19 December 2007

The Great White Fleet

So was named the 16 battleships of the U.S. Atlantic forces on their 43,000 mile trip around the world. This historical event took place 100 years ago, and as was noted by the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens, its centennial was noticed by few Americans. He explains the significance of that journey, both in its historical context and its ramifications for today. An excerpt:

There is an enduring, bipartisan strain in American politics (think Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich) that wishes to forgo the military role. As wonderfully recounted by Jim Rasenberger in "America 1908," the voyage of the Great White Fleet, as it was popularly known, was energetically opposed by members of Congress, who sought to cut off its funding when it was halfway around the world. Sound familiar? Mark Twain considered the venture as further evidence that TR was "clearly insane . . . and insanest upon war and its supreme glories."

Despite the objections the voyage continued and was a huge success. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, it did not endure:

Yet if there was a lesson here, it was lost to the U.S. during the interwar period. Just 13 years after the Great White Fleet returned to the U.S., it was physically scrapped under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty, which set strict limits on the number and size of battleships the major powers could build and deploy. Only after Pearl Harbor and World War II did Americans really seem to learn the lesson that their position as a maritime power could not be wished away, and that their maritime interests could only be defended by a powerful Navy.

Our "supremely powerful Navy" is indeed essential.

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