Here’s a pop-culture metaphor for you. Operating off a strong nation’s coasts in wartime is like playing an away game in football. And boy, does the home team have a heckuva TwelfthMan in the stands. The visiting team may be the biggest, baddest, and best-coached on the field, yet still find itself facing long odds. It has to battle more than the opposing team that takes the field.
The parallel between the gridiron and naval warfare is exact. Well, except for a few slight tweaks. There are no umpires to enforce the rules. Hospitality toward visiting teams is unheard-of. The home team offers the visitors no locker room to take refuge, and no Gatorade to quench their thirst on the sidelines.
Most importantly, the fans do more than trash-talk. They arm themselves with big rocks along with their beer and hotdogs from the concession stand. The announcer, cheerleaders, and mascot exhort them to fling stones at the visiting team from the time the team buses pull into the stadium parking lot, coming within range of the strongest arms in the crowd, until the game ends with the visitors slinking away. That includes pregame warmups, timeouts, and halftime. Yet even the surliest home crowd is off-limits to retaliation from the visitors, unless they crave some truly bad press from Sports Illustrated.
Access-denial, in short, is a MadMaxBeyondThunderdome version of the NCAA or NFL. You’d have to like the home team’s chances with that kind of home-field advantage, even if, say, the overmatched Hawaii Rainbow Warriors were hosting the mighty Southern California Trojans at Aloha Stadium. Mellow Honolulu crowds would bay for blood!! Especially after how USCpoundedtheirteaminLosAngeles to open the 2012 season.
That’s a fair approximation of how the home-field advantage works in the rough-and-tumble league of power politics. There’s no superior authority to referee international disputes. The coastal state goes out of its way to make offshore waters and skies inhospitable to stronger intruders. The defender holds the advantages of close proximity to the theater, nearby bases, abundant manpower, and a panoply of shore-fired weaponry to back up its navy.
Like our Hawaii fans wearing their game faces, barrages from armies and air forces help even a lesser navy stand a fighting chance. And the power trying to pry open a major regional antagonist’s near abroad dares not strike hard, if at all, at that antagonist’s homeland, for fear of escalating a limited conflict and inflaming popular sentiment against it.
Few teams would be pushovers under such circumstances. The U.S. Navy only plays away games. In the brave new world of anti-access, figuring out how to subdue regional adversaries’ Twelfth Man is thus a matter of enormous consequence for the navy’s quarterbacks and coaching staff. How they will arrange the Xs and Os on the blackboard remains to be seen.