No victory is permanent unless we make it so. Let us resolve never again to declare a holiday from maritime history—even if we win big in our next geopolitical competition, as we did in the Cold War and World War II. Great sea powers don’t get to take holidays, especially when maritime history is just beginning for ambitious, saltwater-minded rivals like China.
PLA Navy strategists read Mahan deeply, and have premised their maritime strategy in part on his teachings. Mahan and Corbett help China think about its strategic predicament—just as they help us think about ours.
To avert or manage challenges from the likes of China, let’s constantly improve our ability to fight and win, even if the likelihood of combat appears remote. In so doing we dishearten potential challengers while reassuring allies and friends. In short, let’s heed the teachings of the masters of sea power. Let’s stay on the good side of the Gods of the Copybook Headings—lest they return seeking their revenge.
James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and author of “Visualize Chinese Sea Power,” in the current issue of the Naval Institute Proceedings. The views voiced here are his alone.
This article is being republished due to reader interest.