Dr. Edward J. Marolda
Naval Historical Center
In March 1971, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., the Chief of Naval Operations, informed a hushed Senate Appropriations Committee that if the United States Navy were to fight the Soviet Navy in a conventional war, "we would lose." Just before his retirement in 1974, he observed that "we stand now at our point of greatest weakness and, in my estimate, in our greatest jeopardy." The admiral added: "The United States has lost control of the sea lanes to the Soviet Union." Zumwalt's successor, Admiral James L. Holloway III, at the end of his tour in 1978, concluded that the U.S. Navy retained only a "slim margin of superiority. . . in those scenarios involving our most vital interests." Persuaded by these and other naval leaders that the Soviet Navy was on the move around the globe, an alarmed Congress lavished resources on the Navy Department in the 1980s, enabling Secretary John Lehman and his chiefs of naval operations to build their almost 600-ship fleet.
Now we are told by journalist Gregory L. Vistica, in his recent work, Fall From Glory: The Men Who Sank the U.S. Navy, that for over two decades during the late Cold War the Navy's leaders "had chosen to perpetrate a lie;" to wit, that they knew that the Soviet Navy was a "paper tiger" but hid that fact from the American people. Hence, the battle lines have been drawn on this issue. Few individuals have been as close to that subject as some of the men and women with us today, on the dias and in our distinguished audience. We look forward to your insights on this critical topic.
As the title of our conference indicates, however, at times cooperation also characterized the Cold War interaction between the U.S. and Soviet navies. Both sides recognized that an unanticipated incident at sea, involving the heavily armed naval vessels of the two superpowers, could have lead to global conflagration. The Incidents at Sea Agreement and similar measures resulted from that cold-eyed assessment.
Happily, the days of Cold War confrontation are over. Indeed, we are here today--Russians and Americans--to recognize the current mutual friendship of our two peoples and to honor the 300th anniversary of the proud Russian Navy.