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Early Historical Overview of the Naval War College

By Robert Claypool

The United States Naval War College holds distinction as the oldest continuing institution of its type in the world. Located in Newport, Rhode Island, the Naval War College was established in 1884 to provide professional study programs for naval officers. The College took shape according to the vision and ideals of its founder, Admiral Stephen B. Luce, who noticed the lack of higher education and adequate training in key professional areas for Navy personnel.

Before the Naval War College, education and training in the United States Navy revolved around the technology and science of weaponry; no institution provided in-depth study of the topic of war itself. The Naval War College was the first to center on the study of how wars begin and end, how they are fought, and what measures can be taken to prevent them. In designing the original curriculum for the College, Admiral Luce established a fundamental approach to building a sociopolitical understanding of war and its various mechanisms. The Naval War College taught courses concerning government management, finance, international relations, grand strategy, and campaign tactics. Luce added war-gaming to the college’s curriculum as an analytical tool for linking political and military issues with advancing naval technology. Along with the College’s curriculum, Admiral Luce decided to include civilian academics on the faculty, a practice that endures today.

The College began accepting students from foreign navies in 1894, beginning the current variety of international programs presently available through the school. The Naval War College contributed strongly to operational naval doctrine in the 20th century and to a movement that brought about the chief of naval operations position in 1915. Adding a chief of naval operations with a ground-based staff provided a level of uniform professionalism not previously available.

About the Author

Robert Claypool is a retired United States Marine Corps Colonel and alumnus of the Naval War College.

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