- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 13, 2001

There has long been a tradition in the Navy of posthumously naming its ships after individuals of great accomplishment. Such accomplishment deserving of recognition included those in and out of uniform for a broad range of actions, from a single act of bravery in battle, to a combination of acts in a military or political leadership role, to a lifetime of acts devoted to improving national security. Great warrior or great statesman, it mattered not as tradition evolved that the best way to memorialize the acts of such individuals once they passed on was to name a ship after them.

But all traditions have exceptions. Through the end of the 20th century, only six exceptions were ever made to this particular tradition. On Wednesday, Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig announced that this tradition would be broken for the sixth time, as a ship will be named after Cold War warrior and statesman Paul H. Nitze. For Mr. Nitze, it is a timely birthday present as he will turn 94 six days later. Joining the likes of Presidents Carter and Reagan, of Adms. Hyman Rickover and Arleigh Burke, Mr. Nitze will now have the opportunity to see a ship bearing his name commissioned into service.

Perhaps not as well known today by Americans as the others honored as namesakes, Mr. Nitze, by virtue of a lifetime of service to country, has made the world a better place in which to live. Born in 1907 during the presidency of one Roosevelt, Teddy, Mr. Nitze's government service started in 1941 during the presidency of another Roosevelt, Franklin. In a lifetime of government service that would extend almost half a century, allowing him to serve every president from Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan (with the exception of Jimmy Carter), he was able to play a major role in ensuring the United States emerged as the sole surviving superpower at the end of the 20th century.

As historians look back on the latter half of the 20th century, they will be hard pressed to find a single individual who exerted more influence over every treaty related to arms control and the U.S. strategic defense in the period between the end of World War II and the end of the Cold War than did Paul Nitze. From senior positions within both the State and Defense departments, the latter including tours as secretary of Navy under President Kennedy and as deputy secretary of defense under President Johnson, Mr. Nitze left his mark, establishing himself as a force with which to be reckoned whenever Soviet strategic power was involved.

For the second half of the 20th century, he remained one of the chief architects of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. The awesome responsibility of such a position was not lost on him as he fought to preserve our national security at what perhaps was the most challenging time in American history. In practically every battle of the Cold War, Mr. Nitze was in the front line of strategic defense.

It was his devotion to country by constantly doing what was in America's best interests rather than solely adhering to political party lines that resulted in Mr. Nitze being asked to serve both Democratic and Republican administrations. It is a fitting tribute to this man that his great accomplishments be memorialized during his life rather than eulogized after it by naming a ship for him.

In announcing that the 44th ship of the Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyers, the DDG-94, will be named after Mr. Nitze, Mr. Danzig said, "Paul Nitze, in his many central roles in and out of government, brought strategic intellect and extraordinary courage to bear that helped shape our national security in an era when it was uniquely challenged. As secretary of the Navy, he also demonstrated a respect and care for sailors and Marines that directly improved their quality of service. USS Nitze will reflect Paul Nitze's toughness and care in all that the vessel undertakes for America in the years ahead."

U.S. law gives the secretary of the Navy discretion to break with tradition in naming a ship after a great American who is still living. In a country that produces more deserving heroes than it does ships, it is a discretion that should only be exercised in extraordinary cases. The case of Paul Nitze is just such a case, recognizing an extraordinary man for his extraordinary lifetime accomplishments.

The end result of the accomplishments of its namesake is that when the USS Nitze takes to sea, it will sail the oceans of a world no longer dominated by the Soviet strategic threat.

James G. Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf and Vietnam wars, is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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