In the war against terrorism, George W. Bush has said, the United States will, if deemed necessary, strike militarily against regimes considered threatening by reason of their nature, their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, or their support of anti-American terrorist groups. In Iraq, it seems clear, the Bush Administration intends a full-fledged military effort to depose Saddam Hussein. A core objection to this new approach to the war is that it will fail—that the United States, largely acting alone, cannot wage and win such military campaigns as will be required without incurring expenses in life and money that the American public will not accept. This would have been true once, but it is no longer. The reason is the fruition of one of the great revolutions in military history: the revolution of air power.
The ideal war is one in which the other side quits after a minimum of actual fighting. Accomplishing this comes down to scaring or starving—demoralizing the enemy, through displays of might or destruction, to the point where fighting seems useless, or destroying the enemy's supplies to the point where further fighting is effectively impossible. "Frightening your enemy is the fundamental and presumably the oldest weapon of war," Peter Calvocoressi, Guy Wint, and John Pritchard wrote in Total War (now The Penguin History of the Second World War).
Starving him—hitting him where it hurts most—cannot be much less old ... Where earlier warriors rushed upon their foes with painted bodies and hideous screams, or poisoned wells and beleaguered towns, their more sophisticated though hardly more civilized successors rain high explosives on factories and homes and set fire to whole cities. Only the techniques and the scale are new.
For the first several decades of the twentieth century the most important tool in scaring and starving remained the warship, able to destroy coastal cities, deliver armies, and blockade nations. A powerful navy was vastly more powerful than a powerful army, and ultimately the only effective defense against a powerful navy was another powerful navy. When Theodore Roosevelt wished to announce that America had come of imperial age, he sent neither ambassadors nor armies around the world but the Great White Fleet. In dealing with the smaller and weaker nations, the visit of a single warship might quell trouble.
"Victory at Sea" (March 1999)
The story of the American war is incomplete without the sweep and strategic stakes of the war at sea, in which 104,985 American sailors and Marines were wounded, 56,683 were killed, and more than 500 U.S. naval vessels were sunk. By David M. Kennedy
As World War II opened, naval power was still thought paramount, and the buildup to war had been also a buildup of navies. "At the end of 1938, the warship builders of the world were busier than at any date since the World War concluded," reported the 1939 Britannica Book of the Year. "Every state of importance is taking measures to increase its naval strength." At the opening of the war Britain, which had destroyed Napoleon's empire and built its own on the strength of its might at sea, had a navy more than equal to the navies of France, Germany, and Italy put together: eighteen battleships and pocket cruisers, ten aircraft carriers, fifteen heavy cruisers, sixty-two light cruisers, 205 destroyers, 121 lesser surface ships, and seventy submarines.