And certainly without such gifts the British races could not have overspread so large a portion of the earth. But the world is apt to forget that there were other empires sprung from other European peoples—Portuguese, French, Spanish, and Dutch—each at some time larger in wealth, area, or population, than that which owed allegiance to the British Crown. In each case it was the power of their navies that gave each country these great possessions. Of some of these empires only insignificant traces remain to-day. They have been merged in the British Empire or have become independent. And the merging or the freeing has always followed from war at sea. It is the British sailors, and not the British colonists, that have made the British Empire. It is not because the settlers in New England were better fighters or had more talent for self-government, but because Holland had the weaker navy, that the city which must shortly be the greatest in the world is named after the ancient capital of Northern England, and not after Amsterdam. It was not England’s half-hearted fight on land, but her failure to preserve an unquestionable command of the sea that secured the extraordinary success of Washington and Hamilton’s military plans .
we have long paid lip service. Years ago it passed into a commonplace that should ever national35 existence be threatened by an outside force, it would be on the sea that we should have to rely for defence. With so tremendous an issue at stake, why was our knowledge so vague, why has our curiosity to know the truth been so feeble? Perhaps it is that communities that are very rich and very comfortable are slow to believe that danger can hang over them. In the catechism used to teach Catholic children the elements of their religion, the death that awaits every mortal, the instant judgment before the throne of God, the awful alternatives, Heaven or Hell, that depend on the issue, are spoken of as the “Four Last Things .” Their title has been flippantly explained by the admitted fact that they are the very last things that most people ever think of.
So has it been with America and England in the matter of war. The threat seemed too far off to be a common and universal concern. It could be left to the governments. So long as we voted all the money that was asked for officially, we had done our share. And, if statesmen told us that our naval force was large enough, and that it was in a state of high efficiency, and ready for war, we felt no obligation to ask what war meant, in what efficiency consisted, or how its existence could be either presumed or proved. We had no incentive to master the thing for ourselves
We were not challenged to inquire whether in fact the semblance of sea-power corresponded with its reality. The fact that it was on sea-power that we relied for defence against invasion should, of course, have quickened our vigilance. It, in fact, deadened it. For we had never refused a pound the Admiralty had asked for. We took the sufficiency of the Navy for granted and, with the buffer of the fleet between ourselves and ruin, the threat of ruin seemed all the more remote.