We of the service are greatly interested in the present widespread newspaper discussion as to the preparedness or lack of preparedness of the navy. We sit smugly back and think: “Ah, at last they are beginning to appreciate us and to do something for use the “something” in question being more battleships, an increase of men, or a personnel bill.
There seems to be little doubt that the coming session of Congress will appropriate more money for the navy than has ever been given us in a single year. The reason is that public interest throughout the country is awakening to the value of naval strength. On ourselves it devolves to maintain and intelligently to direct this public interest that it may not expire when the cause for it has been decided.
Appropriations in the past have been hard to get and when obtained have not always been spent to best advantage, owing to the prevalent belief that the navy was the plaything of the sea coast. To the Middle Westerner the idea that a navy protected him was laughable. He knew that no ships could shoot that far nor could troops get across the ocean. As a means of keeping shells out of New Englanders’ front yards a navy was all very well and he didn’t mind paying a little—not too much—towards such a cause, but the very name—weren’t our ships all “coast defense ironclads”?—showed their real use and object.
Then came the Spanish War. For a brief moment the navy was in the lime-light. Naval battles were fought in which the enemy were invariably beaten by our fleets, to the intense satisfaction of Mr. Average American, whom tables of comparative strength and percentage of hits bothered not a whit. In this favorable moment a personnel bill was passed and the first steps towards a real sea- keeping navy were begun.
The war over, back went the navy to the shadows, not again to stand forth in the minds of the whole people, in spite of world cruises and fleet reviews, for fifteen years. During that time the inlander probably knew that we had a navy of sorts, but that was as far as his-knowledge went. Occasionally he read of the trials of a new ship, always represented in the papers to be the largest, finest and fastest afloat. If he thought of the navy at all it was as a sort of genus hydra, reproducing itself without attention on anyone’s part. Mr. Average American hadn’t the slightest idea whether his Congressman had voted for two battleships or none, but he knew who got the new post office, you bet.
Finally the great war-cloud burst over Europe; a titanic struggle of highly civilized nations armed with the most deadly weapons. As a result of this war two schools of thought developed in the United States.
The first includes a number of people who, from experience or from hearsay, are so deeply affected by the horrors of war that they consider no sacrifice too great to avoid it, and who consider that passivity is the only means of avoiding it.
The other class includes the arm-chair strategists who, from the news published in their daily papers, have already decided upon the exact type of craft which is to settle future wars. By these authorities the battleship is as extinct as the dodo and to save the country we should bend all our energies towards building aeroplanes, or battle cruisers, or submarines or Zeppelins or whatever is the hobby of that particular individual.
Between these two schools the naval legislation must be guided. The people at large are indifferent only through ignorance, and if the lesson of unpreparedness is not to be learned by bitter, bitter experience it must be systematically taught by those qualified to do so.
Right here is the navy’s golden opportunity. We have the means at hand to give this instruction, without the slightest cost to the government.
Scattered throughout the country are twenty-seven recruiting offices, each with at least one commissioned officer in charge, and with a clerical force of assistants. Suppose that the entire country were divided into twenty-seven geographical districts, each having the town wherein is the recruiting office for its focus.
In each of these districts let there be sent to every college, school board, chamber of commerce, town council, lyceum and well-established public organization a letter something on the following order:
The naval recruiting officer, Lieutenant X, U. S. Navy, having his headquarters in the town of Blank, holds himself in readiness, subject to service exigencies and to prior engagements, to address your organization on the subject of The United States Navy. The only cost incurred will be Lieutenant X’s expenses while fulfilling the engagement. Should it be desired and you be willing to meet the additional expense of operators and handling, Lieutenant X will illustrate his lecture with moving pictures. Address all applications to Lieutenant X direct.
(Signed) The Secretary of the Navy.
In the meantime lectures are prepared by the officers best fitted for the task, to suit varying conditions and audiences. For example, before a board of trade the lecture could show the connection between navy and merchant marine, and its effect on freight rates and insurance as well as of securing a market for selling goods. Before a woman’s meeting the real value of a navy in preventing invasion and its concomitant horrors might be brought out, while for a camp of boy scouts the scientific and technical side would probably prove more interesting. The lecturing officer, of course, would not be limited to the stock lectures but could deliver original talks, previously scrutinized by the department, should he feel that special circumstances require it.
In ordering officers for this publicity duty—and it would probably soon become sufficiently onerous to require separation from the recruiting branch—the department would seek good “ mixers,” easy, fluent talkers and in general the same characteristics which make a successful salesman.
The officer himself should cultivate as wide a circle of acquaintances as possible, should talk navy in season and out, and should keep on the good side of all the small-town newspapers. It may sound incredible but there are numbers of people who take a lively interest in naval affairs merely through knowing one officer in the service.
If this publicity campaign is carried out, if the officers upon whom the duty devolves study their ground and know their district thoroughly, if good, authentic films of the interesting points of navy life are shown, and if the lectures are written, selected, and delivered with care, we will in a very few years have a potent, and for the first time intelligent, public opinion directing the men who vote the appropriations.