The American media-provoked Cuban crisis of the late 1890’s provided an ambitious Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Teddy Roosevelt, with the opportunity to catapult the United States into imperialist status with war against Spain.
Roosevelt and the Navy League were preeminent in badgering Woodrow Wilson into entering the European war, with the full support of the steel and munitions industry.
Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865
Utopian Regulation of Future Wars:
“One of the unfortunate results of British propaganda efforts in America, and “management” of information at home, was the creation of the viewpoint that the German submarines were ineffective and that the Allies were winning the war. Upon arrival in London, [Admiral] Sims was given the full and unvarnished story. The U-boats were sinking Allied and neutral tonnage faster than it could be replaced. With six more weeks of sinkings, food imports into the British Isles would not be enough to meet demands, and shipments of munitions to the Allied armies would slow to a trickle.
It took the combined efforts of [Admiral William S.] Sims, Ambassador Walter Hines Page, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George to get the story to President Wilson and Secretary [of the Navy Josephus] Daniels without is impact being reduced by filtering through the Atlantic Fleet and the Office of Naval Operations.
[Both] . . . Admiral Benson and Mayo had been basically pessimistic about the outcome of the war before America had entered. From this outlook had developed a strategy of naval construction that anticipated the defeat of the Royal Navy. [The] capital ship construction program was laid down in 1916 that would give the United States a fighting chance of defeating the Germans at sea – provided they didn’t arrive before 1919 or 1920.
By October of 1918, Admiral Benson and the General Board were pressing hard to have a second major [naval] construction program approved. In 1918 the General Board proposed a seven-year construction program that would give the United States preeminence by 1925. Because of wartime construction in America, British merchant and naval losses, and practical cessation of naval building in England, while their ships deteriorated from hard use, the United States was in a position to seize maritime dominance with just a little effort. Once supreme, American need not be concerned about defending the Monroe Doctrine in the Western Hemisphere or the Open Door in Asia.
With her merchant marine, backed by a superior navy, the nation could compete with any power for the world’s markets. In short, as the General Board saw it, the time was at hand when the trident should pass from Britannia to Columbia – by seizure if necessary. Admirals Benson, [Henry T.] Mayo, and Charles J. Badger, Chairman of the General Board, had so testified before Congress. If it meant a period of strained relations or dangerous rivalry with Great Britain, the United States Navy was ready.
Before the war formally stopped on 11 November 1918, a small group of naval officers, plus Professor George Grafton Wilson of Harvard University and the Naval War College, had been set to work developing a Navy Department plan for a League of Nations Navy. Such a plan would be put forward whenever the subject of enforcing the League Covenant was discussed. The League Navy would be made up of vessels and personnel from existing national navies and it would be twice the size of any single nation’s navy. The beauty of the plan, as Pratt saw it, was that it would lead to an automatic regulation of international armaments and maximum freedom of the seas for all nations.
Unfortunately for the Navy, [President Woodrow Wilson] was using the new construction proposal as a form of blackmail to force Great Britain to join the League [of Nations] or face competition with a great new American fleet. Playing an even deeper game, the President was trying to face Congress and the public with a similar choice – join the League and have security from the pooling of interests, or build a new and expensive fleet to provide national security in a possibly hostile world.
During the spring of 1919 Secretary Daniels decided to divide the United States Fleet and create two fleets of equal strength – the Atlantic Fleet . . . and the Pacific Fleet . . . [as] Japanese gains in Asia during the war concerned the Wilson administration and thus the creation of a strong Pacific Fleet was designed to cause the Island Kingdom to think again before moving further.
There was the inevitable need to meet pork-barrel demands from the Pacific Coast politicians. A Pacific Fleet would require bases and the fleet payroll itself was worth attracting.”
(Admiral William V. Pratt, US Navy, A Sailor’s Life, Gerald F. Wheeler, Naval Historical Division, 1974, pp. 96-97, 127-131, 142)