From an article https://www.forbes.com/sites/craighooper/2020/06/18/new-navy-secretary-wastes-no-time–in-calling-navy-history-to-arms/ via Maritime News.
New Navy Secretary Wastes No Time In Calling Navy History To Arms
Craig Hooper, Senior Contributor, Aerospace & Defense
The new SECNAV is weaponizing history
Few reporters outside of the maritime community noted that the newly appointed 77th secretary of the Navy, Kenneth Braithwaite, made the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command his first official office visit of his tenure. The event was dismissed as cheap symbolism; while most Navy secretaries pay homage to naval history at some point in their tenure, few do more than offer lip service to the Navy’s legacy. Most just cut the Command’s budget and move on.
Those times may be changing.
Putting Navy history to work is a priority for this Navy secretary. As Braithwaite said in a June 11 address to the Annual Meeting of the Naval Historical Foundation, “naval history is a central component to our readiness and our capability.” He is right. The Navy’s proud legacy can do a lot of cost-effective work in advancing the Navy’s agenda both at home and abroad. It just needs to be empowered and funded to do so.
It is rare to have such a committed advocate for naval history in the Navy’s front office. In a Pentagon where “lethality” is the hot, fundable buzzword, the Naval History and Heritage Command risked becoming a disposable asset and eliminated under ongoing Navy cost-cutting initiatives. But, under Braithwaite’s patronage, the researchers at the Naval History and Heritage Command can transform from a fiscal liability into cost-effective force multipliers. They are capable of offering strategic insights that are as good or better than those provided by many pricey maritime intel and warning shops. And—to sweeten the bargain—they can do all this while the Command’s books, libraries and museums capture future sailors faster than the Blue Angels can fly.
For Braithwaite, reinvigorating the Navy’s legacy and historical community is perfectly aligned with Braithwaite’s potentially short tenure and limited funding options. It is an achievable goal, and, in the naval historical community, a little cash goes a very long way.
There is a lot to do and not much time to do it, but if Braithwaite is granted the resources to “weaponize” the humble Naval History and Heritage Command, he will be the first Service Secretary to get America’s maritime history and naval legacy ready to fight in today’s digital grey-zone battlefield.
Is Braithwaite Finally Funding History?
While Braithwaite’s power as a potentially “lame-duck” Navy secretary is relatively limited, his commitment to history and the Naval History and Heritage Command is clear. He has highlighted naval legacy in virtually every public statement he has uttered, and his “pro-history” stance has been hammered home at every public appearance. It is a level of message discipline that Navy-watchers have not seen for some time.
Braithwaite opened his confirmation hearing recalling his father, who was aboard the third landing craft to land at Normandy in 1944, and detailed how he and his family made repeated pilgrimages to the World War II landing sites.
Braithwaite brought history into his policy messaging, too. In the Advanced Policy Questions, submitted for Braithwaite’s confirmation hearing, the Navy Secretary even touched on an obscure debate over the use of an advanced turboelectric drive in pre-World War I battleships, writing that “an enhanced cost to benefit ratio and more efficient propulsion system put the Navy on course to be successful in World War Two.” While the new Secretary, in this case, oversold the argument, his attempt to tie modern maritime initiatives into a wider tapestry is commendable. Turboelectric drives were used in the versatile World War II-era Buckley and Rudderow destroyer escorts, but the first generation of electric drives in the early battlewagons never proved in practice as radically more efficient than their mechanical rivals. The true value of electric propulsion is still being revealed in today’s modern platforms.
A sense of history also girds Braithwaite’s goal of changing Navy culture. In his first interview, Braithwaite said, according to a U.S. Naval Institute News, that “we need to tell the Navy’s story better, both externally to the American people and, again, to the taxpayers, but also internally” to build a sense of shared pride and understanding. But to do that, Navy history will need funding.
History Is Never Obsolete:
One of the advantages of leveraging the Navy’s legacy is that it never gets old, and historical munitions-lockers never run low.
The trick is in the leveraging.
Right now, far too many museums of naval history sit, trapped, deep in naval bases, where only the devoted dare to tangle with the vagaries of base security. Navy libraries are tucked away in leaky buildings, and the command’s literature goes undistributed beyond the military community, with the U.S. Navy’s own historical writings rarely making their way into American libraries far from the sea. Moving the Navy Museum out of Washington’s secured Navy Yard is a first step in the right direction, allowing that asset to not only re-engage the public but to do double duty in influencing Washington DC stakeholders.
There is even less outreach overseas and into critical foreign audiences where an understanding of the U.S. Navy’s legacy might be useful. In fact, the command’s own best customer for its works might be the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy, which actively seeks out, translates and studies works of western maritime history.
But outreach is just one thing.
Actively deploying naval history to the front lines of diplomacy, maritime policy and Congress requires both steady investment and creative leadership.
Leveraging naval history takes time. Take a look a Braithwaite himself. He is, essentially, a product of naval history and heritage. And his repeated pilgrimages to Normandy reflect the power naval history has upon stakeholders when it is appropriately harnessed. The landing sites in Normandy have been the backdrop for Presidents throughout the Cold War, and immaculate war memorials throughout Europe have done yeoman service in advancing positive messages about America to both allies and Americans alike.
But had Braithwaite’s father landed on the now strategically important islands to Tulagi or Tarawa or Luzon, there would have been no family pilgrimage—those critical landing sites are neither preserved or nor revered, and Tulagi—an ideal basing site—was almost leased to the Chinese.
As I wrote ten years ago in the Los Angeles Times, those islands that forged America’s Pacific legacy were dismissed in the Cold War, and left to elderly veterans to maintain where and when they could. America’s Pacific legacy has been tarnished for it, and America has allowed other, less friendly entities to redefine America’s proud past in the Pacific. Recovering America’s lost strategic position will cost far more now to fix than if America had paid the pittances required to keep America’s old democracy-building legacy alive throughout the Pacific. This is the sort of thing Braithwaite’s interest in naval history can help reverse.
How Braithwaite leverages the Naval History and Heritage Command to tell the Navy’s story both at home and abroad will be a measure of the Navy Secretary’s tenure. Congress would be smart to help this Service Secretary prepare the Navy to employ it’s legacy in the modern battlefield of great power competition, where messaging, context, and truth can help win wars before they start.