MORALE FOR OUR "NEW NAVY"
By Ensign (T) R. E. Krause, U. S. Navy
There have been times in the history of our navy when, in order to meet an emergency, the interest and research of the naval personnel was directed into unusual channels. This was of course beneficial, but it was never quite clear when this deficiency had been met. Not that we had overdeveloped any particular phase but it was a case of having neglected something of vital importance. Shortly before the Spanish-American War we began to build our first modern battleships. Naturally enough, the interest of the officers turned to the planning and construction of these vessels, as well as to the guns with which to arm them. In short, we were providing the material. Later Admirals Mahan and Sims, in turn, pointed out to us that we had the weapons but were not proficient in their use. So to this day our officers have been striving to increase the skill of the naval personnel in the handling of the guns, torpedoes, engines, radio, etc., with what results we all know.
We are now due to pass to another period in which we shall have to devote increased attention to morale building. It is hoped that we are on a par with foreign countries as regards material and skill, so that we can let them rest for the moment and give our best to improving the spirit of the men. Morale is essential to a fighting force—for without it a fleet is beaten before the battle no matter how fine their ships and guns are. It resolves itself again into having our choice between a navy of "iron ships and wooden men" or one composed of "wooden ships and iron men." After mature reflection, no doubt most of us would prefer the latter. Fortunately morale, if not present, can be created. In our history the navy has never felt a similar need for creating a fighting spirit—it was always there. And, one might add, that was about all we had at the beginning". Many was the time that the morale of our bluejackets won over the superior numbers and gun power of the British. We are prone to forget that the spirit which won victories for us in the days of the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War, has lost none of its power to win them for us in the future.
Some think that naval science has reached such a height that victory no longer is dependent on the morale of the personnel, but the two most recent great wars of the world strikingly refute this argument. In the Russo-Japanese War the outstanding element which won the battles for the Japanese was not a superiority of material or numbers but morale, in which the Russians were decidedly lacking. Lack of initiative was so general among the latter as to appear almost a national quality and similarly the lack of moral courage as shown by their leaders. At Tsushima while the Russians were deciding whether to fight or not the Japanese forces pounced on them—defeating them while they were still pondering. A more recent instance is the war with Germany. Naval experts invariably admit that Germany was second to none in excellence of material and skill in handling the same, while most assert that she was superior to all others. Yet there was no determined attempt made to break through or to decisively engage the British fleet. From the first it was the purpose of the Admiralty to avoid a serious contact. This tended to break down the morale of the officers and men until, toward the end of the war, they would not go out. For three years her battle fleet lay idle. Not only was this idleness decidedly injurious but the men must have felt that they were the under-dog, since their leaders refused to give battle to the British. Meanwhile the latter were active, cruising back and forth, and battling with the waves of the North Sea—all of which served to keep the sailors on their mettle. So we find that even though material and skill have been highly developed, morale is just as important as ever as a decisive factor in war.
For the sake of clearness we may define morale as being the mental state of the individual with regard to courage, confidence, zeal, and self-reliance. Courage is divided into two entirely separate, though often allied, classes: moral and physical. Moral courage will lead one to display a fearlessness of responsibility with its possible consequences. It will allow an officer to be governed by attendant circumstances, regardless of regulations and precedent. In any case which calls for independent action he will be guided by the best interests of the service. It tends to develop initiative, which is so important in a service which tends to make machines of men. Every day of our lives we kill initiative when we "request instructions," "request assignment of berth," "follow senior officer's motions," and carry out the regular routine. This is no doubt necessary but we should recognize its consequences by putting a premium on initiative wherever possible. Moral courage must be re-enforced by initiative. When an officer is led by sudden circumstances to disregard instructions, regulations, and precedent, he must have the power of mind to devise suitable means or methods that are better than the customary ones for that particular purpose. If he cannot do that his moral courage will avail him naught. Moral courage is an indispensable quality for a military leader; therefore it should be valued highly wherever found. History is replete with examples of victories won by an officer's power to break away from existing regulations or customs, and as many failures by officers who feared the responsibility. It won the day for the British at the battle of Cape St. Vincent when Nelson ordered his ship to be wore in order to prevent a junction between the weather and the lee ships of the Spanish fleet. He did this in utter disregard of existing instructions and precedent, with full knowledge of what would happen to him if he failed. He had no authority of any kind but he had the quick perception to see the danger and the good judgment to know what to do.
Every man in the service should possess physical courage. If he does not have it when he enlists it should be developed in him. Fortunately this is possible and not very difficult. Every man is by nature afraid of the unknown or unusual, which can be overcome by association with these hazards. Gradually it will wear off, even though not entirely, but sufficiently so that the man will not show and be influenced by his fear. That is physical courage. It is said that Frederick the Great fled from his first battle but after his "baptism of fire" he never allowed fear to get the better of him. Physical courage, as well as morale in general, is largely influenced by physical fitness. Strength of body, agility in action, soundness of health, with the power of enduring fatigue and hardship, increase in large measure a man’s confidence in himself and his superiority over those who possess these qualities to a lesser degree. For this purpose athletics and all manly sports should be encouraged as never before. Systematic development of all parts of the body should be instituted and a course prescribed for each man, using for this purpose outdoor sports as far as possible. In this as well as along other lines of naval effort the officers should be the leaders by setting an example for the men. In addition to promoting courage, physical fitness is necessary to keep one mentally fit, so as to be at all times in readiness to assimilate education. The body supplies the energy that runs the brain and the latter will not function properly if one is run down physically.
Morale building is a difficult and intricate subject, especially so because the mind of the average American naval officer does not run in that direction. Hard and fast rules may be set for the upkeep of material but not so for the personnel.
No argument is as powerful as a good example, which must be set by the officers. Men are easy to handle and respond readily if the officer knows how. A would-be leader of men must himself understand discipline—ready to obey his superior officer as willingly as he would have his men obey him. He must be a man of character and intellect, able to command respect. He must show initiative as well as determination in the performance of his duty with a spirit of cheerfulness and consideration. He never asks a man to do anything he would not do himself. In short he must be an example in the way of his professional efficiency, morale, discipline, clean-living, and temperance; then, and then only, will he be able to get the best out of his men.
Discipline goes hand in hand with morale. Times have changed and the type of men we are receiving into the naval service have changed as well. The methods of maintaining discipline, formerly employed, do not meet present day requirements. Punishment as a deterrent force and as an example is still frequently practiced, but if the officer or man is to be retained in the service no degrading punishment should be visited upon him, such as would tend to destroy his self-respect or the estimation of him in the eyes of his shipmates. The brig should be the last resort for a man who is in any way disposed to brace himself and has a feeling of pride in himself or the naval service that can be appealed to.
Justice should be meted out in any case, be it officer or enlisted man committing the offense. The double standard of conduct for officers and enlisted men is far too much in evidence. Why an officer should not be called to account for committing certain offenses for which an enlisted man would get a summary court-martial in every case is inconceivable to all enlisted men, as the writer knows by personal observation. Nor can the writer even now, after eighteen months service as an officer, understand why this state of affairs should exist. If anything, an officer should be made to come up to a higher standard because he should know better. Pride in the service is little promoted as long as such conditions are tolerated. No gulf should exist between officers and enlisted men, but rather it should be a gradual progression upwards as a man qualifies for a higher grade by reason of his increased professional efficiency. It is well for us to remember that we are all men whatever our rank or rating. Treat your men as you would be treated were you in their position. Sometimes we become skeptical as to whether we are dealing with men or some other species of lower mentality. Every officer has come in contact with men whose brain mechanism he could not fathom. Sometimes it appears as if enlisted men don't use their brains and some officers take it that they don't think. That is far from the truth, as those of us who have bunked and messed with them know. Such officers who hold this erroneous opinion will never be successful as morale builders—as leaders of men. In cases like the above mentioned it just shows that the officers concerned have not made a study of men.
Mast, as it was formerly held, should be a custom of the past. It has been, and is yet to some extent, the practice to intimidate the men or to abridge their right to speak.
The captain of a certain vessel was holding mast and as usual had a line of more or less repentant sinners in front of him. A young seaman, in turn, stepped up, saluted, and jerked off his hat.
"You are charged with being absent over leave. What have you to say for yourself?" snarled the captain.
"Why, sir, I-a-."
"Shut up! Shut up! I'll get you for lying," bellowed the captain. "Five days solitary confinement. Next!"
Can you expect this seaman to be thrilled with pride in the service which tolerates such injustice? Do you think such a system tends to promote the efficiency of our man-of-war's man and the naval service? Of course such methods will rarely be found employed at the present time but less flagrant ones are still in general use.
We now have on our hands the task of reorganizing the navy. Now is the time to sow the seeds for developing morale in our "New Navy,'' such as crowned the efforts of the British fleet during the time of Nelson with success. Many of our old men have left the service and the majority of our personnel is young and inexperienced. This is the time to mold them as we want them into efficient man-of-war's men, who take a pride in and love the service. Let us face the fact squarely that the responsibility will be ours if we fail. Let us all face the task like men—not by drinking toasts to the old navy that has gone by but by showing an increased zeal and devotion for our "New Navy," that will be better than the old.