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The Problem of the Stennis

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USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) underway off the coast of southern California.

I recently published a piece at the National Interest on the the problem of the USS John C. Stennis. The carrier is currently in refit and undergoing nuclear refueling, which makes this an ideal moment to contemplate changing her name:

The problem with the Stennis name is not simply that it honors a dedicated white supremacist and defender of segregation; it is that few outside the United States (and indeed, few within the US) have any idea who Stennis was. Given that aircraft carriers are tools of political and diplomatic statecraft, having to explain the relevance of Stennis to a foreign audience is more than awkward; it’s an embarrassment in non-white countries. 

The Navy’s approach to naming aircraft carriers is, to be kind, almost wholly incoherent from a historical perspective.  The first aircraft carrier, USS Langley, was named for Samuel Langley, an inventor and scientist who served as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.  The next two carriers (Lexington and Saratoga) were named after battles in the Revolutionary War, a pattern followed by Yorktown (CV-5) and Enterprise (CV-6). Other early carriers were given names from US naval history, including Ranger (CV-4), Wasp (CV-7), and Hornet (CV-8).  From that point, the Navy has tacked between a variety of traditions. Fortunately, this means that there are multiple good options for renaming the Stennis. 

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