The suggestion by the Board of Control of the Institute that an article be written on the above subject would seem to be exceedingly timely just now, when public opinion is aroused in military matters and there are so many questions of a military nature under discussion.
A mere glance at the title must, in the case of numerous officers in the service, cause crystallization into a definite idea of those vague and indistinct thoughts on this subject, which by the very nature of service surroundings and experiences impress themselves at some time or other on their minds. It is as if a guiding hand directed a finger groping in the dark to a push button turning on a flood of light so that what has only been flittingly and indistinctly seen before is made plain and clearly defined.
That deplorable ignorance exists regarding the very raison d’etre of the navy, its character, its war and peace time work, its thousand and one varied activities, even its uniform, is a commonplace and cannot be denied. Indeed, manifestation's of this ignorance come to the attention of naval officers almost daily. Of course, it must not be understood that the writer is on this account attempting to assume the role of an accuser; it is the intention merely to point out how prevalent is this ignorance and to show how momentous a matter in its larger aspects it really is.
It is concerning the employment of the navy in war and peace; the fundamentals of-strategy; the work of the fleet, its character and amount; its organization; its various industrial activities; the reasons for its vast money expenditures, etc., where ignorance if it exists does so much harm to the navy and the country. Two examples in the case of strategy alone will suffice to substantiate this statement. The clamor for naval protection that went up from the individual Atlantic coast ports during the Spanish- American war, which led to the creation of the flying squadron and a consequent very dangerous division of the fleet, is one. That this outcry which became so insistent that the authorities in Washington were forced to heed it was owing to ignorance of the most elemental principles of strategy and would most certainly have led to utter disaster had the Spaniards been more on the alert. The bombardment, by the Germans., of Hartlepool and other coast ports of England in the present war, is the other example. These were carried out solely and simply for the accomplishment of a certain object, by playing upon the ignorance and fears of the English public, an object which could not be attained by other means. This object was, of course, first to divide the grand fleet; the second to force the retention in England of as many troops as possible, and it must be confessed that owing to the dread of invasion engendered by the knowledge that enemy ships were frequently visiting the English coast, these bombardments, legitimate or otherwise, accomplished the desired purpose in no small degree ; and yet the fear of invasion was probably the least worry of the leading naval and military men in England at that time.
There are myriads of other cases which could be cited to show that a general and universal elemental knowledge of naval matters is an absolute necessity, if the public is intelligently to support its navy in war and too in peace.
It is desirable that the character and general duties of each type of ship be known. Why it is better to have one large ship, rather than a greater number of small ones aggregating in cost a like amount; what destroyers are for; the limitations of the several types; the. relative fighting value of each; the influence of geographical position on the particular value of any one type of ship for our own and other countries, etc. For instance, to digress a moment, if the general public realized how vitally important the submarine was for the security of the Panama Canal, our various island possessions and large harbors, there would not now be the popular indorsement of the idea of abolition of the submarine which exists, for they are by far the cheapest and most widely effective coast and harbor defence that we have.
Of course, it is not feasible to enumerate here all of the many cases in which the naval authorities are directly dependent upon public knowledge and opinion for efficient and correct procedure. Not only does it depend upon opinion and knowledge, hut upon public good will, and therein lies not only the indication that this good will should be fostered and accurate knowledge supplied, hut also a direct and certain refutation of any claim that the dissemination of knowledge concerning naval matters is militaristic propaganda of an objectional character.
That the public would be interested and would meet naval authorities half way is a foregone conclusion. The subject is in itself interesting, and even if it were cut and dried, the civilian who pays for the naval establishment certainly must take an interest in the return for the vast expenditures involved. It is astonishing that the people have not long ago demanded in some concise and concrete form information which would put the mind at case concerning the many vital questions at stake. That the navy has not made, some provision on a large scale before, might lead one to think that there was reticence about disclosing its inner workings. This is not the case. The navy is proud of its work, and it has a right to be. Above all, it does not fear criticism and publicity, but on the contrary welcomes it.
The situation to the writer is that of an industrial manager consulting a specialist regarding some work he is performing at his direction. The manager is perfectly willing to agree that the specialist knows more about the technique of the particular job in question than he does, hut as to the whys and wherefores, lie not only is interested to know, hut is most certainly entitled to an explanation. If a specialist under the employ of a certain man realizes that his manager is not aware of the necessity for some highly technical appliance for the betterment of his plant, what is his duty? To sit tight and criticise him for his lack of technical knowledge? Certainly not. His duty is quite plain. If he is loyal to his employer he will go to him, explain the necessity and use every endeavor to obtain what he knows to be essential. The chances are that the employer is convinced. If not, then at least the specialist’s duty has been done and the responsibility for the absence of the appliance is placed where it belongs. And so it becomes apparent that the public, for the most part far removed from sea coasts and living a life that would not naturally suggest the navy to mind, should be kept informed of the whys and wherefores of the navy.
This duty must necessarily devolve upon naval officers, who are the specialists in this particular instance.
There is a point in connection with the intelligence given out which should be emphasized. It should come only from men who are known to be reliable. This is so apparent as to make this statement appear ridiculous. But what do we see on every hand, in the case of many civilians asking about service matters? Some bluejacket just discharged is asked for his opinion on the battle of Jutland, on the value of the battleship now that the submarine has developed to such an extent or on any number of questions no less momentous. The writer has writhed in agony many times while listening, unwillingly, of course, to some ignorant man or officer expounding false theories in all seriousness, thereby doing irreparable harm and impairing confidence in other officers and men of more repute.
There are many legitimate methods of disseminating knowledge relative to the navy, almost all of them cheap and requiring no cumbersome or new organization.
The best method it is thought would be widely to advertise the Naval Institute Proceedings, reducing the subscription price as the circulation grows, and requesting articles from civilians and suggestions for titles to articles which would bring out questions of interest to them. It is apparent that this method has great possibilities and is entirely feasible, for it was not long ago that through the agency of the Institute a prominent civilian asked for and received valuable information on the much discussed question of the relative value of one large ship as against several small ones aggregating in cost a like amount. This was accomplished by the offer of a price for the best article to appear. An excellent treatise was the outcome and so convincing as to abrogate all doubt on the subject and which fully substantiated the present policy of the General Board. The offer of a prize, of course, was quite incidental, and if request had been made the article would undoubtedly have made its appearance without it. There is no attempt here to suggest that such a procedure should be followed as a general rule. It merely serves to illustrate that there is a large and fertile field for those in the service whose efforts are directed towards its betterment and a closer relationship with its supporters.
Some other methods which could be used to advantage are suggested, although the list given below is by no means exhaustive.
Co-operation with the Navy League along the same lines as recommended in connection with the Institute.
Co-operation with accredited members of the press.
Lecturing by accredited officers located in vicinities where particular interest is taken in any phase of naval activity.
Constituting an officer on each ship a departmental agent for the purpose of receiving press correspondents or delivering lectures and organizing display parties on board ship. In connection with this method it might be stated that it is only in this manner that a general policy in the discussion of naval affairs can be assured, and also those topics which should be reserved from enemy ears or which should not be openly talked of would be more closely guarded, by reason of the personnel charged with publicity being under direct control of the Navy Department. The higher the rank of the publicity officers, of course, the better. Another thing to be said in favor of this plan is that if the civilian knew that there were certain accredited and reliable officers detailed by the authorities for the above purpose, there would be very little of the haphazard gleaning of information often so false and harmful, which has been spoken of before.
Regarding publicity in any form there is only one danger that can be foreseen. It is to be feared that in some instances it might be resorted to in order to gain political advantage; this, however, could easily be eliminated by a direct stipulation that neither personal nor individual ship accomplishments should be the subject for advertisement. At any rate, on this particular point it is not so much a question of preventing a new evil as it is of limiting one already in existence. With one and only one person on each ship or station responsible, such matters could easily be traced to their source.
There is a host of subjects, which should be given publicity through discussion, lecturing or written articles, that pop up in the writer’s mind, but as it is manifestly impossible to expatiate upon them here and as indeed this would be out of place, intimation only of the type of topic the consideration of which would give a start to the whole scheme, herein outlined, will be given in the following list.
The relation of the navy to the government showing that it is a force not merely for the sake of force but for the purpose of attaining a certain object that the government must attain, after diplomacy has first been tried, but has failed.
An article explaining in plain terms and by simple examples the elements of strategy and tactics; particularly showing where these matters concern the civilian and the government and that these subjects >are not dry, half dead theories, but are living and pertinent issues every day in the year.
Another setting forth the reasons for and the values of the different types of ship, laying especial stress on the value still retained by the major type of ship despite the tremendous development of the submarine. The fallacy of the small ship idea, etc.
A fourth on the navy’s industrial activities, would, it is believed, be of particular interest to the civilian whom the writer has heard time and again ask for information on this subject. The points generally brought up for discussion are the reasons for the greater overhead expense in the navy operated plant, the apparent waste, etc. The difference in the end sought and the necessarily different point of view should be emphasized, the uncertainty of availability and shifting of ships due to uncontrollable circumstances, the cancelling of plans half finished due to this unforeseen shifting, etc., etc. Setting forth that the greatest efficiency experts have tried a hand at bettering conditions with but little, if any, success and pointing out that suggestions are thankfully received.
An exposition, profusely illustrated, of the work the service does with a comparison of hours of actual employment, wages, the kind of existence undergone, etc., laying particular stress on the hard and dirty work which is at the present time little known to the outside world. In articles heretofore there has been too much devoted to clean, immaculate quarter decks and long lines of bluejackets on parade, which misrepresents to a cruel extent the true nature of the navy’s work. Pointing out that Saturdays and holidays when visitors are generally in navy yards and aboard ship, is no time to judge of the nature of the work that is performed normally.
It seems that a discussion of the work of the reserves, their value, their weaknesses, their peculiar position in the navy as against their status in the army, etc., would be particularly timely.
Effective articles could be written in answer to some of the questions which are so often asked as to be standard and the joke of every ward room.
What do you watch for when you go on watch?
What do you do all day?
How nice it must be to yacht on a destroyer.
There is no attempt here at the last to be facetious, nor would there be in an answer to these questions any indication of hurt feelings. That such questions are asked wholesale by the civilian is a very serious matter, and one that will not admit of trifling. It is a sure indication that the work of the service is not only not appreciated, but that it is undreamt of. The personnel of the navy, and the Lord too, know that its work is fully as exacting in physical and nervous strain as that of any other profession, either in war or in peace. The failure of the public to realize this fact has led and will continue to lead, unless some corrective measures are taken, to lack of sympathy and support.
In conclusion, it must be admitted that an exchange of ideas among the civil and military could not be held without occasional spats and ruffling of feathers on both sides. However, it would certainly be of the utmost value, alike to both, and it is by this means alone that the idea of sides now existent, can be eliminated and a new idea of co-ordination instituted which will weld all into an inseparable team. By the latter means only can we hope for that solidarity of support so essential to. the efficient operation of the main stay of the nation’s honor, integrity and security: our navy.