After the necessary preliminaries shall have been arranged, and the conference takes place which shall settle what armament each nation may have, it is plain that it will be to the interest of each nation to keep down the armament of every other nation, and to be allowed as much as possible itself. In this way, the operation of making the agreement will be somewhat like the forming of a trust among several companies, and the advantage will lie with that nation which is the most powerful.
For this reason it would seem a part of wisdom for each country to enter the conference with as large a navy as possible.
Therefore, the probability of an approaching agreement among the nations as to limitation of armaments, instead of being a reason for abating our exertions toward establishing a powerful navy, is really a conclusive reason for redoubling them.
This brings us to the important question, “how powerful should our navy be?”
This may seem a question impossible to answer. Of course it is impossible to answer it in terms of ships and guns; but an approximate estimate may be reached by considering the case of a man playing poker who holds a royal straight flush. Such a man would be a fool if he did not back his hand to the limit and get all the benefit possible from it. So will the United States, if she fails to back her hand to the limit, recognizing the fact that in the grand game now going on for the stakes of the commercial supremacy of the world, she holds the best hand. She has the largest and most numerous seaports, the most enterprising and inventive people, and the most wealth with which to force to success all the various necessary undertakings.
This does not mean that the United States ought, as a matter either of ethics or of policy, to build a great navy in order to take unjust advantage of weaker nations; but it does mean that she ought to build a navy great enough to save her from being shorn of her wealth and glory by simple force, as France was shorn in 1871.
It is often said that the reason for Great Britain’s having so powerful a navy is that she is so situated geographically that, without a powerful navy to protect her trade, the people would starve.
While this statement may be true, the inference usually drawn is fallacious: the inference that if Great Britain were not so situated, she would not have so great a navy.
Why would she not? It is certain that that “tight little island” has attained a world-wide power, and a wealth per capita greater than those of any other country; that her power and wealth, as compared with her home area, are so much greater than those of any other country as to stagger the understanding; that she could not have done what she has done without her navy; that she has never hesitated to use her navy to assist her trade, and yet that she has never used her navy to keep her people from starving.