The May Proceedings is always our Naval Review—a retrospective on the previous year. When we started work on it in March, we thought the cover image would be a Sea Service highlight from last year—not a hospital ship sailing into New York harbor this year. But the world turned upside down in March, and 2019 now seems like a lifetime ago. While much of this issue is dedicated to the review sections, we pivoted to provide context amid the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic that has brought much of the global economy to a halt and caused the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) to pull into Guam to deal with an outbreak on board.
As my Proceedings Podcast co-host, Ward Carroll, and I have been telling listeners for the past month, the Naval Institute is open for business—but it is not business as usual. This Proceedings is the first issue ever produced remotely. In mid-March, the Naval Institute staff shifted our flags from our Beach Hall headquarters at the U.S. Naval Academy and started working entirely at home. Fortunately, over the past few years the Institute invested heavily in technology to make this possible. So, a quick shift to working at our kitchen tables or home offices was feasible, but doing everything required to publish daily stories and a monthly magazine while operating remotely has been challenging. I salute our Chief Digital Officer, Mary Ripley, and her staff, Dave Barber, Phil Fernandez, and Taira Payne, for making all the tools work—from Slack, to GoToMeeting, email, Teams, remote desktop, virtual private networks, and file servers. Welcome to the future—at least for the next few issues. We are proud to rise to the occasion and carry on the 147-year tradition of Proceedings through this pandemic.
The deployments of the USNS Comfort and Mercy (T-AH-20 and -19) to New York and Los Angeles put the Navy’s hospital ships on the front pages. In “New Hospital Ships Are Needed” (pp. 12–13), Dr. Sal Mercogliano points out that these two ships are 44-years old, powered by obsolete steam plants, and need replacing if the nation wants hospital ships in the future. He reviews the pros and cons of a number of options, including converting commercial cruise ships and building new ships based on several different hull designs. Denis Clift searched our archives to find references about how the Navy dealt with the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic. His “Lest We Forget” (p. 151) is about actions taken by U.S. Navy officers, including the military governor of American Samoa, who put in place strict quarantines to prevent its spread.
In addition to the review sections, which recap the past year of the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine, this issue includes the winning essay from the 2019 General Prize Essay Contest. Lieutenant Commander Jeff Vandenengel’s “100,000 Tons of Inertia,” (pp. 20–25) asks an uncomfortable question: If and when the aircraft carrier becomes an obsolete weapon system, will the U.S. Navy be able to stop building them? Naval aviators may be angered by this question, but I recommend everyone take a deep breath and read the full article. Vandenengel is not saying aircraft carriers are obsolete, though he does highlight high-end threats that impact their effectiveness. He points out the industrial, political, financial, and bureaucratic forces that favor building large, exquisite, expensive carriers. The same question could be asked about other expensive acquisition programs—and it’s a reasonable question to ask. As with all articles, we welcome comments and rebuttals at [email protected]
Thank you to all our readers for driving record levels of traffic to our website over the past month. It gives us a great sense of mission accomplishment that you turn to Proceedings at a time when you are stuck at home, have more time for professional reading, and want to stay informed about the Sea Services. Stay safe and be well!
Captain, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Life Member since 1993
Where We Were
May 1920 Proceedings—Professional Notes, from the March 26 New York Times: “CANADA TO RECAST NAVY – Demobilization of all Canadian naval officers and naval ratings that the service may be reorganized “on an economical basis” has been ordered, C.C. Ballantyne, Minister of the Naval Service, announced in the House of Commons today. The Naval Service, he said, would be carried on a pre-war basis. Adoption of a permanent naval policy had been deferred pending discussions by the overseas dominions and Great Britain at the forthcoming imperial conference.”
May 1970 Proceedings—“In River Patrol Relearned,” Commander S.A. Swarztrauber, U.S. Navy, wrote: “In spite of the Navy’s frequent historical involvement in river warfare, there has been a pattern of ignoring river patrol in time of peace. In peacetime, the rivers have been made the province of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U. S. Coast Guard. Yet, when the chips fell in the present war, as in the past, the Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard had their hands full elsewhere, and the Navy, although completely unprepared, was given the job in Vietnam.”
May 1995 Proceedings—In “Victory and an Uncertain Future,” Admiral J. L. Holloway, Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired) looked ahead. “Despite the reduction in permanent U.S. presence abroad, there are no indications that the United States is considering a policy of isolation. We remain the world’s leader militarily, economically, and in terms of moral responsibility. In the future, when crises occur beyond our borders that affect our national interests, the United States will continue to respond with alert, combat-ready, mobile forces whose function will be to resolve the conflict quickly and permanently in our own best interest.”
A. Denis Clift
Golden Life Member