Courtesy Reuters

IN military matters, public opinion tends to lean upon what it deems the lessons of experience; that is, upon a somewhat cursory and uncritical examination of the history of its own country culled from the books on that subject used for texts in the public schools. The great majority of citizens in any democracy have no greater or deeper knowledge of history than that. Thus in the United States there seems to be a very general opinion that by reason of having come through our past wars without serious disaster, we shall inevitably be victorious in the future; while the cruel and unnecessary sacrifice of lives and treasure imposed upon us in all those wars by neglect of the most elementary precautions in time of peace makes but little impression. Even today, when the need for a reasonably adequate navy has at last attained a considerable measure of popular support, there is still a "get-rich-quick" tendency to assert that submarines and airplanes form an adequate "defense" of our shores. One has but to read the hearings before the Naval Committees of the Congress in connection with the last Navy Bill to realize the widespread lack of understanding of the true functions and nature of a navy and of what is actually connoted by the much abused term "national defense."

And as in America, so in Britain. The British Isles have not been invaded by a foreign army since the Norman Conquest. Strong in a centuries-old preponderance of naval strength, British policy occupied itself with maintaining the European balance of power; it made use of its navy and its financial strength, and occasionally sent small expeditionary forces provided by its professional, volunteer army, to prevent the undue aggrandizement of any Continental Power; at home, meanwhile, "business as usual" was the slogan. The burdens of universal military service have been no part of British life. For the century from Napoleon to the World War the British public did not have to fear invasion.

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