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Congress scolds Navy for controversial ship naming

A U.S. Navy destroyer.
A U.S. Navy destroyer.
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Last week, Congress passed a massive $662 billion defense bill that may or may not be vetoed by the president because of a couple controversial provisions about the military's role in dealing with terror suspects. But also snuggled inside that huge bill was a very small provision from Missouri Congressman Roy Blunt. The amendment would require the Secretary of the Navy to "perform a study and seek recommendations to evaluate how Naval vessels are named."

Blunt's provision is in response to the decision by the Secretary of the Navy last May to name one of its ships after famed labor leader Cesar Chavez. Chavez has long been a polarizing figure. Some say he was a far-left union organizer who drove small farmers out of business and looked the other way while people perpetrated violence in his name. Others call him an inspiring leader who worked tirelessly for the good of agricultural workers. For what it's worth, Chavez spent two years in the Navy, although he did often refer to that time as "the worst two years of my life."


Whether a naval vessel should or should not be named for a controversial union organizer is certainly a question for debate, but another question is: How does the U.S navy come up with whom to name a ship after? Is there a panel? A nominating system? What's the process? Does it need an overhaul as Representative Blunt suggests? And, if we are going to continue to name ships after historical figures should there be a set of criteria for determining who is eligible?


Wayne Hughes, Senior Lecturer, Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey California; former Navy Captain