Unanchoring the Navy
THE SOURCE: “Sea Change” by Ronald Spector, in The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Winter 2012.
In its uniforms, ranks, and lexicon, the U.S. Navy retains the trappings of an earlier era. One could be forgiven for thinking of it as a “traditional, even reactionary” organization, writes Ronald Spector, a historian at George Washington University. That would be mistaken. Over the last century, the Navy engaged in a “seemingly endless process of reinvention” in response to changes in technology and warfare. Dreadnoughts, airplanes, and nuclear submarines all brought disruptive change. But thanks to titanic efforts of will—and encouragement from unique figures—the Navy switched course successfully.
The early-20th-century steel-hulled dreadnought, propelled by a steam turbine and better armed than its wind-powered predecessors, presented the first modern challenge. Dreadnoughts required a larger and better-trained maritime force. President Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, wanted the new American sailor to be “a sort of well-traveled, high-tech Boy Scout,” Spector writes. In 1916, Daniels—a Progressive newspaperman with no military background—ordered that all sailors receive two hours of daily instruction. He also improved shipboard life with perks such as laundry service and ice cream. Some officers balked, but Daniels was vindicated. The number and quality of men in the Navy rose. Their image as “rakish adventurers” went the way of the sail.
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