« PreviousContinue »
the actions, and especially upon the expenditures, of the army and navy; but the present system is at times altogether too complete, especially in war. The efficiency of the quartermasters and commissary officers of the army in the war with Spain was very seriously marred by their perfectly justifiable fear that the slightest departure from the requirements of the red-tape regulations of peace would result in the docking of their own pay by men more concerned in enforcing the letter of the law than in seeing the army clothed and fed. In the navy, before the passage of the Personnel Bill, a positive premium was put on a man's doing nothing but keep out of trouble; for if only he could avoid a courtmartial, his promotions would take care of themselves, so that from the selfish standpoint no possible good could come to him from taking risks, while they might cause him very great harm. The best officers in the service recognized the menace that this state of affairs meant to the service, and strove to counterbalance it in every way. No small part of the good done by the admirable War College, under Captains Mahan, Taylor, and Goodrich, lay in their insistence upon the need of the naval officer's instantly accepting responsibility in any crisis, and doing what was best for the flag, even though it was probable the action might be disavowed by his immediate superiors, and though it might result in his own personal inconvenience and detriment. This was taught not merely as an abstract theory, but with direct reference to concrete cases; for instance, with reference to taking possession of Hawaii, if a revolution should by chance break out there during the presence of an American warship, or if the warship of a foreign power attempted to interfere with the affairs of the island.
For the work which Dewey had to do willingness to accept responsibility was a prime requisite. A man afraid to vary in times of emergency from the regulations laid down in time of peace would never even have got the coal with which to steam to Manila from Hong Kong the instant the crisis came. We were peculiarly fortunate in our Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Long; but the best Secretary that ever held the navy portfolio could not successfully direct operations on the other side of the world. All that he could do was to choose a good man, give him the largest possible liberty of action, and back him up in every way; and this Secretary Long did. But if the man chosen had been timid about taking risks, nothing that could be done for him would have availed. Such a man would not have disobeyed orders. The danger would have been of precisely the contrary character. He would scrupulously have done just whatever he was told to do, and then would have sat down and waited for further instructions, so as to protect himself if something happened to go wrong. An infinity of excuses can always be found for non-action.
Admiral Dewey was sent to command the feet on the Asiatic station primarily because he had such a record in the past that the best officers in the navy believed him to be peculiarly a man of the fighting temperament and fit to meet emergencies, and because he had shown his willingness to assume heavy responsibilities. How amply he justified his choice it is not necessary to say. On our roll of naval heroes his name will stand second to that of Farragut alone, and no man since the Civil War, whether soldier or civilian, has added so much to the honorable renown of the nation or has deserved so well of it. For our own sakes, and in particular for the sake of any naval officer who in the future may be called upon to do such a piece of work as Dewey did, let us keep in mind the further fact that he could not have accomplished his feat if he had not had first-class vessels and excellently trained men; if his warships had not been so good, and his captains and crews such thorough masters of their art. A man of less daring courage than Dewey would never have done what he did; but the courage itself was not enough. The Spaniards, too, had courage. What they lacked was energy, training, forethought. They fought their vessels until they burned or sank; but their gunnery was so poor that they did not kill a man in the American fleet. Even Dewey's splendid capacity would not have enabled him to win the battle of Manila Bay had it not been for the traditional energy and seamanship of our naval service, so well illustrated in his captains, and the excellent gun-practice of the crews, the result of years of steady training. Furthermore, even this excellence in the personnel would not have availed if under a succession of Secretaries of the Navy, and through the wisdom of a succession of Congresses, the material of the navy had not been built up as it actually was.
If war with Spain had broken out fifteen years before it did, -that is, in the year 1883, before our new navy was built,-it would have been physically impossible to get the results we actually did get. At that time our navy consisted of a collection of rusty monitors and antiquated wooden ships left over from the Civil War, which could not possibly have been matched against even the navy of Spain. Every proposal to increase the navy was then violently opposed with exactly the same arguments used nowadays by the men who oppose building up our army. The Congressmen who rallied to the support of Senator Gorman in his refusal to furnish an adequate army to take care of the Philippines and meet the new national needs, or who defeated the proposition to buy armor-plate for the new ships, assumed precisely the ground that was taken by the men who, prior to 1883, had succeeded in preventing the rebuilding of the navy. Both alike did all they could to prevent the upholding of the national honor in times of emergency. There were the usual arguments: that we were a great peaceful people, and would never have to go to war; that if we had a navy or army we should be tempted to use it and therefore embark in a career of military conquest; that there was no need of regulars anyhow, because we could always raise volunteers to do anything; that war was a barbarous method of settling disputes, and too expensive to undertake even to avoid national disgrace, and so on.
But fortunately the men of sturdy common sense and sound patriotism proved victors, and the new navy was begun. Its upbuilding was not a party matter. The first ships were laid down under Secretary Chandler; Secretary Whitney continued the work; Secretary Tracy carried it still further; so did Secretary Herbert, and then Secretary Long. Congress after Congress voted the necessary money. We have never had as many ships as a nation of such size and such vast interests really needs; but still by degrees we have acquired a small fleet of battleships, cruisers, gunboats, and torpedo-boats, all excellent of their class. The squadron with