Monday, April 21, 2008

What Can an Aircraft Carrier Teach Us?


Back in 1999 or so, the USS Abraham Lincoln made a port o' call visit in Santa Barbara, dropping anchor a mile out from the little breakwater harbor at the coastal resort town (where I lived at the time).

The Navy's public affairs staff opened up the ship to the public, and I was able to take the chartered whale-watching boat out to the carrier for a tour of the ship, which I followed up with a walk on the deck of this behemoth. I sat down at the bow, right above the protective netting that's lined all around the top-deck to catch those who might fall over the side.

The lift elevators from the aviation maintance deck to the flight deck were standing idle, and a sailer was out for a late afternoon jog around the perimeter. I walked along the center of the deck, by the jet catapults, and looked northward into the sunset over the water, thinking to myself, this is American power!

Of course, this was a couple of years before 9/11, and I thought of American's global role at that time as the benign hegemon, and frankly most of those on the political left did as well, or at least that's what was in evidence by the very little antiwar protest activity against the Clinton administration's air-war over Kosovo. (As some have said, for the far left-wing, U.S. wars launched for humanitarian purposes are fine - it's the exercise of military might in the pursuit of raw material self-interest that's evil.)

In any case, the Abraham Lincon's a Nimitz Class warship, the largest in the world. The Navy's fleet boasts 10 of these mighty warships currently in service, including the USS George Washington (pictured above) and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, among others.

What can we learn from these ships?

P.J. O'Rourke offers his perspective in his essay, "24 Hours on the 'Big Stick': What You Can Learn About America on the Deck of the USS 'Theodore Roosevelt.'":

The Theodore Roosevelt and its accompanying cruisers, destroyers, and submarines can blow up most of the military of most of the countries on earth. God has given America a special mission. Russia can barely blow up Chechnya. China can blow up Tibet, maybe, and possibly Taiwan. And the EU can't blow up Liechtenstein. But the USA can blow up .  .  . gosh, where to start?

But I didn't visit the Theodore Roosevelt just to gush patriotically - although some patriotic gushing is called for in America at the moment.

O'Rourke spends some time on the operations of a Nimitz Class carrier, but continues on some of the deeper signifcance of his experience, with reflections on the life of John McCain:

Some say John McCain's character was formed in a North Vietnamese prison. I say those people should take a gander at what John chose to do--voluntarily. Being a carrier pilot requires aptitude, intelligence, skill, knowledge, discernment, and courage of a kind rarely found anywhere but in a poem of Homer's or a half gallon of Dewar's. I look from John McCain to what the opposition has to offer. There's Ms. Smarty-Pantsuit, the Bosnia-Under-Sniper-Fire poster gal, former prominent Washington hostess, and now the JV senator from the state that brought you Eliot Spitzer and Bear Stearns. And there's the happy-talk boy wonder, the plaster Balthazar in the Cook County political crèche, whose policy pronouncements sound like a walk through Greenwich Village in 1968: "Change, man? Got any spare change? Change?"

Some people say John McCain isn't conservative enough. But there's more to conservatism than low taxes, Jesus, and waterboarding at Gitmo. Conservatism is also a matter of honor, duty, valor, patriotism, self-discipline, responsibility, good order, respect for our national institutions, reverence for the traditions of civilization, and adherence to the political honesty upon which all principles of democracy are based. Given what screw-ups we humans are in these respects, conservatism is also a matter of sense of humor. Heard any good quips lately from Hillary or Barack?

A one-day visit to an aircraft carrier is a lifelong lesson in conservatism. The ship is immense, going seven decks down from the flight deck and ten levels up in the tower. But it's full, with some 5,500 people aboard. Living space is as cramped as steerage on the way to Ellis Island. Even the pilots live in three-bunk cabins as small and windowless as hall closets. A warship is a sort of giant Sherman tank upon the water. Once below deck you're sealed inside. There are no cheery portholes to wave from.

A one-day visit to an aircraft carrier is a lesson in conservatism?

I have to agree, except in my case that'd be "neo"-conservativism!

Photo Credit: "Shipping Out: Sailors line the flight deck of the USS George Washington as it prepares to depart to its new station in Yokosuka, Japan," Time.