A Navy Day to Remember – but not everyone was on board

When the Navy League first advocated for a special day to bring focus to the US Navy, there were many who joined along with them in their enthusiasm. After all, the idea of a strong navy was something that many believed would hep protect the nation in future conflicts. Despite all of the treaties that had been signed, mankind has a very poor track record of maintaining the peace for very long.

The World War had brought unimaginable terror to the front of people’s minds and that alone should have been enough to dampen the enthusiasm of anyone for another war. Yet in 1922, conflicts were still being waged all around the globe. The United States had not experienced direct threats to the mainland but was painfully aware of the large vast amounts of coastlines that would need to be defended in case a potential enemy with a powerful navy came calling. During the the World War, the American Nvy found itself woefully short of ships of any kind no less the kind that would be needed to defend itself. Ships that were designed for another era were pressed into service and were barely able to calm the fears of those living in coastal cities.

The Washington Naval treaty was designed to slow the spread of large battlefleets. But it also set in motion events that would ultimately add to the eventual next war. Many leaders saw the danger in the distance and wanted Americans to not lose focus on the need for a navy. So the Navy League  led the way in reminding them of what was at stake.

New York Tribune

Nation to Rise Roosevelt Day To Honor Navy

Late President’s Birthday, Oct. 27, Occasion of Notable Festivities at Capital and Throughout Nation

Fleet To Be Centered Here

Denby Will Lay Wreath to Unknown Dead; Colleges to Help Honor Service

From The Tribune’s Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 – Plans are practically completed for one of the greatest naval celebrations in the history of the country. Next Friday, October 27, the birthday of Theodore Roosevelt, will be Navy Day” and elaborate preparations have been made for its observance.

The purpose of setting aside this special day, according to its sponsors, was to make the American people better acquainted with its own navy; to get the people to thinking about it and what it has done, not so much in war, but in its peace mission. While not a legal holiday, Navy Day, which is to be an annual event, has the sanction of the President and of the Secretary of the Navy, and will be nationally celebrated. Designation of the birthday of President Roosevelt for this purpose was at the suggestion of the Navy League of the United States, and the idea received the hearty approval of the Navy Department.

Governors of twenty-one states have sponsored the idea and have pledged their help to make the day a success. Some of them have issued proclamations calling attention to the day and its purpose and all of them have been acting in its behalf. Presidents of seventy odd colleges and universities have written indorsing the idea and telling of plans for local observance of the day, by having speakers address the student body or other observances.”

Not everyone was on board however

All around the country, newspapers joined in the publicity of the event that was scheduled for October 27. This article comes form Maine where it appears the editor wanted to remind people that there was more complexity to the need for a navy than was being touted by the leaders. In Typical Maine fashion, he reminded his readers to examone the issue with care:


“The secretary of the navy has set aside Friday, Oct. 27th, as Navy Day to be observed throughout the United States, the purpose being to acquaint the country with what their navy is doing, both in the interests of defense and as an instrument to promote and preserve peace.

In the propaganda that is being sent out it is declared that the navy is one of the Government’s biggest assets. The statement of Mahan is recalled that the nation which controlled the seas has invariably won the war. The obvious conclusion to this is that money expended for a navy which isn’t the equal of any other is a waste of money.

We may conclude with Secretary Denby that “When we can live without fire, police, and health protection, it will be time to discuss giving up the navy.” We should have a navy commensurate with our needs and the people should see to it that what we do have is kept up, that it is the best in quality there is in the world, even though it may not be necessary to have the biggest.

Now, or course, authorities differ respecting what a good condition really is in the case of the navy. Here is Admiral Sims, recently retired, declaring that the United States navy was not prepared for war in 1917 and is no better prepared today.

If that charge is true we haven’t very much to brag about on Navy Day. But according to Sims’ idea the cause of this is to be found at Washington and the navy itself is not to blame. That being so, out of deference to the navy rather than to the authorities at Washington, it would seem due to the navy to recognize Navy Day and due to ourselves to consider our obligations to insist on its being made what it should be.

This ascertaining just what the Navy should be isn’t so easy as it sounds. Sims says Congress does what its constituents want it to do, and be declares that the airplane and submarine in future wars will control the situation for the country which has sufficient numbers to overwhelm the enemy. Not all authorities should be expected to agree with him; indeed he doubtless would be disappointed if all did agree. It is evident though that there is room for varying opinions among naval men.

To those who say a big navy would get us into war the naval authorities I would doubtless reply that this country never has had a war into which it has gotten by its navy. Usually we have gone to war and thought about the navy afterwards. Thinking about the navy afterwards is a very bad practice and helps nobody, not even peace advocates. May we never again get into competition in the matter of armament. A navy we yet need, however, will need for many years to come. It is our duty to the country and to ourselves to see that it is a properly kept up, properly handled navy, receiving its due recognition.”

Its interesting that on the same page as the editorial, this cartoon appeared pointing out the situation in Japan and China during this period.

The need for a navy would surge and retreat with regularity for the next few decades. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the words of Admiral Sims and others would come back to haunt the men who were caught unprepared. Perhaps they should have paid more attention to the editor from Maine.

Mister Mac

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