In all cases in which navies have been used for war there was the preliminary dispute, often long-continued, between two peoples or their rulers, and at last the decision of the dispute by force. In all cases the decision went to the side that could exert the most force at the critical times and places. The fact that the causes of war have been civil, and not military, demands consideration, for the reason that some people, confusing cause and effect, incline to the belief that armies and navies are the cause of war, and that they are to be blamed for its horrors. History clearly declares the contrary, and shows that the only role of armies and navies has been to wage wars, and, by waging, to finish them.
It may be well here, in order to clear away a possible preconception by the reader, to try and dispel the illusion that army and navy officers are eager for war, in order that they may get promotion. This idea has been exploited by people opposed to the development of the army and navy, and has been received with so much credulity that it seriously handicaps the endeavors of officers to get an unbiassed hearing. But surely the foolishness of such an idea would promptly disappear from the brain of any one if he would remind himself that simply because a man joins the army or navy he does not cease to be a human being, with the same emotions of fear as other men, the same sensitiveness to pain, the same dread of death, and the same horror of leaving his family unsupported after his death. It is true that men in armies and navies are educated to dare death if need be; but the present writer has been through two wars, has been well acquainted with army and navy officers for forty-five years, and knows positively that, barring exceptions, they do not desire war at all.
Without going into an obviously impossible discussion of all naval wars, it may be instructive to consider briefly the four naval wars in which the United States has engaged.
The first was the War of the American Revolution. This war is instructive to those who contend that the United States is so far from Europe as to be safe from attack by a European fleet; because the intervening distance was frequently traversed then by British and French fleets of frail, slow, sailing ships, which were vital factors in the war. Without the British war-ships, the British could not have landed and supported their troops. Without the French war-ships the French could not have landed and supported their troops, who, under Rochambeau, were also under Washington, and gave him the assistance that he wofully needed, to achieve by arms our independence.
The War of 1812 is instructive from the fact that, though the actions of our naval ships produced little material effect, the skill, daring, and success with which they were fought convinced Europeans of the high character and consequent noble destiny of the American people. The British were so superior in sea strength, however, that they were able to send their fleet across the ocean and land a force on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. This force marched to Washington, attacked the city, and burned the Capitol and other public buildings, with little inconvenience to itself.