Thomas Friedman writes a fascinating essay in today’s New York Times in which he tells of a night he spent aboard the USS New Mexico, a nuclear-powered attack submarine.
The New Mexico ducked under the North Pole ice cap, punched its way through, and then went back under.
Friedman’s essay deals with several aspects of serving for months on end underwater on one of these ships.
He writes: “My strongest impression, though, was experiencing something you see too little of these days on land: ‘Excellence.’ You’re riding in a pressurized steel tube undersea. If anyone turns one knob the wrong way on the reactor or leaves a vent open, it can be death for everyone. This produces a unique culture among these mostly 20-something submariners.”
He tells of how the ship examines the effects of climate change and how it functions as a self-contained world within our world.
He asks a young sailor how he is able to spend so much time underwater, with severe limitations on the communication with his family.
The sailor responds: “Whenever you board this submarine in port, that American flag is flying and you salute that flag. And every time I salute that flag, I remember the reason I joined the Navy: service to country, being part of something bigger than myself and in memory for the attacks of 9/11.”
Then he asks: “Remind me again what we’re doing in Washington these days to deserve such young people?”
It’s an arresting conclusion to an interesting and informative essay on life aboard a very dangerous weapon.
It also should serve to instruct us all that generations going back, oh, to the beginning of time have questioned whether the next generation will be capable of carrying on.
The young sailor’s response to a seasoned reporter tells me our nation will be in good hands.