By Lieutenant C. K. Blackburn, U. S. Navy, Retired
The navy is at present facing a very serious misunderstanding throughout the country due to mistaken publicity. The public in general sees the navy only through reports given in the press. The press notices that are given, particularly in inland cities never deal with any activity of the navy except the celebrations and reviews which are special occasions.
Few people outside of those intimately connected with the service realize that a peace-time navy is a working organization. Most of them seem to feel that naval officers and enlisted personnel are on a constant joy-ride and are always in dress uniform and at social functions. The future of the navy seems seriously menaced by this misunderstanding.
Inland congressmen are representing their constituency when they vote against naval appropriation bills. No one cares to see his money wasted on constant entertainments in which he does not have a part. If the workers and voters generally can be brought to realize that the navy in peace times is really a harder working organization, if anything, than in war times a portion of the dissatisfaction that naval appropriations cause will be remedied.
We of the service know that preparation for war is as serious a proposition as the actual warfare itself. We realize that we are devoting our energy constantly to matters which are of service to the country in general and to the individual voter. If this viewpoint can be brought home to the individual American it will be of value to the navy and to the country.
It seems logical that navy publicity can be transferred from its present endeavors of impressing the populace with its value as a social organization to its value as a working organization. The field of navy work is something which has been hardly "touched" in the public press.
There is nothing spectacular about our daily routine of life on board ship, but there is a great deal of value which can be brought to the minds of the individuals by constant impression. When the fleet goes to Guantanamo for winter exercises, officers and crew are headed for a period of hard work seldom equaled or exceeded in civilian life.
The routine of daily navy life at such periods could be so detailed and explained that it would bring to the country at large a message of the amount of work required to keep a navy ready for war.
Target practice itself is of sufficient spectacular interest to provide reading matter which would be as satisfying to the reader as the present news of the navy and its social activities. The individual activities of the fleet with the strategic maneuvers and tactics necessary to enable them to be successfully made should be a subject of fascinating interest to the average reader. It seems a shame that the people of this country are permitted to believe that naval officers are on dress parade constantly. Every time the fleet comes to port the papers are filled with the reports of entertainments ashore but never a word is written about the strenuous labors previous to arrival in such port.
Speaking personally, I know that the hardest work that has ever been my lot came when I was with the fleet and preparing for target practice, when the day started at 6 a.m. and work was never completed until at least 8.00 o'clock at night.
Cruises of the navy to foreign ports are made the subject for general rejoicing and specific advertising for recruits for the service. The value of such cruises to the commercial interest of the United States has never been sufficiently advertised. By such visits to foreign ports, strangers are given an idea of the power of the United States which is likely to make them feel that the United States is a great enough industrial country to make it worth while subject for consideration.
I do not mean to say that it is not now generally realized that the United States is a great industrial country, for such a statement would be far from the truth. But the navy's visits do tend to give a feeling of international amity which is not realized in any other way. Many people who do not come in touch with the United States in their ordinary life get a friendly feeling for the United States from getting in touch with the enlisted men and officers of naval vessels.
When President Harding reviews the fleet in New York, papers all over the country give a column to the account of the review but when some vessel in the navy breaks the record for target practice it is possible that a paragraph "squib" may possibly reach a few papers in the country. Surely the latter endeavor is the one which is of value to the country at large and particularly to the service.
The officers and enlisted men of the navy are earning every cent of their pay. Their time is almost always occupied with work which is not play in any sense of the word. Down in the bunkers, in the hot engine rooms, in the magazines and in the turrets they are putting every effort into preparing their ship for any serious trouble that may occur. They are ready to go ashore at all times to protect the interest of their countrymen. Their lives are their country's and they are not in the navy for the entertainment which the service is granted on their occasional visits to port. The activities of the navy detailed above are all excellent subjects for newspaper or magazine articles.
The purpose of this article is to bring home to the service the extent to which their activities are being misrepresented by allowing so many articles on entertainments for the navy and not seeing to it that such articles are counterbalanced by other articles on the workaday navy. Surely the newspapers of the country would be as well satisfied to receive an article on the working navy as they are to receive one on the playing navy. The amount of time that the navy spends on playing is so small a percentage of their total time that the injustice of present publicity is doubly noticeable.