Conservative Cavalry Bayonets A Straw Man

Right-wing media figures are trying to change the focus from Mitt Romney's deceptive debate comments on the size of the U.S. Navy by distorting President Obama's statements on the changing nature of the military. 

Image from Scott Calleja on Flickr

During the October 22 presidential debate, Mitt Romney once again invoked the misguided talking point that under Obama, “our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917.” In response, Obama quipped that “we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military's changed.” Right-wing media figures are responding to this self-evidently true statement by pretending that Obama said that the military no longer uses any bayonets or horses at all.

Immediately following the debate, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace highlighted that a Marine “tweeted Fox News and said the Marines still use bayonets. So it may not be clear who doesn't understand what the military currently uses.” 

Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin complained that “Mr. Snarky Commander McSnark” was “lecturing Romney on how we don't have bayonets anymore.” At, Joel Pollak also purported to fact-check Obama, writing that “the military still uses bayonets.”

Fox Nation has similarly posted a story headlined “Mr. President, US Special Forces Rode Horses Into Afghanistan.”

But these conservatives are putting words in Obama's mouth. The president never said the military doesn't use any horses or bayonets, just that they use fewer of them.

Indeed, a 2011 article in military newspaper Stars and Stripes (which is a Department of Defense authorized news outlet), highlighted the changing role of the bayonet in the military. The article explained that there hasn't been a bayonet charge since the Korean War and that “U.S. army units have not issued soldiers bayonets to Iraq and Afghanistan.” (Nonetheless, the article noted that soldiers would still be trained to use a bayonet, just in a different capacity.)

In 2010, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, then the Training and Doctrine's deputy commanding general for Initial Military Training, explained the need for evolving bayonet training because it was “kind of hard to teach right now when most of the weapons we use don't have the ability to affix a bayonet.”

The fact that our military is currently more reliant on things like helicopters and tanks as opposed to horses should be self-evident.

But all of the focus on Obama's invocation of bayonets and horses misses the larger point entirely, which is that Romney's assertion that the Navy is the smallest it's been since 1917 is outrageously misleading. A Washington Post fact check of Romney when he made this claim early in October labeled the attack “a nonsense fact” because “Romney equates gunboats with aircraft carriers and torpedo boats with nuclear-powered submarines.”