Soon after VJ Day – Victory over Japan in 1945 the political and with it the military character of the world changed and would remain frozen in what became known as the Cold War for nearly 50 years. The adversaries were the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies and aligned socialist countries around the world and the United States, NATO and democracies across the world.
The Cold War would see a stand off in Europe and local "hot" proxy wars in Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan. At the forefront to contain Soviet expansion was the United States and its armed forces. They would fight in Korea between 1950 and 1953 in incredibly harsh conditions against both the North Koreans and the Chinese and air combat would enter the jet age. US casualties were 33,720 killed and 103,284 wounded and of the 10,218 Americans captured by the Communists only 3,746 returned to South Korea. Some 135 men would win the Medal of Honor during the Korean War.
The fight to contain Communist inspired expansion took US forces to the former French colony of Vietnam in a war that lasted from 1961 to 1972. The fight to prevent South Vietnam falling to the Communist North cost the United States 45,941 killed and 300,635 wounded. In the course of the war some 247 men would be awarded the Medal of Honor. However the Vietnam War was unpopular at home and hugely divisive to American society. The wounds have taken a long time to heal but one of the outcomes of the war was the ending of the draft and the creation of an all volunteer career army.
First Gulf War: Iraq 1990-1991
When the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989 there was an optimistic hope that the Cold War would end and the Peace Dividend would allow disarmament to follow. However soon afterwards the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces in August 1990 saw the United States in the role of World Policeman bringing together a coalition of Western and Arab states to defeat the Iraqis. The short war was well received at home and happily there was a low casualty count - United States lost 294 men killed from all causes during what would become known as The First Gulf War.
9/11 Twin Towers
The events of September 11, 2001 were as dramatic as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor seventy years earlier. The nation was united in the face of a threat that had taken violence to its homeland.
Afghanistan War 2001 -
Afghanistan was identified as the base for the training and inspiration for these fundamentalist attacks and so on October 7, 2001 NATO and US forces were committed to an operation that is still on going. Though the Taliban government was destroyed and al-Qaeda removed the cost has been extremely high. To date six men have won the Medal of Honor in a ten year war has cost the United States over 1,400 combat deaths and 10,000 wounded.
Second Gulf War (Iraq War - 2003–2011
The Iraq War was a military campaign which began with the invasion of Iraq by forces led by the United States and the United Kingdom followed by a seven year occupation. Like the First Gulf War the invasion of Iraq in 2003 saw the whole range of high-tech weaponry deployed which academic theorists called "Shock and Awe". While it defeated the conventional Iraqi forces and ousted Saddam Hussein the insurgency that followed was costly and like all counter-insurgency operations deeply frustrating.
Between 2003 and 2011 the US armed forces has suffered over 3,500 combat deaths and nearly 32,000 wounded. Four men would win the Medal of Honor in Iraq before the withdrawal of ground forces.
Though US troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2015, some will remain in a supporting role for Afghan forces - a commitment that is reassuring to Kabul but some fear could be open ended.