[Ed. – That’s what your argument boils down to, if you insist, as Conor Friedersdorf does here, that critics are being misleading about the meaning of the new defense cuts.]
Let’s take a trip back to 1940 to see just how absurd it is to use it as a point of comparison (emphasis added):
The U.S. Army in 1939 ranked 17th in the world in size, consisting of slightly more than 200,000 Regular Army soldiers and slightly less than 200,000 National Guardsmen—all organized in woefully understrength and undertrained formations. The Army possessed only 329 crude light tanks and only a handful of truly modern combat aircraft within a total inventory of just over 1800 planes. It was a force equipped with the leftover weapons, materiel, and doctrine of the last war. It had a grossly overage officer corps, in which advancement was largely a function of seniority. Captains, for example, were usually in their late thirties or early forties. War-related industries were infinitesimal. Congress and the public were united in their staunch opposition to any increased military expenditures or involvements abroad. The mood of the country was distinctly isolationist.
The dramatic changes in the Army’s experience, professionalism, hardware, and strength relative to other countries isn’t the only reason the comparison is misleading. In 1940, the military broke down as follows:
Marine Corps: 28,335
Air Force: 0 (it hadn’t been created yet—that is to say, the army figure includes that era’s pilots and air crews)
Now, as history shows, those 458,355 members of the military circa 1940 were sufficient as a base from which to declare war on Japan and Germany in 1941, ramp up personnel, and win that war (alongside allies in Europe, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere). Not that we would’ve chosen that level had we known the future. Still, if it were the case that U.S. military strength was the same as it was then, it isn’t at all clear that we’d have to worry about our national security, especially given the radically superior military hardware available to us today and the dearth of any opponents as formidable as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
Reporting on the Pentagon-budget proposal by comparing the size of the Army to its 1940 levels is misleading in several ways. It elides the relative strength of the Army in different eras; personnel from other branches of the armed forces; the fact that Air Force personnel in particular are now counted separate from the Army; and military hardware that acts as a significant force multiplier.