For more than half a century, the battleship was the primary instrument of sea power and was, therefore, the fundamental strategic weapon of such navies as those of the United States and Great Britain. It excited the kind of high-level interest that today is as sociated with strategic missiles; in 1904 and again in 1908 the president of the United States himself examined the plans for the new American battleships. The battleship was also a political symbol, the single most expensive weapon system of its time. That was why the agreements to limit battleship construction, signed in 1921, 1930, and 1936, seemed so significant at the time. It was also why the U.S. decision to resume battleship construction in 1937, and then to invoke the escalator clause in tonnage the following year, was so painful. A few years later the battleship was again attacked as a symbol, this time in the political struggle for the primacy of air power: thus the pejorative implication of "battleship admiral."
Battleships still retain their evocative power and considerable glamor. When the New Jersey was re-commissioned, amid much debate, there was no lack of volunteers to man her. With their heavy guns, battleships are far more visibly powerful than the aircraft carriers and submarines which have eclipsed them. Visually, the New Jersey and her sister ships are surely the most elegant of all U.S. battleships and much more graceful than the aircraft carriers.