The echoes of the past reverberate in the present as the United States finds itself once again compelled to defend its maritime interests. A century apart, two presidents, Wilson and Biden, faced similar challenges – threats to international shipping prompting decisive action.
On February 1, 1917, Imperial Germany’s announcement of the resumption of an undeclared submarine war set off a chain of events that would draw the United States into World War I. Two days later, the American freighter Housatonic met its fate off the coast of England, sunk by the U-53. Fast forward to the present day, and the Houthi forces, on November 17, 2023, helicoptered on board MV Galaxy Leader, marking the beginning of a new chapter in maritime tensions.
As tensions escalated in 1917, President Wilson sought Congress’s authority to arm American merchant ships following the sinking of a second US vessel. When Congress refused, Wilson, on March 9, took matters into his own hands. In a parallel move in 2023, Houthi forces declared all ships connected to Israel as targets, leading major shipping lines, including Maersk Lines, to reroute their vessels around Africa.
The success of convoying US-flagged ships through the Red Sea on December 24 prompted a reconsideration by A.P. Moller – Maersk, mirroring the delicate decisions made by President Wilson over a century ago. However, on December 30/31, an attempted boarding of Maersk Hangzhou turned ships back, highlighting the persistent challenges faced by maritime trade.
On January 9, 2024, history repeated itself as four US ships came under direct attack in the Red Sea, facing the largest and most complex Houthi assault yet. The situation escalated, reminiscent of President Wilson’s plea for a declaration of war in 1917.
In a modern twist, President Biden, following a warning issued on January 3, authorized coordinated strikes against the Houthi forces. In a statement, he highlighted the direct response to the unprecedented attacks on international maritime vessels, emphasizing the endangerment of U.S. personnel, civilian mariners, and partners, as well as the jeopardization of global trade.
Reflecting on the events of 1917 and drawing parallels to the present, it becomes evident that the defense of maritime trade has been a recurring challenge for U.S. presidents. From Wilson’s call to arms to Biden’s authorization of strikes, history unfolds in a cyclical rhythm, underlining the enduring importance of safeguarding the seas for the prosperity of nations.