In most of the great naval countries the work of mobilizing the fleet is comparatively easy, for the reason that the coast-line is short and is not far from any part of the interior, enabling reserves to live in fairly close touch with the coast and with naval affairs, and so near the coast that they can get quickly to any port. But the conditions in the United States are more difficult than those in any other country, because of the enormous stretch of our coast, the great average distance from any place in our country to the coast, the difficulty of getting a naval reserve that could be of practical use (owing to the ease with which young men can make a comfortable living on land), and the perilous slowness of the nation as a whole to realize the necessity for preparedness.
As an offset to this, we have the 3,000 miles of ocean between us and Europe, and the 5,000 miles between us and Asia; and on account of this we may to a certain extent discount the danger of attack and the preparedness required to meet it. But our discount should be reasonable and reasoned out, and certainly not excessive. Fortunately the problem of how much time we should allow for mobilizing and joining the fleet is easy, as a moment’s thought will show us that it must be simply the two weeks needed for a fleet to come from Europe to America; for we must realize that the report of the sailing of the hostile fleet would be the first news we should get of any hostile preparation or intent.
The general situation in which every isolated naval nation stands regarding other nations is not complicated, but very plain. Each nation has, as possible opponents in its policy, certain countries. The naval forces of those countries and the time in which they can be made ready are known with sufficient accuracy for practical purposes. If any isolated naval nation wishes to carry out a policy which any of those countries will forcibly oppose she must either build a navy equal to that of the other country, or else be prepared to abandon any attempt to force her policies. Stating the question in another way, she can carry out only such policies as do not require for their enforcement a navy stronger than she has.
It is true that diplomacy and the jealousies of foreign powers unite to make possible the averting of war during long periods of time. Diplomacy averted war with Germany for forty-three years, but it could not continue to avert war eternally. War finally broke out with a violence unparalleled in history, and possessing a magnitude proportional to the duration of the preceding peace. “Long coming long last, short notice soon past” is a sailor’s maxim about storms; and it seems not inapplicable to wars. Certain it is that the frequent wars of savage tribes are far less terrible than the infrequent wars of enlightened powers.
This indicates that, even though a nation may be able to avert war for a long time, war will come some day, in a form which the present war foreshadows; and it suggests the possibility that the longer the war is averted, the more tremendous it will be, the greater the relative unpreparedness of a slothful nation, and the sharper her punishment when war finally breaks upon her.