Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Carpe Diem: 2017.06.06 Bully of the Seas

This morning I listened to Steve Inskeep perform journalistic fellatio on retired Admiral James Stavridis, former supreme allied commander for NATO, about his new book: Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans. Inskeep’s obsequiousness might only be exceeded by the love affair he has with his own voice that managed not a single probing question.

You can listen yourself as they harmonize on the necessity of American naval power and find threat to it in anybody who much as sails a paper boat on a pond. Of course, those threatening Chinese came in for special treatment. And so, in the aftermath of this joke journalism I lay there reflecting on my own admittedly limited experience with the subject.

Sixteen years ago, when I was a Fulbright Scholar in Hong Kong I was taking the ferry from Tun Mun in the New Territories to Hong Kong Island. It was morning and the harbor was foggy as we passed the flank of a huge ship that was like a wall of steel shrouded with mist. Later, I checked out on the Internet and learned that it was the U.S. carrier John C. Stennis (CV74, we like to name ships after racist politicians). There it was, an American warship, anchored in a Chinese harbor (Hong Kong had returned to the PRC three years earlier).

I wondered why I never see Chinese warships in San Diego harbor*, which I can see from my balcony at home. In fact, one never hears of any Chinese warship anywhere near our coasts, because Americans would have collective shit fit. Americans, who love to engage in false equivalencies, judiciously eschew any equivalency in this matter.

Owing to my Fulbright I was subsequently invited to attend a party aboard the USS Blue Ridge, which was also moored in Hong Kong harbor. I was ferried out in a launch from Fenwick Pier and treated to a lavish buffet and beverages (payed for with my tax dollars, of course), but what I really wanted to do is ask one of the African-American seamen or women how they might feel about serving on the John C. Stennis.

But Hong Kong is not the only Asian harbor I have been in. I’ve been in Yokohama (where the Blueridge is home ported), at Inchon in South Korea (where there are also 30,000 American troops), and Guam, which has a huge American air base, and let’s not forget that we have re-opened a base in the Philippines. I have not been to our base in Okinawa. Suffice it to say that America has China practically surrounded with hundreds of ships, thousands of planes and who knows how many troops. And not one goddamn Chinese ship in an American harbor, or even off the coast of LA.

Inskeep and Stavridis co-bitched about those nasty Chinese building a new base on an atoll in the East China Sea, while American naval task forces are sailing in the same waters, and looking for a fight off of North Korea.

Gone are the days when American gunboats were plying Chinese rivers (the Sand Pebbles was just one of them) to protect American trading interests, and American ships were engaged in the opium trade in treaty ports forced open by Western powers. Although today one can see American warships a short cruise missile ride from Shanghai, Quemoy, Qingdao, or Tientsin in the East China Sea. Imagine a Chinese gunboat going up the Mississippi to force St. Louis to give them some land to establish a “concession” that would be under Chinese law (now there’s a freakin’ equivalency!).

You’re probably never going to see that. That’s because America is the “Bully of the Seas,” with many of its 800 bases around the world as naval bases. And with faux journalists like Inskeep fawning over American power and any admiral with gold braid on his jockstrap it gets a nice smooch from our media. This is why Americans are so uninformed, historically, or with honest, critical analysis. It is why we are so goddamned hypocritical, arrogant and bellicose. Since the imperialism of Teddy Roosevelt we have regarded the Pacific as America’s mare nostrum. I certainly don’t blame China, and can understand North Korea for wanting to say “Screw you, Yankee dogs, get out of our pool.” They might be autocratic regimes with awful human rights records—but that only makes them more like us (we just do it the American way).

The strange thing is that I have often seen the American flag on a naval ship in my travels and the first emotional reflex is one of pride, of comfort in the familiarity. Then my mind kicks in and the emotion that I realize was formed even with the help of NPR subsides, and I understand that ship and flag are there because war, or the threat of it, is to protect American business, that war is business, our biggest business.

*I had e subsequently been corrected by a couple of readers.  It seems that three Chinese frigates actually visited San Diego for four days, and another visited somewhere in Florida.  So?  good beaches are a path to peaceful relations.