Read what Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske had to say about the Naval Institute in Proceedings, Vol. 45 No. 192, February 1919:
Without some such stimulus as the Institute, the navy would be less like a profession and more like a trade; we would be less like artists, and more like artisans; we would become too practical and narrow; we would have no broad vision of the navy as a whole.
Each one of us would regard his own special task as the only thing that concerned him, and would lose that sympathetic touch with his brother officers which all of us now enjoy.
The Naval Institute is a club at once social and professional, which is not restricted to any club-house on any avenue in any city, but which spreads over all the oceans to all of our ships and stations, down even into the depths of the sea where our submarines lie, and ten thousand feet into the air where our aeroplanes fly. It is the embodiment of the thought of the navy. It is the unofficial custodian of the navy’s professional hopes and fears. It looks ahead into the future, and back into the past, and keeps track of the happenings of the present.
During the forty-five years that have elapsed since Admiral Luce wrote the first article in the first number of the Naval Institute, the Naval Institute has been the most stimulating single agency that has existed for the development of an American navy; for, while the official publications of governments, and the official reports concerning their activities, are our surest sources of information as to what other navies are doing, yet their only usefulness to us, is in showing us what foreign ideas we should adopt; whereas the Naval Institute enables officers to look into the great beyond, and discuss and perhaps develop ideas of their own on original American lines. Officers are officially responsible for the discharge of their official tasks, and are of necessity compelled to strict reticence concerning them; but the Naval Institute, by reason of its unofficial character, enables them to get out of the rut of the actual sometimes, and soar among the glories of the possible.
In the early days of the Naval Institute, it was ridiculed by a large class of naval officers, who called themselves “practical.” They were practical, but that was all. To them, the whole of the naval profession was comprehended in the practice of the various drills and exercises in gunnery, seamanship, navigation, etc., which they saw in any ship. Their highest ideal of an officer was a man who performed those duties well.
All honor to those sterling men, but how limited was their vision! Not only did they fail to foresee the great advances about to be made in their profession by the “theorists” whom they contemned, but they also failed to see that the very arts which they then practiced owed their actual existence to the class of men they stigmatized. They failed to see that the very ships which they sailed so boldly, could not have carried them over the seas if “theorists” had not theoretically ascertained the laws of buoyancy and propulsion, and applied those laws to the making of engines, sails and ships. If the naval profession were like that of breaking stones along the road, those officers would have been right; because each officer after “learning his job” would have been able to practice it thereafter in a thoroughly practical and efficient way; just as a man can break stones on the road day after day, in a thoroughly practical and efficient way. What those brave and forceful, but partially blind, men failed to see, was the intellectual future of all navies, and the consequent necessity of enlisting in the service of our navy the various intellectual, faculties of men; and of assisting those faculties with whatever aid the literary art might give; in order that our officers might have placed before them in the most inspiring form as many and as good problems, suggestions, and ideas as possible.
For many years, the Naval Institute maintained a precarious existence; and it was not until within the last, say fifteen years, that it became thoroughly established in good favor. Doubtless, one element in assisting it has been a realization of the fact that, in the competitive race for excellence which navies have been holding, the use of scientific instruments and methods might have a determining effect. This competition still exists, with abundant indication that it is going to continue to exist.
One of the factors which has handicapped the Naval Institute has been a curious shyness about writing articles for it. This shyness existed much more in the past than it does now; but it still exists to a degree that is really lamentable. Scores of times I have said to some officer who had made some suggestion, or described some instructive experience, “You ought to send that to the Institute,” and he has answered, “But I can’t write.” Now, any man who can think can write. Writing is merely recording. If a man has anything to record, writing can record it.
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, “I have an idea but I can’t express it”; that man hasn’t an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
So far, in this article, it has been assumed that the articles of the Naval Institute are, or ought to be, extremely serious. Possibly, most of them should be; life itself is mostly serious, and so is naval life, and so should be the Naval Institute. But life is not wholly serious; and the most useful lives have usually been lives in which the strain of serious work was relaxed by frequent recreation, and brightened with wit and humor. Possibly, the Naval Institute has too large a proportion of seriousness in its pages, and this is my individual opinion. But this is not the fault of the Institute; because the Institute has made persistent efforts to induce officers to write of any exciting or amusing experiences they might encounter. The lack of success which the Institute has met in getting due response has not been only amazing but deplorable. Why should officers hesitate to write in the Naval Institute Proceedings of those exciting and funny experiences which naval officers have in a greater degree than do any other men in the world?
The Naval Institute has been of inestimable value to the navy in the past, and it can be made to be of inestimable value to the navy in the future. Whether it shall be so or not will depend on United States Navy officers. The degree of support which they give to the Institute by contributing to its maintenance, by reading the articles it prints, and by writing articles themselves, will determine the amount of good which the Institute can do to the navy. It is the duty of every officer, therefore, to do his utmost to support it.
The Navy of the United States is now embarking on a career of greater importance and splendor than it even imagined a few years ago. No one thing can guide and brighten its path more wisely and more happily than a properly supported and encouraged Naval Institute. “Cast thy bread upon the waters, and it will return to thee after many days.”