American Sea Power in the Old World: The United States Navy in European and Near Eastern Waters, 1865-1917
By William N. Still Jr. Annapolis, MD, Naval Institute Press, (2018).
Reviewed by Charles H. Bogart
This book is a paperback reissue of the original edition published in 1980, which has not only withstood the test of time, but has become one of the benchmarks against which all historical studies of the U.S. Navy from the period 1865-1914 are judged. The author provides a comprehensive overview of the U.S. Navy as an instrument U.S. government policy of power projection in the Mediterranean Basin.
Between 1865 and 1914, the shores of the Mediterranean Basin were racked by civil wars, insurrections, civil unrest, wars of conquest, and ethnic cleansing that impacted American interests. Amidst this upheaval, the U.S. Navy transited from wooden sailing ships, to steam powered wooden ships, to coal burning iron ships, and then to oil burning steel ships. This evolution of U.S. Navy warship design led to the Navy having to make changes in overseas basing locations to ensure that fuel and provisions could be purchased.
Much of the story the author presents concerns the United States using gunboat diplomacy to secure payment of a debt owed to American citizens or to rectify an insult to an American official. It is amazing to read of the actions taken by naval officers and consular officials at the scene of an incident without any reference to the Navy or State Department. Today these decisions would only be taken after a discussion by the whole National Security Council.
The book is not only a history of U.S. Navy operations in the Mediterranean Basin but also the story of U.S. diplomacy within this area. The overall story told here differs little from the overall story of the mission of the U.S. Navy’s post-World War II 6th Fleet. Unlike today, when the question asked during a crisis is, “Where is the nearest carrier?” during the period covered in this book the question was, “Where is the nearest cruiser?”
The book is well written and nicely illustrated. Overall, the book is a great addition to the historical story of the U.S. Navy in the era between the American Civil War and World War I. The book’s only negative aspect is a lack of maps so that one can understand where an event is taking place.
Mr. Bogart is a frequent contributor to NHBR.