So what’s the reason for describing the proposed reductions that way? My base-case assumption is that “lowest levels since 1940″ is just a lot more dramatic than “below the levels of 2000″ or “largest reductions since 1992.” But it is potentially deceptive precisely because it is more dramatic.
That’s a good point. Critics of any reduction in the size of the military or the military budget are always going to seize on such misleading comparisons to make reductions appear to be much more significant, so it’s important not to blow them out of proportion or make them out to be something more than they are. Before and during the 2012 campaign, Republican hawks repeatedly claimed that the Navy was being shrunk to WWI-era levels, which was true provided that you paid no attention to the quality of the ships, the vast technological differences between the two periods, and the relative strength of other naval forces. Likewise, references to having the “smallest Army since 1940” conveniently ignore that the U.S. will still have more men under arms than any country in the world except for the two most populous countries, and will still be far and away the leading military power in the world. One of the main drivers of the increase in military spending since 2001 has been rising personnel costs, so it is appropriate that any attempt to get military spending under control will involve reducing the overall number of military personnel. To argue otherwise is to cast aside all pretense to fiscal responsibility.
Even after these reductions, the U.S. will still have an active military that is much larger and more powerful than the one it had in 1940 (or at most other points in U.S. history), which is remarkable considering how much less dangerous the world is and how much more secure the U.S. is today than they were then. The U.S. still won’t need a military that large, and military spending will have to keep being cut back after the splurge in spending over the last decade and a half, but this is a good start.