Winston Churchill said, Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” He was repeating what George Santayana said in 1906. Churchill’s reference is more compelling because he said it as the result of the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939. It seems, however, that this bit of wisdom has fallen upon deaf ears when it comes to the Congress of the United States. Democrats in particular, but some Republicans too, are hell-bent on reducing the size of our military. The concern is the size of the defense budget. What is being forgotten is America’s security.
After World War I the United States entered into a period of isolationism that proved disastrous. When it came time that we had to go to war against Germany and Japan, our military was in a very sad state of affairs. But that was where it had found itself just prior to Word War I as well. Why?
Then, as now, the price of freedom is steep. The guardians of our freedom is our standing military. It is their readiness and ability to quickly go into action that keeps us strong, safe, and free. After World War I Americans, with a complicit Congress, thought the size and price tag associated with it was far too steep. There was a huge reduction is equipment and personnel. When the United States was drawn into World War II in 1941, it was extremely undermanned, poorly trained, and poorly equipped. But after WWII we seemed to have learned our lesson. The United States, particularly with the cold war, kept a well-equipped, well-trained, and reasonably sized force until the mid-1980s. Then, during the Reagan administration, it was decided that we needed to close out-dated and redundant military installations. With that, it was felt we could achieve a budget savings that was needed. It was a truly good idea in theory but in practice it has been a political boondoggle that defies logic and common sense.
The Base Closure Commission was first convened in 1988 to consider the necessity of the 3800 military installations then in existence. On December 29, 1988, the first base closure commission (with its 12 members appointed by the Secretary of Defense Carlucci) issued its report. It recommended the closure, in part or in whole, and realignment of 145 bases. The commission projected that this would improve the effectiveness of the base structure, and would save an estimated $693.6 million a year in base operating costs. Considering the total defense budget for 1989 was $427.7 billion this was fairly insignificant. The first base closed was Pease AFB in Portsmouth NH. But as usual, members of Congress fought tooth and nail to keep every single proposed closing that impacted their state removed from the list. This, of course, lead to the back-room deals which resulted in the closing of bases that left both the Pentagon and those knowledgeable in military affairs scratching their heads.
For example, during the second round of base closures Fort Huachuca Arizona was scheduled to be closed. Its men and facilities would be moved to Fort Devens Massachusetts. Fort Huachuca was the home of the Army Communications Command along with a number of other smaller groups. Fort Devens was home to the Army Security Agency and several other groups. The Army Security Agency was responsible for the security of military communications. With Massachusetts’ nation leading technology base it seemed a match made in heaven. Its operations and those as the nearby Hanscom AFB, an air force research and development installation engaged in many of the same activities as the army’s security agency. It must have made too much sense. But Hanscom AFB has also been a target for a base closure. To this day it is my belief that Sen. Ted Kennedy made a back room deal with Sen. John McCain in which he secured the future of Hanscom in exchange for closing Fort Devens. Fort Huachuca remains open today.
To put a dot on this i, if you look at the history of base closures you will find that the majority have come in states where Democrats either tend to be in power or hold great sway. Large bases which probably should be closed, but have consistent avoided that bullet, remain open and all are in states that are strongly conservative. Large bases like Fort Sill Oklahoma, Fort Jackson South Carolina, Tinker AFB Oklahoma, and others which probably should be closed remain open because of their location over their mission and cost. I mention these things just to show how much of a political football our military is. Political expediency reigns supreme over military needs. This is exactly how it went right after World War I.
I would like to suggest that one major area of savings can come from reducing our military presence abroad. Korea, for example, is home to some 50,000 troops. Why? The South Korean military is large, very well-trained, and very well-equipped. Whatever threat exists from North Korea is something they can deal with themselves. I would suggest removal of all troops from Korea save a small contingent at a joint US/Korea facility at Osan AFB which is an excellent staging area in the case of an emergency.
Then there is the US presence in Japan. Following World War II, Japan signed an agreement that it would maintain only a defense force, no capital ships or large tactical army allowed. But in the 75+ years since that treaty was signed Japan find its power in its industrial might, something it always wanted anyway, and shows no interest in being a military power. I suggest that like Korea all U.S. troops save a very small contingent at an air force base be removed and that Japan be allowed to grow its own military.
The same is true for Germany. After World War II it was required to sign a treaty that allow only for a purely defense military. Like Japan, Germany is no longer a state that has any interest in the militaristic tendencies of its past. Here again we could easily remove all troops save the small contingent and allow Germany to raise and maintain its own regular military. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Japan and Germany would not continue to be anything but wonderful allies. And this in turn would greatly reduce the cost of military forces abroad.
One of the things our military has become extremely adept at is quickly deploying to anywhere in the world in response to foreign threats. We are better served by having a highly mobile and quickly deployable force located in the United States than at most of the locations overseas. This would mean, however, increasing the number of available transport aircraft but that cost is greatly offset by the savings realized from removing forces overseas.
Key to this is keeping enough men and material available to respond to any emergency. The proposed cut of 100,000 troops is entirely contrary to good military standing. We are already too small in the size of forces. Our soldiers are forced to endure too many overseas deployments to meet the nation’s needs. Military effectiveness relies upon good troop morale. A good way to undermine that is to send the same soldier over and over again into harm’s way. We learned, supposedly, in World War II the dangers of that and during Korea and Vietnam soldiers were not required to serve more than one tour of one year in a combat zone. That could not be further from the truth today.
We must get our Congress to work smarter and put aside their selfish political agendas. Democrats have to give into the idea that the entitlement programs desperately need reigning in and controlled. Republicans have got to understand that the only way our government gets revenue is through taxes. They have got to put an end to corporate welfare and give in to the hard reality that we all may have to pay a little more to continue our way of life.
The large land wars of the past involving multiple nations at once seems unlikely. But we can no longer afford the cold war deployment model either. What we need is to listen to the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and their aides as to the present and future needs of a well-trained, well-equipped, and properly manned military force. Politicians really need to get it out of their heads that they both understand and are sensitive to the real needs of the military. Don’t build ships that naval leaders do not want. Don’t build aircraft that air force leadership doesn’t want. Address their real concerns and you will show, finally, that you do remember our history.