The Great White Fleet and its Lessons for Today

Why TR Claimed the Seas

Yet if there was a lesson here, it was lost to the U.S. during the interwar period. Just 13 years after the Great White Fleet returned to the U.S., it was physically scrapped under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty, which set strict limits on the number and size of battleships the major powers could build and deploy. Only after Pearl Harbor and World War II did Americans really seem to learn the lesson that their position as a maritime power could not be wished away, and that their maritime interests could only be defended by a powerful Navy.

That remains no less true today, even as the Navy goes through something of an identity crisis. America’s wars have become up-country affairs, and the big ships of our blue-water Navy are not quite adapted to brown-green waters where today’s conflicts are likely to take place. John McCain, whose grandfather sailed with the fleet (and was among the officers pictured here listening to Roosevelt), recently complained to The Wall Street Journal about the huge cost overruns in the development of a new generation of so-called Littoral Combat Ships.

Isolationism, while rhetorically attractive, is not really an option in today’s world. As this article points out, it dragged us into wars last century and may do so again in this one if we aren’t careful.

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