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comparatively short and is more vulnerable. If either be broken,
, it is probable that the other could be maintained intact, in which case communications with the Isthmus would be kept up. Both would have to be broken to prevent us from reinforcing an army on the Isthmus.
The erection, in time of peace, of fortifications to connnand the entrances to the canal will give to the maritime nations of the world grounds for believing that in so doing, we are failing to observe the obligations of the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, and what is worse, the belief would not be without foundation. The United States can not afford to be placed in such an equivocal position. It may confidently be predicted that if we abstain from erecting fortifications the canal will soon come to be recognized and accepted by all nations as a neutralized waterway in the fullest meaning of that term.
If the stipulations of the Hague Convention amount to anythiag, it is far better to abstain from erecting fortifications, because, in that case the canal will not be in danger of attack. Article XXV of that convention, which was agreed to by all the maritime nations of the world, stipulates that “the attack of towns, villages, habitations or buildings which are not defended is prohibited.”
There is a popular belief that if fortifications are built to command the entrances to the canal, it can be kept open to our own ships in time of war and closed to those of the enemy.
This is an error.
In order that the United States may enjoy the benefits and advantages of the canal in time of war, it is necessary that access to it and egress from it should be free and unobstructed; but access to it and egress from it can only be had, in time of war, while our fleets command the waters near the entrances. If the canal be blockaded by a hostile fleet, it will be of no more use to the United States than if it had never been built. Fortifications will not save it from blockade, no matter how many guns may be mounted to command the entrances.
It must not be forgotten that the Panama Canal is an artificial waterway very unlike a natural one. It is not even like the Suez Canal, which, though an artificial waterway, is at sea level and requires no locks. For a vessel to pass through the Panama Canal she must be lifted up eighty-odd feet above the sea into the summit level; she then steams across the Isthmus at this level and when she reaches the other side she must be lowered down to the level of the sea again. The actual process, though simple, requires careful management. The locks are themselves, therefore, a safeguard against the use of the canal by an enemy.
It may be asked, why should we construct fortifications for the defense of the Philippine Islands and not for the defense of the Panama Canal? The answer is, that in reality fortifications are not being constructed for the defense of those islands, but rather for that of a base of supplies for our navy. The defense of those islands depends on the ability of the navy to maintain its supremacy, in time of war, over the waters of the achipelago. That requires a naval base in that region. The fortifications are to protect that naval base. The defense of the canal also requires that the navy, in time of war, shall maintain control of the waters in its vicinity, but to do it, a naval base of operations in the canal is not necessary.
Suppose the canal to be opened to navigation and no fortifications built to command the entrances. What will happen in case of war with some maritime nation or nations capable of crossing either ocean with a fleet strong enough to drive ours off the sea and threaten the safety of the canal? How are we to meet that emergency under the conditions assumed that we have no fortifications commanding the entrances ?
It is safe to assume that our standing as a naval power will not be any lower with reference to other powers than it is to-day. The probabilities are that it will be higher by the time the canal is opened to navigation. It may, therefore, be assumed that a strong American fleet at no great distance from the Isthmus will always be available for defense. The enemy may come from different points of the compass, but he will endeavor to unite all his forces before he comes in contact with ours. He will not come from the East and the West at the same time; that would expose him to be being beaten in detail, as our forces would have a great advantage in shifting from one ocean to the other through the canal.
The first thing the attacking fleet must do is to get ours out of the way, either by destroying it or shutting it up in some harbor, or by so severely crippling it that it will be unable to assume the offensive. A naval battle is, therefore, the first thing to be anticipated, and considerable risk will be taken by both sides in bringing it about. The enemy will seek it because it is necessary for the success of his next operation, ours will not decline it unless it is apparent that the odds are strongly against us, because, even though the enemy be not defeated, he may be so crippled that he can not continue his movement against the canal. If that battle results in the defeat of the enemy, the danger of attack is over. If, on the other hand, our fleet should be beaten, the way to the canal will be open to the enemy. Under any circumstances, it is certain that the enemy's fleet will suffer considerably in this fight even though it be victorious. It is problematic, therefore, whether he will continue his movement or not. Suppose, however, that he does continue it, what will be his next move?
The line of communications with the United States on the side on which the battle takes place will be broken, but the one on the opposite side remaining intact, reinforcements of troops would be pouring into the Canal Zone and all available naval forces on that side would assemble there. The enemy might then demand the surrender of the canal, but this would, of course, be refused. It is improbable that he will bombard the entrance. There will be little or no advantage in that; on the contrary, the rules of war, the damage to foreign shipping that would inevitably result, and the indignation of the civilized world, would forbid. Will he risk sending his ships into the canal ? As only one ship could fight at a tiine, all advantage of preponderance of power would be lost. His fleet would not enter the canal until control of it had been secured, and in order to get control he must land troops and clear the country. These will be landed under cover of the guns of the fleet and then the struggle will be on land. As our land forces ought to be stronger than those of the enemy and our position better, the task laid out for him will not be an easy one. If the enemy should get possession of one end of the canal while our forces hold the other, it would be useless to both and could be destroyed by either.
The enemy, if strong enough, may detach a part of his fleet, sending it around the Horn or through the Straits of Magellan to cut our communications on the opposite side of the Isthmus. With these cut, and the enemy in command of the sea on both sides, it would only be a question of time when our forces would be compelled to yield. If this movement be too dangerous or involves the loss of too much time, he may prefer to fight it out on land, advancing from the side on which a landing had been effected. To accomplish all this, however, would be a stupendous accomplishment and the danger of failure in some part which would be fatal to the whole, would cause an enemy to hesitate in undertaking it. To insure success he must come in overpowering force, which we are scarcely justified in assuming. The most powerful maritime nation would not send its entire navy on such an errand, while we might put every ship we possess into the defense.
In these supposed operations no account has been taken of the effect a few submarines would have. But that the moral effect of their presence would have a restraining influence on the enemy's operations can not be doubted.
Suppose that instead of the canal being open and undefended there are heavy guns and mortars mounted at the entrances, mines laid and some guns of light caliber to cover the mine fields. That is all that is needed or proposed to command the entrances. What part would these play in the defense? They might compel the enemy to land at some other place than at the entrance to the canal, but as there are many places nearby where a landing can be made, that would cause him no serious difficulty. If the army, without permanent fortifications, could not prevent a landing at the entrance, one with them could not prevent it from being made nearby and the fortifications would then be taken in reverse.
It will thus be seen that fortifications commanding the entrances add little or nothing to the defense under the conditions assumed, which for the United States are the worst that can be imagined. Under more favorable conditions there would be still less need for them.
To sum up,
First, that the canal is liable to be damaged by a few men to such an extent that a suspension of navigation is inevitable; but that fortifications commanding the entrances will afford no protection what ever from this danger.
Second, that the apprehended danger of a hostile fleet passing through the canal in time of war, if there be no fortifications, is imaginary.
Third, the danger of bombardment is imaginary. The laws of nations forbid it. But if the laws of nations be defied, the locks and other accessories are all so far inland as to be beyond the range of the guns of enemies outside.
Fourth, an attack by a combined land and naval force is unlikely, but is possible. To prevent that, every place along the coast near the canal, where a landing could be made, should be occupied. To mount guns commanding the entrances to the canal will not suffice. If an attack be made by a force sufficiently strong, and it is inconceivable that it would be made by a weak one, fortifications commanding the entrances would not save it.
Fifth, the blockade of the canal is the danger most to be feared. That can only be made effective by a naval force stronger than ours and after a battle on the sea. Great Britain is the only nation that has a naval force strong enough to blockade the canal and she has renounced the right to do so by the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty.
Sixth, when the canal is open to navigation, it will become a coaling station for commercial as well as naval vessels. Possibly docks may be constructed and both should be protected, but both the coal pile and the docks will be inland beyond the reach of an enemy's guns on the outside. It will therefore be necessary for an enemy to come inside the canal to steal the one or damage the other. This will be prevented by the naval force that will always be present.
Seventh, fortifications commanding the entrance to the canal may be supposed to afford shelter to a defeated fleet which an open and unprotected one would not. But a victorious enemy would be compelled to enter the canal in any case to get at ours, and it is not conceivable that he would do so. The canal as a last resort, could be destroved, if necessary, to prevent its falling into his hands. Its destruction