Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The waters that divide us, unite us

Nationalism is what comes to mind when I think of the Navy, or in fact any branch of the armed services, anywhere. After all, isn't defending the nation what the Navy is all about?

According to the New Recruits Handbook: "The mission of the United States Navy is to protect and defend the right of the United States and our allies to move freely on the oceans and to protect our country against her enemies."

As the seaborne branch of the U.S military, the Navy shares the mission of the U.S. Armed Forces "to prepare and conduct prompt and sustained combat operations in support of the national interest."

The Navy exists to protect our national interest, not the global one. And while it is careful to promote diversity within its ranks -- of race, socio-economic status, gender (and much more recently, sexual orientation), at its core, its ethos is "us and them:" America's interests first, then the interests of our allies, then everyone else.

Except in the sense that it works to maintain good borders, and good borders make good neighbors, the Navy does not promote globalism -- or so I thought until a few days ago when I came across this quote at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.

"To shipmates from other lands
The waters that divide us, unite us."

If art is the universal language, I thought, there also must be a universal language of mariners.

Regardless of their national allegiance, sailors understand one another instinctively and intuitively. They know the joys and dangers of the wide, wild ocean, and they know what it means to be, in the words of the Naval Hymn, "in peril on the sea."

In the eyes of shipmates from other lands, sailors find mutual respect. Though their loyalties -- to country and to the fraternity of seafarers -- occasionally conflict, rubbing together like tectonic plates inside them, they are first and foremost citizens of the ocean, over which no nation has mastery.

"The waters that divide us, unite us."

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