In Monday night’s debate President Obama attempted to mock Mitt Romney’s valid point about the shameful shrinkage of U.S. naval assets by saying “we also have fewer horses and bayonets” than we did in 1916. The horse point is a given, but bayonets — particularly the M9 — are still part of the inventory. And U.S. Army and Marine forces — the primary bayonet users — are much larger than they were in the old days. In June 1916 the U.S. had 108,399 active duty Soldiers and 10,601 Marines, or 119,000 total. The numbers in September 2011 were 565,463 Army and 201,157 Marines, or 766,620 total.
Granted the bayonet has lost the importance it had in military doctrine 100 years ago, but if we are simply fact-checking their number, I would guess a force seven times the size of the one in 1916 has more, not fewer, bayonets. Around 400,000 M9s have been procured since 1984. In 2011 the U.S. government posted a solicitation for 40,000 new M9 bayonets, which would have supplied 40% of the 1916 Army, or four for every Marine.
The Obama campaign needs to produce detailed figures to justify this claim of fewer bayonets. Also the White House needs to explain in detail the impact of the bayonet deficit on American national security and perceptions of U.S. weakness among countries with more robust bayonet inventories. The American people deserve to know if the country faces a growing bayonet gap. Either that or Mr. Obama should admit that this was just a cheap stunt to try to stick it to Mr. Romney.