The U.S. Navy is sailing into politically correct waters, sometimes at a speed too fast for the Obama administration to keep up.
Whether it is policies on gays and women, or naming ships after social activists, the Navy is charting a course that has some “old salts” worried.
“It’s pretty dire,” said John Howland, a 1964 U.S. Naval Academy graduate who manages a web site on naval issues called USNA-At-Large.
“We’re back to ‘H.M.S. Pinafore,’ ” he added, a reference to the comic opera about English shipboard life. “The leadership of the military is pretty much politically correct kind of stuff. You like to think that we’re approaching hitting bottom, but these people are not through with us yet.”
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a Democrat and former Mississippi governor, has embraced assigning women to the cramp underwater quarters of submarines, including enlisted females on attack subs. The first female officers are due to report aboard larger ballistic missile submarines this fall.
In addition, Mr. Mabus has left open the possibility of putting women in the decidedly all-male and physically challenging world of Navy SEALs, like the ones who killed Osama bin laden.
“It’s my notion that women should have the same opportunities as men in the Navy,” Mr. Mabus told the Navy Times, an independent newspaper.
“The only reason I’m being a little hesitant for the SEALs is some of the physical things you’ve got to go through to be a SEAL.”
Earlier this month, Mr. Mabus riled some conservatives by reaching out to Hispanics and naming a supply ship after union activist Cesar Chavez, who served in the Navy.
“Mabus is an unequivocal disaster,” Mr. Howland said. “He’s done nothing but the straight social engineering play book. Women on submarines is a looming disaster that is sure to come. He’s done the ship naming things.”
Mr. Mabus defended his selection.
“His service was difficult, because Cesar Chavez faced a segregated Navy, but that challenge like others he faced in his life, helped forge the leader he became,” he said at the naming ceremony in San Diego May 18.
“His example blazed a path for subsequent generations. His example will live through this ship. He will continue to inspire young Americans to do what is right.”
Mr. Chavez was a champion of better working conditions for farm laborers. He enlisted in the Navy in 1946 at age 17. He later called it “the worst two years of my life,” according to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Latinos and Latinas.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, who saw action in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine officer, believes Mr. Mabus made a political decision.
“This decision shows the direction the Navy is heading,” said Mr. Hunter.
“Naming a ship after Cesar Chavez goes right along with other recent decisions by the Navy that appear to be more about making a political statement than upholding the Navys history and tradition.”
Last week, Mr. Hunter introduced legislation directing the Navy to name the next available ship after Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta. Sgt. Peralta was killed when he fell on a grenade during combat in Fallujah, Iraq, and was awarded the Navy Cross.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Mabus did not return a reporter’s phone messages.
The Chavez was the second Lewis-and-Clark class cargo ship that Mr. Mabus named after a civil rights leader.
In 2009, Mr. Mabus announced a ship would be named after Medgar Evers, the Mississippi civil rights activist who was shot and killed in the drive way of his home in 1963. Mr. Evers had no professional connection to the Navy. He served two years of combat in Europe in World War II and was honorably discharged an Army sergeant.
Before the Chavez and Evers namings, most of the other 12 Lewis-and-Clark ships were named after Navy pioneers. They include retired admiral and astronaut Alan Shepard and Arctic explorer Adm. Robert E. Peary. One ship is named the USS Carl Brashear, after the Navy’s first black master diver.
There are four exceptions: the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who were commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson; their guide, Sacajawea; aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart; Dr. Charles Drew, who developed a system of life-saving blood banks during World War II.
There have been other events this year that some sailors view as politically correct.
In January, the Navy fired the popular commander of a U.S. aircraft carrier for producing a raunchy shipboard video. Some sailors came to Capt. Owen Honors’ defense, saying he was the victim of a “PC Navy” for an internally produced morale builder.
The Navy chaplain’s office went overboard by announcing it would allow same-sex marriages on naval facilities, a policy at odds with the Obama administration.
The White House had told Congress such unions would not be allowed because federal law defines marriage as one man and one women. Under pressure from lawmakers, the Navy retracted the policy.
The Navy’s perceived “PC” tilt comes as troops are experiencing the biggest social change since blacks were integrated into the ranks in 1948.
The four branches have launched an extensive indoctrination campaign, both in the states and in war zones, to prepare troops for open gays by the end of the year. Homosexuals now serve under a policy called “don’t ask, don’t tell” that requires them to keep their sexuality private.
An outside commission set up by Democrats when they ran the House has recommended the Pentagon end its ban on women serving in direct ground combat units such as the infantry, tank corps and Special Operations Forces.
There has been dissension in the ranks.
Sailors are circulating online a spoof uniform patch in protest. The patch is of a coffin holding a carrier jets landing tailhook with the inscription: “1911-2011: It was a good ride.”
The decidedly unofficial patch says, “No cursing. No call signs. No tradition.”
Adm. J.C. Harvey, the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces and the man who fired Capt. Honors, posted his actions on his own blog page and allowed sailors to comment by name or anonymously. Some supported the admiral; some did not.
“What a horrendous end to so many that gave their lives to their country and to the Navy,” said one anonymous sailor.
“Why have we turned into a ‘no defect’ Navy and think it is appropriate to go back years and punish those who were doing their best to maintain morale and keep their personnel focused on serving and protecting their country?”