Comparing Presidents – Active Duty Military Personnel

This post looks at active duty military personnel. Nothing in this post is a surprise to me, but for those who you have had a problem with some of the posts in this series, I warn you, if you keep reading this one, you’re gonna plotz. If you’re averse to plotzing, you’re best skipping the rest of this post.

Next… data includes ational Guard, Reserve, and retired regular personnel who happen to be on active duty, which often happens in wartime conditions. Data from 1960 to 2005 comes from the Statistical Abstract of the United States. I also have data going back ten more years which I pulled from a DoD site which appears to be no longer active. (However, the years for which the two series overlap match up perfectly.)

Here’s a line graph of the series.

There are peaks and valleys corresponding to America’s various wars, and the subsequent end of those wars. Here’s the same information, color coded by President:

And a summary:

The biggest annualized increase in the military came during the JFK/LBJ years, when the country geared up to fight Vietnam. The next biggest came when Reagan outpostured the USSR, followed by GW’s rather small increases (look very closely!) to fight in Iraq. However, the extensive use of contractors for jobs previously reserved for the military probably means GW’s figures are somewhat understated. The smallest drop in military personnel came under Carter, then Clinton. Yup, Clinton, the guy usually criticized for decimating the US military, is only in the middle of the bunch. Much bigger drops came under GHW, and that notorious military-hating pansy, Ike. The biggest reduction in the size of the active duty military came under Nixon/Ford, at the end of the Vietnam War.

What do we learn from this? Well, JFK/LBJ geared up to fight a war. GW hasn’t. Reagan also did, but he didn’t have a war to fight. And the President who best understood the military… he realized that without a war to fight, it didn’t make sense to maintain the, well, “military industrial complex.”