The facts were blindingly obvious, claimed the precocious Harvard graduate in his book The Naval War of 1812, or the History of the United States Navy During the Last War with Great Britain. First, in the eternal Darwinian struggle that took place between calculating, egoistic nation-states, it was essential for one country--in this case, the U.S. at the close of the 19th century--to avoid "a miserly economy in preparation for war." And for a state as dependent on sea power as America, it was unthinkable that the nation "rely for defence [sic] upon a navy composed partly of antiquated hulks, and partly of new vessels rather more worthless than the old." The U.S. was rising to world-power status, but it could do so only on the back of a powerful and efficient Navy.
Phew! Who was saying this? The writer in question was none other than Theodore Roosevelt, then a mere 24 years old. He was just a short time out of college when his book was first published, in 1882, but already making waves. Here is one of the few examples in recent history--Churchill is another--of a young, highly ambitious man who could foresee his own impact on the future international order. From early on, Churchill seemed to have possessed a premonition that he would lead his nation and empire in an age of great peril. In much the same way, T.R. appeared destined--and felt destined--to preside over, and manage, the U.S.'s emergence as one of the global great powers. He believed also that his leadership would be decisive because he had understood, before many of his contemporary political rivals and friends, the importance of naval power in buttressing the international position of the U.S.
Roosevelt was, for an American, unusually familiar with naval history. Two of his uncles, brothers of his Southern-born mother, had been involved in the Confederate navy in the Civil War. (One of them, James D. Bulloch, was a Confederate naval agent who commissioned the C.S.S. Alabama, the famous commerce raider on which his younger brother Irvine served.) The young Theodore had grown up with stories about earlier naval battles and eagerly read works on the history of war. Yet it would be fair to say that his notions about sea power--build bigger warships, concentrate the fleet--were primitive until the late 1880s, when he was introduced to one of the greatest luminaries of naval thought, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan. At the time of their first meeting, Mahan, then in his late 40s, was giving lectures at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., lectures that would culminate in the 1890 publication of his international best seller, The Influence of Sea Power upon History 1660-1783.