Coming soon: the USS Britney Spears?

That’s an exaggeration, but not by much.  The famed aircraft carrier USS Enterprise departed Sunday on its final deployment, the 22nd of its amazing career of more than 50 years.  Later this year, the Big E will return home to be decommissioned.  The US Navy has a new carrier in the works, designated CVN-80 but as yet unnamed (Enterprise is CVN-65, for those keeping score).  Given the odd decisions on naming naval ships, Mark Krikorian has begun circulating a petition to transfer the name Enterprise to CVN-80 — or find a more appropriate name than limited imaginations have suggested of late:

But after this year the U.S. Navy will no longer have an Enterprise, which is why there’s a petition to name the next planned carrier, CVN-80, the USS Enterprise. Sign it, because we’ve gotten into the habit of naming our greatest warships after politicians, and not even dead ones — one of the newest carriers is the USS George H. W. Bush. Look, I voted for the guy, and he was a whole lot better than the current occupant, but nothing named by the U.S. government — not a building, not a scholarship program, certainly not one of the greatest warships built by mankind — should be named after a living person. Except for posthumous Medal of Honor recipients, it seems to me you should be dead for 50 years, preferably 100, before your name is even eligible to be considered for a naval ship.

And while we’re naming ships after Jimmy Carter and John Murtha and Bob Hope, keep in mind there’s no USS Lexington or Yorktown or Saratoga or Midway or Khe Sanh or, if we want to name them after people, Benjamin Franklin or John Adams or Jefferson or Madison or Monroe or Jackson. There have been nearly 1,000 Marine and Navy combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan — any one of those is more appropriate as the name of a ship than the USS Gabrielle Giffords.

I recall when the first Space Shuttle was built, and Star Trek fans wanted it named Enterprise.  They succeeded, but the joke ended up being on them (well, us); the Enterprise was a test vehicle that never flew in space.

At least that name made sense, however.  It hearkened back to naval days when ships took names that represented the values of the nation that launched them — Enterprise, Intrepid, Reliant, to name a few from American and British tradition, or that honored famous military victories like Yorktown and Saratoga, as Krikorian suggests.  We named nuclear submarines after the states, which might be a little more prosaic given their funding, but at least they represented the people as a whole rather than a living politician.  Even in Star Trek, the shuttles always took the names of famous explorers or those who had died in the effort to reach into space, such as Ellison Onizuka, Gus Grissom, and Christa McAuliffe.  There wasn’t a shuttle named Jean-Luc Picard in ST:TNG.  Instead, the naming conventions of the past several years seem to express the notion that values and history matter less than self-celebration.

Let’s name CVN-80 Enterprise and continue a tradition of audacity and excellence in the carrier fleet.  But even more to the point, let’s return to a tradition of honoring the values and history of this country in the naming of our naval ships.  Stop the madness before we christen a new ship the USS Britney Spears and we all have to say, “Oops! They did it again.”

Update: The last line in the penultimate paragraph should have read “matter less” rather than “matter more.”  I’ve fixed it, thanks to Twitter follower Bcwlk.

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