“We are all maritime nations,” said commander of U.S. 3rd Fleet Vice Adm. John D. Alexander in a statement. “We all prosper through trade and the majority of the trade goes through the Indo-Pacific region.”
I have seen the idea of the United States as a maritime nation before, I may have even said it myself, but I have come to believe that it isn’t true. Part of the issue is that I don’t know if “maritime nation” has ever been defined. So until I hear of a better idea, I am going to define it as dependence on the sea, and mastery of the sea.
On one end of the spectrum you have a nation like Great Britain. As an island, its relationship with the sea is firmly established. On the other, Russia, a classic land power. Most nations rely on trade by sea in one form or another, but Great Britain cannot survive without imports. In this sense, I think we’re more like a land power. The majority of the trade that we do participate in is done via ships that are registered and crewed by other nations.
As for mastery of the sea, I see two components: civil and naval. The United States wields the most powerful Navy in the world, true, but it is used to enforce Pax Americana, which intrinsically benefits all nations. We came too late to the scene for true exploration and never formed a colonial empire that had sea lanes to protect. The state of the merchant marine has been discussed at length already.
Finally, there is our character. We aren’t a seafaring people in the way islanders are. Yes, there are many many seamen in our country, and regions like New England have a strong maritime tradition. But the destiny of the country for the first 150 years lay to the west, and taming that land and expanding the nation did more to cement our culture than whalers from Massachusetts or clipper ships in New York. Even as far back as the War of 1812 the opposition of southern farmers who wanted nothing to do with a war over the impressment of a few sailors shows a disinterest in maritime issues. Ships never captured the imagination like other forms of transportation; first the railroad, which “opened” the west, then the jet age, or the interstate highway system and the car culture.
I don’t underestimate the importance of the sea or the power that effective use of the sea (both civil and naval) can bring, I just don’t think the rest of the country cares that much.
You are spot on correct sir…beginning with the great Westward Expansion, the US became centered inward to the land and not outward to the sea. This has been reflected in the men who become its leader who basically come into the office with no prior exposure or experience with merchant ships or the sea. The exception was Franklyn Roosevelt (who had previously served as Secretary of the Navy during WWI) and was a man who appreciated the importance of ships and having a strong merchant marine. Under his watch we built simply the greatest merchant fleet ever seen by mankind. His follower, Harry Truman, didn’t have any of the same appreciation and immediately began to dismantle what Roosevelt accomplished. Even Eisenhower who showered so much praise on the US merchant marine for its role in WWII quickly turned his attentions inward while president and sat on his hands where the fleet was concerned. Kennedy too did nothing and the list goes on and on through presidents who even having served in the Navy during the War did little to help. It has gotten to the point where we end up where we are today with no champion to call for a rebuilding of the fleet even while platitudes and praise are handed out about how necessary having a fleet is. Sure, a big Navy which is easy to support but no one short of the little voices of Hunter or Garamendi calling for new legislation but I expect little to come from their calls.
so no, Americans and its leaders are not aware of ships or appreciate them other than the foreign flagged and manned cruiseships they love.
I live on an island near Baltimore. At one time a very good part of the population of that city was building or repairing ships if they weren’t crewing on them or unloading them. Baltimore was famous for inventing the Baltimore Clipper in the 19th century. Places like Fells Point and The Block were chock full of hard partying sailors from all over the world and you could watch ships load and unload right in the Inner Harbor.
Now…not so much. We still are a major port, but the ships coming and going will rarely have an American flag and the crews are not getting ashore much if they even can at all. The docks have moved down the river. No one is putting in a hard day building ships. I would suspect now for 90% of the city it is “out of sight, out of mind”.
You can pay money and cruise around for the day on a Liberty Ship though, so it isn’t all gone.
EDIT - for living so close to what is a lot of shipping going on, I can hardly recall anyone ever discussing going to sea as a potential career. Working on the water is catching crabs and oysters. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but still.
In my opinion the best definition of what constitutes a maritime nation can be found in Mahan’s “_The Influence of Sea Power on History.” (Spoiler alert, it takes more than just a Navy!)
The UK used to be a maritime nation.
We used to have the engineering skills to design the machinery and tools needed to build ships. The people who worked in those industries often went on from front line engineering/maritime careers to finance and insurance etc. Then we cleared out those old heavy industries and became a service industry economy where people studied maths and states instead of the actual product. The new breed of bankers went on to create ever more complex and profitable financial wheezes and ended up with the financial meltdown of 2008.
I could kick myself for not placing bets on it all going pear shaped back in the late 90’s. But it has all turned out pretty much as I thought it would.
You and these two both:
Or maybe you watched them for guidance??
But back to Maritime nations.
It is becoming a Maritime nation again, with it’s own highly sophisticated Aircraft carriers to project it’s power around the world again.
It may be a while before they get any air crafts though, which these two gentlemen predicted would happen several years ago:
One swallow does not a spring make.
We need more than two large targets to become a maritime nation again. We need the capacity to design and build our own merchant ships and the depth of engineering practice to support merchant/military navies.
We have thrown that all in the drain. Italy, Germany. Norway, France, all have the engineering capacity. We don’t. And it bodes ill for the future.
Forgot to say Bird and Fortune are brilliant.
I believe there is an Aussie version of the duo.
Yes there are. Here they are talking about one of the ships that wasn’t built in the UK:
They also wants to have a say about the British aircraft carriers that IS built in the UK: