Nobody Asked Me But...

By J. M. Caiella

And yet the Navy doesn’t know how to connect with the public, even through the simplest of communicative methods. In trying to reach out to the masses of Americans for support for its programs, the service needs to understand that little things, like names, mean a lot. If they are trying to hook that farm kid from Iowa on a sea career, there has to be a better way than with “stirring” tales of John Murtha, Carl Vinson, Thomas S. Gates Jr., and Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson in the halls of government.

The basis of military service is that the citizenry of the United States of America asks our servicemen and women to put their lives on the line. To protect the rest of us, they may have to die. How do you get people in their teens or early 20s motivated to face the possibility of that sacrifice?

The simplest, most direct route is to have them buy into what sacrifice means. This is most readily found in our common history. When that farm kid signed onto the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) during the Vietnam War, his chiefs could tell him tales of past ships. Seven previous vessels bore that proud name in American naval service, before the nuclear-powered carrier. Her immediate forebear of World War II fame has a pages-long “rap” sheet.

A neophyte Sailor could easily buy into a tradition centuries old. With the right words, he could be convinced that he was a direct descendant—as he indeed was—of Enterprise Sailors dating back to 1775. Would that be something worth making the ultimate sacrifice for? Try making the same case when talking about Carl Vinson.

To aggregate the nation around its cause, the Navy should use names that are apolitical and historical. Political names immediately alienate a large segment of the population, often with passion that does not fade with time. Can the Navy afford this?

With the proper name, the service could keep nearly all of the population on its side. What Democrat, Republican, Independent, Tea Partier, or non-voter would dare find fault with America , Independence , Freedom , Liberty , United States , or Constitution ?

There is no doubt that Vinson, Gates, and Jackson were important to the Navy during their government service. But do their contributions merit what are arguably the three capital ship types of the Navy—a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, an Aegis guided-missile cruiser, and a nuclear-powered Trident missile submarine? The monetary cost of these ships is too dear to be wasted on a transitory political statement.

What is wrong with a destroyer? That type has honored more stellar and recognizable Navy, Marine Corps, and political names, including Captain John Paul Jones, Marine Commandant General David M. Shoup, founding father John Hancock, and Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey Jr.

As for the foreign constituency, no warship is as impressive as the four and a half acres of sovereign American territory displayed in a U.S. aircraft carrier. The message sent in a foreign port by a ship of that type named America is significant indeed. Over her half-century life, how many news outlets will report to their populations that the America has arrived? How much is that name worth in the foreign press compared with Vinson ?

This is not to denigrate that proud ship and the fine men and women who put her in the fight. But with a name that all Americans could take to heart, she could have been so much more to the nation, its citizens, the Navy, her crew, our friends, and our enemies.

What’s in a name? Everything.

 

Mr. Caiella, former senior editor of Proceedings and Naval History magazines, is an editor with the Marine Corps History Division, Quantico, Virginia.
 

Mr. Caiella is a senior editor of Naval History and Proceedings.

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