fly with the people who were actually there, esp. those suffering from Gulf War Syndrome.
posted by Kellydamnit at 12:48 PM on December 3, 2002


Very interesting link, agree with Dhartung about the post though...

With all the talk of Islam/Christianity/the West/etc lately it would be interesting for someone to take this timeline and diagram all the various "groups" (religion/geography/race/etc) and their various participation in wars with body counts (total and as percentage of local and world population at the time) and atrocities.

Something tells me it would come out equal all over, with perhaps Europe having the bloodiest century in history.
posted by cell divide at 12:50 PM on December 3, 2002


Kelly. I think what taumeson is trying to say is not that the Gulf War did not inflict serious losses on Iraqis or deeply affect the Americans who took part in combat operations. However, in no way can the Gulf War be counted as a major war. It was limited in the number of American casualties involved and the duration of a conflict. What taumeson is talking about when he writes about wars is the major conflicts that mobilize entire societies, cause a readjustment in social patterns and activities on the home front, and have the backing (and to some degree fervor) of the home population.
posted by pjgulliver at 12:53 PM on December 3, 2002


Straus and Howe's Generations goes into this pretty thoroughly too, regarding America...that there are cycles of dominant generational groups (ww2 young adults, boomers, the 18-year-olds(millenials) now) and that they always end up fighting, but are brought up to be more civic and community-minded and willing to join together for a cause than my parent's (silent) or my (x) generation..it's an interesting read...
posted by amberglow at 1:27 PM on December 3, 2002


Agree with dhartung and cell divide: great link, lousy presentation. But I want to emphasize the first part, still in danger of being lost in the hoohah about the silly "30-year theory": great link!
posted by languagehat at 1:51 PM on December 3, 2002


So all wars the US has been involved are merely products of the French and Indian wars which kicked the whole cycle off?
posted by PenDevil at 1:53 PM on December 3, 2002


What taumeson is talking about when he writes about wars is the major conflicts that mobilize entire societies, cause a readjustment in social patterns and activities on the home front, and have the backing (and to some degree fervor) of the home population.

pjgulliver: By your criteria we can eliminate the French and Indian War, the War of 1812, most of the "Indian Wars" of the middle 19th century (which weren't even wars in the European sense-- they were frontier conflicts, incursions, and raiding & reprisals), the Spanish-American War, and (arguably) Vietnam-- omission of any of which breaks this little mathematical anomaly as well as including the Persian Gulf War would.

What you're talking about (the mobilization of an entire nation toward a war effort) is the idea of "total war," which is a modern concept that can be traced back only as far as the Napoleonic era at it's most extreme, and to the Great War for it's first full expression in battle.

Further muddying taumeson's attempted point is that not all the wars he cites are even uniquely American wars. Both World Wars were well under way before American entered.

So while taumeson's point is worthless, the resource cited is excellent.
posted by Cerebus at 1:57 PM on December 3, 2002


Cerebus....I was not trying to defend the theory, just pointing out why the Gulf War might have been described that way.

However, the book I cited above dealt with these issues in interesting way...unfortunately, I forge the details of the argument as I read it six years ago. But it was interesting and semi-convincing, I swear!
posted by pjgulliver at 2:03 PM on December 3, 2002


check This out cell divide. My boy plotted all the episodes of mass killing of the 20th Century and divided them by the population of the country that suffered the losses. He writes: "If you look carefully at the chart with the intention of determining which race, religion or ideology has been the most brutal, you'll see a pattern emerge. It's quite a startling pattern, so I'd rather you find it by yourself."
posted by quercus at 2:45 PM on December 3, 2002


Wars are waged WHEN the Illuminati want them to be waged, WHERE they want them to be waged, between WHOM they want them to be waged, and for reasons that are beyond our understanding.
posted by Hildago at 2:55 PM on December 3, 2002


You are only counting the wars that support your thesis. Plus, where are the Napoleonic wars? The war of 1812 was just a side effect of that.

And what about the wars America wasn't a part of?
posted by nyxxxx at 3:55 PM on December 3, 2002


Innumeracy is far too common... be careful, kids.
posted by statisticalpurposes at 6:07 PM on December 3, 2002


There's plenty more that's good where quercus linked, by the way: Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century by Matthew White is simply one of the more impressive one-man sites on the web, at least in the humanities. I'm sure I've seen it on MeFi, but googling doesn't turn it up.
posted by dhartung at 6:40 PM on December 3, 2002


it was posted by geronimo_rex last year :D

btw, terence mckenna has a theory: timewave zero!

I have a whole theory about time that is a true theory - not a conversational theory, but a mathematical formalism, a fractal that describes the topology of temporality, which in Newtonian physics is assumed to be a smooth surface. I substitute for the traditional zero curvature a complex fractal dimension and then I can see that all time that we have any data about, meaning historical or paleontological or whatever, can be mapped onto this fractal.

also democide and the economic history of the twentieth century might help.
posted by kliuless at 6:39 AM on December 4, 2002


It maybe off topic, but it does deal with patterns and politics: Techumseh's Curse.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:54 PM on December 4, 2002


hey that techumseh link is broken.
posted by muppetboy at 12:58 PM on December 4, 2002


what about the war on drugs?
posted by muppetboy at 1:00 PM on December 4, 2002


heh...this comment so far down that i don't think anybody'll read it..oh well, business trip.

hmm...i was sticking with american wars, because i WAS trying to point out a generational pattern of violence in our culture. the gulf war wasn't terribly violent for americans. korea was, but i had actually forgotten about it.

majors and lt. cols don't plan theaters nor do they provide strategy. lt. cols actually only have battallions or PERHAPS a regiment. but from my experience the commanders at this level tend to be very hawkish...it's why they were selected in the first place. i didn't say "grows up and CAUSES a war" i said " grows up and wants to CAUSE a war".

i really don't think it was a troll wanting to discuss a generational trend. i admitted the numbers were a bit widespread, and therefore forced...it was really just for drama's sake.

millennium...heh.
posted by taumeson at 9:34 AM on December 5, 2002


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