Published Date

January 1, 1946

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 25: What Shall We Do with Our Merchant Fleet? (1946)

Our merchant fleet’s role in World War II was to deliver vital materials to Allied fighting fronts over the world. Never had so many ships flown the American flag. Never before had so many American men gone to sea in merchant ships. Never had so many Americans been directly or indirectly affected by our merchant fleet.

What shall we do with this fleet now that the war is over? This pamphlet endeavors to present the various authoritative points of view on this important question. Obviously, it does not give an answer. The answer, however, is important. It will involve our future as a maritime nation. It will affect our foreign trade. It will influence our international relations. It will determine the careers and livelihood of thousands of men and their families. Arid it will involve economic factors of direct concern to all our citizens.

The future of our merchant fleet depends on decisions yet to be made. These decisions may depend largely on what intelligent American citizens think should be done with our merchant fleet. You, the reader of this pamphlet—it’s your problem! The subject is ripe for intelligent discussion. Consider the facts, weigh the various points of view, and then decide what you think should be done with our merchant fleet.


How do you stimulate interest?

Discussion grows out of interest in a subject. People are usually interested in things they regard as important: things that concern them personally, that affect other people they know, that involve the whole nation and its future, or things that pertain to America’s relations with other nations.

Our merchant fleet is a subject that has all four of these appeals to interest: personal, social, national, and international. Individuals in any discussion group will be interested, of course, for various reasons.

Discussion leaders should strive to stimulate the interest of persons in their area as part of the planning of their programs. Here are some things they can do:

First, see that copies of this pamphlet go to reading rooms and libraries where interested persons will have an opportunity to read them.

Second, place copies in the hands of individuals who will read the pamphlet and pass it on to friends who will be interested in attending a discussion meeting on the subject.

Third, make adequate announcements of the meeting and the subject in newspapers, on bulletin boards, on posters, over loud-speaker systems, or in other ways. Let people know about the program so those who are interested can plan to attend. Many discussion meetings have disappointing attendance because leaders failed to publicize them sufficiently.

Fourth, choose for your program good speakers who will present all sides fairly, raise major issues, and give persons attending an opportunity to ask their own questions and express their own ideas.

What kind of discussion program?

Before deciding what type of discussion to use, leaders will do well to consider the probable size of their group, the facilities of their meeting place, the subject to be discussed, and the possible speakers.

Discussion meetings are usually forums, panel discussions, symposiums; or informal group discussions.

A good forum speaker for this subject would be an individual with considerable experience with merchant fleet problems. The speaker, however prominent, should be given an opportunity to read this pamphlet. It will help him present background information and clarify various major points of view about this controversial subject. Adequate time should be allowed after the speech to give members of the discussion group an opportunity to question the speaker and to express their own opinions of the subject.

A panel would be a particularly good method for discussing the future of our merchant fleet. Most people like panels because they are informal and because several persons take part in the discussion. Panel speakers could raise and answer such major questions as those in the headings of this pamphlet and those listed on page 31. The leader should reserve the last part of the meeting for informal group discussion.

The symposium would be another good method for this subject, since various points of view exist regarding the future of our fleet. One speaker could discuss the policies we followed after World War I. A second could explain the relationships between our merchant fleet and world trade in developments leading up to World War II. A third could describe the wartime growth of the merchant fleet, discuss its role in the war, and lead up to its future. A fourth speaker could discuss new factors—such as Pacific interisland trade possibilities and the reduced fleet strength of other nations—and describe the various proposals affecting the future of our merchant fleet. Then the leader could turn the meeting over to general discussion.

The entire meeting could be devoted to informal group discussion. The leader could spend the first few minutes introducing the subject and clarifying some of the major issues. This will be a particularly good method if the group is small or if members of the group are fairly familiar with problems affecting our merchant fleet.

What are other aids for the leader?

Discussion leaders will find numerous helpful suggestions and more detailed information on discussion methods in EM 1, GI Roundtable: Guide for Discussion Leaders. This Guide stresses the importance of carefully planning and outlining the program. Here are some excerpts from the Guide worth bearing in mind:

“Stimulating and guiding the discussion is the most important job of the leader during the actual meeting.

“The leader must avoid the temptation to clinch the discussion with some stated conclusion. He must remember that one of his chief duties is to leave all conclusions to the individual.

“The success of discussion depends upon the thoughtfulness, breadth, and openmindedness of the talk that takes place—not upon such tangible results as conclusions reached.”

Leaders faced with the problem of arranging a discussion program for broadcasting on a radio or loud-speaker system will find valuable suggestions and advice in EM 90, GI Radio Roundtable

Questions for readers and discussion leaders

Good questions are the lifeblood of intelligent consideration of any subject. Thoughtful readers and discussion leaders should try to formulate their own questions. This will stimulate reading and discussion. Various questions are raised throughout this pamphlet. Here are some more that may be helpful:

  1. Has World War II changed conditions so that we can use a much larger merchant fleet than before the war? Will interisland shipping in the Pacific provide new uses for our merchant vessels?
  2. Would a large merchant fleet benefit our world trade? Our international relations? What interests support a large merchant fleet? What interests oppose a large fleet? What do you think about it?
  3. Does the merchant marine offer worth-while careers to young Americans? Does it offer a comfortable living? What are its advantages? Its disadvantages? Is special training available?
  4. Does the size of our merchant fleet affect the lives of Americans who don’t live on the seacoasts?
  5. Do you think the government should subsidize our merchant fleet? Why? Should competition be encouraged among private ship companies?
  6. Do you think that surplus merchant ships should be: (a) gold to foreign nations, (b) sold to American companies at greatly reduced prices, (c) held in reserve for possible future use, or (d) scrapped?


For Further Reading

There isn’t much unbiased literature on the shipping problem. No scholars have written any books on this subject during the last few years, and most of the magazine articles are brief or partial accounts scarcely worth looking up. The best short studies are: Kurt Lachmann, The Shipping Problem at the End of the War, No. 25 in the Studies on War and Peace, published by the New School for Social Research, 66 West 12th St., New York 11, N. Y., 1913 (25 cents); and Fortune’s articles on the Merchant Marine, in the issues of November and December 1944. If you really want to enter into this study in a big way, there are the Hearings before the House and Senate committees on H.R. 1425, but you had better know your way around before tackling this mass of testimony.

You can get a general historical background from the following books that are inmost big libraries, even though some are out of print:

Sea Lanes in Wartime: The American Experience, 1775–1942. By Robert G. Albion. Published by W. W. Norton and Co., 70 Fifth Ave., New York, N. Y. (1942). $3.50.

Shipping and Shipbuilding Subsidies. By Jesse E. Saugstad. Published by Government Printing Office, Washington 25, D. C. (1932). 60 cents.

The United States Shipping Board: Its History, Activities, and Organization. By Darrell H. Smith and Paul V. Betters. Published by Brookings Institution. 722 Jackson Place, Washington 6, D. C (1931). $2.50.

Merchant Marine Statistics, 1941, Report Series No. 12. By United States Department of Commerce. Published by Government Printing Office. 25 cents.

Economic Survey of the American Merchant Marine. By United States Maritime Commission. Published by Government Printing Office (1937).

Economic Survey of Coastwise and Intercoastal Shipping. By United States Maritime Commission. Published by Government Printing Office (1939).

Annual Reports of the United States Maritime Commission, 1937 to date. Published by Government Printing Office:

American Shipping Policy. By Paul M. Zeis. Published by Princeton University Press, Princeton, N. J. (1938). $3.00.