Navalism
   A strategic vogue of the late nineteenth century based mostly on the writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan, which held that the possession of an oceanic navy to be an indispensable attribute of a Great Power. Mahan, a naval officer and lecturer at the U.S. Naval War College, published The Influence of Sea Power on History, 1660–1783 in 1890 and followed it two years later with The Influence of Sea Power on the French Revolution and Empire. In each he attempted to demonstrate that in the age of commercial capitalism, the sea power of England had provided that country both with security and a commanding control of global ocean lanes sufficient to make it the de facto dominant power of Europe. Owing to the time and place of the release of these books - the United States in the 1890s - Mahan’s broader interpretation of the importance of sea power in shaping history, although compelling enough in its own right, was well received by a political leadership predisposed to embrace it implications. Both Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge used Mahan to further the cause of a strong American navy at a time when the rapid commercial expansion of the United States might be threatened by European colonialism.
   But Mahan’s books were also instantly popular in Britain and were promptly translated into Japanese and several European languages. Mahan’s following in the upper reaches of several governments was almost cultish, especially in Germany where Wilhelm II found in it an intellectual vindication of Weltpolitik ; the Kaiser rhapsodized that a battleship represented “a consummate expression of human purpose and national character.” When British naval muscle forced France to back down in the confrontation over Fashoda in 1898, Wilhelm mused that the poor French had forgotten to read their Mahan. In fact, they had not. From the 1880s, both France and Russia were devoting significant resources to the development of fast cruisers - both for commerce-raiding and hit-and-run tactics against stronger navies - as an alternative to constructing battle-fleets. It was initially the naval policies of France and Russia that in 1889 led to the adoption of the two-power standard and the passage of the British Naval Defence Act. In Germany, the risk fleet theory of Admiral von Tirpitz ’s then sought to challenge this standard for British naval supremacy with the construction of a fleet large enough only to challenge the Royal Navy specifically in the home waters of the North Sea. Calculations of this sort ultimately drove First Sea Lord Sir John Fisher to change the naval arms race qualitatively with the introduction of the Dreadnought in 1906.
   The Russo-Japanese War meanwhile intensified Great Power interest in naval power as possibly the decisive factor in future major conflict. After the brilliant Japanese triumph in the straits of Tsushima, debate raged over specific lessons to be learned from the engagement - the role played by large-caliber long-range guns as opposed to short-range, small-caliber yet rapid-firing guns - but not over its general lesson. The Japanese naval triumph was apparently even more vital to the outcome of the war than Trafalgar had been to the Napoleonic Wars a century earlier. Whereas Napoleon Bonaparte had lasted for 10 more years after Trafalgar, Russia sought peace terms within three months of Tsushima.
   See also <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Keegan, John. The Price of Admiralty. London: Hutchinsion, 1988;
    Lambert, Nicholas A. Sir John Fisher ’ s Naval Revolution. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999;
    Langer, William L. The Diplomacy of Imperialism, 1890–1902. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968;
    Massie, Robert K. Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany and the Winning of the Great War at Sea. New York: Random House, 2003;
    Spector, Ronald. At War at Sea: Sailors and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century. New York: Viking Penguin, 2001.
   CARL CAVANAGH HODGE

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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