What’s in a name? When it comes to the US Navy and its ships, quite a lot, and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has some explaining to do. The USNS Cesar Chavez? The USS John P. Murtha? Seriously? Chavez was a labor leader, hero to some on the political left, but while he served two years in the US Navy, he described those years as the “two worst years of my life.” As for the late Rep. Jack Murtha, he was a former Marine, but hardly a shining example of military ethics or enduring fidelity. Abscam was only the most infamous episode in his notoriously corrupt career in Congress. One of Murtha’s most lasting images is of falsely accusing US Marines of committing war crimes in Iraq, and then running away from direct questions about his smear.
The Navy wants today’s and tomorrow’s sailors to be inspired by such figures? How did Navy Secretary Mabus arrive at the decisions to name two of our newest ships after these two controversial political figures?
That’s what Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) would like to know, so he added an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill that requires the Navy to ‘fess up. Blunt’s amendment, No. 1134, requires the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress on the policies and practices of naming Navy ships. The amendment also requires Defense to note how current practices may have varied from historical patterns, and to assess the feasibility of establishing a fixed, politics-free policy for naming ships going forward. SecDef Panetta has 180 days to comply from the day the bill becomes law. It has already passed the House and Senate with Blunt’s amendment intact, and awaits conference.
A military veterans group, Veterans in Defense of Liberty (ViDoL), spearheaded the effort to get the amendment included in the authorization bill. Dr. William Scott Magill, president and CEO of ViDoL, said “I am really pleased that this has moved as quickly as it has. Generally, it’s several years to get an amendment to a bill. And I think that moving this quickly and being adopted with the recommendation of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and being approved unanimously, speaks very highly to the credibility of the amendment.”
In an op-ed written for ViDoL, Magill wrote that “American war ships, whether on military or humanitarian missions, are noble in every line, port to starboard – bow to stern. They are the personification of American strength, courage, and purpose. They are the embodiment of the spirit of all who served in the past, and any who serve aboard her in the present. Our warships are a reflection of America’s sons and daughters, who will unselfishly make any sacrifice in defense of liberty, or come to the aid of any people or nation in need.”
Indeed. Politics need to be removed from the process of naming the ships in America’s fleet.