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Cvn 80 02

USS Bubba?

Current American aircraft carriers are named for United States Presidents, living and dead, or political and naval leaders of some importance. In the former category, we have the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the USS Ronald Reagan (named when Reagan was still alive), the USS Harry S Truman, and others. In the latter, we have the USS Nimitz (named for the most important American admiral of WWII), the USS John C. Stennis (a Senator critical to the Navy over several decades), and the USS Carl Vinson (a Congressman of similar ilk).

They’re running out of recent Presidents to name them, though. The lead ship (CVN-78) of the new carrier class (successors to the Nimitz class) was named the USS Gerald R. Ford. Ford had naval connections, but not a particularly successful Presidency. The next ship in that class (CVN-79) has been named the USS John F. Kennedy, a quick reuse of that name as the previous Kennedy was retired in 2007. The next ship remains unnamed. There is some pressure to name it the Enterprise, a name with a long and storied history in the American navy. But if not that, then the Navy would likely have to return to the list of Presidents. They’ve cherry-picked the great ones–there’s a Roosevelt (thought not an FDR), there’s a Washington, and there’s a Lincoln–so going to the distant past would be somewhat difficult. USS Martin van Buren, anyone?

I didn’t think so.

There are recent Presidents without carriers named after them, however. Lyndon Baines Johnson has no carrier, nor does Jimmy Carter (he does have a submarine named after him, perhaps appropriate for him since he served on submarines), nor does Bill Clinton, or Richard Nixon. I note that these are all (but Nixon) Democrats. I also note that both Johnson and Clinton were two-term Presidents, that Carter was a naval officer, and that Johnson was a member of the Naval reserve with a Silver Star to his name (albeit, oddly, an Army Silver Star). Clinton had a somewhat difficult relationship with the military, both before and during his Presidency. Johnson has Vietnam, and the Gulf of Tonkin. Nixon has his disgrace. Carter was not a great President.

None of those are particularly disqualifying. Ford was not a good President, and he has an entire class named after him. George H.W. Bush served a single term and, with the exception of the Gulf War, had few notable successes (*not* being Ronald Reagan could be counted as a success for many, I think). So the question becomes: what will CVN-80 be? The USS Lyndon Baines Johnson? The USS William Jefferson Clinton? The USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23) will still be active, so it can’t be that. I personally think it should be Johnson, but the USS William Jefferson Clinton would cause right-wing heads everywhere to explode with massive force, which has its own appeal.

Current Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has shown a willingness to give ships names that break from the expected (the USS Gabrielle Giffords and the USNS Cesar Chavez for example) and so perhaps he will step up.


Charles Pierce (who is awesome) included this in his touching remembrance of Don Cornelius. Ad agencies really should use historical figures as pitchmen more often.

Herman Cain, among his many insane ramblings over the past few days, apparently suggested that his face should be on Mt. Rushmore. Well, fair enough. (Though, having visited the monument last summer, I have to admit that I found it more affecting than I expected. I mean, it’s very big. And by the way, Lincoln but no FDR, amiright? No, seriously, there was something about the scale of the president’s faces, the setting in which they’re carved, and the history of dispossession surrounding the place that left me feeling a bit overwhelmed by the power of the state to shape the landscape of American memory.)

Anyway, Michelle Bachmann picked up the ball and ran with it. To her credit, she didn’t suggest that she should join Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy — aka, “The Real Man’s Roosevelt”), and Lincoln. Her pick? James Garfield. Wait, what? Garfield? My colleague, Kathy Olmsted, replied to this news by asking, “Is that the only president she could think of?” Yes, apparently so. And while I don’t think this disqualifies Ms. Bachmann from the presidency, it should disqualify her from tenure in one of the better history departments near you. Which is to say, don’t worry, Newt! You’re still the only serious scholar in the Republican field!

UPDATE: post updated with more Ericness.

On November 7, 1962, Richard Nixon conceded his loss to Pat Brown in the race for governor of California, saying famously, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” In 1963, after the assassination of President Kennedy, the Beat poet Bob Kaufman (pictured) took a vow of complete silence, spoken and written.† And in 1982, after four years as governor, Pat Brown’s son Jerry decided not to run for a third term, instead running for the Senate, losing to Pete Wilson, and withdrawing to study Buddhism in Japan.

In that spirit, it’s time for me to sign off. This has been a marvelous blog, and I’ve been happy to contribute to it. Cheers all, and see you in the ether.

† Which he kept until 1975, when he walked into a coffeeshop in North Beach and recited a poem.

There’s a transition between memory and history that happens as events stop being personal experiences and start being records. As the generation that experienced a certain era (World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, 9/11), begins to disappear from the scene, that era becomes “historical” in a way that it wasn’t before. OLYMPIA.jpg
So, too, when the remnants of an era begin to disappear:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

This process can be fast. My first year students this semester were 10-11 years old when 9/11 happened, and they remember it much less distinctly than I do.

It can be slow. The flagship of Admiral George Dewey’s Asiatic Fleet from the Spanish-American War, the USS Olympia is still open for public viewing on the Philadelphia waterfront. Not for long, though. The Olympia has not been dry-docked since it arrived in Philadelphia in the 1940s and is rotting away in the water:

The waterline is marked with scores of patches, and sections of the mazelike lower hull are so corroded that sunlight shines through. Above deck, water sneaks past the concrete and rubberized surface layers, past the rotting fir deck underneath, and onto the handsomely appointed officers’ quarters below.

The ship is likely to be scrapped in the next year or so, leaving behind only the record of its existence and the history of its achievements.

medalLarge.jpgPreviously here and here. Both posts discussed the shifting standards for Medals of Honor, including the increasing percentage awarded posthumously. Now, there comes a report that a Medal of Honor recommendation has gone up to the White House for someone who survived their heroism:

The Pentagon has recommended that the White House consider awarding the Medal of Honor to a living soldier for the first time since the Vietnam War, according to U.S. officials.

The last Medal of Honor given to a live recipient was to Michael Edwin Thornton, for actions on 31 October 1972. Thornton’s MOH also seems to have been the last one given in the Vietnam conflict (I can’t find any for actions dated later).

The nomination comes after several years of complaints from lawmakers, military officers and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that the Pentagon had become so cautious that only troops whose bravery resulted in death were being considered for the Medal of Honor. Gates “finds it impossible to believe that there is no one who has performed a valorous act deserving of the Medal of Honor who has lived to tell about it,” said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, who declined to comment on specific nominations.

Given Gates’ comments, I’d be surprised if the White House didn’t approve the Medal of Honor.

Because a couple of people have asked me to, I’m re-posting a link to this. And yes, I know that I was a much better blogger when I put more time into it. Thanks for mentioning it. Anyway, the text of the post is below the fold. Happy MLK Day.

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Battleship Row, 7 December 1941

On this day on December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy” the American naval base on Oahu at Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan. Pearl Harbor has become iconic though sometimes people who shouldn’t have have nonetheless forgotten the exact date.

There are a substantial number of remembrances across the web today, including here, here, here (photos), and here.

USS Maine

I don’t aim to repeat that with my post. What I am interested in on this anniversary is the way in which the United States memorializes its disasters. America has a series of tragic dates, which are often remembered better than the victories. Pearl Harbor–I think–is more familiar than Midway (though perhaps not D-Day). The Maine is remembered more than any battle in the Spanish-American War. The Alamo still resonates in a way that no victory of either the Texas Revolution or the Mexican-American War does. The burning of Washington rivals Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans by way of remembering the War of 1812. For the American Revolution, Valley Forge is as legendary as Yorktown. The Civil War is somewhat the exception, with Gettysburg–a victory for the United States–dominating all other events.

Fascinating also is the way in which the most recent of these–9/11 and Pearl Harbor–have become inextricably linked to their date. December 7 and September 11th have come to be an identifying label for both events. They have managed this in a way that not even July 4th can duplicate, being on the wrong day, and all.

The British do something similar with Dunkirk, the Somme, and the “Black Week” of the Boer War, among others. The British “lose every battle but the last one,” an epigraphic way of universalizing the obsession with defeat, so perhaps this is not particularly American behavior. Those events are linked to dates as well, though not quite as specifically as Pearl and 9/11: 1940 for Dunkirk, 1 July 1916 for the Somme (ignoring that the battle went on for months), the name itself for the “Black Week.”

I don’t have a reason why this might be, or a conclusion about what such a fixation means, but it strikes me nonetheless that it is odd that such a strong strain of American historical memory is taken up obsessing about such catastrophes: defeat from the jaws of victory, indeed.

I apologize for being a bit late to the party, but if you haven’t already read David Grann’s reported essay in this week’s New Yorker, you really should. Grann looks at the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man executed by the State of Texas in 2004, though he very well may have been innocent. It’s a beautifully reported and written piece, and one of the most terrifying explorations of the state’s power that I’ve read in many years. Seriously, set aside an hour or so — it’s a long article, and you almost certainly won’t be able to stop once you start — and begin reading.

(The title of the post, by the way, is a quote from Sandra Day O’Connor.)

Edward “Teddy” Kennedy, February 22, 1932 – August 25, 2009.

(The whole speech above: 1, 2, 3, 4. And Teddy’s eulogy for his brother, Bobby.)

In the comments on this post, people got to wondering: who was the first African American to grace the cover of Time? The answer, TF Smith suggests, was Walter White, then head of the NAACP, on the cover of the January 24, 1938 issue. It’s an interesting image for a host of reasons, I think, not least color: White’s, I mean. But I’m especially fascinated by the painting of an in-progress lynching that appears in the background. Kevin points out, in the comments of the aforementioned post, that, “The NAACP in 1938 was pressing hard for the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, so it was no accident that White (or the editors) pressed for the image.” No doubt that’s right. Still, I’m surprised that Time ran that cover. So if anyone knows more of the back story here, please post a comment. Thanks.


When I teach my seminar on monuments, museums, and memorials, I typically cover the Enola Gay controversy. But one of the challenges I face is getting my students to look “beneath the mushroom cloud” (borrowing a phrase from John Dower). So, given that it’s the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima (see here for contemporary coverage), I thought I’d mention that I once juxtaposed Barefoot Gen with the bombing scene from Above and Beyond as a way of accomplishing this goal. This approach has its share of problems, unfortunately, and since I’ll be teaching the course again in the fall, I’d be eager to hear other ideas.

By the way, Barefoot Gen is fascinating for a variety of reasons, almost certainly worth the time for its treatment of class, the role of bureaucracy in Japanese culture, and popular misgivings about the war, not to mention its brutal depiction of Hiroshima’s destruction. It’s not just a one-trick pony, in other words. Above and Beyond, on the other hand, is probably best avoided. No doubt I’m wrong on both counts, though, and will soon hear about it. I eagerly await your replies.

It goes without saying—or should—that Spencer Ackerman is a national treasure.  I never comment over there because of one of the folks who does, but Spencer damn near tops my increasingly shorter list of essential morning reads.  That said, on those days I don’t have time to read in the mornings, I don’t—because I can’t—read him at all.  My brain translates this:


Into this:


And I just can’t sleep once I’ve see that.

(This is less of a post and more of a frank admission of admiration.  If all his peers had half his tenacity, DeLong could excise one loathsome category from his site.)


Tomasky has the money quotation from the late, and undeniably complicated, Robert McNamara. (Much more complicated than Henry Kissinger, who supposedly said Bill Clinton “does not possess the strength of character to be a war criminal.”) McNamara was talking about his role in this and that sort of thing, but of course he’s better known for his role in inspiring this sort of thing.

The Miller Center has an online McNamara exhibit which includes his case for a withdrawal from Vietnam in October, 1963.

UPDATED to add, on McNamara’s memoir:

… there is something wrong with a culture in which a McNamara is feted for his “guts” while George McGovern and Gene McCarthy, who opposed McNamara’s mistakes, are regarded as nobodies. In one of the uglier passages of In Retrospect, McNamara sneers at the antiwar protesters who marched on the Pentagon in 1967. If they had been more “disciplined” and “Gandhi-like,” he says, “they could have achieved their objective of shutting us down.” Instead they were “troublemakers” who “threw mud balls” and “even unzipped [soldiers’] flies.” This is contrition? Shouldn’t McNamara be admitting that the mudball-throwers, after all, had been right?

Which, wow. Whatever happened to Mickey Kaus?

UPDATED again to add, Fog of War transcript.


Ars Technica has a post summarizing Kodak’s decision to end sales of Kodachrome after 74 years because, basically, “not enough people are shooting KODACHROME for us to continue offering it.” In 1935 the film offered casual photographers the ability to take snapshots in color—to indulge that “twinge in your heart more powerful than memory alone,” as Don Draper says; it “takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”
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Maira Kalman tackles Jefferson and Monticello. The piece doesn’t change my opinion of Jefferson: terrible president, massive hypocrite, astonishing mind. Nor of Kalman*: national treasure. But it’s well worth the time.

* Are we related? Perhaps distantly? I’d like to think so.

. . . BURNING SHIT DOWN, which must be why neither the Los Angeles Times nor Twitter will load.  I admit that watching the social media site come into its own in response to an international crisis makes me wonder whether I ought to be a little less cynical of the political power of new media and the political engagement of the online generati—what?

You have got to be kidding me.

Somewhere in Tehran, an Iranian protester’s desperately punching his jerry-rigged mobile device trying to figure out what the fuck happened to Twitter.

Ron Paul’s son is named Rand? Apparently. I can’t believe nobody told me this.

Forty-one years ago today, James Earl Ray shot Martin Luther King, Jr. dead on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. To memorialize this grim anniversary, LIFE has released a gallery of photographs taken at the Lorraine on April 4, 1968 and the following day. For some reason, the second and ninth pictures (of the Lorraine’s sign and of the contents of Dr. King’s briefcase) hit me the hardest. Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of that Americana and American history (the images of the blood-soaked balcony and of Dr. King’s friends and colleagues from the SCLC mourning his loss) that’s so affecting. I honestly don’t know.

Of all the things I’ve read about Lincoln recently, this very moving something-or-other is among my favorites. The idea that a person unfamiliar with Lincoln might meet and then find herself falling in love with him warms my heart.

(Thanks to a reader for the link.)

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