The projected movement of an American fleet of sixteen battleships, with attendant smaller vessels, from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast of the United States is an event not only important, -both from the professional and national point of view, but striking to the imagination. It carries in itself certan elements of grandeur. It is therefore not surprising that it should have attracted particular notice from the press; but the effect upon the imagination of several journals has been such as to approach the border line of insanity. A measure designed upon its face to reach a practical solution of one of the most urgent naval problems that can confront a nation having two seaboards, extremely remote the one from the other, has been persistently represented as a menace to a friendly power—Japan; and so effectively has this campaign of misrepresentation been carried on, so successfully has an obvious and perfectly sufficient reason for this cruise been ignored in favor of one less probable, and, so far as knowledge went, non-existent, that certain of the press of Japan, we are told, have echoed the cry. Not only so, but European journals, notably some in Great Britain, among them certain which are incessant in their warnings against Germany, and conscious that the whole distribution of the British fleet has of late been modified, with the object of increasing the battleship force quickly available for the North Sea, where their only enemy is Germany, nevertheless affect to deprecate the dispatch of a United States fleet from its Atlantic to its Pacific coast, where it will be four thousand miles from Japan, against the two or three hundred which separate England and Germany. A new British naval base has been established on the North Sea. The naval maneuvers of this autumn, in which have taken part twenty-six battleships and fifteen to twenty armored cruisers, that is, over forty armored vessels, with other cruisers and torpedo boats in numbers, have been in the North Sea; one coast of which only is British as our Pacific coast is ours. The Naval Annual for this year, a publication conservative in tone as well as high in authority, discusses the strategy of the North Sea with unhesitating reference to Germany. I take from it the statement that by May, 1908, 86 per cent of the British battleship strength will be concentrated in or near home waters. Yet in the face of all this, the rulers of Great Britain and Germany, at this very moment of my writing, find no difficulty in exchanging peaceful assurances, the sincerity of which we have no good reason to doubt. Have we also forgotten that upon the Emperor William's famous telegram to Kruger, a British special squadron was ordered into commission, ready for instant movement? Whether a retort or a menace, even so overt a measure, in home waters, gave rise to no further known diplomatic action. We Americans are attributing to other peoples a thinness of skin, suggestive of an over-sensitiveness in ourselves which it was hoped we had outgrown. Let it be said at once, definitely and definitively, that there is in international law, or in international comity, absolutely no ground of offense to any state, should another state, neighbor or remote, see .fit to move its navy about its own coasts in such manner as it pleases. Whatever Germany may think of the new distribution of the British navy, she says nothing, but will silently govern her own measures accordingly. The statesmen of Japan, who understand perfectly the proprieties of international relations, know this well, and doubtless retain their composure; but the result of the action of certain of the American press has been to stir up popular feeling in both countries, by the imputation to the United States government of motives and purposes which cannot be known, and which prima, facie are less probable than the object officially avowed. Whether this endeavor to rouse ill blood has been intentional or not, is of course known only to the editors; but grave ground for suspecting even so unworthy a motive as to injure the national administration is fairly to be inferred from such a paragraph as I shall here quote, from a New York journal of October 6. My chief object in quoting, however, is not to impugn motives, however reasonable such construction, but to emphasize the essential characteristic of the coming movement of our fleet: "Suppose that soon after the New Orleans riots, when relations between the United States and Italy were 'strained,' the American fleet had been sent on a practice cruise to the Mediterranean. "Suppose that soon after the Venezuela message, Jlr. Cleveland had ordered the whole American fighting naval strength to take a practice cruise off Nova Scotia or Jamaica." Such action, in either supposed case, would have been wantonly insolent and aggressive, calculated to provoke hostilities, and such as no statesman would take, unless he had already determined to force war, or saw it looming large on the horizon; as the British fleet was sent to Besika Bay in 1878. The insolence, aggression, and provocation, however, would have been the demonstration off the coast of the nation with whom diplomatic difficulty existed. Occurring when these innuendoes did, in the midst of the virulent campaign of Imputation of warlike purposes against the Admin istration, the inference is irresistible that there was deliberate intention to parallel the sending of our fleet from our one coast to our other to a measure as offensive as those named. The distinguishing characteristic of the movement now projected, from the international point of view, is that it is not in the nature of a demonstration, peaceful or hostile, off the coast of any other state, much less off that of one with whom our relations are asserted by the press to be delicate. Not every man in the street, however, could detect the fallacy. It is a maxim of law that intention can only be inferred from action. So wild an insinuation, in the columns of a journal distinguished for intelligence, can, so far as the action shows, be attributed only to a willingness to mislead, or to a loss of head. In pursuing the next aspect of this cruise to which I purpose to devote attention, I am led again to quote the same journal. The slip lies before me, but I have failed to note the date: "We are asked to believe that this expedition to the Pacific is a mere 'practice cruise,' He must be a miracle of innocent credulity who believes it. What observant men perceive in this dangerous situation is a cataclysm trained and bridled for Theodore Roosevelt to bestride and run amuck." The last sentence is not necessary to my purpose; but I preserve it, partly for that gem of metaphor, “a cataclysm trained and bridled,” and partly for the directness of the charge against the President of preparing conditions that must issue in war. For the rest, if to believe in the obvious and adequate motive of practice for the fleet is to be a “miracle of innocent credulity,” such I must admit myself to be; and I do so heartily. I am not in the councils of either the government or the Navy Department. I have neither talked with nor heard from any person who from official position could communicate to me any knowledge of the facts. My own information has been confined throughout to the newspapers. Shortly after the purpose to send the fleet became known, and counter agitation to be made, I had occasion to write to a British naval friend; and I said to him then that, while I had no clue to the motives of the Administration, it seemed to me that a perfectly sufficient reason was the experience to be gained by the fleet in making a long voyage, which otherwise might have to be made for the first time under the pressure of war, and the disadvantage of not having experienced at least once the huge administrative difficulties connected with so distant an expedition by a large body of vessels dependent upon their own resources. By “own resources” must be understood, not that which each vessel carries in herself, but self-dependence as distinguished from dependence on near navy yards—the great snare of peace times. The renewal of stores and coal on the voyage is a big problem, whether the supply vessels accompany the fleet or are directed to join from point to point. It is a problem of combination, and of subsistence; a distinctly military problem. To grapple with such a question is as really practical as is fleet tactics or target practice. To this opinion I now adhere, after having viewed the matter in the light of such historical and professional thought and training as I can bring to it. Other reasons may have concurred; of this I know nothing. The one reason, practice, is sufficient. It is not only adequate, but imperative. The experiment— for such it is until it has become experience—should have been made sooner rather than be now postponed. That it was not sooner attempted has been, probably, because the growth of the navy has only now reached the numbers, sufficiently homogeneous, to make the movement exhaustively instructive. The word practice covers legitimately many features of naval activity, which differ markedly and even radically from one another, though all conducive to the common end—proficiency. I may perhaps illustrate advantageously by a remark I have had occasion to make elsewhere, upon two theories concerning the summer practice cruises of the Naval Academy. There were—probably still are—those who advocated spending most of the allotted time in quiet, contracted, waters, following a prearranged routine of practical drills of various descriptions, which would thus be as little as possible disturbed by weather or similar impediment. Others favored the practice vessels putting out at once to sea for a voyage of length, amounting often to five or six thousand miles, in which must necessarily be experienced many kinds of weather and other incidents, reproducing the real life of the sea, and enforcing such practical action as the variable ocean continually exacts. It is evident that these conceptions, though opposite, are not contrary to each other, but complementary; and a moment's thought shows that under another phase they reappear in every fleet, if its active life is thoughtfully ordered with a view to full efficiency. It is imperative that a fleet, for a large proportion of the year, seek retired waters and relatively equable weather, for the purposes of drill with the guns; from the slow graduated instruction of the gunners, the deliberate firing at a stationary target, and from a ship either at rest or slowly moving, up through successive accretions of speed, of ship and of discharges, until the extreme test is reached of fast steaming, and firing with the utmost quickness with which the guns can be handled. In like manner the maneuvering of a body of several ships in rapid movement, changing from one formation to another, for the ultimate purposes of battle, must progress gradually, in order that commanding officers and their unter-studies may gain, not only ability, but confidence, based upon habit; upon knowledge of what tneir own ships can do, and what they may expect from the other vessels about them. Ships in battle order must keep at distances which, relatively to the speed maintained, are short; dangerously short, except where compensated by the sureness of handling based on long practice. It is clear also that alterations in the personnel of a fleet, which are of frequent occurrence, make constant tactical drills additionally necessary. But when all this—and more not here specified— has been accomplished, whether at the Naval Academy or for the fleet, what has been done but lay the necessary foundation upon which to rear the superstructure of the real life of the profession? There remains still to fulfill the object—very different from mere practice, though dependent upon it—which alone justifies the existence of a navy. The pupil of the Naval Academy passes naturally and imperceptibly into the routine life of the service by the simple incident of being ordered to a sea-going ship; the single ship, the cruiser, gains her sufficient experience by the mere fact of staying at sea; but a fleet tied to its home ports, or to the drill ground, does not undergo, and therefore does not possess, the fullness of fleet life. Not only are the interruptions numerous and injurious; not only does the easily reached navy yard sap the habit of self-reliance; but out in the deep, dependent upon itself alone and for a long period, there await a fleet on a distant voyage problems so different in degree from those of a vessel alone as practically to be different in kind. Multiply any kind of difficulty by sixteen, and you have passed from one order of administration to another. The movement of the United States battle fleet from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast is in the highest sense practical, because it is precisely the kind of movement which the fleet of any nation may, and usually will, be required to make in war. It is further practical, because the United States has a Pacific as well as an Atlantic coast, and has not a navy large enough to be divided safely between them. The question is at least debatable, whether for the near future the Pacific is not the greater center of world interest; as it certainly is, with regard to our own military necessities, one of greater exposure than the Atlantic. Like France, with her Mediterranean and Atlantic shores, the United States is in the painful military dilemma of being liable to attack upon one side while the fleet is on the other; but our distance to be covered is so much greater than that of France, that the position is vastly more embarrassing. A fleet of battleships leaving Toulon, full coaled and victualed, may reach Brest or Cherbourg without renewing the fuel and stores in its holds; but a fleet leaving New York or Norfolk for San Francisco has upon its hands a most serious administrative problem, and one which no accuracy of gun-fire, no skill in tactics, can meet. It is in fact the problem of Rodjestvensky, to use an illustration particularly apt, because recent. Can our navy in such case expect from the weak states of South America the facility for recoaling, etc., which was liberally extended to the Russian admiral, to the somewhat amazement of the naval profession, and to the just indignation of Japan? It is an old saying that an army, like a snake, moves on its belly. This is little less true of a navy. In the foremost naval man of modern times, in Nelson, we, according to our several prepossessions, see the great strategist, or the great tactician, or the great fighting man; but the careful student of his letters realizes that, underlying all, is the great administrator, who never lost sight or forethought for the belly on which his fleet moved. The unremitting solicitude for the food essential to the health of his crews; the perpetual alertness to seize opportunity, indicated by such casual note, at sea: “Finished discharging store- ship No. ;” the slipping into Tetuan to fill with water, because little progress toward Gibraltar could be made against the current and temporary head wind; the strong self-control, holding down his constitutional impetuosity to move, till sure that all has been done to make movement far reaching, as well as accurate in direction; the whole culminating at the end of his life in a wide sweeping movement across the Atlantic, back to Gibraltar, and thence to Brest, a period 0 [ three months—about equivalent to that required for our projected transfer—during which he was never embarrassed about stores because always forehanded; that is the way—speed, not haste—in which wars are won. It was, and was recognized at the time to be, a magnificent instance of the mobility which is the great characteristic of navies as fighting bodies; not the mobility which consists in getting an extra half-knot (Continued on page 112.)
This article was originally published with the title "The True Significance of the Pacific Cruise"