While the US has the world’s largest and most handsomely funded military in the world, morale, functionality and a sense of purpose among its Naval crews and officers in the Asia-Pacific region has been markedly low in recent years.
2017 saw a series of major crashes among US Navy ships in the Pacific, most of which were associated with the 7th Fleet. On the 21st of August, the USS John McCain crashed into an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore, instantly killing ten sailors. Just over two months prior, on the 17th of June, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off the cost of Japan, resulting in the death of seven US sailors.
Other accidents in 2017 saw the loss of a C-2A Greyhound aircraft, again off the cost of Japan, while the USS Benfold collided with a Japanese tugboat in November of 2017.
US Sailors have complained of being overworked, mistreated and suffering from depression. A report published in October of 2017 in the Navy Times, documents the desperately low morale of sailors on the cruiser USS Shiloh. The following statements from US Sailors were given under the condition of anonymity. They make for an instructive read:
–Our ship is “a floating prison”
“I just pray we never have to shoot down a missile from North Korea, because then our ineffectiveness will really show”.
–“It’s only a matter of time before something horrible happens”.
–“It feels like a race to see which will break down first, the ship or it’s [sic] crew”.
–“If we went to war I felt like we would have been killed easily and there are ppl [sic] on board who wanted it to happen so we could just get it over with”.
–“I have been crying out for help to medical, chaplain and i [sic] am afraid to inform anyone due to a negative impact on my career”.
–“I now hate my ship and my job, I now hate myself and the depressed, mindless person I’ve become. I feel like all the emotion and ambition i [sic] had is gone and i’m [sic] floating in chaos and confusion”.
–“Even taxi drivers Know [sic] us by the ship who has the worst captain and people trying to commit suicide”.
While these statements were taken from the crew of one US ship, the Shiloh, the overall pattern of material disfunctionality, frequent accidents and depressed crews appears to be a wider trend in the US Navy of the 21st century. This is why it is more disturbing than surprising that US Navy Sailors on board the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier which is docked in Japan, have been accused by the Japanese authorities of selling illegal drugs to locals. The Navy has pledged to investigated the charges which are yet another blight on the US Navy’s 7th Fleet.
A combination of underpaid sailors whose commanders appear to be stretched too thin, combined with a breakdown in both mental health and physical safety precautions appears to have taken its toll. The US Navy is by far the biggest in the world, but it may also be a ticking time bomb. Such is the price of sending young underpaid sailors to prepare for conflicts in which they stand to gain nothing and lose it all. Such is the price of empire.