Consider the Navy

CONSIDER THE NAVY! (1921)

By Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.,
Assistant Secretary of the Navy

“There is another type of thought which is represented by dreamers who see in every new invention a subversion of all present conditions. In this class are the individuals who assert that the airplane has rendered obsolete and unnecessary either infantry or capital ships.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Navy

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Navy

The United States is a republic. Every citizen has an equal vested interest in its government. Therefore, every one of its public institutions belongs in the last analysis to the individual citizen. If an individual has an interest in any piece of property in ordinary everyday life, that individual keeps informed of the manner in which that property is handled. The same thing should hold true in so far as our governmental activities are concerned. Every citizen should take an active and intelligent interest therein. Certainly one of the most important of these is the navy, for the navy is the first line of defense of our country. When the test comes it is on our navy that we must largely depend to maintain our policies and ideals. All men and women should inform themselves in general concerning it. If they will do this they will be in a position to intelligently advise their representatives in Congress concerning their wishes. If they do not, many and grave errors may be made.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.
There are at this time numerous individuals who, carried away by false doctrines of one type or another, issue statements which may mislead those who are uninformed. There is one school which maintains that it is unnecessary to keep a navy going during times of peace and that warships should be laid up to be put in commission again when trouble breaks. Any one in possession of the facts knows that this is not practical. Much time is necessary to train the personnel to operate the modern warship, which is one of the most complicated devices mechanically that the world has ever produced. In addition, a mechanical device as complicated as the modern warship deteriorates very rapidly when not in use. I have heard this school of thought go to wild extremes. At one time a prominent public man said in my presence that we needed no navy. All that was necessary was to subsidize merchant vessels and in time of war “clap guns on them.” Again, any one in possession of the facts knows the absurdity of this statement. No vessel of this type could last for an instant against the feeblest of the modern war vessels. It would be as sensible to match a pomeranian against a mastiff.

There is another type of thought which is represented by dreamers who see in every new invention a subversion of all present conditions. In this class are the individuals who assert that the airplane has rendered obsolete and unnecessary either infantry or capital ships. This is ridiculous. The Air Service must be properly developed, as it is a most important auxiliary arm, and its possibilities are on the threshold of development.

This type of agitation is not new, but is old as the hills. The direct parallel can be found when the Whitehead torpedo was invented and when France, following the doctrine preached by the theorists, ceased to build large vessels and centered her efforts on torpedo boats. France soon found the error of her ways, and during the greatest modern naval engagement that the world has seen, Jutland, the capital ship played its old part.

A gain there was a time when the submarine was advocated on the same basis as the torpedo, and again, like the torpedo and like the airplane, it took its rightful position as an important auxiliary. Admiral Tirpitz in his memoirs says that he has only one regret, namely, that he did not build more capital ships.

A parallel furnished in the army is that of the machine-gun. At its inception there were those who thought it would eliminate the infantry, but in the last war, with the machine-gun thoroughly developed, the old axiom still held good, that the infantry was the body of the army.

In all of the above I do not for a moment intend to minimize the importance of the airplane, the submarine, or the machine-gun. They are of vital importance and to their development our earnest attention should be given, but they must not be seen out of perspective. The airplane in particular needs encouragement, because it is new and because its future possibilities are great. But we are a practical nation. We must deal with facts, not fancies. There is only one way that correct conclusions can be formed, from facts. To form these conclusions, the people must put themselves in possession of the facts.

Source: Frank Leslie’s Weekly for May 21, 1921

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