Leadership: November 26, 1999


"Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" With those immortal words, Admiral Farragut sent his fleet through the minefields into Mobile Bay, the last Confederate port which the Union had not captured. But it was not quite so dramatic. Farragut had been anchored outside the bay for some time, and his staff had mapped it exhaustively. His aide, Flag Lieutenant Watson, had often rowed into the bay to inspect the mines (known then as torpedoes), finding that most of them had been so corroded by salt water that they would not work. Watson and his boat crew had sunk many of the mines by simply drilling a hole in the floats that held them in position. The Confederates were laying new mines every day (Farragut and his staff watched them doing this) and knew that their minefields were far less dangerous than they appeared. When he was ready for the final assault, Farragut again sent Watson and his boat into the harbor. They succeeded in clearing a path through the minefield beside a red Confederate buoy. Farragut warned all of his ship captains to keep east of the buoy, but the monitor Tecumseh went on the west side (exactly why is not clear), struck a mine, and sank. The lead ship, Brooklyn, then stopped. Farragut knew that the swept channel was probably still clear. He also knew that if his squadron stacked up behind the stopped Brooklyn and sinking Tecumseh in the middle of the minefield and ships began to mill around, some of the ships would eventually run into a mine (or a Confederate cannonball). He then sent a flag signal to Brooklyn "Damn the torpedoes" and gave a verbal order to the captain of his flagship "Full speed ahead, Drayton". The squadron pressed onward, and once inside the harbor defenses it was a relatively simple matter to capture the port, helping to shorten the Civil War. Years later, as Farragut retold the tale in speeches or books, he tended to leave out the part about Watson clearing a path or that the Tecumseh had wandered out of it. The two orders were compressed into the single quote we know today. While the danger from mines was not so immediate as the tale would seem to indicate, there was danger nonetheless in stopping the fleet in mid-channel, and it was that split-second of time in many battles where a single decisive command decides the outcome. Trusting in the confidence he had in his plan and preparations, Farragut displayed the best aspects of leadership and pressed on with the course he knew was right. --Stephen V Cole

Jane's Defense Weekly is the most respected and comprehensive printed military magazine on Earth. On the back cover of the 10 Nov issue appears an expensive! full-color full-page advertisement for the Institute of Supreme Military Science. This ad offers to design an invincible defense strategy for any nation, insisting that it can provide a deterrent so powerful that wars will be prevented before they begin. The ad notes that the Vedic Technology will provide a choice between "old fashioned" and out-dated destructive self-defense and the timeless and ultra-modern concept of preventive defense. The ad notes that the promised preventive defense will "transcend the nuclear levels of Natural Law", taking a nation to a point where power is "peaceful - indomitable - invincible". This ad is placed by a branch of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi organization. The Maharishi is known as a spiritual guru and mystic. It is unclear if the offered defense will include a mystical view into the future, or even better into the present intentions of the enemy, or whether it is simply a philosophy of preventing war through un-opposable strength. Presumably, it is something more than just a deterrence philosophy, since the ad indicates that the technology has never been available before, but is still timeless. Jane's cannot be faulted for accepting the ad (even if most readers will, at least at first, think it to be a joke), since business is business and money is money. Anyone willing to pay for full-color back-cover ads deserves the chance to state his case to the world. And it does appear that the Maharishi (and his staff) seriously believe they have something to contribute to the current movement to redefine national defense. --Stephen V Cole




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close