- "A good navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace."
– Theodore Roosevelt
- "The Navy has both a tradition and a future – and we look with pride and confidence in both directions."
– Arleigh Burke
Seafaring social traditions are common among people who live on coastlines, or on islands. However, establishing a well-organized naval tradition can help a nation boost its seaborne war capabilities well beyond those naturally occurring. Raising children with stories about the seas, about brave sailors who travel to distant lands to make fortunes, or to defeat their enemies can make these children future captains and admirals with passion about the sea, and about all that is required to go on it.
Mankind has been fighting battles on water for over three millennia; the first recorded sea battle occurred supposedly about 1210 BC when Suppiluliuma of the Hittites defeated a fleet from Cyprus and then burned their merchant fleet. It was the start of the long naval tradition of carrying conflict to sea, and plundering the neighbor’s seaborne trade.
Obviously, those civilizations with extensive coastlines or lots of islands tend (but not always) to develop a tradition of staining the sea red quicker than their less fortunate neighbors. Thus, the rowed ships of ancient Greece and Carthage dominated the Mediterranean, in which opposing ships tried to ram or board one another (in essence, just bludgeoning away like armies did on land). In ancient China the war junk was developed, although the first standing Chinese navy didn’t come into existence until Song dynasty of the 12th Century AD; meanwhile the Chola dynasty of medieval India was the greatest naval power of the region at the time.
By the time the Middle Ages rolled around in Europe, a number of kingdoms had renowned naval traditions: the Vikings, the English, the Dutch, the Spanish, and Portuguese. These traditions would help them “discover” the faraway lands and slaughter the indigenous people so Europeans could settle there. The cogs, caravels, and carracks not only made the oared ships obsolete but could survive crossing the vast, open oceans. Not surprisingly, these ocean-going kingdoms also managed to cobble together great maritime trading empires as the Middle Ages morphed into the Renaissance.
Then came gunpowder, and naval warfare changed forever. Gone were the days of maneuvering so a ship could slam its prow into the side of another as infantry stormed over the railings, replaced by maneuvering so a ship could unleash its broadside into the hapless enemy. A development that favored those nations that already had a strong naval tradition.