Journal Entry  -  October 7, 1999  -  Day 26

Thursday Evening Position Report
8:00 p.m., Mountain Daylight Time
Latitude:

12 Degrees, 35 Minutes North

Longitude:

92 Degrees, 45 Minutes West

Days Run:

60 Nautical Miles

Speed:

5 Knots (Average)  running at reduced speed due to a fixed ETA of October 16 at the Panama Canal.

Total Run This Leg:  1,993.4 Nautical Miles
Total Average Speed:  5.18 Knots
Hours / Days This Leg:  384.5 Hours, 16.02 Days
Distance To Go This Leg:  954.4 Nautical Miles
Estimated Time Of Arrival:  7:00 a.m., Saturday, October 16
Present Course:  117 Degrees, Southeasterly
Winds:  Westerly at 15 Knots
Seas:  3 Foot
Swells:  7 Feet from the West Southwest
Barometric Pressure:  1011 Millibars
Air Temperature:  76 Degrees
Sea Temperature:  78 Degrees
Visibility:  10 Miles
Skies:  Mostly Cloudy
Sea Floor:  Depths here range from 2,110 to 2,170 Fathoms, or 12,660 to 13,020 Feet

Position:  USS New Jersey is now 112 Nautical Miles Southwest of Guatemala, and its coastal towns of Champerico, a port facility consisting of an open roadstead where cargo is loaded and discharged from lighters, and San Jose, another open roadstead which serves by a rail line Guatemala City, 72 miles inland.

(This morning's report should have referred to Rio Suchiate as the river border between Mexico and Guatemala, not Honduras.)

The Longest Treaty Debate In U.S. Senate History

President Jimmy Carter was living in the White House; Walter Mondale, the Vice President, served as President of the U.S. Senate, presiding over the debate; New Jersey's two Senators were Clifford P. Case of Rahway and Harrison A. Williams of Bedminster.

It began on February 7, 1978, and consumed more than 152 hours, 36 days and nearly 1,000 pages of the Congressional Record.  Twenty-six amendments were proposed, but only two passed.  Senators invoked Brutus and Cassius, Caesar, the World War II Surrender documents, Daniel Webster and George Mason.   President Carter delivered a "fireside chat" to the nation, and Ronald Reagan responded on a CBS News Special Report.

This and much more, fiery rhetoric, grand speeches, intricate constitutional analysis, and historical references to similar issues in the 1800s.  The American public watched with intensity.  Public opinion polls were wildly against passage.  Senators argued that they had an obligation to the nation, not just their re-elections.

Finally, the day of reckoning came, and the issue passed by a mere two votes.  And that was only half of the matter.  The second half would consume yet another month of the Senate's time.  According to the U.S. Senate's official Historian, the two combined sessions amounted to the longest treaty ratification debates in the Senate's 200 year history at the time, and to this day has not been exceeded.

The subject of this deliberative marathon, of course, was the Panama Canal Neutrality Treaty, and its companion, the Panama Canal Treaty of 1979.

On September 7, 1977, President Carter and Panamanian President Omar Torrijos met in Washington to sign the treaties, a ceremony attended by 26 other Western Hemisphere nations.  That meant the U.S. Senate would have to ratify their action to make them legitimate.

The thrust of those treaties, and the divisions they caused in the nation and the Senate, were the subjects of national discussion for months. Eventually ratified with only two votes to spare out of 100 cast, both treaties became the law of the land in the U.S. after Carter and Torrijos signed the instruments of ratification in Panama City, June 16, 1979.

The arguments pro and con hinged on many issues, but the effect was certain - at noon, December 31, 1999, all sovereign U.S. control of the Panama Canal, built by Americans, funded by Americans, defended by Americans, and owned by Americans, would revert in 20 years to the Republic of Panama.

That 20 year ticking clock's time has finally come, and the USS New Jersey will be playing a leading symbolic role in the transition of the Canal to Panama.

Little did the senators know she would be the last Battleship to transit the Canal when they debated ratification.  And certainly no one involved with the Battleship realized this would be the case.  She was mothballed at the time in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard between December, 1969 and August, 1981.

But next week, the "Big J" will reach the place that provoked the record holding longest treaty debate in the Senate's history. New Jersey's future is yet to be finally determined, but it is clear, the Canal's future is just beginning.

Submitted by Bob Wernet onboard the Sea Victory.

 

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