Joe Raedle/Getty Images; graphics below:

In one of the most memorable zingers from this year's third presidential debate, Mitt Romney complained that the Navy "is smaller now than at any time since 1917." President Obama shot back with "Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets."

While many rushed to use the line to anchor politically inspired jokes and images, New York Times' Caucus blog took a closer look the story behind the statement and how and why American warfare has changed:

Marines quickly jumped in to say that they still attach bayonets to the end of their rifles, either the M4, M16 or M27. Of course, Mr. Obama did not say that the military has no bayonets and horses at all — just that there were fewer now than then.

While that is almost certainly true (the United States government drafted four million men in World War I), the 2012 United States Marine Corps still has more than 175,000 bayonets — or nearly one for each of the 197,500 current active-duty Marines. Marines carry bayonets when they deploy overseas, typically in sheaths attached to their body armor. In the martial arts training that all Marines receive, they are taught to attach them to their rifles in difficult or close-quarters situations.

"Basically when you’re in a hand-to-hand-combat situation, if you're out of ammo and if your rifle malfunctions, you can attach the bayonet and still kill somebody," said Capt. Kendra Motz, a Marine Corps spokeswoman. The bayonet blade is 7 inches long …

Read more at the New York Times.

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This image was lost some time after publication.
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