Altercation: Naval Edition


Greetings Altercators, LTC Bob here today. I'll be filling in a bit for Eric this week, along with some of the other usual suspects.

Today I thought that I'd bring you a little way into my world, which is mostly located in the fairly distant future. You see, in my "day job," I am now paid to think about things that might occur anywhere from 15 to 30 years from the present. It is a nice job, if you can get it, as one is virtually assured of never being proven wrong before you retire or die. The logic appears to be that if you want somebody to think about large chunks of time in the future, who better than to select a fellow who thinks of large chunks of time in the past. Lately, I have been developing an epiphany. Such things do not appear instantly for me, they grow subconsciously until finally I see the outlines. This one might matter more in the near-term, vice the long term. The reason is because I have been thinking about things naval.

Yes, I know, I know, "What the hell is an Army guy doing thinking about the sea?" Well, truth be told I will admit that it is a curious place if one did not also acknowledge that A) I am a historian, and we do not limit ourselves; B) at the level where I now work/think/write, mere "service distinctions" matter far less than you might imagine; and C) I know something of the sea. It also helps that I work for a very smart man who is open-minded enough to allow "the army guy" in his office the freedom to contemplate things naval.

Why does this matter? Well, the salient point for all of you still comes back to the basis on which I write here. I believe that an informed democracy is far better than one ruled by passions and assumptions. Accordingly, because the military does have an effect upon all of our futures, and those of our kids, I am of the firm and fixed opinion that everyone should have some basic grasp of things military. Our democracy depends upon this.

You may be a pacifist. That's fine. Several, indeed dozens of Altercators who have written to me in the past have asserted such about themselves. My point, however, remains. If you want to be an effective pacifist, then you need to understand the military. If you want to effect change, either for pacifist or humanitarian reasons, then you need to have a firm grip on the realities of war and violence. It is not enough to shout slogans, put up a website, and march. You must be able to intelligently debate, without emotion, how your vision might realistically be put into effect. Which is why you must understand the counterpoint, the one by which I live. You must understand how moral men and women conceive of the use of force. Which brings us back to the Navy.

I have been thinking about the Straits of Malacca. Interesting place, those straits, trapped between Malaysia and Indonesia -- they were until recently the site of the most pirate attacks. That has not really abated; it has merely been eclipsed. It is a narrow channel which sees a huge volume of international shipping. Although this map does not show it well, the fact is that it is only through those straits that the water is deep enough for major shipping vessels to transit. That means that almost everything made in China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan -- which goes to Europe, the Middle East, or the East Coast of the United States -- goes through that one little passage. And 70-80 percent of the oil imported by those same countries from the Middle East also makes that passage.

Now, think forward, 20-30 years. No, wait, think backward. Remember 1989? 1979? Remember the technology of those years? Consider how different our technology is today from just that very recent period. Apply that observation to those straits. Now do you see why I am thinking about the Navy?

The Army is all about people. We might get new gear, we might get a new rifle or a new armored vehicle, but at the core for us it is people. And most of our people are between 18 and 25, and they will only be in the Army for three to four years. Thus, we are continually renewing ourselves. The Navy, however, is far more dependent upon technology. They design new ships (which usually five to 10 years) and then when they build them they expect these ships to last 30-50 years.

We are building, today, the ships of the fleet of 2038. We are wrestling with the design issues we will need for the ships of 2048, and in my opinion our Navy is in something of an intellectual crisis. They do not -- we do not -- have a clear vision of what purpose our Navy will have in 30 years. This obviously presents something of a quandary, and our Navy is seemingly adrift. Do some research, citizens, and form your own opinions. Are we building the correct fleet for the future? I'd be interested in hearing some opinions.

Here, for reference, are the thoughts of one fellow I respect. (Though I do not always agree with him.) Oh, and unrelated, there is also this by yours truly ... though you knew this about me. And, um, being married to an India Walla, I would be remiss not to notice this.

Oh, and one last thing ... the Army tells me that I am moving here. Spring 2010. Thoughts? Recommendations?

You can write to LTC Bob at

Naval levity

It is a Monday, and we all hate Mondays. So some levity is appropriate. Given our theme, and my thoughts, here are a few naval-related videos. The song "Pump It" has a unique interpretation here. While the same squadron also gives us "Move Along," I would note for you that there are also some pretty damned senior officers getting in on this. Dignity must sometimes, not often but sometimes, be sacrificed upon the altar of morale. Good leaders know this. Kudos to those unnamed gray-haired officers.

And not to be outdone ... the women of the supercarrier the USS Ronald Reagan ... another thing which one could not have really anticipated in 1978. Gender equality may not be all that it is supposed to be, yet, in our nation or our armed forces. But these female servicemembers make it clear, at least in some ways, just who is in control. (Note the silliness they convince their male peers to commit.)

The best SecDef evah!

Now, in all honesty, I should have led off with this. Secretary of Defense Gates wrote (yes, HE wrote) an article for Foreign Affairs. You may, as I note, agree or disagree that force should be part of our world. But idealism aside, one cannot but think well of this man. His vision of how we should use our national resources is clear. He is, I dare say, a professional.


If you want an insider's view into the cultural issues relating to footwear in the Middle East, especially of the type thrown at American presidents, look here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Kyle Childress
Hometown: San Francisco

Of course, one doesn't have to wait long to hear something fall out of Michael Savage's mouth that offends any sentient being, and frankly, the quote you highlighted on Thursday is really not that shocking to me.

It's the father who called in that needs to be condemned. He calls in to justify his bigotry, and I am confident that, with Mr. Savage's blessing, he proceeded to sit his child down and explain to him just how evil gay folks are. And I will lay money that a majority of folks who read this feel that this father has a right to teach his children that being gay is wrong. All I ask is that those folks take one more question into account: What if that child is gay?

There's a reason that gay teens have a suicide rate that is three times that of non-gay teens. That reason is the parents who taught their children to hate themselves.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

This was the headline on the AP story:

Union Balks and $14B Auto Bailout Dies in Senate

The article said it was a partisan dispute, Republicans wanted big wage cuts, etc. But the headline does not tell the story. Rather, it tells the story the increasingly right-wing Disassociated Press wanted told. Shameful. CNN, good luck in competing with them.

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

Today in the Washington Post on A12, there was a brief article headlined, "Bush Points to Gains In Anti-Drug Efforts." In the lead, the article writes that Bush was joined, among others, by current major league baseball player Josh Hamilton, a recovering drug addict who had a breakout season in 2008. Don't tough on crime politicians and lobbying groups always argue more laws and tougher penalties when it comes to this War on Drugs?

This isn't even a criticism of Bush, but the entire War on Drugs-concept. Here we had our federal government holding up Josh Hamilton as an example of a success story in beating drugs -- but what if Hamilton, instead of seeking treatment, had been arrested and sentenced to years in prison for possessing drugs, like what happens to so many others. Worse yet, what if he had been arrested not by state police, but by federal police and faced a harsh mandatory minimum? Is there anyone out there that thinks Josh Hamilton, or anyone in his life, would have been better served had Hamilton gone to prison instead of seeking treatment? He isn't an example of why the War on Drugs is working, but on the other hand, is an example of why we need a new approach.

Name: Stan Wiggins
Hometown: Bethesda MD

Has no one in the MSM bothered to note that while CEOs may have agreed to work for a dollar a year, the other thousands of managers have yet to be asked to make wage concessions comparable to the unions?

Thanks for your historical notations on the Nixon whitewash after his resignation. The spectacle in the media reminded me of the collective denial after the Civil War, when the nation sought to erase memories of what they fought over.

Name: RS Janes
Hometown: Chicago, IL

"Why has no bigtime talking head yet suggested that Governor Grabitall out there in Illinois go all-in at the crazy table and announce that he is appointing Patrick Fitzgerald to take Barack Obama's Senate seat? Why am I not an elite pundit with ideas like this?" -- Charles Pierce

Just to elaborate on Mr. Pierce's hilariously excellent idea, after Count-the-Dough Blago names Fitzgerald, he could then call the wife on his cellphone and, with the Feds listening, say something like, "Okay, the deal's done. Fitzgerald had the $100K delivered and I named him to the Senate seat." Let the Federal Prosecutor for the Northern District of Illinois talk his way out of that one.

Name: Mark Shotzberger
Hometown: Dover, DE

We lost another "legend" last night with the passing of Bettie Page.

100 years form now, people will still know who she was and still appreciate her photos and beauty.

100 years from now, people will not know who most of our present "Super Stars" are.

Not bad for a lady who lived in a mobile home.

Name: Roy Hanley
Hometown: Atascadero, CA

Thank you, Charles, for that blast from the past. Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem (sp?). I still sing "up the long ladder and down the short rope" and the "Ahem Ahem" song regularly. Guess that makes me old.

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

I have a message both for Dr. Alterman and his readers. Dr. A., my blog,, which you've been so kind to include on your Blogroll, will have to considerably suspend its activity, as I'm being laid off from my day job on Monday and will need to focus on finding my next gig. As readers may be disappointed at finding a link to a halted item, you are of course free to remove the link.

Regular readers here are aware of the quality and consistency of content at Altercation, all the way back to its MSNBC days. What should also be noted, from my own experience, is how Dr. Alterman actually lives and practices the liberal precepts he teaches here. This, sad to say, is quite rare among writers and pundits in this great land of ours. I will repeat what I have said many times at dailyrev: Eric Alterman is a national treasure, and remains a steady light amid the dusky wasteland that is the American media. In addition to all the other qualities you discover in his work, the mere fact that Alterman has placed, amid the likes of Kos and Digby and Greenwald, a no-name New Ager with little to contribute to policy or the liberal cause, speaks for me of a true liberalism -- the kind of spirit that I hope to see pervade this nation during the crisis ahead, and especially in the recovery that follows it.

Eric and George, my deepest thanks.

George Zornick replies: I'm sorry to hear that Brian. Best of luck, and thank you for the kind words.

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