Alfred Thayer Mahan and his Strategic Thought

  • John B. Hattendorf
Part of the St Antony's book series


Much was written by Mahan1 and much has been written about him.2 In the United States his name is known to every officer in the Navy and his authority is often evoked and applied to issues of naval strategy. By contrast, in Britain Mahan’s works are now regarded as old and outdated. From either point of view, Mahan’s contributions must be seen as part of the development of naval thought and, although he had precursors, Mahan is the proper starting-point in an outline of the progression and refinement of naval thinking in the English-speaking world during the twentieth century. Mahan found the literature of naval history largely a record of battles, and he was the first successfully to convert it to a subject which related activity at sea to foreign policy and the general activity of nation-states. In so doing he persuaded naval thinkers and writers to accept a new conceptual basis.


Defensive Role Maritime Region Imperial Rivalry Naval Force Naval Warfare 
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  1. 1.
    For published documents and bibliography, see Robert Seager II and Doris Maguire (eds), The Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan (Annapolis, 1977) 3 volumesGoogle Scholar
  2. John B. Hattendorf and Lynn C. Hattendorf, compilers, A Bibliography of the Works of Alfred Thayer Mahan (Newport, 1986).Google Scholar
  3. The main collection of Mahan manuscripts is in the Library of Congress, but for a guide to the complementary collection at the Naval War College, see John B. Hattendorf, compiler, Register of the Alfred Thayer Mahan Papers (Newport, 1987).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    René Albrecht-Carrie, A Diplomatic History of Europe since the Congress of Vienna (New York, 1973) p. 208.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    John D. Hayes and John B. Hattendorf (eds), The Writings of Stephen B. Luce (Newport, 1975) p. 68.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Russell Weigley, The American Way of War (Bloomington, 1973) pp. 81–9.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Michael Howard, ‘Jomini and the Classical Tradition’, in The Theory and Practice of War (Bloomington, 1967) p. 16.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    also printed in Richard W. Turk, The Ambiguous Relationship: Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Thayer Mahan (Westport, 1987) p. 154.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Crane Brinton, Gordon Craig and Felix Gilbert, ‘Jomini’, in Edwin M. Earle (ed.), Makers of Modern Strategy (Princeton, 1943) p. 90.Google Scholar
  10. See also John Shy, ‘Jomini’, in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age (Princeton, 1986) pp. 143–85.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Jomini, Traité des Grandes Opérations Militaires (Paris, 1851, iii) pp. 57–8.Google Scholar
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    Mahan, The Major Operations of the Navies in the War of American Independence (Boston, 1913) p. 1.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Mahan, Lessons of the War with Spain and other Articles (Boston, 1899) p. 230.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    William E. Livezey, Mahan on Sea Power (Norman, 1981) p. 230. See also Mahan to Thursfield, 28 October 1899 in Letters and Papers, ii, p. 664.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660–1783 (Boston, 1890) p. 25.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    Mahan, Naval Strategy Compared and Contrasted with the Principles and Practice of Military Operations on Lan d (Boston, 1918) p. 115.Google Scholar
  17. 44.
    Mahan, Naval Administration and Warfare: Some General Principles (Boston, 1908) p. 173.Google Scholar
  18. 45.
    Mahan, ‘Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea’, Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, vol. 50, part 2 (November 1906) p. 1330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© John B. Hattendorf and Robert S. Jordan 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • John B. Hattendorf

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