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Building the Military Forces of a World Power, 1899–1917

With uncharacteristic restraint, Theodore Roosevelt assessed American military policy at the dawn of a new century: “I believe we intend to build up a good navy, but whether we build up even a respectable little army or not I do not know; and if we fail to do so, it may well be that a few years hence . . . we shall have to learn a bitter lesson. . . .” Even though he had more insight into world politics than most of his countrymen, Roosevelt could not have predicted in 1900 that in less than two decades the United States would be embroiled in a world war or even that the nation would enter that war with standing forces beyond the imagination of policymakers in the nineteenth century.

However inadequate those forces were, they represented a fundamental change in American policy. The shift in policy produced an essential dependence upon a standing battlefleet to protect the United States from foreign invasion and reduced dependence upon coastal defense artillery and fortifications, backed by military forces. It also increased dependence upon the Navy and the regular Army for military tasks beyond the continental United States. At the same time, the political elite gained increased confidence in the skill and political neutrality of the Army and Navy officer corps and became more willing to institutionalize military advice and accept military professionalism as compatible with civilian control. Both groups shared an interest in the reform of the militia as the nation’s reserve force for land operations and the creation of federal reserve forces for both naval and military mobilization in case of a major war. They also urged the accelerated application of new technology to military operations, especially improved ordnance, the internal combustion engine, the airplane, and electronic communications. The reasons for increased American military preparedness in the early twentieth century can be reconstructed with some certainty. The nation’s political elite feared that great power international competition (largely, but not completely, economic) had increased the likelihood of war. Imperial rivalries around the globe threatened to involve any number of major nations. Although such rivalries were hardly new, the introduction of efficient steam-powered warships and large passenger liners and merchant vessels made transoceanic military operations a possibility. In an era of rampant nationalism when “insults” to the flag, the destruction of private property, and physical assault upon foreign citizens could stir both elite and popular demands for punitive military action, small conflicts in Asia, Africa, and Latin America became more common and carried the seeds of larger wars. Imperial rivalries over the creation and protection of colonies offered similar perils.

The cornerstone of American military policy remained, however, the defense of the United States. Unlike their European contemporaries, American policymakers did not worry excessively about land invasions, since the United States enjoyed amicable relations with Great Britain, which meant that the Canadian border did not require more than routine policing. Mexico until 1910 was ruled by a friendly dictator, Porfirio Diaz; when his regime collapsed, so too did the Mexican armed forces. Even though the Mexican revolutionaries bore no love for the United States, they used their limited military forces against one another with few exceptions. Whatever major threats the United States faced had to come from the sea and from naval powers like Great Britain, Germany, and Japan. The worst threat (but least likely) was that a major power would launch a naval assault, perhaps accompanied by a limited land campaign, against a major American seaport city like San Francisco or New York and then hold the city for diplomatic advantage. The more likely threat was that a major power would penetrate the northern half of the Western Hemisphere, a fear traditionally expressed in the Monroe Doctrine. In specific geographic terms, American policymakers worried about the newly annexed Hawaiian Islands, the Isthmus of Panama, where they intended to build a canal, and the unstable nations of the Caribbean. They saw Alaska as relatively safe, since its weather and terrain made it unappealing to foreign powers searching for bases. Revolutionary Mexico drew more concern because various Mexican factions flirted with Germany as a source of military support against possible American intervention.

The defense of the continental United States, then, seemed to rest on the ability to mount immediate military operations to defend Hawaii, the Canal Zone, and Puerto Rico or to preempt any foreign power that attempted to establish a new military presence in places like the Virgin Islands, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Entangled with issues of economic advantage, republican sentiment, and the belief in national self-determination, the policy of the United States toward nations of the hemisphere did not rest entirely upon military considerations. Nevertheless, it required military forces that did not depend upon mobilization and formal declarations of war. Therefore, the American government had to assume that military action beyond the nation’s borders—whether those operations were limited or became the opening moves of a general war—would require larger and more effective regular forces. One of the primary concerns of American defense policy before World War I became the creation of a ready reserve force that could be sent beyond the nation’s borders.

American military policy in the Far East had two challenges: The defense of the newly annexed Philippine Islands and support of the “Open Door” diplomacy designed to preserve the political and territorial integrity of China. In the face of European competition and the militancy of a modernizing Japan, the two concerns were linked. Although American policymakers viewed Russia, Great Britain, and Germany as diplomatic problems in Asia, they were most concerned with Japan, especially after the Japanese upset the balance of power by signing a mutual security treaty with Great Britain in 1902 and then defeated Russia in the war of 1904–1905. Adopting British and German military equipment and techniques but grafting these modern military capabilities upon modified samurai traditions, Japan defined its new international role as one of economic expansion in China and the liberation of Asia from European (and American) colonialism. The mistreatment of Japanese immigrants in the United States provided an additional irritant. The United States, on the other hand, viewed itself as the champion of an independent and reformed China. It also had no intention of surrendering the Philippines to another foreign power, Asian or not, particularly after making sizable financial, human, and emotional investments in governing the islands. American imperial impulses—a strange amalgam of humanitarianism and cultural arrogance—dictated that the future of China and the Philippines follow an American path.

The difficulty with backing the “Open Door” policy with military forces stationed in the Philippines and China was that the national stake in Asia did not seem worth the cost. At least, so it seemed to a substantial portion of Congress, the attentive public, and the officer corps of the Army and Navy. Since the United States could not find a suitable way to divest itself of the Philippines or to sever its missionary and economic ties with China, it faced an unsolvable strategic problem: How could it extend its limited military forces-in-being across six thousand miles of ocean to defend interests its citizens probably regarded as insufficient to fight for? The “Philippine problem” was to distress military planners for decades to come.

The Rise of American Military Strength 1899–1917


Department of the Navy

 

EXPENDITURES (IN MILLIONS)

STRENGTH NAVY

STRENGTH MARINE CORPS

MAJOR COMBATANT VESSELS*

1899

$64

16,354

3,142

36

1904

$102

32,158

7,584

29

1908

$118

42,322

9,236

62

1912

$135

51,357

9,696

64

1916

$153

60,376

10,601

77

War Department

 

EXPENDITURES (IN MILLIONS)**

STRENGTH U.S. ARMY

STRENGTH NATIONAL GUARD

 

1899

$299

80,670

100,000 est.

 

1904

$165

70,387

115,937

 

1908

$175

76,942

111,000

 

1912

$184

92,121

121,852

 

1916

$183

108,399

132,194

 

*Battleships and cruisers with 6-inch or larger main batteries. Monitors not included.

**Civil projects by the Corps of Engineers included in the budget.

The United States probably would have had to readjust its military policies without the war with Spain in 1898 and the territorial annexations that accompanied the war, but the nation’s imperial spasm dramatized both the utility of military force and the nation’s relative unpreparedness to face any state more formidable than Spain. The defense of the Philippines and the Caribbean (and the projected canal) demanded that military reform come quickly. Certainly, the new possessions complicated defense planning and forced the pace of naval expansion and the emphasis on ready land forces. The result was two decades of accelerated military change.

Building a Great Power Navy

Halfway through the nation’s two-decade drive toward “a Navy second to none,” President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907–1909 sent the American “Great White Fleet” on a dramatic, globe-circling cruise. Although the voyage had some bearing upon America’s disputes with Japan and the president’s request for more battleships, the cruise had greater symbolic purposes. Although TR’s sixteen battleships did not send up the appropriate signal flags, the message to the world could not have been clearer: The United States had come of age as a world naval power and viewed the battlefleet as the nation’s first line of defense and primary military instrument of great power diplomacy.

Like its potential adversaries, the United States Navy was a battleship navy. By the outbreak of World War I, the American battlefleet, which had undergone both modernization and expansion, was superior to all other naval forces except the Royal Navy and the German High Seas Fleet. From a force of eleven battleships in 1898, the battleline of the U.S. fleet had increased to thirty-six vessels by 1913. With fluctuations tied to congressional perceptions of the available money and the international situation, American battleship building held a relatively steady course for almost twenty years. During Roosevelt’s administration, Congress normally authorized at least two new battleships a year. It cut the program to one ship only once and often authorized as many as four (and once five) new vessels. During the presidencies of William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson the authorizations up to 1916 focused on replacing the older battleships at a rate of one or two a year, which stabilized battleship numbers but increased the fleet’s capability.

Battleship construction in the same period reflected the quickening pace of technological progress, especially in the strength of armor plating, the fabrication of heavy naval guns, the destructiveness of explosives, and the power of marine engines. Battleships became larger, more lethal, and more expensive. In size American battleships began the century in the 10,000- to 15,000-ton range but reached 31,000 tons in 1914; their cost soared from $5 million to $15–20 million each. With larger bunker capacity (first for coal, then oil), their ranges became transoceanic. Their main batteries increased in numbers and caliber until the standard battleship mounted ten or twelve guns of 12 or 14 inches in diameter; the larger guns both increased the weight of a broadside and improved ranges from 6,000 to 20,000 yards. Since the technological improvements of the era were shared by all the naval powers, the American building program also shared the universal insecurity about obsolescence and relative effectiveness. This insecurity was fed in 1906 when Great Britain launched the first true all-big-gun capital ship, HMS Dreadnought. Demonstrating dramatic improvements in speed, firepower, and armoring, Dreadnought accelerated the naval arms race. Naval analysts divided the world’s battlefleets into pre-Dreadnought and post-Dreadnought categories. The United States, which was already shifting to the all-big-gun ship in 1906, more than kept pace. In 1914 the American fleet boasted fourteen post -Dreadnought battleships.

The growth of the American battlefleet also demonstrated significant changes in the political and strategic foundations of American naval policy. The political coalition that supported the “new Navy” of the 1890s broadened and deepened in the federal government and the public. At the point of political attack strode Roosevelt (and, more reluctantly, Taft and Wilson), a coalition of internationalist Republican and Democratic senators and congressmen, industrialists with an economic stake in navalism, Navy officers, and several public interest groups, especially the Navy League, formed in 1903.

Of particular significance within the Navy Department was the institutionalization of professional advice from line officers, who were enthusiastic naval builders but also critics of many aspects of fleet modernization. Before 1898 and to some degree thereafter, such long-range planning as occurred came from officers assigned to the Naval War College, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Bureau of Navigation. In 1900 Secretary of the Navy John D. Long created a General Board of senior officers to consolidate professional advice, and the General Board became the central agency for coordinating war-planning and building programs. The General Board consistently requested more vessels than its civilian superiors would approve; between 1900 and 1914 it asked for 340 vessels but received only 181. In 1910–1913 it caused a public stir by setting American modern battleship strength at forty-eight, more ships than the government thought it needed or could afford. Presided over by Admiral George Dewey, the hero of Manila Bay, the board emerged as a force for fleet modernization and expansion.

To some Navy officers, collectively labeled the “Young Turks,” the General Board did not provide sufficient line influence over Navy policy, and the period of naval expansion was accompanied by bitter arguments over Navy Department organization. On some issues there was consensus. The naval reformers, for example, agreed that sea power meant a battle-fleet-in-being, ready for a decisive ocean duel with its enemy. By 1907, the Navy had abandoned its traditional far-flung squadron deployments and concentrated most of its battleships in Atlantic waters. The only units deployed outside the hemisphere had old battleships, a few cruisers, and smaller vessels.

The Young Turks, led by such aggressive officers as Henry C. Taylor, A. O. Key, William S. Sims, William F. Fullam, Bradley Fiske, Ridley McLean, and Washington I. Chambers, lobbied for line-reformer influence. By 1915 the organizational reformers had made some limited progress in the face of civilian skepticism and Navy conservatism. In 1909 they scored a minor victory when Secretary of the Navy George von Lengerke Meyer created a group of “naval aids,” staffed with Young Turks, to give advice, spur the General Board, and evaluate fleet readiness. Meyer’s Democratic successor, Josephus Daniels, reluctantly approved the creation of the post of chief of naval operations to replace the aids in 1915, but he filled the job with a traditionalist admiral, William S. Benson. Nevertheless, the CNO’s immediate staff continued to be a focal point for improved fleet efficiency and replaced a system of personal influence with bureaucratized policy advising.

The reformers’ demand that the line officers who would command the fleet in war receive more power reflected concern about real problems. For all its dramatic appearance, the Great White Fleet was not as effective as it might have to be. The battleships themselves showed distressing technical deficiencies. Their armor was often placed too low on the hull, and turrets received too little protection. The vessels had too little freeboard, which meant that heavy seas made manning the lower turrets and aiming guns difficult. The turrets did not have effective baffles to keep burning debris from reaching the powder magazines below; catastrophic explosions in 1904 and 1906 on American battleships caused a clamor for naval reform and temporarily threatened TR’s building program. Line officers were equally aware that the fleet lacked adequate numbers of sailors to man the new vessels. Despite a dramatic increase in the size of the Navy from 16,354 (1899) to 60,376 (1916), each ship normally lacked about 10 percent of its complement. The shortages were especially acute among petty officers and the skilled technicians needed to operate the new machinery. The recruiting service did not have enough manpower, money, or authority; the efforts of Secretary Daniels to sell the Navy as a great vocational education school and laboratory for social uplift did make recruiting somewhat easier. Naval planners also worried that the Navy did not have a “balanced” fleet for wartime operations. Although Congress would buy battleships, it would not fund adequate numbers of smaller vessels. By 1916 the General Board calculated the fleet was short 125 cruisers, destroyers, and auxiliary vessels.

The whole question of battlefleet support—especially the issue of bases—demonstrated the political limits to naval planning. In sum, the Navy had too many bases in the United States and too few bases abroad, measured by the projected war plans. Traditionally, a major naval base had the necessary dry docks, machinery, and workshops needed to overhaul a battleship completely. By such criteria, the United States had ten major continental bases before World War I, while the much larger Royal Navy had only six. Navy planners knew that American facilities were excessive, but Congress regarded base building and manning as attractive patronage. New bases at Charleston and Bremerton, Washington, supplemented by smaller facilities at San Pedro and San Diego, California, gave the Navy more than enough shore support by 1916. The continental base structure was dramatically enhanced in 1914 when the Panama Canal opened, since the canal cut transit time from coast to coast by two-thirds.

The Navy’s search for bases abroad was frustrated by the State Department, which thought base building bad diplomacy, and Congress, which thought base building bad spending. Although the Navy sought a base in China, the diplomats ruled that this policy did not conform to the Open Door and stopped the movement. Interservice disputes stopped plans to build a major base in the Philippines. The Navy chose Subic Bay on the west coast of Luzon as its preferred site. The Army reported that it could not defend the base from a land attack; Subic Bay would be another Port Arthur, the “impregnable” Russian port in Manchuria that had fallen to the Japanese army in 1905. The Navy rejected the Army’s choice, Cavite peninsula in Manila Bay, since the old Spanish base had neither adequate base facilities nor anchorages for the fleet. Although the Navy eventually maintained facilities at both Subic and Cavite, it agreed in 1909 to build its major Pacific base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. This decision did not immediately loosen congressional purse strings, and it further limited the Navy’s enthusiasm for defending the Philippines.

Since the Caribbean was close enough to the Navy’s Atlantic coast yards to make major bases unnecessary, the Navy sought instead a system of operating bases and stations there that would support wartime operations against either Britain or Germany. It was only partially successful in enacting its plans. Although the United States had the rights to two bases in Cuba, it built only one at isolated Guantanamo Bay, since the diplomats vetoed as too provocative plans for another at Havana. Diplomatic considerations also stopped plans for a base in Haiti or Santo Domingo. The annexation of Puerto Rico in 1899 and the Virgin Islands in 1915 gave the United States uncontested access to base sites in the eastern Caribbean, but the harbor at San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands’ coves were not suitable for major fleet use.

Unable to secure forward bases in either the Pacific or the Caribbean, the Navy considered an alternative tactic, establishing temporary, or “advanced,” bases in the early stages of a naval campaign. Although the Navy was not satisfied with the numbers or sizes of its auxiliaries (colliers and oilers, ammunition ships, supply vessels, transports, and floating tenders and machine shops), it thought it might find such vessels in wartime in the American merchant fleet. It could not, however, completely extemporize a force to defend a forward operating base. In 1900 the General Board turned to the Navy’s sister service, the Marine Corps, and asked that the Corps reorganize and train for advanced base operations. Despite some modest experiments in emplacing harbor defenses, the Corps did not establish an Advanced Base Force until 1910, and it did not conduct major exercises until 1912. Marine traditionalism and the manpower and financial demands of garrisoning the increased number of naval stations abroad dampened Corps interest. The limited exercises and theoretical studies done by Navy and Marine officers, however, demonstrated the need for such a force. In theory, the Advanced Base Force would occupy an undefended harbor and then defend it from sea attack with stationary heavy guns and mines. Its mobile infantry and artillery would stop a land attack. The Navy would provide monitors, torpedo boats, and a few cruisers to assist the sea defenses. Convinced that the advanced base concept offered the Corps an important wartime role, a cadre of Marine officers became articulate spokesmen for improving the Navy’s ability to establish forward operating bases, but the actual forces for such operations did not develop rapidly.

Elsewhere in the Navy, other officers and civilian innovators examined the potential of new technology to reshape naval operations. Two novel developments—the submarine and the airplane—suggested that future naval warfare might occur above and beneath the seas, not just between rival battlefleets dueling upon the ocean’s surface. Although the first submarines appeared in experimental form in the late eighteenth century and the first successful submarine attack on a warship occurred in 1864 during the American Civil War, the Navy did not commission its first submarine until 1900. Naval conservatism in this case did not rest on a lack of mission, since the submarine (more properly, the “submersible”) was an attractive weapon for close-to-shore coast defense. The difficulties were largely technological, primarily the development of adequate powerplants and torpedoes. The difficulty was that technological progress depended upon government funding, since submarines had no special commercial attractions. In the United States the submarine champion, the aging eccentric John R. Holland, took some twenty years and six models to prove that he had an answer to the propulsion problem. Essentially, Holland coupled the internal-combustion engine for surface cruising with battery-powered electric engines for submerged attacks. Attendant problems in designing pressure hulls and ventilation systems slowed adoption of the submarine; early crews seemed to have little choice between carbon monoxide and chlorine gas asphyxiation. Submariners were constantly in fear of a break in their hull, which could submerge their vessel permanently. Nevertheless, the submarine remained a relatively cheap coastal defense weapon, and the Navy had thirty-four boats by 1914, twelve of them modern diesel-powered vessels of 500 to 700 tons, or five times larger than Holland’s experimental boats. At the time, the United States was the world’s fourth-strongest submarine power.

Although the Navy watched the often comical and futile efforts to fly with detachment, its interest increased after the Wright brothers’ flight in 1903 and flowered in 1910 when Captain Washington I. Chambers and inventor Glenn Curtiss formed an effective coalition of naval aviation enthusiasts. In terms of mission, the aviation champions thought of airplanes as reconnaissance and naval gunfire scouting craft. Technically, this role meant that some method had to be found to fly an airplane off a ship and then recover it. In 1911 Congress gave the Navy $25,000 for its first three experimental planes after a civilian test pilot successfully flew a Curtiss aircraft off a warship the year before. With pontoons and a hoist, an airplane could also be recovered. Nevertheless, the “hydroaeroplane” force developed slowly because aircraft themselves were expensive, and the development of a force of pilots, bases, and supporting establishment suggested costs that naval planners and Congress were not willing to pay. Part of their reluctance stemmed from the fact that the airplanes of the day did not have the power to drop bombs that would sink a warship. Although experiments with the electric torpedo (used by both surface ships and submarines) suggested that an airplane might someday have an attack capability, aviation enthusiasts did not have much success in selling the airplane as the future ultimate weapon of naval warfare. Even though they proved that an airplane could land on a warship with the help of arresting gear, which suggested that heavy bomb carriers could be developed free of the seaplane-hoist mode, naval aviators could muster support only for an aviation force linked to the reconnaissance mission. On the eve of World War I the Navy had only eight aircraft and thirteen officer-pilots. In fact, public and official interest supported the use of dirigibles for naval aviation tasks. With the responsibility for aviation policy divided between several of the traditional technical bureaus, the future of Navy flying ranked well below other Navy Department concerns.

In 1915, however, the Navy’s aviators and their civilian colleagues had made sufficient progress to win General Board and congressional support for a more ambitious commitment to naval aviation. Its interest heightened by the world war, Congress appropriated $1 million to create and support a force of fifty airplanes and three dirigibles. This program was still in its earliest stages when the U.S. Navy went to war in 1917.

The U.S. Navy between 1898 and 1917 increased its capability to engage the fleet of any other major power, but it could do so only if the decisive fleet action occurred north of the equator, close to the Navy’s bases in the continental United States. The United States did not have the resources to conduct major wartime naval operations in the western Pacific, and its dominance in the Caribbean might be secure in peacetime but not, perhaps, in wartime. Holding the Panama Canal remained critical to operations in either ocean. In addition, the Navy retained its battleship orientation, since naval politics within the service and the federal government produced no other consensus. The fleet-in-being was not balanced for wartime needs and required augmentation with merchant vessels and wartime construction in order to provide sufficient numbers of cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and auxiliaries. Neither submarine nor aviation development had yet reached the point of challenging the great fleet engagement as the essence of naval warfare. While the Navy’s line officers, whose principal interest was war preparedness, had gained some influence in the Navy Department, they did not yet dominate policymaking. The Navy of Manila Bay and Santiago had changed, but so had its potential adversaries and missions.

Reforming the Land Forces

Despite its victory in “the splendid little war” against Spain, the U.S. Army entered the new century conscious that its campaigns in 1898 were “within measurable distance of a military disaster,” as Theodore Roosevelt characterized the siege of Santiago. For the public, the press, and much of the Army officer corps the war felt like a defeat, for it had revealed all the flaws of American land force policy and had dramatized the institutional weaknesses of the regular Army and the militia (or National Guard) of the states. Both major components of the wartime Army showed they had not made the transition from frontier constabulary and strike police. Nor had the War Department yet reorganized in order to make the wartime mobilization of citizen-volunteers more efficient. Although the War Department’s failure, investigated by a special presidential commission headed by railroader and former general Grenville Dodge, seemed worse than it really was, most War Department officials and critics believed that some reform was necessary. Over the content of the reform movement there was continuous disagreement. Nevertheless, by 1917 the reform movement had worked fundamental changes in American land force policy.

Assisted by a close group of Army officer-advisers, Secretary of War Elihu Root (1899–1904) led the reform movement, which rallied sufficient congressional and Army supporters to give it momentum beyond Root’s tenure. Upon taking office, Root accepted the key concept of military professionalism: “The real object of having an army is to provide for war.” This axiom became the basic measure of land force reform. Giving this idea institutional expression proved far more difficult, for the American political tradition remained hostile to increased military preparedness and professionalism. An astute negotiator and corporation lawyer, Root knew and the Army was to learn that the sense of disaster was short-lived. Before the impetus for reform ebbed, only to be stimulated again by World War I, the reformers had scored several limited victories in the name of mobilization readiness.

Coached by Adjutant General Henry C. Corbin and Major William H. Carter, Root quickly learned that the War Department had to become a unified center of policy direction rather than three conflicting alliances based upon the office of the Secretary of War, the office of the commanding general, and the heads of the various administrative, technical, and logistical departments and bureaus. Until the War Department had a single “brain of the army,” as British writer Spencer Wilkinson characterized a general staff, the planning for war and the direction of war when it came would continue to be plagued by poor coordination, jurisdictional battles, and inertia. In an ideal sense, the model for military management was the German Grosse Generalstab, or Great General Staff, which military analysts credited for the German victories in the wars of unification in the 1860s and 1870s. Such a staff, dominated by line officers, would advise the president and secretary of war, prepare Army legislation and policies, supervise the activities of the departments and bureaus, and direct training. Politically, however, a general staff conjured up visions of German militarism, regular Army arrogance, and executive branch tyranny.

Outflanking his opponents, Secretary Root advanced steadily toward a general staff until Congress accepted the organization in limited form in the General Staff Act of 1903. Aware that the general staff concept had powerful enemies within the Army, especially Lieutenant General Nelson A. Miles, the commanding general, and Brigadier General Fred C. Ainsworth, chief of the Record and Pension Office, Root moved with caution. First, he had a board of officers study the question of establishing an Army War College; the board’s positive report was endorsed and the war college created in 1900. Root immediately assigned the war college faculty duties much like those of a general staff and used its officers to develop and advocate the general staff concept. Then, mustering support from Roosevelt, a prestigious group of Civil War generals, and reformist civilians, Root persuaded Congress to accept an Americanized version of the Great General Staff. The new law replaced the commanding general with a chief of staff, who would rotate in office every four years, and a staff of forty-five officers. Some of these General Staff officers, who would also rotate, would serve in Washington while others served in the headquarters of the Army’s geographic departments, which supervised the field forces. The law, however, gave the General Staff only “supervisory” and “coordinating” authority over the War Department departments and bureaus, and it did not consolidate the logistical bureaus as Root advocated. In fact, the law and its subsequent implementation and modification gave Ainsworth, who became the adjutant general, real power equal to the chief of staff’s.

Once established, the General Staff did bring some improvements to the Army’s organization for wartime mobilization, but its power did not increase rapidly enough to please Army reformers. Among the staff’s accomplishments were the improvement of officer education, field maneuvers, contingency planning, intelligence collection and analysis, tactical organization, and theoretical mobilization planning. When the United States sent regular troops to the Mexican border in 1911, the movement was not especially well organized; a similar deployment in 1913 went much more smoothly. An expedition to Cuba in 1906 by 5,000 regulars showed a managerial competence absent in 1898.

Nevertheless, the General Staff suffered many wounds in its early days, some from enemies, some self-inflicted. For example, the bureau chiefs still proved fractious and insubordinate, encouraged by their Army friends and congressional allies. Several chiefs of staff had great difficulty enforcing policy until Chief of Staff Leonard Wood (1910–1914) and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson (1911–1913) challenged General Ainsworth’s power in 1912. Maneuvering Ainsworth into retirement with the threat of a court-martial for insubordination, the imperious Wood and Stimson seem to have established the chief of staff’s position as the principal source of professional advice and command authority, but Ainsworth and Congress immediately curbed Wood and the staff with inhibiting legislation. When Wood’s tenure ended, he was replaced by less assertive generals. With the Wilson administration and Congress hostile to the General Staff, the “brain of the Army” did not prosper. When the United States entered World War I, the staff had only twenty-two officers in Washington, mired in routine paperwork and theoretical war plans of limited usefulness.

If the Army’s “brain” needed fresh blood, its body—the tactical units with which it would fight future wars—needed more muscle, principally manpower. Postponing permanent legislation until the end of the Philippine insurrection was in sight, Congress waited until 1901 to enlarge the regular Army to 3,820 officers and 84,799 men, and it did not appropriate enough money to maintain even this force, which fell below War Department estimates. Clearly some sort of reserve force would be required to reinforce the regulars in the early stages of war while the United States mobilized and trained a citizen-soldier army. The reinforcement mission meant that the first-line reserves would have to mobilize quickly and be available legally for expeditionary duty abroad. Ideally, the War Department preferred a reserve force raised, organized, and controlled only by the national government. Its model was the German system, which required conscripts to serve first with the standing army and then in various reserve units for a total of twelve years. Americans, however, thought compulsory service militaristic and foreign to their society and institutions, whatever its military benefits. As Secretary Root and his advisers realized, any reserve system had to rely on volunteers, and the only expression of military voluntarism in peacetime was the National Guard.

As it proved in 1898 when it served as the principal recruiting base for volunteers, the National Guard could provide ardent recruits for wartime service and some existing tactical structure for their training and employment. In 1899 Congress rewarded the Guard by increasing its annual subsidy from $400,000 to $1 million. The Guard’s shortcomings were equally obvious. Politically, there were as many National Guards as there were states and territories, all influenced more or less by state patronage politics, which tolerated aged, infirm, and incompetent officers to a degree the regular Army (at least the reformers) would not. In terms of mission and political theory, the Guard tended to fall into four camps: states’ rights units, “social” units, “law and order” units, and reservists-for-war units. For two decades, National Guard reformers, represented by the National Guard Association of the United States, had attempted to persuade state legislatures to increase Guard subsidies for military training unrelated to state missions, which were principally suppressing labor and racial violence. Although the governments of New York, Pennsylvania, and New England proved supportive, reform at the state level did not flourish. Disappointed at the limits of state support for the wartime reserve mission, the Guard reformers turned to the federal government and found the War Department and Congress sympathetic.

From 1903 to 1912, militia reform flourished in Washington, spurred by Roosevelt (an ex-Guard officer), Root, Assistant Secretary of War William Cary Sanger (also an ex-Guardsman), the National Guard Association, part of Congress, and even regular Army officers. The final laws disappointed uncompromising Uptonian officers, states’ righters, and the antimilitary clique in Congress, but they did provide the foundation for an improved Guard for the reinforcement mission. In 1903 Congress passed a new Militia Act, whose principal legislative sponsor was Representative Charles W. Dick, an Ohio Republican and Guard general. The Dick Act essentially exchanged federal dollars and equipment for increased Army control of the Guard’s training and organization. The law recognized two militias: the Organized Militia (National Guard) under dual federal-state control, and the unorganized mass of males (ages eighteen to forty-five) that retained both national and state military obligations in emergencies. Only the Organized Militia, however, would receive federal monies and then only in relationship to the degree that its units met federal standards in commissioning officers, recruiting enlisted men to Army physical and mental standards, organizing units like their Army counterparts, and undergoing field training. For example, Guard units could increase federal support by going to summer camp and participating in maneuvers with the regular Army. Under a complex funding formula, the more the Guard trained, the more money it received to pay the trainees and the more free arms and equipment it could requisition through the Army. In addition, the president could call up the Guard for nine months rather than three months, but the geographic limitation to continental service remained. As a beginning, however, especially when the Guard subsidy increased to $2 million in 1906, the Dick Act heartened the reformers.

The Dick Act left many issues unresolved, but a second Militia Act of 1908 appeared to address most of the remaining problems. The most important change was that the time and geographic limits for Guard service disappeared, but only in return for a provision that Guardsmen would go to war as units, not individual replacements for Army regiments. One might have interpreted the original Dick Act to mean that Guard regiments might be federalized as units, then reorganized as federal volunteers for overseas service. Guardsmen argued persuasively that hometown officers and local loyalties gave the Guard its peacetime vitality and wartime mobilization potential. To check Guard fears that the General Staff saw it primarily as a pool of individual replacements, Congress established a National Guard Bureau in the War Department, whose chief reported directly to the secretary of war, not to the General Staff.

The Guard reform movement, however, slowed in 1912 when the attorney general ruled that the provision for compulsory overseas service included in the 1908 law was unconstitutional. Ironically, the ruling actually came from the office of the judge advocate general, the Army’s chief lawyer. Reflecting General Staff–bureau antagonisms, the conservatism of the Taft administration, and the Uptonianism of regular officers, the ruling turned attention away from the Guard and back to the issue of an independent federal reserve force. One effort at this alternative, the Reserve Act of 1912, allowed regulars to shorten their obligated active service by joining a federal reserve. Two years later this “force” numbered sixteen enlisted men. Clearly the United States did not have an adequate system for wartime mobilization.

The General Staff and reserve force issues tended to dominate land force policymaking, especially in the civil-military political arena, but the Army at the same time made halting steps to organize itself for modern warfare and to come to grips with the new military technology offered by a mighty host of civilians and its own uniformed inventors. Although America was rich in inventors, the absence of external threat and public urgency limited the Army to experimentation and testing. Spurred by the world war, the European armed forces soon took the lead in finding more efficient ways to destroy each other with new weapons and organizational techniques. The U.S. Army shared the exploration for new ways to wage war.

Organizationally, modernization took many forms. The tactical units of the Army, principally the thirty infantry and fifteen cavalry regiments, gradually shifted to posts that could accommodate a regiment or more in order to improve training. Congressional reluctance to close bases, however, impeded troop concentration. On paper—and occasionally for maneuvers and service on the Mexican border—the Army formed brigades (two or more regiments) and divisions (two or more brigades), and even the National Guard had a theoretical grouping of twelve divisions, organized on a regional basis. The Army school system proliferated in order to accommodate more detailed technical training for regular officers and enlisted men. After much debate and political infighting, the artillery separated in 1907 into two separate arms, field artillery and coast artillery. Field artillery regiments reappeared on maneuvers, while the new Coast Artillery Corps enjoyed its status by establishing a separate staff in Washington and successfully lobbying for increased money for new guns and fortifications. In 1912 Congress finally accepted the wisdom of logistical consolidation and created a Quartermaster Department that absorbed the functions of the Subsistence and Paymaster Departments. The law also provided for a separate Service Corps of 6,000 men for field and base operations.

To some degree the growing revolution in military technology posed a bewildering range of organizational and doctrinal problems. Like other armies, the U.S. Army experienced an era of technical anxiety. In terms of ordnance, improved metallurgy, machine tooling, and chemistry made it possible for small arms and artillery to increase their ranges, rates of fire, and accuracy by a factor of three. In rifles and field guns, the United States kept pace by adopting the Springfield M 1903 and the M 1902 3-inch gun. The artillery piece had shells, a recoil mechanism, and optical sights comparable with the French 75-mm gun, the premier European fieldpiece. In 1905 the Army opened its first plant to produce the most advanced smokeless powder. The Ordnance Department also tested a wide variety of machine guns, including the models offered by John M. Browning, Hiram Maxim, and I.N. Lewis. Emphasizing the need for light weight for field mobility, the Army adopted a substandard automatic weapon, the Benet-Mercie, primarily because it thought the inventors would soon produce lighter models of their machine guns. In the meantime, Browning, Maxim, and Lewis guns turned the Western Front of World War I into a slaughter pit.

The revolution in military firepower posed serious problems for the battlefield control of tactical units, but the changes in communications did not keep pace. The telegraph, telephone, and radio had already improved administrative and strategic communications, but tactical communications depended upon visual signals and written messages until the Army adopted battery-powered field phones. With the development of an indirect fire capability, the artillery led the way in creating phone systems to link its forward observers, fire detection centers, and firing batteries. Wire, however, could be laid only as fast as men could walk or drive (both slow under fire), and it was vulnerable to enemy fire and careless teamsters.

The smell of oil and exhaust fumes around a few posts announced, too, that the Army had begun its love affair with the automobile. The military advantages of marrying the internal combustion engine to wheeled carriages had impressed the Army as early as the 1890s, but only after two years of limited tests did the Quartermaster Department in 1906 purchase its first six cars. More experiments followed, now including the use of trucks and cars in the field. When one colonel covered the same distance in three hours by car that he had traveled on horseback in three days, he vowed he would never again get into a saddle when a car was available. In 1912 an auto-truck test unit drove 1,500 miles and proved that it could average speeds twice those of mule-drawn wagons. Nevertheless, motorization faced substantial barriers. Army conservatives feared that their soldiers would use the vehicles for personal errands and would not maintain them properly. These proved reasonable concerns. The tradeoffs in cost and availability of gasoline and spare parts versus forage and harness perplexed quartermaster planning. Given the primitive state of American roads, horses looked like a better option than trucks, especially in the west, where much of the Army still trained and patrolled the borders. In addition, War Department requirements for field cars and trucks discouraged commercial builders, who saw no future in small Army orders. Nevertheless, the field experiments continued until 1916, when Army trucks got their first real test during the Punitive Expedition into Mexico. In a daring buy of 500 commercial vehicles valued at $450,000, the War Department formed twenty-two truck companies, which proved their worth carrying supplies. The Army stood on the curb of the motor age.

Like the motorization movement, the Army’s earliest experiences with airplanes were long on promise and short on performance, but the operations of 1916 in Mexico revived a flagging commitment. Discouraged by its fruitless donations to aerial inventor Dr. Samuel Langley, the War Department’s Board of Ordnance and Fortification avoided subsidizing the Wright brothers even after 1903 and believed that dirigibles offered more military potential than rigid-wing aircraft. In 1907, however, with President Roosevelt’s encouragement, the Signal Corps formed an aeronautical division and reopened negotiations for a test aircraft, which the Wrights eventually delivered in 1909. Army-dictated performance standards proved difficult to meet, but the potential use of the airplane for reconnaissance purposes kept Army interest alive. The Army demanded an aircraft powerful enough to carry two persons (one to fly, one to observe) for 125 miles at 40 miles an hour. Deterred by the cost and danger of manned flight (the first American fatality was an Army lieutenant), the Signal Corps conducted its tests cautiously in both the financial and operational sense. Although Army officers successfully rigged primitive bombing systems and machine guns on the test planes, most aviation pioneers (including Billy Mitchell) did not think aviation technology would soon produce anything other than reconnaissance planes. Nevertheless, by 1913 the Army could organize a 1st Aero Squadron in Texas, equipped with eight primitive Curtiss biplanes. In 1916 the squadron deployed into Mexico and performed yeoman service conducting scouting missions and carrying messages, but soon lost all its aircraft to crashes or maintenance problems. The squadron’s performance, however, broadened support for a more ambitious Army aviation program.

Aviation experimentation, funded by congressional appropriations for the Army and Navy, sailed along with relative safety and success, then crashed in both aircraft and funding terms. No one considered pioneer flying risk-free. Between 1903 and 1910 thirty-four pilots died in flying accidents. In one two-year period, 1911–1912, however, more than 200 pilots died, many of them pioneers. Control systems and engine mountings did not keep pace with engine power and the aerodynamics of faster flight. Aviation development in the United States stalled as Congress and aircraft designers became risk-averse. The opportunity to exploit the Lewis machine gun, Speery gyroscopes, and optical bombsights passed. Between 1909 and 1925 no American aircraft or aviation technology won a prize at the Paris air show, the showcase of international aviation.

Even without the stimulus of the world war, the Army and the National Guard by 1916 showed distinct signs of modernity despite the absence of a significant threat or any widespread public interest in military affairs. There was no “Great Khaki Army” to excite support, like the Great White Fleet. With the exception of a few civilian military enthusiasts, the heart of modernization was the regular Army officer corps, which depended upon fragile coalitions with civilian political leaders and technologists to make organizational changes. Modernization, moreover, could not break free from the expectation that the only war the United States would fight would occur either in the Pacific or in the Western Hemisphere. In either theater the enemies could be defeated by the regular Army and National Guard in the war’s early stages or overwhelmed eventually by America’s vast industrial and manpower resources. In any event, the battlefleet might decide the issue before the land forces even became engaged. While such assumptions proved naïve in 1917, they rested on political realities that Army officers themselves shared. In the face of such popular notions, the wonder is not that land force reform accomplished so little, but that it accomplished so much.

The Armed Forces and Imperial Defense

A major barrier to the modernization of the American armed forces before World War I was the military’s constant involvement with overseas interventions. Despite the fact that reformers argued that the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps should concentrate upon their wartime missions, all the armed forces found themselves busy with constabulary duties beyond the borders of the United States. These duties may have provided some favorable publicity, usually romantic nonsense, but by and large they distracted the armed forces from training for modern war. As European military observers noted, the United States had a declaratory policy of military modernization and national defense, but it had a military establishment still wedded to imperial policing.

Surveying the wreckage of the Spanish empire in the Caribbean, to which the United States had administered the coup de grace in 1898, American policymakers committed their own armed forces in order to reshape the destiny of the nations in “the American lake.” In the strictest terms of self-interest, the primary concern was building and protecting an isthmian canal. But this self-interest did not exclude other rationales for interventionism, which included curbing European influence, protecting American loans, stimulating economic growth and international trade (primarily for American merchants), and encouraging the development of republican, democratic governments and private and public institutions much like those in the United States. Although American cultural imperialism fell short in reality, it kept substantial portions of the armed forces occupied in reformist occupations.

After the Treaty of Paris in 1898, the Army made Cuba and Puerto Rico its laboratory for reform but soon surrendered its mission to the Marine Corps. Since Puerto Rico was an annexed territory, the Army’s administrative functions passed quickly to a civilian government, but not before Army officers had begun to reshape the island’s public services. In addition, the War Department formed the Puerto Rican Regiment, a regular Army infantry regiment, to provide federal authorities with a military response to civil disturbances and minor foreign threats. In Cuba the War Department ran a military government from 1898 until 1902, when Cuba officially became an independent nation. During the transition period the Army successfully found a way to curb yellow fever, pioneered public health and public works projects, reformed the island’s educational system, and introduced novel governmental practices like efficiency, justice, and honesty. None of these accomplishments proved transferable, however, and in 1906 the United States again assumed control of the island’s government when corrupt elections sparked a civil war. Again, Army officers led a drive for administrative reform, which ended with the American withdrawal in 1909. Disillusioned with the tool of reformist military occupation, the United States took a more limited role in subsequent Cuban civil wars.

The military also served as the spearhead of American action in Panama. When the Roosevelt administration decided to exploit Panamanian nationalism and investors’ cupidity in 1903 and take direct control of the isthmian canal route and construction, it blocked Colombian military intervention with Navy squadrons at Colon and Panama City and landed Marines to protect the Panamanian revolutionaries. When a highly favorable treaty created the Canal Zone and heralded the beginning of American construction, the Roosevelt administration gave the military principal roles in making the canal program work. The Corps of Engineers—under the eventual guidance of Brigadier General George W. Goethals—and the Medical Department, represented by Colonel William C. Gorgas, received the mission to overcome the engineering and disease problems that had frustrated earlier canal builders. Both groups of officers succeeded, and the canal opened in 1914. Small naval units and a Marine regiment assumed the initial responsibility for ensuring order and defense, but the Marines were replaced by World War I with a mix of Army coastal defense and mobile troops. In the meantime, the Marines and Navy supported State Department policies in nearby Nicaragua, another possible canal location and site of American political and financial commitments. In 1912 American expeditionary forces intervened in a Nicaraguan civil war and waged active military operations to crush the revolt. A Marine legation guard remained in Managua to dramatize American concern with Nicaraguan politics.

Across the sun-kissed Caribbean, the green island of Hispaniola also concerned the State Department, primarily because its governments courted foreign intervention and failed to establish effective, democratic administrations. The neighboring countries of Haiti and Santo Domingo both proved running sores in American Caribbean policy. Justified by the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that the United States would intervene to preempt European intervention, various formulas for diplomatic pressure and fiscal supervision for both countries proved unsuccessful in reducing governmental instability. Civil wars in Haiti in 1915 and the Dominican Republic in 1916 drew Navy squadrons and Marine expeditionary brigades to both countries, first to break up the rebel armies and then to impose reformist occupations. In both countries Marine units, assisted marginally by Marine-created native constabularies, fought vicious guerrilla wars with rural terrorists. The twin occupations, which lasted in the Dominican Republic until 1924 and in Haiti until 1934, absorbed many of the Marine units assigned to Advanced Base Force training and brought no special credit to the Corps, which was accused of atrocities. The general effectiveness of American military administration in both countries did not prove publicly appealing or lasting, and both nations lapsed into dictatorships after American withdrawal.

Willingly ceding the pacification mission in the Caribbean to the Marine Corps (“State Department troops,” soldiers called Marines), the Army did not escape the toils of America’s Latin diplomacy, for from 1911 until 1917 much of the Army’s attention focused upon the possibility of war with Mexico. While the Mexican Revolution twisted its way to eventual success, American diplomacy followed the same complex path. Under the Taft administration, the government tried to seal the border to gun-runners and guerrilla organizers with scant success. When cavalry patrols proved insufficiently impressive to the Mexicans, the administration in 1911 and 1913 formed an entire division of combined arms in Texas. The first mobilization had little clear direction, but the second was the first stage in War Plan Green, which included an overland campaign (à la 1847) from Veracruz to Mexico City. The Wilson administration considered military intervention seriously, since it feared German and Japanese penetration in Mexico and found the counterrevolutionary Heurta regime (1911–1914) distasteful. Favoring a rebel victory, Wilson committed a Navy-Marine task force to Veracruz in 1914, where the Americans fought their way through the city and established an occupation zone. An Army brigade from Texas soon followed, but, assessing the unexpected bloodshed, the Wilson administration chose to talk, not fight. The American forces withdrew by the end of the year, but not before the Huerta regime had collapsed.

The Veracruz expedition did not end the Mexican deployment, since the civil war—now waged between two revolutionary factions led by Venustiano Carranza and Pancho Villa—spilled over the American border and spawned lesser political and racial violence along the Rio Grande. Frustrated by American support for Carranza, Villa’s band raided Columbus, New Mexico, in March 1916, and killed fifteen American civilians and soldiers. Wilson ordered the Punitive Expedition of 10,000 soldiers under the command of Brigadier General John J. Pershing, a very hard taskmaster, into Mexico to destroy Villa’s army. When the Mexican government sent troops to seal the flanks of the expedition, which it had tacitly accepted but disliked, Wilson mobilized most of the regular Army along the border and reinforced it with 112,000 National Guardsmen. Despite two battles between American and Mexican regulars, both nations backed away from war, since the Americans had also dispersed Villa’s mounted columns. As the threat of war with Germany mounted in early 1917, the Punitive Expedition returned across the international border, rich in field experience and disgruntled with the ambiguities of Wilsonian diplomacy.

Across the Pacific other American soldiers guarded the Philippines from external attack (an unlikely threat) and internal violence (an ever-present possibility). To discourage any invader, Army engineers began to fortify and arm the islands at the mouth of Manila Bay, principally Corregidor and El Fraile, which became the “concrete battleship” known as Fort Drum. North of Manila, the Army formed a composite brigade of two infantry regiments, two cavalry squadrons, an artillery battery, and an engineer detachment as its mobile defense force. These troops, however, did not bear much of the burden of insular peacekeeping, which fell to the American-officered regiment of Philippine scouts and the paramilitary Philippine Constabulary. The most active operations occurred on the Moro islands of Mindanao and the Jolo archipelago, where Muslim Filipinos resisted civilization American style. Unassociated with the insurrectos of 1899–1902, the Moros defended their traditions of slavery, tribal warfare, and religious frenzies. Some American generals like Leonard Wood and John J. Pershing enhanced their reputations as the civil governors and military commanders of the Moro territory, largely by conducting campaigns to disarm the Moros or to break up dissident bands. The American “bamboo army”—usually a combination of regular Army, Scout, and Constabulary companies—began operations against the Moros in 1902 and fought them through a series of arduous campaigns: Lake Lanao and Jolo (1903), the Cotabato Valley (1905), Bud Dajo Mountain (1906 and 1911), and Bud Bagsak Mountain (1911 and 1913). While these campaigns tempered a whole generation of Army officers, the battles with the Moros harked back to the nineteenth-century clashes with the American Indians.

The World War and the Preparedness Movement

The roar of the guns of August 1914 reached the United States in indistinct tones, but a year after the outbreak of World War I, the European conflict brought a major reconsideration of American military policy. By the autumn of 1916 the Preparedness Movement had become a force in a presidential election and had produced ambitious legislation that reshaped naval and land force policy. Like all American mass political phenomena, the Preparedness Movement contained policy contradictions and antagonistic goals and represented the diverse interests of many political groups. Nevertheless, it represented the first time that defense policy in peacetime influenced American politics and involved more people than a limited policymaking elite. On the other hand, its legislative products came too late to have any substantial impact on American military readiness, either to fight World War I or to avoid intervention by imposing a peace before American entry into the war.

Concerned by the early indecisiveness of the European war and the German conduct of submarine warfare, American internationalists (largely eastern, Republican, and pro-Allied) formed a complex network of preparedness lobbies and began propaganda programs in order to build support for increased military spending. The Germans cooperated in the organizing phase of the movement by sinking the British liner Lusitania in May 1915 and killing over 100 Americans. The Lusitania crisis shifted American animus toward Germany, awakened a larger audience to military affairs, and converted President Wilson to preparedness, if only to stay in front of public opinion. German submarine warfare also focused public and congressional attention upon American naval policy, since freedom of the seas was a concept relatively free of political division that transcended the wisdom of intervention. Americans who found no attractions in aiding the Allies could support naval preparedness because a larger fleet could still be an instrument of unilateral action, foreign trade, and protection of the Western Hemisphere during and after the war. Interventionists, on the other hand, saw a new building program as a useful way to mobilize public opinion, coerce Germany, and hearten the Allies. Building upon a generation of public faith that the fleet would protect the United States from foreign unpleasantness, the uneasy coalition of navalists fashioned an ambitious new plan to give the nation a “Navy second to none.”

As pressure for some sort of naval legislation increased, the Wilson administration and Congress designed a new fleet-building program. Abandoning 1914 plans to modernize but not enlarge the fleet, the administration essentially proposed a five-year program drafted by the General Board that would have brought the fleet by 1925 to numbers second only to the Royal Navy and in quality superior to even the British. After much internal bargaining, Congress approved the General Board’s plan in August 1916, with the major change that the shipbuilding should be completely started within a three-year period, thus ensuring a “Navy second to none” earlier than 1925. Approved by the Senate by a vote of 71 to 8 and by the House by 283 to 50, the Naval Act of 1916 provided for the construction of ten battleships, sixteen cruisers, fifty destroyers, seventy-two submarines, and fourteen auxiliaries. The strategic rationale for the program did not depart from the assumptions of prewar contingency plans, largely focused on deterring or fighting Japan in the Pacific and Germany in the Caribbean. The law, however, stated that the United States would forgo the program if it could find some way to negotiate freedom of the seas and secure its interests in the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific through mutual nonaggression pacts. Given the development of the naval campaigns of World War I, the act had little relevance to the war itself, since it paid no special attention to antisubmarine warfare.

Land force reform followed a more controversial course. Discouraged by the limits of National Guard reconstruction and encouraged by the enthusiasm of Secretary of War Stimson and Chief of Staff Wood, the General Staff completed a comprehensive analysis of land force policy in 1912, released in an executive document, The Organization of the Land Forces of the United States. The General Staff study had two novel aspects: It was made public, and it focused on the lack of an adequate reserve force with prewar training. Reflecting Stimson’s and Wood’s faith in the effectiveness of the American citizen-soldier, the report stressed that the United States could not fight a major war without reserves drawn from the citizenry, but it warned that the nation might not be granted sufficient time to train volunteer forces in a future war. But the idea of voluntary peacetime training in a federally sponsored reserve system found no champions in an election year despite its military wisdom.

Coming to office in 1913, the Wilson administration and its Democratic Congress did not view land force reform as a pressing national issue. Recognizing General Wood’s preference for the Republicans and professional commitment to reserve reform, the administration nevertheless allowed the aggressive Rough Rider to finish his full term as chief of staff. Wood used the opportunity to sponsor a pet project: summer military training camps for college students. Surveying the public sentiment for voluntary peacetime training, Wood saw hopeful signs in the cadet training programs of the land-grant colleges established by the Morrill Act of 1862. Even without any promise of a postgraduation commission, such programs in 1911 had 29,000 male participants. Wood also knew that the most critical shortage of soldiers in the wartime volunteer armies was company-grade officers. Therefore, he established two summer camps for college students in 1913. So successful was the response from students and educators that Wood held four camps in the summer of 1914, enrolling nearly 1,000 students. Not accidentally, the summer trainees, who paid their own expenses, represented the elite of the east coast and received as much citizenship and policy indoctrination as technical military training.

The outbreak of World War I gave the voluntary training movement a welcome stimulus, and Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison and Wood, now commander of the Eastern Department, exploited the new sense of urgency in land force reform. Converted to preparedness by the General Staff, Garrison sponsored an updated report on readiness, Statement of a Proper Military Policy for the United States (1915), which proposed the creation of a federal volunteer reserve force of 250,000 men trained before war broke out. But Garrison’s “Continental Army Plan” did not impress Congress, since it smacked of intervention in the world war and relegated the National Guard to a lower order of federal support. Both characteristics were politically unattractive, even to preparedness advocates. In the meantime Wood, manfully supported by new Chief of Staff Hugh L. Scott, enlarged the summer training program to include college students and civic-minded business and professional men from the east coast. Although the summer camp movement took its name from Wood’s encampment at Plattsburgh, New York, the 1915 camps were held at four different locations and enrolled nearly 4,000 volunteers. Despite official and Democratic criticism that the camps were a hotbed of Republican interventionism, the summer camp movement prospered under the sponsorship of an impressive array of business, labor, professional, and religious groups. As Wood himself became more controversial and outspoken on the issue of compulsory military training, the leadership of the movement shifted to civilians, especially the Military Training Camp Association (1916), led by New York lawyer Grenville Clark.

Nourished by Clark’s astute guidance and heightened public concern for military preparedness, the Plattsburg Movement reached a new apogee of popularity in the summer of 1916, when 10,000 volunteers attended ten different camps held across the country. Although the War Department supported the camps with training cadres and equipment, the trainees still paid their own way or received “scholarships” and had no guarantee that they would be commissioned in wartime. Nevertheless, the Plattsburg Movement demonstrated the depth of interest in military training and presented Congress with irrefutable proof that influential portions of the public were willing to make personal commitments to peacetime preparedness. In addition, the movement stressed values that no true Progressive could reject: Increased civic awareness and public responsibility; the role of military service in reducing class, ethnic, and regional antagonisms; and the preparation of American youth for leadership.

Having scuttled the “Continental Army Plan” and thrown Wilson’s War Department into disarray when Garrison and his assistant resigned, Congress seized the initiative in drafting new land force legislation. Correctly reading public sentiment toward some form of peacetime training, Congress patched together a set of proposals drawn from the General Staff, the National Guard lobby, citizen preparedness groups, and a technical-corporate elite concerned about economic mobilization. The intense cloakroom bargaining reflected not only ideas about preparedness but also Democratic determination to seize the military reform issue away from the Republicans and to accommodate the National Guard. As passed finally on June 3, the National Defense Act of 1916 represented the most comprehensive effort to organize a land force structure for future mobilization, but it made no special provisions for a crash preparedness program. Any reform hinting at intervention in the European war was still too controversial. To interventionists, the act was “either a comedy or a tragedy,” as one critic described it.

The National Defense Act of 1916, however, contained ambitious plans for future land force expansion. The regular Army was to grow to 175,000 over a five-year period. Its first-line reserve force would be the National Guard, which was supposed to grow with the aid of federal drill pay to a maximum of 400,000. By taking a dual oath (federal and state) upon enlistment, Guardsmen could be compelled to serve abroad for unlimited periods of time in a national emergency, but they would go to war as Guard units, not as individuals. Guard units, however, would not receive federal subsidies unless they drilled forty-eight times a year at their armories and attended a two-week summer camp. The War Department would establish physical and mental standards for Guard enlistees and retained the right to screen Guard officers for fitness. Behind the Guard the law did not establish a federal reserve like the “Continental Army,” but it did provide opportunities for college students and Plattsburg enthusiasts to receive reserve commissions through the Reserve Officers Training Corps at universities and through summer training. The reserve officers would form an Officers Reserve Corps prepared to provide junior line officers and technical specialists for the enlarged wartime Army.

The new law for the first time also recognized that the federal government required substantial emergency powers over industry and transportation if it was to supply a mass wartime Army. The president could compel any business to give government orders first priority in wartime. In the meantime, he should begin to study the problems of economic mobilization, a charge further strengthened with additional legislation that created a Council of National Defense from within the cabinet. Although Wilson did not use the council, he permitted Secretary of War Newton D. Baker to appoint an advisory committee of industrial experts in December 1916. This committee provided the early direction of mobilization planning upon America’s entry into World War I.

Together the Naval Act of 1916 and the National Defense Act of 1916 culminated two decades of unsteady but consistent growth and modernization of the American armed forces. Certainly the two acts appalled antimilitarists and noninterventionists, primarily because they believed the legislation was a frightening national affirmation of bellicosity. Some believed peacetime compulsory service would soon follow. On the other hand, militants like Theodore Roosevelt and Leonard Wood recognized that paper reform did not mean real increases in military capability unless Congress funded the shipbuilding plans and the expanded, improved Army and Guard. Whether or not Congress would do so depended upon political events beyond the control of the military establishment. As commentators of all persuasions debated the meaning of the acts, German submarines prepared to resume unrestricted warfare against Allied and neutral shipping. As silent and deadly as a running torpedo, the European war approached a United States rich with paper plans and woefully unprepared for the one war it had not foreseen.

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