During long periods of comparative peace in a country when times are unhurried or during periods of ease in a profession or walk of life, men are apt to ponder basic ideas that have to do with the betterment of activities in which they are interested, and frequently, too, with human endeavors that are foreign to their everyday pursuits. More often than not, these impulses are generous, unselfish, and with negligible thought of immediate benefit to those who undertake the initial steps. It is unreasonable to expect such impulses to emerge from conditions of great tension, turmoil, or press of usual work. One would not expect the village fire chief to indulge in abstract thoughts of civic improvement when half the town he serves is blazing. He must have comparative leisure to ponder improvements in ways and means. Nowadays such periods are provided by carefully planned research, but in generations past there was no arranged opportunities, and the leisure occasions for profound reflection were those that happened naturally, like the lull that follows the storm.
The storm in this particular case was our Civil War from 1861 to 1865, and the lull was the extensive period of naval doldrums that came after.
Seventy-five years ago, our Navy found itself in a dull period of routine and overly familiar duties, with little hope of improvement, with stagnation in promotion, with no building, and with comparatively little interest in our naval power on the part of the government. Professionally our Navy was marking time.
And so it was in this time of comparative leisure that an average group of officers stationed at the United States Naval Academy stirred themselves to find what could be done for the betterment of the Service and the advancement and dissemination of scientific and professional knowledge throughout the Navy.
“That our Navy should have a professional forum was generally recognized.”
Mark well this quotation arising out of that placid time, for it is the soul and life blood of that Admirable Servant of the Naval Academy, the Navy, and the Nation—the United States Naval Institute.
Just who was responsible for initiating the impulse for improvement is not known. Twenty-five years ago, when several of the charter members were living, no one of them could remember the leading spirit in the movement. Credit is generally but vaguely given to Commodore Foxhall A. Parker, with backing and encouragement by Rear Admiral John L. Worden, Superintendant of the Naval Academy at that time. One of the original members believed, however, that Lieutenant Charles Belknap called the first meeting in an informal sort of way. It is easy to imagine that the idea originated in what would now be called “bull sessions” at the Officers Club, and that all hands agreed it was an excellent project to undertake; and, as is so often the case, the casual decision was to “let George do it,” and there is ground for accepting that “George” in this situation was Lieutenant Charles Belknap, United States Navy. But what, really, does it matter that a certain individual took the first step? The impulse after all was a group impulse, and it came about because things professional were at a low ebb and there was leisure to consider the state naval affairs were in the urgent necessity to do something about it.
So let us set down the names of those in the group, other than the three already mentioned, just to keep the record as straight as can be at this late hour. Commanders Edward Terry and S. Dana Greene, United States Navy, Chief Engineer C.H. Baker, United States Navy, Captain McLane Tilton, United States Marine Corps, Medical Director Philip Lansdale, Pay Inspector James D. Murray, Lieutenant Commanders P.F. Harrington, J.E. Craig, C.F. Goodrich, P.H. Cooper, and C.J. Train, each of whom was attached to the staff at the Naval Academy. Other young members at the end of the first year were Lieutenants F.J. Higginson, W.H. Brownson, and Professor N.M. Terry. Some of these titles may sound quaint to the present day Navy, but they were commonplace and distinctive in the early days of my contemporaries, just as some of the young lieutenants listed here were the top siders of the Navy list when we were midshipmen.
Before proceeding further, we might well analyze the little group which first conceived and then developed the idea of the Naval Institute. Admiral Worden, the Superintendant of the Naval Academy at the time, had commanded the original Monitor in its famous battle with the Confederate States Ship Merrimac, and Commander S. Dana Greene had been his Executive Officer in the same battle. Lending both approval and steady support from his office in the Navy department was Admiral David D. Porter, ranking officer of the Navy and son of the redoubtable Captain David Porter of War of 1812 fame. Under his father’s command he had fought West Indian pirates at the age of 12, had subsequently served in the Mexican Navy, and during the Civil War had won a reputation second only to Farragut, who was his foster brother. Commodore Parker had achieved a notable reputation in the Civil War, in which conflict his own brother had chosen the opposite side and served with equal fame in the Confederate Navy, at one time being Superintendant of the Confederate Naval Academy. Commodore Parker, oddly enough, was himself eventually to become Superintendant of the U.S. Naval Academy.
But the great majority of the Institute founders were young officers, graduates of the Naval Academy during or just prior to the Civil War. Hence, in the founding of the Naval Institute the accent was on youth and progressiveness. The proof of the initiative, progressiveness, and professional ability of these young officers is found in the fact that out of the small list of lieutenants, lieutenant commanders, and commanders given above, not less than nine eventually rose to the rank of rear admiral, highest rank in the U.S. Navy between the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. In so doing they set a continuing style, for it is a remarkable fact that a great majority of the officers who have risen to high command in the Navy ever since have been early and vigorous members of the Naval Institute.
Another notable feature of the founding group was that it was broad of experience and broad of viewpoint. Included among the charter members were, in addition to Navy line officers, a Marine Corps officer, a Medical Corps officer, and a Pay Inspector. Thus we have a group covering not only the line but the staff officers of the Navy as well. This initial wide representation among all the various branches and corps of the Navy have been a continuing feature of the Naval Institute, and is largely responsible for the broad and varied interests of the Institute and its publications ever since.
The first meeting of the Naval Institute occurred on October 9, 1873 in a most businesslike way despite the vague recollection of its beginning on the part of original members. The name “United States Naval Institute” was adopted, the objectives of the Institute were stated broadly but pointedly, officers were chosen, and the keeping of records was begun immediately—altogether a very good day’s work.
The Constitution, as first adopted, provided for a Patron, who was the Secretary of the Navy at that time, George M. Robeson; a President, the Admiral of the Navy by virtue of his officer; a Vice President who was Superintendent of the Naval Academy; a board of Regents consisting of the Chiefs of Bureau and the Commandants of Shore Stations; and a committee that performed much as the Board of Control does at the present time. Except for the committee, the list of dignitaries appears as an effort to curry favor, but it was a standard procedure in those stiff and formal days and is a method in use even at the present time “to put something over.” In December of that year the records show a total of 36 members, and one year later the roster had grown to 69; numbers that today seem ridiculously small, but a good representations from a total officer’s corps of 1262 (about equally divided between line and staff officers) which the Navy counted at that time. This membership is even more creditable when it is remembered that the Navy’s officer strength was widely scattered, and communication, as we know it now, was slow and meager.
Originally it was planned to encourage professional discussion and the writing of papers on professional subjects which could be exchanged with the various branches of the Institute which were then contemplated and which for a time were maintained in Naval Stations and activities other than the Naval Academy itself. In the period of 15 years these branches were allowed to lapse, those of New York and Washington holding on longest. Actual publication of articles began in 1874 in a quarterly form, followed by a bi-monthly issue; and now for a long term of years the Proceedings of the Naval Institute has been appearing as a monthly magazine.
The dissemination of scientific and professional knowledge other than by papers was not undertaken until 1898, when two publications were issued: a handbook of instruction for Infantry and Artillery, and the Log of the Gloucester. This function of book publication, which was begun as a minor part of the Institute’s efforts, has resulted in an extensive publishing business dealing primarily with the needs of the Naval Academy, but serving also the Navy Department, the Naval Reserve, and the interests of the Naval Institute’s members. Reference to a recent issue of the Proceedings shows a current book list of 13 manuals on the subject of Athletics, 5 biographies, 6 publications on Engineering Subjects, 9 Histories, 5 books on Foreign Language, 5 Mathematics treatises, 2 books on Naval Construction, 6 on Ordnance, 4 on Navigation, 3 of pictorial subjects, 4 on Radio, 5 on Seamanship, and a miscellaneous group of 14 dealing with Aviation, Leadership, Sailing, International Law, and Naval Administration. These text books, manuals, and aids to education played no small part in the hurried but successful indoctrination and training of our greatly expanded Navy during World War II, just as their earlier counterparts had been of assistance in the First World War.
While this function of the Institute is an industry of large proportion and a business, it has not had as a motive the making of profit; and peculiarly in the past, when an item of its publishing business began to show a profit, the sale price was reduced so that what might have been profit fell mainly to the purchaser. In the case of the text books for the use of midshipmen at the Naval Academy, the profit has gone primarily to them and indirectly to the United States Government from whom their pay and subsistence comes. It is quite impossible to state how much money the Institute has saved the United States Government indirectly in this way, but in view of the large numbers involved over a long period of years it is reasonably safe to place that saving in the millions as contrasted with what would have been expended had the same books been produced by commercial, profit-making concerns. Further, the Institute has undertaken to produce any text book, manual, or other publication required by the Naval Academy or the Navy Department, paying all costs to writers or compilers, and making revision of the material wherever such revisions are requested or deemed necessary. Beyond that effort to be of service the Institute has undertaken the publication of many books that were considered to be of literary, professional, technical, or scholarly value as referred to naval subjects, even when it was realized that the publication would be profitless. If the venture promised only to hold its own and not lose money to the extent of invading the Institute’s surplus, the Board of Control has ordinarily approved. That the Institute has prospered financially and now has a surplus which almost insures, with reasonably good judgment, its continuance without difficulty appears strange when it has not striven for a profit. The explanation, odd as it sounds, is that the publishing end of the Institute made money because it was not trying to make money. Prices of its publications, many of which were in great demand during the war, were made extremely low—just enough to insure reasonably early return of costs on the supposition that the Government, through the agencies such as the Bureau of Personnel, Navy Department, and its sub-activities, would purchase handbooks and text books for issue, recall, and re-issue. By making the price so low, it appeared belatedly that each individual wanted his own copy and purchased it himself for continued reference; consequently, from a low unit cost, a surplus accumulated before it was realized what was actually happening. Because of this favorable outcome the Institute was able during the period of war to donate generously to the Navy Relief, the Red Cross, the United States Naval Academy Museum, and the Naval Historical Foundation. Now, when conditions are normal, such donations are no longer forthcoming and the members of the Board of Control are once more obligated to safeguard the Institute’s surplus, as before, from pressing visits of charitable organizations or call from sources less admirable and more greedy in nature.
In the pages of the Proceedings, the Institute has carried always a limited amount of dignified advertising, but has never pushed aggressively its sale of advertising space. Because of its attitude toward profit making it has always been in a position to limit and reject advertising deemed not suitable or else deemed excessive in volume for a professional and technical magazine of high caliber, with the result that advertising pages have appeared only as a minor background to the well considered contents.
Almost from its earliest days the policy has been set by the members of the Board of Control meeting once per month, and the executive management has been the duty of the Secretary-Treasurer, an active officer of the Navy on duty at the Naval Academy with his primary duty to the Superintendant and the Naval Academy proper. Each of his assignments, even in normal times, was onerous—so onerous that it became necessary in recent years to employ a managing editor. And a very wise move this has proved. With this new officer the Institute now has experience and talent in the publishing and editorial field which was heretofore lacking or haphazard. Too, there is greater continuity in supervision of the Institute’s functions, for in times past the incumbent in the office of Secretary-Treasurer was subject to assignment elsewhere on short notice, as were members of the Board of Control, and he held his officer in the Institute only for the period of his duty assignment to the Academy. As a compensation for the broken, uncertain executive management, the Institute has been favored in the past with the services of two remarkable men, Mr. James W. Conroy and Mr. Meyer Cox in the capacities of Chief Clerk and Office Manager. Each had absorbed the best of the Navy’s training in loyalty, obligation to duty, and pride in a job well done. Mr. Conroy’s service to the Institute covered forty years, and Mr. Cox, who succeeded to the office, has retired to a well earned leisure on March 1 of this year after 32 years of most able and tireless devotion to the Institute and the Navy. The other employees have followed in their ways and standards, making one of the finest, happiest working teams that could be assembled. Successive Secretary-Treasurers, without exception, have subscribed to the high character of their work and devotion to the Institute.
Any recital of the Institute’s publishing activities would be lacking without mention of its actual printers and book makers for the Institute—the George Banta Publishing Company of Menasha, Wisconsin, an organization that originated in an impulse similar to that which started the Institute on its way. Mr. Banta, as a service to his fraternity at college, typed its first communications in the spare time of a busy life, then later put them out by a small hand press. His printing effort, begun as a generous, unselfish offering, brought such calls from other sources that Banta Press came into being. For 26 years Banta and the Institute have locked arms with mutual respect, confidence, and admiration in one of the most satisfactory business associations that can be conceived.
Much has been made in the old records of the support that was given to the movement by those of rank in Washington. It would have been astounding if these ranking officials had taken any other attitude; and if special credit be due those officers of the Navy Department, it is because they did organize a branch of the Institute which lasted longer than any of the numerous other groups.
From the earliest formation of groups, there was a forward looking trend which has persisted and stabilized down the years: a trend that has promoted education and advancement in standards of personnel and material, that has broadened the scope of Naval thought, that has coordinated the efforts and ideas of officers and men, and that has advocated anything and everything new and worthwhile that offered increased service and safety to our country.
The Institute may justly consider itself the forerunner of our Naval War College and our Post Graduate System of education for officers. The first number of the Proceedings in 1874 carried an article entitled, “The Manning of our Merchant Marine,” by Captain Stephen B. Luce, who has been called the “Father of the Naval War College.” The Board which first recommended systematic postgraduate education for officers was the Knox-King-Pye Board, each of whose members was a member of the Institute, a contributor to the Proceedings from his early years after graduation from the Naval Academy, and an officer whose interest and enthusiasm for education and advancement issued, beyond doubt, from his association with the Institute and the Proceedings.
The Institute has been careful to avoid comment or reference to anything that might be considered secret, confidential, or harmful to the Nation, leaning over backwards at times and to its detriment when items of interest which it has withheld have appeared in the press of the day to an extent that made the Institute appear obtuse and undiscerning. As a forum it has for the most time, as a guiding principle, not only permitted but encouraged opposite and conflicting opinions, so that a reader may draw his own conclusions from all the facts presented, in the confidence that the best and the truth will out if the discussion is free and vigorous. A halt has been called only when the discussion appeared to go beyond the bounds of reasonable give-and-take and to enter the field of personal antagonism and spleen. Thirty-five to forty years ago this open discussion of a topic was criticized by certain officers who laid more stress upon current action than upon education and thought-provoking ideas; the Institute was referred to as a debating society, because the contributors were few and recurred frequently, and the critics gave no credit for the good that came from the exchange of conflicting points of view. The rapid exchange of different opinions has disappeared to a great extent, to the detriment of the Proceedings as a forum, but the forum idea basically is there until the end of time, I trust. For with its passing, from any cause, the Institute will deteriorate into a mere industry for producing textbooks, histories, and biographies, or a sounding board for or echo of officialdom, which all too frequently is resentful of suggestion, counsel, or criticism from any sources except its own smug and self-satisfied circle.
From the very beginning of the Institute the question of censorship has been held to be a delicate one and it has been approached most tactfully and with a light touch: a rather timid way to consider that which trespasses upon the greatest of all freedoms of mankind—free speech and free press.
In order to show the state of mind of the charter members and certain officers of the Institute toward censorship on the part of the Navy Department in particular and government generally, it is informative to quote what was published in the Proceedings twenty-five years ago. It is well worth repeating for the principle it sets forth, and it is helpful to call it to attention frequently.
U.S. NAVAL INSTITUTE PROCEEDINGS
The continued value of the Institute to the service and to the country is largely bound up with the question of censorship, or departmental muzzling. This is a most delicate subject to tackle, but one that must be faced squarely and honestly. In the words of Flammarion, “Free and loyal discussion is necessary to conquer the truth,” and of Voltaire (was it not?), “I wholly disagree with what you say, and shall defend to the death your right to say it.” We also must uphold this principle. Fortunately we are removed from the days when a distinguished officer of the Navy was forbidden to print in the Proceedings an article every statement of which was derived from the Secretary’s annual reports and other documents already published to the world at large: those same days when another distinguished officer was forbidden “even to say that two and two makes four.”
Relations today with the Navy Department are most cordial and sympathetic, but the future is as a curtain through which we cannot see: and in this connection, part of a letter from Admiral Goodrich may well be quoted and preserved as a guide to our successors:
“We should all clamor for the desirability of an officer’s speaking out at will. For myself, both as president of the Institute (and therefore officially) and at other times, I have verbally and in writing urged various Secretaries of the Navy to remove all restrictions on the Institute publications, averring that no officer would abuse the privilege by printing anything confidential in nature. ‘Encourage all, especially the youngsters, to blow off their steam,’ I would say. ‘If any individual be guilty of personal attacks or of improper language and motive, punish him for conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman, or whatever the offense may be. But eliminate all censorship, and don’t shut up the open discussion of service and naval policy topics.’ And I added, ‘Doubtless much of this material will be useful only in letting a chap unburden his mind, but occasionally the Department will get a suggestion of importance which would never reach it though routine channels.’”
Admiral Goodrich’s view is one that we cannot but subscribe to, all of us, and the Institute should ever tactfully and gracefully work to that end. Within recent memory times have arisen, and they may arise again, when we shall have to fight for this principle. Then, like Admiral Sir John Fisher, we can’t be silent, and we must not lie.
Note the gentle, awed, and humble manner in which an organization completely independent of and separate from the Navy Department and the Government, a loyal, responsible organization that seeks only to be of service, prays that it may not be muzzled.
There is nothing delicate about that which attempts to suppress this great freedom. There is no reason why the Institute should “ever work tactfully and gracefully” to avoid censorship. At its first hint of application, censorship should be halted with a warning shot across the bows which, if not heeded, should be followed by a broadside that will bring the offender to a complete stop. Those who would attempt censorship fall back upon that which is “secret and confidential,” but what they intend is the suppression of criticism, the suppression of anything that might uncover defects or falsities, expose inability in office, or bring about embarrassment for their deficiencies or attitudes. Naval officers do not need to be told that they must not speak or write of secret or confidential things concerning the Nation. They are steeped in obedience to the Nation’s welfare, and secret and confidential things within their knowledge are more vital to them individually and collectively than to others in the Nation who may not be a part of the actual armed forces. It is the pages of the Proceedings which give an outlet to the convictions, opinions, and ideas of those who would speak on naval and allied subjects in a medium that is proper, self restrained, and of high motives.
An inspiration to service writers, or to those who feel that they have no particular talent or training as writers but with ideas and opinions that they consider of value and for which they require outlets, is the Institute’s Annual Prize Essay Contest. Essays on naval or allied subjects are acceptable from any source. The writers are unknown until the Board has designated the Prize Essay and usually one or more papers deemed worthy of Honorable Mention. The prize awards are substantial, and the prestige that comes from having written a Prize Essay is a great source of personal satisfaction. Life membership and a medal of gold are significant additions to the honor. Full details of the contest are published each year in several issues of the Proceedings and may vary somewhat from time to time.
Let us scan some of the Prize Essay material of past years and note some of the beginners for whom the contest and the Proceedings opened the way to extended and skillful writing later and in other fields.
In 1879, when the first contest was conducted, Lieutenant A.D. Brown was the winner, with Lieutenant Commander C.F. Goodrich and Commander A.T. Mahan each having a paper meriting honorable mention; and all three essays, as might have been expected at that time, dealt with the subject of Naval Education. Commander Mahan’s later writings on naval subjects commanded world wide attention for their logic and clarity of exposition. In 1880, Lieutenant Charles Belknap—he who called the original meeting of officers for the Institute’s organization—submitted the paper which was adjudged the Prize Essay. In 1881 Lieutenant E.W. Very’s “The Type of (I) Armored Vessel and (II) Cruiser Best Suited to the Present Needs of the United States” won the prize. Was that not forward looking, at a time when sailing craft were held to be capable men of war? In 1882, the Prize Winner had as its subject “Our Merchant Marine.” In 1884 Ensign W.I. Chambers wrote on “The Reconstruction and Increase of our Navy,” and the same year Ensign W.L. Rodgers, later on to become a skilled and scholarly historian, placed perhaps his first paper in the Honorable Mention class. In 1903, the prize was awarded to Professor Philip R. Alger for his essay entitled “Gunnery in our Navy, the Causes of its Inferiority and their Remedies”; and note, it is marked “not published.” Was this because of chagrin at our sad state of gunnery efficiency, or could it have been an early expression of timidity on the part of the Board or deference to the possible embarrassment of officials in the Navy Department? In 1905 Commander Bradley A. Fiske wrote a Prize Essay titled “American Naval Policy.” In 1909 Lieutenant Ernest J. King entered the Prize Essay—the same King who has since become Fleet Admiral E.J. King, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, and Chief of Naval Operations during the late war. In 1910 again the interdependence of the Navy and the Merchant Marine was emphasized in the Prize Essay of Naval Constructor T.G. Roberts. In 1915 Commander Dudley Knox expounded “The Role of Doctrine in Naval Warfare” in his Prize Essay, he had already showed his ability as a writer and thinker in articles that won Honorable Mention on numerous previous occasions, and he has since gone on to write voluminously and expertly on naval and historical affairs. In 1916 H.H. Frost, a newly commissioned Junior Lieutenant, wrote the Prize Essay entitled “The Moral Factor in War,” and with this beginning started his career as a naval writer, compiler, and student of naval warfare. His Battle of Jutland has been accepted the world over as the most accurate and scholarly record of that critical clash of fleets in World War One. In 1921 Commander G.C. Westervelt wrote “Possibilities of a Trans-Pacific Flight.” In 1922 the winning essay came from the pen of Commander J.K. Taussig, who, during the major part of his naval life, was an alert thinker and writer on the subjects of Personnel, Tactics, and Strategy. In 1926 Hector C. Bywater, a British writer of note, submitted the Prize Essay with his contribution “The Battleship and its Uses.” Once a seventeen-year-old student captured the Prize and later became a professional writer of importance. A search of the recorded Prize Essays fails to reveal many other fine papers that had a marked influence on naval development and advancement, since these were submitted and published as routine and regular articles and not as entries in the Prize Essay Contest. One such, by Captain Dudley Knox, which served as a turning point in naval planning, was concerned with the development of naval bases.
A Prize Essay Contest which is open to any enlisted man or woman of the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard and which in general parallels the annual Prize Essay Contest, has been announced for the current year. That it will serve as a great stimulus to the enlisted force and bring forth worthwhile ideas is conceded, for the Navy’s enlisted corps is highly trained, intelligent, and has produced many writers of talent.
Everyone eligible for regular membership should belong to the Institute. The best reasons for joining or maintaining membership are the intangible ones, though many good practical reasons of direct benefit are not lacking. Let us jot them down, beginning with the best ones, the ones that bring the same satisfaction that the charter members enjoyed and wrote about with enthusiasm and pride years after those members had retired from active service in the Navy.
Your membership helps to maintain the profession and advance the service to which you belong. Your support increases the weight with which the independent and unofficial ideas, proposals, and criticisms are received by the official part of the Government and the country at large. Increased membership bears directly on the improvement of articles appearing in the Proceedings and the quality of service which the Institute can render.
On the practical side it serves its members as a purchasing agent for publications of all kinds at a saving in money and with marked convenience. Listed as a permanent address by a member having no fixed abode, it acts as an alert and accurate dispatcher of mail and other communications. The professional notes of the Proceedings provided an excellent digest of all that is new and interesting along technical lines, culled from the best of sources so that a reader may keep up to date with least effort and expense. Regular membership is open to Commissioned Officers of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Any citizen of our country interested in the Navy and National Defense may become an Associate Member with all the privileges of membership except that of voting for officers of the Institute or upon questions of Institute policy. Associate dues are the same as for regular members and include subscription to the Proceedings without additional cost.
Almost nothing in this day offers an officer so much for so little. The dues are $2.00 per year, truly nominal dues in these days of high prices.
Insofar as the publication of books is concerned and the material assistance it has given to the Academy, the Navy, and its members, the Institute has been the Admirable Servant, altogether admirable and without exception. It is on the question of forum and independence that the Institute has on rare occasions shown a touch of timidity that partakes of the obsequious. Its independence of the Navy Department has always lacked emphasis, so much so that in the past some naval officers of rank and authority have misguidedly assumed that it should speak only opinions favorable to the stand they have taken or in accord with their public statements. One Chief of Bureau went so far on one occasion as to stand his Senior Assistant, a Captain, on the carpet and dress him down because, as a member of the Board of Control of the Institute, he had permitted publication of an article which, in the Admiral’s words, “caused me great embarrassment before a naval committee.” The Admiral in his wrath went so far as to say that he had placed his assistant on the Board of Control to assure that no such article as the one which gave him discomfort would appear. The Captain, a very sturdy individual of courage and character, very calmly and firmly advised his Chief that he had been elected to the Board of Control by its members, and that the Admiral had no part in his Institute office and duties; and he further added the comment that if his Chief found the article in question embarrassing because of a stand he had taken before a Congressional Committee, it could only be because he was in great error, for the article published in the Proceedings was sound, well written, and factual.
Secretaries of the Navy have sometimes been ignorant of the Institute’s freedom of action and have acted on occasion as if it were subject to the legal control and restraint of the office which the Secretary occupies. It is easy to understand how this attitude has developed. Naval officers are trained to be dutiful, to be obedient, to be respectful to those in authority, as they should be. In their desire to be of service, just as the Institute’s mission is one of service, they have confused homage with help and acquiescence with assistance. Once a Secretary of the Navy demanded that the copyright of a certain Institute publication be surrendered to the Navy Department simply because he preferred its publication to be official and its production to be an output of the Government Printing Office. Meekly the Board of Control acquiesced, with the result that there was one official printing—after which this particularly valuable contribution to training was allowed to lapse for a long period of years, despite a continuing demand for it, until the copyright was restored to its rightful ownership. This was an occasion when the Board of Control should have declined respectfully but firmly to surrender its property at the Secretary’s unwarranted demand; and if that did not suffice, the President of the Institute himself should then have given the Secretary a full salvo of all the heavy guns to remind him that there are “millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.”
The Board of Control has, at times, been overly deferential toward the Navy Department, the Administration, and the State Department, offering its proposed articles for approval before publication. It is well known that in many cases the approval has been given or withheld by an officer or official of far less experience or capacity than any one of the officers of the Institute.
Compliance to such an extent is not loyalty or cooperation but fatuous and blind homage, replacing the intelligent action that may be counted upon from a loyal and alert group devoted to safeguarding the nation. If proposed articles were bandied about the various Bureaus of the Navy Department and ultimately failed of publication because some one official or Bureau withheld approval, the statement appearing on the Proceedings title page as a so-called disclaimer that “the opinions or assertions are not to be construed as reflecting the views of the Navy Department” would be far from correct, for in a negative way only that which the Navy Department viewed favorably would be printed.
The Secretary-Treasurer, Managing Editor, and Members of the Board of Control have always been experienced and responsible officers in their day and time, and their judgment of what is publishable is too sound and too conscientious to require checking from any other source.
As to the publication of an article, there should be only one criterion. If, in the opinion of the Institute Staff, it does not trespass upon things that are secret and confidential and does not offend good taste, it should be held to be publishable. Decision as to what is printable should never be sought outside the Institute itself. If the members of the Staff entertain doubts that it does not comply with the criterion above, they should consign the proposed manuscript to the waste basket. That the Board at times has been swayed from publication of Prize Essays and regular articles which admittedly were factual, timely, and vital to our naval and national welfare is regrettable but cannot be denied. That their action was taken to save officials of our Government from embarrassment for their deficiencies or attitudes is equally true, but there was occasionally in the background the timid feeling that a forthright stand might bring upon the Board or certain members of it on duty in Washington, D.C.
Steps should be taken so that these rare lapses may in the future be foreign to any action or stand that the officers of the Institute may take. Suggestions may not be amiss, and the following are proposed for consideration. Let’s start at the top.
It has become a practice to install the Chief of Naval Operations as President and the Superintendent of the Naval Academy as Vice President of the Institute. This has been accomplished by nominating for election the incumbent in each of those two offices, without opposition or competition, a practice that parallels, exactly, elections in a totalitarian state and that has no place in any election conducted in a free country. The idea is, of course, to do honor to those two individuals. Yet, when so elected without opposition, some officers might feel that they had been given a mandate to repress or soft-pedal any incident that might be embarrassing to their high offices or to their individual careers.
The honor is too mechanical to be anything other than nominal, and the performance of the two otherwise busy officials has often in the past been wholly nominal. Why not nominate three candidates for each office, stressing capacity, interest, and energy rather than rank and availability; and while so doing, select three who have outstandingly identified themselves with the Institute and what the Institute stands for. At any rate let it be a real election, with the winners truly honored and under obligation to perform an active duty to the Institute.
Next, nominate for election as members of the Board of Control the sort of men into whose hands you would like to put the high principles and aims of the Institute, the kind of officers who would rather be right—repeat, rather be right—than promoted. Then, as a monthly reminder, install at each member’s place around the Board Room table a small plaque bearing this quotation:
To speak his thoughts is every freeman’s right
In peace and war, in counsel and in fight.
Nowhere in the usual Proceedings is there a statement concerning its mission as a forum, or that the Institute is an organization quite separate from the Navy Department and independent of all departments of the U.S. Government. The facts are implied and have been set forth occasionally in statements concerning membership, but they should be so clear at all times that any reader of the Proceedings could not mistake its free character and the career of service uncontrolled except by its self determined high motives. To insure that there is no misunderstanding, it is suggested that after the caption “United States Naval Institute Proceedings” there be added in appropriate size of type “A FORUM,” preferably on the first inside white page that carries the editorial staff. Then add to the so-called “disclaimer statement” at the bottom of its content page these words: “The Institute is separate from and independent of the Navy Department.” After these additions only a most careless reader could remain uninformed.
Choose the Secretary-Treasurer and Managing Editor with the utmost care, having in mind the same high characteristics that are sought in the offices who are to fill the places of President, Vice President, and Board of Control, for they are the two who hold the fort from day to day, who advise and recommend from their close and continuous touch with the details, and who can make the policies set by the board function as they are intended. Once the Board has approved the criterion of that which is suitable for the pages of the Proceedings, theirs will be the detailed duty of measuring items by that yardstick, of checking and editing to the end that secrecy and confidence are never trespassed upon, that good taste remains unoffended, and that freedom of speech and press go unhampered.
This freedom of speech is no paltry thing to be set aside for temporary favor from higher up or as dutiful homage to one in authority. It is the great Freedom, the acme of freedom, for from freedom of speech flow all the other rights which we hold to be inalienable. Men have martyred themselves, have lost their hopes and lives in the ever continuing struggle so that we may possess the privilege of speaking our opinions and convictions without fear, and without punishment by those who differ with us and who prefer us silent and acquiescent. If other brave souls have given up their liberty and lives for that which they valued so highly, is it not mandatory that we risk a few black looks or banishment from favor to maintain the birthright they have willed to us?
Stress has been laid upon this forum principle of the Institute and freedom of speech in its Proceedings because they were understood and planned by the charter members as a necessary and life giving outlet for ideas and progress that might be stifled or never forthcoming in the labyrinth of officialdom.
There is no intent in this recital of the Institute’s seventy-five years of splendid and lofty service to urge the officers of the Institute to carry “freedom of speech and freedom of its press” as a chip upon the shoulder. Rather it is hoped that it will be borne as a commission pennant nailed to the masthead and visible all around the horizon, or that it be worn as a Decoration for Valor which the President, Vice President, Members of the Board of Control, Secretary-Treasurer, and Managing Editor are determined to display whenever there is threat, direct or implied, of suppressing that which is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.
Then and only then may the Institute and its labor for the Naval Academy, the Navy, and the Nation be called wholly and without limitation “The Admirable Servant.”
A graduate of the Naval Academy in 1905, Captain Stewart spent his first years of sea duty in the Wisconsin, Cincinnati, and other ships on the Asiatic Squadron. All told he served in the Navy for almost 45 years, much of his duty being in connection with Personnel. His constant interest in the Naval Institute, including four years as Secretary-Treasurer, has given him a knowledge of the Institute and the Proceedings exceeded by no one. He writes: "I have always welcomed changes in and for our Navy that do not lower the high standards and traditions which the Academy set for me when I was a midshipman."