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Lessons of the War with Spain
And Other Articles
Lessons of the War with Spain
BY ALFRED T. MAHAN, D.C.L., LL.D. Captain United States Navy
AUTHOR OF "THE INTEREST OF AMERICA IN SEA POWER," "THE INFLUENCE OF SEA POWER UPON HISTORY, 1660-1783," "THE INFLUENCE OF SEA POWER UPON THE FRENCH REVOLUTION AND EMPIRE," "THE LIFE OF NELSON, THE EMBODIMENT OF THE SEA POWER OF GREAT BRITAIN," AND OF A "LIFE OF FARRAGUT"
BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1899
University Press JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.
The original intention, with which the leading articles of the present collection were undertaken, was to elicit some of the lessons derivable from the war between the United States and Spain; but in the process of conception and of treatment there was imparted to them the further purpose of presenting, in a form as little technical and as much popular as is consistent with seriousness of treatment, some of the elementary conceptions of warfare in general and of naval warfare in particular. The importance of popular understanding in such matters is twofold. It promotes interest and induces intelligent pressure upon the representatives of the people, to provide during peace the organization of force demanded by the conditions of the nation; and it also tends to avert the unintelligent pressure which, when war exists, is apt to assume the form of unreasoning and unreasonable panic. As a British admiral said two hundred years ago, "It is better to be alarmed now, as I am, than next summer when the French fleet may be in the Channel." Indifference in times of quiet leads directly to perturbation in emergency; for when emergency comes, indifference is found to have resulted in ignorance, and fear is never so overpowering as when, through want of comprehension, there is no check upon the luxuriance of the imagination.
It is, of course, vain to expect that the great majority of men should attain even an elementary knowledge of what constitutes the strength or weakness of a military situation; but it does not seem extravagant to hope that the individuals, who will interest themselves thus far, may be numerous enough, and so distributed throughout a country, as to constitute rallying points for the establishment of a sound public opinion, and thus, in critical moments, to liberate the responsible authorities from demands which, however unreasonable, no representative government can wholly withstand.
The articles do not in any sense constitute a series. Written for various occasions, at various times, there is in them no sequence of treatment, or even of conception. Except the last, however, they all have had a common origin in the war with Spain. This may seem somewhat questionable as regards the one on the Peace Conference; but, without assuming to divine all the motives which led to the call for that assembly, the writer is persuaded that between it and the war there was the direct sequence of a corollary to its proposition. The hostilities with Spain brought doubtless the usual train of sufferings, but these were not on such a scale as in themselves to provoke an outcry for universal peace. The political consequences, on the other hand, were much in excess of those commonly resultant from war,-even from maritime war. The quiet, superficially peaceful progress with which Russia was successfully advancing her boundaries in Asia, adding gain to gain, unrestrained and apparently irrestrainable, was suddenly confronted with the appearance of the United States in the Philippines, under conditions which made inevitable both a continuance of occupancy and a great increase of military and naval strength. This intrusion, into a sphere hitherto alien to it, of a new military power, capable of becoming one of the first force, if it so willed, was momentous in itself; but it was attended further with circumstances which caused Great Britain, and Great Britain alone among the nations of the earth, to appear the friend of the United States in the latter's conflict. How this friendliness was emphasized in the Philippines is a matter of common report.
Coincident with all this, though also partly preceding it, has been the growing recognition by the western nations, and by Japan, of the imminence of great political issues at stake in the near future of China. Whether regarded as a field for commerce, or for the exercise of the varied activities by which the waste places of the earth are redeemed and developed, it is evidently a matter of economical-and therefore of political-importance to civilized nations to prevent the too preponderant control there of any one of their number, lest the energies of their own citizens be debarred from a fair opportunity to share in these advantages. The present conditions, and the recent manifestations of antagonism and rivalry, are too well known for repetition. The general situation is sufficiently understood, yet it is doubtful whether the completeness and rapidity of the revolution which has taken place in men's thoughts about the Pacific are duly appreciated. They are shown not only by overt aggressive demands of various European states, or by the extraordinary change of sentiment on the subject of expansion that has swept over America, but very emphatically by the fact, little noted yet well assured, that leading statesmen of Japan-which only three years ago warned the United States Government that even the annexation of Hawaii could not by her be seen with indifference-now welcome our presence in the Philippines.
This altered attitude, on the part of a people of such keen intelligence, has a justification which should not be ignored, and a significance which should not be overlooked. It bears vivid testimony to the rate at which events, as well as their appreciation of events and of conditions, have been advancing. It is one of the symptoms of a gathering accord of conviction upon a momentous subject. At such a time, and on such a scene, the sympathetic drawing together of the two great English-speaking nations, intensely commercial and enterprising, yet also intensely warlike when aroused, and which exceed all others in their possibilities of maritime greatness, gave reason for reflection far exceeding that which springs from imaginative calculations of the future devastations of war. It was a direct result of the war with Spain, inevitably suggesting a probable drift towards concurrent action upon the greatest question of the immediate future, in which the influence of force will be none the less real because sedulously kept in the background of controversies. If, however, the organic development of military strength could be temporarily arrested by general agreement, or by the prevalence of an opinion that war is practically a thing of the past, the odds would be in favor of the state which at the moment of such arrest enjoys the most advantageous conditions of position, and of power already created.
In reproducing these articles, the writer has done a little editing, of which it is needless to speak except in one respect. His views on the utility of coast fortification have met with pronounced adverse criticism in some quarters in England. Of this he has neither cause nor wish to complain; but he is somewhat surprised that his opinions on the subject here expressed are thought to be essentially opposed to those he has previously avowed in his books,-the Influence of Sea-Power upon History, and upon the French Revolution. While wholly convinced of the primacy of the navy in maritime warfare, and maintaining the subordination to it of the elements of power which rest mainly upon land positions, he has always clearly recognized, and incidentally stated, not only the importance of the latter, but the general necessity of affording them the security of fortification, which enables a weaker force to hold its own against sudden attack, and until relief can be given. Fortifications, like natural accidents of ground, serve to counterbalance superiority of numbers, or other disparity of means; both in land and sea warfare, therefore, and in both strategy and tactics, they are valuable adjuncts to a defence, for they constitute a passive reinforcement of strength, which liberates an active equivalent, in troops or in ships, for offensive operations. Nor was it anticipated that when coast defence by fortification was affirmed to be a nearly constant element, the word "constant" would be understood to mean the same for all countries, or under varying conditions of popular panic, instead of applying to the deliberate conclusions of competent experts dealing with a particular military problem.
Of the needs of Great Britain, British officers should be the best judge, although even there there is divergence of opinion; but to his own countrymen the author would say that our experience has shown that adequate protection of a frontier, by permanent works judiciously planned, conduces to the energetic prosecution of offensive war. The fears for Washington in the Civil War, and for our chief seaports in the war with Spain, alike illustrate the injurious effects of insufficient home defence upon movements of the armies in the field, or of the navies in campaign. In both instances dispositions of the mobile forces, vicious from a purely military standpoint, were imposed by fears for stationary positions believed, whether rightly or wrongly, to be in peril.
For the permission to republish these articles the author begs to thank the proprietors of the several periodicals in which they first appeared. The names of these, and the dates, are given, together with the title of each article, in the Table of Contents.
LESSONS OF THE WAR WITH SPAIN, 1898.
McClure's Magazine, December, 1898-April, 1899.
INTRODUCTORY: COMPREHENSION OF MILITARY AND NAVAL MATTERS
POSSIBLE TO THE PEOPLE, AND IMPORTANT TO THE NATION 3
I. How the Motive of the War gave Direction to its Earlier
Movements.-Strategic Value of Puerto
Rico.-Considerations on the Size and Qualities of
Battleships.-Mutual Relations of Coast Defence and Navy 21
II. The Effect of Deficient Coast-Defence upon the Movements
of the Navy.-The Military and Naval Conditions of Spain
at the Outbreak of the War 53
III. Possibilities open to the Spanish Navy at the Beginning
of the War.-The Reasons for Blockading Cuba.-First
Movements of the Squadrons under Admirals Sampson and
IV. Problems presented by Cervera's Appearance in West Indian
Waters.-Movements of the United States Divisions and of