If the presidential election were won and lost by strength of political memes, the race would still be incredibly close. “Sesame Street,” binders full of women and battleship takedowns, the last stretch of the campaign has been GIFed to new heights in the social media stratosphere. And the ultimate takeaway? The postdebate spin belongs just as much to the Photoshoppers across the Web as it does to the pundits. But let’s rewind and take a look at President Obama’s horses and bayonet comment.
Within 10 minutes of the bayonet quip, not one, but two Tumblrs had already been started. Meanwhile on Twitter, the quickly established catchphrase dominated the conversation with as many as 105,767 mentions in one minute. Multiple handles were snatched up, including @horsesbayonette, which now has over 34,000 followers. Reminds us of the good old Invisible Obama days of the Republican National Convention.
Of course, the Romney camp, eager to push the focus onto something other than the governor’s lackluster performance, called the line offensive in as many ways as possible. Running mate Paul Ryan cited his outrage on behalf of members of the armed forces saying, “To compare modern American battleships and Navy with bayonets, I just don’t understand that comparison.” Pundits and right wingers jumped on the president’s case almost immediately. Some Marines tweeted about the hand-to-hand combat training they receive, and that bayonets are still part of their kit.
While conservatives were quick to paint the president as out of touch with military planning, the reality is that in the age of helicopter ops and and drone strikes, using hand-to-hand combat to fight a war is a bit like using Morse code to invite your friends over. It might work, maybe, but it’ll be unnecessarily difficult for everyone involved. It’s also worth mentioning that the president didn’t suggest that bayonets weren’t used, but that we now use fewer.
Unlike the Marines, the Army discontinued bayonet training in 2010. It’s a tool for an age we’ve long since left behind. We haven’t led a bayonet charge since the Korean War, and even then the practice was outdated. The rapid-fire, machine-gun warfare of the 20th century was no match for the man-to-man tactics of the 18th and 19th.
The History Channel put together a handy two-minute history of the bayonet in American warfare. In its words:
“Even though the current issue M16A2 rifle and the new M4 carbon are capable of using a bayonet, the tactic of sending troops charging into the enemy with bayonets fixed is not a part of modern military doctrine.“
Sounds like a pretty good reason for why we have fewer of them. As for horses, it may have something to do with those armored tanks we’ve invented.
We’ll also have more debate breakdown for you tonight when we’re joined by General Wesley Clark and Romney team foreign policy adviser Robert O’Brien. Analysts Donnie Fowler and Keli Goff will look at the electoral map and where the polls stand as we approach the finish line.