Visualizing the Wars of the United States

Yesterday I published a visualization of wars fought by the United States based off another timeline created by Elijah Meeks using his d3.layout.timeline. In Elijah’s timeline, he depicted the timeline of war around five categories that defined the type of conflict: European, Internal, Latin America, Native, and so on. Elijah’s visualization was compelling in demonstrating the near-continual perpetuation of warfare that the U.S. participated in. As Brandon Locke noted, Elijah’s timeline of peace was particularly compelling: only thirty-seven years of the nation’s history have been without war.

Persistent war.

Yet looking at the visualization, I thought another point could be made. Not only that the United States fights wars, and lots of them, but what I felt was lost was the spatiality of those conflicts. Elijah’s original timeline included Latin America and Europe as geographic categories, but the other categories (Native, Internal, Colonial) were more an emphasis on the type of conflict rather than the location of conflict. I wanted to know: how would the timeline appear if we categorized these conflicts by where they were fought rather than categorized by theme?

There isn’t necessarily anything interpretively rigorous about the dataset: we both draw on Wikipedia for the data. I also extended Elijah’s original dataset by including covert operations run by the United States during the Cold War.

The rise of the U.S. as a global power is often treated as a post-World War II phenomenon, but in reality the nation’s global importance stretches to the nineteenth century. Processes of continuity, choices, and constraints within the landmass that would become the United States generated the factors necessary to achieve a global role in world affairs. The main factors that influenced the United States were its economy (the sustained creation of wealth, investment in technology, the welfare of the nation’s citizens) and the power of the federal government (to influence diplomatic arrangements and to set political ambitions for the nation).

Timeline of war.

The timeline makes this particular point well. As the United States consolidates its regional power upon its landmass (and, in the process, extending its territorial holdings across Native, Spanish, French, and Russian lands in North America), it integrates the vast American West into it’s state-building project of the nineteenth century. As this happens, warfare on the North American continent accelerates in the mid– to late–nineteenth century, before conflict in North America nearly disappears entirely as the nation turns to global ambitions and attempts to exert its influence in Asia and Latin America.

There’s also the appearance of covert operations that do not appear until after World War II, the first being the 1949 Syrian coup d’état that toppled Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatli. The March 1949 operation also has the distinction of being the first time the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency planned and executed on an effort to install a friendly regime in a foreign country. These covert operations appear with greater frequency particularly in Latin America and the Middle East—and, are happening at the apex of anticolonial activity across the globe. For most of it’s warfare history, the Middle East factored little into the United States’ view of the world. Only after Vietnam, in the face of postcolonialism and fears of Soviet access to the region, does the U.S. gain a particular interest.

I have more timelines to come soon: I have yet another alternative timeline I’m working on about peace; and another that hits closer to my own research interest: conflict in the American West, tied to an interactive map.

28 September 2015 · @jaheppler