Thursday, March 31, 2011

Have you heard about this? What a great audience.

Earlier this week - on Sunday in fact, the Commander, US Fleet Forces Command put out some encouraging news that is directly pertinent to NHS. Take it away, Admiral (****) Harvey:

"Next year marks the start of the Bicentennial Commemoration of the War of 1812. Our Navy is partnering with non-profit organizations and cities around the nation to put together a commemoration program that will celebrate and honor our contribution to the war and the lasting impact it has had on our Navy and our nation. This commemoration program will not only educate the public on the importance of our Navy’s contribution to the war, but will also demonstrate – through Fleet Weeks, Navy Weeks and other special events – the great talent and capability of our Sailors today."

I don't know about you but I'm excited. When was the last time you had a discussion about Naval history in the fleet that didn't start with "This one night, we were so drunk..."? Getting initiatives like this out to the fleet - those opportunities to publicly reflect on what our past means to us, find real definition of who we are in where we came from, are priceless.

As the locally recognized authority on naval history in my cubicle, I have been asked - "so really, what's the big deal?" The 'deal' couldn't be bigger. In general terms, we found our national identity in the War of 1812 - and more directly applicable, we began to understand as a nation the importance of sea power in peace and war.

Here's the ten cent summary. Follow the links for more information.

In the opening years of the 19th century the United States had been operating under its Constitution for less than a decade. The size and relative power of the Federal Government was tiny, the nation still being little more than a loose collection of states - each of which largely governed itself. And although the army and navy of the revolution had been disbanded, many people fearing that the President could use a standing military to undully influence the democratic republic, a heated debate in the 1790s had recreated both.

From its inception, the Navy had been employed protecting the rights of American merchant sailors at sea - most notably from French privateers and commerce raiders, and from pillaging Barbary Pirates on the North African coast. But only a few years into the new century, a new and greater threat had emerged - our old nemeses the British.

Hurting for manpower, British ships had begun stopping American ships on the high seas and 'pressing' American sailors into British service. Legally, the British considered a person 'once a subject, always a subject' and this applied to many Americans, the nation being less than 30 years old. Things got really heated when the HMS Leopard opened fire on USS Chesapeake when the latter refused to submit to the former's demand to turn over members of its crew. Tensions flared. President Jefferson ordered a general embargo - effectively banning US ships from sailing abroad. The economy took a nose dive.

Although the Navy had fought pirates and raiders, they were completely unprepared to go toe to toe with the largest Navy in the world. During the Revolution, the Navy went from one embarrassing defeat to the next, with little to show for it. The campaigns in North Africa and against the French in the Carribean had fostered a fractured Navy culture, where individual captains and commodores exercised almost complete control of their forces, and there was little mission continuity from one commander to another. Taking such a force into action against the British in a global fight seemed madness.

I won't go into detail on the individual occurrences of the war - you can find great narratives here and here. But suffice it to say that the Navy - and the United States - emerged from the conflict in 1815 in a totally different light.

The loose collection of states realized the power of closer cooperation and mutual security - the sort that could only be attained with a significant federal military. Freedom of the seas for commerce triggered by the end of the war caused the US economy to boom, and American merchants again plied the globe moving cargoes.

The Navy had developed a culture - under fire - that banded captains and commodores to a common mission, objectives and infastrucutre. They created a system flexible enough to adapt to varying combat environments, but rigid enough to ensure that commanders knew exactly what was expected of them, not only by the nation, but other commanders. And at the end of the war, seeing the potential for naval power to deter large scale conflicts, the US saw the first postwar Naval buildup and the rise of a young, able and energetic officer corps capable of dealing with diverse missions in wide-ranging theaters.

In an era when our nation is mired by the greatest economic recession of our time, when our military is being spread over an increasing mission set amid funding cuts, we cannot forget the mettle that was forged 200 years ago - when we applied ourselves to emerging from similar dilemmas. It's not a difficult stretch to see global terrorism the same way the Americans viewed the British in 1812 - too widespread, difficult to pin down, take out one element and it keeps coming. And its certainly not difficult to imagine a time of high unemployment and rising debt. The things we did then made us who we are as a nation, and as a Navy. It isn't bull----, its our heritage, and it couldn't be more meaningful than it is right now.


No comments: