"Quicquid delirant reges plectuntur achivi"
For thousands of years the Mediterranean was the theater of struggle for economic world supremacy. Phoenicia, Greece, Carthage, Rome, and Venice, each in turn, rose to power. Along that littoral competition for economic dominance was decided by sea power.
The theater of struggle through the centuries slowly moved westward. Its location in large measure was based upon the availability and proximity of trade routes to India and China, containing one-half of the world's population. The denial by the Turks of the caravan routes from the eastern Mediterranean to the Far East and India forced world trade to seek the ocean routes via Cape of Good Hope and later, after the Americas were discovered, via Cape Horn. The Suez Canal and the Panama Canal now give secure transit by water to the Orient. The theater of a coming struggle, in consequence, has moved to the doorsteps of the Far East. There the naval battles of the future will be fought for economic world dominance.
Since the foundation of the United States of America, our statesmen ever have gazed defensively eastward toward Europe and our naval preparations were designed to ward off a threatened attack from across the Atlantic.
The Far East with its vast wealth of resources and buying power now fills the eyes of the leaders of the commercialized world. They are seeking to rescue their nations from the staggering physical and economic exhaustions of the World War. The momentum of competing nations will force the United States more and more into the arena of the Pacific and of the never changing East.
Economic situation in Pacific.—What is the economic importance of the Pacific Ocean to the United States? Where will competition between the industrial nations be strongest? Where are the rich fields of oil, coal, and iron, the three essentials of modern industry? Which of the great industrial nations have all three of these in sufficient quantities within their own borders?
China, teeming with millions of producers, has all three of the essentials of industry in vast quantities within her borders. The Philippines, Borneo, Straits Settlements, and Dutch East Indies are thinly populated with a people of little enlightenment and less industry. These islands contain vast resources desired by all industrial nations. New Guinea, New Zealand, and Australia in the south Pacific and Alaska in the north are all thinly populated and rich in resources. These continents and islands are prizes worthy of the severest competition to win untold wealth. The Mediterranean of the ancients is here duplicated in a wider and more complicated situation.
Five great nations are economic competitors for the potential wealth of the Far East and India—England, France, Japan, the United States, and a coming Russia. Each is bidding for the trade of the East. England and Japan are dependent upon outside resources, for they do not contain within their borders sufficient quantities of the essentials of industry to permit them unaided to become great industrial competitors in world trade.
One nation, Japan, is most favorably situated to reap the benefit of the wealth and markets of the Orient, for Japan lies across the doorsteps of China and her war fleets and merchant fleets are mobilized and based in those narrow seas.
Great Britain, the United States, France, and Russia lack adequate and protected bases for their fleets in these seas. They cannot exert their full sea power in that area, for sea power not only demands a fighting fleet but a secure base from which to operate it.
Great Britain is in possession of a large commercial port in China—Hongkong. The United States controls the great seaport of Manila, France holds Cochin China, and Russia northern Manchuria. Should no serious dispute arise between those now competing for the trade and wealth of the Orient, there will be no need of exerting naval might; yet should a dispute arise, Great Britain, France, the United States, and Russia must find themselves unable to exert their full sea power in those waters, while to operate a fleet there at all, can be done only with the utmost difficulty.
The three groups of Pacific islands of Germany, north of the equator—the Mariana, the Caroline, and the Marshall Islands—practically all were given to Japan by the treaty of Versailles. These islands lie on the direct route between Hawaii and the Philippines, cutting America's Far Eastern lines of communication both by water and air. The day will come, even during the lifetime of many of us, when great battleships and merchant liners of the air are no longer dreams; the disadvantage of passing through air controlled by a competing nation, in order to maintain vital communications with the Orient; must prove a serious handicap, if not an absolute hindrance.
These are some of the perplexities of the Far Eastern question. With a fair show of co-operation and friendship between competing industrial nations, we may be spared the wars that a similar situation certainly would have produced a hundred years ago. Unfortunately of late, the world seems to have become less sensible and has already forgotten the lesson of the recent titanic struggle—that modern war is not profitable even to the victors.
China requires outside help, both in money and supervision, to render useful her multitudes of producers and her vast resources of raw material. Each nation interested is naturally eager to render aid. The nation winning the prize will have gained a lasting advantage over all others.
One solution suggested is that nations combine and share equally the benefits of developing China. This is the essence of the open-door policy advocated by the United States.
Should Japan become China's industrial ally, the hundreds of millions of Chinese producers under Japanese leadership must result in every other industrial nation in the world building a high tariff wall about its own shores to exclude the cheap products of this alliance in order to protect its own economic life. China producing, while Japan with her genius for administration manages and transports the products, would surely undersell in the open markets of the world by a large margin, and this combination would be on a fair road to capture the markets of the world. Such an alliance would upset the present economic order and must force the other industrial nations to lower their standards of living in order to compete.
The military conquest of Manchuria by Japan and the establishment of the new state Manchukuo are translated as Japan's decision to gain economic control over a region twice the area of New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey together, with a population one-fifth that of the United States and with the richest soil in the world.
Sea Power an Economic Instrument
An approach to equality in naval armaments between rival economic nations in the past has led to war. Economic supremacy has always been the aim of sea power. Disturb the balance of sea power and we set the gates of the Temple of Janus ajar.
Great Britain for years occupied the position of mistress of the seas. From the day of Trafalgar, when French sea power was destroyed by Nelson, to the time when Germany considered her Navy sufficiently strong to challenge Britain's sea power, a period of 100 years, the latter's sea power saved the world from being disrupted by a universal war. The near equality of the British and German fleets made war a certainty.
The mainspring in the relations between nations is economic. War is merely trade competition pushed to its logical ultimate. Nations yet retain war as the final arbiter of their destinies.
Naval Policy based upon foreign policy.—It is only vaguely understood by our citizens that the State Department and not the Navy Department is responsible for the fundamentals of our naval policy. The State Department is the instrument used by the government in dealing with foreign powers. It elucidates our foreign policies. It makes representations and demands and sends ultimatums. It brings about strained relations between the United States and foreign powers; its acts plunge the nation into war or lead it on to an honorable peace. The Navy Department, in close harmony with the State Department, develops policies to back up the prestige and power of the statesmen and the nation.
The State Department cannot go it alone; it must be backed at every turn by the dynamic power of the nation. Many seem to believe that the old post-bellum diplomacy has been relegated to the limbo but such is not the case. The old rules are still in use and the respect given to representations and demands depends entirely upon the respect felt for the military and naval power of the country making them.
Changed situation due to defeat of Germany.—Before the World War, the eyes of our statesmen and military-men were turned eastward across the Atlantic towards the rising military and naval power which has now been defeated and shorn of its weapons. We had permitted our steadily growing interests in the Pacific to be relegated to a position of secondary importance in order to guard against the threatening situation which, for many years, seemed on the point of deluging the world in blood. Our fighting fleet was kept concentrated in the Atlantic and our frontiers facing Europe were prepared to defend the country from a possible invasion by German hordes. Our Atlantic dockyards had been expanded in order to care for the ships of our fleet. We have first-class navy yards at Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Norfolk, with secondary yards at Portsmouth, Charleston, and New Orleans. There are operating bases at Hampton Roads, Newport, New London, Key West, and Guantanamo. In most of the first-class navy yards is a 1,000-foot dry dock capable of taking the largest battleship or battle cruiser. The Panama Canal Zone, which faces both oceans, has a 1,000-foot dry dock and repair facilities for a fleet of no mean order.
It was a simple matter to transfer the fleet physically from the Atlantic to the Pacific but to move to that ocean our great eastern navy yards and bases is another matter. If we are, however, going to take up the task so long deferred of strengthening our Pacific frontier—and to do so is now imperative—we must somehow find the means, and this can be done only by great increases in the already enormous appropriations or else by a drastic cutting down of appropriations for all navy yards and bases on the Atlantic, using the money saved to build up the weak base facilities of the Pacific. Will the sectional patriotism of our people stand such a test? Will the eastern states be willing to hand over large sums of money to the western?
The war caused large expenditures to be made for the eastern navy yards and bases, for the war was in the Atlantic and we were preparing for a possible eventuality of fighting the German fleet on our own coast. With the bulk of our fleet in the Pacific, we have on the Atlantic littoral billions of dollars worth of government industrial plants. These plants must starve for lack of work. Unless some business solution of this problem is reached, large sums of money will be spent in keeping up these costly plants, merely to lie idle, money which instead should be used to increase the fighting power of the fleet.
The eastern navy yards which have facilities for building warships will function as usual, but with the fleet in the Pacific, the vast repair work ordinarily occupying so much of their time will be cut off. Some yards have been made into manufacturing yards solely, shipping their finished product to the west coast. Yet much of the activities of these eastern navy yards must automatically cease, for the nation now cannot afford to spend money except where it gives full value to the increase of our naval power.
Strategic situation in Pacific.—There are many nations vitally interested in the outcome of what may be called the Far Eastern question. There is China, with her teeming millions, industrious but awakening to militarism. The better classes are highly intelligent yet they allow their country to be split up into factional governments backed by foreign loans or bribes. China's soil contains vast resources awaiting the coming of modern processes to give itself to man. China's territory is large in area, so large that many languages or dialects are spoken and transportation is so inadequate that the Chinese are strangers even to themselves. Each province is like a foreign country to those adjoining it. The old central government never governed or administered China; it merely levied tribute upon the provinces to defray the expenses of the Imperial City, Peking.
Four nations are occupying Chinese territory either permanently or for the protection of their financial interests—England at Hongkong, France in Cochin China, Russia in parts of Manchuria, Japan in Manchuria. Holland and England own many valuable islands stretching from China to Australia. On many of these islands there are very valuable resources needed by the industrial world.
The United States, after acquiring the Philippine Islands by treaty from Spain in 1898 following a victorious war, has attempted several times to provide defenses for these islands but through lack of foresight coupled with a lack of co-ordination between the statesmen and the military and Navy, the defenses are inadequate. Along with the defense of the islands by guns, it was attempted to build up a base for the fleet, but the progress of modern weapons far outstripped the facilities provided, with the result that no base for a modern fleet now exists in the Philippine Islands nor can one be built according to the Washington treaty. The United States is not the only power that failed to foresee the value of a base for its fleet in the Far East. England allowed the facilities of her naval base at Hongkong to become obsolete. France made no attempt to provide a suitable base for her fleet at Saigon.
While the Great Britain of old was establishing her commerce all over the world and her merchant flag was seen in every sea, the security of this commerce was accomplished through bases capable of refitting her naval ships. The British statesmen and naval leaders of that day knew that wherever British fleets were drawn to protect the sea-borne commerce of the nation there must be a well-selected base for that fleet. Owning naval and commercial bases in all parts of the world, the fleet of Great Britain could physically "control the sea" and protect England's vital lines of communication. A modern fleet requires a base much more vitally than the fleets commanded by Hawke, Hood, Hughes, or Nelson. Each of these admirals aided in winning for England the bulk of the commerce of the world. Without a base, a modern fleet cannot operate long and never can do so in safety. Such a base requires years to develop. A fleet can go only a limited distance and then must have means of replenishing its coal, oil, and stores. Admiral Jellicoe complained that Scapa, the natural strategical position for the Grand Fleet, was not prepared to base and protect the fleet. Fortunately, distances to bases in the British Isles were not great and his superiority over the Germans permitted him to send his ships to home bases in turn for refit and dry-docking. What would have been the complaint of the British admiral at Scapa if there had been no bases nearer than New York? Unless in vastly superior numbers, a fleet without a secure base cannot successfully operate against an enemy fleet well based in a locality. The deficient fleet would soon fall a victim to incessant attacks by its enemy from the air, gunfire, torpedoes, and mines. There would be no facilities such as great industrial shops and dry docks to make good damages sustained in action. Slowly the speed of the ships would melt away from fouling of their bottoms and every shell, torpedo, mine, or bomb hit would remain a festering sore in the sides of the great dreadnoughts.
Great Britain, to carry on a war in the Far East, would be forced to repair and refit her damaged battleships and light craft many thousands of miles from the scene of war operations and run the risk of gradual reduction in fighting power by attrition. A fleet action would be denied until the enemy felt himself strong enough to win. France's nearest base is in her home territory. The nearest fleet base for the United States is in the Hawaiian Islands, nearly 4,000 miles from the Far East. Even in Hawaii facilities for basing and equipping a war fleet are inadequate.
There is a cardinal lesson of history that to protect commerce in different parts of the world, a nation must have outlying repair bases at its disposal in the event of serious disputes with competing nations, in order that a fleet may be sent to that part of the world and, should the dispute result in war, be on an equality of footing with any enemy. The principle is the same as that employed by Rome and her legions with roads to every part of the Empire. That lesson, long the guiding star of Great Britain, was neglected after the German menace occupied the serious attention of her statesmen. Our dilatory naval policy for the Far East likewise prevented the United States from taking to heart the lesson.
There is today but one power holding a commanding naval position in the western Pacific. Japan has a formidable fleet and adequate bases for its support. She has become a very desirable ally of any other industrially inclined nation wishing to share in the development of the Far East.
Strategical situation in eastern Pacific.— The United States owns several great bases in the eastern Pacific. There are navy yards at Puget Sound and San Francisco and Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in addition to the large repair base and dry dock in the Canal Zone. Other nations having no base in this locality cannot operate their fleets in these waters except by accepting the handicap of attrition and the gradual diminution of their fighting power. The security of Alaska and Samoa is fairly insured by our fleet based in the eastern Pacific.
It is not unknown to our economic competitors that our original intention, more or less hazy it is true, was to provide bases for our fleet not only in Hawaii but also in Guam and in the Philippine Islands. If this had been accomplished, it would have been, figuratively speaking, building a marine highway for our fleet to the Orient, in order that it could be sent to that locality to back up dynamically the voice of the nation. That highway has not been completed. It ends about 2,000 miles westward from the Hawaiian Islands. At this point the fleet must turn back, for it has reached the limit of its range.
When the Panama Canal was contemplated, it was claimed that it would make our seacoast continuous and permit us to utilize the fleet in either ocean at will. Some even went so far as to say the Canal would double the effect of our fleet. As it was necessary to build a lock canal and as a canal of this type can be put out of operation for years by judiciously placed explosives, we cannot say that our coasts are really continuous. Concentration is a cardinal and fundamental principle of strategy. Dividing the fleet and putting a lock canal between the two divisions is taking a "sporting chance."
Only one nation holds today a commanding naval position in the eastern Pacific, for like Japan in the western Pacific, the United States has a formidable fleet and fairly adequate bases for its support.
United States Policy in the Pacific
A nation must have the means to protect its industrial prosperity abroad, for upon that, in large measure, depends its prosperity at home. In time of war, foreign commerce gives a belligerent necessary credit to continue the war. To a nation geographically situated as is the United States, over-seas trade is an important function of its economic life. Any act that suspends or stops this trade strikes a blow at the nation's heart. So important is foreign trade considered by all nations that it is becoming more and more a national concern, created, nourished, and protected at all times largely at government expense.
For this country, the sea furnishes the greater part of its lines of communication. From the sea come many essential products necessary in the economic life of the nation.
The effectual cutting of lines of communication of an enemy is the aim of strategy in war.
Destruction of the enemy's commerce can be accomplished without the direct aid of the great dreadnought and battle cruiser. The submarine has proved a most efficient weapon to that end. The airplane will prove a most useful auxiliary for this purpose. More efficient than either are fast surface warships with their numerous guns. To destroy commerce with surface warships, the command of the surface of the sea must be obtained or at least this command must be disputed.
It seems an obsession with us in the United States to be hoping that some one, some day, will make a discovery which in an instant will make futile all the many expensive instruments of naval warfare. The effect of this mental disorder, or psychosis as medical men might call it, is to cause us to neglect complete naval preparation, putting our trust in half thought-out theories for the annihilation of the surface ships of a possible foe. These theories or substitutes for naval preparedness are conceived usually by men whose mental faculties are well equipped for thought within familiar limitations of their professions, but who, when they invade a field so foreign to their experience as war on the sea, naturally enough stumble and fall. They fail because their estimate has neglected to consider nature's laws of growth. Their premises do not take into account the vast experiences gained by the naval art through centuries of evolution or the environment of the sea upon which their creations will be used.
This psychosis of the American people has caused great concern to our students of naval war. It is well enough to give play to the imagination to stimulate the lay mind with articles and stories that are delightful in their seeming scientific demonstration, but such ideas must not be accepted as anything except a means of passing a pleasant hour. If taken seriously by our citizens, they become harmful to the mass mind of the nation. They inhibit naval preparation.
The naval conscience forbids keeping the people lulled to inaction, because it recognizes the danger to the nation of this mass psychosis or irrational thinking, and knows only too well that successful results in war on the sea must follow inevitably, as night follows day, long and careful preparation.
Whether we like it or not, Japan has made herself impregnable in the waters of the Far East. That nation controls today the strategic and economic situation in the Orient. Japan withdrew from the League of Nations because she came to realize that her ideas were not being understood and her leaders knew that the people of Japan would never peacefully submit to a retreat from what had been done in Manchuria. The Japanese statesmen and military men probably understand China and the Chinese better than the leaders of any other nation. They only too well realize what is happening in China and what is likely to rise out of the turmoil now raging.
Bolshevism was possible in Russia because of the lack of a great middle class; China is in the same position. China is ruled by a small number of intellectuals, but the greater mass of the 400,000,000 are of the lowest order of humanity—hewers of stone and drawers of water. Remove the faltering hand of the intellectual in China and universal chaos will be the result.
The other great nations interested in the Far East are in no position to make their influence felt. Japan alone can act to save out of the coming debacle what her nationals and the government have invested in China's soil, and with her own investments safeguarded, other foreign investments may be partially saved.
Japan probably considers it likely that a Bolshevik Russia and a coming Bolshevik China will become allies. If Japan cannot prevent China from becoming Bolshevik, she can at least protect herself against that effect. It is really a clash between two diametrically opposite ideas of government, that cannot exist side by side. Japan would like to be on friendly terms with China, but this seems impossible. The antagonism of the Chinese toward the Japanese is centuries old. It is in fact almost fundamental. Characteristically, these races are as opposite as the poles. Japan has set up a neutral ground between herself and a Bolshevik Russia and a potentially Bolshevik China and has built a fleet of warships of all types capable of protecting her vital lines of sea communications against all corners. It is the firm belief of the writer that Japan is not bent upon war. What she needs most is time to consolidate her holdings and create resources for her millions of subjects to prevent lasting depression, if not starvation.
Japan has a population of over 60,000,000 people and is adding by birth 1,000,000 mouths a year to feed. In Japan, there is standing room only. Her leaders foresaw that the nation must expand to the Asiatic mainland, else be faced with an economic situation impossible to consider. A labor of years was at stake. Japan, from bitter experience after her wars with China and Russia, had learned that she must be capable of giving dynamic backing to her vital policies toward China. Japan knew that naval preparation, in order that her fleet would be powerful enough to discourage armed interference, was an axiom to the China policy. In consequence, she has maintained her Navy up to treaty strength and, it is said, now desires equality with Great Britain and the United States to make certain that she can continue with perfect security her undertaking to establish herself permanently on the Asiatic mainland. Mistrusting the good intentions of the other great powers, Japan has decided to play a lone hand in the Orient.
America can never expect to have an adequate base for her fleet in the Orient. A fleet base capable of giving support to the fleet would cost many millions of dollars. It is said that the United States has spent over $50,000,000 on Pearl Harbor without making it adequate. Under the wavering policy of Congress toward the independence of the Filipinos, there can be no hope of consideration by Congress of a large outlay of money for developing the Manila base. Without a base, a fleet is almost impotent against an equal antagonist with suitable bases in the area of possible hostilities. It would seem therefore that our policy in the Orient must be one of toleration and understanding. Blustering notes and saber rattlings merely aggravate an already delicate situation. Our attitude should be one of friendship toward Japan, China, and Russia. Fundamentally, we must be on our guard against being drawn in or taking sides in any disputes between those three nations.
What we have to guard in the Pacific primarily is Alaska, Hawaii, and American Samoa. We should build up our defenses in those areas and stand firmly on our own territory, holding command of the sea in localities that affect the safety of our possessions, excluding the Philippines and Guam. It seems quite impossible to follow England's policy of far-flung bases for her fleet, because the nature of our government and the character of our people will not permit of the permanent governing of backward races. The Philippines eventually will be given their independence. When that comes, we should withdraw bag and baggage from those islands. In reality, they have always been a source of strategical weakness to us.
The retention of our influence in the Orient, in order to insure justice to our trade in Siberia and China and for the protection of our nationals in those areas, has become increasingly difficult. Our sea power in the Orient cannot exist without a securely held fleet base in those waters. Japanese sea power now holds the winning cards. Our neglect of naval preparations has brought on us this situation. We may be said therefore to be faced with two alternatives:
- Hold the Philippines and build an adequate fleet base for our fleet.
- Withdraw to the Alaska, Hawaii, Samoa line, giving up the Philippines.
The first is probably impossible to accomplish and would incur the distrust of Japan. The second will give us adequate naval defense of our holdings in the Pacific area, but would cause our influence in the Far East to be without the dynamic power to back up a policy not agreed to by the overlords of the Orient.
The situation thus becomes one that our statesmen must solve. Reciprocal trade treaties and carefully guided friendly relations between Japan, Russia, and the United States under the circumstances will give us more lasting and better results than any amount of saber rattling and for the present it is along that line that our Far Eastern policy should lie.