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Progressives in Navy Blue: Maritime Strategy, American Empire, and the Transformation of U.S. Naval Identity, 1873-1898

Progressives in Navy Blue: Maritime Strategy, American Empire, and the Transformation of U.S. Naval Identity, 1873-1898

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Progressives in Navy Blue: Maritime Strategy, American Empire, and the Transformation of U.S. Naval Identity, 1873-1898

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621 pagine
8 ore
Pubblicato:
May 15, 2018
ISBN:
9781682471944
Formato:
Libro

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This study examines how intellectual and institutional developments transformed the U.S. Navy from 1873 to 1898. The period was a dynamic quarter-century in which Americans witnessed their Navy evolve. Cultures of progress—clusters of ideas, beliefs, values, and practices pertaining to modern warfare and technology—guided the Navy's transformation.

The agents of naval transformation embraced a progressive ideology. They viewed science, technology, and expertise as the best means to effect change in a world contorted by modernizing and globalizing trends. Within the Navy’s progressive movement, two new cultures—Strategy and Mechanism—influenced the course of transformation. Although they shared progressive pedigrees, each culture embodied a distinctive vision for the Navy’s future.
Pubblicato:
May 15, 2018
ISBN:
9781682471944
Formato:
Libro

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Progressives in Navy Blue - Scott Mobley

STUDIES IN NAVAL HISTORY AND SEA POWER

Christopher M. Bell and James C. Bradford, editors

Studies in Naval History and Sea Power advances our understanding of sea power and its role in global security by publishing significant new scholarship on navies and naval affairs. The series presents specialists in naval history, as well as students of sea power, with works that cover the role of the world’s naval powers, from the ancient world to the navies and coast guards of today. The works in Studies in Naval History and Sea Power examine all aspects of navies and conflict at sea, including naval operations, strategy, and tactics, as well as the intersections of sea power and diplomacy, navies and technology, sea services and civilian societies, and the financing and administration of seagoing military forces.

This book has been brought to publication with the generous assistance of Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest.

Naval Institute Press

291 Wood Road

Annapolis, MD 21402

© 2018 by Arthur Scott Mobley Jr.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.

978-1-68247-194-4 (eBook)

Print editions meet the requirements of ANSI/NISO z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper).

262524232221201918987654321

First printing

CONTENTS

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1Close Hauled, Port Tack, All Plain Sail and Steam:

The Culture of the Quarterdeck

2The Fleet of To-morrow:

Progress and Professionalization in the Postwar Navy

3The Ocean Is a Great Chess-board:

The Strategical Awakening

4The Essence of Intelligence Work:

Strategy Infiltrates the Office of Naval Intelligence

5"A Real Navy":

The War Navy

6To ‘Organize Victory’ in Advance:

The Naval War College and the Culture of Strategy

7The Means to the End:

The Navy’s Culture Wars, 1887–97

8War Cannot Be Made by Rule of Thumb:

Strategic Acculturation and Practice in the Navy, 1894–97

Epilogue

Notes

Bibliography

Index

ILLUSTRATIONS

Table 1-1.Line Officer Personnel Strength, 1870–90

Table 2-1.U.S. Navy Officer Corps Professionalization Compared to Other Occupations

Figure 1-1.U.S. Navy Budget, 1855–90

Figure 1-2.U.S. Merchant Tonnage in Foreign Trade, 1840–1900

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

In many ways, this book represents a team effort. I am indebted to the numerous colleagues, mentors, friends, and family whose support, encouragement, and guidance helped me bring the project to fruition.

In 2014 I was honored to receive the Rear Adm. John D. Hayes Predoctoral Fellowship in U.S. Naval History from the Naval History and Heritage Command. The fellowship afforded an incomparable opportunity to deepen my research and writing. A special thanks to Dr. Michael Crawford, the Navy’s senior historian, for his enthusiasm and friendly advice.

I am also grateful for generous support provided by the Naval Order of the United States National Capital Commandery, headed by John A. Rodgaard. In addition, I want to thank Todd Creekman and Dr. David Winkler of the Naval Historical Foundation for the kind hospitality they always extended during my visits to the Washington Navy Yard.

The research for this book relied on the talents of many capable archivists and librarians. Repeated trips to the Library of Congress Manuscript Division and National Archives in Washington, D.C., yielded a wealth of material. This trove would not have been attainable without assistance from the professional staff at these repositories; Chris Killilay and Nancy Wing deserve special mention for helping to track down some particularly elusive records at the National Archives. When I visited the Naval Historical Collection at the Naval War College, Dr. Evelyn Cherpak extended a warm welcome and helped me to discover some important but previously overlooked sources. I am grateful to Janis Jorgensen at the U.S. Naval Institute Library for facilitating my access to the institute’s earliest records and locating several of the images that illustrate this volume. Randall Forston and Linda Edwards at the Navy Department Library helped me to find important sources not available elsewhere.

The seeds of this volume emerged at the University of Wisconsin (UW)–Madison, where graduate seminars led by Dr. Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen and Dr. William Reese sparked my interest in researching organizational culture. Dr. Helen M. Kinsella and Dr. Jon Pevehouse of the UW–Madison Political Science Department helped me to appreciate interdisciplinary perspectives as the project took shape.

My doctoral thesis advisers, Dr. John W. Hall and Dr. Jeremi Suri, were unhesitatingly generous with their time, advice, and encouragement. They pressed me to dig deeper into the connections between policy, strategy, empire, and the Navy’s professional culture. Later, they helped me to navigate the process of transforming the thesis into a book manuscript.

A special thanks to Charles Facktor, James MacKay, Daniel Hummel, and David Fields for reading and commenting upon early chapter drafts. Dr. Stuart D. Brandes, professor of history emeritus, University of Wisconsin Colleges, also reviewed much of the early manuscript, offered valuable feedback, and guided me through the many challenges of historical scholarship.

My research and arguments benefited greatly from presentations delivered to the Society for Military History, the U.S. Naval Academy’s McMullen Naval History Symposia, the Triangle Institute for Security Studies in North Carolina, the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at the Ohio State University, and the 2015 West Point Summer Seminar. I especially appreciate the insights and critical comments offered at these venues by Dr. Eugenia Kiesling, Dr. Clifford Rodgers, Dr. Dirk Bönker, and Dr. Charles C. Chadbourn III.

I am grateful to Dr. James C. Bradford of Texas A&M University for his early interest in my project, his strong encouragement throughout, and his sagacious advice as I revised and polished the manuscript. I am also indebted to the editors and production staff at the Naval Institute Press. Rick Russell was a stalwart supporter, while Glenn Griffith patiently guided me through the publication process. The manuscript benefited tremendously from Lisa Yambrick’s meticulous copyediting and helpful suggestions for improvement. Any remaining errors in style, fact, or interpretation are mine alone.

A generous post-doctoral fellowship from the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1957 sustained the process of shaping the manuscript for publication. In addition to the distinguished Class of ’57, I want to thank my friends and colleagues in the U.S. Naval Academy History Department, whose seasoned insights always enlightened my scholarship.

Family ties energized my work. Sean and Lauren kept their dad’s spirits on an even keel through long days of research and writing, and our terrier Ritz was my constant companion. My wife, Monique, patiently endured my frequent disappearances into the study and my penchant for enlisting her as a sounding board. She read the manuscript with a critical eye that helped to eradicate countless stylistic blunders. Monique deserves the highest credit for her many invaluable contributions to the project.

INTRODUCTION

Rear Adm. Bradley Allen Fiske embraced progress. For much of his naval career, Fiske pressed tirelessly for innovation within the service. As he composed his memoirs one balmy midsummer day in 1918, the retired flag officer marveled at how change had reforged the U.S. Navy during his four decades of service.

When Fiske matriculated at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1870, the active fleet largely consisted of wooden cruisers and gunboats armed with smoothbore cast-iron cannons. Sail power remained the principal means of propulsion for U.S. warships, although the Navy also equipped most vessels with steam engines for auxiliary use. Fiske noted in his memoir that by 1918, steel and steam had long displaced wood and sail as guiding precepts for warship design. Highly accurate shipboard ordnance now fired gigantic armor-piercing shells at targets many miles away, far outperforming the vintage smoothbores of the 1870s that ranged in mere thousands of yards.

Operational rhythms changed as well. During his long lieutenancy (1881–99), Fiske saw the Navy’s tradition of single-ship patrols on foreign stations give way to squadron and fleet operations designed initially to defend the North American homeland and later to project U.S. power globally. As he wrote, Fiske recalled his first deployment in 1875—a lonely year-long cruise in Pacific waters on board the creaky wooden steam sloop USS Pensacola. Little more than twenty years later, the future admiral found himself charging into Manila Bay with Commo. George Dewey. Fiske was navigator in the sleek new steel gunboat USS Petrel, part of the six-ship squadron Dewey led to victory on May 1, 1898.

Fiske recognized in 1918 that the naval profession had changed dramatically since the 1870s. No other vocation gives a man such exciting and varied experiences as the navy, he enthused. Fiske attributed the vitality of a modern naval career to a variety of elements: the continual recurrence of danger in many forms; the frequent changes of locality, scene, climate and companions; the blending of the military with the nautical career; the combination of diplomatic and war-like responsibilities; the handling of engines and mechanisms of all kinds; [and] the conduct of tactical and strategic operations.¹ Indeed, travel, diplomacy, nautical proficiency, and military expertise had molded the U.S. naval profession since the late eighteenth century. However, the last two elements he mentioned—those relating to mechanism and strategy—were relatively recent professional developments. For most of the Navy’s history, line officers paid little heed to the knowledge and abilities required to manage industrial technology or exercise strategic command. Yet by 1900 both strategy and mechanism comprised the central components of professional identity within the U.S. Navy line corps.

A CULTURE OF STRATEGY

This study examines the intellectual and institutional developments that reshaped the U.S. Navy during the last decades of the nineteenth century. During this period, Americans witnessed the transformation of their Navy from a nondescript coastal defense force and imperial constabulary into a powerful modern armada designed principally to engage and defeat an enemy fleet hundreds of miles from the coast of the United States. Catalyzed by this fundamental mission shift, dozens of sleek new steel-hulled steam warships replaced the outmoded wood-and-sail cruisers and dilapidated coastal defense monitors left over from the Civil War. Cultures of progress—clusters of ideas, beliefs, values, and practices pertaining to modern warfare and technology—guided the Navy’s transformation. By century’s end, progressive methods and attitudes significantly reconstructed naval matériel, reconceived naval strategy, and redefined the professional identity of naval officers like Bradley Fiske.

The years 1873 and 1898 bracket this study. The opening year marks the establishment by Navy progressives of the U.S. Naval Institute as the service’s premier associative body. The new institute provided a vital forum for innovation, sparking an explosion of interaction and discourse among naval professionals. At the other end of the timeline, the eve of war with Spain represents a historical pivot for the U.S. Navy, along with the nation as a whole. When the United States acquired a territorial empire overseas, the Navy’s primary mission shifted once again—this time from national to imperial defense. The new empire redirected naval technology and strategy along trajectories unfathomed by planners during the preceding decade.

Strategy offers a singular framework for interpreting how naval institutions and identity developed from 1873 to 1898. During this period, the study, discussion, and practice of strategy evolved from disused abstractions to mainstream activities within the U.S. Navy. Understanding this strategic evolution and its impact advances our understanding of Gilded Age naval transformation beyond interpretations that emphasize technological and social developments.²

The word strategy conveys a range of meanings that depend upon time, place, and cultural context. A twenty-first-century Pentagon planner might define strategy as the art and science of employing the armed forces of a nation to secure the objectives of national policy by the application of force or the threat of force.³ Stated broadly, the modern conceptualization describes strategy as a process for applying military means to achieve political ends.⁴ Most late nineteenth-century naval officers in the United States understood strategy more narrowly as the actions taken by a commander prior to committing his force to battle. Naval Strategy is the science of conducting the greater operations of naval war by movements which take place out of sight or at a distance from the enemy, one Naval War College instructor explained.⁵ Such operations encompassed a scope of activities, including reconnaissance, determining military objectives, selecting points for basing and force concentration, logistical preparations, force movement, determining command and control arrangements, and myriad other measures.

Working definitions did not explicitly connect strategy to political purpose during the Gilded Age. Although U.S. naval strategists recognized in a general way that policy should drive strategy, their efforts focused largely on campaign or theater operations designed to accomplish military objectives—a level of warfare known today as operational art. Indeed, the notion of grand or national strategy linking a full spectrum of national power instruments to vital policy objectives was not fully formed until after 1900. Even Alfred Thayer Mahan, the nominal inventor of grand strategy, indiscriminately mixed his ideas on national and theater strategy.

In addition to the contemporary and Gilded Age understandings of strategy, a third meaning informs the current study: a specific body of knowledge, skills, and practices exercised by commanders and their staffs. In this sense, strategy represents expertise in the theory and practice of naval warfare at the theater level and higher. As will be seen, such expertise was absent, even discouraged, within the U.S. Navy prior to the 1870s. Yet by the late 1890s, strategy formed an essential element of professional identity for many line corps officers.

A culture of strategy—a set of ideas, beliefs, values, and practices demonstrated by strategic experts and aspirants—figured prominently in the metamorphosis of naval identity during the Gilded Age. Within the span of a single generation, line officers refashioned themselves into a body of warrior-engineers claiming particular expertise in naval warfare and industrial technology. This new self-conception sharply distinguished a rising generation of naval leaders—Bradley Fiske among them—from its predecessors. From the 1840s until the late 1880s, a mariner-warrior culture prevailed. Professional training emphasized nautical skills above all other competencies. During the four years that midshipmen of my date spent at the Naval Academy, and for many years after, Fiske recalled, three-quarters of the time was taken up with sails and spars.⁷ Midcentury line officers thus prided themselves as mariners. They also valued gunnery, boarding tactics, and landing party tactics as essential warrior skills. With the new warrior-engineer identity, mechanism—expertise in the theory, operation, and management of industrial technology—supplanted mariner skills as a salient professional hallmark. Of course, seamanship remained essential, albeit with a reduced emphasis. At the same time, strategic expertise redefined what it meant to be a naval warrior. With the advent of accurate standoff weaponry, it seemed unlikely that modern warships would grapple together in battle as had their sail-powered forebears, a trend that rendered boarding tactics obsolete. Basic gunnery and infantry skills no longer represented an ultimate professional refinement for the line corps. Instead, officers aspiring to senior command cultivated strategy as their highest calling. Rear Adm. Stephen B. Luce emphasized this point in 1885, shortly after he established the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island: One must have the faculty of taking in the whole theatre of the war, to master and utilize all the information accumulated . . . relating to the field of operation . . . and to make those timely dispositions of the floating force his foresight will have prepared, that it may be in the right place at the right time.

NAVAL PROGRESSIVISM

The long naval career of Bradley Fiske embodies the transformation of the naval officer corps analyzed in this study. First, Fiske’s experience demonstrates how the pioneers of naval change embraced a progressive ideology. Moreover, the attitudes and methods of naval innovators anticipated the wider surge of Progressive Era development in the United States by some ten or twenty years. Second, the trajectory of Fiske’s career also reveals how the new cultures of strategy and mechanism reshaped the professional identity of U.S. naval officers. Although the cultures shared progressive pedigrees and attitudes, each culture also embodied a distinctive vision for the Navy’s future. Competition resulted, and the tensions between strategists and mechanists ultimately forged the dichotomous warrior-engineer identity of modern naval officers.

A third set of characteristics marks the political dimensions of naval transformation between 1873 and 1898. Although the prevailing historical interpretations view the Gilded Age Navy as a force preparing for its future imperial role, a new reading of the evidence suggests otherwise. In fact, the United States already maintained a Navy to promote and police its overseas maritime empire and had done so since the 1840s, as historian John Schroeder has demonstrated.⁹ The New Navy of the 1880s and 1890s represented a departure from this traditional role. Instead of empire, homeland defense concerns dominated the agendas of national politicians and Navy professionals during these decades. Previously, U.S. naval leaders had considered national defense a secondary mission—essentially a wartime contingency. However, revised national security risk assessments during the late nineteenth century sparked a new sense of urgency that influenced both the direction and pace of naval transformation. Sensing a growing potential for conflict, influential policymakers shifted the Navy’s primary mission from supporting peacetime commerce to preparing for war against a nation or nations with significant navies. As a result, the Navy supplanted its imperial constabulary tradition with a new focus on warfighting.

The first set of assertions centers on the linkages between the Navy and the broader sweep of U.S. progressivism. Naval officers of the era certainly considered themselves progressive—a self-conception evidenced by the language that permeated their professional discourse. The pages of journals such as the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings and United Service fairly burst with progressive imagery. "If you would serve ‘till sixty-two, Commanding ships and ruling men, You must awake to progress too," a naval lyricist playfully admonished his colleagues.¹⁰ Broader notions of human progress underlay the worldviews of many. One nationalistic young officer described the enterprise, energy, and ideas of freedom and progress that contrasted our progressive [American] civilization from other societies.¹¹ Another extolled the progress of the age.¹² Observing this advance of humanity, Stephen B. Luce pressed for reforms and progressive steps which will keep the profession abreast, if not in advance, of the nautical world in the great march of events.¹³ Other officers worried that the march of history might pass them by. One noted how at times progress was very slow, inhibited by the Navy’s cumbersome administrative system.¹⁴ He who does not progress, goes backward, warned another.¹⁵

Discussion of technological progress dominated the professional dialogue, as evidenced by countless comments on the progress of modern scientific ideas, the mechanical progress and development of material, and even Progressive Naval Seamanship.¹⁶ Some officers advocated for progressive education, training, and administration. Increased complexity is a necessary accompaniment of progressive naval and military organization, noted one naval subaltern.¹⁷ Others discussed progressive policy, progressive prospects, and progressive responsibility.¹⁸ Naval professionals also conceived modern maritime warfare—the strategy, tactics, and logistics of an industrialized age—within a progressive framework. One junior officer deemed it vital for the Navy to "‘observe’ and ‘keep informed’ of the progress of other nations in the science of warfare.¹⁹ The unresting progress of mankind causes continual change in the weapons; and with that must come a continual change in the manner of fighting," Mahan expounded in his seminal work, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783.²⁰

Gilded Age naval reformers embraced an implicitly progressive ideology to reorder their profession and address the myriad political, strategic, and technological challenges of a modernizing and globalizing world.²¹ Luce, Foxhall Parker, John G. Walker, Montgomery Sicard, Henry C. Taylor, and other senior visionaries led the advance of these progressives in navy blue. At the same time, Fiske, Washington I. Chambers, Theodorus B. M. Mason, Charles D. Sigsbee, Charles C. Rogers, and dozens of other young disciples added energy and resilience to the reform movement. Like their civilian counterparts, these naval innovators saw science, technology, and expertise as the paths to social transformation. They advocated the use of specialists and professionalized experts, scientific method, discursive problem-solving, and an ethos of efficiency and continuous improvement—the body of progressive bureaucratic thought propounded by social historian Robert H. Wiebe.²² Naval adaptation of the bureaucratic approach demonstrated lowercase p progressivism—a singular approach to reform in politics, education, social programs, and other fields—in contrast to the Progressive political movement of the early twentieth century.

The actions of naval reformers anticipated by several years the surge of progressive development in wider U.S. society. Historians generally agree that progressivism flourished in the United States after about 1900. By comparison, U.S. Navy reformers began modernizing their service a quarter of a century earlier and had already achieved much of their progressive agenda before 1898, during which time the broader progressive movement demonstrated little practical focus.²³ The Navy’s professionalizing infrastructure matured relatively early. By the mid-1880s, a full battery of educational, associational, and regulatory elements structured naval professionalization, long before similar standards were set for education, medicine, and other important occupations.²⁴ The Navy also established several new institutions during the 1880s and 1890s that presaged the social and economic planning bureaus that appeared in U.S. cities after 1900—most prominently the Office of Naval Intelligence and the various strategic planning boards. In addition, the Naval War College (established in 1884) introduced methods for teaching and research similar to those used at the nation’s pioneering graduate programs in history and political science.

The actual pace of progressive accomplishment within the U.S. Navy during the Gilded Age challenges historical interpretations that stereotype military establishments as bastions of conservatism or others that simply ignore the Navy as a progressive force in U.S. society.²⁵ It also raises the question: Why did the Navy achieve a progressive culmination some ten to twenty years ahead of the national trend? A comparison of the Gilded Age Navy’s unique cultural conditions and its particular problem sets with those of general society illuminates an interesting set of explanations.

Cultural factors helped to fashion the Navy’s early record of progressive achievement. For one, naval officers shared a general unity in perspective and purpose not achievable in wider U.S. society. The unique experiences and camaraderie of sea duty certainly helped to shape the naval outlook. Moreover, the Navy’s Gilded Age officer corps represented a small and stable cadre (averaging about 1,600 persons) that was homogeneous (almost entirely white, male, and middle class) and hierarchically organized with a well-defined structure of rank and custom. The unifying qualities of naval service nurtured conditions that encouraged officers to find common ground on a variety of conflicting interests. Thus, the Navy achieved a degree of consensus sufficient to advance important new ideas in matériel, education, and strategy with relative timeliness. By comparison, the United States as a whole embodied a diverse, dynamic, burgeoning, and fiercely democratic populace—the 1870 census counted forty million Americans; nearly eighty million inhabited the nation some thirty years later. Shaping political coherence within this unruly and individualistic society usually required persistent vision and patient effort. Only the occasional stroke of fortune in the form of a precipitating crisis or pivotal event might hurry the process along.

Worries over international developments during the 1870s and 1880s provided the primary impetus for the Navy’s progressive agenda. Meanwhile, the American public remained largely indifferent to affairs unfolding far from the nation’s shores. Instead, national progressivism responded to dislocations inflicted upon domestic society and politics by immigration, population growth, and the industrial and scientific revolutions—mostly homegrown trends that gained critical momentum especially after 1890. They included overcrowded cities, acute poverty, labor agitation, robber barons, government corruption, agricultural crises, and recurring economic collapse. The reckless decade of the 1890s demonstrated the inability of America’s traditional village-agrarian culture to deal with the collateral effects of industrialization, urbanization, nationalization, and other modernizing currents.²⁶ Consequently, the agents of progressive reform stepped in as the twentieth century dawned, eager to offer new solutions. Naval reform followed a similar pattern. However, the Navy progressives followed an advanced timeline and responded to a slightly different set of modern isms. While domestic affairs preoccupied most Americans during the early years of the Gilded Age, U.S. naval officers—by nature of their calling—gazed outward to the wider world.

Concerns over globalization and evolving industrial technology drove the initial wave of progressive naval reform. Naval officers viewed with vexation the advance of industrial maritime technology overseas. They critically evaluated pivotal events such as the Franco-Prussian War (1870), the Virginius affair (1873), the War of the Pacific (1879–83), and the Anglo-Egyptian War (1882). In these occurrences and other developments, naval officers perceived destabilizing trends in international politics. Many concluded that the United States might soon face an increased risk of conflict. Furthermore, the rapid tempo and formidable destructive potential of modern, mechanized warfare revealed by these crises seemed to portend a possibility that the wood-and-sail Navy might not be able to shield the nation from harm. Alarmed by these developments and frustrated by a series of harsh personnel policies and wasteful material practices imposed by Congress and civilian administrators, a group of forward-looking officers led by Luce, Parker, and Adm. David D. Porter began to agitate for progressive reform. At the same time, Rear Adm. Christopher R. Perry Rodgers, Capt. Francis M. Ramsay, and other progressive commanders quietly implemented minor innovations within the scope of their authority. By the early 1880s, after a decade of small measures and extended professional discourse, new technology, new strategic ideas and practices, and new progressive institutions appeared on the Navy’s horizon. A string of reformist politician-administrators, including William H. Hunt, William C. Whitney, Benjamin F. Tracy, and Hilary A. Herbert, significantly boosted the Navy’s progressive momentum between 1882 and 1897.

The progressive transformation rocked the technological and strategical presumptions that underpinned traditional Navy culture. Thus, a second set of assertions addresses the Navy’s cultural evolution between 1870 and 1900. Since the service’s earliest days, a culture of the quarterdeck—the ideas, beliefs, values, and practices of the sailing Navy—shaped the mariner-warrior officer corps. However, U.S. naval officers proved remarkably adaptable to new ways of thinking and acting when circumstances seemed to demand change. Admiral Porter epitomized this metamorphosis. As the Navy’s senior flag officer in 1869, Porter directed all commanders to equip their ships with sail rigs, including steamers originally constructed without masts or spars. At the same time, he restricted the use of coal to emergency situations, ordering instead that ships cruise under sail alone. Porter explained these measures partly as an effort to economize, but the admiral also articulated a vital need to instruct the young officers of the Navy in the most important duties of their profession.²⁷ Fallout from the Virginius affair, a brief war scare with Spain, five years later convinced Porter that the nation had become strategically and technologically vulnerable. He proclaimed a vital need for naval modernization, assessing the Navy’s fleet of venerable wooden cruisers and rusty ironclads as unsuitable for war purposes.²⁸ During the 1880s Porter became a vocal champion for the new Naval War College, closely allied with Luce and other progressive leaders.

As in wider society, the Navy’s path to progress was never foregone. Endless conflict and contingency challenged naval reformers as they pressed their progressive agenda. For example, opponents of the Naval War College nearly shuttered the school’s doors twice during its first decade of operation. The college was a progressive institution conceived by Stephen B. Luce and established in 1884 with Luce as its first president. From the moment of its conception, the new school encountered strong resistance from within the Navy. However, its chief adversaries were not reactionary officers clinging to outmoded notions of professional education. Instead, Navy progressives averse to the college’s location, mission, and methods primarily constituted its opposition.

The war college story points to an intriguing quality of the Navy’s struggle to modernize. Unlike other tales of reform and resistance, the naval experience did not feature old guard intransigence opposing young Turk innovation. Rather, it represented two progressive schools competing to control the Navy’s future: a case of new versus new, not new versus old.

During the 1880s the two orientations of progressive naval reform, strategy and mechanism, coalesced into cultures of advocacy.²⁹ While mechanism focused most intently upon developing and operating new technology, strategy placed greater emphasis on cultivating the intellectual and practical dimensions of naval warfare—that is, exercising the warfare disciplines as both art and science. Furthermore, advocates for the strategic orientation expanded and redefined the naval warrior identity. They encouraged fellow officers to embrace a wide variety of sophisticated warfare skills beyond basic gunnery expertise, including tactics, logistics, and, above all, strategy. He should not only know how to fight his own ship, Luce voiced the new strategic conception of naval command, but having a certain force at his disposal, he should know where to place it that it may do the most good. In other words, he should have some idea of the principles of strategy.³⁰

The respective disciples of mechanism and strategy agreed in general that progressive ideas should shape the Navy’s future. Some officers—Fiske and Chambers, for example—synthesized the two cultures into a single unit, but others disagreed bitterly over matters of vision and approach. As the two cultures of advocacy crystallized during the later Gilded Age, each framed an ideological core around which coalesced competing claims for professional allegiance, institutional arrangements, and scarce resources. These differences sparked a series of sometimes virulent culture wars that peaked around 1893–94. The domain of professional education constituted a principal battlefield for this internecine struggle. While strategy dominated by 1896, mechanism remained a potent force. The continuing cultural tension bred a dynamic and dichotomous professional identity for U.S. naval officers that echoes to the present day. By 1907 Fiske recognized a professional duality in the naval profession. A sharp dividing line may be drawn between the military and the technical or engineering arts, Fiske observed, yet, in the ordinary exercise of the naval profession under the conditions of service, this dividing line is blurred. In the ordinary exercise of the duties of a naval officer, his military and his technical work are so closely connected, that it is hard to tell where one begins and the other ends.³¹ Indeed, often over the past century, engineer-warrior seemed the more apt description of a U.S. Navy line officer, but the warrior-engineer identity also prevailed at times.

Finally, a third set of assertions situates the political dimensions of Gilded Age naval transformation within a narrative of national defense rather than imperial ambition. There is no denying that when Fiske drafted his memoir in 1918, U.S. statesmen, Navy professionals, and the public at large perceived their Navy as second to none. Whether to make the world safe for democracy, support the Monroe Doctrine and the Open Door policy, or guard the nation’s overseas empire, the U.S. Navy was an instrument to project global power in peace and war. However, these twentieth-century perspectives obscured a very different historical moment some three decades earlier, when mounting anxieties over international politics and advancing naval technology redefined the Navy’s mission. During the 1880s national security supplanted commercial empire as the fundamental basis for U.S. naval policy.

Of course, national security always figured as a prominent naval role. However, since the antebellum years, U.S. policymakers had configured the Navy essentially to support U.S. commercial enterprise overseas: a Peace Navy designed to nurture the nation’s maritime empire. Few expected this modest force to fight more than a delaying action in the event of war—the peace navy paradigm anticipated substantial reinforcement to constitute an effective defense of the nation’s oceanic frontiers. For much of the nineteenth century, the nation expected to improvise any fighting navy as need might demand. Such was the case during 1861–65 and for all previous major conflicts.

The year 1886 marked the moment when U.S. anxieties over international politics and advancing naval technology surpassed the needs of maritime empire. In February of that year, Secretary of the Navy William C. Whitney—representing the decidedly anti-imperial Grover Cleveland administration—proposed building a new War Navy comprising powerful modern warships designed principally to confront the heavy squadrons of other maritime powers rather than to police imperial affairs. Whitney intended this new fleet during wartime to operate defensively within the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, the first steel battleships constructed by the United States—the Texas, Maine, and Indiana classes—would possess insufficient steaming range to cross the Atlantic or Pacific and then engage in battle without first refueling.³²

Congress concurred with Whitney’s approach. Henceforth, a national defense mission superseded the U.S. Navy’s traditional role as an imperial constabulary. While U.S. warships would continue to promote and protect the nation’s expanding commercial interests abroad, such activities no longer comprised the Navy’s principal raison d’être. Instead, naval leaders redirected their energy and efforts to address national security imperatives. They reconfigured the U.S. Fleet into an instrument for hemispheric defense and designed contingency plans to defend a hemispheric perimeter—not to extend the nation’s imperial reach.

Thus, national defense needs principally drove naval modernization from 1886 to about 1896. This interpretation challenges the imperial preparation thesis articulated by William Appleman Williams, Walter LaFeber, and other historians who attribute the Navy’s revival to a mix of commercial expansionism, hegemonic aspirations, and imperial ambition.³³ Although such impulses certainly motivated some policymakers of the time, they did not predominate. Even the expansion-minded Mahan conceived national defense as the most urgent reason for reconstituting the Navy. In 1890 he warned that the deficient state of U.S. defenses on land and sea presented Americans with a sober, just, and reasonable cause of deep national concern.³⁴ Indeed, the Navy’s imperial role actually diminished during the era of naval transformation.

A vast literature focuses on U.S. territorial empire and hegemony in the Western Hemisphere, the Western Pacific, and elsewhere, but a comparative handful of monographs examine the maritime empire cultivated by Americans before 1898.³⁵ Akin to concepts of informal or shadow empire, this oceanic imperium rejected direct ownership of colonies or political control of client states. Instead, it leveraged commercial influence backed by naval muscle. The empire itself consisted not of territory but rather of an expansive merchant marine engaged in overseas trade—a tremendous fleet displacing some 1.5 million tons afloat during the 1870s. A scattered network of consulates, legations, and private warehouses supported this global floating empire. From about 1840 through 1885, the U.S. Navy arranged its regular force structure, administration, operations, and culture around the maritime empire. Imperial constabulary duties defined its roles and missions. Thus, the 1886 shift to a national defense mission marked the Navy’s decade-long departure from empire. As noted previously, homeland defense had always been a secondary role for the peacetime naval establishment, but during the late 1880s, it became a primary focus. Only after the United States unexpectedly acquired an overseas territorial empire in 1898 did naval strategists turn to the problems of imperial defense.

GILDED AGE NAVAL TRANSFORMATION

Over the past century, historical interpretations of the Navy’s Gilded Age renaissance oscillated from the triumphant to the tragic. The melodies of naval triumph sounded soon after the Spanish-American War and continued well into the twentieth century. Within the triumphal arc, scholars celebrated the leaders of naval revolution—most notably Luce and his protégé Mahan. Bolstered by remarkable prescience and persuasiveness, these uniformed prophets redeemed their traditionalist colleagues and enlightened a benighted nation to clear a path to naval greatness. In time, the forces of reform swept away the political and cultural obstacles that stood between the Navy and its destiny as a global maritime force second to none.³⁶

Historians later wove the nineteenth-century naval revival into a broader narrative of national tragedy. Their conceptions teamed naval officers enamored of big-gun battleship technology with imperialist politicians such as Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Benjamin Harrison and with industrialists seeking contracts. Together, the manufacturers, imperialists, and Navy battleship enthusiasts forged a fleet for projecting American power to the four corners of the globe—ultimately to the detriment of both the United States and the foreign peoples exploited by its hegemonic aspirations.³⁷ A corollary to the tragedy narrative views the U.S. Navy officer corps as a self-serving aristocracy that advanced a naval renaissance to preserve its prestige and power in national affairs. This interpretation portrayed the Navy’s alignment with imperialistic ambitions as a simple act of self-preservation.³⁸

Certain aspects of the triumph-or-tragedy interpretation carry merit. After all, Luce was a visionary, the naval officers were often self-serving, and battleships enamored imperialist Americans, especially after 1898. However, the triumphant narrative suffers from a tone perhaps too celebratory, along with simplistic presumptions of a naval destiny bordering on the deterministic. On the other hand, the tragedians tend to pronounce broad conclusions from a relatively narrow set of causal factors: economic imperialism, capitalist profiteering, or fear of socio-political marginalization, for example. In other words, neither triumph nor tragedy fully explains U.S. naval developments during the Gilded Age.

The naval transformation of 1873–98 played out within a complex milieu of political, strategic, technological, and social interactions that defy narrow or simplistic explanations. Twenty-first-century scholars have started to address this complexity. William M. McBride’s Technological Change and the United States Navy, 1865–1945, published in 2000, examines naval technology as a social and cultural phenomenon. More recently, John T. Kuehn traced the Gilded Age pedigree of the General Board—the Navy’s first institution formally chartered for strategymaking. James C. Rentfrow shows how the Navy’s operational and training regimes adjusted to changes in technology, strategy, and international politics. Similarly, Timothy T. Wolters recounts the struggles of naval leaders to develop effective command and control systems that could deal with a complex world of shifting political, financial, institutional, and operational environments.³⁹

This book adds another dimension to the scholarship—both recent and earlier—by considering the influence of strategic ideas, beliefs, values, and practices upon the Navy’s professional culture and identity. Thus, strategy offers a framework for understanding the experiences of Gilded Age naval officers that can inform contemporary debates. Navy leaders still argue over how best to educate professional officers. The ongoing controversies over the optimum ratios of Bull (humanities and social sciences) and Tech majors at the U.S. Naval Academy and in Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps units represent a latter-day version of the warrior-engineer/engineer-warrior debates that gripped the Navy from the 1870s through the 1890s.⁴⁰

Looking abroad, a seemingly unbounded flux of technological leaps, political instability, and international strife rocks our contemporary world—trends that resemble the conditions confronting late nineteenth-century policymakers and military professionals. Naval officers of that earlier era responded by reconceiving strategic thought and practice. Observers today call for comparable responses: new strategies and better strategists. We must reinvigorate discussions about the core of our craft: fighting and winning wars at and from the sea, a president of the U.S. Naval War College recently urged.⁴¹ Officers at the highest levels must understand strategy in enough depth and breadth to guide their staffs and decide on the choices most likely to succeed with a minimum of blood and treasure, prescribed a leading military historian and policy adviser.⁴² In crafting policies for a new strategic transformation, contemporary statesmen and military leaders would be well advised to comprehend and consider analogous situations from the past.

ABOUT THIS BOOK

This study opens with an examination of the traditional quarterdeck culture that shaped professional identity in the U.S. Navy prior to the 1880s. Chapter one shows how years of peacetime duty at the far reaches of the nation’s overseas maritime empire shaped line officers as mariner-warriors. In a service dominated by wood-and-sail technology, Navy professionals valued nautical skills above all other competencies. At the same time, most naval officers dismissed strategic expertise as unnecessary for a profession focused primarily on commercial and imperial missions rather than warfighting. However, during the 1870s worrisome developments in military technology and international politics began to stress the traditional outlook. Observing these trends, naval intellectuals perceived new risks of conflict emanating from the globalizing world beyond the nation’s shores. Domestic policy developments related to postwar retrenchment further stoked their concerns. In this environment, some naval officers began to question the continuing viability of both their profession and the nation’s defense under a regime of traditional ideas, beliefs, values, and practices. Change, they soon concluded, was a vital necessity.

The second chapter traces the course of naval professionalization and progressivism during the decades immediately before and after the Civil War. With the founding of the U.S. Naval Academy and other developments, officer professionalization advanced significantly during the antebellum years. However, wartime exigencies placed the Navy’s professionalizing project on hold between 1861 and 1865. Following the war, Navy professionalization regained momentum. At the same time, naval officers embraced progressive ideas and practices in response to new challenges posed by a rapidly globalizing and modernizing postwar world.

Naval professionalization anticipated developments in other occupations, such as medicine, law, and education. In 1873 a group of reform-minded officers established the U.S. Naval Institute—a new professional association for progressive dialogue and problem-solving. Technological solutions predominated the early professional discourse, giving birth to a new progressive culture of advocacy: mechanism. While technology and mechanism greatly interested the rising generation of naval professionals, themes related to naval warfare and strategy also attracted a significant following.

Chapter three traces how a new interest in strategic thought and practice arose within the officer ranks during the mid-1870s. The awakening moment grew into a decade-long discourse on strategy. Nurtured by the Naval Institute and other new forums for professional discussion, the strategic dialogue grew in scale, sophistication, and application, laying the foundation for new strategic institutions and a strategic culture of advocacy that would bloom more fully during the 1890s and early 1900s.

The first such institution, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), is the subject of chapter four. Paradoxically, strategy did not form part of ONI’s original mandate. Naval administrators created the agency in 1882 to advance the Navy’s technological development by gathering and managing technical information. However, strategic advocates quickly infiltrated ONI, transforming the office into a center for strategic analysis and planning. Progressive ideology guided the early directors of ONI: agency methods presaged those of the early twentieth-century municipal planning bureaus. By preparing strategic plans and studies during peacetime, ONI challenged the Navy’s cultural traditions and laid the groundwork for a deeper embrace of strategic practice by naval officers.

Much conventional scholarship marks 1890 as a historical point of departure—an important juncture when Mahan’s Influence of Sea Power Upon History first appeared. Animated by Mahan’s analysis, Congress authorized the new battleship navy, and the United States embarked on the path to empire. Chapter five challenges these interpretations by moving the historical pivot to 1886, arguing that this was a moment when national security concerns outweighed imperial ambition as the primary impetus for a new Navy. Policymakers reached a consensus to replace the Navy’s traditional peace establishment with a new War Navy—a force designed more to confront the battle fleets of leading maritime nations than to enforce trade treaty provisions or quell restless native populations. Even under the expansion-minded Benjamin Harrison administration, national defense, not imperial ambition, remained the essential rationale for naval reconstruction.

Chapters six and seven resume the examination of early strategic institutions by analyzing how the Naval War College emerged as a critical nexus for strategic thought, practice, and acculturation during the final decades of the nineteenth century. The college’s founder, Stephen B. Luce, envisioned his new creation as a center for advanced professional education. Luce embraced the progressive concepts for research and teaching recently introduced at the nation’s pioneering graduate programs. Luce’s protégé Alfred Thayer Mahan deserves credit for transforming the war college vision into reality. During Mahan’s first term as the college’s president (1886–88), he developed a comprehensive theory of naval warfare and designed a curriculum that would sustain the school for decades to come. The pioneering work of Luce, Mahan, and other emerging strategists framed a new strategic culture of advocacy during the late 1880s.

However, even before its doors opened in 1885, the new institution

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