Tradition Run Aground

When it was recently announced that the next Virginia class attack submarine would be named after the recently retired senior senator from Virginia, it was clear that the Navy had lost its way.

Sen. John Warner
also now will be known as SSN 785. Long considered a friend of the military, Warner served on the Senate Armed Services committee. He was named Navy secretary in 1972 and was a Marine during the Korean War and a sailor in World War II. His naval ties are noteworthy, and he is as deserving as the next guy. But it seems there was a time when ships were named after gods and admirals and not “deserving-next-guys.”

Once an honor bestowed on the few worthy of naval deification, the naming of the Navy’s vessels has become haphazard and cringe-worthy at best. The Navy historians have put together a concise history, noting (with an air of convenience) that the practice has changed with the times. (This is not a service that embraces change, and it certainly cares little about the times.)

After nearly a century-and-a-half of ship commissioning, by World War II the Navy had an elegant system, the onomatopoeia of the high seas. Battle ships were named after states; heavy cruisers reflected their big city namesakes; light cruisers were the domain of smaller locales; destroyers honored naval leaders and heroes. No more.

Now a class of ship can have cities, politicians as well as presidents. (Politicians?) The John Warner will be the 12th sub in the Virginia class, and — get this — the first named after a person. Our sense is someone may be trafficking vessel names the way others fill vacant Illinois Senate seats. Regardless, names of inspiration may be but a distant memory, and the small U.S. fleet has lost some of its luster.

The gods and admirals have left the ward room.

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