On July 5 1776, one day after the Declaration of Independence was made public, our new-born nation was a mess. Mostly, we had been clashing with the British since April 19 1775. The Battle of Bunker Hill was the one exception where large numbers of men on both sides lost their lives. But in truth, neither side was yet prepared for a full out war. The British troops were the best trained, best armed, and had the best leadership by far. England had the ability to fund a short war and defeat almost any enemy she desired. That British confidence of an impending American defeat was high was understandable. The single thing that kept America viable over the next 7 years was its dogged desire to prevail. The be sure, the Continental Congress was bankrupt, unable to pay its soldiers as promised. The new American army suffered through a very high rate of desertion. Conversely, the British Army suffered virtually no desertions. Gen. Washington looked upon the British commander, Gen. Howe, with envy. His troops were well fed, well armed, well trained, and supremely confident. While the Battle of Yorktown was the finality of the war, it had truly ended long before by greatly diminishing the English war coffers and the distance at which the war was fought. Also, sentiment in England was of a country weary of a civil war, that being that Americans had previously been viewed by the English public as brethren who had previously been an integral part of their country. But the cost of that war, on both sides, lingered for decades after 1783. For the first time, America had to deal with its war veterans and the promises it had made to them. Some of those promises were not fulfilled until well into the 19th century.
When Thomas Jefferson took office he took offence to the large standing army he inherited and did his level best to entirely disband it, claiming that such an army was entirely unnecessary. And although his feeling about the American Navy was not quite so draconian, he still reduced its size as well. But then came the War of 1812. The war was started over the impressment of American sailors in the British Navy. And even though the war was started at sea, it was entirely completed on land. Britain had entertained the idea that it could recapture this country that had slipped its rule only 30 years prior, well within the memory of most in government and power. But again, the cost of a protracted war at a great distance proved too much. Britain had actually conceded the war prior to the Battle of New Orleans because of that reason. But America had quickly reassembled its army but not before the British army lay waste to the new American capitol at Washington and ran with impunity for well over a year.
The American army was relatively stable, well trained, and well equipped until the end of World War 1. Many called that war, “the war to end all wars.” It was believed that after WW1, a war which counted its casualties in the 10s of millions, there would never again rise the desire of any country to war upon any other country at such a scale. The allies, America, Britain, and France agreed upon the size of the world’s navies. It was believed that only a navy could transport large armies to other countries and by limiting those navies would necessarily limit any country’s desire to do war. That, of course, proved hugely fallacious By Americans, gripped by isolationist ideas, reduced its army by such large numbers that had the Japanese attacked the US mainland 1940 with its marines and armies using it large naval fleet, we would have been in serious trouble. Couple that with its ally, Germany, and an invasion by Germany, American’s 458,000 men in uniform would have been severely tested and, in many cases, eliminated owing to poor training, being poorly equipped, and marginally led. I mention that number because it was only due to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s belief that the US entry into the European war being eminent, he increased the size of the military to 1.8 million in 1941. Even so, that military was not particularly well trained or well equipped.
That 1940 number is worthy of note because it is the number at which today’s Army stands. The total number in today’s military, all branches and both active and reserve, stands at about 1.3 million but declining. Since 1988 the US Congress has been hell bent on reducing the size of the military, and the number of its installations when there were about 2.1 million men in uniform. People viewed, and still do, our defense budget as out of control, over-burdening, and unnecessary. The present day public has this view that we can somehow conduct a war at a distance and with a “World of Warcraft” mentality. We have smart bombs, high tech aircraft, and cutting edge equipment at every point. But what the American public forgets is that in the end, it is the individual soldier would fights and wins, or God help us, loses the war. High tech equipment is rendered useless without men to operate and maintain it. But even more importantly, and something we all should be intimately aware of right now, is that today’s war, today’s battles, are largely fought and won by the rifleman. We fight large numbers of enemies who do not wear any uniform, are terrorists who blend in with the local population. We should have learned that lesson back in the 1970s when in Vietnam we had to fight the Viet Cong who did the same. But it seems we have forgotten and so we have doomed ourselves to repeating our past mistakes.
Today, the US Army has a total of 13 divisions, 1 armored, 1o infantry of various sorts, and only 2 reserve/national guard. During the conduct of the Vietnam War, the Defense Department guaranteed each soldier that he would be required to serve in a war zone for only one 12-month period in his career. Today, soldiers are required to serve 2, 3 and even 4 tours in our present-day war zones. We have known since World War 1 the hugely negative effects of war upon soldiers and we strived for 50 years to protect our soldiers against such circumstances. What in World War 2 and Korea was called “battle fatigue” is today known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Most, if not all, our soldiers today who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer for some degree of PTSD. This too is a cost of war.
We have two choices right now, as I see it. We can either withdraw all our troops for the worlds battle grounds or greatly increase the size of our military. Our military is extremely stressed and stretched far too thinly for the mission it has been given today. Too few are being asked to do too much. And since I do not see us withdrawing from the world’s battlefields at any time in the near future, it is our duty, an imperative, to adjust the size of our military to fill those needs. And as distasteful as the American public may find it, the best deterrent to terrorist and like activities in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan is the presence of a large infantry force until that country is capable of defending itself. Clearly neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is ready to defend itself. This is exactly what we did at the end of World War 2 in Germany and Japan, and it worked extremely well. Why is it we cannot commit ourselves in the same manner today?
Americans really need to consider its mindset towards our military and those we serve. While it has become common practice to thank those who serve, those words ring rather hollow when we do not back them up with actions that show our support. Americans should insist that soldiers not be forced into harms way more than once in their military service and back that promise up with the dollars it takes to keep that promise. Americans need to suck it up, bite the bullet, or whatever cliché you care to use, and commit to a force that not only serves our country in general, but those who serve within it as well. Right now we are asking too few to do too much.