Archive for the 'History' Category
In the summer of 1964 Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz was enjoying his retirement and living in the San Francisco Bay area. He was asked to address a group of young naval cadets and fresh junior officers about their profession and their future. Nimitz had been connected to the sea almost since birth, his father had been a ship captain before moving to Texas to open a hotel, and his grandfather had raised him on stories of the sea. At age fifteen Chester took the Naval Academy entrance exam and passed.
He left high school before he graduated in order to enter Annapolis with the Class of 1905. In those days the entrance exam was the most important qualification for entry, not high school. The Academy was the only source of line officers for the Navy and Marine Corps, there was no ROTC or OCS. (Actually, Nimitz later helped established the NROTC unit at the University of California). When he was invited to speak it had been over sixty years since he entered the Academy, but he looked back across his many years in the service of his country and focused on three lessons for the junior officers.
It is once again commissioning season at the Academy and in ROTC units across the United States. These three lessons from the Fleet Admiral who commanded the war in the Pacific are just as valuable for our rising Ensigns and Second Lieutenants today as they were fifty years ago.
You are on the threshold of a great and honored profession – that of a naval officer. You will find among the naval officers of all countries a brotherhood of the sea which recognizes as a common enemy – the sea itself – and which has a primary duty of understanding that old enemy – the sea – in all its moods – in order to preserve the men, planes, and ships entrusted to them.*
Life at sea brings many challenges. Our history books are full of stories of combat and lessons from battle, but the sea is a danger in itself. It is something we rarely talk about in our training programs prior to commissioning, and the realization usually reaches us after we begin going to sea or taking to the air. As Joseph Conrad wrote, “the sea — this truth must be confessed — has no generosity. No display of manly qualities — courage, hardihood, endurance, faithfulness — has ever been known to touch its irresponsible consciousness of power.”
It’s also important to note Nimitz’s connection with the “brotherhood of the sea.” (I point this out in the most gender-neutral way possible, which is sometimes an issue when using historical sources.) The bond between Sailors and Marines of many nations around the world is a long and historic one. One of the things you’ll realize on your first deployment is that you have a great deal in common with not only our allies, but everyone at sea. Today the CNO talks about building partnerships around the world, but this isn’t new and it is something that can come naturally to Sailors and Marines, if you let it.
You will understand that for a nation to survive it must control the sea and air approaches to the homeland – and that this responsibility will fall primarily on the shoulders of its naval officers who will also have the duties of protecting interests far off shore.
Nimitz knew that understanding the role we play in our nation’s defense is important. To a nation like the United States, with limited borders and friends both north and south, seapower is central to national defense. As Alfred Thayer Mahan once wrote, “every danger of a military character to which the United States is exposed can be met best outside her own territory—at sea. Preparedness for naval war—preparedness against naval attack and for naval offence—is preparedness for anything that is likely to occur.”
But besides the defense of our country, Nimitz also alludes to work “far off shore.” For today’s new junior officers this is a reminder that for the Sea Services, as the wars of the first decades of the 21st century wind down, we probably won’t be “coming home” in the same way the other services might. We are needed “far off shore” in peacetime as much as we are when war arrives. You’ll be deploying and you’ll be operating all over the world and that means being away from family and friends in order to do your job.
You will learn that you are never finished with your efforts and studies to prepare yourselves for your duties of naval officers. This will continue – as long as you live. You will share with the brotherhood of officers of all nations an abhorrence of war but you must be prepared to confront force with force whenever the interests of your country requires such action. You will learn that bravery is not enough – and that you must do your utmost by professional study and reading of history to perfect your readiness to serve your country.
Admiral Nimitz was not the first to point out the vital importance of self-study and learning your profession. From William Sims and Alfred Thayer Mahan, to Carl Von Clausewitz and Napoleon, the idea that you must continuously be reading history and studying the world around you in order to be a professional military officer has a long pedigree. Nimitz wasn’t the first, nor was he the last. However, today it is something that we all must be reminded of.
You will likely be told that if you do your job today tomorrow will take care of itself. While this may be true from a careerist perspective, it is not true from a professional perspective. You must always be studying, reading, and learning in order to prepare yourself for your next set of orders or promotion. Not just NATOPS, or the standing orders, or other pubs (though you’ll need those too). Professional development comes from books about leadership, history, and strategy. If you wait for someone else to teach you what you need to know you may never learn it. You may be tempted to say, “well, I’ll wait until I go to the War College” or “I don’t have time for that, I’ll do it once I make Department Head.” That is the wrong attitude. There will never be time unless you make time. That is as true today as it will be twenty years into a career in the Navy or Marine Corps. You don’t need to enroll in a correspondence course or an online degree, just pick out a couple of good books to read every year.
The officers that Nimitz spoke to in 1964 were an interesting group. It wasn’t the latest class from Annapolis or the recent graduates of his University of California ROTC unit. No, he was addressing the junior officers and naval cadets of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Training Squadron. Commanded by Rear-Admiral Kazutoshi Kuhara, who had fought Nimitz’s task forces just two decades before, the four Japanese ships were on a training cruise across the Pacific. Many of the officers Nimitz addressed were small children when their nation was defeated under his command. His advice not only stands the test of time, but has well served a naval force that became one of our closest allies, and one of today’s most professional navies.
Fleet Admiral Nimitz was a great naval officer. He is remembered by most as the man who led the Navy in the Pacific during World War II, but he should be remembered for much more. He was the Ensign who commanded a gunboat off the Philippines, fighting alongside Marines and Army Soldiers in the counter-insurgency campaign during the Philippine Insurrection. He was the Lieutenant that revolutionized submarine tactics and was asked to lecture on it at the War College. He was the Lieutenant Commander that introduced the Navy to diesel engines and helped develop the procedures for the very first underway replenishment.
And maybe that’s the final lesson from Admiral Nimitz, you don’t become a war winning Admiral overnight. Follow his advice: face the challenges of the sea, understand the role you and your Navy and Marine Corps play in our national security, always keep studying history and your profession, and maybe some day one of the members of the Class of 2014 will be our next Fleet Admiral. As he said:
Remember that you have an important place in a highly honorable profession. I wish each of you success and happiness.
* Original copy of Nimitz’s remarks archived at Naval War College Historical Collections, Record Group 29. Digital copy available from the Nimitz Gray Book digitization project.
So far in 2014, the big lesson is what people have known for centuries; in Eurasia you cannot ignore Russia. The cliché is accurate, Russia is never as weak or as strong as she seems.
What do the developments so far mean not just for Ukraine, but for all the former Soviet Republics, slumbering Western Europe and Russia’s near abroad?
To discuss this and more, for the full hour we will have returning guest Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Analyst, CNA Strategic Studies, an Associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, an author, and host of the Russian Military Reform blog.
Dr. Gorenburg focuses his research on security issues in the former Soviet Union, Russian military reform, Russian foreign policy, ethnic politics and identity, and Russian regional politics. He is also the editor of the journals Problems of Post-Communism and Russian Politics and Law and a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. From 2005 through 2010, he was the Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.
Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here
Somethings just don’t change. Like, getting that letter. Waiting to see if your loved ones, your friends, your family; waiting to see if they wrote back to you. Knowing in your hand is that letter, which they once held, which was written in the very place you hold so dear: Home.
“I pray that you are in good health night and day, and I always make obeisance before all the gods on your behalf. I do not cease writing to you, but you do not have me in mind. But I do my part writing to you always and do not cease bearing you (in mind) and having you in my heart. But you never wrote to me concerning your health, how you are doing. I am worried about you because although you received letters from me often, you never wrote back to me so that I may know how you.”
1,800 years ago. That same sense which is so real for those who have deployed, was felt. It was known. I immediately identify with the sentiment uttered by a Roman Soldier in a land far from home.
We know the Soldier’s name, Aurelius Polion and it seems he wasn’t getting replies to his letters. Which, yeah, is the worse part–waiting, wondering if your absence is felt. You know that life is still going on back home, yet you don’t know what those goings-on exactly are, especially when all that was had for communication was papyrus and the hand carrying of letters across Continents.
Today, I sit at a computer, watching the curser blink as thoughts of what to say race through my mind. But, the effort is no different, the thoughts are much the same. There’s a very good reason why we include the phrase, “those who have gone before us” in the Sailor’s Creed, we find that reason in reading and identifying with the words of Polion.
Her email address was nowhining@…, a symbol of her outlook on life. Married to Paul since the early 1960s, Phyllis Galanti endured six years as a wife of a prisoner-of-war (POW) in Vietnam. But she never complained. Instead, she got busy. The “shy, retiring housewife,” as she was described by Paul at the time he left for Vietnam, later became a national advocate for the release of all our American servicemen who were held as POWs in Vietnam, as well as those service members who were missing-in-action (MIA).
Warned by the military that speaking out publicly about their husbands’ status as POWs would result in worse treatment for them and a setback in the government’s attempts to secure the POWs’ release, wives like Phyllis were ordered to keep silent about their husbands and, for awhile, they obeyed. But after several years of inaction by the government, many of the POW and MIA wives grew tired of suffering alone. Fearing their husbands were languishing and deteriorating in prison, the women were also becoming increasingly impatient. Backed financially by Ross Perot, they banded together and decided to raise awareness of their husbands’ plights, overtly defying the military’s directives. It was a bold move and, at the time, their aggressiveness was shocking. But, encouraged by Mr. Perot and their own determination, they walked the halls of Congress and talked to anyone in the White House, the State Department and the media who would lend them an ear. Phyllis became a leader of this forceful group of women.
Addressing a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly, facing down Henry Kissinger, and traveling the world to meet with the North Vietnamese and keep the pressure on the peace negotiations, Phyllis became an outspoken advocate for all the POWs. She was tireless. She never gave up and never lost the faith. More than six years after Paul was shot down and incarcerated at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, he was finally released on February 12, 1973 – 2,432 days after his capture. Four decades later, the wives and their campaign are widely credited with influencing the Paris peace negotiations and securing their husbands’ freedom. That shy, retiring housewife had been replaced with a steely advocate for change. As Kissinger later said to Paul in his thick German accent, “Your vife, she gave me so much trouble.” Paul was so proud.
Statuesque, poised and calm, Phyllis was not easily excitable. She had a softness about her that was disarming. It started with her full head of spun-silver hair, punctuated by a large, sunny grin that filled her fair-skinned face and lit up her blue eyes. She exuded Southern charm, warmth, and class. And she had the patience of an oyster.
Their emotional reunion was captured on the cover of Newsweek magazine and their story had a happy ending: Paul finished out a successful Navy career and is now the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. They had two sons and three grandchildren. They continued to serve in the community of their adopted home of Richmond, Virginia, through extensive volunteer work – especially at the Virginia War Memorial, which named its new education center after the couple. They were enjoying their golden years. And, then, Phyllis became ill and died very suddenly last week. I’m sure she would say that she had no regrets in her life – except for perhaps more time with Paul and her children and grandchildren.
Einstein was quoted as saying, “In the service of life, sacrifice becomes grace.” Phyllis sacrificed greatly for Paul and her country, but she won her war, and she exited this world quietly and full of grace.
Taylor Baldwin Kiland is the author of two books about Vietnam POWs.
Battleships ceded their primacy to aircraft in WWII, but they still played an important role. Today’s object comes from one of the more unusual ship to ship engagements during the war, that between the USS Massachusetts (BB-59) and the French battleship Jean Bart, in Casablanca as part of Operation Torch.
As the US prepared to strike back in Europe and the Pacific, the Navy prepared for the logistical challenge by creating construction battalions, the famous Seabees. Today’s object chronicles the first time the Seabees went into combat at Guadalcanal.
As WWII raged, supply convoys from the United States and Canada faced off with the German U-boat “wolfpacks” throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Although the Wolfpacks nearly crippled the allied war effort early in 1941 and 1942, eventually the Allies were able to turn the tide, culminating in the devastation inflicted inflicted on the German submarine squadrons in 1943. May 1943 became known to the Germans as “Black May.” Today’s object was captured from a German submarine by American sailors one year later in a daring boarding of a sinking u-boat.
As with most concepts and good ideas, you really don’t know what you need and how you need to do it until you put Sailors to task and head to sea.
The idea of an Afloat Forward Staging Base has, in a variety of forms, been a regular part of naval operations arguably for centuries under different names and with different equipment.
What about the 21st Century? More than just a story about the use and utility of the AFSB concept, the story of the USS PONCE is larger than that – it also has a lot to say about how one can quickly turn an old LPD around for a new mission, and how you can blend together the different but complementary cultures of the US Navy Sailors and the Military Sealift Command civilian mariners.
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Captain Jon N. Rodgers, USN, former Commanding Officer of the USS PONCE AFSB(I)-15.
Either join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here.
The development of wireless communication in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was quickly followed by the development of encrytpion for coded transmissions. The ability of the US to decipher these coded transmissions played an essential role in helping the US and her allies to victory in World War II. Today, we discuss an iconic World War II enryption tool, the German Enigma Machine.
With the battle fleet damaged at Pearl Harbor, carrier-based aircraft became the US Pacific Fleet’s main weapon. A small group of veteran naval aviation pioneers led the US carriers against the Japanese Imperial Navy, including Admiral Marc Mitscher, to whom our object today belonged.
- On Midrats 21 Dec 14 – Episode 259: The Islamic State – rise and world view, with Craig Whiteside
- On Midrats 14 Dec 14 – Episode 258: COIN, Cyber, and Lawfare: the continuity of war in to 2015
- On Midrats 7 Dec 14, Episode 257: “Clausewitz – now more than ever, with Donald Stoker”
- And so, our Navy finds its Memory Hole
- To Defeat ISIS, Hawkeyes Required