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By Vice Admiral Howard B. Thorsen, U.S. Coast Guard
It is an honor to be elected to the Naval Institute Board of Control, and I consider it a privilege to serve as Chairman of the Editorial Board. Members of the Naval Institute recognize the diversity of professional backgrounds and experience from which members of the board are nominated. The annual election, by members’ secret ballot, ensures continuation of a truly representative group of individuals, and I emphasize that last word: individuals.
While I preside during our meetings, my vote on any agenda item carries no more weight than any other board member’s. Each month, we discuss articles to be considered for publication in Proceedings or Naval History, books proposed for publication, and the schedule for the increasingly popular seminar program. During the course of a year, we also reach agreement on which articles are the best in each of seven separate essay contests. (In the Arleigh Burke and Vincent Astor contests, by the way, we choose the winning articles before knowing their authors’ names). All in all, each member probably reads between 250 and 300 articles in a 12-month period and comes to his or her own decision on each one, determining whether it is valuable, appropriate, and reasonable as a vehicle for the advancement of professional knowledge in our constituency, members of the sea services.
The title page of each issue of Proceedings declares that the Naval Institute is a non-profit professional society that publishes the personal opinions of the authors. When we assemble around the board room table each month to share our views and cast our final votes, there is a high likelihood of earnest debate, freely entered, markedly devoid of constraint. To reject an article as unsuitable takes but two votes of the eight cast. We occasionally remind ourselves that our votes must not be based on whether or not we, as individuals, agree with the author’s views. We are not charged with the responsibility of determining which topics are, or should be, of highest interest to the membership. A healthy, steady influx of manuscripts each month will clearly identify what is uppermost in the minds of the members. Our task is to maintain the level of professional integrity that is attributed to the United States Naval Institute. Its reputation, recognized and acknowledged throughout the world, today has been earned by hundreds of previous board and staff members; we incumbents are keenly aware of that legacy, and firmly committed to “stay the course.”
In the 50th year of the Naval Institute, 1923, the following was published in Proceedings: “The continued value of the Institute to the service and the country is largely bound up with the question of censorship, or departmental muzzling. This is a most delicate subject to tackle, but one that must be faced squarely and honestly.” Twenty five years later, another article addressed the independence of the Naval Institute: “Its independence of the Navy Department has always lacked emphasis, so much so that in the past some naval officers of rank and authority have misguidedly assumed that it should speak
opinions only favorable to the stand they have taken or in accord with their public statement.”
Now, during the 117th year, we have become aware of the very real possibility that an onerous change in prepublication review requirements is being prepared for the Secretary of the Navy’s signature—i.e., expanding review to include conformity to established or current policy. If that be the case, there is no kind way to describe the intent. It will be censorship, plain and simple.
Institutions of higher learning within the military establishment may succeed in deflecting such intent; for the clarion cry of “academic freedom” will bring support from all quadrants.
But who will muster support for the young men and women such as those recognized here, today, for their insightful, responsible, and carefully crafted essays? We must.
In my years as a member of the Editorial Board, I have read perhaps 1,000 articles. Some have not met the test of worthiness; some have been rejected because they were not wet enough; and a very, very few, were rejected because they appeared to attack something without constructive intent. During those three years, the professional stafl and the Editorial Board have continuously demonstrated impeccable integrity, along with an unswerving loyalty to the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
Where is the problem? What needs to be fixed? What examples can be cited to counter our claim to have established and maintained a reputation deserving of special trust and confidence—unbroken for 116 years?
How important is it to allow the continuation of a forum for the personal opinions and assertations of young officers such as those we have recognized today? Is there truly an advancement of professional, literary, and scientific knowledge in the Sea Services when young naval professionals are given a forum for their views?
It is too bad we cannot ask that question of some previous young authors who were published in Proceedings- Ensign Richard Byrd and Lieutenants W.F. Halsey, Forrest Sherman, Edward L. Beach [Class of 1888], Ernest J.
King, Chester Nimitz, and Hyman G. Rickover.
In light of the drastic changes taking place in many parts of the world today—considering the uncertainties of the future is it not obvious that the pen may be the best instrument with which to sharpen our sword?
Editor’s Note: Admiral Thorsen delivered this address at the Naval Institute’s 116th Annual Meeting in New London, Connecticut, at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on 20 Aprd. Material related to Admiral Thorsen’s topic is published on pages 46-50 of this issue. Transcripts of Admiral C.A.H. Trost’s address, Admiral Paul A. Yost’s address, and the seminar—“DoD Enters the Drug War:
Will It Make a Difference”—are available for $10.00 by writing to: Customer Service, U.S. Naval Institute, 2062 Generals Highway, Annapolis, MD 21401.
Proceedings / June 1990