Much has been written about U-Boat warfare in the Atlantic during WWII and the convoys of ships that kept Britain supplied, but The Mathews Men is the first book I’ve encountered that tells the story of the U.S. Merchant Mariners who sailed the ships that carried the supplies that kept the Allied war effort in Europe going and weathered the wrath of the German U-Boat force assigned to stop them.
The book focuses not on a seafaring family named Mathews, as the subtitle might be read to imply, but on the residents of Mathews County, Virginia, a small county with a long history of supplying sailors, mates, and captains to U.S. merchant ships. It sets the stage in Mathews County by introducing the reader to the Hodges family, the source of the seven brothers featured in the book’s subtitle, then goes on to tell the tales of the Mathews men who sailed during WWII and the women they left behind.
Recently, my reading has revolved somewhat around the topic of Word War II. All the Gallant Men is one of those books, and I’d recommend it to anybody interested in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Much has been written about Pearl Harbor, but All the Gallant Men stands out as an first-hand account from Donald Stratton, a sailor from the U.S.S. Arizona who survived the attack even though his ship did not.
Stratton seeks to provide some context to Pearl Harbor, to go beyond the statistics and give the reader a glimpse of the lives lost and the men who weathered the storm of Japanese bullets and bombs. He tells of his childhood growing up in small-town Nebraska during the Great Depression. He explains why he joined the Navy, reminisces about boot camp, and describes life aboard the Arizona, both at sea and at anchor. He talks about the ship’s band, well on its way to earning the distinction of being one of the best of all the bands from the ships moored in Pearl Harbor. He describes the night of December 6, 1941. And of course, December 7, 1941. He chronicles the chaos of the attack and memorializes the actions of a sailor on another ship, who disobeyed orders in order to save Stratton and a group of survivors from the Arizona.
This article was inspired by the massive amounts of violence, anger, and anxiety surrounding the recent election. One sees America fragmenting into groups and Tribalism reigning supreme. What happened to the America of the 90’s and early 2000’s, where both sides of the political spectrum were more willing to listen to each other? The breakdown of discussion goes hand in hand with the all-out Kulturkampf of recent times. As much as we all desire unity, there exist two Americas: one capitalist and God-fearing, the other socialist and atheist. The means of pushing down the other culture range from political correctness to controlling the education system to laws to pop culture to judicial mandates. Any and every encroachment by one side breeds anger and irritation in the other.
Cartoon depicting the caning of Charles Sumner.
I want to be fair to the Left, but they are responsible for the majority of violence in recent times: Who smears police officers as universally corrupt, which motivates Black Lives Matter activists to kill police officers? Who refuses to acknowledge that Islamo-fascists are killing Westerners just for being American or European? Who has banished one side of the political spectrum from many college campuses through adherence to political correctness? A political correctness that not only condemns racial slurs and derogatory speech (which should be held in contempt by right thinking men) but even any argument which disagrees with the Leftist worldview? Who has labelled half the country as racists, Nazis, fascists, xenophobes, sexists, etc.? Do they not know that the popular culture equates Nazis and fascists to outlaws, i.e. people who may be killed on sight? Is it the Right Wing that trashes DC while waving Red and Anarchist flags? Some of Trump’s remarks sound plenty offensive to certain people. But, one has the right to say whatever one wishes in a free country, and we can either live as free men of a republic or as slaves of a totalitarian state.
Every once in a while, I force myself to read Civil War history from a Unionist perspective in order to keep a broad vision of the war. I was happy to pick up Timothy Egan’s The Immortal Irishman, which chronicles the life and times of Thomas Francis Meagher, because it not only gives a Unionist perspective but even an Irish perspective to the war. This general was famed for commanding the Irish Brigade (New York’s Fighting 69th descended from this unit), which suffered the third highest casualty rate of any in the war. Only Vermont’s 1st Brigade and Wisconsin’s Iron Brigade suffered higher casualties.
Meagher was originally an Irish citizen and advocated vociferously for an independent Ireland. One thing this book does well is depict the tyrannical laws England imposed on Ireland in order to destroy its culture and religion. England’s repression of their Irish neighbors make America’s persecution of various Indian tribes look almost benign in comparison. During Meagher’s time in school, he earned himself beatings merely for speaking with a brogue and refusing to doff his Irishness. He eventually joined the Young Ireland movement in order to further his efforts to preserve Irish culture and advocate for political rights.