« ZurückWeiter »
the threat of the British battle-fleet compelled the Germans to keep to their harbors, or limited them to a very restricted area beyond them, the whole menace of German sea-power was gone. The seas were free to British cruisers and British trade. The German lighter ships, von Spee's armored cruisers, Emden, Königsberg, Dresden, and the converted merchantmen, these were all mopped up in a few months. There was nothing between any British ship and her home ports. But with the situation reversed this would not have been so. A British battleship force 'in being,' unhurt, at Scapa in the north, and other forces at Plymouth in the south, could have issued from their harbors and stopped all German sea-borne services, and have harried the German cruisers that attempted to attack our own trade. Nor could the German fleet have left the British fleet on its flank and gone to the open sea to protect its cruisers. So great, in short, was the handicap of the geographical position, that Germany, to counteract it, would have had to possess a fleet twice as strong as ours, merely to win a naval equality.
The present naval situation is, of course, altogether and entirely different. A superior battle-fleet, based on the Atlantic seaports, seems free from the handicap imposed upon the German fleet; for, clearly, a stronger battle-fleet could not be confined to its harbors by a weaker force; and at first sight it would seem as if, with free access to the Atlantic, such a fleet would constitute the most formidable of all threats to Great Britain. But there a new principle affects the situation.
Modern ships have certain vast advantages over the wooden vessels of our forefathers. They have gained incalculably in power and in speed. They have gained still more in the facility with which they are free of every point
of the compass. But they have lost in sea endurance, and they are far more dependent upon prompt and frequent access to their bases. And, being vastly more complicated, they need something more at their bases than provisions, ropes, spars, and sails. A modern naval base, to be of the slightest value to a battle-fleet, must be equipped with productive facilities of an engineering order, ample enough to constitute a manufacturing town of very respectable proportions. It must have all the advantages on which the manufacturing town depends for a constant supply of fuel, material, and labor. So vast, indeed, are the necessities of a modern arsenal, that it is practically impossible for one to exist if severed from the mainland of the country that owns it. No country in the world has so many coaling and other naval stations as has Great Britain; but outside Great Britain itself there is not one naval base that could support and supply a battle-fleet in war. Both the American and the Japanese navies, then, suffer I am discussing this from the point of view of their being a menace to Great Britain from this severe disability.
Thus, altogether apart from the difficulties that have accumulated during the past few years in employing a battle-fleet at all, British-sea power derives certain advantages from this factor of the distance that separates our bases and the focal points of our trade from the fleets materially superior to ours. In the light of these things, the fact that Great Britain no longer has a predominant fighting fleet has a meaning radically different from mere naval inferiority to a European power: it suggests that the difference is one, not of degree at all, but actually of kind.
Yet, when every allowance has been made, it remains a fact that, for the first time in modern history, Great Britain is not the putative mistress of
the first proposition, let me quote from Mahan's Naval Strategy:
the seas. The topsy-turvydom of the World War has brought us no surprise comparable to this. Time out of mind, the invincibility of the British fleet has been a fundamental doctrine of our national policy. What England owes to the sea is a commonplace of everyday knowledge. That England, cut off from the sea, must perish instantly and utterly, is a commonplace of military science. That for two hundred and fifty years Great Britain has never, so far as material provision could prevent, been in danger of sea-defeat, is a simple partly true, it is accepted as unqualifiedly
historical fact. And when I say 'in danger,' I understate the fact. I mean that never, in all this period, was there a time when Great Britain could not face the sea-world in arms: indeed, at one period she actually did so, and with
Now, we shall not understand why it is that Great Britain no longer has the strongest fleet, unless we understand why for so long she had. It has been assumed that our greatness at sea arose originally and naturally and inevitably out of our greatness as a seafaring people, and to our owning and using a larger merchant-shipping than did other nations. And, again, it has been assumed that, as Great Britain was by far the wealthiest country in the world, her maintaining a greater navy was a natural and inevitable function of her wealth. But it is, of course, simply untrue that fighting navies derive from merchant navies by some preordained and unescapable process; and equally untrue that naval strength is, or ever has been, proportionate to a country's wealth.
I shall not attempt to justify these statements by any complete summary of the historical facts that prove them. But there are a few instances in point that will suffice for my purpose. As to
There is a further conclusion to be drawn from the war between Japan and Russia, which contradicts a previous general impression that I myself have shared, and possibly in some degree have contributed to diffuse. That impression is, that navies depend upon maritime commerce as the cause and justification of their existence. To a certain extent, of course, this is true; and, just because true to a certain extent, the conclusion is more misleading. Because
true. Russia has little maritime commerce,
Here, then, is a case where a navy was essential, though there was virtually no merchant-shipping at all out of which it could germinate. That there have been great merchant marines without navies is, of course, equally true. Norway, with no navy at all, has a singularly high ratio of tonnage to population; and the huge leap in German merchant-tonnage between 1890 and 1909 is a not less striking instance in point. For until 1909 Germany had not even the rudiments of a fleet that could have been formidable at sea.
And as to navies being functions of wealth, this surely is not in the least degree tenable. People do not build fleets and ships because they can afford them as a luxury. Still less do they build them as an investment, trusting to their conquests or their loot to pay
the bill. They build them only because they are a grim necessity. At least, this is certainly the explanation of Great Britain's two centuries and a half of sea-supremacy.
England, after all, is one of the European nations. Until quite recently she was as inferior in population to one and another of her neighbors as she was in area. It was only toward the end of the eighteenth century that she became the wealthiest country in Europe; and although always dependent for a large portion of her wealth on the freest possible access to the sea, it was not primarily her sea trade, but the fact that she was the first of the world's people to become a manufacturing nation, that explained why, for a century and half, hers was the richest people in the world. But, of course, she could not have become so without free access to the sea; and of all the nations that have ever been, she had the greatest interest in preserving this freedom. And she And she needed a free sea, not only to develop her trade, but for another purpose. Indeed, her trade itself arose out of that purpose.
The end of the fifteenth century, and the beginning of the sixteenth, was the age of the great sea-adventurers. But, of all the countries, England alone maintained the spirit that had first sent her sons afloat. Sometimes they went as colonists to get a freer religious or political atmosphere than they could get at home; sometimes they went in search of wealth; sometimes, apparently, for the sheer fun of the thing. But, whatever the motive, the spirit of sea-adventuring, the desire for, and a determination to get, free use of the sea, became the mark of the Anglo-Saxon race. It is to this spirit that the northern continent of America, from the
Mexican border to the North Pole, owes its control by the descendants of Englishmen; that half of Africa is under the flag of Britain; that India is a British dependency; that Australia is one of His Majesty's Dominions; that China has been opened up to European trade.
Few, if any, of the statesmen of England visualized the enormous scale of national expansion that Destiny had in store for the British people. But they have never failed in the instinct that this people had to be free to expand. At every stage they perceived that there was only one thing that could prevent the English being masters of their Fate: it was that the sea should be closed against them. They saw that there was but one contingency that could so close the sea: it was that the other powers of Europe should combine to do it. There never was a possibility that such a combination would be a spontaneous and voluntary movement; but it was a danger, nevertheless.
The ambition to govern the whole world is an infirmity that has obsessed the minds — noble and otherwise — of many emperors and kings. But the collapse of the Roman Empire, the barbarian invasion of Europe, the slow reconstruction of a new civilization to replace the old, the arrest of the world trade that had existed while the Roman Empire still stood these and other causes made the business of world-conquest slumber, until Louis the Great emerged from his minority in the seventeenth century and found the whole power and wealth of France concentrated in his hands. His ambitions taught the English the lesson they needed; and when, a century and a quarter after Louis's failure, his political and spiritual heir, Napoleon Bonaparte, came into the same heritage, his military genius seemed to promise success where Louis had failed. But long
pondering on what she had escaped under Louis had prepared England for the emergency. It was during this period that the sea-doctrine of Great Britain had been formulated and had become fundamental.
The 'Balance of Power' had become the target of every modern carper at the old régime. But the adhesion of England to it arose from no insane militarism, nor from any blind devotion to an old-world and corrupt diplomacy. If for more than two hundred years we stood in the way of any one power in Europe dominating the rest, it was not because we were slaves to the pursuit of glory, not because we coveted the wealth of others, not because we reveled in the shameless chicanery of intrigue, but simply because we knew that it was all up with us if we did not. And the only way we could prevent France or any other country from dominating Europe was to keep the command of the seas in our hands.
In time of peace it is usual to talk of national forces, whether they are landforces or sea-forces, as implements of national 'defense.' In war, of course, there is only one use of force, and that is for an attack upon the enemy. If you wish to defend your territory you will, if you are wise, attack and destroy the force that threatens it. At sea there are no territories, and the traditions of seawar are not, therefore, confused by the military jargon of offensive and defensive strategy. The function of a fleet is to destroy, or neutralize the possible action of, the enemy's fleet. But its function begins and ends with this. To be sure, if either of these ends is achieved, the way is open for the other arm. But the work proper of the fleet is over when the enemy's fleet is rendered innocuous.
Thus, viewed politically, a navy is not an instrument of conquest. It does not threaten its neighbors except indirectly because it opens the way to way to
military conquest. It was this truth that safeguarded the position of England in Europe. As it was our set policy to prevent the domination of any single power, it necessarily followed that, when the disposition to conquer showed itself in any one nation, we were always sure of allies, because it was we alone who could give effective help to those who were in danger of aggression. Thus the compulsion of national security drove us literally to make a virtue of necessity. It became our rôle to stand for liberty and right-dealing on the continent.
In the very nature of things, therefore, we could not follow our destiny without being a great sea-power, and our greatness at sea made us the arbiter and the judge among our neighbors in Europe. But this does not exhaust the advantages that sea-power gave us. From the earliest times sea-war has been the only form of war that has been regulated by international law. This, of course, is a very large subject, which I cannot pursue. Let it suffice to remind the reader that right into the nineteenth century the progress of armies was still marked by unchecked looting and the rape, murder, and torture of the non-combatant population. But, for a century before that, sea-war had been governed by the most rigid rules; and anyone · even an enemy · who suffered in his property or in his person, had access to an Admiralty court, where, if he had right on his side, he was sure of justice. The thing followed inevitably, of course, from the fact that the sea is a common highway, on which, except that they may not help an enemy, neutrals have equal rights with the combatants. But the point is that men fighting at sea, having first to respect the rights of noncombatant neutrals, who, of course, did not figure in land-war at all, were then compelled to recognize the personal rights of a noncombatant enemy. It is,
I think, an interesting historical fact that the English, necessarily the great exponents of maritime law, and those best trained in its spirit, were almost the first to insist on a similarly disciplined humanity on land. It was the Duke of Wellington, in the Crimea, and afterward in France, who, by his practice, laid the foundation of all these rules for the protection of noncombatants, which much later on were embodied in the agreements of Geneva and The Hague.
Thus sea-war had a double influence on the national character. It made the English the protagonists of political justice and right dealing, and it trained the nation in the higher humanity that insists that the horrors of war shall be limited by the observance of civilized regulations. Nor was either influence limited to the European sphere. To my mind there is nothing fanciful in the idea that the successive abolitions, first of the slave-trade all over the world, and next of slave-owning in British possessions, were very largely due to the compulsory education that the British people received from seamen. I need hardly remind American readers of the influence of this example on the conduct of their forebears. And it is certainly an historical fact that when, after the Congress of Vienna, the old monarchies of Europe exhibited a deplorable reaction toward absolutism,—against which the popular elements in the South American colonies of Spain and Portugal rebelled, it was at the instance of the British Prime Minister that President Monroe announced the famous doctrine ever since associated with his name. And it was certainly because of British sea-power that, at that most critical time, the doctrine was respected.
All these things are vaguely in the Englishman's mind when he looks at the present naval situation and sees how lamentably Great Britain has fall
en from her great estate. But he will be wholly wrong to blame his government for allowing this thing to be. The deeper and saner interpretation of our seasupremacy, while it lasted, is not that it corresponded with some such innate national pride as is echoed in ‘Britannia rules the waves'; not that it was a luxury which our old overwhelming wealth gave us, and our present poverty cannot afford; not that it was a natural outcome of our merchant-shipping, which, when all is said and done, is as dominant to-day as it was before the war: Great Britain maintained a seaforce superior to that of all other combinations of sea-force for just so long as her security as a nation made it imperative and this is the point for no longer. If our navy lasted long enough to defeat the German effort, and if that defeat left us without an enemy or a threat against us in any part of the world, then the British Navy had done its work. Whether America or Japan or any other country with whom we had coöperated to win had a larger fleet than that which we had inherited from pre-war conditions was, so to speak, a matter of indifference. Surprising as the man in the street has found the present naval situation to be, it has, of course, been no surprise at all to those who follow public events closely and who have attempted to understand the causes behind them.
That the American and Japanese fleets do not threaten Great Britain and here I drop the technical argument and confine myself to the political situationis certainly clear enough to-day. We have no differences that we know of with either country. We have an offensive and defensive alliance with Japan, against the world, except the United States; and we have a treaty of arbitration with the United States which, as both nations respect their plighted word, is no scrap of paper, but a bond.