Pro: Murtha deserves the honor
The usual cabal of neo-conservatives and “swift-boating” attack hyenas are canting their usual claptrap in chiding the Navy for naming its 10th San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship the USS John P. Murtha.
Murtha is the late Pennsylvania Democratic congressman and Marine Corps combat veteran who used his chairmanship of the House appropriations defense subcommittee to deluge happy Johnstown, Pa.,-area constituents in waves of taxpayer-provided pork.
Although the Navy has traditionally named its San Antonio-class ships after American cities, the naming of ships for politicians who have lavished the military with billions of dollars of appropriations is not new.
Mississippi’s Sen. John Stennis and Rep. Carl Vinson have had aircraft carriers named for them. In addition, the names of Washington Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Virginia Sen. John Warner are among those whose names adorn Navy submarines.
The neo-cons have a problem with Murtha for three reasons: he was a Democrat; he correctly accused the Marines of killing innocent Iraqi civilians in Haditha, Iraq, in 2005; and he was targeted in a dubious 1978-79 Justice Department fishing expedition known as Abscam.
Abscam was an attempt by Israeli supporters to show that members of Congress, including Murtha, were susceptible to bribes from Arab interests. The FBI used a convicted con-man named Melvin Weinberg, who previously attempted to swindle money from singer Wayne Newton and the attorney general of Bolivia, to arrange for meetings between U.S. politicians and a phony Arab sheik offering bribes.
Murtha never fell for the entrapment gambit, and Weinberg’s wife, who testified her husband lied about Abscam, along with his FBI handlers, suspiciously committed “suicide” in her Jupiter, Fla., condominium in 1982.
This past February, Murtha died of complications after a gall bladder surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital outside Washington. The Navy finally investigated Murtha’s untimely death after calls for a probe from Congress.
Murtha’s military record stands out from many in Congress who either served as “weekend warriors” in the National Guard and Reserves or received draft deferments to avoid Vietnam service.
Murtha, indeed, was a military hero extraordinaire, as Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus noted April 15, when he announced the naming of the so-called “gator freighter” for him. A bear of a man, Murtha served 37 years in the Marine Corps and received the Bronze Star with Combat “V,” two Purple Hearts, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for his service in the Vietnam War, retiring as a colonel in 1990. There are few in the history of Congress who could match or exceed such a military record of service.
Some have criticized Mabus’ decision for naming a ship for a political “hack.” Yet there was no political hack among all the members of Congress throughout history who could match the chicanery of Washington Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, for whom the Navy named a ballistic missile nuclear submarine.
When Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) International Airport was renamed for Jackson after his death in 1983, there was such a hue and cry that the airport’s name was changed back to Sea-Tac. Jackson’s Senate staff served as a nesting ground for many of the neo-conservatives who later championed America’s military involvement in Iraq—something that was anathema to Murtha.
Naming a ship after Murtha, therefore, has been interpreted by some as a subtle slap in the faces of those former Jackson staffers—including such individuals as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith.
Although Murtha’s support for many unneeded defense systems can be criticized, his support for the military makes him deserving of having a ship named in his honor. Murtha is more deserving of such an honor than the super-hawk Jackson and die-hard Southern segregationists like Stennis and Vinson. The USS John P. Murtha is one ship that Navy Secretary Mabus should not give up.
Wayne Madsen is a contributing writer to the progressive www.onlinejournal.com. Readers may write him c/o National Press Club, Front Desk, 529 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20045.