Obama's quip last night about horses and bayonets in the US Armed Forces achieved a lot of positive press coverage:
"Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets," the president countered, "because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."Let me say first of all that it was a very good on-the-spot comeback by Obama; it achieved the necessary debate aim of deflating Romney and also gave his supporters a good line and clip to use post-debate.
However, was it accurate? The US armed forces may have fewer bayonets, but only because they have fewer service members (1.4mm today which is well under even the 2mm in 1990 at the end of the Cold War). Every infantryman has a bayonet. But are bayonets actually used anymore - perhaps Obama was pointing out that they are obsolescent?Apparently not. The UK armed forces have been actively employing the bayonet, for instance in Basra in 2004:
When ammunition ran low among the British troops, the decision was made to fix bayonets for a direct assault.If you're short on ammo and relatively close to your enemy, the bayonet is a near-endless killing resource. The additional reach imparted by the length of the rifle, and the mass of your rifle and shoulder behind it, means that in close quarter combat you can drive killing blows into your enemy without any need to pause and aim; the trauma of a single bayonet strike, twist and pull to the chest area should make it instantly incapacitating (never mind the instantly fatal results of any strike to the head). And just what can bayonet use do for the morale of the infantry using it?
The British soldiers charged across 600 feet of open ground toward enemy trenches. They engaged in intense hand-to-hand fighting with the militiamen. Despite being outnumbered and lacking ammunition, the Argylls and Princess of Wales troops routed the enemy.
"I wanted to put the fear of God into the enemy. I could see some dead bodies and eight blokes, some scrambling for their weapons. I’ve never seen such a look of fear in anyone's eyes before. I'm over six feet; I was covered in sweat, angry, red in the face, charging in with a bayonet and screaming my head off. You would be scared, too."If I saw a bunch of huge heavily-armoured screaming red-faced Scots running at me with six-inch blades on the end of their rifles, I'd certainly leg it. Sounds like a Friday night in Glasgow.
Corporal Brian Wood, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment
The bayonet was also used recently in Afghanistan, again by a Scot:
In 2009, Lieutenant James Adamson, aged 24, of the Royal Regiment of Scotland was awarded the Military Cross for a bayonet charge whilst on a tour of duty in Afghanistan: after shooting one Taliban fighter dead Adamson had run out of ammunition when another enemy appeared. Adamson immediately charged the second Taliban fighter and bayoneted him.The bayonet may be an old weapon, President Obama, but it's no less effective for that. When your troops are "Danger close" to the enemy and so beyond air support, there's no substitute for a weapon that terrifies and destroys the enemy with no limit on reuse.
Update: go read pastor and ex-US Army artillery officer Donald Sensing on why Obama was wrong about bayonets: he points out that the US has more bayonets now than in 1916. At less than $40 per item, it's remarkably cost-effective.