Realizing an important strategic goal, the U.S. Naval Institute has just completed digitizing every issue of Proceedings published over 140 years. With the contents preserved electronically, they will be available to Members now and in the years to come to access, use, and enjoy.
A publication that strives to be the “Independent Forum of the Sea Services” has set a high bar. During the 1990s, Proceedings leapt over that bar. Easy to say, but hard to prove? Not really. Establishing Proceedings as the independent forum people must turn to means making that aspirational goal a reality.
How should a reader—or a prospective reader of today’s Proceedings—decide if this aspiration turned into reality? Three criteria suggest themselves:
- Was Proceedings an authoritative voice and trusted source on naval matters?
- Did Proceedings strike a thoughtful balance between “official” and “edgy”?
- Was Proceedings prescient about issues impacting the nation and the Sea Services?
Before we answer those questions, it’s important to provide some context about that era. The last ten years of the 20th century may have been its most “conflicted” decade. The New York Times Sunday Review dubbed the 1990s the best decade obviously, while the Economist cited a survey that singled out this period as one that people considered the least memorable and the one to which they would least like return.
“Least memorable” . . . really? As former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman suggested in his April summary of Proceedings articles during the 1980s, “We Win and They Lose,” America began the 1990s with enormous anticipation. The Soviet Union had imploded, the Berlin Wall had come down, and the emerging superpower, China, had bared its teeth in Tiananmen Square. Now that the single organizing impulse for our nation and our Sea Services—taking on the Soviet empire—was no more, we could begin to address other issues and spend the coming “peace dividend.”
Those with stewardship of the Naval Institute and Proceedings at the beginning of the decade likely wondered whether the era would mark the demise of the Independent Forum of the Sea Services. Our former enemy had been swept into the dustbin of history. Globalization and the mass mobilization of capital markets resulted in heretofore unimagined prosperity. The emergence of technologies such as the Internet produced the dot.com boom at the end of the decade. In many ways, Americans were looking forward to channeling what the fictional character Gordon Gekko suggested in the 1987 movie Wall Street: “Greed is good.” National-security matters would likely not register a blip.
Events have a way of intruding on hopeful aspirations. A little over halfway through the first year of the decade, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, ushering in Operation Desert Storm and a decades-long American commitment in the Mideast. At the decade’s midpoint, Russia invaded Chechnya. The Yugoslav wars in the early 1990s led to American involvement in the war in Kosovo later in the decade. In between there was ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan, civil wars in Ethiopia and Somalia, and genocide in Rwanda, among other crises. And ominously, in 1996, the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan. Channeling Gordon Gekko would have to wait.
These international events were widely covered in both traditional and emerging media. But Proceedings provided the analysis and synthesis found nowhere else. From the May 1991 Naval Review issue with major essays on the Gulf War, to Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Tissues’ “21 Minutes to Belgrade,” to Commander Wayne Sharer’s “Command and Control the Navy Way Over Kosovo,” to many others, Proceedings covered the conflicts of the decade like no one else.
But warfare wasn’t the sole area where the magazine served as an authoritative voice and trusted source. Technology loomed large in its pages, from Lieutenant Christopher Abel’s “Controlling C3,” to Commander John Carey’s “Fielding a Theater Ballistic Missile Defense,” to Major David Fuquea’s “Men or Missiles for Close Air Support,” to a host of others. Proceedings provided the analysis and synthesis of key technological innovations impacting the Sea Services.
Arguably one of the challenges for a publication like Proceedings is to strike a thoughtful balance between “official” naval policy, often (but not always) manifested in articles by senior leaders, and “edgy” submissions by thoughtful, emerging Sea Service leaders tilting against established policies and practices.
Throughout the 1990s Proceedings gave voice to the Sea Services’ leaders, not only in unveiling “official” documents like the Maritime Strategy, From the Sea, Forward from the Sea, and others, but also to thoughtful commentary by these senior officers. But perhaps more important, in keeping with its role as the Independent Forum of the Sea Services, Proceedings gave ample voice to emerging leaders who wanted the services to be better.
It’s impossible to chronicle all of these edgy articles in this brief overview, and now that Proceedings is digitized you can read them for yourself! But just to steer you to some especially thoughtful pieces, you might enjoy John Mitchell’s prize winning “Bull? Or the Real Thing,” then-Commander (now Admiral and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) James Winnefeld’s “It’s Time for a Revival,” Commander Gerard Roncolato’s “No Time for Rest,” Lieutenant Silas Kennedy’s “Retaining the JOs,” Lieutenant Robert Carretta’s “Where’s the Adventure?” and Machinist’s Mate Mark Butler’s “The Chiefs are Not Happy,” to highlight just a few.
Nor was “edgy” restricted to junior officers and enlisted sailors—take for example former Secretary of the Navy James Webb’s “The Silence of the Admirals.” And if you wanted to find one article that neatly summed up how Proceedings has maintained its independent, open forum and a commitment to free, open and uncensored discussion on matters of national importance, read Captain G. V. Stewart’s “The Admirable Servant, Occasionally Obsequious.” Originally published in the October 1948 issue, the article proved to be of such enduring relevance that the Institute decided to reprint it in June 1990. And as evidence that Proceedings took on extraordinarily controversial issues, be sure to read W. Hays Parks’ September 1994 article on Tailhook, one of the best treatments of the causes and effects of this controversial incident ever written.
These categories of articles are important—and continue to be—but I believe what makes Proceedings unique is its ability to inspire its writers to be prescient about issues that would impact the nation and the Sea Services. It’s not lost on anyone familiar with the Naval Institute that this organization launched Tom Clancy on his career with the 1984 publication of The Hunt for Red October, frequently cited as one of the greatest genre novels ever written. Of all the words written about Mr. Clancy following his untimely death, his knack for being prescient about the future of intelligence, warfare, and military technology was unequaled. “I hang my hat on getting as many things right as I can,” Mr. Clancy once said in an interview. “I’ve made up stuff that’s turned out to be real—that’s the spooky part.”
Clearly, Proceedings writers don’t “make things up.” Our seasoned editors would have none of that. But from where I sit, during the last decade of the last century, our Independent Forum was prominent in featuring articles that were prescient in surfacing issues that would be important in the years ahead.
There is no better place to start than with then-Commander James Stavridis’ July 1993 article “To Begin Again,” which addressed the need for integrated strike forces two decades before the Air-Sea Battle Concept suggesting the same thing became official DOD doctrine. Then there was Admiral Leighton “Snuffy” Smith’s “Engaging Change in Europe” that foresaw NATO’s involvement in the Balkans a few years hence. On the technology side, today’s explosion in the use of military unmanned systems was presaged by Michael McDaniel in his July 1996 article “High-Altitude Endurance UAVs.” Nor was this look at the world of the future restricted to U.S. writers; Royal Australian Navy Lieutenant Commander J. V. P. Goldrick’s piece “The Century of the Pacific” predicted the rise of Asia and Asian navies. These articles represent just the tip of the iceberg—there are many, many more.
But perhaps the most prescient among Proceedings articles of the 1990s were those that predicted the information revolution that has changed the nature of naval warfare. In his article “What is Info Warfare?” Commander William Rohde wrote that in the future, victory would go to the side best able to exploit information. This piece was followed, famously, a few years later by Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski and John Garstka’s article, “Network-Centric Warfare: Its Origins and Its Future.” The latter article has become a classic and is one of the most widely cited articles on this subject.
There you have it—another memorable decade for the Independent Forum of the Sea Services.