A while ago, I wrote about trends and oddities in the naming of US warships. It stirred up a bit of discussion (mainly about my accepting a submarine named after Jimmy Carter), but it blew over quickly.
Then, over on a discussion board for matters naval I read (never served, just a borderline-wannabe), the topic of ship names came up recently. And one contributor came up with a stunningly simple idea that I think would solve a lot of the arguments:
No ship, building, or other federal facility or property can be named after someone until 25 years after their death. The only exception he is willing to countenance is for posthumous Medal Of Honor winners.
I’d expand that slightly, and include those who die while in service to their country (also known as the JFK/FDR exception), but overall I like it. True, it would have cost us the Ronald Reagan, but it would have avoided the controversy over the Jimmy Carter and the flagrant sycophancy of the George H. W. Bush. Now, I still think both vessels are appropriate tributes to their namesakes (Carter was an engineer on a nuclear submarine, and Bush was a naval pilot in wartime), and both men served as president honorably (if less than successfully — I save “dishonorable” for the likes of Nixon and Clinton), but a simple 25-year rule would ensure that the naming process is more removed from politics, and avoid the issue of a vessel’s namesake embarassing himself and the vessel with future conduct (I cringe every time Carter does something else stupid, and feel for the sub’s officers and crew).
Names mean something, and United States warships are often the biggest, most noticable representatives of America around the world. We should make sure that those ships bear names that speak to something compelling about our nation. Right now, it looks like the most flagrant form of pork-barrel politicking (“tell you what. We’ll give you a submarine named after your guy if you let us have a carrier named after our guy’s father.”), and I really don’t care for that being our hallmark to other nations.
We deserve better, and our Navy deserves far better.