Not one of the old "frogmen" or young Navy SEALs who gathered this week at the nearby National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum for the annual Muster wants to see another war. Those who came here are veterans of combat spanning from World War II to the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to numerous other unnamed fights around the world. Within their ranks are men -- and their families -- who know what it means to go in harm's way, often without any recognition or public acclaim.
The widow of a slain SEAL put it this way: "Before my husband deployed to Afghanistan the last time, he told me, 'It's not important our son know what I did as a SEAL. What is important is that he knows why I did it: so that he would never have to.'" Unfortunately, despite the courage and sacrifice of his parents, their young son may well face a very dangerous future.
It is an unalterable fact of human nature that the perception of weakness invites aggression. For us, it has been that way since the founding of the republic. We disarmed after the American Revolution. That's how we ended up with the War of 1812.
Just a year before a million U.S. troops were dispatched to save France in World War I, Woodrow Wilson promised our countrymen that there was no risk in cutting our defenses, because we would not be involved in "Europe's war." When the war ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, we immediately slashed defense spending -- and our president told us we could rely on "collective security" from the League of Nations.
In 1939, with Imperial Japan running amok in Asia and Adolf Hitler's legions on the march across Europe, the U.S. military was the 17th-largest in the world. In Washington, Republicans and Democrats -- at loggerheads over President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal economic programs -- barely could agree on allowing conscription. In 1941, the draft extension passed by just one vote in the House of Representatives. By the end of the war, more than 16 million Americans had served.
Even before the Empire of Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945, the Truman administration was demobilizing U.S. military personnel, ships and aircraft returning from Europe. Assurances that the United Nations would be the guarantor of global peace made Draconian defense cuts permissible over the next five years. We "hollowed out" the U.S. armed forces -- just in time for communist North Korea to invade and nearly destroy the Republic of Korea. By the time the "police action" ended, more than 5 million men had been drafted into service, and more than 36,000 of them were killed -- and we once again cut the size and budget of our military.
A decade of sparse defense spending yielded the Vietnam War, another 58,000 war dead and the inevitable cuts in military budgets when the conflict in Southeast Asia ended so ignominiously in 1975. Four years of Jimmy Carter's incompetent economic strategy, blissfully naive foreign policy and devastating reductions in our intelligence services and armed forces produced disasters on a global scale. By the time Carter departed from his one term in office, we had witnessed more than a dozen anti-American revolutions, the collapse of six governments friendly to the U.S., rampant Soviet expansionism, the rise of violent radical Islam and scores of U.S. diplomats and citizens murdered and held hostage.
It took Ronald Reagan's unwavering commitment to "peace through strength" for us to begin rebuilding our nation's defenses. He overcame international opposition and congressional intransigence to fund, build and -- when necessary -- use U.S. forces to protect American citizens and interests. The construction of a new generation of ships, aircraft and weapons systems -- including the Strategic Defense Initiative to protect American cities from attack by ICBMs -- put millions of Americans to work and brought down the Soviet empire.
Two years after Reagan's second term, it took the volunteers recruited in his presidency, using the weapons and equipment built while he was commander in chief, less than 100 hours to evict Saddam Hussein's invaders from Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. After the victory parade, we again cut our military budget to reap a "peace dividend."
The terror attacks of 9/11 required yet another "rebuild." But now, after a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration is following the too-familiar pattern and gutting America's defenses. The O-Team already has canceled weapons systems, cut military personnel strength and stopped construction of new ships, aircraft and facilities to "save" $450 billion over the next 10 years.
Worse, unless the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction can agree on how to reduce our federal deficit, U.S. military expenditures will be cut by another $550 billion. Meanwhile, a brutal anti-American regime in Iran is moving at full speed to build nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them.
The Obama administration tells us not to worry. It promises that cutting defense won't put us at risk and that a new round of United Nations sanctions will deter the ayatollahs' atomic aspirations. But to many of the veterans gathered here, it sounds more as if we're preparing to be unprepared for the next war.