Mahan- Continued

U.S.S. Olympia- flagship of American fleet during Battle of Manila Bay-1898
In the mid-1880s with the backing of Roosevelt, Mahan started turning his lectures into a book titled The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783.  The book begins by looking at the Second Anglo-Dutch War of 1665-1667, the war where the English acquired the Dutch New Netherland colony, and renamed it New York. Mahan’s book was based on the idea that naval strategy overtime was based on a handful concerns. That shipping was important to a nations prosperity, that throughout history it was important that maritime commerce be protected, and that there were six principle conditions for a country to develop sea power capacity. Those six conditions were 1) geographical position 2)physical conformation- which includes national resources and climate 3) extent of territory 4) population size 5) national culture and 6) political structure.  These are ideas which seem quite obvious to us now and they were ideas that were floating around previously, however, it was Mahan it brought them all together into a cohesive framework. Mahan was a great admirer of the British navy and wanted to bring British naval ways to America, his work was to help start the modernization of the United States navy.
In 1892 Mahan was given command of the Chicago, it was to be his last sea deployment.  It was for him a command/ book tour.  He would meet German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had ordered copies of Mahan’s book to be placed on board all German warships. He dined with Queen Victoria and received honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge Universities.  Mahan would leave the navy in 1896.  He would continue his writing career, in 1897 he completed a biography of Horatio Nelson, afterward he began a two-volume history of the naval aspects of the War of 1812.  He would write letters and articles for various publications and maintain a correspondence with Theodore Roosevelt the rest of his life.  In 1902 he was elected president of the American Historical Association.  One of his last books was entitled The Harvest Within, a book in which he examined his religious beliefs. On December 1, 1914 Mahan died after suffering a heart attack and illness. His legacy is one that is hard nail down, to some he has been seen as an imperialist-war monger, to others a realist, an advocate of deterrence who saw the best defense as being prepared and having the ability to use force. There are also those who see in him an advocate for containment and multinational action.  He was a man of contradictions, he had his strengths and weaknesses. It seems certain that the man and his ideas are still very relevant to the world today and in the future and deserve the respect or at least the wisdom of continued to be studied.

Recommended Readings for Mahan: Alfred Thayer Mahan: The Man and His Letters by Robert Seager II, Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command: The Classic Works of Alfred Thayer Mahan Reconsidered by Jon Sumida and a very good chapter on his written by Warren Zimmerman in his First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power


Author: JeffThompson

The holder of an M.A. in history working on a Masters in Library and Information Science. A little curious about everything.

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