On the Deck of an Aircraft Carrier

The wind swept over the mammoth deck of the aircraft carrier docked at the Naval Air Station Quonset Point in Narragansett Bay in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. It was 1960, and my Boy Scout troop was on a weekend trip to the naval base that included this visit to an aircraft carrier and accommodations for us in a nearby barracks. I remember the barracks as being mostly gray. I’m 12 years old, and the massiveness of the carrier’s deck and the few jets on its surface are very impressive to a kid.

My troop was on the move again, and our weekend trip was to a missile site about ten miles from my home. The missiles are based in silos and they are meant to defend places like Quonset Point. In reality, what Quonset Point and the nearby Naval Station Newport and the Naval War College, along with the submarine builder the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics, now based in both North Kingstown and New London, Connecticut would invite during a confrontation between the US and the former Soviet Union was certain vaporization of everything and everyone I knew and loved and the entire geographic area. That’s exactly what a hydrogen bomb would have done and the world came pretty close to that denouement just two years later over Soviet missiles in Cuba.

So, when I read Rhode Map, the Boston Globe’s newsletter covering Rhode Island news, about the recent New England Defense Industry Alliance’s (SENEDIA) “innovation conference”, it’s little wonder that my childhood experiences with militarism came rushing back instead of the great hikes, camping, and hundreds of other experiences from scouting.

The Rhode Map article is in the form of a question-and-answer interview with the executive director, Molly Donohue Magee, of SENEDIA, and I’m floored at how nonchalantly the topics of militarism are covered during the interview. Here, we’re talking about trillions of dollars that have been pissed away on endless wars, well documented by nearby Brown University’s Watson Institute’s Costs of War project. That project has calculated that US military expenditures since September 11, 2001 are $8 trillion. There’s lots of room for profit there for military contractors and lots of influence for the military. We’re also viewing in this interview how the potential for Armageddon is dealt with in a matter-of-fact way.

According to the director of SENEDIA, one of the Defense Department’s “significant need[s]” is for “both new innovations and trusted technologies, like the best in-class submarines…” The latter probably refers to the multiple hydrogen bomb armed Trident submarine that could bring the curtain down on humanity in just a few, brief hours and who are our adversaries now? Russia and China, and readers can infer that some things never change.

The next topic discussed during the interview is “supply chain woes,” or the disconnect between the “products and services that the Department of Defense needs…” Rhode Island almost always comes in last among all the other New England states in the category of the economic security of its citizens. Why not address meeting human needs in that state?

In one session of the conference, RI Senator Sheldon Whitehouse spoke about “climate and resiliency innovation.” Senator Whitehouse is seen as a liberal politician, yet here are his own words from this conference: “Climate change is both a threat and an opportunity for national security.” Those are his words spoken at the conference and not a fabrication. Missing in his analysis is the existential threat of environmental destruction caused by military operations and militarism. The military burns vast quantities of fossil fuels and wars are a big producer of CO2.

The conference also discussed “cybersecurity” and a “robust workforce.” The point in all of this is just how militarism has grown since the end of World War II, as the US took up its role as a superpower, and in under five decades was the only superpower left standing on the hill with trillions of dollars of national treasure pissed away on wars and the preparations for war and the needs of people unmet.

To a kid standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier all of those distant decades ago, it all fit and even seemed adventurous, just as the trip into the missile silos seemed so frightening. What amazes most is that it has all become so much worse!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).