Mahan and Kaiser Wilhelm II


In my analysis of these two documents, “A Place in the Sun” by Kaiser Wilhelm II and “The Influence of Sea Power on History” by Alfred T. Mahan, we see many clues about the national policies of Germany and the United States especially concerning each countries priority to build up naval power. This prioritization of naval power stems from both country’s desire to compete with other great naval powers, particularly Great Britain, and to develop commercial markets and, once developed, to protect newly established commerce and trade. Underlying these market-driven motives was a fierce competitive spirit that drove both nations to devote great financial and human resources to the build-up of their naval resources.

In Kaiser Wilhelm III’s “A Place in the Sun” written in 1901, he acknowledged that Germany’s “future lies upon the water” (Wilhelm). The former Hanseatic League, a confederation of merchant guilds and market towns, lacked the power to enforce commercial interests beyond their borders. Wilhelm saw the formation of the empire as a necessary force which would allow Germany to look beyond its borders. He said, “I therefore rejoice over every citizen, whether from Hamburg, Breman, or Lubeck, who goes forth with this large outlook and seeks new points where we can drive in the nail on which to hang our armor” (Wilhelm). This sentiment reflects the new outlook – a call to seek markets beyond the borders of the Empire.

Historian Michael Rapport explains the competitive spirit that drove German imperialism in a quote from a German newspaper of 1883 which said, “Germany could not watch ‘other nations appropriate great tracts of territory and the very rich natural resources that go with them’” (Rapport, 339). This competitiveness combined with what some historians have argued was the diversion provided by “overseas adventures” away from “domestic conflicts” provided the emotional reasons for this race for a place in the sun (Rapport, 342).

Alfred T. Mahan was an American Naval Historian and President of the United States Naval War College. In 1890, he wrote "The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783." In the excerpt, he wrote that sea power works in two unique, but interconnected ways; in peace or in war (Mahan). He wrote first of peace. That government can favor and promote policies which encourage the growth of industry and to seek adventure. In war, the government is called to maintain an armed navy so as to protect its shipping interests (Mahan). He acknowledges English naval power in the world as being a moderating force which protect her interests and facilitate communication between colonies and the mother country.

Mahan states that the “United States has not and is not likely to have [colonies].” This, written before the Spanish American war, was the reality of the time. However, this was soon to change when the United States gained influence in Cuba, the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico, and with the territories, new markets and peoples.

Both Wilhelm and Mahan acknowledge the justification for strong naval power. Competition with other colonizing powers, the need to establish new commercial markets and an expansion of territory.

Works Cited

Modern History Sourcebook: Kaiser Wilhelm II: A Place in the Sun, 1901

Alfred T. Mahan on Sea Power, 1890

Rapport, Michael. Nineteenth Century Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.