HARRIMAN NELSON: A Character Sketch
Harriman Nelson (USN, ret.) was, by all appearances, extremely young for his
rank. Although he appears to have come up the ranks quickly, there are real
admirals who have achieved the same. Former Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral
Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., achieved four-star rank at age 49, which made him the
youngest four-star admiral in American history. Nelson, as portrayed by Basehart,
appears to have been in his late forties or early fifties as well. It is important to note, however, that
Nelson retired as a Vice Admiral. He wore three stars on his collar for the
first few episodes, and then, without explanation, he was suddenly promoted to
four-star rank. One theory suggests the post-retirement promotion was earned
for saving the President's life in the episode "Hail to the Chief."
These things (post-retirement promotions) have happened in real life. A few years ago, for example, an elderly
African-American three-star general, long retired, was promoted to four-star
rank by President Clinton.
Although we know that Admiral Nelson once served in the first nuclear sub, the
USS Nautilus (where he met his friend, Commander Lee Crane), details of
his naval career are sketchy. Many suspect that he was born in or near Boston,
although he doesn't have a typical Bostonian accent. We know that he has been a professor of Marine Biology and
Chemistry, and that he, of course, designed the Seaview and various weapons
systems aboard. In the episode "Day of Evil" it was also
revealed that Nelson was also one of the designers of the Fail-Safe system.
What is not known are the details regarding his ascension through the ranks and
the other ships he served in or commanded.
Nelson, a great innovator, seemed to lack the parochial bias that his real life
counterparts often suffer. Although he was obviously a submariner, he was also
a qualified aviator who frequently piloted the Flying Sub. He even landed FS-1
on the deck of a carrier, and the USN would never allow anyone but a currently
qualified naval aviator to do so. He also appears to be a qualified
parachutist, suggesting that he may have a "Special Warfare"
background. That seems consistent with the fact that he is frequently chosen
for dangerous covert missions in enemy territory.
Although at times he was known to grumble, his style of command was modeled on
the "New Navy" approach in which men are led by inspiration,
confidence, and by personal example rather than by strict discipline and a
rigid command structure. Aboard the Seaview, Nelson is addressed in respectful
terms by all hands, but no one seems to get carried away by formality, either.
His scientific genius is unquestioned, as is his character. He was known for
getting things done, and done well.
Nelson was a patriot, a scientist, a warrior, a scholar, an inventor, and a man
of principle. Very few real admirals could match him in all these areas. Was
Nelson a true hero? Probably, yes. But what's more, he seemed approachable, and
perhaps even modest. It has been said that all great men are modest. By this
definition, and in light of his considerable accomplishments, Nelson truly was
a great and honorable man.
Roger Thompson is a Fellow of
the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society, and a former
researcher with the Operational Research and Analysis Establishment at
National Defence Headquarters, Ottawa, Canada. He is an internationally
recognized authority on combat motivation, military sociology,
regular/reserve total force issues, and military bureaucratic politics.
His seminal work on combat motivation in naval forces was endorsed by
the US Chief of Naval Operations, SACLANT, CINCPACFLEET, best-selling
novelist and submariner the late Captain Edward L. Beach, US Navy
(Retired), and the German, Australian, Chilean, Italian and Spanish
chiefs of naval staffs. His work in this area was translated into
Spanish under the authority of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armada de
Chile, Almirante Jorge Martinez Busch. He also received a medallion from
the Chief of Staff of the Italian Navy, Admiral Guido Venturoni, for his
contribution to military sociology, and his work has been acknowledged
by General Colin Powell as well. His 1994 MA thesis Brown Shoes,
Black Shoes and Felt Slippers: Parochialism and the Evolution of the
Post-War U.S. Navy was published by the US Naval War College in
1995, and again by the Mine Warfare Association in 1997. The original
publication was endorsed as "essential reading for professional naval
officers" by the late former US Navy Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral
Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.
Thompson's contribution to
military studies was recently summarized by the famous military
sociologist, Dr Charles C. Moskos. Moskos, whose scholarly writings
have been published in 19 languages, said: "Simply put, Roger
Thompson is the leading scholar in the sociology of naval
institutions. His book, Brown Shoes, Black Shoes and Felt
Slippers: Parochialism and the Evolution of the Post-War US Navy,
is a classic in the sociology of the armed forces and civil-military
relations. It was my honor to give an endorsement to this book upon
its publication." Moskos concluded that Thompson is a "most
remarkable scholar and teacher." Thompson has presented papers on
military studies at international conferences sponsored by the
Turkish Military Academy and York University, and has been invited
to present a paper at the United States Naval Academy. His new book
Lessons Not Learned: The US Navy's Status Quo Culture will be
published by the Naval Institute Press in April 2007, and features
an afterword by best-selling author Colonel Douglas A. Macgregor.
Professor Thompson can
be contacted through his