The U.S. Navy has long suffered an uneasy relationship with the public it serves. We are a fundamentally undemocratic institution, insular by nature, with a tradition and culture necessarily separate from the nation at large. John Paul Jones wrote: "Whilst the ships sent forth by the Congress may and must fight for the principles of . . . republican freedom, the ships themselves must be ruled and commanded at sea under a system of absolute despotism."1 The Navy, from its inception, has been "beyond the control or even the view of the citizens."2
For most of our history, this relationship served the Navy and the public well enough. Warships were the long arm of U.S. power, and the country needed commanding officers who could exercise that strength autonomously. This independence helped create the greatest navy in history, and gave prestige to a nation that would become a superpower. But as technology has evolved, so have society's expectations. Today, the autonomy so cherished by Navy leaders of generations past has the potential to undermine our most basic mission-to serve the public interest.