On the third Thursday of each month, our Editorial Board gathers in the President's Room of Preble Hall to reach collective judgment on that month's books, magazine articles, and projected seminar activities. Over the Chairman's right shoulder, at the far end of the polished table, hangs a large wooden replica of the Naval Institute's emblem, now 125 years old. And over his left shoulder hangs the framed admonition from Homer, dating back some 3,000 years to the glory that was Greece.
Thus each meeting begins with an unspoken reminder that the U.S. Naval Institute (to key on a thought developed by Captain Peter Swartz later in these pages) is about more than publishing—be it in book, magazine, or seminar form; it is about ideas and "the advancement of professional, literary, and scientific knowledge in the Navy." And, as Captain Roy Smith pointed out in his centennial essay in Proceedings, "advancement" does not mean preserving the status quo. It means bringing forward proposals for incremental change—or even revolutionary change—that inevitably must challenge the status quo. Curiously enough, such change seldom is demanded of juniors by seniors. To the contrary, new ideas usually must be bucked up the chain of command—by a Lieutenant Ernest King, a Lieutenant Edward Beach, a Lieutenant Bradley Fiske, a Lieutenant Hyman Rickover, a Lieutenant Joe Taussig, a Lieutenant Commander Bud Zumwalt, a Lieutenant Commander Wayne Hughes, a Marin Captain James Webb, a Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander E. H. "Iceberg" Smith, and their like. Because the chain of command has never been a debating society, the sea services—alone among U.S. armed forces—have been fortunate to have had for 125 years a forum outside the chain, where honest, rigorous questioning of policy is not seen automatically as insubordination.
That being said, policies seldom—if ever—undergo change the first time an issue is raised in a book, article, or heated panel discussion. None of these are the last word in any debate. Instead, they are the opening shots in running gun battles that may continue for months or even years in the Comment and Discussion or opinion pages of Proceedings. Out of this welter—of claim and counterclaim, charge and countercharge—a rough version of truth eventually bubbles toward the top, where it can be skimmed off and used by alert policy makers and decision makers, or so the theory of the open forum goes. And on some golden occasions, things actually play out that way. In this imperfect world, however, other factors—quite often, human ones—will intervene to cloud or even derail the issue. Members of the Editorial Board have personal opinions on virtually all issues, some quite strongly held after years of intense experience. And so do editors. The true mark of professionalism within either group can be seen in any individual's positive vote for a book or article or seminar speaker whose views he detests—because the argument is credible, well researched, and presented in a logical way.
This process has evolved for the past century-and-a quarter, from one in which all manuscripts destined for publication by the Naval Institute were routed through the members first, so all dissenting comments could be published with the original article. This is no longer possible with today's worldwide readership, but with e-mail and other electronic technology responses now can be published in the next issue after the original article appears.
If commitment to the open forum has remained strong, what about the issue themselves? The first four papers published in Volume I of Proceedings included essays on training, propulsion, and armament-critical issues then for a Navy that was lagging far behind its European counterparts, and still-critical issues today in designing and building a Navy for the 21st century. The fourth essay, "Experimental Determination of the Center of Gravity," by Naval Constructor T. D. Wilson, also has a modern counterpart, albeit one quite different in both style and substance. Our most recent essay contest winner, Marine Colonel Mark Cancian, also discussed centers of gravity—but in a strategic and operational sense, not a physical one.
In the pages that follow, you will be guided along a nostalgic pathway of issues, ideas, and images-all of which recall and reinforce our 125-year commitment to an idea that has persisted, sometimes under heavy pressure, for more than three millennia: the open forum.
Enjoy the trip.
James A. Barber, Jr., Publisher