The Master of the Nuclear War Machine

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You take some Jew and treat him lousy his whole life. You treat him like dirt. Watch out! He’s going to do something. —Admiral Hyman G. Rickover speaking to an aide, quoted in Admiral Hyman Rickover: Engineer of Power (252)

This wiry, iron-willed Jew’s love-hate affair with the U.S. Navy dated back to his days as a cadet at the United States Naval Academy, one of seventeen Jews (less than 2 percent) in his class when he entered in 1918. He was referred to as “the little Jew.”

Gerald Early in The Common Reader reviews a new biography of Admiral Rickover and his reinvention of the United States Navy: During his lifetime, there was a long line of people who thought Admiral Hyman Rickover was an insufferable son of a bitch, a contemptible ass, an overbearing, opinionated, power-hungry menace. Biographer Marc Wortman called him, “obstinate, egotistical, and abrasive…” (119)

Many in the upper echelons of the Navy command felt intense hatred for the Father of the Nuclear Navy, as he was called. They had endured his disdain for their authority, his “rebellion against the Navy’s chain of command, protocols, and culture.” (119) So did some corporate leaders who were tongue-lashed and bullied by Rickover’s insistence that they meet his deadlines on their contracts. Rickover felt that defense contractors were hustlers bloating themselves at the taxpayers’ trough and would sic his team of micro-managers on them to fulfill the terms of their contracts.

The contractors felt that Rickover did not fully appreciate the risk “in building large, complex, long-timeline projects like ships, especially highly sophisticated nuclear-powered vessels… outfitted with untested technologies…” (225) Many defense contractors left the business simply because the rewards were not worth the risks.

Rickover directed the original development of naval nuclear propulsion and controlled its operations for three decades as director of the U.S. Naval Reactors office.

WIKIPEDIA

This wiry, iron-willed Jew’s love-hate affair with the U.S. Navy dated back to his days as a cadet at the United States Naval Academy, one of seventeen Jews (less than 2 percent) in his class when he entered in 1918. He was referred to as “the little Jew.” Only six Jews managed to graduate with Rickover four years later. Rickover felt the Academy was “‘a lousy boy’s school,’” (27) much as George Orwell felt about his prep school, St. Cyprian’s School, for largely the same reasons: upper-class privilege and cliques that bred anti-intellectual mediocrity, teachers encouraging an atmosphere of favoritism, and bullying and brutal hazing disguised as character building. As a Jew and an unathletic boy, Rickover suffered the brunt of this oppressive culture keenly. This surely explains why, in his later life, he used his power to change the nature of the education at the Academy, making the curriculum more rigorously scientific and engineering-oriented, a school to produce technocrats, not naval officers as that was traditionally or conventionally understood. Rickover was the Poor Little Jewish grind at the Academy, and he decided to make it over, or try to, into a school for grinds. In his later life, Rickover wrote a book about education, expressing his views that American schools were not very good, controlled by “progressive educators [who raised] ‘a generation of Americans who expect to obtain all good things without effort and who acquire a wholly false notion of their importance because they never had an opportunity at school to compare their own true accomplishments with those of others.’” (166) More here.