Publisher’s Note Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The United States was forged as a nation in a war, and through its long history, it has repeatedly had to go back to war to protect its interests and the freedoms on which it was founded. Although war runs counter to the democratic principles of the nation, it is an unavoidable central theme of American history. As such, it demands study and understanding. The United States at War seeks to meet this need by offering compact surveys of the most important military conflicts with foreign nations in which the United States, as an independent nation, has been involved—from the Revolutionary War of the late eighteenth century through the Iraq War of 2003. The 177 essays in this two-volume set examine these conflicts from a variety of perspectives, ranging from detailed examinations of individual battles to discussions of broader issues of each conflict and overviews of the conflicts themselves.

The United States was forged as a nation in a war, and through its long history, it has repeatedly had to go back to war to protect its interests and the freedoms on which it was founded. Although war runs counter to the democratic principles of the nation, it is an unavoidable central theme of American history. As such, it demands study and understanding. The United States at War seeks to meet this need by offering compact surveys of the most important military conflicts with foreign nations in which the United States, as an independent nation, has been involved—from the Revolutionary War of the late eighteenth century through the Iraq War of 2003. The 177 essays in this two-volume set examine these conflicts from a variety of perspectives, ranging from detailed examinations of individual battles to discussions of broader issues of each conflict and overviews of the conflicts themselves.

The basic arrangement of The United States at War is chronological, with chapters on eleven wars and periods of conflict:

The Revolutionary War

The War of 1812

The Mexican War

The Civil War

The Spanish-American War

World War I

World War II

The Korean War

The Vietnam War

Conflicts in the Caribbean

Post-Cold War Conflicts

It should be noted that while the basic arrangement of The United States at War is chronological, establishing the chronological parameters of each conflict is not always a straightforward matter. For example, while the Revolutionary War is generally seen as beginning with the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April, 1775, the roots of the military conflict go back at least five years earlier. For that reason, the chapter on the Revolutionary War in this volume opens with essays on the Boston Massacre of 1770 and the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Neither event was a military event in the strict sense of the term, but each played an important role in advancing Great Britain’s North American colonies toward war.

Similarly, the roots of the Mexican War of 1846–1848 can be traced, in part, to the Texas Revolution of 1835–1836. While the U.S. government itself was not directly involved in that earlier conflict, the Texas revolt contributed significantly to the conflict between the U.S. and Mexican governments, and for that reason the chapter on the Mexican War contains three essays on the Texas Revolution. The Spanish-American War was a brief conflict that began and ended in the year 1898. However, its conclusion left unresolved the political status of the Philippines, whose people expected to be granted independence after Spain’s defeat. That expectation led to a popular revolt against U.S. occupation that may be seen as an extension of the Spanish-American War, so that revolt is also covered here.

The twentieth century’s two great world wars present a different kind of complication. World War I and World War II both began before the United States entered them. Since the subject of The United States at War is U.S. conflicts, no attempt is made here to cover the two world wars comprehensively. Instead, the essays in these volumes focus on U.S. involvement in those wars. Nevertheless, readers will find a great deal of information about other aspects of those wars here.

Since its withdrawal from the Vietnam War during the early 1970’s, the United States has been involved in a variety of armed conflicts around the world. Few of these conflicts have merited the label “wars,” but most have involved uniformed troops of the U.S. military. The most important, militarily, of those conflicts are grouped here under two chapter headings: “Conflicts in the Caribbean” and “Post-Cold War Conflicts.” The former chapter covers military episodes in the Caribbean Basin—including Central America—from the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 through the occupation of Panama in 1989. The Bay of Pigs invasion was not, strictly speaking, a U.S. military operation, but it did involve military operations and the support of the U.S. government. More importantly, it helps to explain later U.S. conflicts in the Caribbean.

The section on post-Cold War conflicts in The United States at War may be seen as an unfinished chapter in U.S. military history, as it covers major conflicts that are presently still unfolding, including the U.S. occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Users of this set may find that by the time they read the essays in that section, the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed dramatically. However, every effort has been made to bring those essays up to date as this set goes to press, and the essays themselves have been written so that they will not quickly go out of date.

Organization

Each section on an individual war or conflict opens with an overview of the conflict, followed by essays that examine the conflict and its individual battles and campaigns from a variety of perspectives. For example, the section on the Revolutionary War includes essays on censorship and on the role of women during the war, as well as more than 20 individual battles, the British surrender, and the peace treaty that concluded the war.

The section on World War II—the largest military conflict in which the United States has been involved—contains 37 separate essays, including an overview of the war; discussions of weaponry, censorship, the Lend-Lease program, development of the atomic bomb, expansion of the Navy, aerial warfare, the role of women, and essays on 29 individual battles and campaigns.

As in all Salem Press reference works, essays all have standardized ready-reference top matter that allows readers to see the most salient facts about each topic at a glance. Most of the set’s essays are on individual battles and campaigns. The top matter in each essay summarizes this information, as relevant:

Name of battle or campaign

Date

Location

Combatants

Principal commanders

Result

Special Features

At the end of each section, readers will find an extensive Further Reading list on the conflict. Additional general sources on military history are listed in the appendix Bibliography at the end of volume 2. Other appendices include a detailed Time Line of all U.S. military conflicts from 1775 through early 2005 and a Biographical Directory, which contains thumbnail sketches of more than 100 American military and political leaders who are discussed in The United States at War. Volume 2 also contains an Index of Personages and a detailed General Subject Index.

The United States at War is richly illustrated with more than 220 illustrations—an average of more than 20 photographs in each section. The set also has numerous maps, time lines, and other graphical material.

Acknowledgments

Most of the essays in The United States at War are taken from earlier Salem Press publications, including Magill’s Guide to Military History (2001), Weapons and Warfare (2001), Great Events from History: North American Series (1997), Censorship (1997), Women’s Issues (1997), and Encyclopedia of Flight (2002). All articles and bibliographies have been updated, as necessary, and entirely new material has been added.

The editors of Salem Press would like to thank the many contributors whose writing has made its publications possible. The editors would particularly like to thank Professor John C. Super of West Virginia University for serving as Editor of The United States at War.

Categories: History Content