Sometimes, a phrase is all you need to hear to know that something is wrong. The Navy announced today that the head of the Naval History and Heritage Command, a retired admiral named Jay DeLoach, resigned when the Investigator General’s office found that DeLoach’s command was “struggling with decaying records and fraying ties to historians.”
The phrase that should have been the red flag here is the one that DeLoach used when he came to the History and Heritage Command (which, as it sounds, is the Navy’s home of historical artifacts and records). He said its academics were too “introverted” and needed to “serve the needs of the fleet,” and he called for — wait for it — “forward-looking historians.”
What, one might ask, is a forward-looking historian?
I don’t know, and I’m guessing that a lot of others didn’t know either, because the IG report also noted
a growing chasm between the command under DeLoach and the academic and museum community, with whom the center works to provide official Navy records and artifacts to the public. DeLoach had let an advisory committee of esteemed naval historians expire in 2010.
Moreover, the IG found an alarming disenfranchisement of the civilian staff, who serve as librarians, historians, archivists and curators. Many of these historical professionals, who make up the majority of the center’s staff, felt that under DeLoach, they were ignored and left out of important decisions.
Historians? Running a history center? What kind of nonsense is that? They need to be making those 18th century documents relevant to the Fleet right now.
Anyway, the Navy Times report did point out that DeLoach excelled in the one place administrators always seek to excel: getting money. In one year, the Historical Command saw its budget jump 46 precent, to $38 million for fiscal year 2012, which the command “plans to use to hire staff to process the huge backlog of holdings.”
I am not a historian, and didn’t have any dealings with the Historical Command, but I know that some of my colleagues who are historians are relieved, since as the IG report itself said, “the history and heritage of the United States Navy is in jeopardy.”
Why DeLoach wasn’t comfortable with letting the professional academics and historians do their job — choosing “disenfranchisement” instead — I don’t know. I’ve never met him, and my only experience with him was indirect: over a decade ago, when I was a department chair at Newport, then-RDML DeLoach apparently came to the College and told our then-President that the War College shouldn’t be giving an M.A. in National Security Affairs. Again – I don’t know what his reasoning was, except it was all too “academic,” or so I was told at the time by the NWC administration.
In any event, there aren’t that many academics, curators, and historians working for the military, but those who are need to be respected for their expertise — and yes, of course, I know that sounds self-serving. But it should also be obvious, and clearly, in this case, it wasn’t.