Popular Perceptions of the American Merchant Marine During

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Popular Perceptions of the American Merchant Marine During

Transcript Of Popular Perceptions of the American Merchant Marine During

Florida State University Libraries

Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations

The Graduate School

2008
Popular Perceptions of the American Merchant Marine during World War II
Andrew J. Waber

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FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
POPULAR PERCEPTIONS OF THE AMERICAN MERCHANT MARINE DURING WORLD WAR II
By Andrew J. Waber
A Thesis submitted to the Department of History
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Degree Awarded: Spring Semester, 2008

The members of the Committee approve the thesis of Andrew J. Waber defended on March 18, 2008.
______________________________ Jennifer Koslow Professor Directing Thesis

______________________________ William Oldson Committee Member

Approved:

______________________________ Michael Creswell Committee Member

___________________________________________ Neil Jumonville, Chair, Department of History

___________________________________________ Joseph Travis, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

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DEDICATION To my family for their undying love and support over all these years
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TABLE OF CONTENTS List of Acronyms…………………………………………………………………….........v Abstract…………………………………………………………………………………...vi Introduction………………………………………………………………………………..1 Ch. 1 Setting the Stage……………………………………………………………….......11 Ch. 2 Cowardly and Insolent, He Declares…………………………………………........25 Ch. 3 The Merchant Marine in Popular Culture…………………………………………41 Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………….57 Bibliography……………………………………………………………………………..62 Biographical Sketch……………………………………………………………………...70
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LIST OF ACRONYMS
AFL ..………………………………………………………American Federation of Labor AMMV ……………………………………………..American Merchant Marine Veterans CIO ………………………………………………….Congress of Industrial Organizations EFC …………………………………………………………Emergency Fleet Corporation ILA ………………………………………………….International Longshoremen’s Union ISU …………………………………………………………International Seaman’s Union IWW ……………………………………………………..Industrial Workers of the World MWEB…………………………………………………..Maritime War Emergency Board MWIU ………………………………………………….Marine Workers Industrial Union NMU …………………………………………………………….National Maritime Union RMO ……………………………………………..Recruitment and Manning Organization SDC ………………………………………………………..Seaman’s Defense Committee SUP …………………………………………………………...Sailors Union of the Pacific USMS …………………………………………………….United States Maritime Service USSB ……………………………………………………….United States Shipping Board WSA ………………………………………………………..War Shipping Administration
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ABSTRACT The United States Merchant Marine played a pivotal role in the successful conclusion of the World War II and suffered the highest casualty rate of any branch of the Armed Forces. Often labeled as draft dodgers, profiteers, Communists, slackers, and anti-authority, the Merchant Marine’s connections with the maritime unions attracted much criticism. The unions rather than the Merchant Marine were the intended targets of most negative press. Yet there was also a great deal of positive images of seamen. Primary sources such as government documents, newspapers, popular magazines, movies, and literature contain a wide variety of perceptions on the Merchant Marine. The purpose of this study is to explore both the accuracy and the origins of these perceptions.
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INTRODUCTION
During World War II, the general public viewed the American Merchant Marine in positive and negative ways. This was nothing new. Since the Colonial period, popular opinion held seamen as marginal characters in society often associated with the vices of the waterfront. The growth of labor unions in the nineteenth century added to people’s misconceptions. These misunderstandings converged during the war into claims that seamen were draft dodgers, profiteers, slackers, and Communist sympathizers. In spite of these assertions, most media portrayals of the Merchant Marine during the war were positive. Neither portrait, however, presented an entirely accurate picture of the civilian seamen who fought as part of the armed forces. Despite the importance of their role in the Allies’ victory, little has been written on the centrality of their presence in military operations. Their absence from the literature on World War II is an artifact of the fact that regardless of the media broadcasting positive and negative representations during the war, in the public’s imagination, seamen remained just as much on the fringes of society as they were before the war.
The history of the American Merchant Marine from its inception in 1775 to the present day has received very little notice. Other events often overshadowed the accomplishments and travails of merchant shipping during wartime. In every major war fought by the United States from the Revolution to the present conflict in Iraq, the Merchant Marine has had a presence. In wars fought overseas, its roles were much greater. Yet, historical memory can be selective. During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Navy was nothing more than refurbished small merchant vessels. The most effective naval force operating during this period was privateers, who were mostly seamen without jobs due to the British blockade. Yet John Paul Jones and his famous battle with the HMS Serapis in 1779, a minor setback for the British, is the most well known naval accomplishment of the war.1
Merchant shipping was of considerable importance to the new nation, owing to the issues of sovereignty and the protection of economic interests. The notion of a flag
1 Arthur Donovan and Andrew Gibson, The Abandoned Ocean: A History of United States Maritime Policy (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2000), 17-20; and Bruce L. Felknor, editor, The U.S. Merchant Marine at War, 1775-1945 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998), 13-29.
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vessel literally being a piece of that country’s soil relies heavily on international recognition. The first wars involving the United States following its independence, the standoff with France in the 1790s, the Barbary Wars in 1801 and the War of 1812, started over infringements on American merchant shipping. Before the wars, Britain and other more established countries only gave token acknowledgement to American autonomy. Being able to safeguard its citizens overseas gave the U.S. government important diplomatic and economic victories with the opening of oceanic trade relatively free of harassment. The quasi-war with France also led to the reestablishment of the United States Navy during the tenure of John Adams. Hence, the main reason for the Navy’s founding was for defense of shipping rather than national defense, although national defense was a logical corollary once the Navy came into full operation. The significance of these events seems lost in history. The exploits of Andrew Jackson and Oliver Hazard Perry in the War of 1812, for instance, dominates accounts of the war more than its actual results.2
During the Civil War, the majority of naval engagements occurred when Confederate raiders attacked shipping rather than any outright battles between the two navies. The South realized early in the war that it could not match the naval supremacy of the Union Navy. They diverted much of their focus instead to the construction of commerce raiders that ran off both sail and steam power. Built by the British and manned by a large portion of British nationals, these ships wrecked havoc on Union merchant shipping. The Union lost over 110,000 tons of cargo by the end of the war. The real damage occurred with cargo insurance, as the rates quadrupled from one to four percent. This created a ripple effect that drove foreign exporters away from American flag vessels and towards the British. With the loss of business, ship owners turned to changing the registry of the ship or simply selling the ship to a foreign country. Over 800,000 tons worth of shipping capacity changed registry, which led to a reduction of over 50 percent in total cargo handling of American flag vessels. Hence, Union losses in shipping were one of the great setbacks of the war, with Confederate actions directly or indirectly resulting in over a million tons of cargo or cargo capacity lost. After the war, the British
2 Donovan and Gibson, The Abandoned Ocean, 22-42; and Felknor, The U.S. Merchant Marine at War, 3348.
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had to pay the United States an indemnity of fifteen million dollars for their role in building the raiders and assisting the Confederates. The losses inflicted upon the American merchant fleet were so great that it was not until World War One that American flag vessels would once again play a prominent role in international trade. Government reluctance to subsidize shipping and American monopoly on coastal trade caused American shipping lines to turn instead to domestic trade.3
World War One (1914-1918) offered a great opportunity for the United States to expand the Merchant Marine. For the majority of the war, the involvement of the United States was limited to hauling supplies to the British and French. At first, the sudden drop in foreign ships created an economic crisis in the United States, as northern industries and southern cotton producers had trouble exporting their products overseas. The government subsidization of war risk bonuses helped free up intracoastal shipping for international trade. President Woodrow Wilson also passed regulations allowing foreign built ships to change registry. These actions sparked a rapid increase of available ships, as both American operators under flags of convenience and foreign operators quickly saw the advantages of switching to a neutral country. From the start of the war until 1917, the Germans, wary of drawing the United States into the war, refrained from attacking American flag vessels. The United States officially declared war in April 1917 after the Germans, willing to take their chances at this point, conducted unrestricted warfare against all shipping supplying the British and French.4
For the Merchant Marine, the most important development during WWI was the creation of a centralized governmental agency to oversee every aspect of America’s shipping needs. The primary responsibility for the Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC), which fell under the United States Shipping Board (USSB), was to provide the ships by whatever means necessary. Initially, this duty entailed the purchase of vessels already built. Upon U.S. entrance into the conflict, the EFC also refitted captured enemy ships. The shipbuilding program (which will be discussed in chapter one) however, never had a major effect on the war. The United States entered in the war in April 1917, but it would
3 Donovan and Gibson, The Abandoned Ocean, 64-78; and Felknor, The U.S. Merchant Marine at War, 6175. 4 Donovan and Gibson, The Abandoned Ocean, 103-08; and Felknor, The U.S. Merchant Marine at War, 105-120.
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Merchant MarineSeamenPerceptionsShipsAmerican Merchant Marine