Last week in a comment, I mentioned the ProPublica report, FIGHT THE SHIP: Death and valor on a warship doomed by its own Navy, written by T. Christian Miller, Megan Rose and Robert Faturechi. This report contains a detailed narrative about the USS Fitzgerald collision with a cargo ship on June 17, 2017. This report has generated a lot of online commentary.
Here are two takes from War on the Rocks: THE FITZGERALD COLLISION: IN SEARCH OF THE ONUS, by Bryan McGrath and (MORAL) HAZARDS TO NAVIGATION AT SEA, by Doyle Hodges.
ProPublica has a 2nd installment to the USS Fitzgerald report: YEARS OF WARNINGS, THEN DEATH AND DISASTER: How the Navy failed its sailors, written by Robert Faturechi, Megan Rose, and T. Christian Miller.
I don’t know anything about naval operations, so the War on the Rocks articles provided added context for me on how to begin to assess what happened. Despite all of the larger Navy problems, on that shift, it seemed to me like just basic navigational procedures weren’t followed. It also struck me that beyond any mechanical/technical issues, that with adequate communication by the officer in charge with her subordinates, this collision likely could have been avoided. She didn’t communicate with her subordinates at all. All of that shift’s failures likely speak to larger issues of how the Navy trains, mans, and operates, but in my mind, the question is did the officer in charge know what the basic safety protocols were and why on earth didn’t she communicate with her shift?
Large system failures often become obvious as more smaller system failures happen repeatedly. The debate over accountability in my mind runs to holding those directly in charge on the ship accountable for that smaller system failure that cost the lives of 7 sailors. However, the Navy, in light of these other serious mishaps, needs to tackle a serious lack of institutional accountability and more importantly, a dedicated effort to fix the larger institutional problems.
Too often the high-ranking decision makers, whose poor leadership and planning caused the training and manning problems, end up being left in place to police themselves, leading to cyclical bad PR incidents, then endless reports, followed by endless rounds of demands for “accountability”. A few scalps down the chain of command will be offered up to appease the “accountability” gods, but often the top brass, who created most of the large system problems, remain in power and unscathed.
Yep, color me a skeptic when it comes to “accountability” at the highest levels on the U.S. military… or anywhere else at the top levels of the federal government.