Both the U.S. and Russia/USSR have made great strides toward developing high-energy laser weapons for their future national defense systems since the early 1960s. Many billions of dollars and rubles were invested in the effort. Many hundreds of gifted scientists and engineers devoted their careers to working on the problems. They achieved major technological advances and made impressive and successful demonstrations. After more than half a century, however, neither side has yet adapted the first laser weapon for a military use. Why? This paper discusses the history of key technological advancements and successes, as well as some of the difficulties encountered. It also discusses fundamental technological advantages and limitations of high-energy laser weapons, and also the unique social, cultural, and political environments that have contributed to the history. The high-energy laser technical community is in the process of finding ways to adapt to the new warfare environment by taking advantage of the lessons learned in the past while incorporating the new technologies and ideas evolved in recent years.