This week I had the chance to visit the USS YORKTOWN museum, docked at Patriot’s Point in sunny Charleston, SC. The crew at Patriot’s Point have done a fantastic job fixing the YORKTOWN, and one of the new exhibits I hadn’t seen before was called the Combat Information Center (CIC) experience. So, I walked in to check it out.
The revamped CIC at Patriots Point. The “people” are actually projections. Image courtesy of Patriots Point.
The “officer” in CIC talked about tracking a Russian Tu-95 bomber that was preparing to overfly the Navy vessels in formation. Then he had to deal with a quiet Russian submarine. The CIC experience walked through the how the Navy tracked and dealt with each of these circumstances in the Mediterranean.
Russian TU-95 bomber , with US escort in the background. DoD Image.
I was struck at how much things haven’t changed. We’re still dealing with Tu-95 overflights and Russian submarines, and we’re still in the Mediterranean. Students of history will likely chime in “History repeats itself.” But I don’t think that’s the full story. What amazed me as I walked around this World War II era ship is how similar things are to current ships. While we have nicer equipment, the equipment is essentially covering the same functions as it did 60 years ago. Even weirder, I read a few of the old ship “Plan of the Day” and some diary entries, and the issues they dealt with were very similar to what we still have now.
I don’t think history repeats itself. Rather, I think people haven’t changed much, and they tend to attack problems in the same manner they have been for generations. The only time history changes is when someone steps outside of that box. Look at World War II Germany. Previous European wars had not changed the map very much. Germany shifted to massively different tactics (Blitzkrieg) and won surprising victories. Eventually we copied that idea, and we haven’t changed much since.
Russia realized this after losing the Cold War and has completely shifted tactics. That’s why we’re seeing Russian disinformation campaigns, cyber attacks, and a much more subtle Russia, followed by low level conflict to gain territory. But even this isn’t new…it sounds strangely similar to Germany in the 1930s. Our sanctions response is doing nothing because it hurts regular Russians, who blame the US for their problems instead of President Putin.
If we want to stop watching history follow predictable human behavior, we have to do something new, and stop attacking today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions.
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