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  #1  
Old 05-14-2008, 11:00 AM
MichaelQReilly MichaelQReilly is offline
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When did the US become a world power?

What this thread is NOT asking: I know when the US emerged on the stage as a world power; to be imprecise, lets say between 1900 and 1915.

What I am asking: At what time was the U.S. capable of being a world power?

My WAG: I think that by 1865, the U.S. could have been a world power. I come to this conclusion by asking, "Could the U.S. have gone toe to toe with any of the other world powers and potentially have won? I say that the answer to this question is yes. Now I will grant that politically, the U.S. probably was not ready to have a large standing national army and navy like France, England, or Russia did or the will to go adventuring abroad. But, in terms of capabilities, I think that the U.S. could have. By 1865, the northeast of the U.S. had become as industrially developed (or pretty close) to the European powers, in fact much of the innovation in weapons technology was happening in America. I don't know the population numbers, but based on size alone, I think that the U.S. probably compared favorably to Europe. In terms of naval technology, the U.S. still had a huge merchant fleet, ship building industry, and was on the forefront of naval innovation; so I'm assuming they could have scaled up their navy (although maybe not to England levels).

I'm curious to hear what everyone else thinks. I know obviously the Civil War and its after affects come into play here, but theoretically had the U.S. fought one of the other world powers circa 1865, I see no reason why it wouldn't have been able to more than hold its own.

Last edited by MichaelQReilly; 05-14-2008 at 11:00 AM..
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  #2  
Old 05-14-2008, 11:10 AM
Sitnam Sitnam is offline
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I think the Monroe Doctrine was a declaration of world power status. So, 1823.
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Old 05-14-2008, 11:26 AM
Alessan Alessan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sitnam
I think the Monroe Doctrine was a declaration of world power status. So, 1823.
I'd define the Monroe Doctrine as a decleration of regional power, pretty much by definition. If anything, the launch of the Great White Fleet in 1907 was America's first real decleration of itself as a global power.
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Old 05-14-2008, 11:55 AM
Mr. Moto Mr. Moto is offline
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I don't even know about that. One of our first conflicts was against the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean - and if that isn't projecting power overseas, then that term has little meaning.

So I'd trace our world power status to the Jefferson administration.
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Old 05-14-2008, 12:00 PM
MichaelQReilly MichaelQReilly is offline
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Originally Posted by Mr. Moto
I don't even know about that. One of our first conflicts was against the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean - and if that isn't projecting power overseas, then that term has little meaning.

So I'd trace our world power status to the Jefferson administration.
On the flip side though, to be a world power you have to be able to fight and beat other world powers. Except for fighting at home (and the U.S. didn't even do that well when it fought what was essential England's 7th string army in the War of 1812), the U.S. would have gotten completely trashed by any of the other major powers during that time period.
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Old 05-14-2008, 12:21 PM
Chimera Chimera is offline
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Originally Posted by Alessan
I'd define the Monroe Doctrine as a decleration of regional power, pretty much by definition. If anything, the launch of the Great White Fleet in 1907 was America's first real decleration of itself as a global power.
I'd step back a few years to the Spanish-American War in 1898 when we decided that we wanted control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Phillipines. We basically stepped onto the world stage by stripping a former world power of most of it's remaining colonies.
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Old 05-14-2008, 12:42 PM
Odesio Odesio is offline
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The U.S. wasn't capable of being a real world power until they started building a strong navy as advocated by Alfred Thayer Mahan in The Influence of Seapower Upon History,1660-1783 published around 1890 --I think--.

Without a strong navy the United States could not be a true world power. I do think that following the Civil War the United States could arguably have had the most powerful and modern army in the world at that time. Good luck getting them farther than Canada or Mexico though.

Marc
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Old 05-14-2008, 12:44 PM
Mr. Moto Mr. Moto is offline
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Perhaps years before that - the opening of Japan to foreign trade was accomplished by a flotilla of U.S. Navy warships led by Commodore Perry.

I don't think there is a really definitive answer to this question.
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Old 05-14-2008, 12:53 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is offline
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During the Civil War the Union army was the most powerful army in the entire world. It would have trashed any European army it faced. The only trouble is, there was no possible way the Union army would face a European army, because there was no possible way for the Union army to fight in Europe, and there was no possible way for a European army to fight in America. The only possible such conflict would be a fight between the USA and Britain in Canada, and in such a conflict the post-Civil War US army would walk all over the British.

But such a war was not fought, because no one wanted such a war. After the Civil War ended the US was concerned with annexing the west, not the north. There was plenty of room to expand that didn't involve a war with Britain, and those Civil War veterans headed west to fight the Indians rather than north to fight British Canada.

So the question is really a naval power/power projection question.
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Old 05-14-2008, 02:11 PM
mlees mlees is offline
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The US successfully transported and offloaded 12000 men by sea into Veracruz, Mexico, in 1848... not too shabby. Sending them to Europe might have been a little tougher, though.

Does anyone know if these men came from Texas, or some other part of the US? (If they shipped from Boston/New York, then the distances involved would have been comparable to sending them to Europe.)

Last edited by mlees; 05-14-2008 at 02:14 PM..
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  #11  
Old 05-14-2008, 02:14 PM
MichaelQReilly MichaelQReilly is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemur866
During the Civil War the Union army was the most powerful army in the entire world. It would have trashed any European army it faced. The only trouble is, there was no possible way the Union army would face a European army, because there was no possible way for the Union army to fight in Europe, and there was no possible way for a European army to fight in America. The only possible such conflict would be a fight between the USA and Britain in Canada, and in such a conflict the post-Civil War US army would walk all over the British.

But such a war was not fought, because no one wanted such a war. After the Civil War ended the US was concerned with annexing the west, not the north. There was plenty of room to expand that didn't involve a war with Britain, and those Civil War veterans headed west to fight the Indians rather than north to fight British Canada.

So the question is really a naval power/power projection question.
Yeah, this kind of gets at the heart of my question. I wonder just how powerful the U.S. navy circa 1865 was. There is an argument to be made that they had the largest number of, and most experience with ironclads. But than again, I think most of their ironclads were designed for coastal/river combat. I think that most of the union blockade was carried out with old fashioned wooden sail ships or sail steam hybrids. I doubt the U.S. navy would be in the same league as England as an effective world wide force for another 25 years or so.

To change things up slightly, given the thrashing the U.S. gave Mexico a decade prior to the Civil War, was it already a world power then? Certainly it was the premier power in the hemisphere, but that is as much a testament to the ramshackle nature of the rest of the hemisphere as anything else. I wonder how it would have performed against a country that had its shit together.

Last edited by MichaelQReilly; 05-14-2008 at 02:16 PM..
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  #12  
Old 05-14-2008, 02:25 PM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MichaelQReilly
I doubt the U.S. navy would be in the same league as England as an effective world wide force for another 25 years or so.
If we're talking could, then the U.S. could have matched England in ships well before the Civil War, or during it, or after. It didn't because it had no reason to.
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  #13  
Old 05-14-2008, 02:32 PM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alessan
I'd define the Monroe Doctrine as a decleration of regional power, pretty much by definition. If anything, the launch of the Great White Fleet in 1907 was America's first real decleration of itself as a global power.
This would be my initial breakpoint too, although the United States did not really exercise its status as a world power, i.e. predominately influencing the actions of other nations until leading up to WWII and Lend-Lease program. Following WWII, the rebuilding of Europe under the Marshall Plan, the division of Germany with the west being under NATO (and thus, predominately American and British) control, and American wartime expansion into the Pacific and Asia along with the incipient collapse of European colonialism in Asia and the Middle East led to a substantial permanent and predominate American influence in essentially all continents except for Africa. The United States and the U.S.S.R. emerged as industrial and military superpowers in the void left by the embattled and devastated European colonial powers, post-imperial Japan, and post-revolutionary China.

Stranger
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  #14  
Old 05-14-2008, 02:39 PM
MrDibble MrDibble is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chimera
I'd step back a few years to the Spanish-American War in 1898 when we decided that we wanted control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Phillipines. We basically stepped onto the world stage by stripping a former world power of most of it's remaining colonies.
This gets my vote. Fighting a war or action in one place (like the Barbary pirates) does not a world power make. Taking on another power anywhere and everywhere does.
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  #15  
Old 05-14-2008, 02:40 PM
Kalhoun Kalhoun is offline
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Does it have to be in a military sense? I think our true strength came through innovation. The industrial revolution also had an indirect (direct?) hand in making us a world power. I'm not a big history or military buff, particularly, but it seems you can't achieve world power status simply by winning wars. There are lots of things in the mix.
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  #16  
Old 05-14-2008, 02:43 PM
Voyager Voyager is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemur866
During the Civil War the Union army was the most powerful army in the entire world. It would have trashed any European army it faced. The only trouble is, there was no possible way the Union army would face a European army, because there was no possible way for the Union army to fight in Europe, and there was no possible way for a European army to fight in America. The only possible such conflict would be a fight between the USA and Britain in Canada, and in such a conflict the post-Civil War US army would walk all over the British.
It would need an ally in Europe as a base, but then I doubt we could have projected power in Europe in WW II without England as a base either. So I'd put the time as the Civil War.

As for the Monroe Doctrine, that only worked because a real world power, the British, agreed, and wanted to issue a bilateral statement. J Q Adams, the real author, made it unilateral, but I suspect it would have little force without de facto British backing. Cite
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  #17  
Old 05-14-2008, 02:44 PM
Two and a Half Inches of Fun Two and a Half Inches of Fun is offline
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Is military power the only criterion we are using in this thread? I doubt many people would say that Saudi Arabia is not a world power, but its military is not capable of launching an intercontinental war with another world power.
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  #18  
Old 05-14-2008, 02:57 PM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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US Army in 1898 Was a Joke!

Quote:
Originally Posted by MrDibble
This gets my vote. Fighting a war or action in one place (like the Barbary pirates) does not a world power make. Taking on another power anywhere and everywhere does.
While it is true that the Spanish-American war marked the emergence of the USA as a world power, it is incorrect to say that the US had a world-class military. The navy was OK-but nowhere near that of GB. The US Army was a complete disaster-although staffed by competent officers, we hade Civil-war era weapons! Our soldiers were using black powder rifles against Spanish troops aremed with rapid-fire, smokeless cartidge Mauser rifles. It was only by luck 9and Spanish incompetency) that we "won' the war in Cuba.Most of our casualties were from yellow fever and eating spoiled canned meat (the meat was canned in 1865!)
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Old 05-14-2008, 02:59 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is offline
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Saudi Arabia is not a world power. It is, at best, a regional power. Sure, the Saudi government has a lot of spare cash compared to most third world shitholes, but it's a third world shithole with a lot of spare cash, not a world power.
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  #20  
Old 05-14-2008, 03:19 PM
mlees mlees is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ralph124c
While it is true that the Spanish-American war marked the emergence of the USA as a world power, it is incorrect to say that the US had a world-class military.
I don't think anybody's military was perfect...

Quote:
The navy was OK-but nowhere near that of GB.
The US pre-dreadnought designs were comparable to European designs of the time. US domestic production of armor plate was initially a bottleneck. The small size of the fleet in 1895 was due to political decisions, not due to capability.

Quote:
The US Army was a complete disaster-although staffed by competent officers, we hade Civil-war era weapons! Our soldiers were using black powder rifles against Spanish troops aremed with rapid-fire, smokeless cartidge Mauser rifles.
The wiki entries for the Winchester model 1894 lever action rifle ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winchester_Model_1894 ) and, more especially, the Springfield 1892 bolt action rifle ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Springfield_Model_1892-99 ) seem to indicate that these weapons were used in that time frame. (I assume the lever action rifle was used with mounted troops.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by wikipedia, Springfield link
It was the U.S. military's main rifle from 1894 to 1903 (when it was replaced by the M1903 Springfield rifle with its ballistically similar .30-03 cartridge), and found use in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War.
Quote:
It was only by luck 9and Spanish incompetency) that we "won' the war in Cuba.Most of our casualties were from yellow fever and eating spoiled canned meat (the meat was canned in 1865!)
Most casualties from all wars of the period include huge numbers of troops suffering from a variety of problems, like "trench foot". Nothing makes it a USA only problem.
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  #21  
Old 05-14-2008, 03:21 PM
Gorsnak Gorsnak is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Moto
I don't even know about that. One of our first conflicts was against the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean - and if that isn't projecting power overseas, then that term has little meaning.

So I'd trace our world power status to the Jefferson administration.
The "super-frigates" like the USS Constitution might have fared very well against the smaller RN frigates in the War of 1812, but they wouldn't have lasted three broadsides against a First Rate sail of the line like HMS Victory. To be a world power at that point in time you needed to have a squadron of real ships of the line. I believe the USN was badly outclassed by its European counterparts up until around the Civil War.
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  #22  
Old 05-14-2008, 05:35 PM
MichaelQReilly MichaelQReilly is offline
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Remember, the criteria is not when did the U.S. emerge as a world power. I think most would agree that happened between the Spanish-American War and WWI. Its when could the U.S. have been a world power. I would guess that between 1845 and 1865 that it was well on its way and by 1865 that it was probably equal or close to anybody.
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  #23  
Old 05-14-2008, 09:42 PM
Saint Cad Saint Cad is offline
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Originally Posted by smiling bandit
If we're talking could, then the U.S. could have matched England in ships well before the Civil War, or during it, or after. It didn't because it had no reason to.
But can the U.S. be considered a world power post Civil War with half of the country a strong industrial nation and the other half with an economy in ruins (and some would argue many of the economic problems in the South are still a result of Civil War/Reconstruction). I think you need to give the South time to recover.

I would place the time as Cleveland's second term (1893-1897). McKinley's Tarriff was shown to be disasterous, the beginning of the end of the protectionist mentality hurting American farmers. Also, his response to the Panic of 1893 helped stabilize the US economy and his acquiring of Hawaii started the overseas manifest destiny we see come into full bloom in the Spanish American War.

It is interesting to see what would have happened if Cleveland had not been such an isolationist in foreign policy.

Last edited by Saint Cad; 05-14-2008 at 09:44 PM..
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  #24  
Old 05-14-2008, 09:51 PM
Chimera Chimera is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MichaelQReilly
Remember, the criteria is not when did the U.S. emerge as a world power.
The problem is that title of the thread asks "when did", while the first post asks "At what time was the US capable of". These are two different questions.
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Old 05-14-2008, 09:53 PM
Saint Cad Saint Cad is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chimera
The problem is that title of the thread asks "when did", while the first post asks "At what time was the US capable of". These are two different questions.

And is it militarally? economically? impearialism? what does it mean to "go toe to toe"?
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  #26  
Old 05-14-2008, 10:11 PM
Chimera Chimera is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Saint Cad
And is it militarally? economically? impearialism? what does it mean to "go toe to toe"?
The OP undoubtedly means Militarily. Given our internal focus during most of the 1800's, that might be difficult to judge. To be sure, if external powers had forced us to look outside ourselves and defend our nation, we could have ramped up pretty well at any point post-civil war. But as I presume, probably contrary to some, that 'capable of' includes the desire and interest in doing so, then I have to go back to my original answer, the Spanish-American War of 1898, which is when we actively stepped onto the world stage and declared ourselves a world power by seizing the colonies of a declining world power. In those days, it was Empire and Colonies that made one a "Power", and that is when we made ourselves one in such a way as to be recognized by the other Powers.
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  #27  
Old 05-14-2008, 11:10 PM
Voyager Voyager is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ralph124c
While it is true that the Spanish-American war marked the emergence of the USA as a world power, it is incorrect to say that the US had a world-class military. The navy was OK-but nowhere near that of GB. The US Army was a complete disaster-although staffed by competent officers, we hade Civil-war era weapons!
In 1939 our weapons were a mess also. Not Civil War, but way out of date when compared to the Germans. I think the important point is what the country was capable of, not what it did when there was no threat on the horizon.
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Old 05-15-2008, 12:29 AM
Oslo Ostragoth Oslo Ostragoth is offline
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May I throw something else into the mix? The mid to late 1800's were marked by huge advances in agricultural productivity by Deere & Co. et al. If the USA had tried to extend itself, wouldn't those advances have accelerated?
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  #29  
Old 05-15-2008, 08:00 AM
MichaelQReilly MichaelQReilly is offline
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Originally Posted by Saint Cad
But can the U.S. be considered a world power post Civil War with half of the country a strong industrial nation and the other half with an economy in ruins (and some would argue many of the economic problems in the South are still a result of Civil War/Reconstruction). I think you need to give the South time to recover.
But if you penalized the U.S. for that, you'd also have to penalize Russia for its Potemkin Villages, England for Ireland, etc. The South was still pretty much a train wreck during WWI, yet it didn't have much affect on the country's status as a power. I think the North, on its own, would compare favorably size and population-wise to core of the other world powers circa 1865.
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  #30  
Old 05-15-2008, 08:15 AM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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I'd also say around the time of the Civil War. Manufacturing capability and military strength took a giant leap forward then, as political imperative joined with technological possibilities. The U.S. Navy at the close of the Civil War was the equal if not the superior of any other navy in the world, including a large fleet of ironclads (granted, most of those were for shallow-water sailing). The double-turreted monitor USS Miantonomoh's 1866-67 Atlantic crossing and European cruise was a sensation; the Times of London wrote, "The wolf is in our fold; the whole flock [the Royal Navy] is at its mercy." For ground forces, the Union Army at the end of the war was massive, well-trained and well-equipped. A Prussian military observer in Washington for the 1865 Grand Review reportedly gasped, "An army like this could conquer the world!"

But that was never the U.S. intent in the 19th century, and within a few years the army and navy were demobilized, leaving pretty much a hollow shell. There was never the national will at the time to become a "world power" as we would now think of it.
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Old 05-15-2008, 06:36 PM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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Quite True!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Voyager
In 1939 our weapons were a mess also. Not Civil War, but way out of date when compared to the Germans. I think the important point is what the country was capable of, not what it did when there was no threat on the horizon.
I heard that in 1938, the USA had a smaller Army than Portugal! General George Patton was given command of the the only armored regiment in the US Army-and had to pay for spare parts out of his own pocket!
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  #32  
Old 05-16-2008, 08:31 AM
Tristan Tristan is offline
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Indeed, correct. It was long standing US policy to ramp up the military for fighting, and then scale down afterwards. I believe after the Spanish-American war, the US Military was downsized to about 17,000 troops. (exact numbers are at home, will post then if you would like).

It was only after WWII, and the perception of the Soviet Union as a long term opponent, and the needs to have boots on the ground in Asia and Europe that the US kept a large scale military.

Today, we are dealing with the long term consequences of that. What will happen in another 20 years, I just don't know.

To address the OP, I have to agree with the 1860's as being the point as well. Before that point, the logistical ability of the US just didn't really have what it took to shift men, material and goods to maintain a "World Power" level of production (imo). Afterwards, they did, and could. They chose not to, but they could have.
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  #33  
Old 05-16-2008, 02:13 PM
GomiBoy GomiBoy is offline
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The US military was traditionally (until after 1945 - hence Eisenhower's speech warning of the rising power of the military-industrial complex) rewarded (or punished, depending on your perspective) for winning wars by being dramatically down-sized directly after. For this reason alone, I think military capability has little to do with the capability of being a world power; the capability to rapidly put an entire country on a war footing and outperform your enemies in creating and supplying a military, as well as the capability to project power abroad, has a lot more to do with it.

Four examples:
In 1860, the US Army was largely state militias, only loosely grouped together into a whole with a unified command and control coming about only with the advent of war. Once the war started, however (and more so in the North than the South due to more industrialization) the Army was rapidly re-organized, re-armed, and re-trained with modern equipment. The turn-around was less than a year from a bunch of hick local state militias with obsolete weapons, training, and tactics to a unified, armed and modernized army that was the equal of any other country in the world. It took a bit longer in the South, but it still happened rather quickly.

In 1897, the military was tiny. It was called the US Army, but again was largely state militias joined together loosely at best and used largely for internal policing and western expansion with only occasional and brief extra-continental forays. Once the war with Spain started, however, again we had an incredibly rapid turn-around and the technology gap closed incredibly quickly and soon we were more well-armed and more modern then our enemies.

In the run-up to the Great War, the US was behind in nearly every military area - ships of the line, infantry arms, tanks, everything. Yet again, our industrial power led to an incredibly rapid re-arming and updating of our soldiers so that by the time they deployed our military was the equal of, if not the better of, any other European army and with a better logistical structure behind them to keep them full of ammo and beans and enough surplus production to help feed and arm our allies as well.

Finally, in 1938, the US military was a joke compared to any European power. Few soldiers, few guns, almost no tanks, airplanes, or ships; spare parts were sparse and hard to come by, and most of the weapons systems were hand-made rather than made through mass production - the M1911 .45 ACP pistol, the Thompson sub-machine gun, and the M1 Garand, staples of the US Infantry load-out in WW2, were hand-made until 1939 when they were started to be created through mass-production means. The Navy probably was the best off of any service and at least had a few modern ships especially battleships, but the Army was still flying paper-winged biplanes with hand-dropped small bombs in 1938. By 1940, the Air Corps was fully modernized and we were building dramatic numbers of ships, planes, guns, and tanks for lend-lease; further extension of this industrial capability after Pearl Harbor meant we were basically fully modernized as a military as well as outperforming any other nation on earth industrially to keep our troops in ammo and beans and again had enough surplus capability to feed and arm our allies as well as our own people with only limited conservation on our own people.

So to me, the key answer to the question of 'when could the US have become a world power' is as soon as our industrial capability and logistical infrastructure could support projection of power globally, could support the creation and maintenance of a large army capable of international operations, and could do both of those without too adversely impacting standard of living and capability of civilian industrial improvements.

So I would say somewhere around 1850 or so, although internal matters and politics meant it didn't happen until much later.
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