Saturday, December 14, 2002

Ronald Reagan University

Victor Davis Hanson has an interesting article on NRO called “Our Islands in the Storm”. No, it’s not a nostalgic look back on the visceral pop rock dynamite provided by Kenny (“Nitro”) Rogers and Dolly (“Glycerin”) Parton back in the 80’s. Although I would like to hear Hanson’s treatment of this topic (I think he’d compare them to the Sapphic Assemblage Choir of Eos, so popular among the light country/AOR alternative demographic in the hoplite ranks during the First Punic War), this time he’s writing on the aircraft carrier and its vital role in the American defense plan.

He speculates that these ultimate weapons of the modern age are uniquely American, in ways that transcend technology and capital investment:

Our aircraft carriers are this nation's [Greek] phalanxes, at once frightening weapons and symbols of American freedom. Few countries can build such behemoths; fewer still operate them with any degree of efficiency. Germany in its darkest hours never launched a single one. Japan's were long ago sent to the bottom of the Pacific. Russia's attempts resulted in abysmal failure. England has a couple, France one — in the aggregate all lack the power of a single American carrier. And we have twelve of these colossuses — $5 billion, 80,000-90,000-ton monsters, each home to a crew of 5,000. Their flight decks cover 4.5 acres, and the 70 (and more) planes on each wield more destructive power than do most countries.

The carrier's efficiency and lethality, however, are not a consequence of mere technological superiority, but of the dividends of a peculiarly American set of values. If we gave the Truman to Egypt it would sink on its maiden voyage. The French Charles de Gaulle I imagine has better food than the Roosevelt, but far fewer planes and even fewer launches. Israel has astonishing pilots, but few if any could land on the Vinson. Even the Swiss or Dutch could not build a Ronald Reagan. China claims they can soon launch a simulacrum to our carriers; but though they can steal the technology of an Enterprise, they still cannot emulate the ethic and creed at the heart of its success — unless China too first creates a culture of freedom. Carriers, in other words, are an American thing, and I am glad we at least will never have to meet such things in battle

Hanson also goes on to compare the culture aboard one of these military ships versus what exists in the elite universities of the United States. Read this and ruminate on where you‘d prefer our country’s best and brightest to spend the first 4 years of their adulthood:

The average age of [the USS John F. Kennedy’s] crew seemed about 19 or 20. Most Americans don't trust their children to take out the family van on Saturday night; our navy entrusts $50 million jets to teenagers, whose courage and maturity trump those of most adults.

At Stanford University, where our wealthier and supposedly more educated reside, silly theme houses exist with names like Casa Zapata and Ujama, as upscale students are segregated by race in a balkanized and separatist landscape. My own university in California has auxiliary but separate graduation ceremonies for Mexican Americans.

By contrast, in the far less comfortable but much more real world of the Kennedy, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and whites are indistinguishable in the manner in which they eat, sleep, and work, united as they are as Americans in a common cause, not separated by race, class, and tribe. African-American officers supervise whites, and vice-versa in a meritocracy where equality is a natural, not an induced, phenomenon. Women fly planes that men service or the other way around or both. And recently graduated Naval Academy ensigns learn from tough men with tattoos and calluses who inhabit primordial places of fire and oil in the ship's bowels or who work on the flight deck where a momentary lapse in concentration can get one disemboweled or vaporized in seconds. Our universities might do better to mothball Ethnic Studies and send the entire freshman class to the Kennedy for a semester.

If I had to do it all over again (that is, my life, not this posting) a military career under the circumstances described would sound mighty attractive. Or if I still chose to go to college, I at least would have had made sure I was taught by a professor like Hanson.

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