Admiral Mahan’s legacy with U.S. Wartime Presidents

Before starting research, I found I needed to change the scope of my research to fit within the Center’s page length parameters.  Originally, I wanted to update the heartland versus command of the ocean debate by reviewing the foreign policies of several U.S. Presidents through the lens of the respective theories of Mahan and Mackinder.  Though I am still very much interested in this, I decided to limit the final product to Mahan’s theories only and look at the naval strategy of select wartime presidents.  I did a deep analysis of Admiral Mahan’s works and extracted his main tenants to guarantee success on the maritime battlefield.   I have been applying these “rules” to the wartime presidents and gaining a stronger understanding of the reasons behind their varied successes and failures at sea.

The first presidential policy I am researching is that of President McKinley during the Spanish American War.  Though it was Theodore Roosevelt who became famous for his involvement in this war, I have gained a new appreciation for the much maligned President McKinley while studying his conduct of the naval portion of the war.  I hope that will come through in my final paper.

The second president I am researching is FDR at the beginning of World War II.  As one would imagine, the literature for naval history in WWII is very rich and provided a wealth of information, particularly on the famous battle at Midway.  Based on my research thus far, FDR best followed Mahan’s advice and was amply rewarded for doing so.

Finally, I have researched President Truman and the beginning of the Korean War.  This being a land-based conflict, this portion of the research has necessarily focused more on the abstract side of policy rather than its physical implementations.  With Truman, I am finding  politics with General MacArthur occasionally trumping the President’s better judgment.  It is a fascinating example of how time-proven theories can be pushed aside by a dominating personality.

I look forward to seeing you all in a few weeks.  I promise you will find our weather here in DC much improved since your last visit.

Samantha Moyer

The Institute of World Politics

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