Alfred Thayer Mahan

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mahan, Alfred Thayer


Born Sept. 27, 1840, in West Point, N. Y.; died Dec. 1, 1914, in Washington, D. C. American naval theorist and historian; rear admiral (1906).

Mahan graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1859 and fought in the Civil War of 1861–65 on the side of the North. He was president of the Naval War College in Newport, R. I., from 1886 to 1888 and from 1892 to 1893. He commanded a cruiser from 1893 to 1895 and retired in 1896. He served as a member of the Naval War Board in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and as a member of the American delegation to the first Hague Conference of 1899.

Mahan was the author of many works that contain an abundance of factual material to substantiate the lawlike regularity of wars and justify the aggressive wars of the USA. At the same time as the British theorist P. H. Colomb, he created and substantiated what was called the theory of sea power, in which the navy is considered the chief branch of the armed forces and is assigned the decisive role in any war. According to Mahan, to secure the command of the sea is the fundamental law of war and the only mission, which, when accomplished, will ensure victory over the enemy and world domination. Mahan’s theory, which reflected the political conception of the imperialist bourgeoisie, had a great influence on the development of the naval thinking of the USA and other imperialist states.


Vliianie morskoi sily na istoriiu 1660–1783. Moscow-Leningrad, 1941. (Translated from English.)
Vliianie morskoi sily na frantsuzskuiu revoliutsiiu i imperiiu (1793–1812), vols. 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940.
Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812, vols. 1–2. London, 1905.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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In the past century or so, three stand out: Alfred Mahan, Halford Mackinder, and Nicholas Spykman.
I read his books in our library at home when I was young and was fascinated by his story; but, more significantly, I became aware that he was a respected advocate of policy, much as Emory Upton and Alfred Mahan also were in the military field, and Henry George, Frank Norris, and Jack London were in their realms.
Vidal looks at the 'Four Horsemen' responsible for putting into practice the imperial ambitions of the republic at the turn of the century: Teddy Roosevelt, the Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, 'historian-geopolitician' Brooks Adams and naval officer and writer Alfred Mahan. Walker on the other hand is content to settle for an altogether more sober terminology; he writes simply of the ''expansionist' lobby.