The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) [NOOK Book]

Overview


Inspiring the imagination of politicians, the writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan laid the foundation for the emergence of the global superpower the United States is today. When it was first published in 1890, it was intended as a detailed history of the critical and positive impact of naval power in the growth of states. At the time, this was clearly indicated by the British Royal Navy, but The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, soon served as the catalyst for the transformation of the United States ...
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The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview


Inspiring the imagination of politicians, the writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan laid the foundation for the emergence of the global superpower the United States is today. When it was first published in 1890, it was intended as a detailed history of the critical and positive impact of naval power in the growth of states. At the time, this was clearly indicated by the British Royal Navy, but The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, soon served as the catalyst for the transformation of the United States small force of outmoded ships into a mighty modern fleet.
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Meet the Author


Alfred Thayer Mahan was born in West Point, New York, in 1840 and died in 1914, just before the fleets he had helped to create clashed in the First World War. He was educated at the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating second in his class in 1859, just in time to serve as an officer in the Union Navy during the Civil War that broke out two years later. In 1884, he became first a lecturer and then president of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
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Introduction

The world has long been accustomed to images of American military power; planes thundering off aircraft carriers to strike at distant targets, U.S. Navy ships cruising the world's oceans and American soldiers stationed in bases and engaged in combat in all four corners of the world. It is easy to forget that the United States was once a third-rate power, well out of the mainstream of international affairs. In 1890, when Alfred T. Mahan published his classic book The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783, it was intended as a work of military strategy and a detailed history of the critical and positive impact of naval power in the growth of states. At the time, the relevance of the role of navies in the creation of national power and wealth seemed clear. Britain's Royal Navy had dominated the world's oceans for nearly a century, and a quarter of any globe was colored red to mark the possessions of the British Empire, the largest, mightiest, and richest empire the world had ever seen. In contrast, the United States, preoccupied with making the vast land area it occupied between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans into a single nation, had only a small fleet of outmoded ships designed primarily for coastal defense. The writings of Alfred Mahan fired the imagination of both politicians and the American public and served as a catalyst for the transformation of this small force into a mighty modern fleet. The search for overseas bases that Mahan claimed were a prerequisite for a nation to become a successful military and commercial power caused the United States to enthusiastically fight wars, first with Spain and then against local guerillas in the territory it had conqueredand seized. These events, coupled with the rapid growth of the U.S. economy, turned the United States from an insular nation concerned largely with its own affairs to an imperial power, one with colonial possessions far from its shores that needed to be developed and defended. It were these fundamental changes in both military capabilities and national aspirations that laid the foundation for the emergence of the global superpower the United States is today.

Alfred Thayer Mahan was born in West Point, New York, in 1840 and died in 1914, just before the fleets he had helped to create clashed in the First World War. He was educated at the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating second in his class in 1859, just in time to serve as an officer in the Union Navy during the Civil War that broke out two years later. Not a natural sailor, his wartime service was unglamorous and largely devoid of action, and Mahan spent most of his time at sea on long, boring, and uncomfortable blockade duty at various Confederate ports and harbors to prevent the Southern states exporting cotton and importing from Europe the guns and ammunition the Confederacy so desperate needed. Mahan then served in a variety of ships and naval bases until 1884, when he became first a lecturer and then president of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. At the War College, a mid-carrier development and learning center for naval officers designed to prepare them for senior rank, Mahan taught naval history and strategy. This book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783, and his later work, The Influence of Sea Power Upon the French Revolution and Empire, were based on a series of lectures he delivered at the War Collage. In both his lectures and in this book, Mahan drew examples from as far back as the campaigns of Alexander the Great but mainly focused on the one hundred and twenty five years of European history between 1660 and 1783, a period which included seven large-scale naval conflicts, mainly involving the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and Spain. Mahan argued that it was those empires and countries that possessed powerful navies that had become the most successful and prosperous. Mahan thus equated the possession of sea power with the creation and endurance of high levels of national power. It was this fundamental relationship that had given states such as the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, at different periods in their histories, strong economies at home and vast overseas empires.

In particular, Mahan focused on how the Royal Navy had been used to build and secure the British Empire and to protect the free and unimpeded passage of British merchant ships in all parts of the world. The equation was simple and laid clear emphasis on the central importance of the interdependence between military control of the oceans and their commercial use. British colonies overseas were utilized to provide raw materials for her growing industries, while her navy ensured uninterrupted commerce. Mahan showed how, in turn, this naval power and victory in various naval engagements was translated by the British government into economic and military power that also enabled it to conduct successful land campaigns in Europe and beyond. He went further, to claim, that Britain's greatest military defeat, the loss of her American colonies, was due to the poor handling of her naval forces, coupled with the skillful strategic use of France's more limited naval power. In doing so, he reduced the land war between the Redcoats and the American Revolutionary forces to a mere sideshow of the more significant war at sea.

In a similar way, Mahan claimed that France and Spain had both possessed prosperous and successful empires until they allowed their naval power to ossify and dissipate. Based on this analysis, Mahan argued that, with the opening of the West completed, it was time for the United States to look beyond its own borders and begin to fully exploit its position as a major maritime state, one that possessed a large merchant marine to enhance its position in international arena. Mahan's strategy was based on the use of a powerful navy to protect and defend a commercially aggressive merchant marine, the success of which he held to be fundamental to the economic survival and prosperity of any maritime nation.

Mahan was widely regarded as a brilliant naval theorist and was one of the most celebrated naval historians of his time. He was the author of numerous articles and books, including biographies of David Farragut and Horatio Nelson and an autobiographical book entitled From Sail to Steam. Of these, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783, remains the most famous and widely read. Mahan's seminal work was first published in 1890 and appeared at a time when the major European nations were engaged in a fiercely competitive struggle for colonies in both Asia and Africa. Although Mahan never claimed his ideas were original, freely acknowledging he had drawn together the thoughts of many other writers and naval thinkers, he codified strategies and policies in a way that made them accessible and comprehensible to a wide range of military strategists, politicians, and interested members of the general public. His book sold well in the United States and was quickly translated into several languages, and it was widely read by political leaders in both America and Europe. Mahan's thinking on the central role of sea power in securing a nation's greatness and power and the implicit assumption in his theory that a successful nation must have overseas possessions to exploit their economic potentials was highly popular in an era of strident imperialism. Mahan saw colonies as vital suppliers of raw materials, as markets for goods manufactured in the home country, and as bases with coaling stations and repair facilities for the large numbers of warships needed to protect a nation's commercial interests. In retrospect, Mahan's theories can be seen as providing intellectual coherence to what seems to have been merely an atavistic scramble for territory, much if not most of it of questionable value, a struggle largely driven by the desire to deny ownership to any other power.

In the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, a close friend of Mahan's, and other supporters of the creation of a true 'blue water' U.S. Navy and the possession of overseas colonies by the United States were much impressed and influenced by Mahan's ideas. Mahan's theories were utilized to provided an intellectual foundation for the already emerging phenomenon of American imperialism, the idea that to be a great power the United States, like its European competitors, must have colonies of its own. Only such colonial possessions, it was argued, would enable the U.S. Navy to base warships far from America's own coast and enable it to project its power into distant areas. Mahan's theories thus were used to justify American policies that were dedicated to the United States engaging in an aggressive campaign of overseas colonial expansion, including taking possession of a number of small Caribbean and Pacific islands, Hawaii, and a war of conquest in Cuba and the Philippines. The ownership or control of all of these colonies was believed to be essential if the U.S. Navy was to have proper bases from which it could effectively protect American shipping engaged in commerce from more predatory powers. Mahan's theories were also used to give further impetus to the plan to build a major canal across the Panamanian isthmus, the argument being that in addition to the advantages it offered in terms of the quicker transportation of commercial goods such a short cut was also vital to enable naval ships to redeploy quickly between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Mahan's ideas were even better received in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan than they had been at home. In Great Britain, his ideas on the centrality of the importance of sea power strengthened the naval building programs of the British Admiralty and its fundamental policy that the Royal Navy must be larger and stronger than those of the next two naval powers combined. In Germany, his book was avidly read by the impressionable Kaiser Wilhelm II and strengthened the monarch's belief that to become the predominant European and indeed World power, Germany needed a strong navy and overseas bases from which to operate. The considerable impetus which Mahan's theories on sea power gave to the pre-existing policies of both Britain and Germany helped spark the rivalry and naval arms race between them, which in turn was one of the major causes of the First World War. Japan also took Mahan's lessons to heart, and rapidly bought or built a battle fleet and trained the crews that enabled it to defeat first China in 1894 and then Russia in 1905 in wars to control access to the significant economic potential of Northern Asia.

Much of Mahan's work was devoted to a study of the actual tactics of naval warfare. From his studies he derived a number of lessons he believed were universal in their application. From his study of history and from his own experiences during the Civil War, he viewed the use of a close blockade against an enemy's ports and harbors as a critical weapon in both economic and naval warfare. Keeping the fleet together, as a 'fleet in being' was also seen as an essential prerequisite for exercising effective naval power. A fleet, properly stationed and sustained, could take advantage of its central position and interior lines of communications, and force the enemy to overextend itself in any attempt to bring it to battle. He dismissed the idea of commerce raiding by small cruisers, a tactic on which U.S. naval tactics had long depended, as wasteful and a distraction from the main goal of the fleet. That goal was to score decisive victories against the enemy fleet and open its territory to further naval attacks.

To achieve this, Mahan argued that a worthwhile main battle fleet could only be built around heavy battleships whose guns could pummel the enemy into submission and whose armor was thick enough to allow them to survive in a modern line of battle. All navies strongly supported Mahan's emphasis on the concentration of naval forces in a limited number of large ships, rather than a host of smaller, cheaper, but less capable hulls. If, as Mahan claimed, the destruction of the enemy's fleet was the main, if not the sole, objective of naval warfare, then the navy with the largest fleet, comprised of the most modern and capable ships, would emerge the victor in battle, which in turn would lead inexorably to the total defeat of the enemy, not only at sea, but on land as well.

It was this type of thinking that led to the stalemate between the British and German High Seas Fleets at Jutland in 1916. Both sides feared that the loss of their fleet would mean their ultimate defeat in the First World War. As a result, sides acted cautiously, the battle became a stalemate, and the strategic position of both countries was the same after it as it had been before the fleets met. It was also this mindset that brought Japan's Combined Fleet off the island of Midway in the Central Pacific in June 1942. After a string of naval victories stretching from Pearl Harbor to the Indian Ocean, the Japanese Navy still wished to fight Mahan's decisive battle, the knockout blow against the U.S. Navy that would render the United States impotent and force it to sue for peace. To bring the U.S. Fleet to battle, an invasion of Midway was to be launched, and when the remnants of the once mighty U.S. Navy in the Pacific responded, it would be ambushed by the overwhelming might of the aircraft carriers and battleships of Japan's combined fleet. A decisive battle was fought at Midway, but it was one Japan lost. Unaware that its naval codes had been broken, the Japanese found it was they, not the Americans, who had been ambushed. In five minutes of American bombing attacks, the sinking of their four largest aircraft carriers and the decimation of their highly trained aircrews sounded the death knell of Japan's hopes of conquest. Mahan's theories of the decisive importance of sea power and the efficacy of the decisive battle were vindicated. After Midway, Japan never again knew victory and the United States never suffered a defeat.

The ideas contained in this book have value not only as historical analysis, but also to understanding the role of naval power in today's world. It is the unchallenged possession of a balanced fleet that allows the United States to use naval aircraft to attack not only coastal targets but also those far inland. Indeed, the air war over Afghanistan, a land- locked country, was conducted in large part by naval aviation. The essential components of naval power are the same today as they were in 1700 or 1900. With sea transportation still the main means of commercial intercourse between nations and an ever more interdependent world economy, securing the free and unencumbered passage of both goods and raw materials is of critical importance to all nations. Mahan's ideas on the necessity of protecting vital and vulnerable sea lines of international commerce and communications remain valid and important in a world where insecurity of all kinds, from terrorism to piracy, is again on the rise.

Ian M. Cuthbertson is a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute of the New School University and Director of the WPI's Counter-Terrorism Project. He holds an M.Litt. in Strategic Studies from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and is the author and editor of a number of books and articles on European military affairs, transatlantic security issues and counter-terrorism policy.
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 15 of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 21, 2011

    Of course read it

    It is hard to write a short non-scholarly review of Admiral Mahan's master work which to this day influences US and NATO doctrine. It is a fascinating analisis of a critical historical period and led to major changes in the naval doctrines of all the major powers before WWI. Interestingly India's adoption of a "blue water" navy concept shows his influence on today's events.
    Bill

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2014

    Ethan miller a.k.a smoove

    Even knowing i havent read the book it looks neat and interesting. Plus the cover seems to have the heavy frigate u.s.constitution.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2014

    This is a classic that is just as valid today as it was when art

    This is a classic that is just as valid today as it was when articulated. Its thesis underlies much US foreign policy for the past 100+ years. Few expositions have survived the test of that much time.

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