Which US Presidents Led The US Through Its Major Wars?

A man poses with a sign protesting the Iraq War. Editorial credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com.
A man poses with a sign protesting the Iraq War. Editorial credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com.

11. Second Persian Gulf War

The Second Persian Gulf War (Iraq War), took place between 2003 and 2011. The US President in office at the time was George W. Bush, who served two terms from January 2001 until January 2009. He alleged that Iraq not only held weapons of mass destruction but also posed an imminent threat to the US and its allies. Based on these allegations, US-led forces with allied troops invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003. This move overthrew the Ba’athist government and captured Saddam Hussein. Under current President Barack Obama, who has served two terms beginning in January of 2009, troops were withdrawn from Iraq. The exit strategy was announced in February of 2009 and US forces began training the Iraqi Security Forces to take over. US troops officially withdrew on December 18, 2011.

10. Persian Gulf War

The Persian Gulf War, also known as the First Iraq War, occurred from August 2, 1990, to February 28, 1991. This war was in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and was US-led with the backing of 34 other countries, the largest military alliance since World War II. Ex-President George H. W. Bush made the call to send troops to Saudi Arabia in preparation for the attacks. After Iraq had refused to remove troops from Kuwait, the allied troops began bombing on January 17. On February 24, the ground invasion was underway. This move had lasted 100 hours before Iraq withdrew from Kuwait and a ceasefire was called.

9. Vietnam War

The Vietnam War holds the record as the longest war fought by the US. As such, it has had more Presidents in power than any other war. The war began between Communist-backed North Vietnam and anti-Communist South Vietnam. At this time, Dwight Eisenhower was President and on November 1, 1955, he sent the Military Assistance Advisory Group to help train South Vietnamese troops.

The US became further involved in May of 1961 when ex-President John F. Kennedy sent 400 military advisors to train the troops in South Vietnam. He would eventually send over 16,000 military advisors. In November of 1963, after Kennedy's assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the presidency.

Johnson did not increase US involvement until after he won the election of 1964. During his first year in office, ex-President Johnson sent 3,500 Marines to South Vietnam. Military operations lasted longer than expected.

Richard Nixon won the next election and took office in 1969. While running for office, Nixon sent his South Vietnam government liaison to convince them not to sign the peace treaty that Johnson was offering. This move was illegal. During his presidency, Nixon initiated the Vietnamization program, a move to transfer military power to South Vietnam. After negotiating a peace treaty, US troops withdrew in March of 1973. South Vietnam later lost the efforts to North Vietnam on April 30, 1975.

8. Korean War

After World War II, the Soviet Union freed North Korea from Japanese control and US forces were pushed into South Korea. By 1948, the two regions were made distinct countries with distinct governments, resulting from the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US. Neither Korean government recognized the other as legitimate. The war (June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953) was instigated when Communist-backed North Korea invaded South Korea in an attempt to join the two countries. Harry S. Truman was the US President at the time. UN troops deployed to the war; 88% of those forces were from the US.

7. World War II

World War II (WWII) occurred between 1939 and 1945. It involved over 30 countries and more than 100 million individuals, making it the biggest war in world history. The war began under the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt and ended under Harry S. Truman. On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in the US, ex-President Roosevelt responded by declaring war on Japan the next day. On December 11, Germany and the Axis powers declared war on the US. This marked the beginning of US involvement in WWII. The country sent over 16 million troops before fighting ended. The end of WWII marked the beginning of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union.

6. World War I

World War I began in July of 1914 and ended in November of 1918. It is remembered as one of the deadliest wars in history. The war began when a Yugoslav nationalist killed the Archduke of Austria. Conflict arose, and countries began taking sides and forming alliances. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia a month later. At this time, Woodrow Wilson was President of the US and joined forces with the Allies. The Allies consisted of Japan, US, Russian Empire, France, and the UK. By the end of the war, more than 9 million military personnel and 7 million civilians died.

5. Spanish American War

The Spanish-American War took place in 1898 under the presidency of William McKinley. This conflict was spurred by Cuban efforts to gain independence from Spain. The US became involved after one of its ships was destroyed in the Havana Harbor. Congress pushed the President into action; historians report that McKinley wanted to avoid fighting. The war ended with the 1898 Treaty of Paris, which gave US temporary control over Cuba and ownership of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam.

4. US Civil War

Ex-President Abraham Lincoln held office during the US Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865. The war began when 7 of the 34 US states seceded from the union by forming the Confederate States of America over the issue of slavery in western states. These southern states attacked Fort Sumter, initiating the war. Before the war ended, 11 states had joined the Confederacy. The war ended with the fall of the Confederate States and the abolishment of slavery.

3. Mexican American War

The Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848) took place under the presidency of James K. Polk. This conflict was initiated when Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836 and was incorporated into the US in 1845. Ownership of some of the territory was disputed, and ex-President Polk made an offer to purchase the land. Mexico declined, and the US deployed troops to the area. By the end of the war, the US had gained control over present-day California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.

2. War of 1812

During the War of 1812, ex-President James Madison fought against British naval powers. The war was caused by British attempts at controlling US trade and the US desire to expand its territory. This war brought on a significant loss for the US, including a great fire in the capital of Washington DC. Fighting ended with the Treaty of Ghent, in which the British promised not to move Canada’s border and promised to abandon its efforts to create an independent state in the northwest for indigenous peoples.

1. American Revolution

The American Revolution was fought between 1775 and 1783 under the presidency of George Washington, the nation’s first President. The conflict broke out after increasing disagreement between the original colonies and the British-represented colonial government. France joined the fighting in 1778 on the side of the colonists. This involvement instigated British surrender in 1781. However, violence continued until 1783. In September of 1783, Britain formally acknowledged the independence of the US.

Which US Presidents Led The US Through These Major Wars?

RankWar/RevolutionDurationUS President Involved
1American Revolution 1775-1783 George Washington
2War of 18121812-1815 - James Madison
3Mexican-American War1846-1848 James K Polk
4US Civil War1861-1865Abraham Lincoln
5Spanish American War1898William McKinley
6World War I1914-1918Woodrow Wilson
7World War II1939-1945Franklin Roosevelt and Harry S Truman
8Korean War1950-1953 Dwight Eisenhower
9Vietnam War1960-1975 Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon
10Persian Gulf War1990-1991 George H. W. Bush
11Second Persian Gulf War 2003-2010 George W. Bush and Barack Obama

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