Seldom has Alfred Thayer Mahan’s star shone more dimly than today. This is true even at the Naval War College (NWC), the institution over which he once presided and America’s foremost exponent of strategic thought about the sea. Assembled from Admiral Mahan’s lectures at Newport in the 1880s, his treatise The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 remains a mainstay of the curriculum a century hence. But few among NWC faculty or student body hold the U.S. Navy’s intellectual founder in much esteem. Post-course student critiques disdain The Influence of Sea Power upon History. And not long ago the Naval War College Review—a journal based at Mahan’s scholarly home, no less—referred to him as “Albert” in a published article.1 Trivial in itself, such a mistake hints at the slight regard now afforded Mahan and all his works.
What's the Matter with Mahan?
He’s in disfavor for reasons that in and of themselves cannot diminish the enduring tenets of his philosophy. To properly frame its vision of the future the Navy needs to rediscover the body of Mahan’s work.
By James R. Holmes