A Rumination on Maritime & Society Accountability

Interesting blog post in the US Naval Institute Blog, distributed in their daily email newsletter:

Re classic WSJ Editorial: "Hobson’s Choice"https://blog.usni.org/posts/2019/04/15/hobsons-revenge

The 1952 Wall St. Journal editorial was written by their now legendary editor, Vermont Royster, and referred to the 1952 collision between the USS Wasp and USS Hobson. The blog post has a link to a copy of the original 1952 editorial and is worth following. The blog post also refers to a later article about the incident which is also worth reading.


No pontification, no dictates but a thoughtful suggestion and an uneasy comparison with the difference in “society accountability” then vs. now…which I think could be further developed. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the writer. But it’s thought provoking.

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I recall reading the the original Navy findings from the court of inquiry. It is worth a read and Hobson’s inexplicable left turn remains a mystery.

Here is the link. The findings are several pages in.



Thanks for that valuable link! Nothing like reading the source documents to get the clearest picture!

As an aside, those old records are kind of “quaint.” Looking at them conjured up for me images of a roomful of yeoman sailors, in their “Cracker Jack” blues, banging out multiple carbon copies on rows of manual typewriters!

The current USNI blog poster suggests that society today perhaps holds people MORE accountable for their actions than it did in 1952. I do not entirely agree. Reading the StrategyBridge article clarifies my thoughts on that a bit.

I think what we have today is a media driven mob attitude that is far too quick to assign responsibility and culpability without taking the time for proper accountability, all as defined and clarified in that second link. I think that whole concept needs some fresh and honest thinking, especially by those who style themselves “journalists” these days! I posted this because it was quite thought provoking for me.

PS: Interesting background on Vermont Royster’s wartime naval background in that StrategyBridge article. If we had more journalists who’d served as skippers of something like a DE, we might have a better attitude in some of today’s media!

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Nice topic but I’m not getting Drennan’s point (the USNI BLOG). Not sure if it’s just semantics or an evolving connotation of the word “accountability” but the usage in both the 1952 editorial and also the USNI blog post seem off to me. They speak of accountability as a blame/punishment construct. As in “hold this bad guy accountable” or “society is crumbling because there’s no accountability”.

Maybe it’s just the old Transocean training kicking in but the TOI approach of “I am accountable” seems more germane to safe ship ops than an externally applied accountability after the fact. Wouldn’t the goal be to have competent crew who care about the results and operate knowing they are accountable for the outcomes?

Is Drennan saying there is too much accountability now? Or it’s the wrong kind of accountability? In either case what do journalists have to do with it? Do they prevent people from being accountable or being found culpable?

But you’re right about the Strategy Bridge piece, that is a better attempt at cleaning up the language.

I’m in agreement that the original blog piece is a bit confused. I appreciate it for bringing up this old incident and connecting it (by implication with the photo of the damaged DDG at least) to things happening currently. But I think the Strategy Bridge piece (which predates the blog) does a much better job of clarifying what the words mean…for a traditionalist at least! I found this whole topic, and the historic details, very thought provoking. Especially on the topic of: “Are things different now than they were 70 odd years ago?” Likely, but, if so, how?

I brought “journalists” (interpreted broadly to include anyone regularly editorializing their opinions nowadays in the almost broadcasted “social media”) into this because I am sort of entertaining (mind’s not made up on this) the thought that what’s different now is that such people don’t wait for “accountability” (in the traditional sense as per the Strategy Bridge piece) but immediately jump to assigning responsibility and holding people culpable for failing to meet their assigned (by them) responsibility. So that’s how “journalists” got into my comment.

So, I am saying, in response to your two questions in the next to the last paragraph, that I think maybe there’s not enough “accountability” in the traditional sense as defined by the Strategy Bridge. Or, if you accept the proposition that the meaning has “evolved”, then I say it’s the wrong kind!

The wrong kind being applied by people who have the loudest megaphones and dominate the conversation by immediately trying to make your mind up for you about where the responsibility and culpability should lie. Whether or not this is really a change from 1952, or how much of a change, is hard to say without spending a long time immersing oneself in the media environment of that day. But Royster seems to imply in the original WSJ op-ed, from his 1952 vantage point, that the opposite was happening back then.

It seemed like a muddle to me. Accountable could mean anything from providing an explanation (your account so to speak) to accepting blame. One article uses one definition and one uses another.