In the third and final Presidential debate Romney criticized Obama for not maintaining our military power and pointed out that the U.S. Navy now has fewer ships than it did in 1917. Apparently that was something he had been saying on the campaign trail a lot, so Obama was prepared, and he responded with the most memorable quote of the night: “You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.”
That threw the Republican talking heads into a tizzy, because they knew it was a great line, so they immediately went about trying to smack it down somehow. That night and the following morning the approach was to point out that the military does, in fact, still use both horses and bayonets, but after being reminded over and over that the claim was that we use FEWER – not NONE but FEWER – of these things, they went into another direction and picked up on the 1917 date to use as a benchmark. (1917 would have been toward the end of WW I.) The idea was to show that we, in fact, do use more bayonets today than in 1917 since bayonets are issued along with rifles, at least for Marines.
A quick google and a little arithmetic on my part indicate the size of the military during WW-I topped out at about 2.5 million. The most recent numbers put us at about 1.5 million. So even if everyone in today’s military is issued a bayonet, it’s unlikely that we have MORE bayonets today than in 1917 simply because there are fewer troops. So there.
But really, who gives a flying f___. This is what drives me nuts about the current state of political discourse. We focus on the trivial – a mispronounced word, a catchy phrase, too much smiling – and completely miss the big picture. The larger point that Obama was making was that the basic nature of our military, our enemies, and the way we fight wars today has changed and we need to be smart about it. The tools, tactics, materials and personnel that were used successfully in 1917 and even in Vietnam don’t necessarily work in modern wars. For the moment, at least, we don’t have national enemies; our enemies are terror cells, and that’s a very different kind of war. We should be talking about the direction the military needs to go in the face of our current enemies, but what are we talking about? Horses and bayonets! Horses and bayonets! The entire Internet is ablaze with horses and bayonets. It’s hard to avoid. Look at me! I just spent the better part of an hour writing about horses and bayonets while trying to make the point that we shouldn’t be talking so much about horses and bayonets. Arrgh.