In 1922, the United States Navy was in a quandary. The civilian leadership had recently completed its goal of limiting the growth of the civilized world’s naval forces. This dream of lasting peace was certainly an admirable one by the Harding administration. Diplomacy seemed to be an answer to the endless wars that had plagued Europe and beyond.
From the turn of the twentieth century on, any nation that sought to be a world power recognized the need for powerful ships. These ships became larger and larger and heavier armed. America got caught up in the race too. The World War was the biggest contributor to growth. Control of the seas meant the ability to not only extend your presence but to starve the enemy of his ability to feed his people and rebuild his countries warfighting capacity.
America had always been able to hide behind her oceans. Even the mightiest of fleets would have to travel great distances through unpredictable conditions. Then they would have to establish fueling stations and replenishment capabilities right under the noses of Uncle Sam’s bluejackets. The Spanish American War revealed the flaws in that strategy.
The Washington Naval treaty was an admission that things had gotten out of hand. Battleships were outrageously expensive and technology was growing exponentially. Every new weapon drove the need for a counter weapon. So it was no surprise that the need for arms limitations would appeal to cooler heads. Besides, the bills from the last war had not been paid off yet. There was real danger that some of them never would be paid.
But the leaders of the navy had long memories. They recognized that ships could not be built in an instant and more importantly having men trained to operate them was just as critical. The World war had shown America’s ability to rapidly build up a fleet but having the trained sailors in place was problematic at beast. The strategy had always been to maintain a core force of technicians that could shoulder the load while their countrymen trained up for their support.
October 27 of 1922 was selected by the Navy League as the first annual Navy Day. The goal was to convince the country that the fleet was still of paramount importance. This article from Richmond also emphasized why trained men were still needed. It was a message that would be hard to convey for the next fifteen years.
Opportunities in the Navy
By FREDERICK J. HASKIN
The Richmond Palladium and Sun Telegram
WASHINGTON, D.C. Oct. 27 1922.
“The Navy this week is beginning an intensive campaign for recruits. Thirty-eight thousand young Americans are wanted to put on the blue uniform and be trained into artisans, machinists, aviators, gunners, radiomen, torpedo-men, electricians, clerks, submarine-men, and the other vocations necessary to the operation of Uncle Sam’s fighting ships and the naval shore establishments From now on for many weeks the recruiting offices will be busy enlisting young men who elect to take advantage of the undoubted opportunities which the navy offers them.
It may come as a surprise to some that the navy so soon after the disarmament agreement is seeking 38,000 new men. The answer is obvious. Even the reduced establishment permitted by the treaty permits the American navy to have 86,000 men in its service. These men enlist for a relatively short period of time. The new recruiting is to find men to take the places of those whose enlistments have expired or who are leaving the service to go into the reserve or retirement.
For instance, the navy this year is losing 2,600 chief petty officers who have served the required time and are now going on the retired list with good pay. These men, whatever occupations they may now take up, will continue to draw from $67 to $134 a month from the government for the rest of their lives. This is a reward for long and faithful service, granted by a law now four or five years old.
Those who are retiring after 16 years of service will get $67 a month. Those who have served a full 20 years will get $105. A man who retires after 30 years’ service gets $134 a month for life. These allowances amount to $804, $1,260, and $1,608, a year respectively; and, calculating them as income on capital invested at four percent, they are the equivalent of $20,100, $31,500 and $40,200 respectively, handed over by the government to the retiring petty officers for their free use during the remainder of their lives. Inasmuch as a boy can enlist in the navy at the age of18, it will be seen that the smallest of these rewards when he is 34 years old and needs only to stay in the service until he is 48 to obtain the largest.
No Other Nation So Generous
No other nation is so generous to its sailors. The existence of this retirement law is one of the chief reasons the navy is able to enlist men of the caliber of those who now serve in it. Because of this and other attractions, the naval service has now become highly selective. Of those apparently qualified who apply for enlistment, only one in three can get in at all. The navy is now able to pick its men with care.
The young man who enlists in the navy can do so with the knowledge that he is taking up a career of fundamental use and value to his fellow countrymen. For every dollar the people pay him the people get value received, and this is true even if he and his mates never have to go to actual war for their employers. In fact, the view that the navy is an essential but expensive ornament in time of peace is rapidly passing away. The chief value of the navy it its peacetime value and it serves the country well merely by existing.
The recent revelations made by the revolutionary governments of Europe in ransacking their foreign offices and publishing secret documents pigeonholed therein have constituted a powerful endorsement of the wisdom of the policy of the United States in maintaining a strong navy during the past 30 years. We are beginning to see something of the fate we have escaped, and to understand that for that escape we can thank the American navy. Even without its splendid record in the World War, the navy has justified all the effort spent upon it.
These formerly secret but now published archives show that for the generation preceding the outbreak of the World war diplomacy was but another name for warfare, bloodless, but without conscience or consideration for the rights of weak nations. The successful diplomacy has been that which could demand the greatest military force if it needed to call upon it. The diplomats masked what they were doing with such fine words as “influence” and the like; but actually all of these words have meant the conquest of peoples too weak to resist. Behind each set of successful diplomats stood power – armies and navies. With these the imperialistic nations carried on their expansion by coercion.
Navy Backs Up Diplomats
It is not long ago that the school geographies showed a large part of the north coast of Africa belonged to Turkey. It was territory over which the Sultan had either direct temporal power or the influence that was his by virtue of his being head of the Mohammedon religion. Today, Franco has Algiers, Italy has Tripoli and Egypt is independent. The Turks were skilled diplomats: they were even fierce fighters on land; but they lacked a navy strong enough to command the respect of their more powerful adversaries.
And what was true of the Mediterranean coast and other parts of Africa has been true also of Asia. Parts of China were lopped off, and it is only the firm assertion of an open-door policy by our own state department that prevented perhaps the dismemberment of China. In southern Asia and among the rich archipelagos of the South Sea has the same story been repeated – defenseless peoples exploited by those who had the power to conquer, if need be, by might.
One great section of the world, and only one, has been exempt from the raids of European diplomacy – the Western Hemisphere – North and South America. A hundred years ago this government enunciated the Monroe Doctrine and since that time has been prepared to maintain that doctrine by force, principally by naval force. As a result, no European flag flies on American soil today except over land occupied before the United States became a nation. We can thank that force, the potential force of the American navy, floating in our harbors or cruising up and down our coasts, for our immunity.
There is no reason to believe the same diplomatic game is not going forward in the same old way. There was a brief moment in which it seemed that the nations of the earth might attempt to do away with warfare altogether, but that moment has passed. Militarism is as progressive as ever. The “mandate” now substitutes for the “sphere of influence” – a change in name and nothing else.
We are beginning, too, to realize that most of the nations of Europe do not abhor war as we Americans. We suffered with them in spirit a few years ago, but now it is dawning on our people that millions of them actually preferred fighting, with its assurance of adequate food, clothes and shelter, to a half starved existence in city slums or peasant villages. To these swarming, thwarted populations, American is now more a glittering prize than ever. They picture us with our pockets heavy with gold taken at the expense of their present misery.
The navy is now costing about $300,000,000 a year – about five cents a day for each American household. This is a small price to pay for the protection it gives us amid the frightful dangers that now beset the earth.”
The article was prescient in many ways. In less than twenty years, diplomacy would once again be used to deceive and obscure the real agenda. That of course was done in the lead up to Pearl Harbor. The limits placed on the Navy would be felt for the following two years as they fought with ships built and designed by people who had such great hopes that they would never be needed. The lives sacrificed were given in a tribute to their foolhardiness.
The world we live in today is still facing foolhardy men (and a fair number of women) who hear the siren calls of peace at any cost. I fear we will have to relearn this lesson once more in the coming years.