|Have another vodka: A US Navy cruiser collided with a nuclear-powered submarine in 2012 as both took part in exercises off the US East Coast.|
The U.S. Navy has recently begun moving ships to Asia to address the growing tension between China and Japan and other Asian countries.
As the Navy began this redeployment last year, most senior commanders were presumably eager to return to a port in the Philippines called Subic Bay.
The Navy's 7th Fleet had called Subic Bay home for decades before and after World War II. But after an unfortunate incident in 1991, the Philippines kicked the Navy out. The parting was so tense that even by October 2012, the Philippines was still demurely but firmly saying: "The US will not return to the bases they gave up in 1991."
The Philippines is still saying publicly that the U.S. can't reclaim its old bases — but thanks to China's increasing might, the Philippines is gradually welcoming the Navy back.
Subic Bay was not just a port in the storm of WWII. The U.S. seized the strategic port from the Spanish in 1898 and held it for over four decades, until 1943 when the Japanese took it over.
Japan held on to the port until 1945, when it fell with great fanfare to U.S. forces. It was a homecoming, and the Philippine community in Subic Bay lived in relative harmony with U.S. Navy forces until 1991.
But that year, there was a mighty explosion.
One morning, six days before the official start of summer in June 1991, a Philippines volcano called Mt. Pinatubo erupted with a force eight times greater than Mount St. Helens.
To make matters worse, at the time, the country was enveloped in the rain, thunder, and lighting of Typhoon Yunya.
Dozens died the first day.
U.S. dependents in Subic Bay were evacuated quickly and expeditiously, but the U.S. did not provide much help to the Philippine community. This, combined with the political situation in the Philippines at the time, turned sentiment against the United States. Shortly thereafter, the Philippines decided to end the Treaty of Friendship, Peace and Cooperation that permitted the existence of the U.S. base at Subic Bay.
By the end of 1992 the U.S. was shown the door. And the Navy was not invited back until last year, November 2012.
Then, this year on January 17, just after the Navy was finally welcomed back to the Philippines, the U.S. Navy blew it again.
The Navy ran a 225-foot-long minesweeper, the USS Guardian, onto one of the world's most pristine reefs off the Philippines' coast.
Minesweepers are far more destructive to reefs than other ships because they're made mostly of pine and clad in a soft, non-
resonating material to keep from triggering mines. They shred apart when they founder in the surf, like ripping silk from an ear of corn. And they also leak oil and fuel.
When the USS Guardian ran aground at Tubbataha Reef, it damaged 4,000 square yards of reef. For Philippines residents, the Tubbataha Reef is not just pretty and ecologically important: It is needed for hard cash income during diving season. So this was a public-relations disaster.
The minesweeper incident was unfortunate, and then the U.S. Navy was also accused of dumping hazardous waste in Subic Bay in November, just days before their official arrival.
So only a few months after the U.S. was finally invited back to the Philippines to counter the growing Chinese threat, tensions between the U.S. and Philippines residents are already running high.
Fortunately, the U.S. Navy appears to be well aware of the mistakes it has made and is trying to make up for them. The Navy sent a destroyer, the USS Stockdale, into Subic Bay early last month and immediately hired 15 Philippine sailors to work on it.
So with the potentially huge threat of Chinese aggression growing in the region, the U.S. is back in the Philippines, if only because of the old adage that the enemy of one's enemy is one's friend.
And though the reunion has not gone smoothly, both sides need each other, and both sides appear to be trying to make the fragile new partnership work.