The S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien, one of San Francisco’s shrinking number of reminders of the city’s contributions to the defense of the United States.
The Navy has all but abandoned the San Francisco Bay area. Two naval shipyards, a naval base, two naval air stations, and a weapons station are all gone.
The sea service follows the Army, which closed the Presidio, Fort Mason, and Oakland Army Depot, and the Air Force, which closed Hamilton Air Force Base. San Francisco is BRAC* Central.
It’s a pity all around.
I am sure the armed forces would have been happy to stay, the Navy in particular, but the exigencies of BRAC and a local populace that is all but hostile to the military made their continued position in the region untenable.
In fact, California, which ended the Second World War at the heart of the nation’s ability to project power overseas, has been largely demilitarized, even as our need to project power overseas – especially to Asia and the Pacific – has grown. There are exceptions to the trend, like San Diego, Pendleton, Lemoore, Vandenberg, and Travis, but arguably the California Frontier is less defended now than it has been at any time since the end of the Civil War.
Many would suggest that this is a good thing, pointing to the money saved, and to a state of 40 million souls increasingly desperate for affordable living and working space. Others would argue that in this day and age, our frontiers no longer need be defended by a network of expensive physical installations.
Yet I cannot shake a vague foreboding, a feeling that we have somehow been too quick to disarm the Golden State. History teaches us that all too often, so-called “peace dividends” are false profits. As nauseated as I am by the effort to use the spectre of a China Rampant to justify gold-plated weapons programs, I do not believe that we are somehow on the cusp of an era free of conflict, nor do I believe that our oceanic moats offer the same level of protection that they did a century ago.
Prudence should dictate our defense, not hope, ideology, or an excess of fiscal over caution, and my fellow Californians (I am a Californian, albeit one living in China) should remember that to be effective a shield must sometimes be visible. And in a day where the threat gets closer to home than ever, the concentration of defenders in the fewest possible locations has become an outdated approach.
For their own sakes, San Franciscans had best be praying that America’s approach to defense – engage far from our shores – remains consistent and successful. Otherwise the day will come when they will regret their well-meaning but shortsighted ejection of those charged with their security.
* Base Realignment and Closure Commission, the Congressional entity formed at the end of the Cold War to shrink to the greatest extent possible the physical footprint of the U.S. Armed Forces.