Yes, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is proposing reductions in the size of the United States military. But the terrifying spectre of an Army at "pre-World War II levels," the shorthand that's taken hold, pretty dramatically oversells the case.
The Wire is not the first to make this point, but our visualization should help clarify what's under consideration. Hagel's proposal (which can be read here) would reduce the size of the standing Army and Marine Corps, scale back the number of in-service Naval vessels, and retire a fleet of Air Force planes. It would also increase the number of special operations forces by 4,000, "a reflection of the asymmetrical threats the nation is likely to face in the future." And more Marines would be assigned to protect American embassies.
But reducing the Army to its smallest size in 74 years, as the Associated Press put it, has caused significant consternation. Former Vice President Dick Cheney called the cuts "absolutely devastating." President Obama, he said on Tuesday, "would much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops." Sick burn, Mr. Cheney, but no need to pretend-worry your little shiny head.
The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf pulled data on the size of the branches of military in 1940. As this New York Times graphic makes clear, the size of the Army in 1940 was dramatically smaller than any point since, and Hagel's proposal doesn't even come close to that level. Using Friedersdorf's data and information from the Department of Defense and AP, we put together this graphic. (The specific head count reductions in the Navy and Air Force aren't clear from existing reports.)
As you can see, the reduction in the size of the military overall still maintains a force that's far larger than we had shortly before World War II.
The military has survived both actual and proposed cuts in the past. For example, in 1991, the defense secretary proposed "the elimination of five of the Army's 28 active-duty and reserve divisions and making new investments in costly long-range nuclear programs through the mid-1990's." Cheney probably won't criticize that move, though, since he's the defense secretary who made the proposal.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.