“We who hold the Western Seas hold Liberty.”
Herodotus once told a story of the people of Psylli, the land which is now Tripoli; of how when the burning simoon had parched their reservoirs they met in council and declared war on the wind. With flying banners and the clash of arms their forces marched into the desert to attack the south wind which was their foe; and they disappeared into the red vortex of sand and storm and were never seen again.
At first glance the action of the people of Psylli seems the mere use of power without policy. However, there was a policy, if only a superstition translated in terms of action; the vanquishing of a public enemy by force. The trouble was that the means were not adequate to the occasion.
The war on the south wind by this ancient people may seem as remote as Herodotus from the question of foreign policy and naval power; but it does illustrate two things: one, that the people of Psylli went into battle convinced of their cause and the adequacy of their weapons, in the manner of nations from time immemorial entering into wars assured of righteousness and adequacy; and the other, that in spite of such popular convictions the means by which policy is to be made effective must
It is thus obvious that physical force alone does not assure the attainment of national ends. It must be directed by policy. If the mechanism of national defense is the motor, policy is the vital spark which makes it go. Today as never before there is a clearer appreciation of this relationship, and in a world beset by wars and the bitter struggle of conflicting philosophies of government the question of foreign policy, which is merely national policy as it affects other nations, and the question of naval power, which is the means and ability to hold the sea, are uppermost in the minds of statesmen.
For the naval officer these questions are of equal importance, and for the American naval officer the relation of foreign policy and naval power is even more vital, as American foreign policy is basically naval in character. Too often thought has been confused by putting policy and power in two separate compartments of the mind. The naval officer says to the diplomat, “You start the wars, we fight them.” There is no fixed point at which foreign policy leaves off and war begins. War is foreign policy; a terrible phase of foreign policy which admits the breakdown of peaceful measures, of diplomacy, but it is still, as I have said above, “national policy as it affects other nations.” More, some wars have been the deliberate expression of foreign policy, as anyone who has read Bismarck’s version of the Ems Despatch will agree. Naval power, therefore, and particularly in the case of the United States, is inseparably linked with foreign policy.
From these general conclusions it is appropriate in these harried days to review again American foreign policy in its relation to naval power. Both subjects have received exhaustive treatment from historians and naval writers. I feel, however, that there is room for an examination of our foreign policy from the standpoint of naval power and of naval power from the standpoint of foreign policy; particularly at present, when the coalescence of the Western Hemisphere into one defensive unit is dependent upon American naval power and is perhaps the outstanding feature of our present foreign policy.
Although today it seems too palpable for comment that the fleet is the first arm of American defense, this was not always appreciated in the popular mind. During the era of westward expansion and the great upsurge of industry it is doubtful if many Americans were aware of the essentiality of naval power to the United States. It is worthy of note, therefore, that with but two exceptions (and one of them was a partial exception) American foreign policy has been linked with naval power throughout the history of the Republic.
The warning lantern of Paul Revere stands out more brightly in American eyes than the battle lanterns of the allied fleets arrayed against England during the Revolutionary War; but few historians will deny that preponderance of naval power—the fleets of Holland, France, and Spain—was the key to American independence. Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, but De Grasse’s fleet was in the Chesapeake. The War of 1812 was even more clearly naval in character. Certainly it was largely naval in origin, resulting from the British Orders in Council and their illegal restrictions on American ships and seamen; and our principal success was naval. Even the great Duke of Wellington wrote the British Cabinet from Paris in 1814 that he had no objection to undertaking the conduct of the war in America but he promised himself no great success there, as “That which appears to me to be wanting in America is not a General, or General officers and troops, but a naval superiority on the Lakes.”
The Monroe Doctrine has without doubt been our second great foreign policy, a corollary of the decision to avoid complications in Europe made by Washington, Jefferson, and the other Founding Fathers. That it relied upon naval power for its sanction was implicit in the Doctrine, for not otherwise could European encroachment in the Western Hemisphere be prevented. This was set forth by Jefferson in one of the most succinct statements of American foreign policy ever made, in his famous letter to Monroe written at Monticello on October 24, 1823:
Our first and fundamental maxim should be, never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe. Our second, never to suffer Europe to meddle in cis-Atlantic affairs.... While the last is laboring to become the domicile of despotism, our endeavor should surely be to make our hemisphere that of freedom.
Adding that the co-operation of Great Britain should be sought in counteracting the forces of despotism in Europe, he concluded by saying, “For how would they propose to get at either enemy without superior fleets?”
The freshness of these words today, when the struggle once more is joined between the forces of liberty and despotism, reveals again how true foreign policy is an enduring thing, so fundamental that it can be tried in any situation and be found applicable. It can be made effective in the instance of the United States by naval power. Not, perhaps, by the rather direct expedient of Theodore Roosevelt and his famous ultimatum to the Kaiser during the second Venezuela affair, which he described afterward in the Oyster Bay speech: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.... In that particular case Dewey and the American Fleet represented the big stick.” The essence of fine diplomacy—the high art of making foreign policy effective without force—avoids ultimatums and big sticks. However, the diplomat who knows that the silent might of the fleet is the backdrop to the stage he has set is a surer protagonist in the drama of international relations.
It is not necessary to write a compendium of American diplomatic history to show the interrelation of foreign policy and naval power. Even in those cases where policy was essentially territorial in character—as for example, the questions of the boundary with Canada and the war with Mexico—there were naval considerations in view. Possession of the Oregon territory gave control of the North Pacific; of California, naval preponderance in the southern reaches of that ocean; of Texas, dominance of the Gulf of Mexico. These factors were made more vivid in the minds of those controlling American foreign policy by the obvious attitude of Great Britain with regard to the annexation of Texas; and it was later known that Mexico on the eve of war with the United States, in May, 1846, had approached Great Britain with an offer to cede California in return for a loan. Palmerston, realizing that events had moved too quickly for the tender to be made good, declined.
As for the foreign policy of the United States in East Asia, it has from the beginning been dependent upon naval power. During the opening of the Far East to the Western powers our diplomatic missions were amphibious, the envoy arriving with a squadron and backing up his words with the imminence of broadsides. That in most cases we did not use the broadsides is a credit to our diplomacy. Although Townsend Harris in Japan was an exception to this rule (for almost 1½ years he saw but one or two American ships and received not one instruction from the Department of State);* our first envoy to the East, Edmund Roberts, visited Muscat, Siam, and Annam in the U.S.S. Peacock; Caleb Cushing, the first American Commissioner to China, was sent out with two frigates and a sloop of war; and Perry, as everyone knows, secured the Treaty of Kanagawa and the opening of feudal Japan with a fleet.
* Yet in his Journal he plaintively wrote, May 5, 1857, “What can be the cause of this prolonged absence of an American man-of-war? ... I am more isolated than any American official in any part of the world. . . . The absence of a man-of-war also tends to weaken my influence with the Japanese.”
The history of American naval diplomacy in East Asia is long and a few examples will have to suffice here; but the linking of foreign policy with naval power is more apparent in the case of our Far Eastern policy than in any other instance with the exception of the policy which gave as its result the Panama Canal, whose very essence was the question of naval power.
It is not necessary to sketch for naval readers the Panama policy of the United States, as from the days of the Spanish Conquest, when Antonio Galvao published a book in 1550 advocating an interoceanic canal, down through the protracted negotiations with the British in the Clayton-Bulwer and Hay-Pauncefote Treaties, and to the time when President Roosevelt ordered the commanders of the Boston, Dixie, Atlanta, and Nashville to “prevent the landing of any armed force with hostile intent, either government or insurgent, at any point within fifty miles of Panama,” the question of the Isthmus has been a question of naval power in the Americas. Corollaries to the Panama policy were the later acquisition of canal rights in Nicaragua, the securing of a potential naval base on the Gulf of Fonseca, the purchase of the Virgin Islands, and the recently reawakened interest of the American government in the strategic function of the Caribbean Islands. Of similar importance was the policy with Cuba, which lay like a long stiletto at the heart of the rich Mississippi valley. The war with Spain was a combination of many factors and its results left the United States blinking—and a world power—but it would be difficult to deny that the soundest reason for American interest in the fate of Cuba was its importance as a factor of naval power.
In the Pacific naval power and foreign policy were likewise blended. Hawaii was annexed in 1898, and with Hawaii came Midway; while in the two subsequent years the United States gained formal possession of the Philippines, Guam, and Samoa. The great strategical fringe was formed, protecting the United States in the eastern Pacific, where like fleets at eternal anchor rode the islands, the Aleutians, Hawaii, and Samoa.
In the World War, after the first phase, when the struggle had become one of attrition, it was gradually realized that the holders of the seas would in the long run triumph. America’s entry to the war was fundamentally a question of the use or abuse of naval power, and the doctrine of the Freedom of the Seas harked back to the traditional American reaction as expressed in the War of 1812 on the question of belligerent restrictions on neutral ships and goods and men.
This review has been lengthy, but its purpose will be served in the conviction it brings, that with but two partial exceptions in the entire history of American foreign policy—the question of the Canadian boundary and the Mexican War—that policy has been linked with naval power. It has been a foreign policy in search of naval power, or in consolidation of naval power, or in use, active or passive, of naval powder; and this is true no matter what traditional American foreign policy may be referred to, whether the Monroe Doctrine, or the principle of no entanglements in Europe, or the East Asian policy of the United States.
As for American foreign policy today, there is no change in this basic relationship. The most authoritative recent statement of American foreign policy was that made on July 16, 1937, by the Secretary of State, which was later communicated to all the governments of the world, most of which expressed their concurrence. Secretary Hull said that the United States advocated the maintenance of peace; the use of national and international self-restraint; the abstinence by all nations from the use of force in the pursuit of policy and from interference in the internal affairs of other nations; the adjustment of international problems by peaceful negotiation; the faithful observance of international agreements and the sanctity of treaties; coupled with the modification of treaties only by orderly processes; respect for the rights of others; the revitalizing and strengthening of international law; the promotion of international security and stability in the world; the lowering or removing of trade barriers; equality of commercial opportunity; the limitation and reduction of armament; and no alliances or entangling commitments, although the United States believes in co-operative efforts in support of the principles thus set forth.
No alliances or entangling commitments. . .equality of commercial opportunity. . .respect for international law...the maintenance of peace. . .these declarations have a familiar ring. Some of them have echoed since the days of Washington and Jefferson. Others are newer, such as the resolution not to intervene in the domestic affairs of other nations, and Secretary Hull’s own great contribution toward the lowering of barriers to international trade, as exemplified in his trade agreements program. These are the principles upon which American foreign policy rests today. In essence they are merely the application to public and international morality of the long accepted rules of private and national morality.
Principles, however, must be applied in practice. Their application takes many forms, which we are accustomed to know by other labels, such as “Monroe Doctrine” or “Open Door”; but these separate policies are but the carrying out in specific ways of the general principles upon which the entire foreign policy is based. And the specific application of the foreign policies of the United States implicitly involves American naval power.
The foreign policy of the United States today would still seem to be the same as in the past: no entanglements in Europe; the consolidation of the Western Hemisphere as an oasis of peace in this troubled world; and a special policy for the Far East. There is, of course, a difference in the manner in which policy is today applied, as conditions have vastly changed in the world since these traditional lines of national action were first traced, but the basic philosophy imbued in them is the same. It will be the same so long as the stage of geography upon which history is enacted remains unchanged. And so long as the United States has 21,000 miles of oceanic coast line and possesses islands in distant seas, so long as it lies midway between the power-areas of Asia and Europe, its foreign policy will be made effective by naval power.
What is American foreign policy today? What will it be tomorrow? These are questions of equal concern to the diplomatist and the naval officer. We have read Secretary Hull’s declaration of the principles on which our foreign policy rests. How will those principles be made effective?
I have spoken of a special policy to guide the relations of the United States with East Asia. Historically this policy has been apart from the general norms by which our dealings with other countries were determined. Whereas in Europe we kept hands off, in the Far East we followed an opposite course, participating in extraterritorial jurisdiction, maintaining naval and military forces, and enunciating special principles by which the game of international competition was to be played. This Far Eastern policy was not so much a contradiction of our Latin American and European policies as an adaptation to different conditions; the very proof that a living foreign policy founded upon right principles can mold itself to varying circumstances. It seems probable that in the future as well the United States will have a special policy for the Far East. The vast drama enacted there today is not ended; and rather than one nation resurgent, there now are two.
We shall undoubtedly continue to hold that the Open Door Policy is equitable, not only in East Asia but everywhere, and we shall refuse to accept the fiat of hegemony-seeking nations that vast areas of the world can be closed—against the will of their inhabitants—to peaceful trade and the mutual betterment which orderly economic interchange brings. There seems to be no reason to suppose that the wise principle of most-favored-nation treatment upon which Commodore Kearny insisted before the Treaty of Nanking, or the Open Door Policy which Secretary Hay enunciated from the memorandum of W. W. Rockhill, will be cast aside because a saber is rattled above the plains of China.
Translating such policies in terms of naval power, one looks at maps, for strategy is the apotheosis of maps. One is struck by the fact that, although the oceans are vast, like wide doors they have small keys. There is a narrow lock at Panama and a narrow lock at Singapore, and both are held by nations which historically have maintained that the principle of the Open Door and equality of opportunity is just.
Again, the diplomatist and the strategist look at the slow clock of the years, which in this haste-ridden moment we are so apt to disregard, and ponder the fact that time is a great and silent ally. One recalls the question of time during the Russo-Japanese War; and the diplomatic victories of Count Witte at the council table in Portsmouth which redressed many of the victories of Nogi and Togo. Thinking of time and the Far East, one must adjust the perspective to milleniums and centuries, not mere years and months. In that long view it must be admitted that the rule of the closed door held sway for an infinitely longer time, both in Japan and China, than that of the Open Door. However, conditions have changed since the days of the Middle Kingdom and the tight insular feudalism of Dai Nihon, and the principle of equal opportunity for all will be found, as Secretary Hull has so eloquently shown, to be the most effective for the advancement of international prosperity. One would be indeed naive to fail to admit that other nations, following the theory that might makes right, do not hold to this view, and that by sheer force they have made their fiat effective in many parts of the world. However, the race is not yet run—and the keys to the oceans, at Singapore, Suez, Gibraltar, the Channel, the West Indies, and the Isthmus are yet held by the great sea powers which seek for equal opportunity for all.
In these days when the shadow of fear is dark over Europe and the speeches of national leaders at times sound like tribal incantations inciting to war, Americans are torn between two opposite feelings. One is an instinct as old as our country of sympathy for the oppressed and of indignation at outrage; and the other is equally old and even more instinctive—the canny assurance that it is sound self-preservation to stay out of “the broils of Europe.” This latter instinct is the basic American foreign policy toward that continent, but it is subject to variation, as the World War proved, when the other instinct is overwhelmingly aroused. It is instructive to remember that some of our most vigorous isolationists are among the most enthusiastic supporters of missionary societies; and that along with a healthy bump of prudence we Americans have the quick-fire of zeal. However, making allowances for these factors, American foreign policy in Europe is more negative than positive, and the function of naval power in that area is not to intervene in the troubles of the Old World but to prevent their spreading to the New.
Thus our Latin American policy today is the most important single expression of American foreign policy. It is so important that our attitude toward Europe has become a corollary to the main line, as the resolution has grown in the American people that the storm of war whirling over Asia and the Old World shall not cross either of the great oceans. The Good Neighbor policy of President Roosevelt was and still is applicable to all nations; but in a specific sense it has been taken to refer to the American republics, and within the last few months to Canada, as the Western Hemisphere of free peoples which shall remain free and at peace.
At no time in the history of the relations between the United States and Latin American has there existed greater cordiality between the American republics as a whole. Certainly there has never before been the liking for the United States which has come into being with the advent of the Good Neighbor policy and especially since the Buenos Aires conference called at the suggestion of President Roosevelt. Much of this good feeling has been due to the tardy conviction on the part of the Latin American nations that the United States was sincere in its statement that it would not intervene in the internal affairs of other states. Some of the feeling is due to the factors of geographical propinquity, and to economic ties. But below the surface there has been active a great centrifugal force—fear of the contamination of war from the other hemisphere. The means to counteract such a danger lie in the strength of union. And the principal strength of union in a strategic sense is the preponderant naval power of the United States. I have seen too many naval visits in South and Central American ports not to be familiar with the feeling they arouse at present in Latin American minds. We may have been the hated Colossus of the North, but today we are the Good Neighbor—and still a Colossus. And the giant’s strength lies not only in the richness of his fields and forests and mines but in his strong right arm, the fleet.
It is above all a triumph of American statesmanship that today this absolute naval strength in the New World arouses no fear nor the child of fear, hatred. More, I would be so bold as to say that there is no other great nation in the world, dominant in a hemisphere, whose might is regarded by its neighbors with a friendly and appreciative view rather than with enmity and trepidation. This is a unique state of affairs. Let us not flatter ourselves that it is due to the superior genius of the American people. It is due purely and simply to a benevolent combination of national self-interests; but the effect is good, and the circumstance is without parallel in this much troubled world.
In the future we shall see a strengthening of the ties between the other American republics and the United States. The attention of the Americas was recently centered on the Pan-American Conference at Lima. Conferences are useful. They afford an opportunity for statesmen and diplomats to get together and to know each other. They are bright lenses bringing into focus much international opinion. They symbolize union. But watch the more basic forces: the lines of trade, the increasing exchange of students and teachers, the spread of cultural tools, such as the press, and the effect of the radio. Above all, when the result of crisis in Europe and Asia is felt in the Western Hemisphere, the nations of the New World must perforce rely upon each other, as the less fortunate lands will be beset by other and more terrible problems.
In a continent largely dependent upon the sea as the highway of commerce, sea power is all important in the development of South America. The American republics can be attacked from abroad solely by sea; and they can be defended from attack solely by sea. The strong Good Neighbor portrayed by President Roosevelt holds a trident in his fist.
Perhaps now the parable with which this study opened does not seem farfetched. We have seen in the foreign policy of the United States, both past and present, an amazing consistency. We have found that foreign policy supported by means adequate to the occasion, and that in practically every occasion those means were essentially based on naval power, either latent or expressed. In other words, as our parable made clear, means adequate to the occasion depend upon environment. By the imperatives of geography American foreign policy has been linked with naval power.
The parable also demonstrated that without policy means become meaningless. However, American foreign policy in the long view of history has been full of meaning. It has developed, sometimes by the logic of events, and sometimes by the logic of prescience, with a pattern which would surprise those students of passing events who are so excited by the variations of the moment as to forget the center through which the pendulum swings. The essentials of American foreign policy have been traced in this review, and they have been as logical as the lines on maps.
Today we speak not of parables but of practice. The broad and basic policy of the United States at this juncture of history—the earnest will of its people to which statesmen and strategists are subject—is peace. First peace for ourselves and, to assure that end, peace in the Western Hemisphere. In other areas as well we seek for peace, as President Roosevelt’s September messages to Herr Hilter dramatically gave proof, but we shall not fight in Asia or Europe unless there is menace of aggression in the Western Hemisphere.
Defense against such aggression must be primarily naval. This was so when Jefferson thought by the fire at Monticello, saw in the golden flames the proud future of the nation he had helped to found, and pondered the means for its protection. This is so today when the representatives of the people reflect the desire of their constituents for a fleet which shall hold the seas warding the New World.
The first line of defense, however, is diplomacy and its direction is foreign policy. The self-respecting and strong Good Neighbor does not need to swagger. Rather would he achieve his objectives—the essence of private morality applied to public morality—with the quiet voice and the gloved hand of diplomacy. Good foreign policy is strong without being strident, firm without being fractious, and effective because it uses the natural lines of force which exist in the world by virtue of geography and that human element which becomes history.
However, in a world still suffering the growing pains of civilization, the defiance of those who live by the sword must at times be met by the sword, that those who thus live shall perish. It is then that foreign policy is carried out in its military and naval aspect. But the greatest effectiveness of American naval power throughout our history has been the guns which did not shoot—because they were so respected no need for shooting arose. This is still the day-by-day effectiveness of American naval power and foreign policy, the one making the other valid to win national objectives without the red sacrifice of war.
We who hold the Western Seas hold Liberty.