Sunday, April 27, 2008

PBS: Carrier, first two episodes (life on the USS Nimitz, one of the Navy's biggest "boats")

Tonight (April 27 2008) PBS aired the first two episodes of a ten-piece series “Carrier” about the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, which pulls out of California and crosses the Pacific, possibly eventually to wind up in the Persian Gulf. The website is here.

The first episode was called “All Hands” (a chorus in Britten’s “Billy Budd” is called that). It covers life in the intimate and finite universe of the ship that, while large, still has men and women living in situations of forced intimacy. In the Navy particularly, this means keeping everything immaculately clean. Every day there are cleaning details. The men turn on radio music, but then work on shining or scrubbing the same areas over and over, making the perfection of the most fastidious homemaker pale by comparison. Almost every vocation is represented on ship. One E-1 female joined the Navy to become a chef, and cooks 5000 meals a day. There is also a disciplinary Captain’s mast. Military bearing and discipline is still quite apparent in everyday life. The lack of liberty normally expected in civilian life becomes apparent, and it is apparent to older people (like me) who were drafted during the Vietnam era.

The second episode is called “Controlled Chaos.” The nuclear power plant is mentioned. One man had gone to the Naval Academy after enlisting and then going to a Naval Academy prep school. The unit cohesion and teamwork is covered: “work hard, play hard.” You may have to save the life of someone you don’t necessarily personally like.

The third episode is called “Super Secrets,” and this refers not only to obvious military secrets but also personal relationships. Male-female relationships are a concern (pregnancies) and certainly must be kept out of sight. The preview showed a sailor saying, well “you hear “that’s so gay, but a lot of men on the ship are.” There was a male "couple" with a very discrete relationship on ship. “Don’t ask don’t tell” regarding gays becomes total fiction in real life (although some of the sailors think it actually works), and it is hard to enforce a similar policy against heterosexual relationships on board. At the end, there is a case where a female sailor has to admit that she gave consent to a relationship to prevent a male from being court-martialed. There is an interesting sequence showing Liberty in Hong Kong.

During my research for my first book, I visited a nuclear-powered submarine (the USS Sunfish, now decommissioned, built in 1963) in Norfolk in 1993. It was really crowded. I was glad to go back to my motel afterward (and so were they).

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