The world or submarining is for the most part closed to the public. Yet, as we proceed toward the twenty-First century, there is new awareness and desire by the populace to learn of our country’s military might.
Present day communications, especially satellite television, have made information more available to more people in a shorter span of time than ever before. All media shares the responsibility For disseminating the journalistic credo, “What, When, Where, Who and Why” and human inquisitiveness demands enlightenment to under-stand the events or today as well as the techno-logical goliaths which constantly change our times.
Over the years, film, television, radio and the print media have detailed a wealth of information about our ground, air and surface forces — which far exceeds the miniscule material provided on nuclear submarines. From the birth or NAUTILUS, naysayers greatly reduced all communication links relative to submariners and their machines. Only in the last half dozen years, has there been a glimmer of public relations relative to the Silent Service. A major case in point is the Submarine League and its quarterly publication. Not only is it a forum on submarine matters to those privy to the profession, but more important is its availability to anyone interested in submarining — a giant step in the right direction. The recent success of the Tom Clancy novel, HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, soon to be a major motion picture, points out the public’s desire and need to know. The public made this story a successful best seller, not the submarine community.
In 30 short years, submarine technology has seen us take immense strides. There are stories to be told, in pictures and sounds — slices of life about the men, their families, their philosophies of living under the sea and yes, at times, their dying in this hostile, unforgiving environment. To do this visually, no “top secret” material need be discussed or equipment photographed. Educating while entertaining the masses in a generic manner is the only criterion.
Recently, it was my experience to try and cut through Navy bureaucratic red tape. I was seeking production assistance for a proposed TV docudrama series. But from all quarters, the answer was the same, “not probable or possible.” The upper echelon avoided any discussion. One officer in the Strategic Systems Program Office told me of only one instance of which he knew where a TV news reporter was allowed to embark in an SSBN. A representative at the Office or Naval Information confided that the mind-set of treating the Silent Service as silent, was alive and well by many flag rank officers. He also said that outright hostility by many factions exists toward those outside the submarine family. He added that paranoia reigns high on the problem of “sanitization.”
A few months ago, the MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour on PBS featured a two-part story on an attack boat at its homeport — with a visual brief tour of the boat. An interview also included Vice Admiral Bruce DeMars. To this writer, it was the first meaningful report yet on TV.
Actions akin to those of the PBS effort are needed by the Submarine Service to get the financial and emotional support of government bodies, as well as the public. The sacrosanct mentality of those who would compartmentalize submarining into an ethereal subject must be relaxed. Pictures and sound are far better than words. One only has to watch television news and documentaries to become educated to the world of war.The insouciant public is clamoring for as much input from the armed services as they can handle.
Short or compromising secret information and submarine machinery, there are secure methods for what I call Planned, Recorded, Edited Productions. Modern technology in the fields of film, videotape and audio with all or their mobile and remote capabilities, have presented the public relations art with still untold prospects. Let us use them to get the message out there! In 1988, it is insufficient to utilize a berthed boat in a static mode to relay that message, nor the use of a phony studio set or old, overused Navy stock footage. A submarine in transit or on-station is the only way to pay proper tribute to the men and boats that go under the sea in harm’s way.
Larry Blair[Editor’s Note: The Naval Submarine League is currently in the early phase or negotiation to sponsor a Submarine TV documentary entitled “Submarine Patrol” for airing on PBS and for Navy recruiting uses. It is intended that copies will be available for NSL members use and purchase.]