Revitalize the American Navy

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Thursday, May 10, 2018


When Chester A. Arthur was President, he saw to it that the United States Navy began an imperative revitalization. Following the Civil War, the size of the navy was drastically reduced, and, what little remained by the beginning of the Arthur administration, was a largely obsolete force incapable of taking on other major naval powers.

Arthur’s naval reforms led to a fleet of new ships with steel hulls, mounted deck turrets, and coal-burning boilers. The new ships proved to be very effective when they got their first taste of battle in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Whereas land campaigns are often long, sea campaigns are often incredibly quick. Spain’s chances of victory were extinguished at the Battle of Manila Bay and the Battle of Santiago de Cuba.

The Spanish-American War put the United States on track for a century of dominance. The United States needed significant naval advancements in strength to defend new territories like Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. American naval power was necessary to transport troops and defend convoys in the First World War. Having a strong navy was of even greater importance in the Second World War when the United States had to fight in two theaters of war. Since then, the navy has been instrumental in America’s post-World War II role as a superpower.

Fast forward to 2018 and the United States needs another revitalization of its navy. The collision between destroyers John S. McCain and Fitzgerald, which led to the tragic deaths of seventeen sailors exemplifies the need for a revitalized navy. On top of that, the readiness of our naval forces has declined dramatically in recent years and our naval forces have become overstretched.  

Rebuilding the United States Navy requires the construction of more ships. Republicans who want more military spending have argued for a long time against the reduction in the size of the navy. Senator Lindsey Graham made the usual argument on how the size of the Navy has declined to World War I levels.

When Democrats hear this argument, they respond the way President Barack Obama did when Mitt Romney raised the issue at a debate in 2012. Obama said the military also has fewer “horses and bayonets” than it nearly a century ago. PolitiFact writer Lauren Carroll gave Graham a rating of “half true” because he left out “important details and takes things out of context” on the subject.

The problem with this counterargument is that it places faith entirely in technology. Which is similar to the Germans in World War II with their Bismarck-class battleships, tiger tanks, jet fighters, and V-weapons. In Europe, the Allies achieved victory with a balance of quantity and quality. The Germans placed too much emphasis on quality.

In order to properly project power, a navy can’t just be heard of. It needs to be seen so that our enemies are deterred from carrying out any attacks. Just looking to superior technology does not account for greater maritime commitments and the willingness of our rivals and enemies to confront us.

The United States needs a greater presence abroad. It is understandable why the size of American fleets and manpower has been decreasing over recent decades. The Cold War led to a highly celebrated peace dividend in the 1990s, but we don’t live in those times anymore.

Xi Jinping will not be going away anytime soon now that he’s allowed to serve as Chinese President for life. Jinping is building up Chinese naval power and his interests run counter to those of the United States. Then there’s Vladimir Putin, who is also working on a Russian naval buildup. The world isn’t in safe when two authoritarian regimes, one controlled by a communist party and the other controlled by someone with a nostalgia for communism, are expanding.

In February of last year, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Moran addressed the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing. Moran acknowledged he was sounding like “a broken record,” but he again stressed the Navy “faces increased demand without the size and resources required to properly maintain and train for our future. And every year we’ve had to make tough choices often choosing to sacrifice long-term readiness to make sure we be ready to answer the call today.”

Wherever the United States has power and influence, there is the United States Navy. Without it, global commerce and security are threatened. The Trump administration is on the right path by asking for more military spending. It should also ensure that defense funds are used efficiently, which a Pentagon study shows is not always the case. There’s also nothing wrong with asking our allies to invest more in their own militaries, which some members of NATO have been doing following Trump’s criticisms.

One of the best comments made about improvements in our military came from Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Mattis wants to “make the military more lethal.” Mattis should be given the opportunity to do so.

John Graber graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he received Bachelor of Arts degrees in history and political science. He likes economic and military history. He was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About John Graber

University of Wisconsin, Madison

John Graber graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he received Bachelor of Arts degrees in history and political science. He likes economic and military history. He was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.



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