Politicians repeatedly refer to the United States as a “peace-loving nation,” but evidence to the contrary abounds. Americans celebrate and embrace warriors and largely express apathy or disdain for those that work for peace. The phrase war hero is commonplace, but we rarely speak of peace heroes. The nation’s very birth came out of a violent overthrow of British authority and wars against other nations occurred with some frequency thereafter: The Quasi War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the War of 1898, the Philippine American War, numerous interventions in Latin America, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, the Balkan Wars, the Iraq War, and the War in Afghanistan. All directly involved American military operations and one could easily list numerous other occasions when Washington sponsored and aided the military operations of others. At home, violence also reigned: Native American wars, sectional conflict over slavery culminating in the Civil War, labor violence, anti-immigrant vigilantes, racial violence during Reconstruction, and a waves of lynchings that persisted into the twentieth century.
One might still argue that all of this violence has only made the nation more appreciative of peace, but again our culture and our actions suggest otherwise. War monuments dot the American landscape from town greens and parks to National Malls, including statues of individual war heroes alongside memorials to all military personnel who served in a conflict. In the broader culture, television, films, and novels define a hero as someone who takes decisive action to confront a threat or a problem, often necessitating violence. Americans want action heroes, not pacifistic dreamers.
Historians often do show a greater appreciation for those that work for peace, but they are not immune from the cultural patterns. Scholars tend to give greater accolades to leaders who lead countries to victory in wars rather than those that successfully avoid them.