trnavaldiplomacyIt was a real honor for me to interview CDR. Jerry Hendrix about his new book, Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval Diplomacy: The U.S. Navy and the Birth of the American Century. CDR. Hendrix is a role model for all aspiring scholar-warriors being that he is one of a handful of USN line officers with PhDs. He is in great company: two other officers that hold PhDs are Adm. Jim Stavridis and the new U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander, Adm. Patrick Walsh.

Could you provide a short synopsis of the book?

Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval Diplomacy is my attempt to marry up twin historical themes of Rooseveltian history: TR as a Diplomat, and TR as a Navalist. In doing so I believe I arrive at a new understanding (at least new to me, and I have read about everything I can lay my hands on the topic) of Roosevelt’s key role in establishing the United States as the major power of the 20th Century. To illuminate his actions, I begin and end the book with an examination of the Great White Fleet, which many consider the ultimate example of his “Big Stick” diplomacy, but sandwich in between case studies of his handling of the Venezuelan Crisis of 1902-03, his role in Panama’s Independence Movement, the role of the naval services in the famous Perdicaris Affair of 1904, and why TR chose to hold the negotiations that ended the Russo-Japanese War at a Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine. In the end, I believe I shed new light on the sophisticated nature of Roosevelt’s diplomacy, the extent of his dependence upon the naval services, and do serious harm to the war-mongering, bellicose image that most people carry around of the first President Roosevelt.

What are some of the lessons learned from Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval Diplomacy that are important today?

TR advocated for a semi-permanent, coherent foreign policy that can be passed from administration to administration, regardless of political party. I believe that this is something that our political leaders today are working to get back to. Also, TR demonstrated repeatedly a deft appreciation for the scalability of response that naval forces can provide to policy makers. If you want one ship’s worth of coercive diplomacy, that is all you have to show, if you need another, bring it from over the horizon, and if you need to land a ground force, you have Marines. This is a simple example, but TR knew where his fleet was at all times and could call upon it when he needed it. Lastly, TR came to understand that military power comes with limits. With naval power there is a growing tension the farther you attempt to project power landward. He came to understand this and applied his experience to limit his attempts at influencing events so that his military reach did not exceed his diplomatic grasp.

What were some of your more insightful resources?

The logbooks containing the ciphered and unciphered communications from the Secretary of the Navy to the fleet that are stored at the National Archives were fantastic. They really demonstrated how much day to day interest TR showed towards the Navy and Marine Corps. Also, his papers and Admiral of the Navy George Dewey’s papers at the Library of Congress were amazing in showing the minute by minute unfolding of events. L astly, there were some letters that the Dewey family donated to the Naval Archives at the Navy Yard that were instrumental in reaching a new understanding of some of the events.

Who should read Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval Diplomacy?

I am hesitant to say, but I think mid-grade naval officers would find it insightful and come to a new understanding of how the modern Navy came to be. Admiral Stavridis, who very generously reviewed the book, recommended that all national security professionals take a look at it, so I think I would just leave it at that.

What advice do you have for fellow line officers pursuing PHDs?

Learn to live on four hours of sleep a night! No, really, I enjoyed the challenge. I wrote most of my original doctoral dissertation at sea so that the effort would have a minimal impact on my family (beyond the research). I found this to be an ideal environment to just get into the material and crank out the words. The best advice, though, for people pursuing a PhD is to pick a dissertation topic that really fascinates you and you are confident that it will continue to fascinate you, because you are going to spend the next 3-7 years of your life focused on this topic. Most people who get to all-but-dissertation (ABD) status with their PhD and just cannot finish the product and get the degree, find themselves in this jam because they cannot maintain their interest and energy in the topic. I was fortunate in that I picked a topic that I still find interesting to this day.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Only that I think, given the increasing complexity of the world and the United States essential role in international stability, that it is increasingly important that naval professionals take to read, think, and write. Our profession and our nation depend upon it.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books

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  • Radman

    Congrats to the Cdr. Hendrix on both the publication of this book and his PhD. Both are laudable achievements. I will read this book as I am an admirer of leaders who exhibit renaissance type attributes.

  • Prof Gene

    Two of the Navy’s top four-stars have earned a Ph.D. during their career. As with GEN Petraeus, both are even more highly respected and valued as a result. But you can count on your fingers the number of active duty USN URL officers of all grades who hold a Ph.D. As a result, when ADMs Stavridis and Walsh retire in a few years we will likely not have any URL Flags with a Ph.D.

    Does that matter? Clearly not every COCOM needs a terminal degree, but discussions of the successes of GEN Petraeus and ADM Stavridis routinely point to their advanced education as a key factor in their success. Should the Navy be investing in this sort of advanced education for fast-rising URL stars? Does the depth of research, critical thinking and disciplined writing associated with a Ph.D. materially contribute to success at the operational and strategic levels of the profession?

    And should the Navy be more invested in the success of the likes of CDR Hendrix, who earned a Ph.D. on the side and then published an important book on the Navy’s history? The Navy more than tolerated the research and scribblings of CAPT A. T. Mahan in the 1880’s – should we be doing some of that today?

    The Navy has long viewed advanced education as a cost – both in dollars and career time – and not an investment in the Navy’s future. But clearly officers like ADM Stavridis, ADM Walsh and CDR Hendrix have used their studies to contribute in major ways to both the current success and the future effectiveness of the Navy. It seems unlikely that we can continue to devalue advanced education in the 21st Century.

    Perhaps this will make it onto the agenda of the upcoming VCNO-chaired Advanced Education Review Board (successor to the GERB)…

  • The book is required reading – if for no other reason that we need to support our own at the book store, if not in a broader sense.

    Also, CDR Hendrix’s comments on RTW are spot on.

  • I may continue to keep an perspective in the line and hopefully I can capture some further info!