An Unprecedented National Crisis--|
And a Heritage of Constant Vigilance
Navy League Learns From the Past While It Mobilizes for the Future
By DAVID VERGUN, Production Editor
"There is uncertainty and cause for grave anxiety over the future ... [and] grave misgiving in the minds of may thoughtful persons. ... We are likely still to be called upon to make many sacrifices. ... [But] it is a different sort of struggle that is ahead of us."
The language today may seem somewhat stilted, but the warnings are almost the same as those voiced by President George W. Bush when he told the American people to prepare for "a new type of war"--i.e., the war against international terrorism in which Phase One, the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, would be but the opening round of what would be a very long and extremely dangerous conflict.
At the end of December 2001 Phase One seemed to be almost complete--but not quite. Western intelligence did not know if Osama bin Laden and many other al Qaeda leaders were still living, or had perished in the caves of Tora Bora, or had escaped to Pakistan, Iran, or possibly Somalia. And no one knew, either, where and when Phase Two and then Phase Three of the war would start, or how long it would last. And, despite significant improvements in U.S. homeland-defense capabilities, the United States was still demonstrably vulnerable to attacks by terrorists armed with chemical, biological, and/or perhaps even nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
Nuclear weapons did not even exist in December 1918 when, describing the uncertain future and "extreme difficulty" still confronting the United States and its allies at the end of World War I, author Herbert F. Hill warned members of the Navy League and other readers of Sea Power (an earlier version of today's publication) of the "different sort of struggle" referred to above.
Eleanor Roosevelt and D.W. Griffith
Hill's assessment of the political and military challenges then facing the victorious allies rings just as true today as it did when written more than four score years ago.
During this year's celebration of the NLUS centennial, past is prologue in many ways. Just as today's Navy League members are supporting the men and women of the U.S. sea services during the nation's first war of the 21st century, so too did the founding members of the Navy League serve their country during a time of unprecedented national crisis more than eight decades ago during what at the time was called "The Great War"--and erroneously described by many as "The war to end all wars."
Even before the United States entered World War I, the Navy League was mobilizing to help the sea services in recruiting and by creating programs to help service personnel in various ways. Following an example set by "the women of England," the Navy League set as one of its primary goals the provision of "necessary articles of clothing, equipment, comfort and hospital stores ... not furnished by the government." A "Comforts Committee" was created, and headquartered in Washington, to spearhead the effort, to which tens of thousands of American women, young and old, contributed their time and efforts. One member of the committee's board of directors (as it would be called today) was Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It was estimated at the time that the cost of raw materials alone for the knitted garments provided by the Comforts Committee was approximately "a million dollars a year"--in then-year dollars. The committee's efforts were so successful that the Sailors and Marines aboard the first U.S. destroyer to get underway for Europe were reported to have been "completely outfitted" by the Navy League--as were the crews of many other ships going "over there."
The "first words" spoken by the American bluejackets upon their arrival in Europe, according to the December 1918 issue of Sea Power, were expressions of appreciation to the Navy League for the garments that had been provided by the Comforts Committee. (An Associated Press dispatch stated that the garments from the Navy League provided more warmth than the "official" uniforms supplied by the U.S. government.) So many garments were knitted that they were distributed to the crews of many French, British, and Russian warships as well.
There were other NLUS successes during the war, notably in assisting recruiters. The officer in charge of Navy recruiting, Lt. Cdr. L.B. Porterfield, stated in a letter to the Navy League that the success of the Navy's own recruiting campaign was "largely due to the many friends of the Navy in civil life throughout the country.
"The assistance rendered through the Navy League has been particularly valuable," Porterfield continued. "The [Navy] desires to express its appreciation through the medium of Sea Power for the valuable services rendered by the Navy League and its individual members."
When war was declared, the Navy League built an enormous athletic complex, in Hampton Roads, Va., for the U.S. Atlantic Fleet: 115 acres encompassing 10 baseball fields, docks, a bathing beach, tennis courts, a rifle range, and a golf course. Sea Power reported that thousands of men at a time were able to use the facilities.
Wounded soldiers convalescing at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C., were treated to rides along the Potomac River on the 120-foot houseboat Everglades, which had been purchased for that purpose by the Comforts Committee. Committee members and other ladies accompanied the soldiers on the cruises, feeding them and entertaining them with games, music, "smokes," and conversation.
The Navy League also: (1) received thanks from the Treasury Department for its Liberty Loan fund drive, during which NLUS members helped to raise $48 million in bonds that were used to support the war effort; and (2) worked in cooperation with the State Department to create, distribute, and publicize a wartime publicity film, produced by noted director D.W. Griffith, to help the war effort.
The preceding article by Production Editor David Vergun is the first of a series of retrospective reports planned to help publicize this year's centennial anniversary of the Navy League.