Proceedings, May 1923, Volume 49, Number 5, Whole Number 243
When I was informed by Colonel Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, that I was to be invited to go to Boston and speak to this distinguished audience I must confess to experiencing a feeling of dismay such as I have rarely felt in the presence of much graver danger. This feeling was prompted not so much by my sense of inexperience in public speaking, or doubt of your kindly forbearance, as by the thought that while this would be a wonderful opportunity to present the case for the Navy to an audience whose influence might in the future prove a factor in determining the course of our naval policy, my failure to enlist your interest in the problems of the Navy would be a matter of abiding regret.
The reasons why you should stand firmly in support of the Navy are to me so obvious that I hope no eloquence of mine will be necessary to convince you, once you are in possession of the facts.
What I have to say to you is wholly from the national standpoint. That is the standpoint of the Navy. The Navy is not concerned with party politics. It exists only as an arm of the executive authority whether that authority be Democratic or Republican. We are not interested in the political rivalries of states, or districts, or counties, or municipalities. Of all those things the average voter knows a great deal more than I do. But when our average voter speaks of America as a nation and considers the rights, duties and interests of America as one of a family of nations, a family with many conflicting and discordant interests, his ignorance is apt to be alarming. I think you will agree with me when I say that but a small fraction of our citizens are qualified to cast an intelligent vote, on any international question, with any clear understanding of the issues involved. I fear that only a few hundred thousand out of our twenty odd million of voters are sufficiently informed to cast a vote that would conserve our national interests and yet the safety of our country must necessarily rest on the knowledge and intelligence of our electorate.
If popular government is not to fail, our voters cannot take up too soon the earnest study of their duties and responsibilities as citizens of America. Our country has become so vast and so diversified in its interests that those voters capable of taking a broad national view of our necessities are in danger of sharing the fate of the dodo. Yet statesmen can accomplish little without your support.
John J. Ingalls once defined a statesman as a successful politician who is dead. We need support for those good men in office who are earnestly striving to be statesmen while yet alive.
I know of no nobler mission for our newly enfranchised women than to start a crusade for better national citizenship, and I know of no better center for such a crusade than this splendid old city of Boston that has cradled so many of our national ideals.
But I am to speak to you of the Navy and surely the Navy’s interests are the country’s interests.
One of the principal reasons for the adoption of our Constitution was to provide for the common defense. Our fathers decided in their wisdom to provide one Army and one Navy to defend all the people in common, so the Navy belongs to the people as a whole. Each of you is a stockholder in this great organization. Its property is valued at over three billions of dollars. It is not only your right but your duty to share in its management.
Now why should a Navy exist at all? If we go back to first principles, in order to live and prosper we must have law and order. To have law and order, society must be organized and live under some system. As the world is still inhabited by all kinds of people, good, bad, and indifferent, and not as yet by God’s white angels, it is necessary that certain physical sanctions be provided to insure obedience to the law. Even the most primitive rural community has in addition to its law book and its justice of the peace, a constable. Now just as in our domestic relations we must have our federal, state, and municipal police, so in our international relations there must be provided an Army and Navy as a physical sanction of our international laws, conventions, treaties, and policies. Any other conclusion would involve an absurdity. For if, in dealing with each other in our most highly civilized communities we must still rely upon force to guarantee us our just rights, how can we expect to do without force and yet obtain justice from strangers whose interests are not our interests, and who quite naturally are seeking their own advantage? More than one statesman has said “our foreign policy is as strong as the Navy and no stronger.”
I will give you an example of how the Navy is used to support our policies. In 1902 Germany made certain demands on Venezuela, which she proposed to enforce by seizing and occupying the ports of that country. The proposal of arbitration by President Roosevelt was rejected by the Kaiser, whereupon Admiral Dewey was placed in command of the fleet and Germany was informed that if any attempt was made at seizure of Venezuelan territory the American Fleet would be instructed to prevent it. The Kaiser saw the point and promptly backed down. His attempt to make the Monroe Doctrine a “scrap of paper” failed because our Navy at that time was stronger than Germany’s.
You have all heard people say “What need have we of a Navy? Our country could never be successfully invaded.” How foolish! It is not necessary to invade this country to cause war. If one square foot of our territory was taken from us by force, even in the far off Philippines, Guam, or Samoa, we would have to go and get it back if it cost the last dollar and the last drop of blood in the country. If that is not the spirit of America, I would blush to be called an American citizen.
A great British statesman said the other day that Europe might soon be involved again in another great war, and that America would undoubtedly be drawn into it. There is no doubt that we would be drawn into it if some country “fighting for its existence” should commence sinking American cargoes and passengers. There is little danger of such an eventuality as long as we are strong, but we must not forget that the German General Staff in 1917 decided that in our state of unpreparedness they could proceed to sink our ships with impunity, because the war would be decided before we could get ready to intervene. It is true that they guessed wrong, but it was only thanks to the allies that we were able to take a year and a half off in which to prepare our Army and Navy for war. Our great loss of life and the terrible debt which we as well as the allies incurred, due to this delay, can be directly charged to pacifism and unpreparedness.
You are well aware of what the Navy does in time of war. Our school histories give much space to the spectacular battles and heroes that appeal to the national pride. But little is said of the work of the Navy in time of peace. It is not spectacular; it makes little appeal to the imagination, but the sun never sets upon its activities. In every quarter of the globe in all the seven seas, it is standing guard over your interests.
One of its first missions after we secured our freedom was to destroy piracy in the Mediterranean, that we need no longer pay tribute to the Barbary corsairs to let our wheat enter the ports of Europe. Later our Commodore, proceeding to Turkey, negotiated treaties that opened up the Near East to our trade.
In 1842 our naval commander in Asiatic waters secured from the viceroy a treaty which opened to our trade the five great ports of China.
In 1854 Commodore Perry, by the most brilliant diplomacy, opened Japan to the commerce of the world.
It is a sad commentary on human nature to note what an emphasis a battleship adds to a diplomatic note.
Not a year passes but witnesses the peaceful intervention of our Navy in some port of the world to open up new avenues of trade, to protect our commerce or our interests from irreparable damage. We export annually over seven billion dollars of surplus products that we cannot ourselves consume, and must market abroad if we are to maintain our standards of living and continue our prosperity. Three billions of those products come from the farm, and ultimately find their way to the uttermost parts of the earth. Without a Navy the protection of this gigantic trade, by which we live, would be at the mercy of our competitors.
This trade is the life blood of the nation; it is reckoned in billions. Is it any wonder that the Navy that gives it protection should cost money?
We have a foreign fruit trade of $50,000,000 in imports, largely built up around the old Boston Fruit Company. Without a Special Service Squadron in West Indian and Central American waters, where the bulk of this fruit comes from, a few revolutions would wreck this business, as well as a business of $500,000,000 annually in sugar and petroleum.
Our patrols 2,000 miles up the Yangtse Kiang protect from robbery and piracy an export trade in the neighborhood of a hundred millions annually.
Statisticians tell us that we are rapidly exhausting our resources of raw material, that our population is increasing at such a rate that the time is not far distant when we will no longer be self-sustaining and must import our food as well as our materials for manufacture. We are rapidly becoming industrialized. We have almost ceased to export meat and are shipping yearly less wheat and cotton. The time is approaching when our prosperity will depend largely on our ability to compete in the international market with manufactured goods. All history shows that war is but an ultimate form of economic competition. If we are to compete on equal terms, we must have a Navy able to protect our trade. “He who controls the sea controls the world.” That is Mahan’s dictum. We do not wish to control the sea, but if tradition means anything we are willing to fight for freedom of that sea from the control of anyone.
Sea power has ultimately decided every great war. The World War was no exception. If the Allies had not kept control of the sea, not a man or a pound of food or war munitions could have safely entered a French port. By her sea power England gathered her armies from all over the world, from Australia, New Zealand, India, and Canada. France brought a million and more from her African colonies. America, with the aid of allied shipping, poured her millions of troops into France in time to save the day; but in addition, the open sea permitted us to send the supplies and war materials that saved the allies before we entered the war. Had Germany destroyed the British Fleet at Jutland, the war would have been decided then and there; for without control of the sea neither the British Empire or America could have helped.
Sea power does not consist of a Navy alone. It must be supplemented by a merchant marine and by adequate bases from which to operate. A modern fleet that is not tied to its base requires an immense train of merchant ships to supply fuel, ammunition, provisions, repair facilities, hospitals, and dozen of other diverse functions. In time of war this service can with certainty be obtained only from one’s own flag. The Navy needs the merchant marine and the merchant marine the Navy and the security and prosperity of the country demand both.
Bases are needed to dock and fuel and repair our ships and supply both Navy and merchant ships with their needs in peace and war. Great Britain has great bases all over the world while we have but a few.
If I have shown you why we need a Navy, you will be interested in knowing what should be the size of that Navy. The recent Arms Conference settled the ratio of strength that should exist between the great naval powers, as equality between Great Britain and the United States. The proportion is known as the 5-5-3 ratio, which gives Japan three-fifths of our strength. Unfortunately agreement was reached only in regard to battleships and airplane carriers. Nevertheless the principle of a fixed ratio of relative strength stands approved by the powers and the Secretary of the Navy has formally announced our naval policy to be a Navy second to none and in accordance in all respects with the 5-5-3 ratio. We are deficient in personnel as well as in cruisers, certain types of submarines and aircraft carriers. In addition, our battleships require modernization. There is nothing in the treaty that prevents our having a Navy in entire accordance with our policy, except the willingness of the people to build and maintain it. It is foolish to be satisfied with a Navy nearly good enough. No argument can be advanced to support such a position. Germany had a big Navy—a Navy nearly big enough. What happened? Her ships were driven from the sea, locked up in port and she couldn’t get a pound of food or supplies in or out of the country. The hundreds of millions that are spent on a Navy are really wasted if the Navy is not capable of defending the country. A weak Navy is only preparedness for defeat—a defeat that would mean humiliation and disaster.
Pacifists and little Navy men are filling the press with statements that the Navy is opposed to another conference that would establish the 5-5-3 ratio for all classes of vessels. I wish to state most emphatically that the Navy stood squarely behind the Limitation of Arms Treaty so far as it applied to vessels of the Navy, and that the Navy is now anxious to see that ratio applied to every class and type of ship, to officers and men, and to every branch of naval activity.
The trouble is that the pacifists do not really want limitation of armaments by international agreement. What they advocate with “Alice in Wonderland” reasoning is the principle of disarmament by example. They forget that our past adventures in helplessness have never been followed by anyone, and that our unpreparedness for war caused the terrible loss of life and the huge debt we have now accumulated, both directly chargeable to our failure to maintain an armed force adequate to the protection of the country. Every generation in our history has seen kindled the fires of war, but we have stupidly adhered to the policy of delaying the construction of a fire engine until after the fire has started.
I wish to say a word about false propaganda against the Army and Navy. I am repeating no idle rumor when I tell you that much of this propaganda has a sinister foreign source—its object the overthrow of our government and the ultimate dictatorship of the proletariat. A logical step in the procedure of these foreign gentry is the elimination of the forces of law and order—the Army and Navy. This can best be accomplished through the assistance of our own good people who wish to abolish armies and navies, proclaim “No More War” and then, I suppose, place their heads deep in the sand.
I congratulate the propaganda foxes on their ability to utilize our foolishness but I have no fear of their success, once the people become aware of the object they have in view.
A popular fallacy that is heard on all sides is the excessive cost of the Navy and the terrible burden of taxation for armaments. The total tax we paid in 1922 for all purposes was about $90 per capita. Out of that only $2.76 went to the Navy. I know it is very painful to have to pay out $2.76 taxes, but we don’t mind how much we spend on having a good time. The newspapers say we spent five billion dollars for Christmas presents. That is a billion dollars more than the whole annual cost of the federal government. We spent about four times the cost of the Navy for tobacco alone. Before prohibition went into effect we drank nearly twenty gallons of liquor a year for each man, woman and child. I don’t know what that cost, but from what my friends tell me, though we may not be drinking as much now, what we do drink costs fully as much as that twenty gallons did; and that would be enough to pay for all the navies in the world.
Another thing we hear is that armaments induce war. I hold no brief for any other country, but for the United States I know that the lack of an Army and Navy has never made our people hesitate to declare war whenever they felt like it. The Army and Navy have nothing to say about declaring war, and I never saw one of them that wanted it. The extent or quality of armament seems at most to have little to do with war. Some of the bloodiest battles of history are those recorded in the Bible, where men fought hand to hand with swords and spears. If we didn’t have a single naval vessel we would have to fight with merchant ships, as we did in the Revolution. So would every other country, and the nation with the biggest merchant marine would rule the sea.
Many think that armies and navies exist for the sole purpose of destruction. As a matter of fact our Army and Navy have been the greatest constructive forces in the country. Wherever they go they better local conditions, establish schools, and improve the public health. The Panama Canal, the greatest engineering triumph of the age, was made possible by our Army, and they converted a pest hole into one of the healthiest parts of the world. The peoples of Cuba, Porto Rico, Haiti, San Domingo, the Virgin Islands, the Philippines, Guam, and Samoa have been absolutely regenerated by the Army and the Navy. The Navy has saved ten times as many lives as it has ever taken.
The development of all the intricate machinery and inventions that go into our ships has had more to do with the industrial development of the country than any other agency. The steel industry was literally built up on Navy specifications, Navy laboratory experiments and Navy contracts. The Navy has returned to the country, many times over, every dollar spent on it.
I am for any constructive measure that will bring peace to the world. But peace will never be permanent till we change human nature. Human nature can be changed only by the churches and the schools. The churches and schools cannot function without law and order, and there can be no law and order without an efficient Army and Navy.
We all pray for peace and live in the hope of the millennium, but until we are assured that peace will remain with us, common prudence requires that we take reasonable measures for our defense. We are a nation potentially powerful on account of our resources, but the prestige that we will enjoy beyond our own borders will be measured by the visible evidence of our strength.
I sat in Paris in the Peace Conference, and I saw the four strongest military powers write a treaty while all the weak powers waited outside to sign on the dotted line when that treaty was completed. I sat in Washington during the Arms Conference, and saw the great naval powers of the world gladly gather there to agree with us that naval armaments should be limited, and that other beneficent treaties should be signed. And I thought, why is it that Switzerland, with complete naval disarmament, or one of a dozen minor powers, filled with altruism but lacking naval strength, did not call this conference? Did the fact that we were powerful on the sea, and were building the greatest Navy in the world, have something to do with it? Possibly. Would those great powers have ignored a call for such a conference by China, a country that is helpless to resist aggression? Possibly. On the whole, have we not learned in five thousand years of history that when statesmen sit down around the council board, the one with the greatest background of armed strength receives the most respectful hearing? I think so.
If we are to retain our prestige; if we are to keep our place as one of the great custodians of civilization; if we are to preserve the heritage of our freedom and our institutions and transmit that heritage unsullied to our descendants; if we are to guard our families and our firesides; let us keep in our hands the power that God has given us, and renounce once and forever the sophistries of the Delilahs of pacifism, that would shear the Navy of its strength.