I woke up this morning from a dream about being on the seashore looking out. Our family used to drive across Pennsylvania in the heat of summer and spend a weeks vacation in Wildwood New Jersey. Growing up along the rivers and in the hills of Western Pennsylvania, I had never experienced anything like this before so standing on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean was pretty awesome. The dream was so clear… a boy standing with his feet in the wet sand staring out at the horizon past the waves that were breaking in front of him. The potential for adventure was endless to a young boy.
I can imagine another small boy thousands of years ago doing the exact same thing. The salt spray from the ocean breeze fills his nostrils and the sound of the breakers is balanced with the sound of the seagulls flying all around. What is he thinking as he looks out over the vast sea with no end in sight? Where does his imagination take him as he thinks about the vastness of the water before him? What else is out there?
The oceans have always represented man’s greatest barriers and his greatest opportunities.
“Oh Lord your sea is so great and my boat is so small” is an ageless statement that has probably crossed the minds of sailors in all generations. I have journeyed in everything from a fishing boat in the Gulf of Thailand to the mightiest aircraft carrier in the mighty Pacific Ocean. They are all made equal in their helplessness against the forces of the waters. Even the powerful submarines that carried me around the globe are often mere subjects to the whims of King Neptune when he is raging and storming in his fury.
Yet human kind still seeks the opportunities that the sea can provide.
Since the earth’s surface is made up of a significant amount of water, the seas provide a way to communicate and share the raw materials far beyond a single countries shores. The early explorers challenged the “Flat Earth” theories that promised a swift and sure death for sailors who went too far and fell off into the abyss filled with all manner of dangers and sea monsters. Those explorers were inspired and made brave by the promise of adventure and wealth. In many ways, that same promise spurs on much of the economic growth in the world we live in today.
We have learned many new technologies over the years that have made the world closer. Air travel is routine now and satellites and the internet have drawn us together like nothing that Magellan could have imagined. Yet the sea remains. Even in this modern day and age, the sea remains as the greatest barrier and opportunity for man.
The great powers throughout history have found ways to use the oceans and seas to extend their power. From the earliest civilizations in the east and the west, nations have used the water for power projection and protection from outside forces. Just as Rome conquered the Mediterranean, other countries have used the distance and difficulty to shield themselves from the influence of others. But technology has impacted both of those abilities and despite the oceans challenges, most modern civilizations are now dependent on one thing: the freedom to freely navigate the sea lanes of the world.
This was one of the first lessons we learned in Boot Camp in 1972. In Chapter 1 of the Bluejackets Manual (18th Edition, US Naval Institute) Military, Economic and Political Importance is introduced to the new recruits.
“Ships of the Navy have always been needed to protect our country’s interests off our coasts and all over the world. Today in an age of atomic bombs, nuclear power, and guided missiles, the importance is greater than ever.”
What was written then is even more true today. Our freedom is directly related to our ability to defend ourselves from any threat to our ability to maintain freedom of the seas. Yet it is the face of this reality that the nation faces threats that come from within. For a number of reasons, our ability to build and maintain a fleet that is capable of an adequate defense is being threatened. The shipyards that once built the ships that stopped the rising tide of imperialism and savagery in the past are no longer capable of producing the next generation with any strength. The technology, experience and ability of our shipyards is being lost to global forces that make us more and more dependent on other countries. Those same countries that could easily fall prey to the influence of an emerging China or a resurging rogue Russian desire for the old days.
Look how weak the world has been in response to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Observe the silent spread of Chinese influence over her neighbors in the vast Pacific ocean. Who will provide the strong voice and power that will keep both of those ambitions in check? America still has a large force available for the foreseeable future. But one only needs to look at Pearl Harbor to see how quickly the power of an area can be shifted. The difference between then and now is that after Pearl Harbor, we had the shipyards and ability to overcome that tragic loss and build the mightiest Navy the world has ever known. With the state of our shipbuilding industry today, I am not convinced we would be able to repeat the miracle. We had the luxury of time in the 1940’s because of the ocean’s protection. With the threats today, that protection would be neutralized.
From the BJM: “The United States is almost an island, surrounded by oceans. Over these oceans must come the raw materials needed to preserve our great industries. There are a few materials, such as manganese and chrome, which are vital in making steel. Our Navy must keep the sea lanes open for merchant ships, not only to get raw materials but to deliver food and weapons to our friends and allies.”
In a new age of threats, our merchant fleet is almost non-existent. Most of our goods are now shipped on foreign flagged ships built in other nations. This “Island” we live on would quickly become hostage to whoever controlled the seas. The Chinese in particular have spent a great deal of time and money on ship killing missiles. How long could the United States survive without the raw materials that come daily into our ports? Senator McCain, a third generation Navy man is pushing to cripple what is left of the Maritime industry.
What’s ironic about McCain’s caving in to special interest that seek to bypass protections for our vital shipping industry is that his whole family and the nation he served are all indebted to that industry for their lives and their freedom.
The oceans of the world will always provide the resources, the opportunities and the challenges that every generation must embrace. The one thing the ocean’s provide more than anything else is the opportunity for freedom or slavery. Time will tell if the United States is wise enough to determine how to maintain the former and stave off the latter.
By the way, this link will take you to one of the most amazing tributes to the sea I have ever heard. “Come Home to the Sea” comes from Mannheim Steamrollers Fresh Aire VI album and is a remarkable representation of what I feel every time I think of the sea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aN3ACbKknhw
Thanks for stopping by.