The new “navalism,” which already had assertive advocates in Britain and Germany, derived many of its doctrines from the writings of an American officer, Captain Alfred T. Mahan (1840-1914). Mahan’s book The Influence of Sea Power upon History (1890), and his later works assigned navies a place of preeminent importance in determining power status and found an influential audience at home and abroad, especially in Germany, Britain, and Japan.
It has been said that, in our present state of unpreparedness, a trans-isthmian canal will be a military disaster to the United States, and especially to the Pacific coast. When the canal is finished the Atlantic seaboard will be neither more nor less exposed than it now is; it will merely share with the country at large the increased danger of foreign complications with inadequate means to meet them.
The danger of the Pacific coast will be greater by so much as the way between it and Europe is shortened through a passage which the stronger maritime power can control. The danger lies not merely in the greater facility for dispatching a hostile squadron from Europe, but also in the fact that a more powerful fleet than formerly can be maintained on that coast by a European power, because it can be so much more promptly called home in case of need.
The greatest weakness of the Pacific ports, however, if wisely met by our government, will go far to insure our naval superiority there. The two chief centres, San Francisco and Puget Sound, owing to the width and the great depth of the entrances, cannot be effectively protected by torpedoes; and consequently, as fleets can always pass batteries through an unobstructed channel, they cannot obtain perfect security by means of fortifications only.
Valuable as such works will be to them, they must be further garrisoned by coast-defense ships, whose part in repelling an enemy will be coordinated with that of the batteries. The sphere of action of such ships should not be permitted to extend far beyond the port to which they are allotted, and on whose defense they form an essential part; but within that sweep they will always be a powerful reinforcement to the seagoing navy when the strategic conditions of a war cause hostilities to center around their port.
By sacrificing power to go long distances, the coast-defense ship gains proportionate weight of armor and guns; that is, of defensive and offensive strength. It therefore adds an element of unique value to the fleet with which it for a time acts. No foreign states, except Great Britain, have ports so near our Pacific coast as to bring it within the radius of action of their coast-defense ships… .
The military needs of the Pacific States, as well as their supreme importance to the whole country, are yet a matter of the future, but of a future so near that provision should immediately begin.