10 Wars the United States Lost or is Losing

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A Brief History

On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced his “War on Poverty,” just one more of the “wars” lost by the United States.  50 years later, poverty still exists, despite the U.S. government having spent trillions of tax dollars to combat it.  Far from being an invincible superpower, the United States has actually lost many wars, and here we list 10 of them.  Depending on your politics and opinions, you may not agree with all of them.  

Digging Deeper

10.  War on Poverty.

With the U.S. poverty rate at 17% when the initiatives introduced by Johnson were instituted, the years since have seen the poverty rate sink as low as 11% but then climb as high as 15%, staying between those percentages ever since.  Today 47% of taxpayers do not even earn enough to have to pay income tax, and the gap between rich and poor is greater than any other time in the nation’s history.  The groups that benefited the most from Johnson’s programs (Medicare and Medicaid especially) were the elderly and those under 18 years old, while the poverty rate among those ages 18-64 years has basically remained the same.  At an investment of $15 trillion, the return has been low and the achievements modest.  For the very little gain, it has been catastrophic to the national budget.  Over 46 million Americans remain in poverty, the highest number in U.S. history.

9.  War on Drugs.

The “War on Drugs” continues today despite every indication that this campaign is not a winning one.  The U.S. appears to be powerless to stop the influx of cocaine, heroin and marijuana from outside the country, while almost every city and suburb has residential “chemists” making ecstasy, LSD and crystal meth in their basement laboratories.

8.  War on Terror.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has been fighting a “War on Terror” since 2001, but at what cost?  Iraq and Afghanistan are more filled with terrorists and are more unstable than when initially invaded.  Trillions of dollars have been squandered, not to mention the thousands of dead, crippled or psychologically scarred military personnel and civilian contractors.  It is not surprising that the U.S. military is currently experiencing the highest suicide rate in its history.

7.  War in Viet Nam.

Of course by now most Americans realize the Viet Nam War was lost.  The fact that the North overwhelmed the South and imposed their brand of communism on the whole country is proof.  It is true that the U.S. military performed quite well and killed many more soldiers of the North Vietnamese Armey (NVA) and the Viet Cong (VC) than they themselves lost (perhaps a million or two Vietnamese for the loss of less than 70,000 Americans), but in the end, the war cannot be classified as a success.

6.  War of 1812.

Many scholars consider the War of 1812 a war lost by the U.S., with British troops burning the capitol among other cities such as Buffalo, New York.  While the U.S. did manage to win the last battle of the war, American forces failed to take any part of Canada, and the grievances that precipitated the war had largely already been resolved before any hostilities started.

5.  The Cold War.

One has to ask, did the U.S. really win the Cold War?  Or, were there no real winners?  Spending incredible sums on weapons and “intelligence” certainly has kept the U.S. from progressing and its citizens from enjoying anywhere near the standard of living they could be.  Sure, the Soviet Union broke up under the weight of its expenses, but what did the U.S. gain?  Despite the United States’ status as the only “superpower” left standing, not much else was gained, except perhaps for some defense contractors being richer. 

4.  War on Christmas.

Some people today would say the U.S. or perhaps the world for that matter, is also conducting a “War on Christmas,” an effort by secular or atheistic people who want to eliminate Nativity scenes from public places and replace “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays.”  Alternatives offered include Kwanzaa and Festivus (“for the rest of us”) or maybe a return to acknowledging the winter solstice.  With the amount of decorations, sales, marketing, parades and flood of television specials, Christmas is still winning this war.

3.  War on Women.

Democrats and other liberals are fond of saying that the Republicans and conservatives are conducting a war on women.  This war is being fought through the opposition of equal pay for equal work statutes, the limitation or prohibition of abortion and no government subsidization of contraceptives.  Of course, the right wing claims they are conducting no such war, but if they were, they would certainly be losing it because women are in positions of power like never before.

2.  War on Unions/Middle Class.

Like the so-called “War on Women,” the war against working-class people is allegedly being fought between the right and left political factions in American politics.  “Right to work” and similar laws that gut unions as well as idiotic tax codes that make moving manufacturing out of the country profitable are killing the American worker and destroying the “middle class dream.”  Furthermore, convoluted income tax laws end up costing successful workers a higher percentage of their income in taxes than filthy rich people have to pay on income made through capital gains investments.  Disappearing medical benefits, vacations holidays, and the rolling back of laws that mandate time-and-a-half pay for overtime are some of the results of this conflict.  We would not say the American worker is defeated, but things are not going very well for the working and middle class.

1. War on Crime.

Although violent crimes such as murder and car theft occur less often than they used to, the average American is under the impression the country is some sort of fire-free zone.  Police are exhorted by politicians to be active and “produce” (tickets and arrests) but are then thrown under the bus when the public cries that they are are bullying them with “stop and frisk,” “broken windows,” and DUI checkpoints.  In addition, there are an incredible amount of abuses of corporate power that oftentimes nearly ruin the country, and, unlike the poor man who writes a bad check, none of the big bankers or investors go to jail.  Statistics may make it seem that the good guys are making progress, but it just does not feel like it.

Question for students (and subscribers): Please feel free to chime in with your thoughts about these “wars” and on any others you feel the U.S. is also losing in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Gillette, Michael L.  Launching the War on Poverty: An Oral History (Oxford Oral History Series).  Oxford University Press, 2010.

Hodge, Bodie.  War on Christmas: Battles in Faith, Tradition, and Religious Expression.  Master Books, 2013.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.