Merchant navies represent economic and industrial strength. This study revises the definition of maritime power through a more comprehensive understanding and appreciation for the roles played by the merchant marine of a nation.
Sager argues that sailors were not misfits or outcasts but were divorced from society only by virtue of their occupation. The wooden ships were small communities at sea, fragments of normal society where workers lived, struggled, and often died. With the coming of the age of steam, the sailor became part of a new division of labour and a new social hierarchy at sea. Sager shows that the sailor was as integral to the transition to industrial capitalism as any land worker.
World War II could not have been won without the U.S. Merchant Marine. Crewed by civilian seamen in peacetime and carrying much of the nation's ocean-borne commerce, the Merchant Marine became the "fourth arm of defense" in wartime, providing vital support for beachheads in all theaters of operation. Twenty World War II Merchant Marine veterans are featured in this oral history. Most had at least one ship torpedoed, bombed, shelled or mined out from under them--some of them two. Some became prisoners of the Japanese for the duration of the war, working on the infamous River Kwai Bridge. Many spent time on lifeboats or flimsy rafts under harsh conditions; one--Donald Zubrod--endured 42 days in a lifeboat with several others before their eventual rescue, close to death. American merchant mariners suffered a casualty rate that was a close second to the Marine Corps during the war.