Just a Small Thing

In the third presidential debate, Mitt Romney pointed out that the current Navy was smaller than it had been since 1917. President Obama replied by saying that since the mission parameters had changed, and the military needs of the current world did not require a Navy of the type and structure as needed in the days of the Great War.

All well and good. Both sides, so far, have made telling rhetorical points and presented a reasonable case, each man for his side.

But then Barry the Community Organizer decided to adopt a condescending and lecturing tone, telling Governor Romney that the modern Navy has aircraft carriers from which planes can take off, and atomic submarines which are ships that go under the water.

I am the son of a lifelong Naval officer, so I spent my youth on post, and heard how the men and officers talk, so some of this is second nature to me. But I cannot be the only one who noticed this gaffe.

The only ship that goes under the sea is one that gets sunk. A submarine is a boat, not a ship. That is why the Germans called then U-Boats, not U-Ships.

Corpsmen (silent p) would know that. Corpse-men (pronounce the p) would not. That is because there are no Corpse-men. It is not a word.

And a mistake or a gaffe or a misuse of a technical term is not fatal to an argument, it is not even significant. It only is worthy of comment under two conditions: (1) you are the Commander in Chief, and so you are supposed to know a great deal about the military, its traditions and usages. (2) you have adopting a condescending, lecturing, hectoring tone when addressing one’s equals about facts well known to every literate citizen. If you adopt a lecturing tone, this arrogates to yourself the stature of an authority to be taken on faith, and hence even small mistakes in the matter become fatal.

A submarine is a boat. The commander in chief who holds the sacred authority to order the sailors serving aboard her into harm’s way should know that.

He Volunteered for the Submarine Service by Jon Whitcomb

UPDATE: I assume Right-wing pundit have made this same point in many places, but there was another gaffe I did not catch. Barry the Community Organizer also said our army no longer used horses and bayonets.

Most of the cavalry is mechanized these days, I grant you, but every single freakin’ trooper in the US Army is issued bayonet. Daniel Foster writes up a comment here:

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/331438/pointy-end-united-states-marine-corps-daniel-foster

He says that the Army is using the M9 bayonet, whereas the Marine Corps employs the OKC3S bayonet, which he describes as

…a full-tang construction, 13.25″ piece of 1095 steel with a zinc-phosphate non-reflective finish, a stealthy sheath, and a Dynaflex® handle ergonomically grooved to reduce hand fatigue. Designed to be sharper, stronger, and more natural in the hand than its predecessors, the OKC3S is built to penetrate body armor and was part of the Marine Corps’s post-9/11 push to reemphasize hand-to-hand combat.

He goes on to say the M9 is slightly bulkier because the Army wanted a good wire cutter.

This is something of a pet peeve of mine, since I have always been annoyed at science fictional Star Fleet supersoldiers who can blow up planets with a pulsar weapon but not gut a caitiff with a dirk. I went out of my way in my novel THE GOLDEN AGE to have the world’s ultimate soldier in the Utopian remote far future half a million years hence still practicing with his bayonet. When someone asked him why, he replied that if your nanotechnological singularly-powered energy weapon ran out of charge, it was basically a broomstick. If it had a bayonet fixed, it was a deadly weapon.

I am amused and pleased, and I salute my muse, to read Homer Brett, USMC, making the same point in almost the same words.

 “A rifle is a piece of plastic and steel which, if it malfunctions, or if there’s not time to reload it, or if it’s out of ammunition, without a bayonet is just a club, and not a very good one,” Brett says. “… But you can never say you won’t have an empty weapon. You can never say you won’t have a jammed weapon. You can never say that you won’t have a broken weapon.”

I freely acknowledge that I am stirred by deep partisan dislike for the opposition party, and that, of all their past Presidents and candidates for President, I believe Mr Obama to be worse than Jimmy Carter, and marginally better than Woodrow Wilson.

But even discounting the self interest in my motive, I find it frankly astonishing that the Commander of the joint military forces of the United State would forget that our troops still use bayonets.

It may just have been a slip of the tongue, but, it does make me think he is not familiar with the military life, not comfortable with it.

Englishmen in the days when they invited some German-speaking prince, William of Orange or George or whoever, to rule over them, I wonder if the English had the same frisson of awkwardness when they realized their leader was a man who did not speak their language, was not at east with their ways.

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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75 Responses to Just a Small Thing

  1. Curubethion says:

    Actually, a friend of mine pointed out something else–we still use bayonets in the Marines. Barack presumably did not know this when he talked of how the military no longer uses “horses and bayonets”. Apparently, we use more bayonets now than at the start of the 20th Century. Fun facts.

    • Well, to be fair, maybe Mr Obama meant we no longer use horses and bayonets together, as in a massed cavalry charge: we no longer use horses with bayonets.

      Although I believe such charges, at least in the Napoleonic wars, were done with lance or saber, not muskets with fixed bayonets.

      It still sounds a little tin-eared to me, though.

      • Tom Simon says:

        Quite so. The bayonet has never been a cavalry weapon.

        And it takes considerably more than a tin ear to construe Mr. Obama’s statement as meaning so little. What he was doing was making a fanciful claim that an oceangoing navy is militarily obsolete.

        • And yet it is so obvious that we don’t need a navy. I mean, did we use any ships in Vietnam, Grenada, or the Gulf Wars? Okay, yes we did. Plus since most of our enemies are across an entire ocean from us, the usefulness of ships and escorts to get to them becomes somewhat obvious.

          If, God forbid, North Korea or Iran or China did something terrible on a large scale, we could not possibly respond with just air power. We would need ships and a lot of them. It’s arguable that we need fewer submarines in the modern world I guess, as opposed to certain other vessels, but that is hardly what they were discussing.

          • Darrell says:

            Mr. Petersen

            Big fan of the work you did on the Call of Cthulhu RPG!

            As to the disagreement evinced by President Obama and Governor Romney, as much as they articulated it at all I believe that it was that President Obama supports a smaller “quicker” military that is more focused towards an assassination and sabotage style of mandate. In other words, fight a one front war and focus on pouring money into USSOCOM and the CIA. Governor Romney is more focused on the traditional two front military — which is not to say that he discounts a role for special forces, just that it would continue to be a subordinate one.

            This distinction seems to be premised on how much money they think that they want to spend as we’ll as what they think the military is actually going to be doing. President Obama is focusing on killing terrorists and other non-state players with surgical strikes. Governor Romney is focused on protecting the free world and intimidating Russia and China.

            This has been an ongoing argument for the last ten or fifteen years.

  2. Stephen J. says:

    “A submarine is a boat, not a ship.”

    Out of curiosity, what is the technical distinction between “boat” and “ship”, and why does a submarine fit the former but not the latter? I had always just assumed it was a vague differentiation between “small water-faring vessel” and “large water-faring vessel,” but I’m always open to having my vocabulary expanded.

    • My Britannica says “A ship is a relatively large floating vessel capable of operating in the deep ocean. In modern times the term usually applies to vessels of over 500 tons that can negotiate the open sea, as opposed to ‘boat’, a term reserved for smaller craft. Submersible ships are an exception to this convention in that regardless of their large size and unlimited operational ability they are generally called boats. [...] In reference to sailing vessels, the word ship signifies three or more masts with square rigging.”

      So, it would seem to be one of those conventions that may have had a good reason at some point – the first subs were unambiguously boats, in that they were not oceangoing – but is now kept because it would be too much effort to change it. And besides, it provides an opportunity to laugh at those not initiated into the special language of the guild. What kind of idiot would call a sub a ‘ship’ just because it’s big and oceangoing? The same sort of idiot that would refer to the ‘noise’ instead of the ‘background’ in a particle physics experiment.

      • Darrell says:

        My dad was in the US Navy and my understanding from him is the general rule of thumb was that a ship can/does carry a boat or boats. There are, as you might suspect, some technical definitions (sometimes contradictory) that exist but a lot of it has to do with maintaining an imperfect link to traditional usage.

        Off topic, in a RPG (Nobils) that I thought to be quite interesting and innovative there was/is a prominent NPC antagonist that is the, for lack of a better term, personification of scorn. I thought scorn to be an odd choice at one point but everyday I see further evidence that her choice was quite a perceptive one.

      • You adroitly miss the point. If a layman says “noise” rather than “background” well and good. If the man who is the chief physicist of the department misuses a term which even people who are not physicists (such as, in this case, me, the son of a Navy man) would not misuse, it is a jarring gaffe. Especially if he adopts a lecturing tone to correct someone else. When you assume the mantle of a know-it-all, then even trivial error become uproarious.

        Mr Obama makes the same mistake talking about the military that you make talking about philosophy. If you, or he, merely adopted a human, humble, and polite tone, instead of a sneering Olympian superiority, the minor errors, or even major ones, would be forgivable, because to err is human.

        But when pride tempts you to pretend you are superhuman, and that you know things you don’t know, and understand things better than you fellow man, experts included, then you become unforgiving. And it is right for one and all to laugh. The devil is a proud sprite, and will not tolerate to be mocked.

        • It was not my intention to rebuke you for chiding Obama. I intended a general comment on the purposes of jargon and why it persists. Notice that I replied to Stephen J’s comment, which appears to have been posted in a spirit of intellectual curiosity, rather than to your post directly. I was responding in the same spirit of detached inquiry.

          In short, I didn’t miss your point, I was responding to someone else’s completely different question. :)

    • I have no idea. That is just the way everyone talked on the base where I grew up. I do not know why the tailgate of a ship is called the aft and the front called fore. And I know where the headlights are in a submarine: in the head.

      It is not a mistake a military man would normally make. It is not even a mistake worth commenting on, except that I noticed it, and it was being said by a man who was pompously pretending he was talking to an idiot who did not know what a submarine was, and a man who is the C-in-C of the military.

      If a layman were addressing the court, and said “Mr Judge” instead of “Your Honor” that would normally be a forgivable gaffe. But when the man, let us say, who is running for reelection as the head of the National Bar Association is talking to another candidate for the same position, and adopts a lecturing, hectoring tone to talk down to his rival, and while telling him sarcastically that we have trial by jury under Anglo-American law used the wrong word to refer to the court — well, all the ears of all the real lawyers in the room would perk up, and we would all pull out our pomanders and lacy lavender-perfumed handkerchiefs to smother our refined titters of genteel laughter, knowing the rube is not one of us.

      In this case, *I* am not even one of us. I never served in the Navy. If I caught the mistake, that means Mr Obama is even less one of us than I am.

      Again, it is not the mistake that provokes my ire. It is the sarcasm, the tone, the smugness. Why do these Lefty know-nothings continue to pretend they can talk down to normal people?

      • Update!

        I found out why they are called boats. It has nothing to do with the size of the hull or anything else. It is merely what the word means. The word “Submarine” or “Submersible” is short for “Submarine Boat” or “Submersible Boat.” That is what they are called and what they have always been called. Except sometimes they are called “Underwater Boats” or “U-Boats.”

        So, to put it another way, a “Submarine” is a submarine boat and not a submarine ship for the same reason a “phone” is a telephone and not a homophone. The modern word is a shortened form of the real word.

        • But that just takes it around in circles: Why shouldn’t ‘submersible’ be short for ‘submersible ship’? Again, yes, the original vessels were clearly boats, in the sense of not being ocean-going; indeed the Hunley barely qualified as harbour-going. But there doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason for attaching the adjective to the noun here, as there is in the case of ‘telephone’ which is a compound word.

          • Why shouldn’t ‘submersible’ be short for ‘submersible ship’?

            For the same reason why “shortwave” should not be short for “short wave cook” rather than “short wave radio” and the same reason why “gone” is correct and “goed” is incorrect — namely, because reality trumps theory.

    • A ship carries boats aboard it. That pretty much sums it up. That’s been the difference for many many centuries.

  3. fabulous_mrs_f says:

    If we are writing post-apocalyptic zombie stories, can we have corpse-men?

  4. Zach says:

    It also made me irritated how ignorant Obama seemed about what’s required to keep a carrier group functioning. We have 11 active carrier groups, and they are stretched very thinly. I’ve read analysis saying that no fewer than 20 would be needed to keep our interests secure. Each carrier group will typically include a guided missile cruiser, several destroyers of various roles, probably 2 attack submarines, and the various tenders required to keep all these ships supplied.

    Members of my family in the Navy are in more danger due to the decline in our armed forces, and are deployed more frequently. I think Romney will understand and correct that, and Obama can go back to the Choom Gang and ponder his next memoir.

    • Foxfier says:

      Adding some amphib groups might help stretch things out, but even then you’d need to have carriers available for thing things that a “helicopter carrier” (Don’t kill me, fellow sailors, I know they’re not called that, but it’s a decent explanation of what it looks like) amphibious assault group can’t actually do; the Essex and the rest of our group was pretty good for disaster relief and such. (Like the Christmas Tsunami.)

  5. watermelonyo says:

    Barry the Community Organizer also said our army no longer used horses and bayonets.

    Actually, the President of the United States said that we have fewer horses and bayonets now. Not none. And that’s almost certainly true of horses. It’s probably not true of bayonets, though it’s impossible to know exactly how many we had back then. But it’s almost certainly true that they are used less in combat now than they were back then, which is really the point. And you’re right, this is a very small thing. It’s especially small compared to the actual substance of the issue, which was that Romney was making an incredibly disingenuous argument to try to show that Obama was weak on defense, and Obama rightly and effectively made him look like a fool for it. Military spending under Obama has been the highest in history, so Romney was bound to look like an idiot trying to out-hawk Obama. But, of course, the Republican base is so ridiculously divorced form reality that they will automatically assume any Democrat is weak on defense, despite the massive piles of corpses as evidence to the contrary. Sometimes I wish the real Obama was closer to the rightwing caricature. I might consider voting for him then. Instead we have two ridiculous hawks trying to out-hawk each other, and it makes me want to move to Canada.

    • Tom Simon says:

      The actual substance of the issue is that Romney raised an issue of real importance: the U.S. Navy has fewer ships than it has ever had since the early 20th century, at a time when it is seriously overstretched just performing its current missions and is begging the administration for more ships. Obama responded with an idiotic rhetorical trick: to claim that ships don’t matter, any more than horses or bayonets, because modern wars are no longer fought with such weapons. He is, in fact, wrong on all three counts, but spectacularly wrong about ships.

      No doubt you think I am ‘ridiculously divorced from reality’ for daring to point out that you are carrying your rated capacity in bovine excrement. No doubt you will accuse me of being one of the ‘Republican base’ and therefore an idiot. Allow me, therefore, to point out that I am not a Republican; I am in fact a Canadian. And I invite you cordially to stay the hell out of my country, because we don’t need twits like you.

      • He didn’t say that ships don’t matter, he said that looking at the raw numbers are misleading. In 1916 you needed a lot of minor combatants for scouting and ASW work. These days that’s all done by aircraft and helicopters flying off carriers. Which are not, of course, ships.

        • Tom Simon says:

          By comparing ships to horses and bayonets (and saying that horses and bayonets are no longer used), he was saying that ships do not matter. If this was not the point of his utterance, then I should like to know what other point he can be construed as having intended to make.

          • Stephen J. says:

            To be ruthlessly fair (and as I think is noted in the very first paragraph of this original point), I think the intended point of Obama’s comment was not that “ships do not matter,” but that the mere numerical quantity of hulls now compared to earlier in the century is not in itself flat proof of decline of overall force-projection ability, because the quality and mobility of modern vessels trumps a simple numerical comparison with those of earlier eras.

            Had President Obama confined himself to this observation it would have remained merely an arguable point about which men of good faith and informed knowledge could disagree: there is a case to be made for both numerical and qualitative superiority in any military force, and it is entirely possible the U.S. Navy may not be able to achieve both in the future (which *is* a point Romney could have made more effectively to Obama, whose administration’s spending habits show no sign of being able to afford 22 more military hulls in the next four to seven years). But by resorting to the sneer about aircraft carriers and subs, Obama changed his reply from a mere counterpoint into a condescending insult, an implication that Romney was not merely wrong on this particular point but that he was too ignorant of *any* naval matters to be trusted to run a navy — and unfortunately committed a gaffe betraying his own ignorance of nautical terminology right in the middle of so implying, which strongly undermines his point right to the very people who might be most likely to be influenced by it.

            The intended case of the issue can be argued fairly for both sides, once the ad hominem tactics and self-torpedoing gaffes are removed — but in the mainstream press, the tactic of “forget what he actually said, we all know what he really meant, don’t we?” is far more often used to defend Democrats and attack Republicans than vice versa. If it is turned around here once in a while, I do not see much injustice in that.

            • “To be ruthlessly fair (and as I think is noted in the very first paragraph of this original point), I think the intended point of Obama’s comment was not that “ships do not matter,” but that the mere numerical quantity of hulls now compared to earlier in the century is not in itself flat proof of decline of overall force-projection ability, because the quality and mobility of modern vessels trumps a simple numerical comparison with those of earlier eras.”

              To be ruthfully fair, I agree. I think that was his point, and I think that is a reasonable argument (albeit I would not be persuaded by that argument). Mr Obama’s comment would have been a fair and clear statement of the Liberal position on the matter. But he marred his case by assuming a know it all attitude and then making a gaffe in the terminology.

        • John Hutchins says:

          I guess they might have been restricting things to the Navy, but there is also the Coast Guard which has both ships and boats and needs a lot more of both and replacements for a lot of those that it has.

      • watermelonyo says:

        The actual substance of the issue is that Romney raised an issue of real importance: the U.S. Navy has fewer ships than it has ever had since the early 20th century, at a time when it is seriously overstretched just performing its current missions and is begging the administration for more ships.

        I knew I could count on someone to step up and show how far right wingers are from reality. In reality, we have more ships now (285) than we had at the low point under Bush (278), and we currently have plans to increase that number to 300 by 2019.

        Obama responded with an idiotic rhetorical trick: to claim that ships don’t matter, any more than horses or bayonets, because modern wars are no longer fought with such weapons. He is, in fact, wrong on all three counts, but spectacularly wrong about ships.

        Wrong again. Obama responded by pointing out how ridiculous Romney’s claim was. And it was incredibly ridiculous, considering (A) that it’s wrong and (B) that Obama’s military budget is insanely high anyway. But, of course, being divorced from reality, you read a bunch of nonsense that you wanted to read into it.

        No doubt you think I am ‘ridiculously divorced from reality’

        Hey, you got something right!

        for daring to point out that you are carrying your rated capacity in bovine excrement. No doubt you will accuse me of being one of the ‘Republican base’ and therefore an idiot. Allow me, therefore, to point out that I am not a Republican; I am in fact a Canadian. And I invite you cordially to stay the hell out of my country, because we don’t need twits like you.

        Don’t worry. If I ever move to Canada, it certainly won’t be to Alberta. Not that that’s necessarily where you live, but if not, you might want to consider it, as I’m sure you’d like it there.

        • Tom Simon says:

          I knew I could count on someone to step up and show how far right wingers are from reality.

          In reality, we have more ships now (285) than we had at the low point under Bush (278), and we currently have plans to increase that number to 300 by 2019.

          So let me get this straight. The number is seven higher than the all-time low, and about sixty less than the minimum that the Navy (by its own calculations) requires to perform its duties; and therefore Romney is lying when he says the Navy has too few ships, and Obama is right when he says it doesn’t need any. Riiiiight.

          And a difference of seven ships is ‘how far right-wingers are from reality’. Get over yourself.

          Wrong again. Obama responded by pointing out how ridiculous Romney’s claim was. And it was incredibly ridiculous, considering (A) that it’s wrong and (B) that Obama’s military budget is insanely high anyway. But, of course, being divorced from reality, you read a bunch of nonsense that you wanted to read into it.

          Again this ‘divorced from reality’ schtick. What you are committing is the elementary and appallingly stupid informal fallacy known technically as the genetic fallacy, but named ‘Bulverism’ by C.S. Lewis. Here is part of Lewis’s description:

          ‘You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.’

          You spend a great deal of time explaining away your opponents’ beliefs on the grounds of their alleged insanity, without at any point addressing whether their beliefs are in fact false. The facts do not support you.

          By the way, what on earth do you think you stand to gain by insulting people at every turn? Do you really think you are going to convince me that you are right by calling me childish names, or casting (entirely erroneous) aspersions against my sanity? The only thing I can think of is that you must be enacting some terribly sad internal psychodrama, and calling other people nasty names makes you feel big and important. I’m sorry, you’re just not.

          By the way, I am from Alberta, and regard that as nothing to be ashamed of. But never fear. Our Prime Minister is a native Torontonian, and is busy increasing our military budget enormously after decades of deliberate neglect by incompetent Liberal governments. So you needn’t worry: none of us are on your side.

          • Stephen J. says:

            I’m a Torontonian myself, and much as I’d like to claim Harper’s patrimony as mine own, honesty requires to admit he owes his political career and accomplishment far more to Calgary and Alberta, where he moved after a few months of U of T studies.

            Honesty also requires me to admit that most media-savvy urbanites in Canada’s Big Three cities — Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal — are very much cheering for Obama, which makes it very easy to think the entire nation is. The polls show an overwhelming Obama-favoured advantage up here, but most of our polls are overwhelmingly oversampled from these three cities, and what media outlets we have which are not already dominated by American content tend to be even farther left of their own accord. (The National Post and the Sun News Network have been pleasant and highly successful exceptions, but the degree to which their competitors pretend they don’t exist is astounding.)

            However, for all the verbal and blog-traffic encouragement they provide, the relevance of Canadian leftists to the election is likely to be little to nil in practice, I think. Admiration for Obama’s policies tends to rise in direct proportion to how little one sees oneself to be personally affected by them.

            • What was the reaction in Canada to the US government interference in the Keystone Pipeline project? The conservatives down here said ya’ll were irked and made quick to sell the oil to China.

              Allow me to explain the verbal oddity: I am Virginian, and must abide by the mandated quota to use the word ‘ya’ll’. Were I from Georgia, the mandate would be to use the phrase ‘All ya’ll’

              The Quakers who live in Maryland are required likewise to use ‘thou’ as the second person singular, and ‘you’ as the plural, as it was in England in happier days before the language started to disintegrate; but if they move to Virgina, the law unfortunately mandates the use of ‘thou’ll’ which is an unhappy compromise, and in Georgia it is ‘All ye thou’ll’. These were the rulings from the 1954 Linguistic Heritage and Purity Commission, which is part of the National Institute for Controlled Experiments.

              True story.

              • Tom Simon says:

                Well, we-uns is trying to sell the oil to China, but the government of British Columbia is trying to stop that pipeline from being built. Not because of any environmental concern, you understand (other than that B.C. environmentalists are opposed to building anything, anywhere, at any time, for any purpose, ever), but because the Premier of B.C. seems to think that she’s legally entitled to something like a fifty-fifty split of the gross proceeds from the sale of the oil. Her objection is that Alberta (which produces the oil, and whose businesses take all the financial risk, and whose workers take all the physical risk) will be making more money off the oil than B.C. will.

    • Actually, the President of the United States said that we have fewer horses and bayonets now. Not none

      I am sure there was more to the message than this, but I developed a case of sarcastic eye fatigue at this point. Quibbling over whether “doesn’t use” means “uses fewer” or “uses none” I am sure is so central to the discussion that our Cloudcuckooland friends will be able to strop themselves into a towering rage of vometing superiority which is their default setting and favored mode of behavior.

      Sorry, I just got browbeating by another infantile pinko just the other day for daring to warn him that Jesus does not approve of any philosophy leading to the murder of countless millions. My goodnatured toleration for verbal ad hominem suppuration is abnormally low today. Perhaps I will venture through to your side of the looking glass world some other day, Humpty Dumpty, and argue the point. Not today.

      • watermelonyo says:

        It’s amazing that I’m the one in the looking glass world when you’re the one who wrote half your post based on incorrect information. Actual quote from Obama: “We also have less horses and bayonets.”

        • Tom Simon says:

          He was lying about bayonets, by the way. At present, the United States Marine Corps has approximately 200,000 active personnel, plus 40,000 reserves. The Army has 562,000 active personnel, plus 205,000 reserves and 362,000 National Guard personnel. That makes 1,367,000. Every infantry soldier (either Army or Marine) is issued with a bayonet and trained in its use; the Marines alone, as I have read today, have about 175,000 service bayonets on current issue.

          When the U.S. entered the First World War in 1917, by way of comparison, the entire strength of the Army was about 200,000, and the Marine Corps numbered about 14,000. It is likely, then, that the Marines alone have more bayonets today than the entire American armed forces possessed in 1917.

        • Tom Simon says:

          Mr. Wright, why do you put up with this person’s comments? ‘Watermelonyo’ has never evinced any interest in conducting either a rational or a factual discussion, but only in insulting you and your other commenters in as many ways as possible. It may, in your opinion, be an act of charity to permit him or her to strike you repeatedly on both cheeks. It is no charity to the rest of us to make us wade through this muck.

          • He has not used any four letter words. He has not broken any of my rules.

            I truly, truly wish it were Christian charity that makes me tolerate this dog. No, I am too proud and callous and cold to allow myself to be bothered by insults. And, besides, I have already been accused of banning people merely because they disagree with me, even though I have never once done so. I am reluctant to make false accusations about me retroactively seem true.

            I did once ban a man because he asked me to be rude to him, and he double dog dared me to ban him, saying that he would find a way around the ban by his computer technical competence. I have also banned two Holocaust deniers, when they insulted the memory of my father-in-law, a Jew who served in World War Two and won the Purple Heart.

            To be honest, you take me by surprise. It never occurred to me that my other guests found him insufferable. Naturally I much, much prefer your company to his, and your plea provokes my chivalrous instinct. Now that you bring it to my attention, I suppose I do have some duty to my guests to expel an unruly heckler.

            If you can get any of the regulars here to ask me to ban him, even one or two, and if no one here speaks up for the wisdom and entertainment value of his comments, I will.

            • Darrell says:

              Mr. Wright

              While I personally regret that people can’t be more respectful to other commenters and POVs both in specific and general (I have a personal distaste for people referring to the President of the United States as Barry to help convey their disdain) I also understand that I am the chief of all sinners in this regard.

              It was only once I embraced Christianity that I even began to try to quell the vitriol and scorn that I heaped on those who had the temerity to disagree with me and I unsuccessfuly struggle to contain that instinct to this day. As such, Watermelonyo is a saint compared to me and I would hope that if commentators en masse would strive to be more charitable and forgiving of his intemperance that he, and others given over to an indulgence of spleen, would modify their own rhetoric or seek a venue more to their nature.

              • I carefully referred to the gentleman as Mr Obama or as the President of the United States when referring to those times he was acting in his office, or with the dignity of the office! The President of the United States believes that a smaller military force is needed and is more effective than a large. I went out of my way to say that I understood and respected the argument, even if I did not agree.

                When he is campaigned, the Office of the President is not speaking. He is speaking as a private citizen attempting to persuade me and others to vote and bestow upon him once again that office. At such times it is not improper to speak of him as Mr Obama. Mr Obama loftily told Mr Romney that times had changed, and we no longer use cavalry and bayonets, or use fewer, or use them less frequently. It was a clever rhetorical analogy, and I can respect that.

                When, during the campaign, he insults me or insults my intelligence, he is again speaking as a private citizen, and has no claim on respect from me. At such times, he is Barry. He sneered that aircraft carriers carry aircraft and that submarines are ships that go under the water. He was sneering no only at Romney, but at everyone, myself included, who thinks are current military expenditures too thrifty for the mission set before us, because he implies that only gross ignorance could cause disagreement with his position. But Barry displayed ignorance of his own, by calling a boat a ship.

                I do attempt to restrain my vitriol, but let us not take the principle to excess.

                • Sean Michael says:

                  Dear Messieurs Darrell and Wright:

                  I freely admit I am the worse offender in this blog when it comes to referring to His Excellency the President of the US as “Barry.” Which I do to indicate my disdain for him.

                  What I have noticed in this campaign so far is that it’s the GOP candidates Romney and Ryan who have shown great care to be polite to and patient with Messieurs Obama and Biden. Never mind how often those “gentlemen” are rude and sneering to their GOP rivals. The most recent example being Barry’s referring to Romney as a “bulls——” in his interview with ROLLING STONE magazine. It’s nearly a dead certainty most of the media will NOT rebuke Barry for his lack of manners.

                  If Obama chooses to behave like a jerk, I feel free to address him as “Barry.” But, of course, Mr. Wright is the judge and arbiter of how we should behave on his blog.

                  Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

                  • Darrell says:

                    Mr. Brooks

                    It is undoubtedly in part due to my upbringing by my father that I find such things as referring to President Obama as Barry or Governor Romney as Mittens to be offensive. I was taught by him to refer to men as sir and women as m’am, my uncles and aunts were not (and are not) Lawrence and Linda but Uncle Lawrence and Aunt Linda, and there are no cops but instead police officers.

                    To degrade myself by finding “cute” nicknames for people who by virtue of office or position I should be respectful of is no great accomplishment but simply grants them the power to coarsen me and bring me to their own personal level. Part of what I have admired about Governor Romney and Represenative Ryan is that they have not, in the main, stooped to the level that the president and vice-president have in the debates and I would prefer to live up to their example than down to the current president’s.

                    • Sean Michael says:

                      Darrell:

                      Sir, you are of course correct in your explanation of how we should behave. I could of course plead that there is a long tradition in US politics in referring to politicians by nicknames or initials. Examples being “Teddy Roosevelt,” “Teddy Kennedy, “Ike Eisenhower,” “Jack Kennedy,” “Dick Nixon,” “Bill Clinton,” etc. And that most of them didn’t seem to mind, that being considered part of the rough and tumble of politics.

                      I admit as well that the feelings I have for the current (and soon to be former, I hope) President of the US ranges from fury, anger, contempt, disgust, scorn, etc. But I will try to be more restrained in my use of viturperative language.

                      Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

                    • I am chastened by your admirable example. I retract my previous comment.

                  • As judge and arbiter, the only thing I forbid is (1) R-rating language (2) Holocaust denial/Antisemitism.

                    I allow all sorts of insanity and rudeness here.

                    • Sean Michael says:

                      Dear Mr. Wright:

                      And that reminds me of how I prefer to be ruled by King Log rather than by King, President, or Commissar Stork! (Smiles)

                      Anyone who denies the Nazi holocaust of the Jews and/or expresses hatred of Jews just for being Jews puts himself beyond the pale. Such persons have forfeited any right to be treated with respect.

                      Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

                • Darrell says:

                  Mr. Wright

                  Mine was not intended as a rebuke to anyone, except perhaps myself, but rather I was simply providing an example of something that I personally find offensive. However if we define vitriol as a bitterly abusive feeling or expression then I am not at all convinced that it is a good idea to traffic in it.

                  My overall point is that we all have words or phrases or assertions that we find offensive. It is presumptuous and ill advised to expect that no one will write or say something that outrages us. When outraged we tend to respond with more heat than light which to a dispassionate observer makes us as great an ass, if not greater, than the original speaker and normally simply baits the person we disagree with to greater excess unless we simply verbally hammer them into silence — and then to what end?

                  If you believe Watermelonyo to simply be a “troll”, then by all means you should ban him. Trolls simply seek to generate conflict for their own amusement and have no preference to what side of a controversy they find themselves on as long as they can turn it to wound someone.

                  If his views, on the other hand, simply stand in stark contrast to those of others then he adds value when he as a person is valued and his argument is engaged. If people are respectful to him or ignore him because of his offensive statement then he will likely conform to the standards of the blog or go elsewhere.

            • On the assumption I qualify as a regular: Watermelonyo is a poor debater and relies far too heavily on sarcasm, he is not anywhere near as entertaining as our cameo Sith/Satanist, and he can’t do linguistic cartwheels like the Doctor.

              But I personally don’t think he deserves banning. I do wish he would think and fact check.

              And if Gian can say the insane things he says (such as there are emergencies that justify the objective of killing homosexuals, among many other suggestions for killing targets as long as they are your fellow citizens) I think Watermelon is pretty mellow.

            • watermelonyo says:

              I’m not entirely sure what insult I’m supposed to have given here. And let’s not forget that I was called a twit by someone I hadn’t even said anything to yet. The worst I’ve called anyone here is “divorced from reality,” which was just a colorful way of saying “wrong a lot.” Which isn’t an insult, but an acknowledgement of my dissent, and I won’t apologize for that. Though it does occur to me in retrospect that the word “divorced” might carry a more negative connotation for you than it does for me, so I apologize if any offense was taken to that term. Admittedly, I did also accuse Tom Simon of probably liking Alberta, which wasn’t meant as an insult. I only mentioned Alberta because it’s the most conservative province, and I was pleasantly surprised when he confirmed that he actually does live there. I would probably be more at home in British Columbia, myself, but to each his own.

              Honestly though, while I don’t mean to cause offense, it can certainly come across in heated debates like these, and if you don’t want that to happen here, then go ahead and ban me. I won’t take offense to it if you do. It’s your blog. And you’d probably be doing me a favor anyway. All I ever really seem to get out of posting here is higher blood pressure.

              • If it is any comfort, I did not take offense at anything you said. I am reluctant to ban anyone unless there is a groundswell of support for such a drastic move. So far, only one person has asked. If you just clear things up with him, then the issue will not be reached.

        • I must say I hope Obama said ‘fewer’.

        • The OFloinn says:

          Then you are claiming he does not know the proper usage of “less” vs. “fewer”? For sooth!

    • Darrell says:

      Military spending by President Obama would be high as he inherited two wars, not to mention military use in, for example, Libya. A significant plank of President Obama’s plan for a second term is however recouping costs from ending the wars.

      What might not be evident, however, is that we have been depleting our military assets over the last ten years. A problem with wars is that you often use up what you had built up faster than your replacement rate can keep up resulting in an end state of having less assets and the remaining assets having greater wear periods than intended.

      Governor Romney’s substantive point is that we should repair and replace. This makes a level of sense as we typically argue that we need to be able to fight two major wars with our military at any given time.

      President Obama’s substantive point is Iraq and Afghanistan have proven that in modern warfare that philosophy is a pipe dream and we should replace the two-war philosophy with one more oriented to combatting asymmetrical combatants — thus a different type of military.

      Both have a point and there are good counterpoints against each. Ultimately this is a decision that should have a significant amount of general officer input as they are the subject matter experts but since we have a civilian leadership it would be amazing if we could have debates that didn’t devolve into childish sniping. I personally don’t expect a great deal of expertise from either candidate (and couldn’t care less if either called an aircraft carrier a boat and a submarine a ship) but a solid overview of their military philosophy, how they arrived at it, and the experts that inform it would be nice.

      • watermelonyo says:

        You know what I’d like to see? A discussion of the fact that we’re currently outspending China (the country that spends the second most on defense) by a factor of about 5 to 1. That we could reduce our defense spending by half a trillion dollars and still have the world’s strongest military by a huge margin. But no, it’s all “we don’t have enough ships!”

        • Tom Simon says:

          You know what I’d like to see? An acknowledgement by the Left of the fact that U.S. soldiers are paid many times more than Chinese soldiers, who are forcibly conscripted and liable to execution for desertion.

          The most recent figures I have to hand are for 2009, in which year total U.S. military spending was $527 billion, of which $195 billion was consumed by payrolls. Cutting that by half a trillion dollars would require laying off 86 percent of all active military personnel, and depriving the rest of all weapons, bases, transport, communications, etc. ad infinitum.

          • It would also be nice to hear an acknowledgement that the US Military, more than any other nation in history, is concerned about keeping casualties low. As a result, we spend a LOT on infrastructure and weapons. Our motto has been, for decades, to “send a bullet, not a man”. This Costs More than what the Chinese or the Iranians or Myanmar does. This is why we have small casualties compared to other nations, and have consistently done so from WW2 on. Big spending = less blood spilt. Not always because it is the military, and lives get lost. But at least in the US army and navy, they are rarely just thrown away.

        • Well, to be fair, China is not maintaining law and order on the high seas throughout the world to allow global trade to take place. American inherited this task from the British Empire after WWII, and we do not even maintain overseas colonies to pay for it.

          • Tom Simon says:

            Not that overseas colonies would help. The British Empire was at all times a net drain on the British treasury.

            How did they pay for that drain? Well, partly by tariffs on foreign trade, most of which was with European countries not subject to British rule; and partly by taxing the income of British subjects from foreign investments, most of which were invested in places like the U.S., Argentina, or the Dutch East Indies.

            It is remarkable, yet undisputably true, that the British Government spent enormous amounts of money (for instance) building railways in India and then running them at a loss, because no private capitalist was willing to take on such a job; whereas enormous amounts of private British capital went to build railways in the United States. Those railways were also generally run at a loss (once you include the carrying costs of the required capital) but the builders were compensated by rich grants of virgin land — a form of bribery that the Raj did not have the power to match.

        • Darrell says:

          I’m not certain what you mean. It is regularly touted that the United States spends more on its military than the next ten countries combined. The reason for this us multifold: relative salaries, size of forces, and cost of non-human assets.

          If the US equips its soldiers with a rifle that costs $5,000 and the Chinese equip their soldiers with a rifle that costs $1,000 what, if anything, does that implicitly mean? If the US invests in “smart” missiles at a $1,000,000 per missile intending to pinpoint targets and reduce collateral death and damage is this intrinsically better or worse than if the Chinese invest in $100,000 missiles with the intent of just firing a lot of then and killing everyone in the area?

          In large part because of WW2 (and the subsequent Cold War) the United States as been obsessed with being able to fight a two-front war at any given time. Is this a good idea (or even possible) in today’s world? I suspect that there are some people in the government (and some without) that could provide us some really good info on this based off of detailed scenarios they have run as well as experience on the battlefield. With all respect, I doubt that you are one of these people and I can assure you that I am not.

          The point being, President Obama was not intending to illuminate the issue. His goal was to make believe that Governor Romney is a foreign affairs simpleton who shouldn’t be entrusted with the serious business of the military. Governor Romney also was not intending to illuminate the issue. His goal was to make us believe that he would not be invading Iran or Syria the week after he was sworn in. Neither of these strategies was in the best interest of the voters but in the best interest of their campaigns.

          • Tom Simon says:

            President Obama was not intending to illuminate the issue. His goal was to make believe that Governor Romney is a foreign affairs simpleton who shouldn’t be entrusted with the serious business of the military. Governor Romney also was not intending to illuminate the issue. His goal was to make us believe that he would not be invading Iran or Syria the week after he was sworn in.

            Does it really need pointing out that these two goals are not equivalent? The goal of representing Mr. Romney as a simpleton is a matter of lying by transparent rhetorical subterfuge. The goal of representing Mr. Romney as a man with no immediate intentions of invading Iran or Syria is, so far as I am able to detect, a matter of describing an obvious fact.

            • Darrell says:

              Mr. Simon

              I don’t recall suggesting equivalence so any suggestion that you found was brought by you. I could, certainly, write an essay or three on what President Obama and Governor Romney were attempting to accomplish in the debates and why but I was trying to make a less nuanced and more general point about the final Presidential debate where Governor Romney was markedly more subdued and conciliatory than he had been previously while President Obama continued, as he had been in the second debate, rude and dismissive.

              Both, I maintain, had a strategy that had precious little to do with informing the public about their military philosophy of engagement or long-term plans for force composition. I don’t necessarily blame either of them because the nature of the US political system does not pay dividends for such behavior.

              If it helps you, I supported Governor Romney 4 years ago before the understandable, but misguided, selection of Senator McCain and I am supporting him now — in a “battleground” state no less.

              • Tom Simon says:

                I don’t recall suggesting equivalence so any suggestion that you found was brought by you.

                You used exactly parallel sentence constructions: ‘President Obama was not intending to illuminate the issue. . . . Governor Romney was also not intending to illuminate the issue.’ That is a statement of equivalence in so many words.

                • Darrell says:

                  Mr. Simon

                  It is useful to read everything that I wrote in context rather than to seek equivalence in “so many words.” I did indicate that both avoided addressing what I thought the main thrusts of that debate should be about — because both did. If you see a parallel there that is because it was intended. If you see a moral or factual equivalence then you brought that and not me.

                  President Obama saw his campaign in free fall and made the calculated decision to portray Governor Romney as a liar of expedience and a man of borderline, if not outright, incompetence. There is a long tradition of this (such as when President G.H.W. Bush repeatedly referred to then Governor Clinton and Senator Gore as bozos on the campaign trail. I REALLY dislike this behavior and it actually influences my ability to vote for candidates that engage in it.

                  Governor Romney saw his campaign surging and wanted to come across as likable, reasonable, and not as a warmonger. If you watch the debate again you will see that he lets sail past him many points that he would have normally aggressively clarified. This is because his goal in that debate was not to clarify his positions but to be seen as a reasonable and safe alternative to the president.

          • watermelonyo says:

            It is regularly touted that the United States spends more on its military than the next ten countries combined.

            I had forgotten until you mentioned it, but Obama actually mentioned that himself in the debate, so good for him for at least acknowledging that.

            The reason for this us multifold: relative salaries, size of forces, and cost of non-human assets.

            The fact is that these are all excuses. We could easily do more with less if we wanted to, just like the rest of the world does. There is really no rational way to complete the sentence “We need to spend more on our military than the next ten countries combined because…” Anything you come up with is a justification for unnecessary militarization. Since 9/11 we have gotten to this point where a lot of people think the world will immediately fall into complete chaos if Team America: World Police doesn’t constantly increase its might. To me, this is a sickness we must eventually recover from if we’re ever to advance as a civilization.

            But I’m certainly in agreement with you that a serious conversation about this topic by people who really know what they’re talking about would be much better than what we’re getting from our candidates.

            • The OFloinn says:

              Before making comparisons like that “next ten countries” thingie, you have to normalize the metric. The first normalization might be to population. After all, Britain, France, and Germany are each about a quarter the size of the US and in addition have largely off-loaded their defensive needs onto the US. But the second is surely to GDP. A dollar may buy less in the USA than a ruble does in Russia. How much does China pay its soldiers?

            • Darrell says:

              Excuses and justifications are how you support anything. If you think that the US needs a military then you will support your contention with excuses and justifications — exactly the same way you would if you thought that the US didn’t need a military. As I tell my employees, not making a decision is a decision not to make a decision.

              As I indicated earlier, the US has a two front war policy in place and has had for decades. We feel that we need to be prepared to fight China and Russia at the same time and still be prepared for an attack by a, relatively, small military such as Venezuela. This is in part to discourage such attacks and in part to being ready to refight WW2.

              I’m not sure that people readily realize how much US policy (and the policy of many other governments) has foundations in preventing WW3 as seen through the lens of what leaders believe contributed to WW2. It might even have worked (and even still be working) as WW3 has thus far been avoided — though the Cuban Missile Crisis was supremely close to igniting it.

              The US has such a large military in part to discourage other countries (both friends and foes) from even trying to compete. This is why we “protect” so many other countries — because we don’t want them to have large militaries because we think that things will inevitably get out of hand and a regional war that will become a global war.

            • “We could easily do more with less if we wanted to, just like the rest of the world does.”

              To be fair, we could not do less with more as they do, if what they do is rely on us to do their heavy lifting for them. Since World War Two, the British Navy no longer maintains peace and order on the high seas which allows for international trade. We do. The rise of piracy after a century or so with no pirates, at least, none making national headlines, perhaps indicates that we are not doing enough.

              For better or worse, the United States, not the UN, is what prevents World War Three. We do this by maintaining a credible threat against likely aggressor nations. The smaller our forces, the less the threat.

              But let me ask you a solemn question. Are you not offended with the use of predator drones to kill civilians by remote control, as I am? It is cheaper than putting a trooper in boots on the ground with a carbine, someone who can use his eyes and brain and kill a confirmed enemy in a fair, or a fairer, fight. It does more with less. The argument that we should do more with less has a horrible conclusion. It is far, far cheaper to drop one atom bomb once on an enemy city than to train and arm and equip and deploy enough men to conquer and hold it, and when they retire, you have to pension those men and pay their medical bills for wounds they took for you.

              A conventional bomb that merely spreads a highly radioactive powder is even cheaper than a nuke, and makes a city just as uninhabitable. Are we in agreement that, even if we wanted to do more with less, we cannot take the idea to an absurd extreme? We still need enough carrier battlegroups and soldiers under arms to fight a two front war? As a minimum? Unless you want to say to hell with the world and to hell with international trade.

  6. Irenist says:

    This seems to me like a mere gaffe, analogous to Gov. Romney’s remark about Syria being “Iran’s route to the sea.” In Gov. Romney’s case, I think this can be charitably interpreted as something like “Iran’s conduit to the Mediterranean” or some such. Surely, if asked specifically, “Is Iran a landlocked country?” or “Is a submarine a ship or a boat?” either candidate would less likely make a mistake than in an off-the-cuff remark in the midst of heated debate for high stakes. The solecisms I’ve committed in comboxes like this one are far worse, and I’m under no such pressure as those two have been for the last few years(!) of campaigning.

    Similarly, as Mr. Wright acknowledges, President Obama’s main point about U.S. naval strength was a reasonable one. (As a percentage of global naval power, U.S. strength in 1916 was about 11% according to one of the liberal bloggers; it’s 50% now.) I wouldn’t expect the civilian Commander-in-Chief to know the minutiae of naval jargon. As, IIRC, in the distinction between subjective and objective civilian control in Samuel Huntingdon’s The Soldier and the State, (a less famous work outside military circles, AFAIK, then his Clash of Civilizations), the politicians are least pernicious to the professionalism of the military when they concentrate on the broad goals of statecraft and lead the logistics of war to those who actually know how to run it.

    While a broad cultural sympathy with the man in the trenches is surely admirable, neither Gov. Romney, nor President Obama, has served, and with the continually dwindling percentage of the population generally, and upwardly mobile meritocrats in particular, we can expect our civilian leadership to be more and more out of touch with the cultural mores of the military. This is perhaps to be lamented, but it’s a trend which Romney and Obama merely exemplify, rather than one for which they are responsible.

  7. Sylvie D. Rousseau says:

    Since 9/11 we have gotten to this point where a lot of people think the world will immediately fall into complete chaos if Team America: World Police doesn’t constantly increase its might.

    That’s because their common sense tells them man is still a wolf to man (I think Karl Marx, maybe selectively, believed that). As to the increasing of might, it must be in proportion of threats that could be acted upon and can be prevented only if dissuasion is convincing.

    To me, this is a sickness we must eventually recover from if we’re ever to advance as a civilization.

    The old adage “Si vis pacem, para bellum” came from the fairly civilized Roman Empire. The only civilization who could do without dissuasion is a real Christian civilization, certainly not an un-Christian civilization of wolves pretending to be sheep.

    • JJ Brannon says:

      Among us who are children of those who have served as career military and have served ourselves, this attitude expressed by Watermelonyo is referred to as “kumbayaism” — the inexplicable belief in the face of over 5000 years of history that various tribes and nations will **Any Day Now** “just get along”.

      It is a dictum among military planners and policymakers that one prepares for what a potential opponent **can** do rather than what one **would** do. Capabilities, not intentions, are what counts.

      Also, for accuracy the bayonet training in the US Army was de-emphasized by order, under President Obama’s administration, two years ago.

      Bayonets are still used in house-to-house searches and the Brit charges in Iraq turned skirmishes in their favor against insurgent forces.

      JJB

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