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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840–1914)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
THE POWER of genius to discover new relations between familiar facts is strikingly exemplified in Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan’s studies of the influence of sea power upon history. The data cited in his works are common literary property; but the conclusions drawn from them are a distinct contribution to historical science. Admiral Mahan was the first writer to demonstrate the determining force which maritime strength has exercised upon the fortunes of individual nations, and consequently upon the course of general history.  1
  Technically, one of his representative works, the ‘Influence of Sea Power upon History,’ is but a naval history of Europe from the restoration of the Stuarts to the end of the American Revolution. But the freedom with which it digresses on general questions of naval policy and strategy, the attention which it pays to the relation of cause and effect between maritime events and international politics, and the author’s literary method of treatment, place this work outside the class of strictly professional writings, and entitle it already to be regarded as an American classic. In Europe as well as in America, it has been recognized as an epoch-making work in the field of naval history.  2
  The contents of Admiral Mahan’s great studies of naval history were originally given forth in a course of lectures delivered before the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island; and Admiral Mahan’s prime object, in establishing the thesis that maritime strength is a determining factor in the prosperity of nations, was to reinforce his argument that the future interests of the United States require a departure from the traditional American policy of neglect of naval-military affairs. Admiral Mahan has maintained that, as openings to immigration and enterprise in North America and Australia diminish, a demand will arise for a more settled government in the disordered semi-barbarous States of Central and South America. He lays down the proposition that stability of institutions is necessary to commercial intercourse; and that a demand for such stability can hardly be met without the intervention of interested civilized nations. Thus international complications may be fairly anticipated; and the date of their advent will be precipitated by the completion of a canal through the Central-American isthmus. The strategic conditions of the Mediterranean will be reproduced in the Caribbean Sea, and in the international struggle for the control of the new highway of commerce the United States will have the advantage of geographical position. He points out that the carrying trade of the United States is at present insignificant, only because the opening of the West since the Civil War has made maritime undertakings less profitable than the development of the internal resources of the country. It is thus shown to be merely a question of time when American capital will again seek the ocean; and Admiral Mahan urges that the United States should seek to guard the interests of the future by building up a strong military navy, and fortifying harbors commanding the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.  3
  Admiral Mahan’s biography was simple and professional. He was born September 27th, 1840. A graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy, he served in the Union navy as a lieutenant throughout the Civil War, and was president of the Naval War College from 1886 to 1889 and from 1890 to 1893. In 1896 he retired from active service but was a member of the Naval Board of Strategy during the war between Spain and the United States. He was made rear-admiral in 1906. He became a voluminous writer on his peculiar subject or its closely kindred topics. Besides the work already mentioned, his writings include ‘The Gulf and Inland Waters’ (1883); ‘Life of Admiral Farragut’ (1892); ‘Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire’ (1892), a continuation of the ‘Influence of Sea Power upon History’; ‘The Life of Nelson, the Embodiment of the Sea Power of Great Britain’ (1897); ‘Sea Power in its Relation to the War of 1812’ (1905); ‘From Sail to Steam’ (1907); ‘The Interest of America in International Conditions’ (1910); ‘Naval Strategy’ (1911); and ‘Armaments and Arbitration’ (1912). His other books may be regarded as supplements and continuations of the new interpretation of history set forth in his ‘Influence of Sea Power upon History.’ He died in 1914 before he could witness for himself the supreme test to which the Great War was to put his theories and prophecies.  4

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