Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Admiral William B. Caperton, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations




CONFIDENTIAL                     10 November, 1918.

To:  Chief of Naval Operations.

Subject: Naval Policy in South Atlantic.

     1. In view of the possible early termination of the war, and of his own prospective retirement next June, the Commander-in-Chief desires at this time to make recommendations to the Department, based upon his year and a half of duty in command on the South Atlantic station, with regard to our future naval policy here.

     2. In writing upon this subject at this time, the Commander-in-Chief desires first to express to the Department his deep appreciation of the honor rendered him in his assignment to this duty and his continuance in his present rank, and his desire to continue in this duty as long as his services may be desired by the Department. In looking forward, however, to the time when his relief may be necessary by reason of his retirement, or for other reason, he desires earnestly to recommend that a United States naval force, with a flag officer in command, be permanently continued on this station.

     3. Both for diplomatic and for trade reasons, it is manifest that one of the most important of our foreign policies, both now and after the war, is the development and maintenance of intimate and friendly relations with the countries of Latin America. Of the several means of establishing and maintaining such close relationship, the visit of naval squadrons and vessels is one of the most easily accomplished and most effective. Such visits are of value even when only occasional, like the short European cruises made by divisions of the Atlantic Fleet during the years 1910 to 1913, as they offer opportunity for public entertainment and focus public attention upon the international courtesies attendant thereto. They may be said to be a sort of national advertising. The first visit last year of the United States squadron to the capitals of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina was of this nature, and as such was worth much in crystalizing public sentiment.

     4. When, however, it is possible to maintain a naval force permanently on a foreign station, much more can be accomplished by reason of the closer personal contact of the officers and men with the inhabitants of the ports which they habitually visit. The high character of the officers, and no less that of the enlisted men of our service, serves to make a favorable impression upon large numbers of people, and, together with the many personal friendships which are formed with the inhabitants, has a far-reaching effect in creating a prejudice in favor of our people and our country.

     5. As a more complete exposition of the reasons for maintaining a permanent South American Squadron, the Commander-in-Chief desires to submit the following brief outline of the international situation in these countries, in so far as it affects their relation with the United States, as he has come to understand it after a year and a half on this station.

     6. Practically all the Latin American countries have had, and to a large extent still have, a distrust for the United States, which in some instances amounts to dislike. This is due to: (1) the natural suspicion and fear which a weak nation feels towards a powerful, rich and energetic neighbor; (2) suspicion that the Monroe Doctrine may involve a domination of the whole Western Hemisphere by the United States; (3) in some of these countries, memory of real or fancied slights imposed upon them by the United States, such as the Baltimore incident in Chile,1 the Benham affair in Brazil,2 and in Argentina real or fancied trade discrimination. The policy of the United States in maintaining order in certain West Indian and Central American republics has been quoted as evidence of aggressive intent. All of this has been aggravated by the tempermental differences between the Latin and the Anglo-Saxon.

     7. When the first division of the Pacific Fleet arrived in Brazil last year, under the courteous surface of official entertaining there was (though not then apparent to us), a strong prevailing sentiment still antagonistic to the United States. In Uruguay there had been, until only a short time before, an anti-American feeling, though for various reasons this was ripe to change. In Argentina there was, and still is, a very strong anti-American sentiment. During the last two years the prevailing sentiment in Brasil has become quite pro-American; the sentiment in Uruguay is overwhelmingly in our favor, and the feeling against us in Argentina has been somewhat reduced.

     8. These changes are due to a number of causes. The excellent work of our diplomatic representatives is not to be minimized. We are fortunate in having an exceedingly able consular service throughout this coast, and within their own sphere our consuls have undoubtedly rendered material assistance in this change. Colonies of zealous and far-seeing American residents have done their part. War conditions have favored American trade relations. The demonstration of our intention not to profit by the disorganized condition in Mexico has served largely to dispel previous doubts of our honesty of purpose towards the smaller nations. Our entry into the European war brought us many enthusiastic admirers in these countries, which are predominately pro-Ally, and the subsequent success of the Allies has had a strong influence. Convinced of the honest intentions of the United States, appreciating the true value of the Monroe Doctrine, and possible influenced by fear of their powerful neighbor to the south, the governments of Brazil and Uruguay have aligned themselves with the United States in pan-
American politics.

     9. With all of these contributing causes, however, it is believed that the largest single factor in fixing public opinion in Brazil and Uruguay strongly in our favor, has been the visits of our naval vessels. This belief is based on the voluntary and unprejudiced statements of a great many thinking people of all classes, including American citizens resident in these countries, American officials, citizens of the countries visited, foreign residents and foreign diplomats. The governments of these two countries had already determined their pro-American policies, but the presence of our squadron has served to translate these policies into a strong popular friendship for the United States, in a way which no other means could so effectively have done.

     10. In order that the good work so far accomplished may not be lost, and in order that no factor may be omitted which will help maintain the friendship of these countries, it is essential that a squadron be permanently maintained on this station. To give it proper dignity, this squadron should be commanded by an officer of flag rank, and he should have for his flagship a vessel of the armored cruiser or battleship class. The other vessels of his force should include at least two smaller cruisers which will be small enough to enter the many harbors in Brazil which are not open to vessels of deeper draft. Needless to say, the officer selected for this command should be carefully selected for his tact and diplomatic qualities, and the officers and men under him should be of the highest possible standard.

     11. This force will be of small military value. It will be entirely out of touch with the battle fleet, and its mission will be primarily diplomatic, rather than that of war preparedness. It is believed in every way desirable that it should be constituted a “South Atlantic Squadron”, operating directly under the orders of the Navy Department, and should not be a part of any fleet.3

W.B. CAPERTON           

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 678. Handwritten note at top of first page: “Copy for Admiral Benson.” The letter is typed on stationary and each page is headed the command and flagship name and the stamp “CONFIDENTIAL.”

Footnote 1: On 16 October 1891, a mob attacked a group of American sailors on shore leave from the cruiser U.S.S. Baltimore after on the American sailors spit on a picture of a Chilean national hero. Two sailors were killed and seventeen were injured. The Chilean government initially rejected American protests but after President Benjamin Harrison sent a strong message to the American Congress, Chile apologized and paid $75,000 in reparations. See, William F. Sater, Chile and the United States: Empires in Conflict (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990).

Footnote 2: Also known as the Rio de Janeiro Affair, it was a short bloodless engagement between a U.S. naval squadron commanded by RAdm. Andrew E. K. Benham and a force of Brazilian rebels commanded by RAdm. Saldanha Da Gama during the Brazilian Naval Revolt in January 1894. The Americans were protecting American commerce in the Brazilian port., consulted 11/1/18.

Footnote 3: No “South Atlantic Squadron” was created after World War I.

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