If You Hate Fleet Week You Hate America
By Philip Bump
Each year, the United States Navy brings several vessels into New York Harbor for an informal event known as "Fleet Week." If you've ever seen a production of On the Town, you know the look: fresh-faced young guys in crisp, white uniforms, trying not to look like they're looking up at the tall buildings. Fewer musical numbers in real life, but still fun.
This year, it's probably not going to happen. The sequestration may mean that this year's stopover will be cancelled. This is bad news for the bars and restaurants and bars and retail stores in Midtown. But it's mostly bad news for the sailors.
The sales pitch for the Navy is a little different than for the other branches of the Armed Services, or at least it has been, traditionally. See the world, it promises. It's easy to romanticize this, both as a potential recruit and as an observer of the successfully recruited. But there's an element of truth to it! My father-in-law enlisted in the Navy, and he saw the world in a way that would likely never have happened had he remained in Southern California. (Granted, part of that world was an extended stop in Vietnam.)
As a resident of New York, I understand but often forget that this is the greatest city in the world. Tourists can be a frustration to locals, as tourists are usually quick to perceive. But there are always tourists here, usually wearing generic "NYC" ballcaps purchased from snickering bodega owners and stopping dead on the sidewalk to marvel at New Yorkisms like our authentic Famous Famiglia pizzas. What Fleet Week adds isn't a new congestion; it adds a group of tourists who at the very least are sharply dressed. Perhaps a bit more prone to public vomiting, but the pigeons usually take care of that.
Imagine you're a kid from Nebraska who wants to go to college, who wants to visit these places you've heard about. Korea, Singapore, the Panama Canal. And then one day, your vessel approaches the coast. It slips under one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. It turns a corner at the end of Brooklyn and you see the high rises of Manhattan. To the left, the Statue of Liberty, stock-still for decades. You know that in half an hour, you'll be on leave in a city you've seen in magazines and on Law and Order and in basically every movie you can think of. Even when you didn't pay it much mind growing up, it was always there, this bright spot on East Coast that maybe seemed like it was too far away to ever reach. And here you are.
As I said, it's easy to romanticize. But if this is even close to the experience of these young people — even the ones who then end up barfing in St. Mark's Place at 3 some Thursday morning — it's worth giving them that experience. They signed up to spend months bouncing through the empty ocean on the off chance we need them to protect us. Damn the sequester. It's worth the cost to let these kids actually see the part of the world they've committed to defend. It's worth it just for them to be able to say, in two decades time, "Yeah. I've been to New York." To be able to watch On the Town and say, "Pft. It's not like that at all."
This Is State-Sanctioned Depravity
By Elspeth Reeve
The Sex and the City fantasy of cosmopolitan ladies preying upon handsome and innocent cornfed sailors and Marines for sex is wrong and dumb. It is in the United States Armed Forces that people actually do the kinky sex you people read about in your terrible 50 Shades of Grey stories. Of the 10 weirdest sex stories I've ever heard, 100 percent were told by Army people, 30 percent involved hookers, 20 percent involved barfing, and 10 percent involved intentional barfing. Could the Navy and Marines be much different? Smug New Yorkers must understand that they're the provincial naifs in this situation.
As evidence, I merely point to the story of American wars, which has been a continuing struggle to prevent our fighting men and women from becoming incapacitated by STDs. The prime weapons of the government have been guilt, shame, an ineffective penis soap, and condom distribution. According to the book Black Death: AIDS in Africa, 766 of ever 1,000 American soldiers stationed in France had some kind of STD by September 1919. Assistant secretary to the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered sailors to be issued prophylactic kits. The military was smarter in World War II. Soldiers going to Brussels got a tour guide that listed tourist attractions as well as the city's seven "Pro Stations," where they could get condoms. Here's something similar issued to soldiers at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1943.
The military also tried psy ops. They used fear:
In conclusion, this great ad for the U.S. military offers a lesson for you ladies:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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