If Monday's presidential debate had a viral moment, it was President Obama's zinger: "You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets."
The Internet immediately went nuts with parody Twitter accounts and a Tumblr of horse and bayonet GIFs. Except here's the thing: the U.S. military still uses horses and bayonets. Just last week, a monument was unveiled at One World Trade Center to honor Special Operations soldiers who rode horses into combat against the Taliban. And, according to the Army, the bayonet works splendidly "as a hand weapon, as a general field and utility knife as well as a wire cutter together with its scabbard, and as a saw."
As it turns out, horses and bayonets are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to time-tested tools (horses are tools, right?) that have a place in modern warfare...
Back in colonial times, Native Americans used tomahawks as weapons and ceremonial accoutrements. (And, um, barber shears, but let's not dwell on stereotypes.) Today, the U.S. Army's Stryker Brigade carries modernized hatchets from the American Tomahawk Company--which look completely badass, by the way--as an "entry tool" and for hand-to-hand combat. Or hand-to-skull combat.
Ancient enough that Sun Tzu mentioned them in "The Art of War," crossbows were a combat staple for a thousand years. The advent of gunpowder sadly made them obsolete, but they possess a days-gone-by charm, much like vinyl records and Betty White. However, don't despair! The Army still uses crossbows as grapnel hooks to detonate mines and other booby traps.
We associate cannons with Mongols, pirates and George Washington, but modern armies worldwide use both handheld and aircraft-mounted "autocannons" capable of firing 90 to 9,000 rounds per minute. (We're pretty sure that pirates with cannonballs would still win, though.)
A favorite of guerrilla warriors, the slingshot isn't a weapon that you'd expect the U.S. Armed Forces to manufacture. You'd be wrong! In 2008 the U.S. Navy developed an "electric slingshot" capable of "launching an aluminum projectile out of the muzzle at 2,530 m/sec." Presumably, Bart Simpson will enlist as a sailor the moment he turns eighteen.
5. Hand Grenades
Grenades date back to the Byzantine Empire, when soldiers hurled incendiary ceramic jars at their enemies. The design has barely changed since World War I, but five months ago the Army announced that it would seek to make hand grenades cheaper, safer and more efficient. Also, the current version "only allows for a right-handed user to throw it in the upright position," so lefties will soon be able to likewise shout "fire in the hole!"
Perhaps those lefties can learn something from nineteenth century French grenadiers, who threw the explosive devices from (what else?) horseback.