Sometime during the course of world war II, the United States became the most powerful nation in the world. During the last two hundred or so years, the United States has fought ten major wars and innumerable smaller military actions. For the most part it has been successful, in some instances defeating some of the world’s most powerful countries. In other instances it has simply been lucky. A common threat throughout the nation’s existence has been the practice of indifference and neglect. Between wars the Army shrinks to a very small size.
Funds and attention almost disappear. This policy of the US Army may well indeed danger the nation’s safety in the future Military strength includes not only the Army, but sea and air power as well which will not be considered here. The resources of a country such as population, size, wealth, and factories all contribute to a nation’s military might and to how fast it might be expanded. Military power for ground forces has traditionally been measured in terms like regiments, brigades, divisions, corps, and armies.
In addition, an important distinction exists between the Regular Army (the permanent establishment officered with West Point graduates), the militia (very important to the nation’s military strength for the first hundred years, local part-time units), and the National Guard or Reserves (in modern times a strong back-up to the Regular Army).
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The combined sizes of these forces have fluctuated widely when the nation has been at a threat of war. It was very important that they created an Army during the American Revolutionary War. The colonists had militias, which fought with the British against the French and Indians. But the revolt against England demanded much more.
The Americans who wanted independence gave it a maximum effort. The population of the colonies barely numbered 3, 000, 000 in 1775. Of the available manpower, a very large proportion either fought with the British or stayed neutral. So for an estimated 184, 000 men to have fought for the new nation before the war ended in 1783, the remainder had to contribute a lot. (Almanac 209) The new government was disorganized and needed money. Nevertheless, it created the Continental Army.
It was organized as infantry in many regiments of about 800 men each. At any one time there were only about 15-20, 000 Continental troops. They were supported by large numbers of men in the local militia, who were much less trained and dependable. They formed units which served within their local region and which could be disbanded on short notice.
After the Revolutionary War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in September 1783, the new American government, with the agreement of the people, completely abandoned their Army. By the following summer the Continental regiments were disbanded. (Hagan & Roberts 50) The loosely maintained militia with war was supposed to protect the frontier. This pattern of drastic downsizing after a war would be repeated until the 1950’s. An important lesson apparent today is that the professional, regular army was vital to success in the Revolution. It was not an accepted point at the time.
Indeed, an early president, Thomas Jefferson felt that no army or navy was needed. He naively believed that citizen soldiers, called to arms on short notice, would be adequate. The notion lasted for many years as part of America’s dislike of big armies. The issue of maintaining a standing army and its size was raised almost at once. Right after the Revolutionary War, Indian fighting arose on a large scale in the Ohio valley. The militia was slaughtered by the Indians, leading Congress to form three infantry regiments in 1792.
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The new regiments redeemed the situation and defeated the Indians. For the next few decades these regulars varied between only three to ten thousand men. A few problems with England led to a new declared war from 1812 to 1815. Heavy fighting took place along the border with Canada where large U.
S. forces achieved much less than their size would have predicted. The lesson of maintaining a professional army repeated itself: trained professional officers and troops are crucial. They can’t be created overnight from militia.
These observations were repeated on the Indian frontiers and the Gulf of Mexico. Sadly, the British attacked Baltimore and burned Washington D. C. Huge numbers of militia embarrassed themselves fighting against this invasion. The regular regiments were expanded, but training and organization took time. Leadership in Washington and on the field left a lot to be desired.
Even though 286, 000 men served at one time or another during the war, their overall record was poor. A peace settlement ended the war with no clear winner. (Almanac 209) Once again, as soon as the war ended the country abandoned the Army. For the next thirty years or so it never numbered more than a few thousand men. But very importantly, the U. S.
Military Academy at West Point was started in 1802. A small corp. of officers was able to accumulate. Because of the lack of trust in the military, funds and actions were limited.
The Army was just big enough to provide engineers for seacoast forts and to fight Indians. The public’s opinion all of a sudden reversed itself. Constant expansion, especially in Texas, led to war with Mexico in 1845. Now the Army was popular as it led regular and State / militia troops outside the country. About 79, 000 men served in the war, suffering 17, 000 casualties. Once again the Army was extremely crucial to the goals of the country.
The Mexican War was fought very successfully against a larger army of dedicated troops fighting on their own soil. Why did the U. S. Army do so well? One reason was excellence of the small number of regular infantry and cavalry regiments.
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These men were ready immediately and invaluable. Secondly, by now West Point infused the forces with compete officers. These served not only in the infantry but provided a huge edge over the Mexicans in artillery, logistics and engineering. Without these small numbers of professional officers the campaign in Mexico could have been a disaster. By 1860 the population of the United States had grown to over 30, 000, 000 but the Army was no larger than in 1812 at about 15, 000. The great Civil War was about to change everything.
The States were now fighting each other, with about 2. 2 million men at one time or another under arms for the North and over 1 million for the South. (Almanac 209) The regular Army supplied many officers, a few thousand being West Pointers. But this huge war was fought with citizen armies, volunteers and later conscripts who were formed into state units under national control. It took a long time to train the raw armies, but it was possible to do so within the frame of the four-year war.
Huge disasters took place while everyone involved went through a learning process. But this included the West Pointers and professionals also. Tactics and weapons had changed enough to demand rethinking. But generals who commanded a few hundred men at one time now had to control hundreds of thousands. So the issue of whether the U. S.
suffered from having a small army prior to the war has a very mixed answer. The regulars led and formed the basis of expansion, but they had to learn along with everyone else how to fight such a massive war. Over a million casualties were incurred, with over 600, 000 dead during the Civil War. (Almanac 209) The South was devastated. Everyone was affected by the war, and everyone was glad to turn away from the military as soon as the war ended. So once again the U.
S. Army was disbanded. It went from over 1, 000, 000 men in April 1865 to barely 12, 000 in 1866. (Hagan and Roberts 150) After the war many of the available troops were spread over the defeated South to try to enforce the government’s reconstruction policies. The lack of troops frustrated this policy, which was not completely successful. As a consequence the effort to change the South was abandoned after about a decade.
This was probably too soon, as it allowed Southern society to debate agian st racial policies that the Civil War should have ended. So a price was indeed paid for having only a small army during a period of supposed peace. The Army’s other job was to police the Plains and mountains of the West, a huge area with many Indians. Cultural conflict and expansion would place these small number of troops in big demand. To perform these duties, the Army was authorized 54, 000 men in 1867, down to 27, 000 in 1874. (Urwin 136) (Urwin cavalry vol.
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) Actual numbers were less. Of the 10 cavalry regiments and 40 or so infantry regiments, 4 were composed of Black troops with White officers. A very large part of the troops were foreign-born, as enlistment was held in low esteem. About 88, 475 of 225, 712 enlisted men deserted between the Civil War and 1891.
(Urwin 146) (Urwin cavalry vol. ) In 1898 another popularly supported war broke out, The Spanish American War. Other than the invasion of Mexico in 1845, this was the first war where Americans went overseas to fight. The army was about 280, 000 men serve out of population of 76, 000, 000. (Almanac 209) Only about 28, 000 were in the regular Army at the beginning with another 30, 000 added later. So this was another war in the long history of the country that was to be fought mostly by state troops and citizens who quickly volunteered.
With the war won, the Army was reduced to fewer than 100, 000 men. Weapons and tactics changed. In 1916 millions were fighting World War I, but the tiny U. S. Army could barely put together a small force to chase bandits into Mexico.
The U. S. entered World War I in April 1917. The new war called for massive numbers of infantry.
This time it would take the U. S. over a year to raise a fighting force. Only in late 1918 did the U. S. Army start to play a big role in the fighting in Europe.
But from 95, 000, 000 people, 4, 000, 000 were in the Army at war’s end, an enormous effort, (Almanac 209. ) To arm and train 4, 000, 000 in a little over a year demanded the concentration of every part of society. As soon as the war ended, America cut down its army to a tiny fraction. This line is now repeated over and over again and can be the premise of this review. How many times could this be done without someday threatening the safety of the country? Actually World War I was really the last time. After this changing the nature of war and the world make this practice very dangerous.
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In the 1920’s the only accomplishment of the Army was to maintain study of new ideas, tactics, logistics and organization. The huge infantry divisions rose for World War I were slimmed down to heavily-equipped divisions of about 15, 000 men in war time for World War II. Everything was becoming mechanized with tanks and trucks (dependence of oil also).
When the second world war started in 1939, there were only 174, 000 men in the U.
S. Army. In 1940 Congress passed the Draft Act to raise more troops, but in 1941 it renewed the Act by only one vote. (Henry 3) Now numbers alone were not important enough.
These new divisions had to be equipped and trained. Time was huge factor. With war raging, the Army jumped to 1, 300, 000 six months before Pearl Harbor. The war would see the Army reach a peak of 8, 500, 000 men in 1945 with 300, 000 deaths and 550, 000 injured (not counting the other U. S. services) (Almanac 209) World War II was fought on a colossal scale.
The Army had to fight in new areas, which were thousands of miles away. A tremendous amount of transportation and planning was needed, as result most troops did not actually fight was in support services. A total of 92 divisions served during World War II, and 89 were maintained. (Stanton 3) Twenty of them were sent to fight Japan in the Pacific.
Most of the rest were sent to fight in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Northwest Europe. The biggest campaign was which started on D-Day in June 6, 1944. It ended a year later with complete victory. The country would have to be awarded a high grade for its rapid expansion to create such huge armies and then to use them to compete and win. Everyone in the country joined the effort.
Industry was totally diverted to produce the massive amounts of arms needed. Almost one in four divisions were armored divisions. They and the infantry divisions were fully motorized. Tactics and weapons were very demanding. The U.
S. was unsuccessful once again in going from a slow start to all-out expansion. The next war would see this habit come to defeat. Then the world was changed. In 1945 the Cold War replaced World War II. Now so-called peace would constantly involve tension and crises as the U.
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S. faced competition and aggression from the Soviet Union all over the globe. The perceived strength and readiness of the Army were important factors now on a daily basis. No longer could the U.
S. reduce its forces to a fraction of the previous war’s high and then hope to put them back together when a new conflict started. There was now a state of “Cold War” conflict all the time, which could turn into a “hot war” conflict. This is exactly what happened in June 1950. A shooting war started in Korea which President Truman decided to join within 24 hours. There was no warning and no time to prepare.
After the end of World War II the Army had once again reduced itself to a shadow of its strength. At the same time, it had to compete with not only the Navy, but also a new service, the U. S. Air force, for funds.
The U. S. had very little with which to fight in Korea. The U. S. did fight with what little it had, and in the first few weeks almost lost the war.
After the first few months, it was pushed into a small corner of the country, just a few square miles. Gradually it fought back and fought the war to a stalemate, but it was very close to a quick defeat. The army also found itself stretched too thin everywhere else in the world, such as Europe, by the need to concentrate troops in Korea. As a result, when the Korean War ended in a truce, this time the Army did not reduce itself. This time it remained expanded. In 1955 it had over a million men.
The numbers stayed high until the 1990’s. One reason the Army expanded was that, the state of the modern world did not permit the type of isolationism enjoyed previously. The oceans were no longer barriers, and the frontlines were drawn all over the world in Europe and in Asia. At the time of the Korean War truce, technology and development was increasing at a quick pace.
The Cold War period demanded that the Army be ready for instant war in Europe. Events like the crises Berlin could trigger responses at any time. For the Army to determine such potential wars has to exist when the first shot was fired. There would be no time to create a large force from scratch, as was possible so many times in the past.
Technology used by the Army was another reason the luxury of time no longer existed. New weapons took years to develop, unlike the muskets of the earlier times. It also took time to train troops to use the complex weapons. Thus the Army tried to maintain several dozen divisions for the decades after the Korean War. It fought a hard war in Vietnam starting in 1965. This forced it to expand to well over a million troops at one time when it had to also prepare for a war against its major potential enemy, the Soviet Union.
It drained the U. S.’s strength from its other missions and cost 40, 000 Army troops (more men were lost in the other services).
In many ways this conflict was a low point for the Army. The Army remained large until the end of the Cold War in about 1990. At that time, it still maintained 750, 000 troops. These fought a short, successful war in the Persian Gulf, which justified its size and training.
Thereafter it was reduced to less than 500, 000 where it remains today, out of a general population of about 280, 000, 000. (Almanac 209) What are the lessons to be drawn from this pattern of growth and expansion? They are mixed. By Keeping away from a large standing army in 1775 to 1940 except in times of declared war, the U. S.
was able to hold onto its anti-military ideals. This helped to define the American character and reinforce its notion of a nation of individuals, not serving soldiers. This contrasted with many other nations at the time. America was able to expand its forces when needed, relying on its citizens to respond to its needs. This worked in the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, and World War I, but just barely. World War II was the turning point.
The rest of the world started fighting two years before Pearl Harbor. This gave the U. S. the time to expand its Army. It just barely did so (remember the Draft Act passing by one vote).
Good fortune and luck allowed the policy of tiny peacetime army to work one more time.
The Cold War changed this forever, reinforced by tough lesson in Korea. In the time since then, the state of the world and technology demands that Army not plan a grace period to expand. It has to plan to meet a potential crises with what it has ready. Technology has dropped the need for large numbers of divisions and fighting troops. But technology has conversely demanded that stockpiles of equipment and training be at high levels at all times. Future wars will be over long before new orders for weapons like cruise missiles can be placed.
The best way to prepare for the present is to learn and correct our mistakes from the past. The cost may be high, but the world remains a dangerous environment. Today the U. S.
must have a ready-to-use Army of a size sufficient for any conflict ahead. This was not always true in the past.