Adapted from Chapter 2 of the 24th edition of The Bluejacket’s Manual by Thomas J. Cutler
Even though the United States is the fourth largest nation in the world in terms of land area, it has always been a maritime nation, focusing on the sea as one of its most important assets. During the colonial period and in the early days of the Republic, it was much easier to travel from colony to colony or state to state by ship than by horse or on foot, and fishing, whaling, and overseas trade were among the fledgling nation’s earliest businesses. One of its earliest challenges was the War of 1812, which was partially decided by a series of stellar naval victories against the world’s foremost sea power at the time. A naval blockade and riverine warfare were essential elements in the Civil War, and the war against Spain at the end of nineteenth century was begun by a naval tragedy and decided largely by naval victories. American commerce would never have thrived without open sea lanes, two world wars could not have been won without the lifelines maintained across the world’s oceans, and United States control of the sea was an essential element in the victory over Communism in the Cold War. Throughout the nation’s history, the sea has played an important role in America’s economy, defense, and foreign policy. Today, the modern United States of America continues to look to the sea for these same things and relies upon its Navy to preserve and further the nation’s maritime interests.
Being a maritime nation means having a comfortable relationship with the sea, using it to national advantage and seeing it as a highway rather than as an obstacle. An illustration of this point can be seen in World War II. By 1941, Hitler had conquered much of the land of Europe, but because Germany was not a maritime power, he saw the English Channel (a mere twenty miles across at one point) as a barrier, and England remained outside his grasp. Yet the Americans and British were later able to strike across this same channel into Europe to eventually bring Nazi Germany to its knees. And in that same war, the United States attacked Hitler’s forces in North Africa from clear across the Atlantic Ocean—a distance of more than 3,000 nautical miles.
The navy of a maritime nation must be able to carry out a variety of strategic missions. Currently, the U.S. Navy has 6 important missions, all of which have been carried out effectively at various times in the nation’s history:
• Sea Control
• Forward presence
• Power projection
• Maritime Security
• Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response