Monday, May 24, 2010

Memorial Day Message

Ron Ault May 23, 2010

The last Monday in May has been observed as the Memorial Day federal holiday since 1971.  Before then, it was known as “Decoration Day” to decorate the graves and monuments that honor our fallen servicemen and women.  This observance goes all the way back to 1871 to honor the dead servicemen who served in the Civil War. 

This history of Memorial Day shows that the more things change, the more they remain the same, especially when we are in a temporary time of peace between the numerous wars our nation has fought since 1871.

Today, the  public’s perception is that we are at peace with other nations, although that isn’t entirely true.  We are at war and it is with nations; not just a loose group of so-called terrorist groups;  al Qaeda  may be the face of their surrogate, but these terrorists are sponsored and supported by nation states hell bent on harming America. At the same time, we are in the worst economic recession/depression since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

2010 looks an awful lot like the state of the world in 1938, before World War II.  History has a way of repeating itself. The world of the “haves” and the “have nots” during the Great Depression actually triggered World War II. Adolph Hitler came to power united behind a starving Germany that was largely unemployed. Today, we are seeing riots in Europe, political uprisings in the Far East and an angry American electorate that is voting long-term incumbents out of office.  We have sleeper cell terrorists attempting to bomb New York City’s Times Square just to kill innocent civilians.

The United States Constitution specifically requires the US Congress to provide a Navy for the national defense…not the Department of Defense; not the President of the US; but Congress. Yet, in these dangerous and uncertain times, what is happening to our Navy?

The Navy’s recently released 30-year shipbuilding plan is fraught with faulty assumptions that are based purely on shortages of shipbuilding funding. And, if Congress simply rubber stamps the recommendations of this report, it will be giving up its constitutionally mandated responsibility to provide a Navy to auditors and bean counters.

It costs a lot of money to have a modern two ocean Navy and our nation doesn’t have any money to spare. The war in Iraq bankrupted America. This war has actually lasted longer than WWII —it is the longest and most expensive war we have ever had. To shift money to fight the war of our choice in Afghanistan, the US has decided to cancel new defense programs saying that no other nation on Earth has the technology we currently have in our military, so we don’t need new systems. This decision will have long term consequences.

By cutting the development of future weapons systems we are dismantling our national defense industrial base, and by doing so we give up our ability to build our own weapons systems we will need to defend ourselves.

Any nation that cannot build their own defense weapons cannot be considered a world power and must buy whatever weapons other nations are willing to sell to them.  This is especially true in the Naval Shipbuilding industrial base. America has only six major shipyards that are capable of building complex large deck Naval combat ships and submarines; listed from West to East: National Steel Shipyard owned by General Dynamics Corporation located in San Diego, California; Avondale Shipyards, owned by Northrop Grumman Corporation and located just outside New Orleans, Louisiana; Ingalls Shipyard owned by Northrop Grumman Corporation located in Pascagoula, Mississippi; Newport News Shipbuilding, owned by Northrop Grumman and located in Newport News, Virginia; Electric Boat, owned by General Dynamics Corporation and located in Groton, Connecticut; and Bath Iron Works, owned by General Dynamics and located in Bath, Maine.

Newport News is the only shipyard currently building nuclear powered aircraft carriers and Electric Boat is a nuclear submarine yard. Bath Iron Works, Ingalls, Avondale and National Steel Shipyards are building the non nuclear, combat surface ships, including destroyers, amphibious ships, fleet underway replenishment ships (formerly called fleet oilers), minesweepers, frigates and cruisers.

We haven’t built a modern icebreaker in decades and considering the Russian race for oil exploration in the Arctic Circle, seems pretty short sighted.

The modernization of the aging Coast Guard fleet and the US coastal trade, Jones Act fleet of US Merchant Marine ships requires more than six shipyards, but without federal support for such programs, America will lose the last vestiges of heavy industry manufacturing left in America and we will have to buy our ships from China and South Korea with money we borrow from them.

What most Americans don’t realize is that these shipyards are the largest private employers in their respective states and generate and additional $7.80 for every dollar they spend in economic activity in their regions and within the shipbuilding supplier base.

The income taxes on wages paid to our workers offset some of the costs of Naval and Coast Guard purchases, but no one accounts for that.

Every single state in the US has industries that supply the US shipbuilding industry. Every job in these shipyards is a good-paying, middle class job.

When all variables are factored in the economic pie that is sliced up, I submit that the economic impact of shipbuilding is self-sustaining. Once any of these shipyards is closed, there will never be another shipyard built in the United States again.

No one can afford to invest the billions of dollars into the infrastructure to build a shipyard, and the environmental permits would NEVER be approved to dig and build dry docks, dredge berthing and outfitting spaces, waterfront piers, machines, electrical conduits, piping, sheet metal and steel fabrication shops and massive heavy lift cranes and weight handling equipment used in modular construction of massive metal ship structures.

America’s shipyards are national treasures and should not belong to private enterprise, but they do and as such they are operated on a supply and demand basis. They must make a profit or be closed, sold and disposed of, regardless of the impact on our national security.  Had America closed down its shipbuilding base between the crash of 1929 and December 7, 1941, we would have the axis flags of Germany and Japan flying over Washington, D.C. today. History ignored is history to be repeated.

This Memorial Day as we honor our fallen and our currently serving American armed forces, let’s not put future generations at risk by short sighted defense policies based on budget rather than on our national needs. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld candidly said when asked by news reporters about why our Humvees were not ordered built with IED armor to prevent unnecessary US causalities: “We go to war with the Army we have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Our shipbuilders build every U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ship knowing it is their sons and daughters who will crew and fight in those ships.
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