“It is later than you think.”
In the period of World War II, men everywhere have been fascinated by the notion of geopolitics, conceived as a scientific but shrewd set of theorems which have given direction and driving force to the Nazi plan of conquest. In an atmosphere of mystery, and with a language of their own as bizarre as it is obscure, General Karl Haushofer and his colleagues at the Munich Institute for Geopolitics have devoted a quarter century to creating a pseudo-scientific foundation for Teutonic expansion. Had it been fully successful, the scheme would have made Adolf Hitler the master of a world empire combining the historic features of Genghis Khan’s continental domain and Britain’s far-flung empire of our own time.
Fortunately, the project was faulty in the execution even more than in the conception, and the danger of its realization is ended— however far the road to its complete frustration. Yet geopolitics, the dynamic theory underlying the Nazi assault on our world, has a vitality—and in some degree a validity— quite its own. Nazis and Geopolitikers are not quite the same folk, nor is National Socialist doctrine identical with geopolitical theory. Rather, the somewhat scientific notions of Haushofer have been subverted to serve the ends of a wholly unscientific, fiercely fanatical Nazi lust for world power.
Out of the indefatigable labors of the geopoliticians at Munich, there have emerged some ideas which require examination and evaluation on their merits, separated so far as possible from the immediate, ruthless Nazi policies which they have served. In the technics of warfare, we have learned much from the enemy. It is always so in war. In the formulation of foreign policy from realistic studies of geography, we may learn something also. For there is no essential link between the beating of Jews and the burning of Heine’s books, on the one hand, and the hard core of common sense that exists inside the shabby package of geopolitics.
In order to find the useful fragments of sound doctrine, it is essential to distinguish between geopolitics and Nazi ideology, inseparable as they sometimes appear. And it is necessary also to distinguish the special notions—Lebensraum, and the like—which serve a crowded, continental state bent on expansion at any cost, from the broader concepts which would be useful to an insular power, like the United States, concerned only with the defense of its own territory and spreading interests. Indeed, the first lesson to be learned from geopolitics is that national policy arises from geography, which means that a geopolitically sound policy for one state will not be sound for another, in differing conditions. Above all, it is essential to bear in mind the fact that “space” may be land space, in the heart of the European- Asiatic land mass, or it may be oceanic space, reaching from California to the islands of Japan. Geopolitics is not so parochial that it ignores sea power. On the contrary, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan may justly be described as the first scientific geopolitician of them all in modern times. It is indeed the fundamental thesis of this essay that America has, in the writings of its greatest naval strategist, the solid bedrock of an enlightened, workable geopolitics. Modified to take account of the dynamic impact of air power, this core of enduring military doctrine holds out the prospect of a geopolitical theory at least as workable for America as was the Geopolitik of Haushofer for Germany—and considerably healthier for the world.
Geopolitics, to take a convenient definition, is the science of the relationship between space and politics which attempts to put geographical knowledge at the service of political leaders. It is more than political geography, which is descriptive. It springs from national aspirations, searches out facts and principles which can serve national ends. Thus Karl Haushofer, inheriting the solid work of political geographers like Friedrich Ratzel as the scientific foundation of his own work, went far beyond science, and formulated a program of Teutonic expansion—expansion to which he never set a limit, save in the adjuration to Germans to “think in terms of the planet.” He began, as Hitler began his meteoric discoloration of modern history, in the frustration and disillusionment of the early 1920’s, in the search for a magical formula to make the Reich a great world power in spite of the defeat of 1918.
While Hitler’s troubled brain proceeded mystically in terms of the destiny of the Aryan race, conveniently defined as Germanic, Haushofer’s broader notion was rooted in the concept of Lebensraum—living space. He drew heavily on the Scottish geographer, Sir Halford J. Mackinder, who envisioned the world as a pattern of continental and island masses centered on the immense land space of central Asia. This was the “heartland,” command of which carried with it ultimate command of the world empire. This took form in the Munich school as the space into which the German Reich must expand at any cost. Lebensraum, in the writings of the Munich geopoliticians, meant primarily the absorption of the “heartland” into a colossal Reich. After that, the outlying islands and lesser continents would be made tributary to the Teutonic masters, firmly astride the Euro-Asiatic continent.
The theoretical ideas back of this grandiose expansion scheme are rather intangible and do not lend themselves to compact restatement. At Munich they have written much of the “space sense.” Peoples who have it grow to greatness. Those who lack it remain static or shrivel. The German word Raum conveys a more dynamic feeling than the English word “space.” It suggests “space for growth or expansion.” Thus Lebensraum has a powerful emotional appeal especially to defeated, frustrated peoples.
The sea, it is admitted even in Middle Europe, is the greatest space of all. And the geopoliticians concede, at least in theory, that national greatness comes only with expansion across the oceans. Rut they soft- pedal the argument for developing sea power, for they believe above all in achieving one goal at a time. Just as Hitler planned to annihilate his enemies one by one, so Haushofer proposed to use land armies against near-by enemies; and only after mastery of the heartland was assured would he make an outright bid for naval hegemony. In plain fact, a German Reich controlling the whole of continental Europe would have commanded shipyards many times greater in capacity than those of the British Isles, and sea bases enough to smother British naval power.
Air power was the Geopolitikers’ delight. It sweeps over rivers, lakes, and straits, and even over mountain ranges—the prime military obstacles of all history. The fanatical scholars of Munich rejoiced in the Luftwaffe, which was to free them from the traditional barriers to conquest—the Vosges, the Pripet Marshes, the Alps if need be, the Dardanelles, the narrow reaches of the Mediterranean—the English Channel itself. In some considerable measure, their hopes were borne out, as the reinforcement and supply of Rommel’s army in Africa by air transport confirmed. They rejoiced also that air power was shattering the importance of bases without a hinterland—such as Gibraltar, Malta, and Hongkong. Here again, history proves the geographers saw clearly the shape of things to come, even though Malta remained a sharp thorn in the Nazi side to the final crumbling of Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
Nowhere is the calculated vagueness of German geopolitics more evident than in the discussion of boundaries. General Haushofer never talked of boundary lines, but of boundary regions, or zones. A correct frontier, he argued, would include all folk of a common culture, which by his formula of racial definition carried the eastern frontiers of the Reich almost to the Urals. But an adequate military frontier, he also insisted, was still more essential. It must be the naturally defensible frontier; and Germany’s tragedy, as he saw it in the 1920’s and 1930’s, was that the Reich never had been able to expand to her true strategic frontiers.
These fragments of geopolitical theory will at least suggest the subject matter and the approach of the men of Munich. On the whole, they did not really frame national policy on the basis of geography. Rather, geographical facts were used, and often shrewdly, to serve the ends of a predetermined national policy—one of patient but relentless expansion, to limits never quite fixed, towards a horizon forever receding with each military advance.
In more concrete terms, all this was interpreted by Haushofer to mean that the Third Reich had two primary enemies, France and Poland being ignored as secondary powers. These enemies were Great Britain and Soviet Russia. It was necessary to overcome Britain because British sea power, based on Gibraltar, Malta, Suez, Aden, Indian ports, Singapore and Hongkong, had contained the Euro-Asiatic land mass. Commanding the periphery, served by abundant bases, the British fleet in fact dominated Asia and Europe—a fact Mahan had driven home to the Germans fifty years before. Russia was the secondary enemy, and a close second, because she occupied the heartland, the never-too-well-de- fined central space of Euro-Asia from which any mighty conqueror—Genghis Khan or Hitler or someone else—could make the round world his oyster.
Wilhelm II faced a similar dilemma at the turn of the century, with the same enemies and much the same ambitions, albeit with a different set of slogans. Unduly influenced by Mahan, the forerunner of many less admirable geopoliticians, Wilhelm put The Influence of Sea Power upon History into the libraries of his naval vessels, preached Mahan’s doctrine steadily, and launched the naval building program which brought London into tight alliance with Paris and Petrograd. The splendid futility of the German High Seas Fleet, 1914-18, did not discredit Mahan. It merely confirmed two facts—that the second- best of two fleets is not worth much, and that Germany was a continental power, to whom the maritime geopolitics of Mahan was not directly applicable.
Hitler and Haushofer alike had perceived Wilhelm’s error, which forced him into a two- front war and yet gave him no access to the oceans. Their precious steel they put into undersea raiding craft and tanks. Their main strength they put into mobile land armies and attack aviation. The underlying strategy of the Third Reich, at the risk of undue generalization, may be summarized as (1) to shatter British sea power by overwhelming its land bases in the homeland and the Mediterranean, and (2) to build a fortress of unprecedented war potential in Euro-Asia by seizing from Russia the grain and oil country of the heartland and adding this to a Nazi-regimented Europe.
Japan’s allotted role, a notion planned by Haushofer and sold to Hitler in 1936 despite Nazi party opposition, was to have dovetailed smoothly. Japan was to overwhelm the Far Eastern seats of British sea power, which she in fact did, tardily, and to weaken Russian resistance to the Reichswehr by threat or assault at the Siberian frontier.
Haushofer would have done a number of things differently. He had lived long in Japan, formed a high opinion of their “space sense,” and predicted that as long as they advanced cautiously, justifying every expansion to the outside world by shrewd propaganda, the Japanese would be successful in their quest for Lebensraum. A time came when Japan’s expansion became unbridled and encountered a resistance which today foreshadows its doom.
Haushofer evidently did not believe in the direct assault on Russia, as launched in the summer of 1941. He was too conscious of the disasters met by Wilhelm in a war on two fronts. But the Nazi thrust into the Ukraine and the Caucasus, into the very heart of the heartland, fits the general pattern of geopolitical thinking. The strategy, if not the timing, was Haushofer’s as much as Hitler’s. The tactical decision to strike in late June of 1941 by direct invasion may have arisen from the fear of British sea power, which sets limits on the staying powers of the Third Reich—unless it could absorb the breadstuff’s and petroleum of the heartland.
In any event, it is not unfair to treat Nazi strategy in World War II as substantially an application of the geopolitics of the Munich school. The assault on the British Isles beginning in August of 1940 recognized Britain’s place as Number 1 enemy. But it failed, by a hair’s breadth. The German bid for Alexandria and Suez, similarly, fitted the geopolitical pattern, as an attempt to shatter British sea power on the southern margin of the heartland and open the way to a German- Japanese scissors drive against India. This too failed by a narrow margin, with the “honorary Aryans” coming rather closer to India than the original Aryans.
The invasion of Russia brought phenomenal successes, but not final victory. Japan, using sea power, air power, and land armies in shrewd combination, played her designated role by the seizure of every British naval base in the Far East, excepting secondary positions in Australia. But Haushofer, Hitler, and their Japanese collaborators did not take proper account of the immense reserves of strength in the United States, whose sea power is deliberately whittling away the foundations of Japanese hegemony in the waters of the Far East.
Let it be understood that the pursuit of Lebensraum brought stupendous achievements. At the height of their conquests, the Axis Powers controlled territories occupied by more than half the people of the earth. From his fastness in the Asiatic heartland, Genghis Khan could have boasted no more. At the climax of his brief era of magnificent achievement, Bonaparte had not made even so large a dent on the task of world conquest. Whether because of the essential validity of their geopolitical premises, or because of the indolence and passivity of their victims, the Axis leaders almost conquered the round world in 1941.
What was wrong? There were initial errors of judgment, such as the contemptuous assumption that Britain would not go to war over the violation of Poland. There was delay and there was hesitation in the aerial assault on England in 1940, when the battle for the world was moving like clockwork. Back of this was the “geopolitical” error of supposing that air power by itself, confined largely to the Junker dive bomber, could in a moment make obsolescent the moat in which British sea power had operated to safeguard the island kingdom for centuries. The Geopolitikers might have known that a geographical reality like the Strait of Dover cannot be repealed, as though it were a manmade statute, by the invention of aircraft.
The drive for Alexandria was perhaps the most terrifying of all the onslaughts of the Nazis, for those who had the imagination to envision the destruction of Britain’s strategic pivot in the Near East. But here again, sea power intervened, making possible the creation and provisioning of a great army in Egypt to stay the advance of Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Sea power likewise served to interrupt Axis communications across the Mediterranean, setting a top limit on the force at Rommel’s disposal. And the time was to come when Allied sea power, reinforced after Pearl Harbor, would bring powerful armies into North Africa, to join with the British Eighth Army and crush the Afrika Korps in the jaws of a vise.
It is not a clear-cut case. The war was never simply one of sea power against land power, or air power against cither. The Soviet Union fought with infantry, mobile artillery, and tanks—and blood beyond measure. The resistance to the assault on England came primarily from the Royal Air Force. It was the less dramatic mission of the Royal Navy, at that time, simply to limit the German assault to -the air arm, and by being at hand to forbid an invasion attempt. The Nazis lost in Russia because they did not reckon sufficiently with Russian courage, and training and numbers—or with Russian space. They lost in the air over Britain because their numbers of aircraft could not match the quality of Britain’s. Yet back of it all there is the unmistakable fact that sea power was the weapon the Allies had in superb measure and which the Axis powers lacked. It was and is the only weapon in which such disparity could be discerned.
By the logic of geopolitics, sea power should not have mattered much in 1940-41, however vital it was to become in succeeding years. Germany stood supreme in continental Europe, from the Pyrenees to the Dnieper, from the northernmost cape of Norway to the Sahara. All Europe, and all Europe’s immense resources, were at the service of the Axis war machine. All Europe was Hitler’s fief. Obviously, sea blockade of itself could not play the part it had played from 1914 to 1918, when Germany was trapped in the middle of Europe, deprived of the bulk of Europe’s resources. Despite this, once the drive into the Ukraine bogged down, the naval blockade began to tell. And sea power, apart from blockade, simply as a tool of logistics, made possible the first decisive blows of an offensive character.
It would seem that Mahan had something to say which Haushofer and his colleagues in Munich had ignored—despite their zealous study of his writings. Hitler had not made the blunder of Wilhelm, had not tried to essay the role of a great maritime power without having the basic ingredients. But he had ignored some of the most elementary lessons of geopolitics. He had built his own case, to his fellow-countrymen, upon the flimsy foundation of a preposterous racial myth, instead of the solid bedrock of geographical realities. In so doing, he had antagonized the world quite needlessly. And he had let himself into the familiar trap, which Wilhelm’s experience warned against, of facing British sea power and Russian space simultaneously. Not even in his most ardent moments did General Haushofer propose the seizure of the Asiatic heartland, at the same time engaging the far-ranging naval power of Great Britain.
It was a fortunate series of miscalculations, from our own point of view. We can learn something, both from the near-success of the Nazi bid for world dominion and from its failure.
The nearness of Axis triumph and the subsequent collapse of Axis hopes point to the same conclusion—that geography does in fact hold the key, the primary key, to foreign policy and military policy. There is no magic formula to be discovered, to be sure. Sea power will not serve a landlocked Germany —for raiding undersea craft, however vicious, do not produce sea power, which is the sure command of oceanic communication lines. Emergent air power has not annihilated the insular character of England, however it may have modified England’s reliance on surface craft alone for her defense. On the other hand, the weapons and stratagems which were so nearly successful for the Nazis would not serve a truly insular power, such as the United States.
In a search for a geopolitical doctrine of our own, we are driven inescapably to lay aside the formulas of other great military powers, and to start afresh. For any given nation, a geopolitics must be tailor-made, fashioned out of the basic materials of geography. Nor is it enough to assemble the geographic data that are pertinent, and call these a Geopolilik. They arc but the stuff from which a geopolitical theory is formed. For geopolitics, by definition, is more than merely descriptive. It is a policy, a scheme of national action, stemming from stated national aspirations, conditioned by geographic facts.
Germany, for example, is a landlocked, continental power. She might, as she nearly did in fact, march an army overland to grasp the strategic places which command the traditional sea routes from Europe to Asia. She might, by the exertions of her armies and supporting aircraft, assert mastery of Europe, the richest of the continents, even today. By the exercise of earth-bound military power, she might establish dominion over 500,000,000 of the most productive folk of the world.
Such achievements would not be open to the United States, even if her people willed them. Nor are they open to the British, insular also, in a different sense. Great Britain provides a different example. Apart from an abundance of good steam coal, her natural resources in the homeland are negligible. Her island lies but 20 miles from the shore of Europe. Her capital and chief city is within easy range of fighter aircraft and rocket shells launched by a continental enemy. Patently, a realistic policy for Britain would not be appropriate for the United States, much as we may learn from Britain’s naval policy and her intuitive geopolitics.
The Soviet Union comes nearer to our own position, in outward, superficial terms, for it has an amplitude of space and a wealth of natural resources comparable to our own, along with a diversity of racial components. Yet the Russians confront powerful military states on either side, within easy striking distance of Soviet soil; and they have no ice-free harbor of practical utility on any open ocean. In the lexicon of geopolitics, in the geography of military strategy, their conditions are utterly unlike our own. Clearly, a Russian Geopolilik cannot hold much interest for us, beyond noting that the historic obsession of every Russian government, of whatever ideology, has been to acquire an ice-free port on blue water.
Thus we are driven to look in upon our own land, to study our own geography, to analyze our own national aspirations, and to shape our own geopolitics.
And one does not need to proceed very far in this search to discover that we have had some tolerably good geopoliticians all through our history, even though they never heard that intriguing term mentioned. Jefferson would scarcely feel comfortable with General Karl Haushofer, if they were to meet. But he had what the General would call “a feeling for space” when he concluded the Louisiana Purchase. The American people generally cannot be called zealots for national expansion. Yet there was a time when the phrase! “54-40 or fight” was on the lips of every American. It took a long time to sell the Caribbean to the statesmen of America—a task to which Mahan devoted many laborious hours. And yet the canal was built. Bases on its approaches were acquired, piecemeal and unostentatiously. Perhaps the best example of geopolitics in action came in 1823, when Monroe and the second Adams looked out at Latin America, with a “sense of space” yet to be so described, and issued the statement to be known as the Monroe Doctrine. It was one of those singularly luminous perceptions which mark statesmanship at its best. In it, our leaders of that age set forth a theorem of geopolitics to match the wisest of the polysyllabic utterances ever to emerge from the Munich Institute for Geopolitics. Nor does this end the list. One might recall the highly regional character of our foreign policy through the decades, in which the Far East was singled out as an area in which our vital interests exacted a special definition of national policy. It cannot be said that American military policy has kept pace with American interests, or even commitments. But it can be said that American foreign policy, continental and overseas, has usually been formulated with some reference to geographic realities.
All this does not add up to a clean-cut body of geopolitical doctrine for America, because geopolitics implies a conscious dovetailing of military policy with national interest and aspiration. Geopolitics fulfills itself when it becomes an imperative to develop specified weapons and forces, to be used in specified directions at specified times, in order that the nation may grow, survive, prosper, or otherwise measure up to a commonly agreed objective.
It is of course in our mistakes that we must look for the clues to a fresh orientation. These mistakes—at any rate the ones highlighted by (he costly experience of recent years—center around the failure to give concrete military expression to foreign policy. For a century we relied on British sea power in the Atlantic for the safety of our eastern sea frontiers. Our fleet was based on the mainland, instead of the island chain provided by nature from Newfoundland to the Guianas. Only when disaster seemed likely to strike down Britain were island bases acquired. On the other great sea frontier, we held positions obtained somewhat by chance in Asiatic waters. And in a profoundly “ungeopolitical” mood, American statesmen gave up their claim to the myriad island clusters which alone would have made possible the sure defense of our commitments in the western Pacific. This breach of geopolitical sense has cost us fearfully, is costing each day the lives of American men.
Had we better advice? We had indeed. We find it, written vividly and persuasively, in the books of our first and greatest geopolitician, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan. To describe Mahan as a geopolitician is not to make any ungrateful comparison with the German scholar-fanatics who have labored these twenty-five years under the banner of Geopolitik. The term has a meaning which transcends the special interests and prejudices of a frustrated German people bent on expansion by ruthless means and coveting world domination in the end. Geopolitics, as was observed at the beginning of this essay, is the science which concerns the relationship of space and politics, which sets up guide posts for statesmen in terms of geographical imperatives.
So defined, geopolitics is precisely the field in which Mahan labored so fruitfully in the closing decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth. He was the first truly authoritative analyst of the role of sea power in history, and one of the most lucid, reasonable, and temperate apostles of national expansion for the United States. His greatest work was The Influence of Sea Power upon History, in which for the first time the full significance of sea power was isolated and examined analytically. That book, the first volume of which appeared in 1890, worked a revolution in the thinking of naval leaders and statesmen in many countries, notably in Britain and Germany. In masterful style, far more lucid and detached than the turgid prose of the Munich geopoliticians to follow, Mahan argued the thesis that command of the oceans underlies national greatness. Battle by battle and war by war, he marshaled the evidence, careful always not to undertake to prove too much—not to try to show that sea power alone was the foundation of a world power.
Because the principles he formulated had a universal validity, Mahan’s writings became the dynamic force back of various national policies, in the feverish years of naval rivalry and colonial expansion from 1890 onwards. Yet his studies were not abstract scholarship. Mahan was an American, in every fiber. He frankly stated that his main purpose was to arouse his fellow- countrymen to an appreciation of their national opportunity and destiny. His admiration for British statesmanship and naval achievement was great. His illustrative materials were drawn from Europe’s wars, in very great part, and especially those of Great Britain. But his search, year after year, against many distressing handicaps such as official and popular lethargy and apathy, was for a rational military policy for the United States.
He justified his frequent adjuration to follow British example in an irrefutable phrase.
“Fortunately,” he said, “as regards other stales, we are an island power, and can find our best precedents in the history of the people to whom the sea has been a nursing mother.”
Never did Mackinder or Ratzel or Haushofer say quite so much in so few words. The “heartland” of the Euro-Asiatic land mass may truly be the geographical pivot of history, in the awesome sweep of the centuries from Genghis Khan to Napoleon to Hitler and to some yet unknown conqueror of a century hence. But for America, in the twentieth century, the basic fact is that we are an insular nation, compelled by the most elementary imperative of geography to shape our policy and read our destiny in the simple, pregnant fact of our insular position.
Mahan did not stop with his analysis of sea power as a factor in history, even after his second volume in that field, covering the Napoleonic wars—the volume which made him a world-famous figure. He buttressed his main thesis with fresh material from yet other epochs of maritime war. And then he turned to writing tracts for the times. In the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Forum, the North American Review, and other journals, and even in letters to the New York Times, he pleaded for what we might today label a shrewdly geopolitical foreign and military policy.
In 1890 he begged his fellow-Americans to look outward, to take stock of their inadequately defended sea frontiers—to think in terms of the planet, as Haushofer might have put it. In 1893, when Hawaii was looming up as a possible American naval base, he wrote earnestly of the plain geographical facts which made the Sandwich Islands the key to the defense of our Pacific shore. Nor did Mahan neglect the troubled question of an Isthmian canal. Nicaragua or Panama—the route did not matter loo much to this naval officer-geographer-patriot. But he insisted that the United States had a paramount interest in the construction of an Isthmian canal and in the military command of its approaches.
All through the decade of the nineties, Mahan wrote in his discursive but persuasive style, reminding a considerable audience that the Caribbean is America’s Mediterranean, that a navy without well- disposed bases is an idle luxury. He reminded his readers also that a series of outlying bases without a powerful licet is a trap for the unwary. Some of his readers learned these lessons well, as we know from Theodore Roosevelt’s flattering letters to Mahan at the time and his subsequent policies as President in the advancement of American naval power. Yet the implementation of American policy lagged, so difficult was it for the plain man to visualize the lessons of geography in their application to naval strategy. This was peculiarly true of island positions of great strategic value but little or no intrinsic value, in the great expanse of the Pacific.
The years, however, have reinforced the essential doctrines of Mahan—in their universal character as maxims of sea power and as imperatives for the United States. It can justly be said that Britain has ceased to be an island, in the historic sense of that term. Military aircraft have done that. Swift transportation on land has perhaps impaired the effectiveness of sea power as a primary weapon against any strong continental power entrenched in the European-Asiatic continental area. But it is fair to contend, as a minimum statement, that in tactical terms the Atlantic is still as wide in the 1940’s as the English Channel was in 1890. The United States, not Great Britain or even Japan, perched against the Asiatic mainland, is the one truly insular power among the great military powers of our lime.
The intrusion of air power demands calculation and recalculation of any geopolitical design for America. The rise of fierce nationalistic movements in southern or eastern Asia may exact some modifications of our regional policy for that sector of the globe. The possible rapid industrialization of such land and population masses as Russia and China will have their profound implications for an American Geopolilik. And it would be foolish to ignore the possible wrench to American military policy, once technological advance makes transpolar flight a practical military expedient. Such a development would totally revise the concept of distances, as they have been ingrained by years of study and practice of earth-bound and sea- bound logistics.
Mahan would be the first to acknowledge that his doctrines must be reshaped with technological change. Indeed, he was as open-minded towards new weapons and new tactics as any naval officer of his era. Yet the solid base of geopolitical thinking is there, lucidly set forth in a row of volumes which have stood the test of time. These volumes were heady wine for admiralties and chancelleries in the 1890’s. They are sober, orderly compendiums of accepted doctrine a half century later. And when the full debt of the British, Swedish, and German geopoliticians of the twentieth century is ferreted out, we shall doubtless find it was Mahan, as much as anyone, who set them to thinking.
For to no one more than a properly trained naval officer is the round world really a sphere—unless it be the navigating officer of a four-motored, long-range aircraft of the naval or military transport command. And to no one more than an imaginative naval officer is it instinctive to think in planetary or global terms. Haushofer may shout at his fellow-nationals to think in terms of space, may raise a furious cry for Lebensraum. But the calmly realistic application of geographic facts to national policy was not invented in Munich, after the collapse of Wilhelm’s bid for world mastery. That foundation stone of the science of geopolitics took shape in the fertile mind and patriotic spirit of Captain Mahan, while Bismarck was still ruling Germany and standing against the building of a High Seas Fleet.
It matters little whether we establish full proof of Haushofer’s debt to Mahan and measure that debt. It matters not at all whether we call our mechanism of planning national policy for the future by the somewhat discredited name of geopolitics. What does matter, and matter immensely, is that we proceed, quietly and earnestly, to lay the foundations for the coming peace in terms of soberly realistic geographic realities. Happily, we do not need to begin with Karl Haushofer, and borrow wholesale from the enemy. Nor do we need to adopt the jargon of geopolitics, and clothe our thinking in a robe of pseudo-scientific mystery. We have no national ambition to conquer any heartland, no messianic obligation to thrust our rule upon an unwilling world. The problem is the pleasanter one of framing a military policy for the defense of our territory and national interests, and for the support of any common political structure which the peacefully disposed nations may erect for their common purposes.
Already, under the dynamic imperatives of global war, we have a horde of scholars in Washington and elsewhere working to put at the disposal of the armed services and other government agencies the geographic data which permit intelligent planning. Theirs is a mission of practical geopolitics. But there will be needed a longer-range program, oriented to principles of policy, and not merely the winning of this war.
When this larger task comes to the front, there will be a convenient place to begin. Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, the first modern geopolitician, provides for us a body of authentic doctrine out of which we can fashion the future security of our land and people.
Lieutenant Hessler was graduated last December from the Navy School of Military Government at Columbia University, and is now on duty in the Occupied Areas Section, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Before entering the naval service he was Foreign Editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer and Foreign News Commentator for Station WLW. This is his second article in the Proceedings.
“I became interested in Mahan as a geopolitician,” Lieutenant Hessler writes, “as I saw the penalty we are paying in lives, in the Pacific, for our failure to follow the wise counsel of our own naval strategists in the development of sea bases and sea power.”