“Trust us”, they say. “Trust us. This time will be different. This time defense cuts won’t gut defense.”
This is what the supporters of deep defense cuts are essentially telling the public and the Congress while clamoring for deep (and ever-deeper) defense cuts. Some of them even admit that the defense cuts that followed the Korean, Vietnam, and Cold War were deep, and some of them even admit they were harmful. But they claim that this time it will be different; that this time the cuts won’t be so deep and won’t hurt the military at all.
Do you believe them? I don’t, and you shouldn’t, either.
Let’s consider both their track record with previous rounds of defense cuts and those defense cuts that are now pending.
Defense was deeply cut from 37% of GDP in FY1944 to just 3.5% of GDP in FY1948. The Army was cut so badly that it became “unable to fight its way out of a paper bag”, according to then-CJS General Omar Bradley. The Marine Corps and the Navy were deeply cut and barely survived SECDEF Louis Johnson’s attempt to eliminate them. The Marines were so deeply cut that the Task Force Smith they assembled for Korean War was a hodgepodge of hollow military units. Even the new Air Force was too small.
The result was that the military was completely prepared for Communist aggression, which these defense cuts encouraged and contributed to causing. The military was completely unprepared for the Korean War. As Secretary Panetta has rightly said:
“The Korean War caught America unprepared. The mighty military machine that had liberated Europe and conquered the Japanese Empire had been rapidly demobilized. Only a few years of serious cuts and under-investment had left us with a hollow force.
The American soldiers and the Marines initially sent to Korea were poorly equipped, without winter clothing, without sleeping bags, with insufficient ammunition, inadequate weapons, including bazookas that weren’t strong enough to stop a North Korean tank. (…)
As we honor the service and sacrifices of America’s Korean War veterans, I believe it’s important that we remember a crucial lesson from that war. Too many American troops paid a heavy price in Korea because they were not provided with the necessary training and the right weapons. They were sent into a tough fight with little preparation. Only a few short years after World War II, dramatic cuts to the force made us lose our edge – even though the world remained a dangerous place.
That is a mistake that we will not make again. And that’s why today, coming out of a decade of war, we have put forward a strategy-driven defense budget to meet the challenges of the future. The world remains a dangerous place, and America must maintain the decisive military edge. We must remain the most powerful military power on the face of the earth. With this strategy, we will not only have the strongest military, but make no mistake: we will be ready to deter aggression – anytime, anyplace, anywhere.”
Defense was cut deeply again after the Korean War. The result was that the US was unprepared for the space and missile race begun by the Soviets in 1957 with their launch of the Sputnik. However, because even after the cuts the defense budget was still relatively large (10% of GDP) and because the US nuclear arsenal was expanded eighteenfold (from 1,000 to 18,000 nuclear warheads, along with their delivery systems), the US was still able to defend itself and its allies.
Defense was cut deeply again during and after the Vietnam War, starting in FY1969. Beginning at that time, against President Nixon’s wishes, they undercut the military in the midst of war and made an otherwise winnable war unwinnable, according to Nixon. After the war, they gutted the military so badly that it had planes that couldn’t fly, ships that couldn’t sail (for a lack of spare parts and poor maintenance due to underfunding), and a poorly trained, hollow force. There wasn’t even enough ammunition for training, so troops had to shout “bang! bang” during wargames.
The US fielded no new bomber from 1962 to 1986. It fielded no new IBCM from 1976 to 1986. By the late 1970s, the Soviet Union gained a huge lead in tactical nuclear arms and intermediate range missiles and warheads while also growing its strategic arsenal and deploying 5 different new ICBM types to America’s one (Minuteman III). It also grew its conventional arsenal exponentially, deploying, in large quantities, weapons of similar or sometimes better quality than the US. While the USSR fielded new, superior generations of strategic and conventional weapons – in large quantities – the US military was forced to use shrinking quantities of older weapons because crucial next-generation weapon programs were being cut or cancelled outright (e.g. the B-1).
Morale, recruitment, and retention in the military were low. In fact, the military couldn’t retain 50% of its E-1 and E-2 troops after their first contract expired, i.e. retention rates for these paygrades below 50%. Crime and drug abuse were rampant in the military. And there were no next-generation bombers or ICBMs in development from 1977 to 1981, because the Carter Admin cowed to its leftist, pacifist voters. Listen to Ronald Reagan recount the disaster the 1970s’ defense cuts caused.
Defense was cut deeply again after 1988. From FY1989 to FY1999, when it bottomed out, it was cut – according to various estimates – by 26% to 35%. According to former CJCS Colin Powell, it was cut by 25% in his four years as Chairman alone. The result?
The military was gutted again. Everything was deeply cut: the force structure, modernization, and funding for operations, maintenance, and training (thus hurting readiness). There was so little funding for tank crew training, for example, that tankmen had to use golf carts to practice tank tactics (as confirmed by LTCOL Allen West). By the 1990s, the military Ronald Reagan had built, with so much effort, taxpayer investment, and care, was gone, decimated by reckless defense cuts. The nuclear deterrent was deeply cut – but nuclear proliferation around the world got worse. The force structure of the military was cut, over these 12 years, by about half, and has been cut even deeper since then. As stated above, funding for training and modernization was also deeply cut – leaving the military totally unprepared for the 21st century and unable to defeat opponents more sophisticated than the Taleban and Saddam. The force structure still hasn’t recovered to this day.
Today, the Defense Department is undergoing its 5th round of cuts since 2009 (not counting New START), and will have to undergo a much deeper, sixth one (sequestration) if current law isn’t changed. Taken together, the cuts mandated by the first tier of the Budget Control Act, plus sequestration, plus cuts resulting from withdrawal from Afghanistan, would cut the military budget by 29%, deeper than the cuts following the end of the Vietnam and the Cold Wars. This at a time when the vast majority of the US military’s weapons are obsolete and nearing the ends of their service lifetimes and thus require replacement by new weapons.
And yet, people think that the military won’t be gutted?
Moreover, today’s military personnel are more expensive to maintain than the conscription-based military of the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1970s, and technologically-superior weapons are more expensive to acquire than their previous-generation counterparts (which, for their part, are much more expensive to maintain in the long run due to their old age).
Today, when it comes to defense cuts, including sequestration, if the facts that I’ve already presented on this blog are not enough for us to make up our minds, we have to choose whom to believe.
We can believe real generals of the military – guys who collectively have a few centuries worth of military experience under their belts, who have actually led American troops into battle (vide Generals Dempsey and Amos) or served on SSBNs in a nuclear deterrence mission (Adm. Greenert), and who know military issues better than anyone else alive, save for their retired four-star colleagues.
Or we can believe armchair generals such as biased anti-defense hacks at POGO, the CDI, the Soros-funded “Center for American Progress”, the Murray-Rothbard-founded CATO Institute, and other leftist organizations.
Which of them do you believe, folks?