Digitizing Proceedings

Admiral James G. Stavridis, USN (Ret.), Chair of the Board of Directors

From my days as a midshipman and throughout my career, I have been a believer, reading and learning from Proceedings and, to the best of my abilities, contributing articles to the journal’s open forum. In so doing, I have stood on the shoulders of giants. To go back through the pages, back through the decades, is to meet remarkable thinkers, writers, and legendary leaders.

Some of my favorites include Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt writing in 1897 on “The Naval Policy of America as Outlined in Messages of the Presidents of the United States from Beginning to Present Day.” Following this three-page introduction, he quotes messages from George Washington to Benjamin Harrison, 13 Presidents spanning the Nation’s first century, on the importance of naval power.

In 1909, Lieutenant Ernest J. King won the Proceedings General Prize Essay Contest with constructive criticism and pointed recommendations on improved naval organization – looking to centralization, teamwork, and sounder personnel practices. In 1912-1914, he was editor of Proceedings, so many years before he would pin on five-star rank.

In 1911, the birth year of naval aviation, Captain Washington Irving Chambers reported on recent aviation meets to which he had been sent as observer, and on the initial carrier flights made in 1910 by Eugene Ely. In December 1912, Lieutenant Chester W. Nimitz, who already held submarine command, wrote on the “Military Value and Tactics of Modern Submarines,” discussing in detail the strengths of the new weapons system and urging the shift from gasoline to fuel-oil engines to eliminate the danger of fires and the curse of fumes driving crew members to sickness, fighting, and unconsciousness.

In 1925, 1926, and 1928, Marine Corps Commandant Major General John H. Lejeune would write on the current status and future plans of the Corps, a practice subsequent Commandants would emulate. In 1962 Marine Colonel R.D. Heinl, Jr., published a “white-hot” essay, “The Right to Fight,” on the Marine Corps’ victorious struggle for survival in Washington following World War II.  The Institute was told not to publish it… but we did!

Proceedings has been the home to some of the best U.S. and foreign strategic thinkers. In May 1954, Professor Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard wrote on “National Policy and the Transoceanic Navy.” Military services exist because of their contribution to national policy; they must answer the question ‘What function do you perform which obligates society to assume responsibility for your maintenance?’ He traced the Navy from its defense-of-the coast and commerce ‘continental phase,’ to fleet-against-fleet control, the ‘oceanic phase’ peaking in World War II, to the ‘trans-oceanic-phase’ projecting power from the sea to gain supremacy on land, at the beginning of the Cold-War era. His thinking and his writing have led us to today’s Navy in its ‘global operations’ phase.

Defense organization and reorganization have come in for their share of Proceedings’ attention. In July 1993, Lieutenant Commander Larry Di Rita published his classic “I Went Joint (But I Didn’t Inhale)” on the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act and the new requirement for joint assignments: “To most naval officers, who are incurable ticket-punchers, one joint assignment is no better or worse than another. Whether you are the Chairman’s executive assistant or the guy who’s responsible for a joint fuel farm in Korea, it’s a three-year tour working for guys who wear funny uniforms and salute without their covers on, to be tolerated until you can get back into the Navy, and never repeated.”

If the Proceedings is known for its constructive criticism, it also has its stable of cerebral Molotov cocktail throwers. I have never skipped past Captain John Byron’s submissions in the Comment and Discussion section. If he has embraced the concept of political correctness, he kept it fairly neatly to himself. In the February 1979 Proceedings , for example, in a lengthy response to an article on a woman’s right to serve on warships, he opened: ”The assignment of women to the crews of Navy ships is a very bad idea.”

The Proceedings’ tracking of new classes of ships and their contributions to the Navy has been constant and invaluable. I think about the 1980s-1990s debate over the Oliver Hazard Perry -Class (FFG-7) frigates and Commander Bruce R. Linder’s strong endorsement of the class in his “Nobody’s Square Peg,” in the January 1992 issue.

In the October 1979 Proceedings , after I had completed an 18-month tour as a Lieutenant (junior grade) aboard the USS Hewitt (DD-966), the fourth Spruance, I published my professional observations on “Handling a Spruance -Class Destroyer.” This would lead to a whole series on ship-handling and to many better articles over the decades on how best to drive the various classes of ships.

If the ships are what the Navy is all about, the training we give our officers and men to drive them and fight them is both important and open to constructive criticism.  In his article “A Rude Awakening” in the January 2009 Proceedings, Lieutenant Mitch McGuffie wrote of his shock after he reported for an exchange tour aboard Royal Navy frigate HMS Cornwall at the much higher standard he was being held to by his British counterparts. In the best Proceedings tradition, he offered a series of recommendations for improved U.S. surface warfare training.

Good research and authoritative writing are other Proceedings signatures, and few if any meet this test better than Norman Polmar. In his article “In the Wake of a Sunken Soviet Submarine,” published in December 2010,  he told the fascinating story of the Unites States’ secret operation with the Hughes Glomar Explorer raising part of the Soviet K-129 Golf-Class submarine from the depths of the Pacific in the mid-1970s.

Captain George Galdorisi is another of my ‘frequent-pen’ favorites. His Proceedings works down through the years have just been terrific, most recently, “Leading the Way in Ballistic Missile Defense” on Aegis as the go-to BMD system, written with Scott Truver, and published in December 2013.

Looking to the future Fleet, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert in his article “Payloads over Platforms: Charting a New Course” in the July 2012 issue wrote that we need to move from ships that are ‘luxury-car’ platforms, with their built-in capabilities toward ships that are dependable ‘trucks’ – ships that can handle a changing payload selection.

We, the Naval Institute Members, each have our views on the best, the most important histories and strategic, tactical, and operational writings. That is what membership in this splendid organization is all about. With Proceedings now digitized, you will have better access still to this incredible repository of works. Hopefully you will take full advantage and bring your reading, thinking, and writing to our pages in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to national defense.


Adm. James Stavridis, USN (Ret.) is a 1976 distinguished graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who spent over 35 years on active service in the Navy. He commanded destroyers and a carrier strike group in combat and served for seven years as a four-star admiral, including nearly four years as the first Navy officer chosen as Supreme Allied Commander for Global Operations at NATO. After retiring from the Navy he was named the dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 2013. In addition, he currently serves as the U.S. Naval Institute's Chair of the Board of Directors. He has written articles on global security issues for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Atlantic Magazine, Naval War College Review, and Proceedings and is the author or co-author of several books, including Command at Sea 6th Ed. and Destroyer Captain.

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