War Built to Order

CONGRESS has just launched this nation into the greatest naval race in history on the highly questionable grounds that three mystic numbers, conveniently separated by hyphens, mean your safety and mine.

To the beating of the tom-toms of 5-5-3. Congress has voted authorization to spend a billion and a half dollars on 46 new ships of war, and a full complement of auxiliary craft, which constitute the biggest chip the United States has ever placed on its shoulder.

This naval bill was put over in spite of serious protests of a substantial number of us in both houses, who believed that instead of spending billions that might lead the United States into trouble overseas we should spend millions on our shore defenses and more effectively insure our peace at home.

None of us opposed a sufficient Navy; we had already authorized more additional building than the yards could hold for several years to come. Indeed, in the latter part of January of this year, we had passed the biggest naval appropriation bill in peacetime history.

But a few weeks later, our admirals marched up to Capitol Hill and told us in mortician tones that Great Britain and Japan, particularly Japan, had turned heretic and upset the sacred 5-5-3 ratio. We must build! build! build! they cried.

This immediately raised the question, why this mumbo-jumbo of 5-5-3? Why? Why? Why?

In testimony before the House Naval Affairs Committee, our Lord Nelson-thinking admirals talked vaguely of coast lines, of zones of defense, of relative sea power, and muttered much about preventing one nation from attacking another.

The ratio, the admirals said, had been arrived at in the Washington conference of 1922. This was uttered in an air of finality, as though it were Holy Writ. It appeared that supermathematicians, nobody seems to know who, evolved the theory that for every five tons of battlecraft Great Britain and the United States built. Japan would be permitted to build three.

But, said the admirals, Japan had scrapped the treaty and was building beyond the ratio. Admiral Leahy frankly said that the Navy's only authority for such statements was an article from an Italian newspaper.

So we, the United States, should splurge in an orgy of wild building, to keep up with the alleged superactivity of the Japs!

Finally, after several days of five-five-threeing in solemn tones, it occurred to Congressman Brewster, a Republican, to ask what the 5-5-3 was all about. Admiral Leahy replied: "I believe that a very reasonable provision of naval defense for this country is to insure that the ratio will not go beyond the 5-5-3 ratio." But Brewster pounded on. He wanted to know. . . . Admiral Leahy said, sternly: "That has been accepted as the correct ratio."

That was supposed to be the final answer; the supermathematicians had figured it and the admirals said it was correct. Enough, enough. But Mr. Brewster finally asked about the reason for the ratio in reference to Japan, and why.

The committee waited for the final answer. The news reporters got their pencils poised. Admiral Leahy looked with some impatience on his audience.

"I do not know," he answered.

Then day after day, for four and a half weeks, the committee took page on page of testimony—three ponderous volumes of it!—as witness after witness knelt at the mystic altar of 5-5-3; but the abracadabra and rigmarole still went unexplained. Then the House solemnly talked of 5-5-3 for nearly ten days, the Senate for weeks—but it is still as much an unsolved mystery as it was the day Admiral Leahy said, "I do not know."

So why the ratio?

Well, it is all international-power politics, European and Oriental. It is getting into world grudges and world power barrels with a vim. Our 5-5 ally, England, must keep two or three ships in European waters, to watch Hitler and Mussolini, and the others in Oriental waters to ride herd on British Imperial interests. With our policy of keeping the whole Navy in the Pacific and the East coast unprotected, the British Empire, with our gratuitous aid, is at least safe in the Orient. But, from a sensible viewpoint of American national defense, it is an outrage on the intelligence of the American people.

What Good Are Battleships?

Battleships are as English as vodka is Russian. More, we think English when we think of battleships—even though by area, territory, we are altogether different from England. I have a high opinion of the English people, but a low opinion of battleships. However, I have assumed all along that the battleship is necessary, but that the naval expansion is wrong because it is just too much, and out of joint.

In this, I have good English authority. For the famous Inskip Report, two years ago, which suggested the Empire needed more battleships, admitted they were vulnerable and could be sunk by airplanes. But, the report added, the Empire had vast sea-distances not suitable to planes; more. Empire shipping and sea lanes must be protected. Somewhat later, England backed out of the Mediterranean with her hands up—because Mussolini had a mosquito fleet, plenty of airplanes to bomb British battleships, submarine mines, fire control, and submarines.

Since then, England has been building airplanes, sending her "missions" here to purchase more American planes because they cannot manufacture them fast enough for the Empire. But, in the United States, we get the honor of building battleships—and lag behind in the building of Army defense planes, and the provision of proper national defense.

Admitting the battleship has its function, it must nevertheless have its admitted limitations. Battleships do not attack well-defended coasts of strong nations; no battleships successfully attacked any of the belligerents' coasts during the World War. All naval authorities agree on this. So battleships are used by maritime nations against colonies, and poorly defended or barbaric countries—and that is the life-blood of the British Empire.

Go look at the globe.

The United States is a composite, single piece of real estate. And then look at the British Empire, scattered everywhere, right and left, all over the world, in every one of the Seven Seas.

Why, then, in the name of all that is sensible, must we match England's billions for sea power when, as I said before and will detail to you in later paragraphs, we can do the job for millions in our own back yard?

The Price of Egoism

The consequences of the United States playing the imperialistic game of battleships in every port are twofold, and have given many of my colleagues and myself deep concern.

First: to put it in plain Texas ranch English, if you keep your cow hands out of other people's pastures, and out of trouble-making saloons, you keep them out of shooting scrapes. In other words, if we play this game too long, we are going to get ourselves into a war.

Second: We are letting our already woefully weak military defenses on our own shores lapse into obsolescence and decay to pay for our naval follies and egoisms.

Would you believe, in view of all these billions hurled, and to be hurled, into the seas for overseas display, that we have altogether, in this entire nation, the grand total of only 56 antiaircraft guns?

To me a most astounding thing is that a vital area, containing our most populous centers and our most strategic industrial production, is wholly without protection from the fleet, and otherwise inadequately defended. There are five principal points in this area, and they lack the most vital necessities of national defense. They are Boston, Narragansett Bay and Long Island Sound (considered together). New York City, Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay.

All five of these points—and they should protect twenty million American people behind them—are deficient in long-range guns. Each and every one of them need antiaircraft guns, submarine mine equipment, and fire control (communications systems necessary for hitting the enemy), and above all else, airplanes.

Now, Boston and New York have some long-range guns—but Narragansett Bay and Long Island Sound have none. So I am going to describe the Narragansett-Long Island situation.

Our Vulnerable Seacoast

These points have a few 12-inch guns of very limited range. A battleship could get up in front of Fort Adams, which is at Newport, Rhode Island, and shell it without itself being in the range of the fort. Now mind you, not a gun in all this area has sufficient range—and like all others of the points, I must repeat for necessary emphasis, it is without necessary submarine equipment, fire control, and antiaircraft to be used against air or sea attack. This area needs to correct all the deficiencies I have mentioned, and further, to install sixteen-inch guns to out-range battleships of all types.

I think a full discussion of this particular area should be made, remembering the fact that these outer points are supposed to protect Buzzard's Bay, Narragansett Bay and all of Long Island and its background of 10,000,000 lives in metropolitan New York. This is the front door to Hudson River Valley and the back door to New York City. An enemy might accomplish Burgoyne's aim—to split the country in two; and today, to break this heavily populated industrial area from the rest of America. The War Department is constantly troubled over this.

Behind these points are hundreds of manufacturing establishments, the loss of which would seriously damage our national defense, to say nothing of civilian suffering on an unprecedented scale.

Among hundreds of other manufacturing enterprises we have there such establishments as cotton and woolen factories (civilian and military clothing) in Fall River, New Bedford and New London; a submarine base. New London; Springfield Arsenal; Colt, Winchester and Remington Arms factories; Pratt and Whitney, makers of airplane engines; Hamilton Standard Propeller Company; twenty-five per cent of the optical instruments and eighty per cent of inspection gauges come from this area.

Aviation—No Militarist's Dream

To tell the truth about the defenses of Chesapeake Bay in the most moderate manner is shocking. But the truth is, it would be possible for enemy battleships to steam up and shell Norfolk, Newport News and Baltimore; smaller craft and battle cruisers and even battleships could move on Richmond and our national capital. Enemy airplane carriers could also do a job on all these places.


On one side only of the Chesapeake, there are howitzers, with inadequate range, no fire control, no mines or cables or similar equipment of any kind. There should be sufficient 16-inch guns on both sides, with full equipment, plus AA guns and properly based fighting planes.

Every American knows the industrial, psychological and strategic importance of this area.

I do not anticipate that some enemy is going to steam up the Chesapeake and run us all out of the capital as the English did in 1814. However, the reason the British were able to do it was because the Chesapeake was not properly defended. For us to permit the present conditions, while we groan and strain over the building of battleships for overseas action, is beyond the realm of common sense and reason.

I think it only fair to say that the areas I have mentioned, that is, from North Carolina to Maine, are in the worst condition of any of our coasts. From North Carolina down past Florida the condition is fair, and can be improved by mobile AA guns and railroad artillery; the same is true of the Gulf Coast, which has further advantages of protective geography and some seacoast guns. As for the Pacific, it is in good shape, and is improving. On top of which, they have the whole fleet.

Now we come to a vital part of modern warfare—

In any picture of national defense, one must give complete consideration to the airplane just as certainly as traffic experts twenty years ago had to consider the effect of the automobile on the horse and buggy. Aviation is no longer a militarist's dream. It has made enormous advances. It concerns our own defense from the possibility of attack from planes cruising from afar, and planes brought nearer by great airplane carriers. Also, we must consider the ability of our own airplanes to sink battleships—and of our own battleships getting sunk by enemy airplanes.

Not so long ago, I had some rather definite information of battleship sinkings, and knowing Army bomber developments, I suggested that recent reports showing the vulnerability of battleships had been suppressed. Although the vulnerability of the battleships was denied, the existence of the secret reports was not.

The only answers were some flag-waving statements that we should not let the enemy know our secrets. The admirals, emulating sea life, closed their mouths as tight as clams, and brand-new military locks clamped shut the lips of the Army officers. But tales could not be downed of battleships theoretically sunk out on the Pacific in war games, of Army planes that did the work. And there were stories of "battleship admirals"—old-timers sticking to their illusions of sea power and the invincibility of the battleship—and of "flying sea captains," younger fellows who see above the water, but do not talk because the battleship admirals sit on promotion boards and can deny promotion and can transfer a flying captain all the way to China if they please.

Flying officers of the Army, too, had been told to keep quiet—and they remembered General Billy Mitchell, who, though the brightest air officer in either the Army or the Navy, got the boot for telling the truth about the inadequacy of the air service.

One thing is sure: the inequalities, the chaos of naval demands, the mixture of objectives, the overlapping of jobs, must be settled, as things cannot go on as they are.

What is needed in this situation, it seems to me, is a broad, cool, coordinated view of national defense. At the present time we have in both the Senate and House a Naval Affairs Committee, Naval Appropriations, and Sub-Committee on War Appropriations—eight congressional committees in all—and the Departments of War and Navy, and no coordinating force.

Toward a Unified Defense

Under the War and Navy Departments, we have an aviation service for each; the Marine Corps under the Navy with its own Air Corps, and the Coast Guard—all of which constitutes a ouija board of conflicting interests. What can be done immediately to unify and coordinate this scattering and often contradictory line of fire in our national defense, and at the same time lay the groundwork for a permanent program?

First: The Joint (Army-Navy) Board (whoever heard of it?) ought to wake up. There must be some balance between Army needs and Navy needs, but I defy anyone to study the various and sundry fatted volumes of hearings on the Army and Navy bills and find a single piece of evidence for the co-ordination of the services or of national defense. This "Joint Board," composed of officers of the Army and Navy, meets, nobody seems to know where or when, and if conclusions are made, they are not final or conclusive unless approved by both the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy. Co-ordination of national defense demands action by this outfit at once.

Second, and much better, there ought to be established a single Department of National Defense, with two under-secretaries—one of the Army, another of the Navy; which means abolition of the Secretaries of War and Navy. In ordinary common sense, this is necessary for the elimination of overlapping features and conflicts of "missions"—all of which must now be settled by the President, whose overwhelming duties prevent a detailed study for unbiased decisions, and who may in any event be prejudiced in favor of one service as against another.

The morale-breaking, defense-weakening troubles of the present situation of contending, jealous military and naval forces could be eliminated by this Department of National Defense.

Third, and in connection with the foregoing, the Joint Board now, and the Department of National Defense when it is created, should, I think, tackle and then keep settled these specific problems:

(A) The relative necessity of the two departments in reference to the number of airplanes each needs. The present situation of the Navy having more planes than the Army is ridiculous. No aviation authorities believe that should be.

(Notwithstanding the accepted belief that the Army has more planes than the Navy, the fact is the Navy has the greater number — Army, 2.320 maximum; Navy, 3,000 minimum. In a Department of National Defense this condition, lopsided one way or the other, could be regulated, since the only consideration would be national defense.)

(B) The relations of seacoast defense by the establishment of emplaced guns. AA batteries, fire control and mines, as against the building of battleships and other warships.

Why Not a Disarmament Conference?

Fourth, aviation training should be established on a broad and comprehensive scale. This could be accomplished by converting the Army air-training center at San Antonio, Texas, into the United States Aeronautical Academy, on a parity with the naval and military academies at Annapolis and West Point. In addition, land-grant colleges should have aviation units just as they have other combat units. The National Guard Air Service should be greatly extended. Civil aviation, for war use when needed, should be encouraged.

Fifth, there should be an international disarmament conference. The only reason one has not been had so far is the stubborn refusal of the administration and State Department to consider it. The President and the State Department agree it's a grand idea—but we cannot have it "just now." The State Department, after having been subjected to severe criticism and having been asked by the Senate Naval Affairs Committee about our government initiating such a conference, replied austerely that the "convening of a conference that would become a platform for airing national grievances would merely exacerbate public opinion in the various countries and harm, rather than help, the cause of peace." Then, after more diplomatic run-around, they added "no practical results could come," ending with the astonishing news that "this government would welcome at any time international agreement upon practical measures for further limitation and reduction of naval armament."

In other words, the situation seems to be that if the rest of the world turns as pure as we are we might attend. It is generally conceded that the reason we don't initiate such a conference is because the British don't want to go into it with Japan with their conflicting interests in the Orient. But Japan has repeatedly stated she would attend such a conference.

Let us analyze this. The State Department worries about "exacerbating" public opinion at such a conference. Feeling that such a word must be awful, what could be more awful, or "exacerbating," than the continual debate on the subject, the continual denunciations in the halls of Congress and in the Press?

To Keep the Peace

For this country to throw its hands up, and continue this senseless naval race, in the meantime wasting billions and committing acts that get us nearer war, is criminal folly. Indeed, when there is such a race, based on "relative strength of navies," no one ever catches up; it keeps on and on until physical exhaustion, bankruptcy and war do catch up with the racers, of which our nation is one.

Here, certainly, is a job for the American people to tackle. They should not stand for this foolishness, and ought to demand an accounting.

The conclusions one may reach on these questions may all be different. But the facts that I have stated are facts in anybody's language, and in anybody's politics. The decisions to be made are with the voters, or the readers, and I put the questions up to them.

Do you think it wise to keep building battleships, always bigger and more expensive, while our fences are open at home?

Do you believe the psychology created by the establishment of a Department of National Defense, plus the efficiency from eliminating overlapping features, would improve the present system?

What do you think about airplanes— wouldn't it be a wise idea to give aviation proper encouragement, while we shake off some of our antiquated ideas of old-time heavy-armored battleships?

If we finally get the biggest Navy in the world, what are we going to do with it? Do you want it to police the world, and make the rest of the world behave?

Do you want the Navy for national defense, or for such policing?

I think it is reasonable to say that foreign affairs have become home affairs and your affairs. What is the American idea of foreign affairs? First, that we establish safety at home, which we haven't done. Next, we don't want any foreign outfit. Fascist, Free, Communist, European or Oriental, planting its flag in any part of the Americas. All right, let's agree to that: and also that no American nations will build forts against each other, or make war upon each other. That might be the beginning of a foreign policy; and if we managed to keep the peace for a few years, the rest of the world would grasp our good example, and take a hint.

Maury Maverick, Colliers, July 2, 1938

No comments:

Post a Comment