Just a Small Thing

In the third presidential debate, Mitt Romney pointed out that the current Navy was smaller than it had been since 1917. President Obama replied by saying that since the mission parameters had changed, and the military needs of the current world did not require a Navy of the type and structure as needed in the days of the Great War.

All well and good. Both sides, so far, have made telling rhetorical points and presented a reasonable case, each man for his side.

But then Barry the Community Organizer decided to adopt a condescending and lecturing tone, telling Governor Romney that the modern Navy has aircraft carriers from which planes can take off, and atomic submarines which are ships that go under the water.

I am the son of a lifelong Naval officer, so I spent my youth on post, and heard how the men and officers talk, so some of this is second nature to me. But I cannot be the only one who noticed this gaffe.

The only ship that goes under the sea is one that gets sunk. A submarine is a boat, not a ship. That is why the Germans called then U-Boats, not U-Ships.

Corpsmen (silent p) would know that. Corpse-men (pronounce the p) would not. That is because there are no Corpse-men. It is not a word.

And a mistake or a gaffe or a misuse of a technical term is not fatal to an argument, it is not even significant. It only is worthy of comment under two conditions: (1) you are the Commander in Chief, and so you are supposed to know a great deal about the military, its traditions and usages. (2) you have adopting a condescending, lecturing, hectoring tone when addressing one’s equals about facts well known to every literate citizen. If you adopt a lecturing tone, this arrogates to yourself the stature of an authority to be taken on faith, and hence even small mistakes in the matter become fatal.

A submarine is a boat. The commander in chief who holds the sacred authority to order the sailors serving aboard her into harm’s way should know that.

He Volunteered for the Submarine Service by Jon Whitcomb

UPDATE: I assume Right-wing pundit have made this same point in many places, but there was another gaffe I did not catch. Barry the Community Organizer also said our army no longer used horses and bayonets.

Most of the cavalry is mechanized these days, I grant you, but every single freakin’ trooper in the US Army is issued bayonet. Daniel Foster writes up a comment here:


He says that the Army is using the M9 bayonet, whereas the Marine Corps employs the OKC3S bayonet, which he describes as

…a full-tang construction, 13.25″ piece of 1095 steel with a zinc-phosphate non-reflective finish, a stealthy sheath, and a Dynaflex® handle ergonomically grooved to reduce hand fatigue. Designed to be sharper, stronger, and more natural in the hand than its predecessors, the OKC3S is built to penetrate body armor and was part of the Marine Corps’s post-9/11 push to reemphasize hand-to-hand combat.

He goes on to say the M9 is slightly bulkier because the Army wanted a good wire cutter.

This is something of a pet peeve of mine, since I have always been annoyed at science fictional Star Fleet supersoldiers who can blow up planets with a pulsar weapon but not gut a caitiff with a dirk. I went out of my way in my novel THE GOLDEN AGE to have the world’s ultimate soldier in the Utopian remote far future half a million years hence still practicing with his bayonet. When someone asked him why, he replied that if your nanotechnological singularly-powered energy weapon ran out of charge, it was basically a broomstick. If it had a bayonet fixed, it was a deadly weapon.

I am amused and pleased, and I salute my muse, to read Homer Brett, USMC, making the same point in almost the same words.

 “A rifle is a piece of plastic and steel which, if it malfunctions, or if there’s not time to reload it, or if it’s out of ammunition, without a bayonet is just a club, and not a very good one,” Brett says. “… But you can never say you won’t have an empty weapon. You can never say you won’t have a jammed weapon. You can never say that you won’t have a broken weapon.”

I freely acknowledge that I am stirred by deep partisan dislike for the opposition party, and that, of all their past Presidents and candidates for President, I believe Mr Obama to be worse than Jimmy Carter, and marginally better than Woodrow Wilson.

But even discounting the self interest in my motive, I find it frankly astonishing that the Commander of the joint military forces of the United State would forget that our troops still use bayonets.

It may just have been a slip of the tongue, but, it does make me think he is not familiar with the military life, not comfortable with it.

Englishmen in the days when they invited some German-speaking prince, William of Orange or George or whoever, to rule over them, I wonder if the English had the same frisson of awkwardness when they realized their leader was a man who did not speak their language, was not at east with their ways.

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