Here’s a thing I’ve been noticing with our southerly neighbours. Everyone knows I’m a pretty pro-America Canadian with an interest in their politics and history. What I want to talk about here is when one of those two things infringes upon the other – that is to say, when politics infringes on history. I’m a member of a naval family, and I’ve managed to get a decent idea of what naval history means to the members of the service.
So let’s point this towards our friends in the United States Navy, and how politicians are seriously fucking with their mojo. They’ve been playing politics with naming ships, specifically their capital ships, and that is bad. Sailors tend to take these things seriously, and a lot of them, even now, are superstitious.
Nobody wants to serve on a cursed ship. Nobody wants to serve on a ship that might have a name that is anything less than illustrious, and I think that naming something the Gerald R. Ford is a really, really bad start. Down to brass tacks – the last three administrations chose carrier names based on political affiliation.
The USN has added, since 1960, 15 carriers with a sixteenth named and under construction. Since 1972, all carriers have been named after people; previous to that, they bore names like Kitty Hawk, Constellation, America, and Enterprise. The John F. Kennedy was also commissioned in 1968, named after the recently late president. In 1972, the first of a new class was christened – Nimitz, after Chester Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet in World War II and a man who did just as much to win the war in the Pacific as Eisenhower did in Europe. Since then, the names have been rather more dubious.
The Dwight D. Eisenhower, after the Republican president, was named in 1970 (shortly after the Nimitz‘s name was announced), by Richard Nixon, who had served as Ike’s Vice President. Nixon also ordered the Carl Vinson, named after a Democratic member of Congress. So he was fairly balanced – one Republican, one Democrat, and one Admiral, all of which with impeccable credentials to be considered worthy to have a US carrier named after them.
Reagan & G.H.W. Bush ordered the Theodore Roosevelt, the Abraham Lincoln, the George Washington, and the John C. Stennis. Two Republican presidents, one non-aligned president, and one Democratic Senator. Again, all men were considered great or important and all have grand credentials. You’d be hard pressed to pick more deserving presidents than TR, Abe, Geo. Washington, and Ike to have ships named after them.
President Bill Clinton named one: the Harry S Truman – a Democratic president. And George W. Bush named three – Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Gerald R. Ford. Now here’s where we get to the “what the fuck”.
Bill picked a president who had been around for awhile, and is currently considered quite good. And that’s fine and all, but what about FDR? What about Woodrow Wilson? There are options here, of course. But that’s not really as bad as GWB’s selections. Ronald Reagan was not a good president (despite conservative love in the US), and the man served in the Army Reserve. I think this was just the standard Reagan sycophantism in the Republican Party.
If anyone else had named the George H. W. Bush, then I’d be perfectly fine with it. As it is, I’m pretty much OK – GHWB was a legitimate war hero. He was the youngest naval aviator in the USN in World War II, and flew combat missions at age 19 off of the USS San Jacinto, winning a plethora of medals. But Jerry Ford? Come ON. The man’s considered a failure as a President. But at least he was in the navy, unlike Reagan.
In the end, these names are pretty much based on their fucking party. That’s why I think the current president, who will get to name at least one and maybe two hulls, should very seriously consider these names. There’s lots of great and historical names out there, names that mean a lot in the history of the United States Navy – names like Yorktown, Ranger, and Constellation. America, United States, President. And in 2012, a new name will become available, one I think should be chosen – Enterprise.
Some bills have been pushed into Congress suggesting names like Arizona and the Barry Goldwater. I think the former is inappropriate and the latter is stupid. Obama may choose a Democratic president – or he may choose a more abstract name. I think that a return to the abstract is called for, and may the history of the United States Navy be allowed to continue without consideration for politics and politicians – men and women that can never live up to the glory already earned by names like Lexington, Yorktown, and Enterprise.