To be unready for war is to invite one.
Listen To You Tell Me Texas Friday 2/28/14
In January 1939, the United States had an army of just 185,000 poorly trained, poorly equipped men. World War I – the war that was to end all wars – was so horrific and so costly that the U.S. and Britain convinced themselves that the world had learned its lesson.
A war-weary democratic west made itself believe that nations could work out their differences through diplomacy and negotiation, that wars profited no one, that World War I had made that fact abundantly clear and, accordingly, that wars were a thing of the past.
The delusion of a chastened world didn’t last long. By January 1942, the U.S. was called to lead the free world in the most cataclysmic military conflict in all of history. By 1944, 12.5 million young American men – 68 times the number in 1939 – were serving in uniform.
Upwards of 70 million people died during World War II, each one a reminder that the best way to find oneself in a war is to be unprepared for one.
This bit of history in light of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s recently announced Defense Department budget proposal for the next fiscal year. In a nutshell, Hagel proposes to cut the army to the smallest number since before World War II.
Of course, the proposal comes with all of the requisite assertions about the force being smarter, more nimble and better suited to the threats of the 21st century. It includes the assurances that the need for a military force capable of prosecuting two major engagements simultaneously is anachronistic and no longer realistically needed.
But that may be a simple case of shaping facts to support a pre-determined outcome.
I doubt that anyone sat down and did a dispassionate analysis of the military’s current force status and said, “We really don’t need all of these personnel, all of these ships, all of these weapons and all of these installations.”
What happened is that the Treasury Secretary said, “In the next fiscal year, this is what we’re going to take in and this is about all we can reasonably borrow and those two numbers added together are what we’re going to have to live with.” That amount being insufficient to fund entitlements, the debt, the ongoing operations of the existing federal bureaucracy and the military at its current levels, it’s the military that gets cut.
Five years in to the Obama administration, we know without doubt that he believes that there is practically nothing unworthy of government spending. The president has never proposed shrinking any part of the federal government.
Except the clearly constitutional function of defending the peace.
I have no doubt that the Pentagon wastes money. I have no doubt that the military leadership in many cases clings to systems and personnel structures that are out of date and unnecessary.
But in a world that is becoming more chaotic and dangerous, shrinking the American military to pre-World War II levels doesn’t feel right to me.
What about you?