Looking back at our history on Independence Day

Our Independence Day is an annual celebration commemorating the adoption of our Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. This gave birth to the United States of America, as we became independent from the kingdom of Great Britain because of our Revolutionary War.

2012 also marks significant anniversaries of several other wars in our American history. This is the 200th anniversary of our “second war of independence,” the War of 1812. It has been 150 years since the Civil War to preserve our union. The Korean War was 60 years ago and the Vietnam War was 50 years.

Some wars, such as the 1955-1975 Vietnam War, turned out to be very unpopular. This is not an unfavorable reflection on those who served. The errors in judgement were rather those of our politicians at the time.

Some of these wars have almost been forgotten. Seventy-four percent of Americans can’t recall a single event from the War of 1812 and sixty-six percent of Canadians can’t either. America had declared war on their previous colonial master Britain in 1812. It was fought across what is now our current border with Canada. American soldiers burned Britain’s parliament building in York, which is now Toronto. British troops later did their own burning of the American White House in Washington. A peace treaty was signed in 1814 that restored the border between American and the British land to the North. Historians still do not agree on who won this war.

The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice agreement. Neither side was able to claim victory and there never has been a peace treaty signed. In the armistice agreement of July 27, 1953, a demilitarized zone (DMZ) was created on as each side of the 38th parallel separating North Korea from South Korea. Both sides agreed to move their troops back 2,200 yards from the front line, creating a buffer zone 2.5 miles wide. The DMZ has been monitored by Swiss and Swedish armed forces, called the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, since 1953. It is still the most heavily militarized border in the world.

Our 1775-1783 Revolutionary War was the one that set the stage for America to become a free and independent nation. It was the result of opposition of colonists to the imposition of taxes by the kingdom of Great Britain without representation in government. This eventually expanded to a global war between Britain on one side and the United States, France, Netherlands and Spain on the other. The latter three countries secretly supplied supplies, ammunition and weapons to the revolutionaries. France openly entered the war in 1776. The involvement of France was decisive in winning the war, but it drove the county into massive debt and almost ruined its economy. The war ended with the Treaty of Paris, which recognized the United States as territory ranging from Canada to Florida and the Mississippi River.

About 20 percent of the American colonists remained loyal to the kingdom of Great Britain and King George III. Some joined the British forces and fought against the revolutionaries. I learned a few years ago that some of my Canadian relatives by marriage were descendants of “royalists” who left America after the Revolutionary War.

Our Civil War, to preserve our union, was by far the most destructive in our country’s history. Combat deaths for the Union is estimated as 140,414 and 72, 524 for Confederate forces. The estimated total number of dead and wounded ranges from 646,392 up to 750,000. Many of them died from disease. Almost 2 percent of the entire population of the country at that time died in this war.

Almost 1 percent of the population died in the Revolutionary War. Combat deaths were 6,824 and an estimated 18,000 died from disease. Comparable numbers were 2,260 for combat and 17,500 for disease for the War of 1812. These are shocking numbers from the perspective of our current ability to treat diseases.

Total combat deaths in all of our wars from 1775 to the present are estimated at 848,163. The estimated total dead and wounded are 2,489,335. Those missing in action are 38,159. Those dying from other causes are 437,421. Combat deaths for the top four wars are WWII –291,557, Civil War – 212,938, WWI – 53,402 and the Vietnam War – 47,355.

Let us keep all of these brave souls in mind as we celebrate this Fourth of July. We should also keep their families in mind. The wives, husbands, parents and children who must continue on with their lives as a loved one is serving our country. We should always remember and appreciate those who sacrificed to secure the freedoms that we enjoy.

Chuck Drury is an Anoka resident, retired engineer and former technical director of Federal Cartridge Company.

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