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The Top 20 Biggest U.S. Military Interventions, Best to Worst

Written By: - Date published: 10:39 am, August 31st, 2021 - 76 comments
Categories: afghanistan, Africa, australian politics, China, class war, colonialism, defence, Disarmament, Europe, Iran, iraq, israel, Japan, Korea, Pacific, Palestine, Peace, Russia, Syria, uk politics, United Nations, us politics, war - Tags:

UN forces’ transport vehicles recrossing 38th Parallel as they withdraw from Pyongyang, North Korean capital, during Korean War. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/National Archives/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

With the last flights coming out of Kabul, it’s time to review whether this US attitude to the world is a good idea.

Rules: major military use in country. Not counting CIA interventions.

  1. World War 2. 1939-1945 Instrumental in huge Allied win which saved much of the world.
  2. World War 1. 1914-1918 Instrumental in huge Allied win which saved much of Europe.
  3. Marshall Plan and Cold War Europe 1946-1989 Rebuilt many damaged countries, defended Europe from Soviet communist expansion
  4. American Revolutionary War 1775-1783 Independence from Britain enabling quick emergence of unique and powerful country with revolutionary democracy
  5. Korean War 1950-53 Stopped half of Korea turning communist
  6. Persian Gulf War 1990-91. Cleared Iraq out of Kuwait
  7. Bosnia 1995 Helped bring Serbs to negotiating table
  8. Thailand Communist Insurgency 1965-83 Stopped communist expansion
  9. American Civil War 1861-65 Reunited the country, stopped slavery. Crappy postwar settlement
  10. War of 1812 and Creek War. Britain and US largely settled. Defeat of Tecumseh’s native confederacy, massive native land thefts accelerate.
  11. Philippine-American War 1899-1902. Successfully stabilised the country, miserable huge loss of local lives.
  12. Iraq War 2003-11 Initial victory, total chaos afterwards, strengthened Iranian influence
  13. Beiruit 1982-84 Started off stabilising Israel’s mess, went downhill fast.
  14. Syria 2014-present ISIS defeated, then US backed the losing rebels. Syria now in proxy control by Turkey and Russia.
  15. Panama Invasion 1989 Mixed. Got rid of a tyrant but left near-ungovernable mess.
  16. Russian Civil War 1918-20 US-supported allies pantsed.
  17. Somalia 1992-93 Simply made it worse.
  18. Vietnam War 1961-73 Done like a dinner. Lots of meaningless death and war crimes.
  19. Yemeni Civil War 2015-present Millions of starving people and caused no good.
  20. Afghanistan 2001-21 Useful stabilisation first. Made 2020 pact with Islamofascist Taleban – led to fast and total unravelling. Over half a million locals dead. Tyranny installed.

Analysis of why they do it.

76 comments on “The Top 20 Biggest U.S. Military Interventions, Best to Worst ”

  1. Stephen D 1

    Are you just trying to wind Muzza up?

  2. Stephen D 2

    Boots on the ground, all true.

    Though I don’t think you can ignore the affect of CIA intervention entirely. Chile being an example. Getting rid of Allende in cahoots with ITT, lead to Pinochet, and the deaths accordingly.

  3. Gosman 3

    The Civil war and arguably even the War of Independence weren't really the US involving itself in other nations affairs. You also missed the first real overseas conflicts the newly independent US was involved with which was the Barbary wars of the early 19th century.

  4. Phil 4

    Remember when John Key went on Letterman for the 'Top 10' and everyone universally agreed that it was really dumb?

    Congratulations, your list has out-dumbed John Key's.

  5. Gosman 5

    There was also no Philippine-American War between 1899-1902. It was the Spanish-American War which also involved Cuba and Puerto Rico. Afterwards the US was engaged in anti-insurgent conflict in both the Philippines and Cuba.

      • Morrissey 5.1.1

        … the Wikipedia references….

        First-tier scholarship. Just as I suspected.

        • Ad

          At least bring something other than a little whine.

          Any aggregate study of US military would do.

        • Incognito


          If I didn’t know you better, I’d say you’re a lazy snob.

          We believe that not contributing to crowd-sourced resources represents a lost opportunity for enriching medical students’ learning and for disseminating more accurate, up-to-date medical information to Wikipedia’s readers worldwide.

          Why Medical Schools Should Embrace Wikipedia: Final-Year Medical Student Contributions to Wikipedia Articles for Academic Credit at One School

          https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5265689/ [check out on the right-hand site Similar articles in PubMed although it might be a biased selection]

    • Gosman 5.2

      I stand corrected however you still missed the Spanish- American war which was the larger conflict and led to both this insurgency and others.

    • Adrian Thornton 5.3

      Here are the observations of one of the most highly decorated US soldiers who took part in the US interventions in Cuba and the Philippines….

      War is a racket. It always has been,” Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler

      “I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”


      BTW Ad, I am not sure if using wikipedia as a point of reference when discussing US/Western military aggression is really that helpful in many cases.

      • Ad 5.3.1

        Their references collected at the bottom are always a useful quick start.

        • Adrian Thornton

          That is true in many cases, but I would suggest that there can be selective bias on many important entries that if not noted, and a reader just followed the links provided, would end up with quite a distorted understanding of the subject.

          Persistent Bias on Wikipedia

          "Systematically biased editing, persistently maintained, can occur on Wikipedia while nominally following guidelines. Techniques for biasing an entry include deleting positive material, adding negative material, using a one-sided selection of sources, and exaggerating the significance of particular topics. To maintain bias in an entry in the face of resistance, key techniques are reverting edits, selectively invoking Wikipedia rules, and overruling resistant editors. Options for dealing with sustained biased editing include making complaints, mobilizing counterediting, and exposing the bias. To illustrate these techniques and responses, the rewriting of my own Wikipedia entry serves as a case study. It is worthwhile becoming aware of persistent bias and developing ways to counter it in order for Wikipedia to move closer to its goal of providing accurate and balanced information."

          How a Small Group of Pro-Israel Activists Blacklisted MintPress on Wikipedia

          "For over ten years, Wikipedia has been a key focus of right-leaning, pro-Israel groups that have effectively weaponized the online encyclopedia as a means of controlling the narrative when it comes to the state of Israel’s more than 50-year-long military occupation of Palestine."


          • Ad

            For sure. Not proposing an epistemic purity contest.

            Though I don't know of other big sites where the texts are in perpetual edit and contest.

  6. America's ostensibly honourable actions in WW2 were eternally tainted by their use of WMDs on the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

    Also there was a lot of domestic support for Hitler

    • Molly 6.1

      …as shown at Madison Square in 1939…

    • Gosman 6.2

      Less devastating than firebombing of Tokyo and arguably saved many tens of thousands of allied soldiers lives.

      • roblogic 6.2.1

        Hooray. They were slightly less sociopathic and mass murdery than they could have been.

      • Adrian Thornton 6.2.2

        Aahh Gosman, the man who never fails to spew out western pro war propaganda…at least your are consistent I guess.

        A recent article by historian Gar Alperovitz, after noting that Eisenhower had strong misgivings about the use of the bomb on Japan1, states:
        General Curtis LeMay, the tough cigar-smoking Army Air Force “hawk,” was also
        dismayed. Shortly after the bombings he stated publicly: “The war would have been over in two weeks. … The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”
        Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, went public
        with this statement: “The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace. … The atomic
        bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan"


        • Tiger Mountain

          The nuclear attacks on the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the start of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and US Imperialism really.

          The yanks were “willie waving” and saying look what we got… at horrific cost to non combatants.

          • Phil

            Use of WMDs may not have ended WWII in the Pacific, but it's undeniable that they did give US and Soviet decision makers (and the global public at large) sufficient understanding of the consequences of their use, that neither side used their enormous arsenals during the cold war.

            Without the horrific sacrifice of life in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it's virtually inevitable that one or both superpowers would have felt more comfortable using WMDs in another theatre of war. The extreme consequences of mutual retaliation from those decisions should be obvious to us all.

        • Treetop

          Do you think the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs were pay back for Pearl Harbour 7 December 1941?

      • Stuart Munro 6.2.3


        No. The argument that the bombs precipitated the Japanese surrender is fatuous, though often employed as a post-facto justification of using wmds.

        Japan surrendered because the Soviet Union declined a limited surrender and entered the war.

  7. Forget now 7

    Ad – maybe you could give a bit of warning when your link is to a 375 page pdf? Not such an issue with most people at home today, but that can really mess with data usage on cheaper mobile plans.

    Also; "Islamofascist Taleban", seriously?

    • roblogic 7.1

      Created by the USA, now armed to the teeth by the USA. A cynic would think that US actions are a deliberate attempt to destabilise the region and create a mess on the doorstep of their regional rivals, Russia and China.

    • Ad 7.2

      Taleban treatment of women make The Handmaid's Tale look pretty mild.

  8. Byd0nz 8

    I knew it would read like a horror story of fascist proportions, bin it.

  9. Adrian Thornton 9

    Just when I thought, after reading Red Logic’s surreal attempt at justifying and defending the wholesale destruction of the planet for the sake of 150 progress in his post last week, that The Standard had reached the bottom of the barrel in Neo Liberal reactionary content…then along comes Ad just to prove how very wrong I was.

    The first clue is in his heading “ The Top 20 Biggest U.S. Military Interventions, Best to Worst” which reads like some sort of inane click bait about some meaningless shit or another, not a piece about a subject that has resulted in unimaginable amounts of self inflicted human misery across the entire planet.

    I am not going to get into rebutting most of his childish list…there is no point, Ad,like so many of his ilk ,have made it abundantly clear through their comments here on TS, time and time again, that they wholeheartedly support pretty much any western intervention that they are told to…and will support the inevitable next one when comes along, there can be no doubt.

    Here is the actual reality of one of Ad’s “Top 20 U.S. Military Interventions”….

    The Destruction and Reconstruction of North Korea, 1950 – 1960 北朝鮮の破壊と再建’、1950-1960年

    The American Air War and the Destruction of North Korea

    "The Korean War, a “limited war” for the US and UN forces, was for Koreans a total war. The human and material resources of North and South Korea were used to their utmost. The physical destruction and loss of life on both sides was almost beyond comprehension, but the North suffered the greater damage, due to American saturation bombing and the scorched-earth policy of the retreating UN forces.1 The US Air Force estimated that North Korea’s destruction was proportionately greater than that of Japan in the Second World War, where the US had turned 64 major cities to rubble and used the atomic bomb to destroy two others. American planes dropped 635,000 tons of bombs on Korea — that is, essentially on North Korea –including 32,557 tons of napalm, compared to 503,000 tons of bombs dropped in the entire Pacific theatre of World War II.2 The number of Korean dead, injured or missing by war’s end approached three million, ten percent of the overall population. The majority of those killed were in the North, which had half of the population of the South; although the DPRK does not have official figures, possibly twelve to fifteen percent of the population was killed in the war, a figure close to or surpassing the proportion of Soviet citizens killed in World War II.


    The U.S. war crime North Korea won’t forget

    The bombing was long, leisurely and merciless, even by the assessment of America’s own leaders. “Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — 20 percent of the population,” Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, told the Office of Air Force History in 1984. Dean Rusk, a supporter of the war and later secretary of state, said the United States bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” After running low on urban targets, U.S. bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops.


  10. arkie 10

    Analysis of why they do it.

    RAND Corporation is an American nonprofit global policy think tank created in 1948 by Douglas Aircraft Company to offer research and analysis to the United States Armed Forces. It is financed by the U.S. government and private endowment, corporations, universities and private individuals.

  11. RedLogix 11

    To be really fair we need to compare the US with all the other military interventions of the past 10,000 yrs or so. And on that broad measure the average person living in the 70 yrs since the end of WW2 is far less likely to die in war than at any other time in human history.

    The comparison also needs to take into account what the alternatives were – with the US as the prime military hegemon it also took conflict between almost all the other nations off the table. To assume that if the US military had stayed at home and never set boot or bomb offshiore – that as a result the world would have been some kind of peaceful nirvana is completely deluded.

    And if we were going to have a self appointed world policeman the Americans were uniquely ill-suited to the task. Inward looking to the point of narcissistic and generally ignorant of geography much less history or culture – from the end of the Cold War onward their involvement in the wider world has delivered little but perverse outcomes. Mostly I think because the global machine they had created was no longer governed by a sense of purpose or reasoned principle. Instead they've blundered into engagements on often emotive rationalisations and no exit strategy. Such poorly conceived affairs were always going to end badly.

    There are now fewer US troops stationed overseas than anytime since about 1915 and the number continues to decline. They will continue to act where they see it as in their interests to do so – but that sphere is far smaller and more targeted than it once was. Still a post like this is going to bait the reflexively anti-US left into their usual fulminations – all demanding the Yanks go home. Well in this decade they're going to get their wish and we’re all going to see how that turns out.

    • roblogic 11.1

      US troops tend to be insular, trigger-happy & ignorant, whereas others might try to actually get along with locals (according to a mate who's been to several troubled spots). But most forces are a bit useless and corrupt, tbf.

    • roblogic 11.2

      Yes the Pax Americana had a stabilising effect, but that doesn't excuse the awful catalogue of US injustices from their military adventures.

    • Adrian Thornton 11.3


      “To be really fair we need to compare the US with all the other military interventions of the past 10,000 yrs or so. And on that broad measure the average person living in the 70 yrs since the end of WW2 is far less likely to die in war than at any other time in human history.”

      Maybe a bit off topic ( I hope Ad won't mind) but a more important comparison to make, and to put some much needed balance into the modern western man triumphalism that RL is so fond of voicing here on TS could be this….humans are living on the planet for 10,000 years or so, 150 years or so ago said humans through a series of major technological advancements, and the use of free energy in the shape of oil, start on a project of extractive industrialization on a scale never before imagined.

      Unmanaged and uncontrolled this once only opportunity for the human race is of course instantly co-opted by the most powerful Imperialist countries, capitalist industrialists, the powerful etc and so was not was never to be used for the benefit of human development as it’s driving ideological motivation, no greed and the ideology of endless growth were to be it’s engine room and guiding principle…an engine that in 150 short years has proved itself so short sighted, so blinded by it’s own interests, that it has brought the 10,000 year human project and the entire planet with it, to the very brink of destruction.

      And now you say a human living now has less chance of dying through warfare (which is a contested asumption btw https://mikeharrisny.medium.com/the-pinker-problem-df7a40eb1fdf) however for the sake of this conversation let's assume it is a fact, that death rate has according to some studies already been replaced by deaths as a result of climate change….

      Climate Change Linked to 5 Million Deaths a Year, New Study Shows



      Personally I am a little hesitant to use those figures, but even if only half that number were proved to be true it obviously means that 2.5 million deaths per year are already linked to climate change, and 83 million deaths directly as the result of climate change by the 2100…. this of course doesn't even take into account the masses of extinctions and degradation of every other species of life on the planet over these last 150 years…and you, with ba straight face, tell us it was a fair trade for that 150 years of progress….

      Climate crisis could kill 83 million people by 2100, study finds


      And finally and ironically enough, it turns out that in the future the US won’t even have to fire Hellfire missiles or drop huge pay loads of bombs to fuck up the rest of the world like they are so fond of doing today…nope just by the way they (and we) have built their pointless, endless growth, endless consumer nightmare of a system, is apparently enough to bring misery around the world, without even them have to get up off their couches……thats real progress right there!

      Three Americans create enough carbon emissions to kill one person, study finds


      • weka 11.3.1

        can’t see why that got caught in the filter, please check your name and email address for typos on next comment just in case.

      • Ad 11.3.2

        Sure it's a wee way off track but I'm totally with you Adrian on that. The US military have sent that signal of climate change as their largest strategic threat loud and clear for years. Our own military have taken way too long to catch up with their own threat and the useful role they could play.

        Yesterday's timing of Hurricane Ima smashing into Louisiana and New Orleans, the day before all United States troops left their disgusting mess in Afghanistan, must surely be Earth's way of underscoring that point.

        • Adrian Thornton

          At some point we have to somehow get the human project back on track…most importantly that really import part were we are meant to be slowly evolving… hopefully to something a bit more enlightened.

          Maybe the worldwide nature of the Climate Change battle will spark and unleash some sort of collective spirit laying dormant and mostly untapped within the human psych, just as capitalism/free market liberalism unlocked and unleashed in such a negative way the deep rooted greed component of the human psych…..now that would be real progress.

          The anthem of my youth still rings as true today as it did then, maybe more so….

          • Ad

            There you also find yourself in perfect agreement with RedLogix as well.

            Me I'm much less optimistic on that score.

  12. aj 12

    US troops stationed overseas than anytime since about 1915 and the number continues to decline.

    And their ability to kill and maim from the sky continues to increase, in theory this is to kill 'terrorists' but the collateral damage continues to grow as well.

    I’d wake up in my “can,” a small but comfortable air-conditioned metal container outfitted with a bed, desk and a dresser. I would take a hot shower and shave and then walk 100 feet over to the cafeteria for a breakfast of eggs, bacon and Cheerios. Afterward, I crossed a small dusty road lined with porta johns to arrive at the operations center. I brewed a pot of coffee and then took over my shift at 8 a.m.

    I killed men for the next eight hours.


  13. Adrian 13

    I am no US excusist, went to enough Vietnam protest, wmd ones to be that, but.. just take a pause to consider the scenarios if the US had not intervened in a few of those shit fights, how many 9/11s, Bali’s, London train bombings and how many slaughtered Afghanis or Iraqis, Koreans even, before somebody had to do something. The genocide in the Balkans of which the US didn’t want to have a bar of until it was obvious that the Europeans whose shitfight it was, were not going to have the gumption to intervene. Tally up the death and destruction of just those and the numbers pale in the shade caused by intervention. Tragic as every life lost was.

    • Ad 13.1

      The whole of post-1945 would make an interesting alternative history.

    • Adrian Thornton 13.2


    • McFlock 13.3

      Compare with Rwanda, where they did fuckall, not even belatedly.

    • aj 13.4

      9/11s, Bali’s, London train bombings

      One could make a strong case that these events would not have taken place without decades of interference in middle east politics, supporting first one side then the other, by the USA and it's lackeys.

      • Pierre 13.4.1

        If the US, Britain, and Pakistan had not armed the Afghan mujahideen, Afghanistan might have remained a secular and democratic state for the last three decades.

        If the British and American banks had not funded the reactionary gulf monarchies, the history of the Bin Laden family might have turned out differently.

        If the US had not armed the reactionary Islamist militias in Syria, there would have been no 'Islamic State' in Raqqa and Idlib. Libya was one of the most highly developed countries in Africa before the NATO bombing.

        I can only dream of how the world would have developed without imperialism.

  14. Adrian 14

    Yes Ad, and the Americans in 76 years couldn't hold a candle to the death and carnage the Germans caused in just 6 years or so from Spain to the Berlin bunker.

  15. bwaghorn 15

    My reckons on the the ww2 wa the yanks fucked around for as long as possible so England would be on its knees allowing the USA to take the top spot in the west .

    Is the any merit in my reckons or am I barking mad?

    • McFlock 15.1

      Not really the main consideration – domestic issues were the main drivers for isolationism. But it worked out well for them, eh. Loaned a shedload of cash to UK so the UK could buy US war materials, then turn up halfway through to make sure their debtors are on the winning side…

  16. Adrian 16

    Tony Simpsons book Operation Mercury will put you right, it covers the reason why NZ got involved in Crete, Franklin D Roosevelt had been pressed by Churchill to get involved but with only about 1% of American people supporting the idea of getting involved he couldn't commit even though Roosevelt personally was in favour but when convinced that the Axis forces moving on Greece were heading for American oil interests in the Middle East, popular support began to build and then Pearl Harbour happened and full commitment ensued. The Kiwi and Aussie troops were used as bait by Brit high command to advance to the Albanian border where Mussolini had tried to invade much to German annoyance as they didn't want to open another front. Its an intriuging story.

  17. Ad 17

    I should probably do a rejoinder piece on the top 20 most successful interventions since the formation of the UN.

  18. Obtrectator 18

    Quite a few interventions in Haiti, too, over the years, none of them with any lasting positive effect.

    And then there's Hawai'i. Not really a military intervention, but the threat of it was there in the background when Queen Liliʻuokalani was forced to abdicate in 1893 and allow installation of a stooge "president" by a cartel of US businessmen. Result: an independent country, internationally recognised, ended up being forcibly incorporated into the USA.

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