It is embarrassing how much rubbish we acquire that accumulates the varnish of truth. Until I read Rod Adams today I carried around the belief that Pres. Jimmy Carter was a Navy-trained nuclear engineer and a former nuclear officer. He was neither. What is dangerous about this sort of resume-buffing and credentials-inflation is that Carter was able to destroy the entire US nuclear industry – in part because people thought he “must know about that nuclear stuff”.
<snip background on Amory Lovins> If Lovins’s article did influence the 1976 election, it helped to elevate another man whose resume has received some inflation. That inflation may have been done by political handlers, but there is something slightly questionable about allowing someone to create a life story that is simply not true. I would guess that somewhere north of 90% of the people who know who Jimmy Carter is would tell you that he was a nuclear submarine officer. Some who have watched a PBS show called The Presidents: Jimmy Carter might even say that he served as the engineer officer of the USS Seawolf, the second US nuclear submarine. If the person being questioned is a real buff who has taken a Pentagon tour and seen the wall displays that celebrate the presidents who have served as Naval Officers, he might even tell you that President Carter received a Master of Science in Nuclear Engineering from Union College in Schenectady, New York.
The problem with each of those descriptions of Jimmy Carter’s nuclear experience is that they are wrong, something one can figure out with a calendar that has accurate historical dates.
Jimmy Carter could not have been a nuclear engineer based on his college degree program; he graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1946 with a general Bachelor of Science, before that school offered any designated degree programs.
According to the Naval Historical Center, LT Carter was honorably discharged from the US Navy on October 8, 1953 so that he could return home to care for the family farm. He had only started his nuclear power training on March 1, 1953. The training, in those very early days of the Navy’s nuclear program before the start up of Navy training courses, was conducted at civilian colleges, and Union College was one of the locations. However, it was definitely not a place where one could earn a master’s degree in nuclear engineering in just 7 months. That is especially true when you understand a bit about the Navy and realize that LT Carter probably did not do too much studying after he found out that his father had passed away in July 1953. (Leaving the Navy is not as simple as walking out the door.)
The PBS documentary is quite misleading with regard to Carter’s service, since it states that he served as the engineer of the USS Seawolf, the second US nuclear submarine. That statement is made with a backdrop of the USS Seawolf in operation. Unfortunately, that would have been impossible. The keel laying for the Seawolf took place in September 1953. That means that the construction process started just one month before Carter left the Navy to return to Plains. His service record indicates that he was assigned to the crew that would eventually man the USS Seawolf, but that is certainly not the same as serving as the engineering officer of an operating submarine in terms of the opportunity to absorb nuclear technical knowledge.
It is possible, but unlikely that LT Carter ever watched a nuclear plant in operation. S1W, the prototype for the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear propulsion plant that the Navy constructed, started operating in March 1953, but it would be unusual to have nuclear power school students visiting the prototype during their first six months of training. After Carter left the Navy, there is no evidence of his having had any nuclear related employment; he was too busy growing and selling peanuts and serving as a Georgia state senator and later as Georgia’s governor.
President Carter’s exaggeration of his nuclear experience had an impact on the way that the public viewed his cautious statements about nuclear energy and the way that political leaders accepted his efforts to restrict its growth. When he issued an energy policy that emphasized the use of coal as a way to reduce American dependence on foreign oil, there were many who expressed the view that he must know what he is doing, after all, he was a “nuclear engineer”.
The Rod Adams piece also covers the resume inflation of Obama’s CIO Vivek Kundra and similarly the famous/infamous Amory Lovins.