While aviation has ascended to a prominent position in the Navy over the past century, other icons have not been so fortunate. In 1911 few naval professionals would have thought that Alfred Thayer Mahan’s star would someday be in eclipse, but that’s exactly what’s happened, says James Holmes. At the Naval War College and elsewhere, he writes, too little time is devoted to the writings of the Navy’s intellectual patron saint. While some of Mahan’s theories have not held up over time, when taken as a whole his works remain a rich vein of thought that modern strategists should be mining. Relegating Mahan to the “dustbin of history” is foolish and shortsighted he cautions, especially considering that other seafaring nations still read his works with great interest.
Unlike Mahan, Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz never seems to go out of style, either at the war colleges or with strategists and policymakers. But according to retired Navy Captain Steve Kime in “Return to the American Way of War,” the United States has still managed to botch the lessons of Clausewitz. During the Cold War, when the nuclear-Armageddon specter hovered constantly, U.S. leaders cultivated a healthy sense of wariness about plunging headlong into one war after another—the ever-present risk of escalation-to-annihilation serving to check enthusiasm whenever sabers rattled. But in this post-Cold War age of limited engagements and “precision” strikes, America has lost its sense of when, and when not, to go to war. We continue on this path at our own peril, he warns.
Finally, I’d like to offer a special thanks to all the staff and contributors who put in the extra effort to produce the Naval Review issue, our largest of the year. From the service reviews to the flag list to the record of battle force changes, it’s a labor of love. Bravo Zulu to all!