I welcome Dr. Holmes’ reappearance in these pages to deliver this project’s second installment. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s impact in shaping the U.S. Navy—not to mention adversaries such as China—is manifest.
While scholarship in service to the Navy was perhaps Mahan’s crowning achievement, he was a prolific writer outside the War College. Mahan recognized the need to spread the gospel of sea power beyond the faithful. For example, in 1897 Mahan published The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, featuring reprints of articles he had written on this subject for several popular magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. These publications reached sophisticated but nonacademic general audiences.
In describing the important role sailors and Marines must play in reinforcing the value of sea power to the U.S. public, Dr. Holmes does an excellent job defining the ways and ends. It is now incumbent on all of us to define the means, which may begin with organizations such as the Naval Institute, but must extend more widely to popular publications, newspapers, television, radio, and even social media to reach and inspire as broad an audience as possible.
Dr. Holmes opened with a nod to Stan Lee’s Spider-Man, and so I conclude with a nod to Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, which reflects both the better and baser aspects of human nature. In one strip, Calvin informs his teacher, “You can present the material, but you can’t make me care,” after which he sardonically comments, “Rumor has it she’s up to two packs a day, unfiltered.” Lest public indifference in naval matters send seafarers and navalists alike reaching for their tobacco, we must endeavor to teach and generate concern. While victory may begin at the Naval Institute, it must be sustained in the broader public discourse to succeed.
— Victor J. Sussman
Dr. Holmes does a good job detailing the relationship the United States has with the Navy and our national responsibility for commerce, diplomacy, and protection. While readers of Proceedings are his target audience, if we are to convince our fellow voters and representatives of the importance of a powerful Navy, we have to consider how the media presents the Navy.
I am of the generation that watched Victory at Sea on television—in reruns, at least. It started me at an early age admiring those who served as well as to read and build models of the warships of the past. In later years, I was able to see and visit many ships that I followed as a teenager while I served in the Navy’s
submarine force. Why do we not see such
Further back, newspapers had naval correspondents covering the comings and goings of battleships, following the ships from their launching through their careers. This created pride and helped citizens support spending lavishly on new warships. This happened with the Royal Navy and the Imperial German Navy—and our own Navy, too. With budgets tight at existing newspapers, we will have to carry the banner, but can we break out to mainstream
media on the TV? The Navy has a great story
that it needs to share more widely.
—Jonathan Yuengling, Navy Veteran
Congratulations and kudos to Commander Giarra, Captain Roncolato, and the Naval Institute for initiating this discussion on the future of naval power. I agree that “vigorous debate is essential to the future of American sea power,” and suggest the entire U.S. shipbuilding industrial base, as a vital linchpin of our naval power, be elevated in the debate.
Congress has long recognized the need for a strong shipbuilding industry, and to preserve this capability they enacted a law (10 USC §7309) requiring U.S. Navy ships be built in U.S. shipyards. In the past 40 years, the U.S. shipbuilding industry has steadily declined, largely because of the elimination in the 1980s of government subsidies. Simultaneously, other nations have invested heavily in maritime industries. With higher volumes, their costs can be as little as one-third of the cost to build a similar ship in
the United States.
The national security justification for the buy-American requirements of our Navy’s ships is obvious. Were the Navy to buy more affordable ships overseas, U.S. shipyards would go out of business. We would relinquish our sea power and national security to others.
The United States does buy critical shipboard components overseas, driving U.S. shipbuilding suppliers out of business. According to the September 2018 report Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States, more than 20,500 businesses involved in manufacturing shipbuilding components have been lost since 2000.
The increased globalization of supply chains can be a benefit in some areas, but it can also be a huge risk, particularly when it comes to our competitors China and Russia. Specifically, China has publicly stated its goal of becoming one of the world’s most powerful naval forces through dominating the global maritime supply chain. The pace of company consolidations and acquisitions is accelerating, and the United States has little control over this when it comes to foreign companies. If the nation wants to maintain a U.S. capability to build critical shipboard components for future warships, then “use it or lose it” applies.
Government action is necessary. I don’t dispute the value of partnerships with reliable allies. This can be a necessary piece to ensuring a strong U.S. defense industrial base. However, reliance on foreign suppliers should not be to the detriment of essential U.S. manufacturing capabilities. As the United States rebuilds a strong national maritime industry, it must be a priority to preserve critical U.S. suppliers, for the sake of American sea power and national security.
—CAPT Paul J. Roden, USCG (Ret.), Vice President, Washington Operations, Fairbanks Morse
Commander Giarra and Captain Roncolato offered good points about the future of American sea power.
I would also add that a look at the big picture must involve the political climate, which has
adversely affected the armed services. The political climate must change to ensure that all political parties are respected and not demonized.
I remember a time when these divisions
were not the case, especially when I served
with Commander Giarra on board the USS Midway (CV-41) in Yokosuka, Japan, when Ronald Reagan was President. But ever since then, the political climate has been toxic and/or not conducive to formulating a coherent, steady strategic plan of action for long-term goals. However, I am hopeful that this will change and that
our political parties will stop looking at each other as enemies. Fixing the problem is easier said than done.
—YNC Bernard Michael Burawski, USN (Ret.)
The authors got the project off to a strong start. While they wrote that the Navy’s fighting heritage was established during the War of 1812, I would suggest that this heritage really began 15 years earlier.
The Navy’s first six frigates were authorized in 1794 to protect U.S. merchant shipping from depredations committed by the Barbary States, but it took an undeclared naval war with France in the final days of the eighteenth century to bring about their completion and launch. During the so-called Quasi-War, construction of additional warships was authorized, merchantmen were purchased and converted for military use, vessels and manpower were borrowed from the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, and a separate Navy Department was established to administer the nascent sea service.
While in command of the Constellation, Commodore Thomas Truxtun defeated the French frigates l’Insurgente and la Vengeance in 1799 and 1800. In 1799, the Pickering (a borrowed Revenue Cutter) defeated the more heavily armed and better-manned privateer l’Egypte Conquise. Surely, these actions birthed traditions of bravery and victory that were clear in mind when the better-remembered battles of the War of 1812 took place.