Monday, April 25, 2005

The Royal Navy: Legacy of honor

A review of a book review is a departure, but when the reviewer is Victor Davis Hanson and the subject is the Royal Navy (I love the global assumption you are referring to the UK’s navy) – boy howdy, why not blog it up.

What do we owe to the British “ruling the waves” and how does it impact us today?

The legacy of the former was embodied by the global spread of the English languages; the dynamism of America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand; Indian democracy; and the notion of the rule of English-based law applied on a worldwide scale. The latter was superseded—but not defeated—by the U.S. Navy. And the naval power of the United States in many respects was a result of greater material resources applied on a massive scale to a similar system of naval organization adapted from the British.
From the way the U.S. Navy runs our ships (minus the booze – sniffle) to many of our goofy traditions; we owe our past to the Royal Navy. We also took from the British an attitude that led us to follow our Mother to master the sea.

Sailors came to believe through their training and equipment that their ships were better, their commanders smarter and their mates more skilled than was true of any enemy firing back at them.
That tradition is why the most heated discussions you can have is if we are trained/ing or equiped/ing our forces correctly. Sure, I'll argue liberty today in Thailand vs. early 1980's Philippines, but that's not fair......

To know the U.S. Navy, you need to understand its British roots. VDH reviewed two new books on the Royal Navy; The British Seaborne Empire by Jeremy Black, and To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World by Arthur Herman.

It all starts with that unlikely group of cold, resource deprived islands off Europe that could be described charitably as a backwater to a dying Roman Empire.

At first glance, the British maritime empire made little sense. Unlike Spain or France, England had no Mediterranean ports and was without a venerable seafaring heritage of the old galley states. It was distant from the ancestral Roman locus of power, and its population was religiously divided, torn by ethnic strife, smaller than France's and without the natural resources of larger European continental states. Indeed, there was not much of any British naval history before the 15th century. Far earlier, Viking longboats had freely raided the English coast and gone on to discover the New World; Portuguese and Spanish, not British, galleons would first chart the sea routes to Asia and the Americas.

Yet by the late 16th century, England had launched the most technologically advanced, nautically skilled and professionally led fleet in the world. And by 1630 no combination of French or Spanish ships could stop its 100-ship mastery of the seas, which by the mid-18th century had resulted in a worldwide empire protected by 300 capital ships. How did it all come to pass, and what effect did the nearly 500-year reign of British naval mastery have on the world at large?
Just reading a review by VDH is worth the time. But to pass up a look at a couple of books he likes is just foolish. I have a shelf of unread books laughing at me right now, but these two are going on my "wish list" anyway.

Know thyself.

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