From time to time, in the history of this country, it becomes necessary to radically alter naval policy, with a corresponding reconstruction of the fleet, in adjustment to changing national policies.
Such was the experience in the first naval program under the Constitution during the Adams administration when it became necessary to provide heavy cruising ships, frigates at that time, to protect American commerce against the attacks of revolutionary France and the Barbary pirates. This general policy continued in force until the Civil War, when the necessity of military operations against the Confederacy required development of a coastal type such as the Monitor and river gunboats in place of the seagoing cruising ship. Once inaugurated, this new policy continued until the growth of foreign commerce and relations required another change of policy in the famous White Squadron. Commencing with unarmored cruisers this program slowly developed into the armored ship of the Spanish-American War, and then, as the standard was set by England and Germany, into the battleship and ultimately the dreadnought, or all-big-gun type. In each case the shift in policy and construction followed a change in national policy; commerce protection under the federalist administrations and during the forties and fifties; coastal protection in the Civil War; and a combination of the two policies with expansion into the Caribbean. This policy reached its logical development m the strong naval program under President Roosevelt just prior to the World War.
Pre-war naval policy.—With the elimination of the Russian Navy by the Russo- Japanese War of 1904-05, the rapid rise of Japan, the decline of France, and the feverish competition between England and Germany the American fleet under the Roosevelt, Taft, and early Wilson administrations occupied a substantial third place; somewhat inferior to Germany and about half the strength of England. During this period the main point of danger was the Caribbean, with the newly developing Panama Canal; and the American possessions in the Orient, particularly Hawaii and the Philippines. British attention was completely absorbed by the rising German fleet, so that the primary American problem became that of battleship protection against the imperialistic policies of the German and Japanese Empires. Export of manufactured articles in competition with the Old World had only commenced, while the main items in over-seas shipping were raw materials of vital interest to England—cotton, foodstuffs, or the imports from England and her colonies—carried in foreign shipping and protected by the British Navy. As a result, American naval policy centered on the defense of exposed strategic points such as the coast cities, the canal, and the Philippines; which requirement was met by a powerful coastal battle fleet consisting of numerous medium-sized heavily armed and armored battleships, armored cruisers, and a protective screen of light cruisers and destroyers. Submarines were still an experiment, while almost no provision was made for commerce operations.
The war program.—This policy of a substantial third place sufficient for local defense continued until during the first years of the war German and British interference with American commerce and the rapid growth of American foreign trade foreshadowed American intervention in the Old World. There was evidently already developing in the mind of the war president the program of world-wide American influence later expressed by the war against Germany, the fourteen points, “A World Safe for Democracy,” and the League of Nations. At the time there was even more danger of war with England than with Germany, while the precedents of 1776 and 1812, as well as of 1845, 1862, and 1895, were influential in affecting a Democratic administration guided by a Scotch-Irish president, an Irish private secretary, and the Irish party chieftains of the northern states. But for the stupidity of the German military leaders the situation might well have followed similar conditions during the Napoleonic period leading to the War of 1812.
This situation came to a head in the winter and early spring of 1916 in two outstanding events:
The one, President Wilson’s St. Louis speech of February 3, 1916:
There is no other Navy in the world that has to cover so great an area, an area of defense, as the American Navy. And it ought, in my judgment, to be incomparably the most adequate Navy in the world.
The other, the forced retirement of the German Pligh Seas Fleet at Jutland in the face of the concentrated British Grand Fleet.
These two widely separated and differing expressions, the one the words of the American president at St. Louis; the other the action of the battle fleets in the North Sea, brought home to the American public and to the world at large the importance of naval supremacy.
The result of these two influences was to radically alter the naval policy of the United States. Instead of continuing as a program of commerce protection as before the Civil War; of coast safety up to the Spanish-American War; or of limited defense of strategic points as under Roosevelt it now becomes a positive instrument of national action affecting the vital interests of the whole world. In the carefully chosen words of the President, the Navy of the United States must be incomparably the most adequate Navy in the world. This was not a standard of mere size or numbers, but a question of adequacy to enforce national policy. In other words, with the ocean barriers separating the United States from the Old World the Navy was to become the bridge whereby the rising strength of the Western world could be made effective in world affairs. President Wilson’s St. Louis speech marks the transition from a defensive to an offensive naval policy.
From a technical point of view the Battle of Jutland, as the previous battle cruiser engagements, had shown the effectiveness of the powerful capital ship. The technical response of the United States to the supremacy of the British fleet was expressed in the naval act of 1916 providing for a new program of battleships and battle cruisers of unprecedented size and strength. In the words of an experienced newspaper correspondent (Frederick Moore in America’s Naval Challenge, p. 1) “In 1916 the United States began to arm against the eventuality of possible war with Great Britain.” In connection with previous construction this program of 1916 provided for a group of super-dreadnoughts decisively superior in size, armor, and gun power to anything possessed by England or Germany; besides a corresponding force of destroyers, submarines, and secondary forces.
Whereas the most powerful battleships England possessed were the ten Royal Sovereigns and Queen Elizabeths completed in 1915-16 of 27,500 tons (eight 15-inch, 42-cal. guns; 9- to 12-inch armor; 23 to 25 knots), and the two lightly armored battle cruisers of the Repulse class (31 knots; six 15-inch guns)—with the next class that of the Iron Duke (25,000 tons; ten 13.5-inch guns) the American fleet in addition to the four New York-Oklahoma class, approximately equal to the Royal Sovereigns, would include seventeen battleships and six battle cruisers of from 32,000 to 43,000 tons, 14- to 18-inch armor, decisively superior to any existing British ships, viz.,
As American resources were capable of rapid expansion of this program and there was available a strong support of powerful second line ships, the United States was placing itself in a position to fight its way through to such freedom of the seas as it might choose. Unlike the situation in 1812, American rights were to be protected by effective sea power. Moreover, at this time the German fleet was still intact with a high morale and at Jutland had shown its effectiveness against the more powerful Grand Fleet. England was thus placed between two strong opponents; the undefeated German fleet at Kiel and the potentially superior American fleet off the Atlantic. Moreover, the Pacific had been surrendered entirely to Japan; and the Mediterranean very largely to Italy and France. At the time, also, there was a strong sentiment for settlement of the war and a recombination of forces would probably result. German submarine action had not yet aroused the United States, and a possible combination with Germany, Italy, and Japan might make this country the deciding factor in world affairs.
The Wilson program of 1919-20.—With British concessions, the submarine policy of Germany, and American entrance in the war, naval policy during 1917 and the first part of 1918 was temporarily diverted to development of antisubmarine secondary forces, with close cooperation with England. However, with the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet; the collapse of Central Europe and Russia; the tremendous war program of the United States; and the development of President Wilson’s policy of the fourteen points, national self-determination, and the League of Nations’ sea power, as expressed in the battle fleet, again assumed preeminence, particularly in the peace negotiations at Versailles.
As the war progressed and American strength increased Wilson’s international policy became increasingly clear and vigorous. With a natural personal dominance and as a virtual war dictator of the most powerful single military and economic power in the world he began to develop his program for universal democracy and world unity which was to find culmination in the League of Nations. Like Caesar after Pharsala or Octavius after Actium, he was in position to dictate to a war-weary world —a victorious democratic dictator establishing a universal constitutional democracy with popular support. In this program the “iron hand within the velvet glove” was the American battle fleet.
As soon as the defeat of the Central Powers became imminent—in fact early in the fall of 1918—the Navy Department began preparations for completing the battle fleet program suspended by the destroyer and antisubmarine construction. One reason was the overwhelming actual supremacy of the British fleet under the able leadership of Admiral Beatty, reenforced by the best ships from the German Navy, a naval force greatly superior to all the remaining navies of the world. A second, and more definite reason, was to strengthen American influence at the coming peace treaty and readjustment of Europe. A third, though less immediate objective, was rebuilding battleship strength against the rising naval power of Japan.
Immediately after the close of the World War the American government . . . began to expand the Navy on a scale unprecedented in our history or in that of any other country. For the first three years following the signing of the Armistice —that is to say, for the last years of the Wilson Administration—our country set the pace in naval construction, having on the stocks at one time more than twice as many new capital ships as all the other powers, great and small, taken together. (Moore in America’s Naval Challenge, p. 3)
Upon the urgent recommendation of both the President and the Secretary of the Navy not only was the interrupted 1916 program to be completed, but the technical lessons of Jutland were to be embodied in reconstruction of these ships. In addition a second building program similar to that of 1916 was asked which would have given the United States twenty post-Jutland capital ships; forty fast cruisers; and twice as many destroyers and submarines as Great Britain. Wilson and Daniels had now swung to the other extreme of their early pacificism.
With the change from the traditional defensive policy, continued up to the World War, to the new international policy of President Wilson and the Democratic administration the character of construction, as of policy, was changed. Instead of the modest ten or fifteen thousand ton coast- defense battleships of the Roosevelt and Taft administrations there now developed the powerful post-Jutland 43,000-ton Indiana and Constitution deep-sea battleships and battle cruisers—huge floating fortresses with eight, ten, and even twelve 16-inch and potentially 18-inch guns; armored with 18- inch or more of the newest armor; and engined to out-speed as well as out-fight any corresponding ship in the world. In addition there were to be the fast Omaha cruisers, then considerably faster and more powerful than any similar type, and an extensive fleet of the new V seagoing submarines; besides over 300 seagoing war- program destroyers, and a number of antisubmarine craft. At the same time the ship building program was providing for around 500,000 tons of mercantile shipping a month. The war had made the United States sea-minded.
The new ships were to be larger and more formidable than any ever before constructed. They were to have marked superiority over any vessels the British or Japanese navies possessed. They were to be able to sink the best British or Japanese ships before their fire could endanger ours. It was to be a new navy completely superior to any other. (Moore in America’s Naval Challenge p. 11.)
While some consideration was given to Japan, which had attempted absorption of China under the twenty-one demands, the primary purpose of this tremendous naval program was the driving home of President Wilson’s proposal for world unification under the League of Nations, in which the United States by weight of its superior wealth, strength, and military and naval resources was to be actually though not nominally the dominant factor. It must be remembered that at this time the nation had a trained army of around five million men; war equipment and reserves to keep them supplied indefinitely; and shipping sufficient to convoy, land, and maintain this force in almost any part of the world. The Navy was the spearhead for the establishment of American world supremacy.
The Washington conference.—This program for the world supremacy of the United States—driven forward by the iron determination of the war president and backed by the unexhausted resources of the New World—was too stupendous for substantial support by the country: or rather, the personality of President Wilson was just lacking in those qualities necessary to achieve this vision. The situation was quite parallel to that existing in the Roman Republic after the final triumph of Julius Qesar: he presented the vision of a universal common civilization, but neither the world nor the solid sentiment of the republic was quite ready for its realization. It required another half generation of war and anarchy before his more diplomatic nephew, Octavius, could realize this vision. Perhaps some successor to President Wilson will realize his vision of a world republic under the leadership of the United States.
Be that as it may, President Wilson’s program for American leadership in the League of Nations was rejected by the nation decisively in the election of 1920; American tradition would not support adherence on any lesser basis; and the conservative Republican administrations of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover came into power. With this change came another shift in national and with it naval policy.
In place of the dynamic and dominant personality of the idealistic Scotch-Irish student and college president representing the emphasis upon the rights of man over the rights of property, there came into power the less able but more practical and utilitarian Republican leaders representing in large measure the interests of the conservative property-holding classes of the industrial centers and agricultural communities. From the “dream” of world unity and universal peace the nation came back to the “normalacy” of a commercial and industrial program interested in realizing in the dollars and cents of business, the opportunities presented by the world upheaval.
There followed a natural adjustment in the naval policy of the nation. Where President Wilson, with support of the less prosperous classes, was willing to involve this nation in possible war with England or Japan or both for the realization of the great ideal of human brotherhood, the more conservative Republican leaders, representing the propertied classes who would have to foot the bill, preferred peace to the danger of war. Accordingly, the ambitious and revolutionary naval programs of 1916 and 1919, insofar as they were still uncompleted, gradually came to a standstill.
The immediate turning point was the Washington conference of 1921-22. England and Japan—threatened with bankruptcy or a dangerous war by the gigantic naval program of the United States—were quite willing to compromise on a ratio of strength which left them secure in their respective fields of influence. To put it perhaps more bluntly, the United States, the British, and the Japanese Empires were disposed to gather around the table and exchange the glittering possibilities of world empire for the more substantial realities of peace, prosperity, and consolidation of their respective gains. The Washington conference was neither a move of lofty altruism on the part of the United States nor a weak surrender to the crafty diplomacy of the Old World. It was a practical, though extremely generous, businesslike adjustment of national differences through an adjustment of naval strength.
The historical situation after the death of Julius Csesar may explain the conditions in 1921-22. With his death—as with the fall of Wilson in 1920—the growing realization of world unity was exchanged for the strong probability of bitter war between the successors to his power. No one faction was ready to assume this responsibility, so the three outstanding leaders, Anthony, Octavius, Lepidus, formed a triumvirate and to use a modern term, “pooled” their interests. In other words, they found it more expedient to unite and divide between them the empire, still nominally governed by the Senate, than to fight. Eventually they had to fight the issue to its logical conclusion of a single government or actual division; but their action postponed the decision for several years.
That, in effect, was what was done at the Washington conference; though hidden under the more high-sounding terms of modern diplomacy. Substantially, the world was divided into three parts: the New World to the United States; Europe, with the British Commonwealth of Nations, to England; the Mongolian areas of Asia to Japan. No actual division was agreed upon, but it was effected in substance through limitation of naval armament and fortification of advanced bases. Practically with these limitations, no one nation could engage successfully in war with either of the others in their dominant areas.
From a naval point of view the result for the United States was cancellation of the 43,000-ton super-battleships; virtual surrender of the naval bases at Guam and in the Philippines; and withdrawal of the challenge to world supremacy. In effect, the nation returned, though on a much stronger basis, to the naval standard of the Roosevelt and Taft administrations, interrupted by the ambitious international policies of President Wilson.
If the Navy under the limitations of the Washington conference be compared with that existing prior to the World War it will be seen that it is a logical development of the ^ naval policy commencing with the White Squadron of the eighties. As naval technique develops; as American interests broaden; and as competition becomes keener there is a steady and fairly progressive increase in size, strength, and radius of action. The unarmored cruisers of the White Squadron grow into the armored cruisers and medium-sized battleships of the Spanish-American War; then into the all-big-gun types of the pre-war period; and finally into the powerful battleships of the Colorado class. They still remain—in view of the increased radius of American interests —essentially coast defense ships. In this they are to be distinguished from the old ship-of-the-line of sailing days and the proposed Indiana and Constitution classes, as also the German Ersatz Preussen; which are essentially seagoing rather than coastal ships. Ships, even of the powerful Colorado and California class, can safely creep along only from one base to another, normally not more than 2,000 miles apart, and can remain only temporarily off an enemy’s base. They are, as it were, a “glorified seagoing monitor” limited to operations close to fixed bases. In this they represent a coastal or defensive policy in distinction from the seagoing ships of the days of Nelson, which could operate in distant areas; maintain their position off an enemy coast; or operate at will on the high seas. As ships increased in size and efficiency, as with the Hood and the proposed American super-battleships, they become distinctly seagoing battle units able to maintain their position on the ocean against both capital and secondary forces through their speed, endurance, main and secondary armament, and defensive powers.
While not a complete parallel, the difference between the Colorado and the Indiana or Constitution classes represents, to a considerable extent, the difference between the conservative and distinctly American policy of the Republican administrations from McKinley to Hoover, and the more radical and international policies of Wilson; probably of the Democratic party. In the first case, as previously noted, there is a gradual expansion from unprotected cruising ships, through armored cruisers and light battleships, to powerful base fleets represented by the Colorado. In the second case, as suggested in the discussion of the Wilson policies, there comes a revolution, or radical change from a coastal policy based on defense only to an offensive policy requiring seagoing fleets able to maintain supremacy on the high seas.
On the whole, in American history, the Democratic party has tended to swing between the two extremes of provincialism and internationalism, represented by the local yet universal character of the Declaration of Independence, with an appeal both to a traditional aristocracy on the one hand (Jefferson and Wilson) and to the masses (Jackson and Cleveland). The Republican party, on the other hand, has been predominantly representative of the commercial and propertied classes and has tended to pursue a more conservative policy. This difference is marked in naval policies as the respective parties come into control: the Democratic or popular party tending to swing either to the Jeffersonian extreme of “gunboats” or to the Wilson program of 43,000-ton Indianas and Constitutions; while the Republican party has tended to follow a more conservative course, as marked by the gradual rise of the Federalist and Republican navies.
Thus, the Washington conference marks a distinct change in national policies reflected in the changing attitude of the administration toward naval policy and construction.
The Geneva conference.—The Washington conference represented a sharp reversion to previous naval policy made by the conservative and realistic ministries coming into power after the war. For that reason it constituted a swing to the other extreme that, while temporarily easing the situation, left both general and naval policy unbalanced.
Unbalanced fleets.—The American fleet prior to the war, as those of England, Germany, and Japan, was the conclusion of a slow process of adjustment of construction to national needs, and formed within certain limitations a balanced organization of battleships, armored cruisers, scouting ships, destroyers, and auxiliaries. The naval programs of 1916 and 1919, together with the feverish war construction, left the fleet at the close of the war in an unbalanced position which would have been corrected upon completion of the entire building plan around 1923-24, with fast battle cruisers, heavy and medium battleships, fast cruisers, etc., together with a large reserve of destroyers, old armored cruisers, and old battleships. However, the Washington treaty by its arbitrary curtailment of new construction, scrapping of old ships, and limitation of bases left the fleet in a badly mutilated condition: at one extreme a group of slow but heavily armed and armored line- of-battle ships; at the other extreme various groups of very fast but unprotected carriers, light cruisers, and destroyers; but with no intermediate classes such as battle and armored cruisers, flotilla leaders, and fleet submarines. From a fighting value the effectiveness of the fleet was seriously impaired; especially, as the more slowly developed British and Japanese fleets were left intact in their balanced organizations.
Had the American fleet been compelled at any time prior to the present to have engaged either the British or Japanese fleets it would have been at a serious disadvantage.
Unbalanced technical conditions.—At the very time the fleet organization was left unbalanced by the drastic provisions of the Washington treaty the technical developments of the war—guns, armor, underwater and deck protection, speed, endurance, secondary forces—were being absorbed by the various naval staffs; while the stimulus of conflict had encouraged new factors such as aircraft, submarines, coastal motor boats, Diesel engines. In the ordinary course of continued construction these lessons would have been incorporated in new ships, as the experience of Jutland was incorporated in the Hood, Rodney, and Nelson. However, with the complete cessation of new construction—leaving the program simply that of ships designed mainly prior to the experiences of Jutland—the American fleet was left in a distinct technical inferiority: a fleet with no actual war experience (all American actions were against submarines) in competition with war developed navies in England and Japan: later Germany, France, and Italy. The actual result has been that while the technical developments of the war were being utilized by the Old World nations in such construction as the Ersatz Preussen; the Rodney and Nelson; the British, French, Italian, and Japanese cruisers; flotilla leaders and seagoing submarines, the American fleet was based primarily on prewar design. In the one exception of the 8-inch treaty cruisers the standard was forced by the particular needs of England and Japan; while American operations required a different type. This situation also existed as regards fortifications, secondary defenses, naval bases, etc.
As a result of the Washington conference the normal adjustment of construction to technical developments was drastically suspended so that an awkward and unbalanced technical condition existed.
Unbalanced political conditions. — The governments agreeing to the Washington treaty came into power in the sharp reaction from the war and were almost immediately succeeded by others of different political views. Through the death of President Harding direction of American affairs was taken over by President Coolidge, with subsequent changes in the State and Navy Departments. Similar changes followed in England, with the Law, MacDonald, and Baldwin ministries; and in Japan. At the same time France, Italy, and Germany—reduced to a subordinate place at the Washington conference — commenced the reconstruction of their naval forces in such revolutionary types as the Ersatz Preussen; the 35-40 knot cruisers; large seagoing destroyers; and submarine cruisers. The naval, and with it the political, balance adjusted at the conference was thus disrupted; not sufficiently to result in war, but enough to cause considerable naval and political competition.
It was in response to these conditions that President Coolidge called the conference at Geneva in 1927. The attempt was foredoomed to failure. Both France and Italy declined to take part and without their cooperation there could be no adjustment between England and the United States on the vital matter of relative cruiser strength. Perhaps the one valuable result was the disclosure of real differences in point of view, which caused both the governments and the public to give more serious consideration to the whole problem.
The net result of the Geneva conference, as of the situation which it sought to correct, was a realization of the limited and artificial character of naval disarmament. With political agreement naval agreement was comparatively easy; without such agreement it would be futile and perhaps even dangerous to attempt limitation.
The London Naval Conference.—Almost immediately after the failure at Geneva the political situation was modified in all the important naval powers. In the United States Coolidge was succeeded by President Hoover-—by tradition, temperament, and training a liberal conservative and advocate of peace. In England the theoretical pacifist, MacDonald, succeeded the conservative Baldwin. In Japan the liberal elements came into at least nominal control. In Italy Mussolini was sufficiently established to risk negotiations, while the French attitude was more conciliatory than in 1927. With this political situation as a background and with a limited program it was possible to iron out many of the difficulties which had arisen since the Washington conference.
The conference in 1930, as that in 1921-22, afforded a breathing spell whereby nations slowly drifting into conflict could meet and remove certain of the more irritating problems. From that point it was a success. On the other hand, the conference revealed the impossibility of any permanent agreement outside of a world unification able to enforce peace between conflicting groups. England, Japan, and the United States, having effected a virtual triumvirate in 1921, were in a mood to adjust their differences and even to unite, to a certain degree, in bringing pressure on secondary naval powers. However, both France and Italy had reached a position of fundamental antagonism which could be removed only by the weakening of one or the other, or by sufficient external pressure to enforce adjustment. The first meant war; the second effective international authority. But situated as they are on the critical Mediterranean lines, their differences automatically upset the balance of power; with a latent possibility of their uniting in some form of a Latin confederation.
At the Washington conference the three major naval powers, the United States, England, Japan, had such an overwhelming superiority in both effective fleet strength and latent resources that they were able to dictate terms to the other nations, up to a point of national honor. At the London conference the situation was quite different. The limitations of the earlier treaty had greatly reduced the naval strength of the three major naval powers, particularly in the large class of semi-obsolete and secondary forces of especial value in minor operations, while the minor naval powers had either held their own or considerably increased their strength, as France, Italy, Germany. Moreover, technical developments during this period such as effectiveness of land air forces, the Diesel engine, high-velocity, small-caliber guns, lightweight and super steels, etc., have upset the technical balance between the various types of ships, while giving increased value to secondary and land forces. The net result was that the three major naval powers while able to agree among themselves, temporarily at least, had neither the political nor naval strength to force their program on the minor naval powers. As a matter of fact, it was Italy not England, Japan, or the United States which really determined the result at London. Reduction of battleship strength; limitations on carriers and landing decks; limitation of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines—these provisions increased the actual and potential strength of the minor naval powers at the expense of the three major powers. This fact was recognized in the “Escalator Clause,” which virtually destroyed the value of the treaty as a limitation on armaments, except as a matter of general agreement. By involving the possibility of additional construction it also tended to upset the agreement between the three major powers.
Under these conditions, the United States finds itself in the midst of a fluctuating and unbalanced naval situation. Nominally, a definite limitation of naval strength is secured between England, Japan, and this country; but not with France, Italy, or any of the minor naval powers except Germany (controlled by the Versailles Treaty). Actually, the agreement is little more than an expression of good will. It sets a tonnage ratio higher than this country desires, with the strong possibility of its being raised still higher in case of any important naval developments in Europe. It does not secure commerce protection, because the total number of cruisers is utterly inadequate to protect the trade routes and meet the needs of the battle fleet. It does not even protect the Panama Canal and the rich coast cities because the British-Japanese combination of fast battle cruisers and carriers is such that a strong air force could be thrown suddenly against one of these strategic points; avoid the coast defenses; and perhaps do considerable damage before driven back by the landplanes, while the American carriers and cruisers without battle-cruiser support are too weak to afford protection at sea and the battleships too slow. Without forgetting important advantages, it may be said that the London Naval Treaty of 1930 partakes largely of the character of a sedative or opiate, which temporarily produces a sense of quiet without removing the cause of the malady. As a temporary relief until the causes can be removed it may have considerable value; but if it induces neglect of these causes because of the temporary quiet it may become exceedingly harmful. In other words, if the naval treaty is regarded as a temporary relief while the causes of international competition are removed, it has value; if it is regarded as removing the causes, which it does not, then it becomes dangerous.
The effect of the treaty can be seen in the results which have followed in the few months since its ratification. As noted above, its success came about because of the temporary conjunction of liberal governments in the United States, England, Japan, France, and the willingness to negotiate on the part of Mussolini. Within the year of this meeting each of these governments, except that of Mussolini, has either been defeated (as in France) or has approached very close to such defeat, as in the United States and England. In 1921-22 there was a marked conservative reaction from the war represented by the conservative governments of Harding, Law, etc. At the Geneva conference the shift had already set in towards liberalism. At the London conference this had developed into a temporary conservative-liberal supremacy. Since the signing of the treaty this liberal and democratic swing has grown rapidly—as evidenced by the German and American elections—with further possibility of a strong ultra-conservative reaction which may result in temporary dictatorships or “strong” ministries in those nations suffering most from the post-war adjustment. Moreover, during this past year there has been a severe international economic and industrial depression upsetting the economic and political conditions throughout the world. Thus, hardly before the ink has dried on the ratifications, the conditions bringing about this treaty have been altered so that its results are problematical. There may be, as seems to be developing in the United States, a tendency to keep well below the standards permitted. On the other hand, a change of ministries in England, France, Italy, Japan, Germany, or Russia may bring these nations to the point of important military and naval preparations, or even actual war.
In effect, the London Naval Treaty has settled nothing.
The Present Situation
Present naval policy of the United States. —If the answer were to be frank it would be—none. For the years immediately following the Washington conference the administrations of Harding and Coolidge were content, which was perhaps wise, to merely complete the provisions of the war programs as they were modified by the treaties; with delayed construction of eight 8-inch cruisers in response to Old World developments. The fifteen-cruiser program, passed over the opposition of Presidents Coolidge and Hoover in the change between the two administrations, was voted to a considerable extent as a bluff to force concessions from England. The naval treaty was ratified by the Senate by a large majority in the face of determined opposition. Sentiment in Congress and throughout the country seems strongly inclined against conformity to the requirements of the treaty so far as new construction is concerned. With a clear inferiority to England and even to Japan in modern secondary forces (cruisers; seagoing destroyers; fleet submarines; auxiliaries; and new carriers) the general trend on the part both of the administration and of Congress is to limit new construction to an amount that hardly replaces the obsolescence of the pre-war cruisers. To that extent there is a naval policy—but one distinctly negative.
Even in the Navy Department itself there seems to be no clear policy. The strenuous conflict between advocates of the 8-inch and 6-inch cruisers, and the slow program of construction and reconstruction show that naval opinion is not united. Tradition and momentum favor certain policies—as heavier guns—but seemingly with only a limited consideration of the basic strategic problems involved. There is no definite policy as to a probable antagonist, except a general technical opposition to the British and Japanese Navies.
Pacifist opposition.—In the face of this negative naval policy of the administration and Congress there exists a pronounced and militant opposition to any increase whatever in the Navy, certainly as to new construction, and, in increasing measure, even to maintenance of the existing standard. Much of this opposition is purely emotional and, as in the campaign against the saloon, considers the Navy as the visible sign of the evil of war—to be restricted and eventually blotted out. Behind this movement, however, there is a considerable amount of clear and often brilliant reasoning which favors internationalism and would limit naval strength as a center of nationalism. Combined, these two movements possess sufficient strength to block, under existing conditions, any clear naval policy.
Political uncertainty.—In the previous pages it has been noted that naval policy reflects quite closely changes in political policies, subject only to the natural inertia of such a fixed and traditional organization as the fleet—viewed both materially and as an organization. The situation is that the country at the present time is at a dead center in the swing between liberal and conservative tendencies. Since the Harding landslide in 1920 there has been a steady swing towards liberalism; first affecting the Republican organization and now beginning to support that of the Democrats. In the Congress elected in November, 1930, there is an almost even balance between the two parties; with sufficient opposition from both to the administration to tie up all but routine administrative policies. It seems reasonably certain that the period from now to the 1932 election will be marked by a constant political agitation preventing any constructive legislation except of an emergency or special character; particularly as regards such disputed matters as the Navy.
The world situation.—What exists in the United States is a symptom of conditions throughout the world. Germany and Russia are on the verge of an outbreak at any time; China is in chronic disorder; India is seething with revolt; the Mohammedan world is quiescent, but liable to break forth upon sufficient provocation. Poland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Spain, Hungary, Turkey, and most of the Latin American nations are ruled by military dictatorships. England is facing a more difficult internal situation than has existed for generations, with the probability of a new election and a political readjustment. Japan is nominally quiet, but the extent of unemployment and internal dissatisfaction may cause serious disturbance. France alone of the major powers, together with Italy under Mussolini, may be regarded as reasonably stable; but these two nations seem drifting towards war. Of still greater significance is the almost universal economic depression, which both aggravates the political situation, while aggravated by the inability of fluctuating governments to take steps necessary for readjustment. On the whole, therefore, the world is in more of a transition than at any time since the immediate post-war period, without the strong stabilizing influence that came from the successful war governments in England, France, Japan, the United States, and the British Dominions.
In one sense the situation is not so serious as preceding the French and Russian Revolutions—with their extreme wretchedness— but sufficient unrest, unemployment, and dissatisfaction does exist to make it probable that there will be considerable readjustment and perhaps revolution and warfare before balance and peace are restored. The general situation is that of unbalanced forces in which a slight movement in one place may set the whole mass into commotion; which may easily lead to a succession of minor and even major wars.
Just how serious conditions are no one really knows. Things may quiet down; on the other hand, as Bywater and Gibbons suggest in their war stories (The Great Pacific War; The Red Napoleon), the world may be entering upon a revolutionary period quite comparable to that preceding the French Revolution.
Naval preparedness.-—At such a time it is futile to outline any clear-cut and definite program; because it is reasonably certain it will not be approved. The present is a period of unbalanced forces: political, economic, social, technical, racial, naval, military. It is impossible to predict from just what direction danger may come. Opinions and even sound judgment may suggest various remedies, but the probability is they will either not be understood or if accepted cannot be put into effect.
However, in a period of transition as the present there are certain suggestions which should prove of value:
Historical study.—As the problems of the past are understood and mastered the mind becomes accustomed to these periods of fluctuation and realizes the permanent within the transitory. Therein lies the value of Mahan, as well as the large number of able but more detailed historical studies. From Alexander studying philosophy at the feet of Aristotle and carrying a copy of Homer under his pillow on his campaigns on down through the ages to Mahan in the Spanish- American War or Churchill, Wilson, and Foch in the World War—study, particularly historical study, has formed the basis of achievement.
Technical conditions.—The very rapidity of technical changes makes it imperative they be understood. Such developments as the Diesel engine, the airplane, high-velocity and high-angle fire, fast torpedo craft, super steels are revolutionizing the whole mechanical technique of naval warfare. From changes in tactical and technical conditions they affect the expression, though not the principles of strategy, and make necessary a whole new theory of operation; which itself may change with the rapidity of modern technical changes, just as the automobile is revolutionizing modern life.
Political conditions.—To the naval officer especially it is important that political conditions, both at home and abroad, be clearly understood. As noted in this paper, the various political changes in the nation have determined not only the character of naval policy but even the types of ships and their construction. Therefore, it becomes essential that political conditions be followed and understood, not from a partisan point of view, but rather that from a knowledge of history and human nature the future may be understood in the light of the past and of the present.
Whether for the naval officer individually; for the various bureaus of the Department; or for the Navy as a whole, a time such as the present of seeming confusion may be most profitable in laying the foundation for a proper understanding of historical, technical, and political conditions; which will bear fruition in the years that are to come—just as similar periods laid the foundation for the work of Mahan, Scott, and Sims in preparing the British and American Navies for the World War.
Finally, it becomes important that events and movements and personalities be understood in their proper relation to each other. In the previous pages it has been seen that a single personality, President Wilson, tremendously altered the character of American sea power. The same was true in England with Churchill, or in Germany with von Tirpitz. History and science show the broad trend of events; personalities determine the action. It is in the combination of the two that history develops: sometimes on a large screen as with Napoleon; sometimes, and more often, in the daily course of ordinary routine.
This paper has taken up in a general way the growth and development of the Navy in relation to the political policies of the nation. As the nation has swung backward and forward between a political and a commercial program according to the respective influences of the Democratic or Republican parties, so the naval policy has alternated from one course to another. On the one hand there has been slowly developing—as an inheritance from England and the Revolutionary Navy—the tradition of a seagoing cruising and battle fleet primarily for commerce protection; on the other hand, there have been violent fluctuations, either towards the extreme of pacifism represented by the non-intercourse acts and gunboats of Jefferson, or the militant navalism of Wilson represented by the 1916 and 1919 Navy Acts and the 43,000-ton Indianas and Constitutions. Between these extremes the Navy has been forced to pursue a difficult and at times confusing policy, often of routine and national neglect.
At the present time the nation, and with it the Navy, are entering upon a probably short-lived period of rather extreme fluctuation ; represented on the one hand by militant pacifism, and on the other by an equally militant big Navy group. Between the two, as in the period preceding the war, the Navy will probably be maligned, neglected, and disorganized; it is this very period, however, which prepares the way for the decisive action of the subsequent crisis.
In time of peace the Navy must prepare for war.