Lies My Navy Told Me

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I spent a
good part of the summer of 1982 in the beautiful sunny city of San
Diego, at government expense, for my second summer of Naval ROTC
training. That summer's training was to be mostly an introduction
(or "orientation," in militaryspeak) to different branches
of the Navy and Marine Corps for us young midshipmen to consider
making our careers in.

One day we
got a briefing on Surface Officer Warfare School (SWOS), which is
just where folks go to learn to drive ships. In other words, it
is the default location where someone lands if he (or she) doesn't
choose to become something else, such as a pilot, a submariner,
or perhaps something really exotic like a diver or a SEAL (the latter
being my personal aspiration). As such, SWOS is not really something
set up to screen people out, because if someone failed, where in
the Navy would he go? To emphasize this point, the instructor joked,

"This
is it, if you fail here, you become vending machine officer on Diego
Garcia."

I had never
heard that name before, and I thought I knew the names of most if
not all of the many naval bases spread around the world. Apparently
others hadn't heard of it, either, because before I could ask, someone
else did it for me.

"Diego
Garcia? Where's that?"

"It's
an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, far away from anything.
US Navy owns the whole thing," replied the instructor.

Okay, that
answered that question, but now something began to trouble me. Had
there just been some uninhabited island in the Pacific, waiting
for the US Navy to claim it? There are billions of people on the
planet, and something about this seemed odd, that nobody lived on
this island. It must be big enough to host a naval facility, at
least. Why would it be completely uninhabited? Just as I was getting
ready to ask my question, somebody beat me to the punch again.

"Who lived
there?"

"Nobody,"
replied the instructor. "It was uninhabited."

Oh, well, I
figured, maybe the place has no fresh water. The instructor moved
on with his presentation, and I forgot about Diego Garcia for about
twenty years (I never went on active duty, due to kidney stones
that were discovered about two weeks before I was to be commissioned
in 1984). But when, in the aftermath of 9/11, there were press reports
about detainees being taken to the US Naval base on Diego Garcia,
I certainly knew what and where they were talking about.

But the instructor
had it completely wrong. The island was not empty before the Navy
built a base there. In his defense, he was just repeating a lie
that had been told to him, and had never had the inclination to
question it (just as I didn't at the time I heard it). Finding the
truth about a place like Diego Garcia in 1982 would have required
an afternoon trip to the library and some serious research. But
thanks to the revolution we call the Internet, the truth is only
a mouse-click away. If you haven't already, I urge you to take a
few minutes and read the truth about Diego Garcia. It's right here.

December
30, 2006

James
Foye [send him mail] is
an independent software developer living in Austin, Texas.

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