You’re making me take seriously a post I put up in jest. That said, here’s the thing: it seems that wars occupy tiers of significance in American memory. I should note that everything from this point forward is speculation of the idlest variety. I should also reiterate that I’m talking about, to borrow Kieran’s phrase from the previous post, a specific kind of “metric”: memory. Which is to say, I’m mostly not going to talk about which American wars actually were historically significant, though that’s probably an interesting and blogworthy discussion in its own right. Or maybe I’ll mix and match. Because this post is going to be like jazz: improvisational.

Anyway, without further ado…

The first tier would include the wars that comprise our national creation myths: the Revolution and the Civil War. With the Revolution, the founding generation bought the nation’s independence with blood. And then the Founders themselves screwed everything up by including the notorious 3/5 Compromise in the Constitution. Which meant that there had to be a “new birth of freedom” during the Civil War — purchased, once again, with blood. I think WWII is also in the first tier, because, in the popular imagination at least, the “Good War” ratified the American project (underscoring the most pernicious notions about this nation’s exceptionalism).

The second tier, by my way of thinking at least, is complicated and more controversial. It currently includes just one “war”: Vietnam. But I suspect that, as time passes, the current Iraq War will sidle up next to the conflict in Vietnam. Why? Because these will be the wars that historians and the public alike will mark as having ended the era of American hegemony: by depleting the treasury, by sullying our international reputation, by distracting the electorate from other, very real, problems. From which point I could pivot to a discussion about how Osama bin Laden surely has accomplished almost everything he hoped to with the September 11 attacks. In such a discussion, George W. Bush becomes bin Laden’s most able henchman, a dupe of world-historical proportions. But Kathy, my colleague, tells me that would be controversial and would detract from my other points.

So, moving on…

In the third tier, there’s the conflict in Korea and World War I. Korea sometimes gets called America’s forgotten war, so perhaps it shouldn’t rate this high. M.A.S.H., though, has to be credited with making people aware that there even was a Korean War — even though the movie actually satirized Vietnam. As for WWI, I’m not sure that most Americans could tell you a thing about it. And that’s too bad. Because WWI is hugely important. If you want to know why, ask Eric. He’ll be happy to explain its significance. I’m just here to make you ingrates laugh. Throw some shekels into my cup on your way out of the club, won’t you?

Next, there are the imperial adventures: the Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American-Cuban-Philippine War. Silbey will tell you that the latter is incredibly significant and should occupy a spot far higher than the fourth tier of memory. And if I ever get around to reading his book, I’m sure that I’ll learn he’s right about that. The former, though, is definitely underrated. The acquisition of territory alone, which led directly to the Civil War, makes the Mexican-American War much more important than most people (I’m looking at you, Spike) realize. And then there’s the issue of race: the tens of thousands of conquered non-white people and the racial anxiety they spurred among Anglo-Americans in the conflict’s aftermath is a worthy subject in its own right. I used to have a (stupid) theory that the United States fought what amounted to one long race war starting in Mexico and concluding in the Philippines. But that’s a (stupid) story for another day.

After that, we arrive at the fifth tier: 1812, Iraq the first, the Kosovo bombing, the current fight in Afghanistan. And yes, I know 1812 was important: diplomatically, for securing the nation’s independence; economically, for helping to win relatively open markets for some U.S. goods; politically, for killing the Federalist Party in the wake of the ill-timed Hartford Convention; militarily, for giving us Andrew Jackson, he of the epic victory secured after war’s end; and trivially, for providing Canadian fifth columnists (myself included) something to brag about. But my knowing something says very little about popular perceptions. That’s another thing I know. As for the first Iraq War, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, it seems these wars, though they’re all of recent vintage, receive relatively little popular attention.

Finally, there’s the sixth tier (Eric suggests calling these “The Gilbert and Sullivan Wars.”): the invention of Panama, the ouster of Noriega, and Granada (Operation Whatever the Fuck it was Called). Need I say more about this lot? I think not.

Left out of the mix entirely: a bushel of filibusters, a peck of Central American dabbling, sundry bombardments, various overthrows, and all manner of embedded coups. Also: the so-called Indian Wars, which most people don’t even seem to think of as wars. But I’ll correct that misconception with the book I’ll write after the next one. Which I’ll write after I finish this one. Speaking of which, back to work

And let us never forget: the Fenian invasion of Canada.