While American military dominance and a quasi-Pax American have been in place since the end of the Second World War, the United States remains a young world power. For most of the 19th century the United States was nothing more than a slight annoyance to most European powers.
It was not until after the American Civil War that the rest of the world began to take notice of the burgeoning military power in the New World. After the Civil War, a bloodied United States emerged stronger and became an economic powerhouse. The vast fields lined with crops and the churning factories of the northern cities were not enough to earn the respect of the world though. As American Naval Officer Alfred Thayer Mahan could have predicted, the American path to power would have to be earned on the seas.
Mahan commanded several ships without distinction during his long naval career, but his influence did not come from his actions. His writings on the necessity of great nations to establish naval power soon became a Bible for leaders to follow. Mahan’s writings helped to start a naval arms race in Europe. In the United States, his influence helped convince leaders to invest a modern capital fleet for national defense.
His advice prompted Congress to make important investments in defense during peacetime for perhaps the first time in American history. A legacy was established that a portion of income tax would be tied maintaining a strong standing force despite America’s heritage as a nation without a standing military.
Mahan’s views proved prophetic during the brief Spanish-American War. The American fleet proved itself during action against an established European power. The United States had a tiny empire and a spot on the world stage. It would take future conflicts to establish the United State as the dominant power, but by beginning of the 20th century the United States was already a significant naval power.