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Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840 – 1914) was an American geostrategist and proponent of sea power as the dominant factor in human affairs. Organized force alone enables the quiet and the weak to go about their business and to sleep securely in their beds, safe from the violent without or within.

Alfred Thayer Mahan father of sea-power

Alfred Thayer Mahan, geostrategist of sea-power.

Sources of quotes: Selections, Sea-Power,


Quotations from Alfred Thayer Mahan

Organized force alone enables the quiet and the weak to go about their business and to sleep securely in their beds, safe from the violent without or within.

The study of history lies at the foundation of all sound military conclusions and practice.

The surer of himself an admiral is, the finer the tactical development of his fleet, the better his captains, the more reluctant must he necessarily be to enter into a melee with equal forces, in which all these advantages will be thrown away, chance reign supreme, and his fleet be place on terms of equality with an assemblage of ships which have never before acted together.

Whether they will or not, Americans must now begin to look outward. The growing production of the country demands it.

Colonies attached to the mother-country afford, therefore, the surest means of supporting abroad the sea power of a country.

Force is never more operative than when it is known to exist but is not brandished.

There is not, however, within the knowledge of the author any work
that professes the particular object here sought; namely, an estimate the effect of sea power upon the course of history and the prosperity of nations.

While many of the conditions of war vary from age to age with the progress of weapons, there are certain teachings in the school of history which remain constant, and being, therefore, of universal application, can be elevated to the rank of general principles.

In tracing resemblances there is a tendency not only to overlook points of difference, but to exaggerate points of likeness, — to be fanciful.

A peaceful, gain-loving nation is not far-sighted, and farsightedness is needed for adequate military preparation.

The history of the seaboard nations has been less determined by the shrewdness and foresight of governments than by conditions of position, extent, configuration, number and character of their people, — by what are called, in a word, natural conditions.

Seapower is never more effective than when just over the horizon.

War, once declared, must be waged offensively, aggressively. The enemy must not be fended off, but smitten down. You may then spare him every exaction, relinquish every gain, but til then he must be struck incessantly and remorselessly.


COMMENTS on the Quotations from Alfred Thayer Mahan

Organized force alone enables the quiet and the weak to go about their business and to sleep securely in their beds, safe from the violent without or within. When people live within a well-ordered society with accepted laws well enforced their lives are safe and their property secure. But this tranquility is based on the authorities having the recourse to impose these laws upon everyone, through force when necessary. It is similar to Mahan’s statement, “Seapower is never more effective than when just over the horizon.” It is most effective when everyone obeys of their own free will, even though it is an unseen force to which they are complying. Force is never more operative than when it is known to exist but is not brandished.

Democracies have the advantage of giving everyone the liberty of speech and of non-injurious actions, but the body politic is slow to perceive future problems, because the most ordinary of the populace is not well informed of the subtleties. A peaceful, gain-loving nation is not far-sighted, and farsightedness is needed for adequate military preparation. The thought of war, of any conflict, is abhorrent to normal people, and thus they do not even consider preparation for conflict until it is a clear and present danger. Unfortunately, in the modern world it takes more than a decade to build a new weapon, like an aircraft carrier.

Mahan published his most influential work in 1890, and his theories are still the driving force for the US maintaining the world’s greatest navy. His ideas are strategic philosophy in action. His nation, the US, built the navy that maintains the peace on three-fourths of the planet, and that allows for efficient economic trade the world over. Ninety percent of the world’s trade is conducted by water, and the world’s waterways are and will remain the most efficient means for transporting goods. Thus, Mahan is one of the most important philosophers in our world, even if he is unknown, and it is necessary to stretch the definition of philosopher a bit. The Stoics are well within the definition of philosopher, and their primary goal was a tranquil life, and that is what Mahan’s philosophy provides for everyone.

Internet Power – as the author of Sea Power would see it.


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