Home / Robert Farley / The Navy Relives the War of 1812

The Navy Relives the War of 1812


Concerned about its image, the Navy has determined that the War of 1812 is just the thing it needs:

Faced with little public understanding of its modern mission, the U.S. Navy is reaching back 200 years to the War of 1812 in the hopes of bolstering its standing with the American people…

Polling for the Navy by Gallup has shown that less than 9 percent of Americans understand its mission. Equally worrisome, the public ranks the Navy ahead of only the Coast Guard in its importance to national defense, and well behind the Army, Marines and Air Force.

The results have raised alarms within the Navy at a time when the military services face daunting budget cuts.

Although it may seem odd to turn to the Age of Sail to prove the Navy’s modern relevance, senior Navy officials argue that a war fought with a few wooden frigates under the flag of “Free Trade and Sailors Rights” directly relates to the mission of the Navy today, including keeping choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz open against threats from Iran and battling piracy off Somalia’s coast.

Three quick thoughts and one longer thought:

  1. I’m all for celebrating the need to rid the seas of the perfidious Canadians.
  2. I kinda wish I still lived in Baltimore, and I’m curious whether they’ll do some kind of commemoration of the Battle of Bladensburg in DC.
  3. The Navy has created a groovy twitter feed for specifically this project, which should get more interesting as the important anniversaries roll around.

The larger issue is the disjuncture between the modern USN and the USN of 1812. The technological aspect isn’t the biggest hurdle; it’s not difficult to understand the basics of the progression of naval technology in the last 200 years. However, the invocations of Iran and Somalia are very interesting, because in strategic terms the modern USN occupies the same space as the Royal Navy of 1812. Indeed, the most plausible parallels are between the modern Iranian Navy and the USN of 1812, although at least the USN was competitive on a ship-to-ship level with the RN. 1812 can even boast an irregular force of small boats dedicated to anti-access missions, not to mention state-sponsored pirates and fanatical revolutionaries.

Selling the Navy is tough, in large part because it’s difficult to describe what amount to atmospheric benefits. It won’t surprise readers to learn that I believe the Navy is by far the most important service to U.S. security (conceived broadly or narrowly), but explaining the Navy’s contribution in compelling terms can be difficult. Incidentally, I’ll have some thoughts this weekend on Battleship, which was just a touch better than I expected, but not particularly good.

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