Thing-a-day 9: Protection

The Art of Manliness really likes pictures of sailors with women for some reason. Or maybe it’s just that they like black and white pictures from the 1950s and before, and the best ones have sailors in them. They just seem like such fun. Even if they have an iron grip on your elbow.

I’m sympathetic — I like them, too. I never had any particular thing for sailors in the way some women do, but I grew up in Puget Sound, where there are (or at least were) lots of Navy bases, and sailors were both common and highly visible. And the late teens and early 20s are the time that people decide whether that life is for them. Sailors, a little more than the other services, seem both present and absent; any branch can have long deployments, but sailors may spend half or more of their careers “at sea” — now there’s a freighted phrase, or at least an assignment that offers no family housing options. There is also an odd tension in the sight of a Navy enlisted uniform, at once clearly that of an adult and yet also historically a choice for clothing children.

1881 portrait by Benedetti & Boccalini, London.
Queen Victoria helped create a fashion for this style of dress for children by dressing her sons in clothing modeled after Navy enlistees, partly for family reasons but also to create a class-crossing sense of esprit de corps with the nation while celebrating the greatest navy of the era.

I suppose one can’t help but recall the classic joke:

“When I grow up I want to be a sailor!”
“Sorry, dear, you can’t do both.”

Of course our men — and women — in uniform are not children (even though they might enlist as teens), and they do difficult jobs that many (most?) people are unsuited to do. We dress our children in such ways not because sailors are children (although they may remain in close touch with their childlike enthusiasms — a good quality), but because we have aspirations for our children, for them to grow up to be able to do difficult, honorable things, to emerge from under our protection to take on responsibility for others.

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