Media fall for false claim that defense cuts would shrink Army to pre-WWII levels


Dwight Eisenhower, who warned us against the excesses of the military-industrial complex, is probably spinning in his grave.

The problem is that the mainstream media are uncritically passing along misrepresentations of the effects of proposed cuts in the nation’s military budget.

The truth of the matter is HERE:

On Monday, large swaths of the news media reported on the Obama Administration’s proposed military budget using the same misleading frame. As the New York Times stated in its headline, “Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level.” Fox News chose the same emphasis. “The Army had already been preparing to shrink to 490,000 active-duty members from a wartime peak of 570,000,” it stated, noting it will now be between 440,000 and 450,000. “That would make it the smallest since just before the U.S. entered World War II.” Reuters’ headline: “Budget cuts to slash U.S. Army to smallest since before World War Two.”

So … will our national defense be roughly as strong as it was right before we fought Germany and Japan, as a casual reader might assume? Not even close. What about the Army taken in isolation? No, that isn’t accurate either. If these accounts were trying to maximize confusion or alarm at proposed cuts, then mission accomplished. But if the goal is helping readers to understand the size of our military (in absolute and relative terms) if the proposal takes effect, then the narrow focus on the Army and the pre-World War II comparison are poorly chosen.


In terms of manpower, if you’d totally eliminated the Army and the Navy on December 31, 2013, the combined total of the Marine Corps and the Air Force alone—523,425 people—would still be significantly bigger than the whole military circa 1940.

Also, if the Army is indeed cut to between 440,000 and 450,000 personnel, as the Obama Administration has proposed, the Army could be characterized as operating with the smallest force “since just before the U.S. entered World War II,” but it would also be accurate to say that the Army of 2014 will have 170,977 more people than the Army of 1940. And again, whereas the Army of 1940 encompassed the fighter pilots and bombers of that era, today we’ve got a whole separate Air Force composed of several hundred thousand uniformed men and women, plus a modern Navy and Marine Corps with significantly more personnel.

Of course, military strength isn’t only about personnel. Circa 1940, the U.S. had a grand total of zero nuclear weapons. Today the U.S. has 5,113 nuclear warheads.  An already-dated in 2011 Wired article noted that the U.S. had 7,494 drones, including 161 Predators, which are used for targeted killing. The U.S. also has 10 aircraft carriers. How many carriers does our closest military rival have?



Even after Obama’s proposed cuts the U.S. will spend more on its military than all its rivals combined. Add the forces of our allies and our advantage is even more formidable.

To sum up: Reporting on the Pentagon-budget proposal by comparing the size of the Army to its 1940 levels is misleading in several ways. It elides the relative strength of the Army in different eras; personnel from other branches of the armed forces; the fact that Air Force personnel in particular are now counted separate from the Army; and military hardware that acts as a significant force multiplier.



  1. I was listening to NPR today. They mentioned the point this story is making. They also noted how difficult it is to get obsolete equipment discontinued by the corporations building such items. Every time an item is attempted to be discontinued, the house and senate reps for those areas launch a vote no campaign as it means loss of jobs for those areas. It also impacts the sub-parts mfrs in other areas and states, so they all join in on the “your making America unsafe” campaign to stop any such changes. Hence we have obsolete war time equipment being made that outlived its usefulness because nobody will do the right thing. Why don’t they tell these military industrial complex mfrs to offer a more current products, instead of making products that no longer meet 21st century wartime needs?

  2. Steverino

    So old dirty Dick Cheney got his heart skipping on Fox complaining that Obama is more concerned about food stamps than a strong military. Little does the war criminal realize nearly 900,000 vets rely on SNAP each month. If Cheney wants another war so bad stick a rocket up his backside and shoot him towards Iran.

  3. CarolF964

    They cut SNAP 20%!
    If they are cutting the number of persons in the military, maybe, just maybe, some of that savings might go for nice pay raises for those remaining in the service for our country?
    Dick Cheney is a fool.
    Fox should be cheering at the proposed cuts if saving on waste in government were their real issue.
    No, it’s all just politics as usual with the next election the goal and the place we all live in now not important. I’m amazed, Fox, hasn’t offered Nugent a show on that network. The man would fit in very nicely with all the bull they sling daily.

  4. Steverino

    That’s typical of Sean Hannity pulling the geezer from Wyoming onboard when the word military pops up in the news. Fox should add a disclaimer at the bottom of the screen indicating this man never served a day in his life and was directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of soldiers and citizens.

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