As we look into the future, what role do we see the Navy playing in keeping the United States strong and free? Is this role important? Does the march of unseen events to come in this atomic age inevitably scuttle the proud power of the Navy that has shaped so much of history?
We cannot pass off these questions by calling them absurd; nor can we wait for time to unfold the answers. As a nation we must seriously examine the evidence available and decide now whether in our national security we arc placing loo much or too little emphasis on the Navy. Those in the Navy themselves must explore these questions to be certain in their hearts what their function is. Their record of devotion and integrity is too great for them to serve in an organization that is not required or in which they do not believe.
In the course of man’s troubled chronicle, navies have meant greatness and even life itself to many nations. In different eras, sea power has appeared in different guise—now oar, now sail, now steam, now undersea and oversea. Revolutionary developments from age to age have repeatedly altered navies beyond recognition, but never more so than today when though much of a navy still floats on the surface of water, more of its power exists beneath and above. With these expansions in the scope of its influence, it would seem that not only has the end of the day of navies not come, but that once again they cruise on the threshold of revolutions that may make them more formidable than ever in the past.
So it would seem, but we cannot take our answer on unproved assumptions. The stake is too great, America’s responsibilities too grave, the penalty of error too enduring.
We live today—if this chaos may be called living—in an age of travail strangely similar to that handful of troubled transition periods that at long intervals have shaken the world to its foundations. It is as if we move again through the old dream in which the cast and the costume are new but the action hurries to the same tragic end. Once again in history’s few thousand years, events move faster and faster like a rising tidal wave. We approach the crisis out of which the world will emerge forever changed. Will the crisis dissolve in disaster or sunlight; will navies play a part— and how?—in determining the result?
Whether this crisis brings catastrophe or stirring progress appears to depend upon whether the United States advances in courage and wisdom into the unknown future. This courage and wisdom will derive importantly from her strength. The strength itself derives from several elements of which the military is only one. Hut it is a fundamental one without which the others cannot endure. Hence we can concentrate our study on it alone, knowing that without it we cannot have strength at all, and therefore probably neither courage nor wisdom in dealing with the titanic problems this nation must solve correctly if we are to exist a free people.
Can we in America honestly say that the Navy of tomorrow will play a role of any consequence in this military strength? In the past navies have performed many services to nations essential to their existence. Proponents of sea power such as Thucydides and Raleigh and Mahan have declared that the sceptre of the sea is the sceptre of sovereignty. And in their illumined pages it seems in truth to be, along with a strange, mystic influence that breeds liberty as if it were one with the unfettered sea.
Where there has been one who maintained that the sea was strength, however, there have been dozens who have denied or refused to follow its advantage. Fundamentally man belongs to the land, not the great waters stretching into the terrors of the unknown. He builds his home and shapes his life on land, not in the restless waves. Few have the vision of Themistocles to see a golden age, and not disaster, as result of risking a nation’s destiny in a handful of flimsy hulls daring into the grey waters.
It proves no point that Salamis saved western civilization; that Athens, empire of the sea, left a name for greatness yet to be equalled; that Carthage’s star set and Rome’s lifted above the Mediterranean when that blue sea became Mare Nostrum; that Holland gained freedom only when she breached her dikes, giving herself to the sea; that the little island of Britain shaped man’s history as has no other nation for centuries; and that the United States could not have gained freedom nor kept it except by the sea.
All these prove nothing to the mass of men firmly planted on earth. These are the past, they say. The future will be different. In every century nations have flourished without power on the sea. And although few of these have challenged the world and for centuries none has shaped its destiny, yet there has ever been the chance that one might become large enough to be independent of the sea and to flow unchecked over the Eurasian- African land mass. Such a possibility seems especially likely in this age of air wherein the power of the sea has faded, so they say, before the vaster power of the air.
We are in a cycle of change that seems to sweep our Navy inexorably aside. This service that from earliest times has stood for America’s first line of defense overnight becomes obsolescent.
The fact that no such sudden transition as this has ever happened in history bears little weight. That only yesterday the Navy fought and won the greatest of all sea wars counts for little. Within man the conservative—who resists change in his daily routine, his church, his government—dwells also man the dreamer. Sad experience should have taught him that while slow change is progress and is good, sudden change promising gold at the end of the rainbow may instead bring disaster.
Yet few men learn from the past. Each generation still dreams its own dreams, seeking greener pastures beyond the limits that fence in familiar existence. Still they shoot for the moon, gambling that the next turn of the wheel brings fortune. Still they hope to escape Adam’s curse and win the world without toil and pain.
Man has always sought Aladdin’s lamp. Today he wants it particularly to give him security.
Security has never been easy. It can’t be bought like a lottery ticket. Past generations who have gambled on an easy means to replace courage and integrity have been paid off in disaster if not extinction. Can anything bought with money replace these jewels of the soul? Did a Chinese wall millenniums ago, or the Maginot Line yesterday? Did Carthage’s peace of tribute with Rome, or England’s Munich? Will our atomic bomb?
Something for nothing! What hopeful soul does not leap at the chance? Particularly, who does not strive for it today after the horrors of two world wars plunging humanity deeper into brutality? Who does not grasp at any straw, and who is not half ready to believe the unbelievable—that America’s atomic bomb is not a monster of the Apocalypse but the mighty torch of peace itself?
Who would not grasp at the straw? What mother wants her son swaying deep in the tides of Iron bottom Bay, or mingling with the bitter sands of Iwo, or staining the roses in Normandy? What to her, or the father who knew these hells, the argument as to whether the aircraft carriers won the last war, or the submarines, or the Marines, or the picket line destroyers under their rain of death, or the indispensable cruisers, or the old battleships firing their ancient hearts out against the assault beaches that many sons might live through death?
What does it matter to these parents that there are more men who declare—and have proof to back it -that the Army won the war, or the Air Force, or that even our Allies proved of help?
The past becomes but the murmur of receding waves when the real issue shines in hope: War can be won without loss. My son does not have to die. With atomic bombs flown across the ocean—and, in a decade, trans-oceanic guided missiles we can win a war at little cost except in money. We have found the magic box; we have open sesame to all powers. Like Faust (and perhaps with the same Mephistopheles) we have made a compact that gives us the world for but the lifting of a finger.
It matters little that no experienced military leader believes this illusion of easy victory. It is immaterial that no man thinking through the problem but comes to fear our nation will follow the will-o’-wisp to disaster. It is more than futile to try to solve the future in logic and past experience.
Does logic, deter those whose bones tomorrow mark the gold rush trail? What logic pays a million to one? Stand aside; the fever has struck. At last we get something for nothing.
If we are fortunate, our leaders will save us from this madness that is typically American. That is, they will save us in part. In government, and out, many earnest citizens labor for national security. They labor as patriots. They will provide the security they believe this nation needs to the best of their lights. They will provide a balanced defense organization. They will answer the questions we posed at the outset, and as a result will continue to provide a Navy. But what kind of a Navy; how much; what will its mission be?
These are the issues upon which not merely the future of the Navy depends, but as surely as we live and die, the destiny of our loved America.
They will provide, I am satisfied, the Navy they are convinced the country needs. Will this be enough? Unhappily, the answer shows too clearly.
A man truly knows only what he has experienced. However open minded he may be, if his experience tells him that wars are fought on land, then that is the way wars are fought and won. If his experience assures him that control of the skies over hostile territory immobilizes the opponent’s forces, disrupts his supply, slows his production, then for him victory in the air stands out as the foremost if not the only means of victory. If he has kept the seas, or the depths beneath, or 1 he air above, or stepped across the beaches where all waters lead, then for him, though air, land and water may mingle in experience, they mingle as part of the Navy. For him air armed sea power, with its wings in the sky and fins in the depths, is the power of victory.
This last way of thinking is not majority thinking. Although the sea is the very tide of her life, America has never believed in it. Some leaders have proclaimed its importance, the greatest being Washington who in an hour of crisis declared that, however important armies are, in a war like the Revolution a navy must cast the deciding vote. Power on the sea (and in this twentieth century above it) has helped save us through many great dangers, but the sea itself has never become a part of the heart of America. It is known, but not felt. It dwells insubstantially in words, not in experience that endures.
One reason for lack of understanding comes from America’s great strength—the spreading plains and mountains, the vast rich land that makes up this fabulous young nation of ours. The sea lies distant and mysterious. Its hardships need not be faced. The call of its tides need not be answered (if indeed they are heard on the plains beyond the mountains) for the earth lies close underfoot, rich, warm, full of promise of life.
It is the experience of most Americans to know and love the land; and if not to fear the sea, at least not to seek it.
The sea offers no man a home. No roots sink in its trackless ways. Hence those who sail it can never make clear to those who stay ashore what the sea has meant and will yet mean to America’s destiny.
These others know their loved land. They know the sentient air above that pulls their bodies as well as their spirits into the blue. They know these blessings in peace. They know them in war, and for the most part only them. .
Three fourths of those in the armed services in World War II wore the uniform of the Army and the Air Force. All that most of them saw of the sea (and that was plenty, for them) was its endless flood of waters on their passage to and from conflict. Do not talk to them about the Navy winning wars. It carries soldier and airman and their supplies. In mysterious ways it keeps ships off the beach or rams them on, according to time and circumstance. Somehow from a wobbling ship it launches planes and fires guns against the shore. Often it sinks submarines— though never enough to suit some poor devil. But as for fighting—Who stormed the bluffs of Normandy; who rode the planes over Germany; who stopped the Hun at the Bulge; who crossed the Rhine to victory?
It is futile to tell them how the Navy fought. Of the great carrier sweeps across the Pacific. Of the relentless destruction of the lifeline of Japanese empire by submarines. Of the equally grim struggle to the death requiring almost numberless surface, air, subsurface, and shore elements of our Navy to defeat the German submarine navy. Of the epic battles of fleet against fleet and fleet against air and land, portent of the course of war to be. It is futile to record that the Navy had ships and planes and equipment which with all their defects (and they existed) still were in the over-all superior to those of any other navy—and in certain equipment, common to land and sea, led all services.
It is futile to applaud past achievements in predicting the future, because most Americans, having served in them, best understand and therefore best credit the Army and Air Force. Without experiencing the strange and powerful ways of the sea, few men comprehend them—which explains many of the disasters that have defeated conquerors from Xerxes to Hitler.
What then are we to do? Shall those who do know stand silent while others while confidence in their actions seek to clip the Navy’s wings in the air, lop off its amphibious power, restrict its contribution in offensive operations?
Those in the Navy must speak. If they do not, few can intelligently. They ought to speak temperately, modestly, with understanding that the Navy is only part of a team—yet a part which it would be as fatal to hobble as for a football team to restrict its triple-threat halfback to bucking the line.
In speaking, they must dwell on the future and not the past. They must speak with full understanding of the Service in which they live, striving to keep alive in our nation some comprehension of the functions of a navy against the day when peril will make it only too easy to understand.
So far the Navy has failed to accomplish this. One reason is that while faintly realizing the national craving for a cheap war (in lives), the Navy has not understood how deeply this longing is fixed in the American heart. Instead of being patient, the Navy has scorned this desire as weak-minded madness before the facts of life.
“Can’t you remember,” the Navy might say, “how World War I lasted four years; but because it brought in the airplane and mechanization, enthusiasts preached that future conflicts would end in months if not weeks.
“Then World War II lasted six years.
“Can’t you see that theories too often go wrong? Can’t you realize that the developments of World War II, again promising swift victory, are but the old illusions in new paint, luring to disaster? Maybe we can’t help being blind to the future, but we needn’t deliberately blind ourselves.”
Having learned the hard way that nothing is easy, the Navy as a whole thus did not participate in the brief golden hallucination when America had the world in her grasp. For a space the United States was God and Fate. We alone had the A-bomb. It was terrifying to hear the man in the street throughout this Christian country of ours declare that we should “go drop bombs on all their big cities.” When we had blasted enough families and cowed the rest, then the world would be safe for democracy. Thus Jupiter strikes with his thunderbolts that little worldlings may know his love for peace.
For a glowing moment we had grasped the unattained. With the talisman of all power, America was the Lord of Atomic Hosts, dispenser of good and evil, giver of life and death.
Then the bubble burst. Now others, too, may play at Jupiter. Does the Navy today get credit as a prophet? Not at all; nor will it gain credit by opposing tomorrow’s new will-o’-wisp of great gain for little risk, which will surely follow today’s. That is, it will gain nothing if it seeks to induce reason through derision and appeals to the past.
It does no good to say, “The A-bomb merely gives a bigger explosion. The Navy took heavy damage and still won World War II. It can take the A-bomb losses too, and still win. Without the Navy, including its carrier task force and Marines, the war in the Pacific would still be with us. Without them no future war can be won.”
However correct these statements may be, they fail to show either the progressive Navy of the future or the shape of things to be in the over-all defense team. Lacking constructiveness, they do not convince. In fact, the brusque and bitter way in which the Navy has often stated its position has seemed to have the opposite effect.
Something in the Navy brings a blunt honesty to most men fortunate in knowing its moulding power. It is probably honesty born more of need than righteousness. The sea soon teaches that there are no soft shortcuts'. You have to work. You must produce. Nothing comes easy. A straight line across the placid waters intervening between ports may appear to be a quicker route than the one the navigator has set. But the reefs and shifting sands waiting beneath the shimmering surface soon teach the bitter error. The sea knows no excuses, no second guesses, no illusions or delusions. He who goes out into its vastness has to be honest with himself and with this majestic power of nature, beneficent yet ruthless to kill those who disobey its laws. These must be reasons why sailormen tend to grow blunt, forthright, stoutly honest in their work at sea and just as stoutly blundering adrift ashore. The Navy might at times have been wiser by being less blunt though no less honest.
Another of the great causes for the Navy’s failure to convince is that many in the Navy itself do not really know why America needs a navy—or, in knowing, know only in part.
To help in understanding this deficiency, we might briefly analyze the thinking on sea power in the nation as a whole, for the Navy’s own ideas are in part the cause of it and are in part shaped by it.
America came tardily to understand that the tides of the sea have shaped her destiny and will for centuries yet to come. Not only does man naturally belong on the land; but in this rich America he has less reason, still, to think of the sea. For that matter, from earliest colonial days, when the highways were by water, few had time to listen to its meaning. Inland lay empire, opportunity, the great riches of America which, within a century and a half of independence, a tireless new race was to shape into the first nation of the world.
Little wonder that these builders of empire had no time to think of the sea though it broke on each shore, opening highways to all nations. Little wonder that they chose to look upon seas as barriers, even without a strong navy of their own to make them so. During most of our growth to greatness, though we fought and more times talked of fighting Britain, we realized half consciously that in her strong dominion on the sea lay not only her security but ours as well, and the true barrier to attack on us.
Curiously, even with the inadequate Navy she maintained before the Civil War, the United States played a prominent role in accelerating the numerous revolutionary developments that profoundly changed naval warfare at least as much as have the submarine, aircraft, and atomic energy in this century—the steam engine opening such vistas of mobility and operating effectiveness of ships that for this reason alone it would appear in any history of man as a basic revolution altering his whole life; the propeller replacing side-wheels; new explosives and guns hastening the day when ships were to reach far beyond the horizon to strike with gunfire and, later, airplane-borne missiles; iron hulls miraculously not sinking; rifled guns to penetrate the iron, and armor to withstand their projectiles. In these and other developments the United States furnished leadership; yet with the national interest looking inward, before that generation grew old she abandoned the sea and most of the navy that had helped win the war.
Even Mahan first moved not the United States but nations across the seas, who had looked longer into ways of survival and were on the eve of girding themselves to enter the struggles for world dominion that have shaken our lifetime.
Fortunately for civilization, a few strong leaders, including Presidents Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt, understood our sea destiny. Changing conditions in this Twentieth Century also caused the nation as a whole to follow, if not to understand. Foremost among these conditions were the vague, half realized forebodings resulting from the rise of great new foreign navies in both oceans. I think we can say that in a formless sort of way the United States became sea power conscious between 1900 and 1945.
Then suddenly at the end of this slow awakening the United States, which had been but one of several naval powers, became the sea power of the world. Yet ironically, according to those who had just come to learn what sea power has meant to us, we have reached first place at the very moment that it is no longer of major importance.
It would be a strange thing indeed if power at sea reached its zenith in 1945 strange not only for all nations but for the United States in particular. It would be stranger if, before the battle smoke had scarcely cleared in 1945, sea power became obsolete.
The very incongruity of this, its variance with all experience, should cause us to question its validity. Yet America’s nature forces her to hurry on to something new, to the ever changing, be it good or evil. We had to wait until this century to comprehend even vaguely how the sea has wrought for America’s greatness. Now that “no other sea powers exist” (God save the blindness) and that air power comes first (in the incomplete sense that does not count the air above the sea), we in the United States who alone have the power at sea can “intelligently” throw it away.
Certainly, our people say, we understand what navies have meant, but we must change with the times. We don’t need battleships any more, there being no battleships to fight. No one questions that the fast carriers did a superb job in World War II, saving the nation in the Pacific, but where are hostile fast carriers today? We understand, if imperfectly, that our submarines silently achieved the task of Hercules in culling the enemy’s lifeline of empire, but what ships may be their targets tomorrow? We have some comprehension of the marvelous amphibious might that stormed across the oceans to write bright pages in history, but what seas are there now to sweep? Adding all these obvious half facts together, it becomes clear to the incompletely informed that except for certain transport duties, declining in this age of air, we have little need for a navy. Thus do men think their own destruction.
The truth, of course—and a tragic truth indeed if the United States fails to grasp it— is that the trident of sea power, at last and only now complete, is needed today as never before in our history.
That the United States does not yet comprehend this truth is in part the responsibility of the Navy. One of the Navy’s duties certainly is to understand itself, its function in the military team, and its responsibilities to the nation. Another of its duties is to pass on this understanding to the American public, its stockholders and providers of all that it possesses.
Has the Navy carried out these duties with its usual thoroughness? Over any wardroom cup of coffee may be heard why one person thinks his job in the Navy is important—which is as it should be—or at least a beginning of as it should be. His next thought should be about the Navy as a whole. This Service to which he has given his life can be efficient and progressive only as each man knows and does his job. Each must be wrapped up in it, must believe in it, must fight for it.
Yet the Navy is complex, probably the most complex organization in the world. Take an aircraft carrier, for example, with its power plant, its utilities like those of a city, its maze of electronics, its communication system internally from shaft alley to top, externally reaching around the world, its ordnance for ships and planes, the intricate apparatus for handling aircraft, and the mighty winged brood itself that lifts the power of the Navy into the ocean air. Could anyone thing be more intricate—unless it is a submarine, or an anti-submarine ship, or a guided missile ship, or an amphibious organization? And these are but units, small segments in an over-all industrial, scientific, amazingly complex, and intricately integrated organization known as the Navy.
We should not wonder that few even in the Navy fully understand this power which America should count as one of her greater blessings. We should not be surprised that most, in doing their jobs, can not see the sea for the waves of immediate duties. Each labors so hard in his own niche to make the Navy efficient that in some respects he may be hurting the nation. By becoming an expert in one job, and therefore a protagonist, he may fail to interpret the whole. He who must advise the nation, if anyone can advise, may give only partial advice.
Those who man the ships must surely study the Navy. If in submarines, they must develop the growing uses of submarines in military might, but they must also understand the growing use of naval aircraft. Those in that essential part of the Navy that holds the air above the seas must have an equal catholic understanding of the power that cruises through the depths. Both must comprehend the forces that rule the surface, that capture the beaches, and that man the bases, proving grounds, laboratories ashore. Each part of the Navy must understand how every part is related, how each gives and in turn receives so that we can have the mighty whole. All must know how the Navy supports and is in turn supported by the other Services. Lack of self instruction in its overall components and interrelated functions may well be the Navy’s foremost failing, and a natural reason for lack of understanding of it in the nation.
How many in the Navy, for example, understand that today America’s first line of defense is in the air, and that the Navy is a major part of that defense?
Although submarines can come under the ocean to torpedo our ships, mine our coastal waters, and launch guided missiles into our cities, including the capital, and though in years to come surface ships might also steam to our shores in numbers, today it is the air that may bring the greater menace.
If we are to suffer another war in the near future, it is in the air that we must defend ourselves first of all, and by the air that we must strike the early blows.
Such being true, we must realize that the solid earth belonging to the United States under this air, and therefore assuring us fixed bases for air protection, amounts to no more than 2 per cent of the area of the world. Allied land areas might add several times this amount; but of this we cannot be sure. Time has a way of changing the surest certainties. Witness the reversals since 1945 in Europe and China. War effects even swifter changes.
Contrasted to this, consider that if we control the sea we control not 2 per cent, but 70 per cent of the surface of the world! On the water we increase our potential air base locations more than 30 fold, provided we deny the oceans to the enemy and maintain sufficient floating fields of our own. We likewise insure that many other land areas otherwise denied us will serve our purposes and not those of the enemy. By control of the sea under the air and the air above the sea, we thus multiply our 2 per cent of area into the greater part of the world!
In this first line of defense, let us note what these waterborne air bases mean to us. Our first consideration must be to maintain reasonable superiority at sea. One cannot control the sea, alow or aloft, absolutely. Here all is fluid. Men moving in their craft through these vast spaces vanish beyond horizons, like our brief lives in eternity. Once lost in immensity, they are not easily found again, especially submarines. Ships’ hulls rise above horizons; radar picks up aircraft scores of miles beyond eyesight; but beneath the surface, submarines defy detection except at short distances—and then elusively.
So the best one can hope in controlling the seas is to attain that degree of superiority which permits usually carrying out one’s purposes over the oceans and usually preventing the foe from accomplishing his.
We must attain this degree of control in all three levels—on the surface, beneath, and above. It is as certain as death that unless we gain and hold all three, none will long be ours.
This truth has not sunk into American thinking. For that matter the Navy itself has not fully perceived it. Throughout history, until this century, navies consisted of ships on the sea. Rooted in the long past as he is, man has difficulty conceiving of navies having become something different in his lifetime. He may talk of navies in the air and submarines in the depths; but when he thinks of sea power he thinks of ships on the sea.
That is how his mind works when he says there is no other strong sea power except the United States; that we can cut our Navy because no opponent exists. (Even on the basis of a surface navy alone, he may be somewhat optimistic, since Russia has in her operating fleet today 14 cruisers to our 13, 110 destroyers to our 140, 3 tough hulled battleships, perhaps with rocket launching alterations, to our 1, and more PT-boats and coastal craft than all other navies combined. Only in aircraft carriers do we have significant advantage.)
In the minds of the American public, navies still appear in imagination as long lines of battleships fighting a Jutland; or, in some more acute and progressive minds, as carrier task forces in furious struggle over vast sea battlefields like Midway.
They understand that submarines constitute a menace at sea, but cannot imagine that submarines alone can be a most powerful navy, requiring hosts of aircraft, submarines, and surface ships to conquer them. Although they may read, and some of them write, of 270 hostile submarines (and larger estimates exist), they do not comprehend what an effective navy this represents. It is some five times larger than the navy with which Germany started World War II. Many of these submarines contain significant developments which make any one of them worth several of the 1939 vintage: For the first time in peace a nation has built up a great sea power in submarines. For the first time, should war break out, sea power will be exerted in all its terrible force by submarines at the outset of war, when opposing defense forces are small, rather than as a belated, improvised, and weaker effort after war is underway.
Our people do not realize that the way, and the only way, to conquer such a strong underwater navy is with all three of the tines of the trident of modern sea power, augmented by all aid possible from the other Services. Some of the more superficial criticize our Navy on one hand for not having put enough effort into anti-submarine countermeasures (when in fact this is its first priority) and on the other hand support reduction of the Navy’s aviation, the very place where we need growing strength to combat the submarine.
Theirs is not willful effort to weaken the power upon which the security of the United States rests. It is not even so much ignorance as it is inertia of the past, the long past of human experience weighting them down with facts that have changed. They, not the Navy, have failed to progress.
We combat submarines with other submarines laying mines, firing guided missiles into submarine bases, landing demolition parties, acting to protect and supplement other forces, and silently stalking them alone, killer against killer.
We combat submarines with surface ships laying mines, launching aircraft, projecting amphibious raids against bases, maintaining local defense of convoys, conducting search and destruction operations in concert with other forces, and especially by direct attack utilizing all the available developments in detection, computation, and destruction devices. There will never be enough ships for this latter task.
We combat submarines with aircraft, ship and shorebased, searching the vast spaces of the ocean, in local protection of convoys, in hunter-killer operations with other forces, participating in amphibious raids, laying mines, extending the area of operations of other elements of the Navy by protecting them against enemy aircraft, and by direct attack to destroy submarines at their source, their bases and building yards. May we never know the disaster of having to abandon this most important of our anti-submarine powers because of weakness in fast carrier task forces.
The American public particularly does not understand that the Trident Navy of today requires strength to fight in the air even though no probable opponent may have carriers. This attitude is incredible, but it exists. No man, except the few who deliberately seek to destroy our nation from within, would advocate that if Uncle Sam had a club and a pistol, and his opponent in a dark alley had merely a club, then Uncle Sam should discard the pistol. No man would imagine that the way to defeat a Goliath is by making ourselves weak where lie is weak.
Yet if we clip the powerful wings of the Navy that give us enduring strength over the oceans of the world, we restrict ourselves to meeting our probable enemy in the area of his own choice. The airplanes of the Navy, combined with the ships that provide mutual protection and that transport them across oceans, give us freedom to attack where we choose, forcing the opponent into an uneasy defensive on all his frontiers. If we abandon our offensive power, we present him great gifts:
(a) He does not have to expend energy and precious stores of equipment to protect his extensive frontiers on three oceans and many seas.
(b) He does not have to hold in reserve large military forces to combat attack from unexpected quarters. In other words, he is preserved from the powerful threats of surprise and choice of place of attack inherent in sea power but magnified by its modern air component.
(c) He has a far easier task to protect his military and industrial targets from air attack, since, without sea-based aircraft, both to bomb coastal areas and to furnish fighter protection to land-based bombers, the routes for repeated attack will be sharply reduced in number. This permits greater concentration of his forces and greater effectiveness of defense.
(d) Not only in air defense, but in many other fields of military effort, lie can concentrate his strength at will, instead of being forced to the weakness of dispersion.
(e) He is less restricted in moving his ground forces, since they are free both from the threat of devasting flank attack by ship gunfire and carrier dive bombers, and from disruption of his important coastal shipping by our hardhitting task forces.
(f) He has a much easier task in his submarine and other naval operations (including short amphibious lifts), since without their carrier air protection our surface naval forces cannot approach his coasts within range of his land-based air, save in those areas where our own land-based fighters can give adequate support. Consequently millions of square miles of sea pass to his control by default.
(g) He is freed of fear of results of amphibious attack (other than across the narrow waters which land-based air can control): such results as the revolt of subjugated nations, the loss of vital installations, the impairment of submarine, guided missile, and transoceanic air operations, and the gradual erosion of strength that a small force with the mobility of the sea can inflict with its rapier thrusts.
(h) He is greatly aided in his atomic attacks on the United States. His coastal airfields are not brought under accurate carrier dive- bombing attack. His long-range planes can freely select the ocean routes, preferable, for many targets, to those over the Polar region. These long-range enemy planes will not come under attack by carrier planes on the other side of the ocean (where they should be intercepted), and cannot even be met by an effective picket detection line until they are farther from their coasts than medium bombers fly.
If absence of carriers on our part conveys such aid to an enemy, how much more would it be to his advantage to have carriers himself. Although Americans may have trouble visualizing what our carriers might do to an opponent who has none, their imagination is quite equal to the nightmare of conceiving what an enemy carrier navy might do to us if we lacked this strength.
It would drive our ships from the seas. It would shut us off from essential supplies of raw materials such as bauxite, copper, and petroleum from South America, manganese and uranium from Africa. It would prevent us from operating overseas, either on the ground or from air bases. It would shut off our allies from us. Indeed, without our aid there would soon be no allies beyond our continent. Instead of having most of the world on our side, we would have the world against us. Instead of being capable of going where we willed, we would be pushed back to our shores in all ways except by air. Instead of having most of this globe as potential bases from which to project the air segment of our strength, we would be reduced to our own 2 per cent of its area.
Our first defenses would no longer rise thousands of miles away, but would shrink back to the range of radar and fighter planes off our coasts. We would expect the enemy to use his aircraft carriers to drive this disastrous fact home. Of course initially his suicide heavy bombers, armed with A-bombs, would attack from four or five thousand miles away simultaneously with his carrier planes. As soon as possible, however, in order to gain the benefits of efficiency, effectiveness, and reduced loss, he would launch his attacks from as near the target as possible, using both floating bases and nearby land bases that these floating bases had helped capture.
We would strive to meet the hostile aircraft carriers with hosts of fighters and bombers. Yet we know that no matter how numerous our fighters and bombers, we would never seem to have enough. Attacking Atlanta or Birmingham at one dawn, the same enemy carrier task force could vanish into the wastes of the Atlantic and send death flaming through New York, Washington, or Pittsburgh with the next sunrise. Flying at high speed under fighter escort, and coming from an unknown bearing out of the grey sea, his attack groups would require many times their numbers in American defensive fighters.
These hostile carrier task forces would not only provide the enemy a powerful offensive weapon, but also a potent first line of defense off the shores of the American continent, far in advance of his own distant coasts. The defense would be twofold. Its first and most productive part would be the effect of his attack in weakening our military strength. He would damage our land, sea and, air bases; hit our ports; mine our waterways; drain our resources in providing increased defenses so that less would remain for striking back; weaken us Industrially both through damage and through choking off imports; achieve a larger number of the objectives in his atomic campaign. All these and numerous other effects would significantly reduce the weight of our blows against him.
The second part of his defense would be direct interception of our attack. His carrier task forces with supporting submarines, surface and aerial pickets would engage our surface and undersea units near our ports with mines, bombs, and projectiles. They would meet our transoceanic air attack by a line of widely spaced picket ships controlling search and intercept aircraft, and backed up by the same aircraft carriers which arc pounding our shores. This would be the advanced interception, the outer hurdle for our A-bomb planes. At the least, it would sharply reduce the number of our aircraft that would reach the next picket line across the ocean, or would funnel them into fewer routes over the polar cap, easing the problem of interception.
In the endeavor to drive his task forces away we would seek them out with submarines and aircraft. We know that our forces would meet severe opposition, especially from his carrier aircraft. Indeed, even though we ourselves had no shipborne aircraft, we would think the enemy mad with the madness of self destruction if he failed to provide accompanying fighters in the same way he provides guns to protect his ships.
Even if the last enemy ship has sunk, a naval vessel taking coastal defences under attack needs armor to repel projectiles and needs guns to fire at the shore batteries. A naval force crossing seas where no enemy surface ship exists must still have defensive and offensive powers to combat submarines. A navy trying to control the oceans of the world, in order that the nation it serves may have the seas both as barriers and highways of attack, must be capable of holding its own in the air, of meeting strong air attacks with strong fighter forces, of boring in against land based air opposition to work our military will on the enemy’s coastal areas.
This, then, is what aircraft carriers would mean to an enemy if we had none. This, therefore, is what they mean to us. This is the offensive-defensive power of the United States that today can range over most of the world. This is the reason-for-being of the fast carrier task force. Without it our Navy could not do half the job even with many times the number of ships. We Americans can imagine full well the effectiveness of such a force in the hands of an enemy. Why then do we doubt it for ourselves?
The answer is worth repeating. We live where the great body of our experience lies. We can imagine a reversed situation with the enemy having our balanced navy. Hut since this is only an unreal fancy (at least, so we hope today), fears do not excite us to action. Instead, with the enemy having no carriers, it is easy for us complacently to cut ours toward the same number: to 12, to 8, to 6, to 4. Two and zero come next. Not merely do we lay up ships, but we do away with the crews and planes and airmen that give them life. As the years pass, the ships become obsolescent, though of some use still; but the planes and trained men disappear forever. By our own actions, we provide any possible opponent with greater victories than he could hope to win by years of effort and Midways of valor.
What has come over America in this atom fearing world? May our fortune be that the existence of atomic explosives elsewhere than in our own country will shock us to awareness before disaster strikes. We are like a ship steering at full speed through a fog. The radar is out of order, but we don’t know it. Will the boom of the surf warn us in time?
Anyone who looks impartially at the events of 1949 must come to the conclusion that the American public has accepted a progressive reduction of its Navy below a minimum safe level because it does not see the need for it. This occurs at the moment the United States has become the first power of the world; at the moment when she is champion, leader, and most of the strength of western civilization, with growing obligations in all the seven seas. It occurs at a time when the United States—and only the United States, in this generation at least— has the power to give to all peoples that constant freedom of the seas necessary for world peace and progress. It occurs at this troubled hour in history when sea power is needed most and has most to give in peace and in war.
It is inconceivable that we should be weakening our strength at this stage in our swift progress when we most need and can best use it. Is it but a passing aberration? Will the Navy itself come to understand better its complex and widespread function in national defense? Despite the inherent difficulties, will it be able to bring the American public to some clearer understanding of the mighty effect the sea is still to have in our future?
Let us earnestly hope so for the sake of our security and our very existence. And let us not only hope, but labor to bring this understanding about before too late. We must urge ourselves on with the knowledge that the crisis may be near, indeed; and in this age of winged sea power, even more than in the past, victory or defeat may come out of the sea.