« PreviousContinue »
such cases far less with them than with those responsible for the existence of the system. Even if we had the best Secretary of War the country could supply and the best general the army could furnish, it would be impossible for them offhand to get good results if the nation, through its representatives, had failed to make adequate provision for a proper army, and to provide for the reorganization of the army and for its practice in time of peace. The whole staff system, and much else, should be remodeled. Above all, the army should be practiced in mass in the actual work of marching and camping. Only thus will it be possible to train the commanders, the quartermasters, the commissaries, the doctors, so that they may by actual experience learn to do their duties, as naval officers by actual experience have learned to do theirs. Only thus can we do full justice to as splendid and gallant a body of men as any nation ever had the good luck to include among its armed defenders.
PUBLISHED IN “McCLURE'S MAGAZINE,” OCTOBER, 1899
ADMIRAL DEWEY has done more than add a M glorious page to our history; more even than do a deed the memory of which will always be an inspiration to his countrymen, and especially his countrymen of his own profession. He has also taught us a lesson which should have profound practical effects, if only we are willing to learn it aright.
In the first place, he partly grasped and partly made his opportunity. Of course, in a certain sense, no man can absolutely make an opportunity. There were a number of admirals who, during the dozen years preceding the Spanish War, were retired without the opportunity of ever coming where it was possible to distinguish themselves; and it may be that some of these lacked nothing but the chance. Nevertheless, when the chance does come, only the great man can see it instantly and use it aright. In the second place, it must always be remembered that the power of using the chance aright comes only to the man who has faithfully and for long years made ready himself and his weapons for the possible need. Finally, and most important of all, it should ever be kept in mind that the man who does a great work must almost invariably owe the possibility of doing it to the faithful work of other men, either at the time or long before. Without his brilliancy their labor might be wasted, but without their labor his brilliancy would be of no avail.
It has been said that it was a mere accident that Dewey happened to be in command of the Asiatic Squadron when the war with Spain broke out. This is not the fact. He was sent to command it in the fall of 1897, because, to use the very language employed at the time, it was deemed wise to have there a man “who could go into Manila if necessary.” He owed the appointment to the high professional reputation he enjoyed, and to the character he had established for willingness to accept responsibility, for sound judgment, and for entire fearlessness.
Probably the best way (although no way is infallible) to tell the worth of a naval commander as yet untried in war is to get at the estimate in which he is held by the best fighting men who would have to serve under him. In the summer of 1897 there were in Washington captains and commanders who later won honor for themselves and their country in the war with Spain, and who were already known for the dash and skill with which they handled their ships, the excellence of their gun practice, the good discipline of their crews, and their eager desire to win honorable renown. All these men were a unit in their faith in the then Commodore Dewey, in their desire to serve under him, should the chance arise, and in their unquestioning belief that he was the man to meet an emergency in a way that would do credit to the flag.
An excellent test is afforded by the readiness which the man has shown to take responsibility in any emergency in the past. One factor in Admiral Dewey's appointment-of which he is very possibly ignorant—was the way in which he had taken responsibility in purchasing coal for the squadron that was to have been used against Chile, if war with Chile had broken out, at the time General Harrison was President. A service will do well or ill at the outbreak of war very much in proportion to the way it has been prepared to meet the outbreak during the preceding months. Now, it is often impossible to say whether the symptoms that seem to forbode war will or will not be followed by war. At one time, under President Harrison, we seemed as near war with Chile as ever we seemed to war with Spain under President McKinley. Therefore, when war threatens, preparations must be made in any event; for the evil of what proves to be the needless expenditure of money in one instance is not to be weighed for a moment against the failure to prepare in the other. But only a limited number of men have the moral courage to make these preparations, because there is always risk to the individual making them. Laws and regulations must be stretched when an emergency arises, and yet there is always some danger to the person who stretches them; and, moreover, in time of sudden need, some indispensable article can very possibly only be obtained at an altogether exorbitant price. If war comes, and the article, whether it be a cargo of coal, or a collier, or an auxiliary naval vessel, proves its usefulness, no complaint is ever made. But if the war does not come, then some small demagogue, some cheap economist, or some undersized superior who is afraid of taking the responsibility himself, may blame the man who bought the article and say that he exceeded his authority; that he showed more zeal than discretion in not waiting for a few days, etc. These are the risks which must be taken, and the men who take them should be singled out for reward and for duty. Admiral Dewey's whole action in connection with the question of coal-supply for our fleet during the Chilean scare marked him as one of these men.