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The Uses of Maritime History in and For the Navy

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Journal article

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There is an ever-present human tendency to think that all that went before is irrelevant and useless, especially in an era of transformation and change. Navies are particularly susceptible to this tendency since, in contrast to officers in other branches of service, naval officers, by and large, have tended to ignore the value of and advantages to be found in historical insight. This negative attitude toward history within the Navy has its roots in the prevailing naval culture it is shared widely among navies that have developed within the Anglo-American tradition. A dispassionate look at the patterns and process of innovation in the past, however, reminds us that such tendencies are to be determinedly guarded against. Maritime history is a central part of an understanding of the heritage and tradition of navies, but its value lies in more than heritage alone. Knowing what actually happened in the past is central to understanding the nature and character of naval power. It assists in knowing the limits to the usefulness of naval power as well as in understanding where we are today in the development and progression of the art of naval warfare. As every navigator understands, it is critical to know where we are and what external forces affected us on the way there if we are to lay the best course toward where we want to be. These judgments have once again been reaffirmed in the most recent study of the uses of history by, for, and in the American navy. In 2000 on the recommendation of the Secretary of the Navys Advisory Subcommittee on Naval History, Secretary Richard Danzig commissioned an independent evaluation of the Navys historical programs. This report, completed in October 2000, concluded that the U.S. Navy has failed to use the rich historical information available to it in order to manage or apply effectively those resources for internal or external purposes.

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  • Humanities and History
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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