It must be conceded that with the possible exception of navigation, the promotion examinations now used require on the part of the candidate merely the ability to remember the answers to a sufficient number of questions. And yet, memory is not knowledge, nor is it education. A person with little or no knowledge of electricity or engineering can memorize the answers to all the questions being asked in these subjects, and thus pass with a fair mark. It is almost a universal practice for the candidate to cram for a month or two in as many as eight to ten subjects. The idea is not to master any of them, but merely to memorize a sufficient number of answers to insure passing.
The plan here offered, as regards promotion examinations, is to have them more or less equally spread out over the period of tenure of the rank from which the candidate hopes to be promoted. This would permit of a period of approximately SIX months in which to prepare for a thorough and exhaustive examination in each subject. The examination could then be designed to test the candidate's knowledge of the subject rather than his memory. The entire group of officers concerned would take the same examination at the same time.
In this manner no time would be lost from current duties except the time allotted for the examination. A definite time limit should be set for each examination.
By the time a certain group had finished all their examinations, the Navy Department would have a complete record of the progressive education and knowledge of each candidate. Different weights could be assigned to the various subjects, as is done at the Naval Academy. An average of all marks received on fitness reports could also be weighted, and a grand total multiple obtained for each candidate.
Selection for promotion would then be entirely automatic. If out of a group of 100, only 80 could be promoted, the 80 with the greatest total multiples would be chosen. There would be no long-drawn-out meetings of selection boards, with their hopeless task of dealing fairly with a group practically unknown to them. Promotion to the new rank could also be on a new seniority basis, as determined by the final multiples.
Officers could be disqualified for promotion by physical disability, conviction by court-martial or by receiving unsatisfactory fitness reports from more than one commanding officer during the period of serving in one rank. The reasons for failure to be promoted should be made public.
It would be necessary under this system to prescribe an average mark for fitness reports. This should be between a 3.0 and a 3.2. Each reporting officer would be required to see that the average mark assigned to members of each group fell within the prescribed limits. This is a sound requirement, as it prevents the “easy marker” from giving all of his officers superior marks, as too frequently happens under the existing system.
This idea is presented for discussion. The writer purposely refrains from going into such minute details as relative weights to be assigned various subjects, etc. Otherwise, disagreement on these minor points might arise and overcloud the main argument. The selection principle is unquestionably sound, but the present system is inequitable. No new system along the lines of the present system can ever correct these inequalities. Put the burden of selection on the individuals concerned, and not on selection boards, because try as they will and do, the latter can never completely satisfy themselves, the candidate, or the service in general.
REFUGES FOR SHIPWRECKED SAILORS
The shipwrecked sailor need no longer fear starvation if cast like Robinson Crusoe on a desert island. For the nations of the world have taken steps to stock such islands as lie within their possessions with food and other necessaries of life. The French were the leaders in the movement. In 1893 they sent a smart little cruiser, the Eure, to the South Indian Ocean to establish deposits of food on some of the lonely uninhabited islands lately come into their possession. These deposits were for the use of naufrages (shipwrecked sailors). But these supplies were established not only for Frenchmen but for seafaring men of all nations. The first of these islands to be visited was lonely Kerguelen, 2,500 miles southeastward from the nearest point on the Australian coast, and 4,000 miles from Melbourne. Here in a cave they left preserved beef, biscuits, matches, shirts, blankets, and trousers, and set up a huge cairn of stones to mark the spot. On a cliff above the cave they erected a signboard with the legend, “Vivres et vetements. Eure. 1893.” They established similar deposits on little St. Paul’s Island, 1,000 miles northwestward of Kerguelen and near to the track of vessels bound from Cape Town to Melbourne or Sydney, and on little Amsterdam Island about 50 miles north of St. Paul’s. Their errand of mercy accomplished, the French government published the fact in the various nautical journals of the world, giving minute directions as to the exact location of these supplies.
The Danish government followed suit by establishing the best possible equipped refuges on the coast of Iceland. These are to be found at Brunasandr, at Ingolfshofdi, and at Skerderursandr. Besides food and clothing these refuges contain cooking utensils, medicine chests, collapsible boats, and rockets and flags for making signals. The Australian government maintains a number of food deposits in the reef-strewn waters about their island, typical of which is Kangaroo Island in the treacherous waters between Australia and Tasmania. The government of New Zealand maintains six different refuges on the lonely islands near their shores. One of them is on Bounty Island, so named because it was discovered by Captain William Bligh, of the ill-fated Bounty, in 1788, while on the disastrous expedition about which so much has been written. Besides these island refuges none other can be found in the vast reaches of the South Pacific, except one maintained on Middleton Reef on the track of vessels plying between the mainland of South America and New Zealand. Here is kept a supply of food which will keep the average ship’s crew in comfort for several weeks. Our own government maintains on little Wake Island a depot of supplies which is regularly found pillaged, this theft being laid at the door of fishermen.