Mahan: The Life and Work of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, U.S.N.

By W. D. Puleston | Go to book overview

Chapter XV First Book on Sea Power

THE task that Mahan set himself in The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, was to examine the general history of Europe and America with particular reference to the effect of sea power upon it. He quoted both Matthew Arnold and Sir Edward Creasy in support of his statement that historians generally had been unfamiliar with the conditions of the sea. "Naval historians," on the other hand, "have troubled themselves little about the connection between general history and their own particular topic, limiting themselves generally to the duty of simple chroniclers of naval occurrences."

Mahan proposed to occupy the vacant field by "putting maritime interests in the foreground" of an accurate outline of general history, being careful not to divorce them from their surroundings of cause and effect and to show their reciprocal relations. The first sentence of the introductory chapter forecasts the contents: "The history of Sea Power is largely . . . a narrative of contests between nations, of mutual rivalries, of violence frequently culminating in war."

Aware of "a vague feeling of contempt for the past" among his generation, Mahan devoted a good deal of space to showing that a study of previous naval campaigns will help in future naval warfare. He cited the lessons taught by Nelson's successes at the Battle of the Nile and during the campaign of Trafalgar; by the failure of the efforts of France and Spain to capture Gibraltar during our Revolutionary War; and by the various campaigns of the Second Punic War. Using these historical examples, he strove to "impress more strongly the truth that history both sug-

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