The Breathless End of a Rousing Run
The voyage of the Great White Fleet (named for the shade of the ships, not of those who sailed them) provided constant favorable publicity during Roosevelt's last full year in the White House. Under the censorship he imposed, the reports that came home hid such deficiencies in logistics and operations as surfaced, and played up the bold and heroic aspect of what was, by any measure, an ambitious and impressive undertaking.
The voyage also afforded Roosevelt additional leverage in international affairs. In the spring of 1908, when the kaiser was acting petulant regarding a change of ambassadors in Berlin, Roosevelt sent him a soothing missive with a pointed tail. "I trust you notice," he told Wilhelm, "that the American battleship fleet has completed its tour of South America on schedule time, and is now having its target practice off the Mexican coast." The president traced the itinerary--Australia, Japan, China, the Philippines, Suez--leaving unsaid that the German navy had never done anything like this. And he couldn't resist a final note: "Their target practice has been excellent."
The addition of Japan to the list of stops came at the special request of the Japanese government. Roosevelt recognized that it was not out of friendliness that the invitation arose. The president remained convinced, with statistical reason, that Japan was fudging on visa numbers. And he had no doubt that Tokyo would take advantage of a visit by the fleet to gain every ounce of naval intelligence possible. But he deemed the psychological impact of this formidable display of military power to be worth whatever risks were involved.