Why hasn't the U.S. government paid war reparations to any country it attacked?

According to Wikipedia, the U.S. has never paid any war reparations to members of other countries. It has only paid damage to its Japanese citizens for interning them and unlawfully seizing their assets.


Considering other countries have paid reparations to countries they attacked, why hasn't the U.S. ever paid any reparations to a country or people from a different country?

  • 13
    They certainly should not be labeled reparations (and the existing answers explain why), but consider the Marshall plan and UNRRA, and present-day aid to Iraq and Afghanistan. Jul 13 '19 at 15:55
  • 34
    @jamesqf that's really just doublespeak. If the regime is actually in charge of the country, and you have to fight the country's forces and destroy their resources to get to the evil mastermind, you ARE attacking that country. Saying it's not really an attack because of the reason for the attack is disingenuous.
    – barbecue
    Jul 13 '19 at 21:28
  • 34
    Because they won.
    – Agent_L
    Jul 14 '19 at 7:36
  • 10
    Maybe they weren’t called “reparations” but USA has in the past provided benefits to their opponents who lost.
    – WGroleau
    Jul 14 '19 at 13:59
  • 15
    @WGroleau the first thing I thought when reading this question was, The Mouse That Roared: "You must remember, the Americans are a very strange people. Whereas other countries rarely forgive anything, the Americans forgive anything. There isn't a more profitable undertaking for any country than to declare war on the United States and to be defeated."
    – RonJohn
    Jul 15 '19 at 0:20

The answer is right in the Wikipedia page you cited (emphasis added):

War reparations are compensation payments made after a war by the vanquished to the victors.

The United States has not been vanquished in a war, so it has not been in a situation where it would make a payment to a victor of a war.

Being “vanquished” implies not merely “losing” a war, but being defeated so totally that that the victor can impose their will on the loser with impunity. Although the United States has “lost” wars, it has not been “vanquished” like any of the countries listed on that page.

  • 3
    And the payments were in response to the Civil Liberties Act signed by Reagan, and not the result of losing a war. They shouldn't be listed wiki page, but that's Wikipedia...no time to get in an edit war.
    – jmoreno
    Jul 13 '19 at 20:36
  • 3
    @jmoreno I checked the edit history and there doesn't look to be a lot of back and forth, so I just went ahead and fixed it. That clearly doesn't belong because it doesn't fit the definition given at the top of the page.
    – mattdm
    Jul 13 '19 at 21:31
  • 3
    It's also been a long time since the US won any war. Jul 13 '19 at 21:47
  • 33
    "It's also been a long time since the US won any war" It depends on your definitions. ISIS has been wiped out thx to a coalition effort but featuring US forces. The war against Iraq was over in a few weeks, with capitulation by Saddam's govt. Then began a very different phase that I'll agree is troubling and hasn't been "won" but also really isn't a war per se, though I can see why some would consider it part of "the Iraq War." Cold War was won, clearly. Vietnam by itself was "lost" but can also be seen as a single front in the Cold War. Afghanistan is policing, which isn't to be "won." Jul 13 '19 at 22:06
  • 2
    @some_guy632 OP should clarify their intention then. However, if that were the intention, you could argue about the reconstructions of Germany and Japan, as other commenters have observed. But... those were not done out of a sense of guilt... which I gathered was OPs main intention to ask about
    – Joe
    Jul 14 '19 at 4:40

The agreement to pay war reparations is usually part of a peace treaty. It is usually a demand the superior party makes from the inferior party in exchange for peace.

In any wars where the United States "lost" in the past 100 years, the United States simply gave up on occupying the other parties' territory and withdrew their troops. The "winning" side was in no position to make any more demands from the United States, because they posed no serious threat to any US assets outside of the country. So the United States were never in a situation where they were forced to pay to end a war. They were always in a position where they could unilaterally decide to end the war without any danger to their own sovereignty or territorial integrity.

  • 18
    @Trilarion: The concept of morality in international relations came after WWII, which is conveniently also the last (hot) war in which the US was seriously threatened.
    – Kevin
    Jul 13 '19 at 21:39
  • 5
    @Kevin The mainland US was never seriously threatened in WW II. Neither Nazi Germany nor Japan were even remotely in a position to attack the mainland USA.
    – gerrit
    Jul 13 '19 at 22:09
  • 9
    @gerrit: Not as events actually transpired, but it has been a rich font of alt-history for good reason. Imagine if (for example) Japan had been more competent in its operational planning, Germany did not declare war on the US, and so on. Given enough minor changes, it is not entirely implausible that some degree of hot fighting on US soil could have happened. Also, Hawaii is a US state. You can't just exclude it arbitrarily. I certainly never said "mainland."
    – Kevin
    Jul 13 '19 at 22:48
  • 9
    @Kevin Hawaii is a US state currently, but it was not a state at the time of WWII. Nor was Alaska for that matter. They were certainly US territories, but it’s not arbitrary to categorize them differently than the (then) 48 states. Jul 14 '19 at 5:45
  • 5
    @gerrit The word "mainland" is doing a lot of work there. The US was threatened. There's no reason the US should feel obliged to give up Hawaii just because California is not threatened. The US has obligations towards its territories as well as rights over them.
    – Ben
    Jul 14 '19 at 10:56

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