Sunday, June 3, 2012

Battleships: America's Symbol of Becoming a Great Power

USS Iowa, passing Golden Gate, 2012

History has recorded the rise of empires that spanned continents, but it took the rise of naval power to see influence and power expanded to global proportions. Nations in the past have tried, but did not have the source code of being a maritime nation to found and sustain a navy capable of being a global force. Not until Great Britain established a navy to be reckoned with in the 17th century, did a nation first become a global power. It was not until American naval officer Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote The Influence of Sea Power upon History: 1660-1783 in 1890, did nations begin to take measures to build strong blue water navies and saw Great Britain launch the for-runner of the modern battleship, the Dreadnought in 1906.

Roosevelt reviewing the fleet

The United States, in reality was a small nation that grew into what could best be described as a continental nation that had the geographic characteristics of an island, with two vast oceans on each side. Mahan's theory was adopted by then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, who moved to expand shipbuilding, and upon becoming President, launched the United States on the course that led to being a Great Power.

USS Iowa leading the battle line

The first, and most enduring symbol of the America's trajectory to becoming what Thomas PM Barnett wrote is, "The source code for this era's version of globalization, which superseded the colonial model of world integration after its collapse..." has been the battleship, which after four decades of being our symbol of naval force, saw the aircraft carrier and submarine, take the stage in projecting sea power and securing the sea lanes. However, battleships continued to serve alongside the carriers and add to the projection of force for the next five decades until the end of  the Cold War ushered in them into permanent retirement. Today, all of the surviving battleships stand as sentinels to the heritage that gave birth to a world that has seen more people achieve middle class status than anytime in history, and a world that has gone over half a century without a great power war.

Navy Seals visit Iowa at offshore

USS Decatur passes in review

This past week saw one of the last of these great battleships, the USS Iowa BB-61 taste the open sea one more time as she was moved south to the Port of Los Angeles to become a living history museum and education center. The passage of this great ship captured the attention of thousands who lined the shore as she passed under the Golden Gate. The active U.S. Navy stood in salute, and as she road at anchor having her hull cleaned off the coast of Los Angeles, Navy Seals and the USS Decatur cruised by to offer one more salute and pause to remember her service and the legacy of American naval sea power she represented.

Iowa coming into port
Iowa, doubling down

The interest in this great ship has continued; over 1200 have volunteered, to supplement the hundreds who worked the past seven months in Richmond, CA to make her ready to assume her new mission this July 7th, when she opens to the public. What makes battleships so special? Maybe it is because they are so powerful looking we stand in awe. Aircraft carriers look massive, but without air operations, seem benign and almost like visiting a floating city. Battleships on the other hand, bristle with all manner of fire power from their massive main guns, to the secondary weapons. American love their fireworks, and ships like the Iowa are a living symbol of the ultimate fireworks maker. Then there is the armor, as thick as 17" in some places, and inside the bowels, machinery that stand as a tribute to ingenuity and manufacturing skill of our forefathers. Those of you who read this on your computer might be surprised to learn that the first Mark I computers were designed and installed on the Iowa Class ships to calculate the firing solutions for their 16" guns.

The contributions of these great ships has been more than their intended role to slug it out with other battleships in great contests rivaling those that occurred two hundred years ago, as we remember the War of 1812. But it is well documented that without them, the history of our rise would not have been possible.

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