If nothing else new came from the third and final US presidential debate of 2012, the voting public had learned one thing by Tuesday morning: yes, in this era of high-tech, sophisticated, stealth weapons, the US military still uses bayonets.
Although, apparently not as many these days as back, say, in the 17th century when they were first developed.
“Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed,” quipped President Barack Obama, when Republican challenger Mitt Romney criticized him for the US Navy having fewer ships than it once did.
Bayonets are knives that are stuck on the end of a gun, so if for some reason you can’t just pull the trigger, not to worry, you can still thrust and stab very effectively.
“Back in the old days the procedure was to reload a musket after every shot, so if you missed your enemy it took several moments to reload, and you might find yourself in very close combat,” said US Army spokesman Wayne V. Hall.
Intended to be a zinger, Obama’s reference surprised a lot of debate-watchers, who didn’t realize such rudimentary weapons were being used by the world’s most powerful military.
“The (media) phone calls started first thing this morning,” Hall said.
But bayonets have evolved, he added, so that they increase a soldier’s capabilities in hand-to-hand combat and can still be detached and used for everything from cutting wood to snipping wires.
The Army has more than 419,000 bayonets in use today, and an estimated 120,000 have been issued to active duty Marines.
“From 500 yards, every Marine is accurate with a rifle,” says the US Marine website. “Attach the OKC-3S Bayonet, and the weapon becomes just as effective in close combat situations.”
The OKC3S Marine Bayonet is manufactured by the New York-based Ontario Knife Company.
“The military deploys our products for a wide range of combat and field operations,” said company president and CEO Ken Trbovich.
“These include but are not limited to breaching devices, rescue tools and combat weapons,” he added.
It’s just over 13 inches (33.65 cm) long with a serrated blade and a sharper point than other weapons, to help penetrate body armor. The Marines say it’s the weapon of choice when shots can't be fired.
"We've created this myth that we can stay in the clouds and win wars," bayonet expert Homer Brett told the LA Times in 2003. "But the only way to control territory is with infantry, and for the individual fighter on the ground, a bayonet is indispensable."
Obama’s “bayonet” comment took on a life of its own after the debate that zipped around the internet and wound its way into news coverage and commentary across the US.
Some bayonet experts were incensed at what they saw as a dismissive reference to their life’s work.
“We’re Still Relevant!!!” screamed an irate headline on news and entertainment site TMZ.com, paraphrasing a comment from the head of a leading military surplus outlet.
Dan Riker of Bayonet, Inc. said Obama’s comment was “ignorant.”
During the debate Obama also talked about the military’s evolution in recent years, adding, "The question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships."
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who helped Obama prepare for the debates, tweeted, “I think POTUS (President of the United States) just sank Romney's battleship.”
I think POTUS just sank Romney's battleship— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) October 23, 2012