Jason S. Lowris
A RELUCTANT IMPERIALIST IN AN AGE OF SHIFTING PARADIGMS: THE CAREER OF GEORGE L. DYER, USN, 1870-1908.
(Under the direction of Professor Michael A. Palmer) Department of History, July 2000.
In 1986 Robert L. Beisner published From the Old Diplomacy to the New, 1865-1900. In that work Beisner applied to the study of American foreign policy the general outline of not simply change, but alteration of attitude and approach that Robert Wiebe had identified in his seminal A Search for Order. Beisner argued that between the end of the American Civil War and the turn of the century the United States underwent a dramatic "Paradigm shift" in its diplomacy. Foreign policy, developed by a growing professional proto-national security bureaucracy, replaced the haphazard foreign relations of the previous century.
In the midst of this paradigm shift, the U.S. Navy expanded, modernized, and grew more professional. The ramshackle fleet of Civil War leftovers gradually gave way to a new, more modern navy. Steam power replaced sail. Steel replaced wood and iron. A navy designed to show the flag and to protect American merchants now sought to play a broader national role, and in so doing fought fleet battles against Spain. Europe's oldest (and weakest) power, not only in the nearby Caribbean, but also in the far reaches of the Pacific. The United States, the world's leading industrial power, announced its presence on the world scene and by the end of the century had joined the ranks of the major powers.
This thesis will apply Beisner's macro-level theoretical approach at the micro-level: an examination of the professional life of George Leland Dyer. Dyer's career (1870-1908) spanned almost perfectly the era that was the focus of Beisner's work. During those years, Dyer rose from the ranks of a lowly lieutenant with little interest in the navy beyond his next billet or promotion, to a mid-ranked, far from the bellicose officer with anti-imperialist tendencies, to the naval governor of Guam, a colonial prize gained in the war with Spain.
The paradigm shift that served as the centerpiece of Beisner's From the Old Navy to the New is reflected not only in George Leland Dyer's career, but also in his thoughts and actions. Dyer experienced a personal "paradigm shift" that adapted Old Paradigm assumptions to the new Paradigm of early twentieth-century America.