Naval Blockades in Peace and War: An Economic History since 1750
Elleman, Bruce, Naval War College Review
Davis, Lance E., and Stanley L. Engerman. Naval Blockades in Peace and War: An Economic History since 1750. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006. 325pp. $85
As its title states, this book is an economic history examining the impact of naval blockades in general, but it really focuses on four major wars since 1750: the Napoleonic Wars (including the War of 1812), the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II (including the U.S. blockade of Japan).
While providing voluminous data on the economic effectiveness of naval blockades, the authors' conclusions are generally dismissive of their military usefulness, suggesting that an opponent's "military strength" and "productive capacity play a more important role in the outcome of war."
Yet this negative assessment of blockades seems to run counter to many of the book's case studies, such as the War of 1812, which the authors call "a military disaster for the United States." During the American Civil War, the Northern blockade against the South played "a significant role in the Union victory." In World War I, Germany's debilitating "food crisis" was mainly due to "the effectiveness of the Allied blockade." Finally, in World War II the U.S. blockade against Japan was so tight that "it may have been the most effective naval blockade in history."
Given these generally positive views, it comes as a genuine surprise when the authors conclude by suggesting that the success rate of naval blockades "does not seem very high," and that nations will continue "to deploy blockades, but greater success than that which has occurred in the past should not be expected. …