Featured Classic Work of Strategy and Diplomacy
The Geographical Pivot of History by Halford J. Mackinder (1904/1919)
In 1904, British geographer Halford J. Mackinder presented a landmark paper, "The Geographical Pivot of History," to the Royal Geographic Society of London. In this and subsequent writings, Mackinder argued that changes in technology—especially the revolution in land transportation brought about by the railroad, the internal combustion engine, and the construction of a modern highway and road network—had altered the relationship between sea and land power, bringing the Columbian age of dominant sea power to a close. In this new, tightly connected global system, land power would hold the advantage. The center of emerging land power was the Eurasian core area—the geographical pivot, roughly coincident with the tsarist Russian empire—that Mackinder would come to call the Heartland. This core area was inaccessible to sea power and therefore was capable of being exploited by a land power seeking to dominate the Eurasian "World-Island" from its continental fortress. Surrounding the Heartland were two crescents: first, a wholly maritime outer crescent consisting of the Americas, the British Isles, Australia, and sub-Saharan Africa; and second, an inner crescent (partly maritime, partly continental) that extended along the Eurasian littoral, including most of continental Europe west of Russia, the Maghreb, the Middle East, and continental South, Southeast, and East Asia. Most of the world’s population, and its great civilizations, inhabited this crescent.
Because of its location, Mackinder believed that the inner crescent would be a permanent zone of conflict. If a land power expanded over these marginal areas of Europe and Asia, it would obtain vast resources for building a naval fleet capable of overwhelming the outer crescent, the ring of islands and outer continents that surrounded the World Island. World empire would then be in sight. They key to world politics in the early 20th century, as Mackinder saw it, was the struggle between Russia and Germany for control of the Heartland and adjacent areas, especially Eastern Europe. For Mackinder, Eastern Europe was the gateway to and from the Heartland, which later led him to offer his famous formulation.
Who rules Eastern Europe commands the Heartland
Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island
Who rules the World-Island commands the world
Featured American Classic
Annual Report of the US Secretary of the Navy (1889) by Benjamin F. Tracy
In March 1889, a hurricane destroyed or disabled three American warships in the Samoan harbor of Apia, where they had been deployed to support the United States in a political dispute with Britain and Germany over the status of the islands. The accident left the United States without any effective naval force in the Pacific and revealed the weaknesses of the existing fleet, as the old warships had been unable to get to sea and ride out the storm. Advocates of a more assertive American foreign policy, to be underwritten by an expanded modern navy, seized upon the incident. A perfect political storm did seem to favor their cause. The new President, Benjamin Harrison, was a big-navy advocate, and for the first time since 1875, the Republican Party enjoyed clear majorities in both Houses of Congress. U.S. Navy Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan was completing his landmark book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660-1783, and his arguments were already circulating among such influential and would-be influential figures as Theodore Roosevelt and Harrison’s Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Franklin Tracy.
Tracy, a decorated Brigadier General during the Civil War, was an able politician and administrator who laid out the blueprint for a new American Navy in his Annual Report of 1889 (excerpted below). Tracy’s official statement placed the Harrison administration squarely behind Mahan and the naval expansionist school. Although defense, not conquest, was the object of American national security and naval policy, Tracy argued that defense required a fighting force capable of engaging the fleets of potentially hostile powers. He evaluated the U.S. Navy as being inferior not only to such major powers as Great Britain, France, Russia, and Germany, but also to the fleets of Holland, Spain, Italy, Turkey, China, Sweden-Norway, and Austria-Hungary.
Featured Notable Book
The Liberation Trilogy (2002-2013) by Rick Atkinson
Rick Atkinson, journalist and military historian, authored the Liberation Trilogy, an acclaimed narrative history of the U.S. military’s role in the liberation of Europe in World War II. The first volume, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, published in 2002, received the Pulitzer Prize. The subsequent volumes were titled The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944; and The Guns at Last Light: The War in Europe, 1944-1945. Atkinson covers the war comprehensively, from grand strategy and the generals in command, to the details of daily life and small-unit combat. Atkinson’s perspective on war writ large, colored strongly by the experience of ordinary soldiers, is decidedly unsentimental and un-heroic, although he gives full due to the actions of heroic men (and women). He does not offer any startling new revelations or offer grand new theses about the war. The high-level argument throughout the Liberation Trilogy is that this was an absolutely necessary war, a war over the future of civilization (or, better put, between civilization and barbarism of the worst sort). The liberation from tyranny was real. At the same time, this war – any war – is a terrible thing.