FROM MY CORNER
As a former U.S. Navy Reserve enlisted man, U.S. Army Intelligence Captain, and lifelong private ocean sailor, I wish to express an opinion about the strange event that just occurred off the coast of Japan between one of our most modern Destroyers and an allegedly Japanese commercial vessel.
The Captain of the U.S. Destroyer was reported, I believe, as having been below decks, possibly asleep, when the collision occurred. If so, my first observation is that had I been that Captain at 2AM off the coast of a foreign country, I would never have left the helm to any subordinate, however experienced he might be.
Night has to be included in what the famous Polish-born, English author Joseph Conrad describes as, “The Shadow Line,” those most-difficultly-defined and dangerous aspects of sailing: anything that constitutes real existential danger.
When sailing single handed at night, I take unusually stringent precautions. If I have had enough sleep, I remain awake and in the topside cockpit of my boat all night. If I have reached the point of indisputably needing sleep, I establish several safety procedures – all designed to avoid other hard moving objects.
First, I make sure I am several miles offshore, so that no winds and currents can easily and rapidly force me to land without my becoming aware of the situation. I further slow the boat down to a moderate speed, so that any potential collision’s impact with anything will be minimalized.
I set two technical warning devices: a safety signal system on my VHF radio that is automatically activated by large commercial and military vessels when they get within two miles of me. I also set an alarm on my radar against smaller vessels or objects that show up when two miles from me. Lastly, I set a third alarm to wake me up every thirty minutes to confirm my situation.
Why do I do this? Because I am fond of living. Therefore, these procedures remain in place the entire night. That U.S. Destroyer and its Captain certainly had available to them similar common sense options and technical tools. They should have been designated and operative. Plus more, which will follow later below.
Second: That abrupt U-Turn by the alleged Japanese ship captures my attention immediately. That was an unusual occurrence. But more so, it was on the surface of itself a potentially hostile act. The helmsman and his mates should have been instantly cognizant of its possible danger.
However, another aspect screams for attention. Such a U-Turn by a commercial ship of the size involved is not a quick maneuver. It likely took between fifteen and thirty minutes just to make the wide circling curve necessary to reverse direction back toward the Destroyer. It would have been seen long before the collision occurred.
And when that move had clearly been accomplished, the U.S. Navy Destroyer could have at all times been able to see that a collision was potentially eminent. Immediate contingency moves could have been agreed upon, and the danger point established as to when, where, and how to avoid collision agreed upon by the team supporting the actual helmsman.
So, the question is, why did all of these preventive measure not take place? Or what prevented them? A U.S. Navy book exists named, “The Watch Officer’s Guide.” Although it is a somewhat pompously worded document, one wonders if anyone on watch that night had read it. If not, why not?
I was not off the Japanese coast the dark morning of the collision. I have no facts other than the few details loosely reported by media. However, I suspect the reason for the collision was that the outstanding trait Americans so long were famous for has been displaced by a mindless allegiance to technology and digital gadgetry.
That trait was the individual American’s ability to use his or her own responsible and responsive mind to assess sudden events, and act coolly and rationally in tight situations. Historically, it has been an acknowledged U.S. character trait that allowed us to defeat such enemies as the rigidly rule-bound Germans in World War II.
It strikes me we still had this trait intact in Korea. I suspect we started to lose it in Vietnam when expensive, profitable U.S. weaponry finally overcame and superseded plain old human common sense. When profits replaced cognitive competence.
We are at a time in our history defined by a culture based on profiteering from technology and the information acuity to define psychologically-susceptible markets. We have learned how to make money by taking advantage of others’ vulnerabilities. We seem to love this shallow game.
I believe this has stolen from us our ability to think. I do not say this is as a broad generalization. I believe it is a solid reality. And I believe that until we supplant our now dubiously acquired “nerdy” techno-culture by concretely re-encouraging individual thinking, and by training Americans how to return to this once accepted national trait, we will continue to be crashed into by a wide ranging number of disabling events.
We cannot have a strong nation by economically and technologically dumbing down our entire population, including our military. A nation of people given only the option of “clicking” this or that Icon is not a nation of thinking people. Such people are victims to a intellectually feeble culture profiting a few while endangering us all.
PS: If you find mine a dubious argument, I will gladly print your responding comments.