Friday, July 19, 2013

What I'm Reading - Six Frigates

     Starting in the Adams administration and continuing through to the end of the War of 1812, Six Frigates is a well researched and very readable history of the Navy of the United States. Begun in the shadow of the British Royal Navy that was thought to be unbeatable, the American Navy faced challenges of every kind. The navy grew as the country grew, by fits and starts, by rising to challenges (The Barbary pirates, Britain and France) and learning from mistakes. Toll's narrative covers the political, economic, social and technical challenges that faced shipbuilders, sailors, captains and congressmen that managed the development and operation of the fleet.

      From the last chapter: “What was remembered and cherished about 1812, above all, was the fact that America's tiny fleet had shocked and humbled the mightiest navy the world had every known.” This was the most significant outcome of the War of 1812, which is often overlooked by Americans and British alike. The United States, by it's naval victories and dogged insistence that it would not give in to being pushed around by anyone, won the respect if not the admiration of the powers of Europe. After 1815, the United States moved themselves out of the status of 'bloody colonials' and were recognized as a power to be reckoned with.

      It is also worth noting, as Toll does, that “it was only after the War of 1812 that Americans began speaking of the United States in the singular rather than the plural”. The War of 1812 helped to define America's sense of itself, and that would not have happened without the construction of Six Frigates. 

     Two hundred years on, the United States is in the opposite position. We've got the biggest navy in the world, and even I have gotten into the mindset that we can go anywhere we want to and nobody can stop us. This is exactly the mindset of the British in 1812, and as it turns out, they were wrong. I do not know who it will be but eventually some nation will rise up and challenge our dominance of the sea. Maybe it will be China, maybe Russia again, maybe India or Japan. Maybe it will be the European Union. When that happens, our planners and policy-makers would do well to take a lesson from our former adversaries, the British. 

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