Recently watched an excellent documentary on Admiral Hyman Rickover, creator of the nuclear Navy. There’s quite a lot in the documentary that is relevant to today’s issues and concerns, for example:  circa 1972, the CIA had assured the Navy that the top speed of Russian attack subs was about 22 knots.  Rickover suspected that they were wrong, and he directed a carrier which was being shadowed by a Russian sub to gradually increase speed.  When it reached 30 knots, the shadowing sub was still there.

Which provides one more interesting data point at a time when we are being lectured about the need to treat the conclusions of the “intelligence community” with reverence.

In a 1974 speech, Rickover told of an ancient people called the Locrians:

These people gave freedom of speech to all citizens. At public meetings anyone could stand up and argue for changes in law or custom, on one condition. A rope was placed around his neck before he began to speak and, if what he said did not meet with public approval, he was forthwith hanged. That, no doubt, prevented disturbing the even tenor of familiar customs and ways of life.

I have encountered some in the Navy who look with nostalgia on this ancient custom.  But we must face the stark fact that an uncriticized society cannot long endure.

Quite a few organizations in America today are following in the footsteps of the Locrians–the universities, especially, but also certain Silicon Valley companies.  And not only them.

I learned of this documentary about the same time I read about a professor who was disturbed that Hispanic students that she interviewed credited their success to their own hard work and self-reliance rather than to affirmative action.

Rickover was Jewish, and he entered the Navy at a time when Jews were not common in that service…and the negative attitudes toward Jews which were prevalent in the society at large were also quite common in the Navy, perhaps even stronger there than outside.  (The Academy yearbook pages for both Rickover and the only other Jewish midshipman in his class were conveniently perforated for easy removal.)

And I wondered:  If Rickover had been influenced by professors and others endlessly and excessively beating the Victimhood drum, would he have been able to achieve the success and the great accomplishments that he did?  Or would he have just folded up and concluded that it was hopeless, that Jews had no chance in the Navy?

Well, probably not Rickover–he was an extraordinarily tough and resilient man.  But there probably are a lot of people who have high potential, though maybe not on the Rickover level, and who are being inhibited and will be inhibited in achieving that potential due in substantial part to such preaching.

10 thoughts on “Rickover”

  1. Rickover started well, but was allowed to run his own shop without oversight for way to long. It not only bred resentment in the Navy but like many people he continued to live in the past of his glory days. I used to work with a lot of navy nuclear types and also people who ran facilities for Naval Reactors. He got a lot of perks from Contractors which later became an issue but they knew his style. His personal role in choosing nuclear navy officers was not a great precedent. In later years he tended to use his Congressional friends to get things funded that were not really the best solution. He loved to criticize others but like many who do this couldn’t take it from them in return.

  2. He was a bit of a Luudite when it came to sub technology; it was either analog/nuts and bolts or it wasn’t up to spec. Just as PLC controls were adopted by general industry, the late 70’s boats — LA class fast attack — would carry on until the 2000’s with ancient technology. THis often required highly marked up bespoke parts.

  3. “Rickover was Jewish by birth but converted to Catholicism as an adult”…actually Episcopalianism, I believe…converted at the time he met his wife, who was non-Jewish.

    There seems to be little evidence that converting has any significant influence on protecting an individual from anti-Semitism, in any society, as long as their Jewish origins are known.

  4. I see from the review that Jimmy Carter is appearing in the documentary. He never qualified as a nuclear engineer in the Navy.

  5. Electronic forms are pretty much the same as paper forms from the standpoint of Drucker’s argument; indeed, they may even encourage *more* information-gathering and proceduralization.

  6. This is Bill Brandt – for some reason I have to continually fill in the form so the heck with it. But I remember in a book about the best run companies in the US they had one thing in common: The desire to listen to people from the bottom up. IBM even created their own group – called the “wild ducks” who only task was to think outside the box and come up with new ideas.

    But point is well taken about the universities. Where did I read this the other day? But the writer said that – oh! It was Jerry Seinfield in Comedians in cars -= where Seinfeld made the comment that all too often it is schools that want to tell you how to think when they should be examining all facets. The quote was in the 5tyh season and was better than this, and I am inspired to watch the last few episodes again tonight to get that quote.

    It really was profound, and on Comedians In Cars getting coffee, of all places.

    Will report back.

  7. Jerry Seinfeld in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee Season 5 – Interviewing Zach Galifianakis

    Jerry: “It’s so weird that colleges have become those places of restricted thought as opposed to thought freedom.”

    Zach: “There’s nothing liberal about shutting someone up”

    Jerry: “The problem with not allowing intolerant talk is it’s now you’re intolerant”

    Zach: “How do you judge what’s intolerant?”

    Jerry: “Exactly”

  8. My junior high school was named after him. I remember him speaking to us once when I was in 6th grade and not caring a bit about him, but read up on him later when my military interests peaked and found it at least interesting.

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