Now Hear This - Know Your Navy

By Lieutenant (junior grade) Carlos R. Rosende, U.S. Navy

In the late 19th century, advocates of U.S. naval power tried to convince an inward-looking citizenry, preoccupied with western expansion, that a navy was vital to American interests. That such a service could play a role in foreign policy beyond making war—that its mere presence was an asset—was a concept requiring clarification. Fortunately, proponents of naval modernization succeeded in spreading the message, and the United States emerged on the world stage as a naval power.

A similar dilemma faces our modern Navy. In the popular view today, the Navy is of minor use for counterinsurgency operations, occasionally launching Tomahawks over the horizon or air strikes from a carrier, or boarding suspicious vessels. Even these functions would probably be difficult for the average American to list. The public is simply not informed about our purpose. Movies and TV shows like Battleship and The Last Ship provide a glimpse into the naval world and show it in a favorable light—when facing alien attacks or global pandemics. The nation needs to be educated on why we need a powerful Fleet today, in the real world, to deal with real threats.

Maritime disputes in East and Southeast Asia offer a compelling argument. However, most Americans are unaware of the growing potential for major conflict in East Asia. U.S. media rarely report on heated Asian maritime disputes, arms races, and national rivalries. This is unfortunate, since the region could be a flashpoint for international crises in the coming years. Lack of coverage of such issues is also detrimental to the Navy, since it is problems like these that provide the circumstances best exemplifying the roles of and necessity for a strong Navy.

These U.S. shortcomings are not lost on China, with a navy whose capabilities in some areas already surpass ours. The People’s Liberation Army Navy enjoys popular attention and political support as well as healthy discussion about its purpose and future. We could use the same level of discourse. Before that can happen, though, we must give details to the public about why we are here and what purpose we serve. This must be done without service-specific jargon, but also without so oversimplifying the message that it loses all meaning. “A Global Force for Good” may be an effective recruiting slogan, but as a message to the citizenry it says nothing about what the Navy actually does.

Without the interest and support of the general population, U.S. naval power is unsustainable. While we await the appearance of the next generation of Alfred Thayer Mahans—knowledgeable, respected scholars who step forward and present the case for a Navy anew—we should at least ensure that we, as sailors, are aware of and able to articulate the reasons for which this country needs a strong maritime force. We should know our own Navy.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Rosende serves as a division officer on board the USS Stethem (DDG-63), based in Yokosuka, Japan. He graduated in 2012 from the U.S. Naval Academy, where he majored in history and minored in Spanish.


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