On the Naming of Carriers

March 6, 2012, 2:32 pm

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.

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