April 13, 2005

A Pet Peeve; Or, At Least It Won't Be Called USS Barney

The Navy is having an aircraft carrier built in Virginia (designated CVN-77) that is scheduled to enter service in 2009, replacing the retiring U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. The ship will be named U.S.S. George H. W. Bush.

This isn't the first time the Navy has chosen to honor retired politicians by naming capital ships after them. The lead ship in the Nimitz class bears the name of an actual admiral, but two of the remaining eight (Vinson and Stennis) are named after former chairmen of Congressional Armed Services Committees. The other six are named after Presidents whose relationship with the Navy ranged from profound (Theodore Roosevelt) to pro forma (Eisenhower).

I always admired the earlier Navy traditions of naming carriers after ships that had distinguished themselves in naval history (Enterprise, Ranger) or after important battles (e.g. Lexington and Midway. During World War II, when dozens of carriers were built, nearly all of them were named after battles). But I can't object to naming anything after George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, and nothing would have delighted Theodore Roosevelt more than "his" ship.

Surely, though, naming a $4.5 billion ship after the living father of the sitting President takes institutional sucking-up to an undesirable level, even by the standards of the Navy brass. I have nothing against the elder Bush personally. He served creditably in the Navy during World War II, as did thousands of other Americans; he was always well-mannered, considerate of his staff, and had a sense for the power of personal networking that I greatly admire. It is true that I never thought Bush a particularly good President, and that before Ronald Reagan handed him the Vice Presidential nomination in 1980 he had occupied a number of high-profile Washington posts just long enough to say he was there without ever accomplishing very much. So it's fair to say my high regard for Bush is not unqualified.

The Navy belongs to the whole country, not just to the people running it now. Its traditions are our traditions, and there is something unseemly and vaguely corrupt about so transparent an effort to curry favor with the politician who happens to occupy the White House. CVN-77 could have been well named according to earlier tradition, after one of the carriers that left glorious legacies in American naval history: Saratoga, Yorktown, Ranger. It could also have been named after one of the leaders who loom rather larger in our history than George H. W. Bush is likely to: Woodrow Wilson, for example, or my personal favorite George C. Marshall. Or after John Adams, to whom the Navy owes its very existence and who gave his name to a famous fighting warship of an earlier day.

The Navy, with things other than tradition to consider, chose a different course with CVN-77. This ship, as they say, has sailed. I just hope it isn't the lead ship in a convoy. All Presidents have relatives, you know; if there is a CVN-78 some years hence and its christening features a certain former governor of Arkansas, the Navy will have only itself to blame.

Posted by at April 13, 2005 05:12 PM | TrackBack (18)

Joe, what if Bush pére passes away before 2009?

Posted by: Bruce at April 13, 2005 06:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I favor naming capital ships after constitutional clauses and concepts. IMHO, ships like "The Right to Bear Arms" or "Freedom of Speech and of the Press" or "Equal Protection of the Laws" would be much more terrifying and intimidating than the "John C. Stennis"...

Posted by: Brad DeLong at April 13, 2005 07:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm kinda partial to "Serenity," which I guess falls into the "important battle" category (albeit fictional).

Either that or Natalie. :)

Posted by: fling93 at April 13, 2005 08:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I, too, like the tradition of naming after ships that had distinguished records - but Brad DeLong's idea isn't so bad, either!

Posted by: Miss O'Hara at April 13, 2005 09:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Navy's newset submarine is named after President Carter.

Posted by: Fred Boness at April 13, 2005 09:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I suspect that those serving on the Carter are bemused at best.

Posted by: Anderson at April 13, 2005 11:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

More info on the USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23)

Named for the 39th president of the United States, the vessel was commissioned in ceremonies at Naval Submarine Base New London, Conn.

The third and final U.S. Navy submarine in the Seawolf class, the swift and silent boat can sail under the polar ice cap or through shallow water near shore, armed with cruise missiles, mines, torpedoes, unmanned undersea vehicles, surveillance sensors and naval special warfare forces. It is equipped to deal with all threats to the national security, particularly rabbits.

Like its namesake, the "Jimmah" will be virtually indetectible, and will plumb new depths.

I may have had a bit of trouble with that excerpt...

I had a serious trivia question about George Marshall - how often has the Navy named a ship after an Army guy (no fair counting Generals turned Presdients. like Washington)?

Posted by: Tom Maguire at April 14, 2005 12:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The procedures and practices involved in Navy ship naming are the products of evolution and tradition than of legislation. The names for new ships are personally decided by the Secretary of the Navy. Ship name recommendations are conditioned by such factors as the name categories for ship types now being built, as approved by the Secretary of the Navy; the distribution of geographic names of ships of the Fleet; names borne by previous ships which distinguished themselves in service; names recommended by individuals and groups; and names of naval leaders, national figures, and deceased members of the Navy and Marine Corps who have been honored for heroism in war or for extraordinary achievement in peace. " - http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ship/names.htm

Posted by: The Kid at April 14, 2005 03:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I should add that I was disappointed to see that the categories for naming tugboats and oil tenders do not include presidents. Some other type of ship will therefore have to bear the name "Clinton."

Posted by: The Kid at April 14, 2005 03:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How about USS Richard M. Nixon for an electronic surveillance ship?

Posted by: John F at April 14, 2005 09:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It looks like Brad DeLong is a fan of Iain M Banks Culture novels.

Posted by: Alexei McDonald at April 14, 2005 12:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Aside from GHWB's 30 years of dedicated government service, I believe you fail to recognize his exemplary naval careeer. Lieutenant Bush was the youngest Naval Aviator in WWII, earning his wings at the age of 18. He flew 58 missions, performed one water bail out, and was shot down over Chuichi Jima. He was fished out by the submarine Finback and returned to his squadron. His unit suffered over 50% casualties and his ship the USS San Jacinto was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and 3 Air medals. I think the honor of having CVN-77 named for him is definitely warranted.

Posted by: Bret Eagan at April 14, 2005 04:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Things could be worse. CVN-77 could have been named after that celebrated Navy vet, John F. Kerry (who, by the way, served in Vietnam).

Posted by: George at April 14, 2005 05:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The common thread between Carter and Bush is that in addition to the presidency they both were naval officers. Wilson and Marshall and I would guess Adams were not.

Posted by: Don O'Shei at April 14, 2005 05:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have never voted for anyone named Bush and I never will but I dont have a problem with this. When naming ships after people, war records matter but all former naval officers who become president get ships named after them. Carter was a submariner and he got a sub, Bush was an aviator and he gets an aircraft carrier (and yes, if Kerry had been elected he would have had a ship named after him, probably one of the new small coastal warships being built for the war on terror). I would prefer the John McCain over the George Bush but a President trumps a Senator since both have excellent war records

Now is the Navy names a carrier after GWB before they name one after John McCain, then I think you have a case.

Posted by: Randy at April 14, 2005 07:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Randy, that's actually not true. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were both naval officers; neither has had a ship named after him. There is already a warship (a destroyer, I believe) named John S. McCain, but the namesake of this ship was Sen. JSM's grandfather, the great World War II carrier admiral.

Naming a capital ship after a man with a mildly distinguished combat record and one lackluster term in the White House I would put down merely to questionable judgement on the Navy's part, unfortunate perhaps but nothing worthy of comment. There seems little question, though, that CVN-77 was named as it was because its namesake's son sat in the White House at the time. That is what I object to.

Posted by: JEB at April 14, 2005 08:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If we are going to name ships after political figures I don't have much of a problem with naming one after former President Bush. But I'm not a fan of that approach for a host of reasons (for example, I don't know that I'd be thrilled to serve on a ship named after a segregationist senator). Giving ships names like Ranger, America, or Yorktown is the way to go - entities and events that all of us can be proud of. Alternatively, the British have had some great names from time to time. I mean if we are talking about warships naming them things like Invincible, Vanguard, Repulse or even Tiger seems more apt than naming something after an old Southern senator (not to suggest that senators can't be scary too).

Posted by: Armand at April 14, 2005 09:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm with you on the historic names. Traditionally, our carriers were named for battles, but I also like Wasp, Hornet, and Enterprise (though the latter has a British ring to it).

For strict constructionists, look at the names chosen for the six frigates authorized in 1794 When war with France loomed:

USS United States
USS Constellation
USS Constitution
USS Chesapeake
USS Congress
USS President

Hard to imagine calling one "Congress" today without inviting a raft of jokes, but Americans once were proud of our democratic institutions.

For the fleet, concepts work better than individuals.

I also lament the loss of state names for battleships and the city names for cruisers. It brought a sense of local pride and regionalism that I miss from the old America.

Posted by: Callimachus at April 14, 2005 11:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A USS Zell Miller could be plenty terrifying, I warrant!

Posted by: Bruce at April 14, 2005 11:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The present practice of naming after Presidents and political hacks I find deficient. I prefer old names such as Hornet, Wasp, and other famous carrier names that hand down the traditions of WWII naval aviation.

Posted by: Section9 at April 15, 2005 01:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As I said, I am not a big Bush fan and I have no doubts Junior being in the White House played a part in this but a Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals counts as more than a "mildly distinguished combat record", at least by Presidential service standards.

LBJ was a congressman when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He joined the Navy at that time and served for only 8 months. According to this CNN report , his only combat occurred after he talked FDR into sending him on an inspection tour of the southwest Pacific and while on the tour, MacArthur allowed him to go on a bombing mission as an observer. For action he saw during that one patrol, he was awarded "one of the most undeserved Silver Stars in history". I wonder how many Lt Commanders got personal attention from both FDR and MacArthur during WWII? Regardless, a sitting congressman doing an 8 month stint does not qualify as a Navy career. Maybe the Navy is being petty by not giving LBJ a ship but I dont blame them.

Nixon is a little more complicated. He joined the Navy as a LT JG in 1942, served in the South Pacific as a supply officer, achieved the rank of Lt Commander and was discharged in 1946. As far as I can find, he saw no combat. A solid, respectable if unspectacular record. He did his duty, he probably should have a ship but the political fire storm of naming a ship after Nixon would cost more political capital than the Navy wants to pay. At least up until now. They could still name a ship after him, maybe an auxiliary supply ship.

Carter, BTW, did not graduate from Annapolis until 1946 so he saw no combat.

Posted by: Randy at April 15, 2005 02:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I love the thought of a "USS Second Amendment"!

Posted by: cp at April 15, 2005 07:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

President Bush will not be the sitting president when this ship is commissioned, assuming that it will be commissioned after Jan. 09, which, I am sure will be the case.

Posted by: Guinness at April 15, 2005 08:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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