US Armed Forces

Step One: Draw Down (Pt 1)

Putting it simply, we need to reduce the size and cost of the military. However, the mere suggestion of a draw-down is almost guaranteed to be balked at in this country. If you remember early last year when SecDef Hagel announced personnel cuts for the Army (keeping in mind that we also have a Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, and Air Force), you may also remember the ensuing outcry. The Army is an interesting target for historical comparisons, because unlike personnel in the Navy and Air Force, the infantryman’s role has remained largely unchanged since WWII. But there’s a quote about the matter that always bothered me. There are a number of reasons why, but the primary one is that it misrepresents, and deliberately, a number of things.

That would make [the Army] the smallest since just before the U.S. entered World War II.

Ok, first of all: before it entered World War II, America had a draft. It was the first and last peacetime draft in American history, and authorized the conscription of any males between 21 and 35, up to just under a million troops. In the preceding decade, the United States was not ignorant to the threat of war rising both from Europe and Japan, and the 400,000 Army personnel authorized between 1939 and 1940 before that draft were a direct response to that threat. Even in the midst of rising conflict until that point, however, the regular Army capped out at around 280,000 troops.

The quote is deceptive for an additional reason. Up to and during WWII, the US Army did not use military contractors.

Contractors generally serve in logistical and auxiliary roles for the military. They do laundry, food production, construction, security, intelligence, and even foreign training. The estimated ratio of deployed personnel to contractors ranges from 10 to 1 to 2 to 1, but the thing to remember is that everything contractors do now was once done by regular military forces.

Those 280,000 Army troops authorized before WWII included not just the roles soldiers perform today, but every element of the logistical chain of the military, including everything that the billion-dollar industry of defense contracting does now. What is characterized as essential forces, in numbers, of the US Army does not include the thousands of contractors in use. Yet, a few hundred thousand soldiers prior to WWII was deemed enough, even including the requirement for such auxiliary services among the standing military.

What this means is that, while Spain was being bombed by the Luftwaffe and Japan was invading Manchuria, and even while Germany was invading and annexing its neighbors, the US Army and its entire chain of logistical and other support networks (which included the Army Air force, as there was no Air Force beforehand) stood at 280,000.

There are a number of factors that mitigate this number. The population of the United States during that period was less than half of what it is now. Technology at the time did not permit for, let alone require, investment in weapons and vehicles that became essential later in the war, nor those that have been developed since (like helicopters). However, technology has allowed for cheaper or even automated solutions to old problems, and the geographic borders of the United States have remained largely the same. 280,000 soldiers, called to action in an emergency, would still have to defend the same surface area today as they would have then.

One of the keys to the viability of that is the proportionality of warfare, specifically in the engagement of defense. In tactical terms, and especially in the matter of intercontinental warfare, it is generally accepted that an attacker must have numerical superiority over defenders of a holding or defensive position, presuming the defenders use the geography or other infrastructure to their advantage. The ideal, however, is 5 attackers to every defender. This means that even with only 280,000 troops, the US Army could have viably opposed an invading force of 1.5 million and had a reasonable chance of holding them off. Even then, the standing army of 280,000 was never intended to be the sole armed force in the event of war, and the Protective Mobilization Plan in effect during that time accounted for the rapid organization of a 2,000,000-man Army if it were necessary. The 10-million-strong army ideal for taking and holding the United States in the event of the Plan being acted upon simply wasn’t available.

It’s ironic that we call our defense budget a “defense” budget when it predominantly employs, trains, and equips soldiers, sailors, and airmen in numbers far above what is actually necessary for a peacetime standing army dedicated to domestic defense. Including the hundreds of thousands of defense contractors that our defense budget employs, total ground forces alone total closer to around 900,000 personnel, or early WWII draft levels.

But let’s examine the 440,000 number from Hagel again. It does not include the over 500,000 members of the reserves and National Guard. However, included in that number is over 60,000 Army personnel stationed abroad, not including those in Afghanistan or Iraq. Even including the personnel still engaged in Desert Storm II, we’re looking at an effective domestic defense force of 380,000. That’s still 100,000 more than what was deemed necessary in the late 30’s during an approaching world war.

Yet, there is no sign of the immediate threat of WWIII breaking out. It is not just out of military dominance that the threat of invasion is tiny, but because our primary military rivals are also simultaneously our close economic allies. It would require a tremendous global political upheaval before Russia or China even contemplated attacking the United states. 280,000, let alone 380,000, is a wartime footing approaching a stance towards national defense in the event of an immediate war, but there is absolutely no serious threat of invasion. If a force this size, plus our thousands of contractors, is not necessary for defense, then what sort of force do we have? Well, obviously it’s an attack force, an imperial force. The United States military resembles an imperial military.

This arrangement is necessary to maintain the US’s global position as top-dog: politically, economically, and of course militarily. Foreign bases operated by volunteer, career military men and women, in addition to prolific use of contractors, or mercenaries, is the bread and butter of an empire. But what has being an empire gained us?

We have cheap access to resources and goods. While these things may seem nice, they are in fact a symptom of the US’s dependence on a consumer economy. A consumer economy is not sustainable over a long-term period, and it’s a primary factor in our present economic situation, but we’ll get to that later.

The bottom line is that what we love about our huge military is also what’s likely to lead to our country’s downfall. Factoring into that the tremendous amount of waste in the defense budget burdened upon our national debt and our still struggling economic climate, we simply can’t afford to maintain the military we have. Given the domestic situation in regards to dwindling rights to privacy and protections from law enforcement, let alone unjust law, and rampant political and economic dysfunction, we have no business spending so much money and manpower on a force that exists largely to project our waning power onto the rest of the world. We need to tighten the belt and get back to basics.

During the 30’s, one of the core concerns of the government was maintaining at least 100,000 Army officers for the purpose of training a raised army in the event of war. 100,000 is two-thirds of the entire invasion force of the Normandy landings on D-Day, and seems more than adequate as an emergency reaction force, but accounting for population growth it would be wiser to double it to 200,000. What I propose is maintaining 200,000 trained personnel for the Army, 200,000 for the Navy and Marines, and 50,000 for the Air Force while leaving the Coast Guard untouched. That would put the entire armed forces under the umbrella of a number currently proposed for the Army alone, and would cut budget costs on personnel by three quarters. Eliminating contractors from the equation and proportionally decreasing spending on component materials and technologies.

And in the event of a war or impending invasion, where immediate national defense is urgent, who would make up the rest of the armed forces? It might be argued that less than half a million troops might be a tempting target to, say, China, with over 2.2 million active duty personnel. The answer, I think, is compulsory military service. With 120,000 million men and women fit for military service, the United States is uniquely poised to defend itself if the citizenry should ever need to take up arms.

But more on that next update.