Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ship Toilets and the Cult of Personality

www.navytimes.com
I am an omnivore in reading, my eye attracted by a I gotta read that! headline or the interesting title of a book. The other day I happened to read a story about one of the US Navy's most modern ships, the aircraft carrier USS George H W Bush. The big ship, the $6.2 billion ship, is having trouble with its toilet system, a new design.

That's news, but the name of the ship in contrast to the name of the ship in a nonfiction book I'm currently reading (the USS Franklin, a WW II era aircraft carrier), provoked me to wonder why the US Navy and Congress turned their back on an historic and truly American tradition.

The aircraft carriers are the pride of the Navy. During World War II, when aircraft carriers became the capital ships of the Navy, the large class carriers were named ...
  • Essex
  • Lexington
  • Yorktown
  • Bunker Hill
  • Wasp
  • Hornet
  • Franklin
  • Hancock 
  • Ticonderoga
  • Bennington
  • Shangri-La
  • Randolph
  • Bon Homme Richard
  • Antietam
  • Boxer 
  • Lake Champlain
  • Princeton
  • Tarawa
  • Kearsarge
  • Leyte
  • Philippine Sea
  • Valley Forge
  • Oriskany
Most of the names commemorate battles. A few commemorate patriots of great note. Wasp and Hornet are traditional ship names. Bon Homme Richard was the name of John Paul Jones' ship.

Contrast that with the names of the current active US Navy aircraft carriers.
  • Enterprise
  • Nimitz
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower 
  • Carl Vinson 
  • Theodore Roosevelt 
  • Abraham Lincoln 
  • George Washington 
  • John C. Stennis 
  • Harry S. Truman 
  • Ronald Reagan 
  • George H.W. Bush 
There are two more under construction, Gerald R. Ford and John F. Kennedy (the second of that name). 

Only the Enterprise bears a traditional, historic ship name. Eisenhower, Roosevelt, Washington, Truman, Nimitz -- all names of good men who served the United States heroically. 

But Carl Vinson and John Stennis were long-serving Dixiecrat senators from the south who happened to hold the purse strings on the Armed Services Committee for no reason other than they lived to be elected, and reelected time after time. Both came from the segregated south when a Republican couldn't be elected dog-catcher. Both opposed civil rights. Name a post office for those reactionaries, or a bridge, but not an aircraft carrier. Cult of personality, indeed.

I wish the Navy would return to the old names like Yorktown and Lexington, Wasp and Hornet.


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