The U.S. Learned from the Russo-Japanese War

By | April 11, 2020

[April 11, 2020]  As I go about my business to teach leadership to young folks, the one complaint I hear often is that history courses are dull and mostly useless.  We can and, of course, we should learn and do so quickly, else we are destined to repeat past mistakes.  U.S. strategic leaders have learned from them, and one we rarely hear about is the Russo-Japanese War.

In 1905 at the Battle of Tsushima, Russia was dealt its final blow against their navy.  Losing fifty of fifty-three ships, the Russians settled the war against Japan with a lopsided agreement.  The U.S. took several lessons from the Russo-Japanese War, mostly how Russia was outfought both tactically and strategically.

America’s small navy was split between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Until the early 20th century, it took months to move navy ships from one ocean to the other.  In case of war, this risked piecemeal defeat at the hands of a much smaller naval adversary.  Leaders searched for a solution, and a shortcut across the land in Central America appeared to have the most practical, yet most difficult, answer.

In his book, Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans, USN (Retired) Admiral James Stavridis wrote about this war and its value to the U.S. in terms of crucial lessons learned.  He also noted that the age-old principle of warship captains “striking their colors” and surrendering their ships, as practiced for the last time.  When those Russian captains came home, they were court-martialed and sentenced to death.  Today, “don’t give up the ship” (the willingness to fight to the end) is the philosophy practiced by the U.S. Navy and most navies.

More importantly, the U.S. learned that the prosperity and independence of our nation depended deeply upon our naval forces.  The risk of not being able to concentrate warships quickly was simply too significant to ignore.  In 1881, the French attempted to build a canal in what was then Colombia’s province of Panama but found the project to be too difficult.

The U.S. looked upon the French project with renewed vigor.  With complex negotiations and a threat of the use of military force, America would soon gain the authority to start the largest engineering project at the time.  In 1914, the Isthmus of Panama was crossed and opened to traffic.

Building a canal solved the naval risk that had concerned so many military leaders for so long.  This is why the Russo-Japanese War loomed large in the minds of those thinking strategically.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

17 thoughts on “The U.S. Learned from the Russo-Japanese War

  1. Fred Weber

    Something else I learned about the war. Russo-Japanese War, (1904–05), military conflict in which a victorious Japan forced Russia to abandon its expansionist policy in East Asia, thereby becoming the first Asian power in modern times to defeat a European power.

    1. Max Foster

      Yes, the Russian government was confused and unrealistic in its policy leading up to the war with Japan and, indeed, in the conduct of the war itself. This fact, combined with the ineffective leadership of its troops, was, more than any other factor, responsible for its defeat.

  2. Karl J.

    Another on-target article. I do like your Battle-series articles. Must have written over 50 by now. Maybe you could create an electronic book on them for easy reading.

  3. The Kid 1945

    Yes, the US did learn from the Russo-Jap War like many others did. Too bad that Russia’s failure helped led to a further growth in the military mindset of Japan’s leadership and their racist ideology of racial superiority. To defeat a much larger foe – Russia – required some real aggressiveness.

  4. Yusaf from Texas

    Hashtag #SRtheGreatOne. Just had to write that. I believe you are one of the best guest bloggers here in this leadership forum than any other. Of course, you have a great many fans. We just would like to hear more from you.

  5. Sadako Red

    The study of war helps us even if we are not looking at learning about war and tactics or … war and strategy. I teaches us about people, our own psychology, and our inclinations for good and for evil. If you want to know more about this, then just read and think and ultimately write about war. It helps put our own thinking into context, allows others to comment, and focuses the mind. I hope to have another article here soon if only Gen. Satterfield will let me. Just kidding, he’s been prodding me for a while now to write more.

    1. Harry Donner

      Hi Sadako Red. Great news that you will write again for Satterfield’s leader blog. Also, great comment about the study of war. War seems to be a ‘natural’ condition of humankind. To believe that it is an aberration is to ignore the entirety of human existence.

    2. Greg Heyman

      Thank you SR, for another spot-on comment. Our forums are a great place to learn more and kick out the mind’s cobwebs that accumulate when listening to the news media. Thanks.

      1. Jerome Smith

        If only RED would write more, I would be happier and more satisfied (yes, I know the difference).
        I”ll go with Yusaf’s comment above, let’s #SRtheGreatOne. ……. ?

      2. Scotty Bush

        Good leader forum. Best I’ve been in. Easy to get feedback on your ideas without being put down as a nut. Plenty of nuts out there, however.

  6. Army Captain

    Yes, unexpectedly many lessons came from it. Also, US Pres. Teddy Roosevelt got the Nobel Peace Prize for helping sort out a peace between Japan and Russia.

    1. Georgie B.

      We should study this war a little more closely. It opened the dawn of the 20th century and brought about destruction that would be felt only a few years and a few decades later in WWI and WWII. Thanks Army Capt.

    2. JT Patterson

      Good comments so far in this leadership blog. As most of you know, I’m a regular here and get to read it just about every day. But I’ve seen a transformation into some great articles and flushing out of more ideas in the comment’s forum. I appreciate it, as I know I’ve improved as a thinker just by being here.

      1. Janna Faulkner

        I agree, JT. Same here, you and I are some of the originals. Thanks for sticking with us.

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