The Qualifications of a Naval Officer: WWATMD?Guest Post: LCDR Benjamin "BJ" Armstrong
This is the first post in a weekly series about the writing and thinking of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, leading up to the release of “21
Century Mahan: Sound MilitaryConclusions for the Modern Era” by The Naval Institute Press.
This week is Commissioning Week at The U.S. Naval Academy. It’s an exciting time of ceremonies, balls, parties, and obelisk climbing. At this year’s ceremony the newEnsigns and Second Lieutenants will hear advice from many, including the CNO,SECNAV, Governor of Maryland, and the Commander-in-Chief. Ultimately much of itcomes down to the central question: What are the skills, the requirements, thequalifications, of a good naval officer? Or to put it another way: What does it take toearn that “Special Trust and Confidence” from the President of the United States?It is well known that the passage memorized by Plebes at the Academy entitled “TheQualifications of a Naval Officer” never actually flowed from the pen of Captain JohnPaul Jones. The story is well documented in anarticle from Naval History, debunked bya writing team of a Midshipman and an Academy Professor. However, the ideals listedin the passage are worth considering as a benchmark and sometimes we still see them inofficial Navy documents.Alfred Thayer Mahan, as opposed to Jones, did write about what a naval officer should be capable of accomplishing. ATM served as the head of the Gunnery Department inAnnapolis when he was a Commander (at one point hewrote a report chit on an upstartyoung Firstiefor being disorderly, a future officer named William Sims). He wrote aboutthe training of Midshipmen at the Academy in his essay “Naval Education.” The essaywas the first thing that ATM, who became quite prolific, ever wrote for publication. Itwon third prize in the very first Naval Institute essay contest. The subject of the contestwas, of course, “Naval Education” and ATM set out to redesign the curriculum at the Naval Academy, which was the only source of commissioned officers at the time.The following passage outlines the things that he believed were the required skills andcapabilities of a naval officer:
The organizing and disciplining of the crew, the management under all circumstances of the great machine which a ship is, call for a very high order of character, whether natural or acquired; capacity for governing men, for dealing with conflicting tempersand interests jarring in a most artificial mode of life; self possession and habit of command in danger, in sudden emergencies, in the tumult and probable horrors of amodern naval action; sound judgment which can take risks calmly, yet risk no more thanis absolutely necessary; sagacity to divine the probable movements of an enemy, to provide against future wants, to avoid or compel action as may be wished; moral courage, to be shown in fearlessness of responsibility, in readiness to either act or not act, regardless of censure whether from above or below; quickness of eye and mind, theintuitive perception of danger or advantage, the ready instinct which seizes the proper