When Thomas Jefferson took the oath of office in 1801, one of his first moves was his attempt to entirely disband the Federal Military Forces. Were it not for some powerful opponents who had gone to great lengths to bring a US Navy into existence, he would have succeeded. Jefferson considered a professional military a luxury, and one the nation could ill-afford. His successor, James Madison, in 1812 had to deal with the result of his efforts. British troops encountered little resistance on their way to Washington D.C. and had little trouble in burning down the nation’s capitol building. The heroes and military leadership of the Revolution were either aging or dead, and were of no use in the War of 1812. It must be remembered that the war was started over the United States objecting to the impressment of American merchant sailors into the British Navy. The U.S., however, lacked the force to prevent such impressments.
Some view the Civil War as the campaign of two great armies against one-another. But nothing could be further from the truth, at least at the beginning. Even though most of the professional soldiers wore Union Blue at the start of the war, they were largely unprepared and lacked for good leadership. Conversely, Confederate troops were largely irregulars but were fortunate to have a lot of good and professional military leaders in their midst.
Again, when Japan brought war to our shores in December of 1941, the US Army had a little over 100,000 regular troops. Had Japan and Germany been able to bring a large contingent of their professional armies to our shores, we most certainly would have suffered far longer before getting ourselves properly positioned.
It seemed we had finally learned our lesson because at the start of the Korean War and then again Vietnam, we had a sufficiently large standing army, at least for the start of hostilities.
Then, not too long before the first Gulf War, a curious thing happened. President George Bush and congress decided we had too much military, that our country could no longer afford all the men and facilities. Enter the Base Closure Commission. It was the mission of this commission to identify duplicate efforts, little needed facilities, and excesses and either close or combine them in the name of economics. At its heart it was a good idea, but they had a side-agenda that received little to no publicity. That agenda was to re-organize the American Military into what was termed “leaner” units. The was political double-talk for troop reductions at all levels.
To be truthful, the American military mission has changed in some respects greatly from World War II. We fought WWII as a war of attrition meaning we could throw more men and material at you than you could at us. We could easily overwhelm you, and that is exactly what we did. But Vietnam taught us that our WWII philosophy was simply no longer efficient. In spite of our saturation bombing of North Vietnam, we were simply unable to overwhelm them with our might. The North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong fought in small and dispersed units who used guerrila tactics. They knew how to kill us using the old Chinese maxim of dying from a thousand cuts. Afer 1975 we knew we had to fight smarter. Americans became amused with the idea of fighting a war of technology that used machines for the close-up work and men would largely stay well behind the lines. The first Gulf War, however, if anything, should have taught us that this view, while fanciful, was unrealistic.
In 1991 we had just enough full-time soldiers to effect a quick liberation of Kuwait and the ability to turn back the Iraqi Republican Guard to behind its own borders. But at that point we were forced to stop until our logistics could catch up with our lines. Simply put, there were not enough men on the ground to continue the charge, as it were. Pres. Bush quickly activated reservists and national guard troops to help fill the breech. Fortunately our reserves and national guard were at much higher levels on manning than exists today. Reservists made a single six month or less rotation and were not called upon again.
I think the sign of Washington’s ever-present folly in its thinking came to bear when it was decided during the first base closures to close Fort Ord California. The 7th Infantry Division of Fort Ord had been deployed to Iraq in 1992 to help win that war. Not long after its return, the 7th Infantry Division was deactivated and then in 1994 Fort Ord was closed. Fort Ord’s 28,600 acres comprised the US Army largest maneuver facility in the United States. That was significant because, as anyone who had served in the military knows, armies need large tracts of land to practice their tactics and work out their problems. Congress had deprived the American military of its best facility for that.
At the same time the federal government informed state governments that their national guard forces would be seeing a considerable reduction. How, you ask, can this happen if nominally the national guard serves the individual states first, Title 32 of the U.S. Code, and the Federal Government during times of emergency, Title 10 of the U.S. Code? Simple, the Federal Government pays for the lion’s share of the equipment the state governments use for their national guard troops. Congress informed the states that, for example, it would no longer put up $1 billion for their state’s forces, but would now only give $400 million, and the state could make up any differences. While that is a little over-simplified, it is what basically happened. By the year 2000 many states’ national guard had been reduced by 50% or more, usually more.
Enter September 11, 2001. George W. Bush quickly sends America to war with Afghanistan, and not too long afterwards, Iraq. But America’s standing army is small, and its reserve and guard forces a mere shell of what they had once been. Why is that important?
During World War II the impact of combat fatigue came to bear. No one in America had any idea of what it was or how to deal with it. Even though our active military forces exceeded 2 million troops during the war, our troops were being ordered to stay longer than any had signed up for. Now in fairness, most enlistees literally signed up for “the duration,” as stated in their contracts, but few understood that to mean 2 continuous years or more of fighting on the front. Yet that is exactly what happened to too many of our troops. Post-war the American military dedicated itself to the ideal of requiring any person to serve no more than one tour of duty, one calendar year, in a war zone. To that end we were entirely successful during and through the war in Vietnam. The only troops who ever served more than one tour in Vietnam requested to do so. Americans seemed to understand, congress as well, that we needed to have a sufficient supply of active and reserve troops to fill such an objective.
We now live in an age where reservists and national guardsmen are required to serve 2, 3, and 4 tours of duty in a war zone. It seems to have become acceptable to require part-time soldiers to do the job of a regular standing force. We seem to have forgotten that our National Guard, originally called state militia, were meant to be called only in times of national emergency. What, pray-tell, is our present national emergency that such a large percentage of our reservist must regularly be called to active duty and sent to a war zone?
The solution to this is simple yet expensive. But the American public needs to come to grips with the idea, and the ideal, that a formidable standing force, full-time soldiers, is necessary to guarantee our peace of mind. At this very moment congress is making plans to yet again reduce the strength of our active duty military. As the old maxim says, “penny-wise and pound-foolish.” If anything, we need to increase the size of our active military force as-well-as our reserves and national guard forces. The type of freedom and liberty we enjoy here in the United States does not come cheaply. Why is it then we are not willing to put forward the level of funding necessary to insure our peace and tranquility?
“Those who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it.” It is not, therefore, impossible that we could suffer another “Pearl Harbor” or even worse. Do we really want that? Have we become so complacent that we truly believe that to be impossible? For those of you who think the answer “yes,” we cannot possibly have another Pearl Harbor, I entreat you to read a book called “The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell” and see if you cannot find parallels to his warnings of 1925 and the conditions that exist today.