2.5 Brindisi, Italy

July 13, 1944 to July 14, 1944

Thursday, July 13, 1944

I have the early morning watch again, my pet. In fact, I’m getting screwed, since I get off this watch at 8AM just in time to start sea watches. Oh well, I’ve had a couple hours sleep tonight.

Achille and I spend the afternoon shopping. I bought some various souvenirs, which you shall see anon, and spent most of my Italian money. However, since I didn’t draw any money I say I had a pretty cheap stay in Bari.

Let me explain myself further, since I would keep nothing from you, Thea. ‘Tis a general habit among seamen to sell goods on arriving at a foreign port. Such goods bring a very high price. Chief article of trade is cigarettes at $3.50 to $4.00 a carton (Cost 65¢). However, since the supply is limited, they also sell extra clothing, bed linen, and anything else.

I have done it also. SO as not to be guilty of casuistry, let me say right now that I think it is wrong. My only real defense, which is really no defense, is that everyone else does it. However, there are factors which I believe tend to make it a less heinous crime.

In general terms, a large part of what we sell gets resold through a black market. Therefore anything we sell is bad, since it helps to support a black market. However, from another point of view, the black market is an effect of inflation. Inflation is a situation where there is too much money and too little consumer goods within an economy. Therefore, when we sell goods from outside the economy, we are increasing the number of goods and decreasing the amount of money. Since, in practice, we put that money back into the economy by spending it, the net result is about zero. The goods we sell being semi-necessities, and those we buy being out and out luxuries, the economy is perhaps slightly enriched. However if we were to draw money from the ship and spend it to buy our luxuries, the economy would suffer the double blow of a decrease of goods and an increase of money (of course if we were to buy goods on the black market, the effect would be doubly bad). Therefore, I am convinced that the Italian economy does not really suffer by our operations.

But from the other side there is almost no defense. As far as sheets, etc. from the ship, that to my mind is definitely wrong. I did sell one here in Bari, but I can’t justify it at all, and in the future I shall refrain. Being (unfortunately?) a man of principles, the mere fact that others do it is not enough. If I once said that I would have to throw out half my philosophy of life.

Next, take cigarettes. There I feel on more solid ground. For some reason or other, we can buy them tax free. Therefore, when we buy them the government is losing the tax on them. However, what happens is no secret to anyone. We are allowed 2 cartons a week per man. Now I doubt if anyone aboard ship smokes more than one carton a week. So what business has the company (and the government) to allow that many unless they expect them to be resold in foreign countries or smuggled back into the U.S. And the latter I do not intend to do. Suppose they were to cut down or entirely eliminate the tax free cigarettes? I would lose nothing, since I don’t smoke them. That, in itself, is selfish. But, to my knowledge there is not one person who does smoke who does not also sell, therefore his loss will be as much his own fault as mine. I still don’t think it’s right. But on the basis of everything, I have decided there’s lots worse ways of making money and continue to do it. If I don’t sell those cigarettes, the purser will.

Finally, there is the possibility of buying goods in U.S. and selling them abroad. The chief evil effect there would be its inflationary stimulus on our own economy. But on the basis of what I’ve said, I’m not sure but what the Italians need, and for my money, deserve the goods more than the Americans. I don’t know how I stand, there. No hurry to make up my mind, since it’s too late for this trip, and I’ll have a chance to talk it over with you before the next.

Damn a conscience! Why can’t I do it as free and easily as everyone else?

One interesting thing about Italian society is their attitude towards women. Socially, they don’t rate. When we call on a family, the first chairs go to us, as visitors. The next go to the men, and, if there are enough, the women can sit also. Children come at the very end. It was rather embarrassing sitting down and watching Achille do so while his pregnant wife stood. But—that’s their custom, and the wise man doesn’t try to change it.

In the higher class homes (and I mean “high class” in a sense of inner pride and dignity, not from any material standards) the girls are treated with a precaution which reminds one of colonial New England. The idea of Luigia going to the movies with Les and me! Had we pressed it we might have been (politely) thrown out.

Speaking of Luigia, Les has won all honours (and honours are all there were to win. The only physical proximity is in shaking hands—even the women shake hands. They may have learned it from the Americans—and as for the idea of a platonic love—it’s a little difficult with nothing resembling a common language!). She gave him a string of beads as a souvenir. And put them around his neck, although I had to tell him how to put the idea across, by trying to put them on himself over his head! But my feelings were more than mollified when Achille later gave me a little Italian sailboat made of silk, a beautiful job and a much better “souvenir” than anything I found in the shops.

This evening Les and I (Bill was on watch) went around with Tex and his friends to see what it was like. They just drank and got into interminable arguments. I got bored and came home fairly early.

Tex got me kind of sore when he did come in. He and some army boys he’d picked up came in the focsle just after I’d gone to sleep and were very noisy. When I asked if he’d mind going in the mess room he answered words to the effect that it was his focsle as much as mine and if he didn’t like me he’d get out and if I didn’t like him I should get out. He went out shortly after, though, but I foolishly lay awake and brooded. I’m all over it now. He was drunk, so what-the-hell. And if I’m going to take resentment over drunkenness, I’d better not follow the sea. There are very few sober people aboard tonight.

This watch has been completely quiet, though. Shore leave is over—work is over—so very few people have bothered me. Except the third mate now and then. He works too hard and doesn’t get enough sleep. And he may be a little drunk. He’s about as bad in regard to the Italians as any of the crew. Well, there’s no reason to expect an overnight change when a man gets gold braid, I suppose. But it is a little disillusioning when the captain, chief engineer, and chief steward are all aboard drunk at the same time. The captain is a fine man to sail under when he’s sober (and I will say that I’ve never seen him anything else at sea) but he sure makes a damn fool of himself drunk. This trip is almost making a prohibitionist out of me.

Friday, July 14, 1944

It is now two days later and we are in Brindisi – about 60 miles south of Bari. The above ended abruptly because we had to cast off mooring lines etc. to depart from Bari, having unloaded in less than a week. And ’twas with a sigh of relief that I said goodbye to our cargo, even if it did mean the end of a $10 bonus. We really zoomed, too. We actually cast off our lines about 10 and by 6 PM we were anchored and moored here. And we’re really tied up, too. Both anchors and 5 mooring lines going out to anchor buoys.

What with gangway watch, and regular watch, and working on deck getting out to sea and back to port I worked 11½ hours overtime yesterday. And today I worked 4. There’s a lot of work to be done after a ship has been loaded or unloaded. The 5 hatches must be covered with 3 tarpaulins for each hatch. And heavy canvas is really something to move around. I don’t like it. Then all the booms must be cradled (secured parallel to the deck about 8 feet above it) or topped (secured right to the masts). And for each boom there are 2 guys, 1 preventer guy, a cargo runner, and a topping lift which must have things done to them. The aerial must be put up. All the miscellaneous lumber used for dunnage and catwalks that’s left lying around on deck must be cleaned up. And the cables and turnbuckles used to secure the deck cargo must be taken apart and stowed away. And the deck must be swept and hosed. The lifeboats must be swung out, which is a bigger job than it sounds. And the boats and life rafts have their sea painters made ready.

Finally, when we’re sure we’re going to sea the mooring lines are all stowed away in the forepeak or steering engine room all of which takes time, and since it should all be done as soon as possible (the whole object, of course, is to make the ship safer against a possible heavy sea) it means time and over time—even though later we may loaf.

It’s interesting to think how much of the work aboard ship is “in case” work. Particularly of course, in war time. For instance all the way across we could just as well have put one tarpaulin on each hatch, left the mooring lines on deck, and secured the booms much less carefully than we did. We didn’t hit any bad weather. We could have forgotten all about the life boats and rafts. We didn’t get attacked. But, better by far to do those things a thousand or more times unnecessarily than to fail to do them once.

For being on a ship is different from a house. Because a house has a yard and streets and hospitals and other houses all around. And if something happens to your house it’s a great misfortune but not (unless you are directly injured or killed in the accident) a fatal one. But not so with a ship. Particularly a munitions ship.

The future. It is so much easier to think about the past. But I really mustn’t blind myself. I’m afraid that unless the war lasts a long time I won’t get far on graduate correspondence. I have the time, but I don’t have the facilities. Even writing I have to wait until a calm day or until the fo’c’sle is quiet. And for really studying I need a table. And the only one being in the mess hall it is rarely quiet. Of course, when, as, and if I get to be a mate it will be a different story. Then at least I’ll have a room with a desk and chair to myself. I shall be interested in what the colleges have to offer. Maybe in the course of a year I could master one course. But I would hesitate to promise myself even that.

I’ve wondered a little whether there would be any future in the Maritime Service. If after I’d studied my navigation if there might be a place teaching it. Of course that would limit us to living at the sea shore. Just a thought. I wouldn’t want to build any on it because the opportunities are very limited and it would take a lucky break such as I got at Sheepshead to get me in even if we decided I wanted it.

If I keep going on like this maybe I’ll decide to be a writer!

That idea in regards to bonuses with the ship is, I think, basically sound. Namely to sign on for a year, receive a base pay, and if (all reserves being deducted) there is a net profit, distribute bonuses at the end of the year. Off hand I can see two objections to it. In the first place the decision as to how much the bonus should be. It should not be left solely up to the company—the men must regard their share of the savings as a right, not as a gift. And it would be extremely difficult to devise a workable formula between the union (or the men in any other capacity) and the company. By tradition, seamen are not very honest. I don’t mean they swipe each other’s shoe laces but the basic attitude between the men and the company is pretty much each man for himself and devil take the other. I’m not saying that that attitude is inevitable, but it would be a long and difficult job to change it. That’s true of both officers and men. Where we may swipe one or two sheets and sell them the steward may deal in 50 or 100 and the purser does the same with slop chest stores. Where we may smuggle a bottle or two of wine in, the captain may smuggle it in by the case for resale. I’m not saying they all do—but some do. If your bonuses are small, each man is liable to figure that he can make more now by cheating (on time or stores or anything). And if they’re large—the men won’t sail. The great majority of seamen wouldn’t give up $50 a month of their pay for a thousand dollar bonus a year from now.

The second objection is the time element. If it’s done trip by trip, the accounting involved would be terrific, if not impossible. And if it’s done on a longer basis, how would you handle the men who only took one trip?

I’m raising those objections not because I don’t like your plan. But any idea must stand hostile criticism to have a chance, and the faults occur to me right off. I haven’t anything better to offer, I’m afraid.

Perhaps through the union? Far be it from me to maintain that all companies are crooks and all unions honest. But there does seem to be more of a feeling of square dealing between the men and the unions. If the union were to own the ships, then my second objection would be answered. Once a year, or whatever, the union could assess total profit and distribute it on some equitable basis among its members. Like a co-op.

And the first point is less an obstruction. The union is, in form anyhow (and it is in fact to the extent members really want it) democratic. They can determine what union expenses should be paid from the shipping and how it can best be done, and what proportion should be set aside for expansion and reserves. And the remainder goes out as dividends.

The two things wrong with private ownership of the ships (as with any industry) are that the managers depend (directly or indirectly) on profits over and above wages—while the men depend only on wages. Thus to that extent they are always working at a cross purpose which union ownership would eliminate.

Of course, it would need to be an expanded union and include officers, port workers and officers, and men all in the same organization. I don’t believe that would be difficult to achieve if the union owned the ships. But the bigger an organization the more difficult it is to be democratic. Frankly, I don’t believe the majority (the large majority) of men who follow the sea would care enough to insure fairness to all. That would make it easy for control of the union to fall in the hands of a small group and the net result would just be a change of managers.

And a very practical difficulty would be to raise the necessary capital. It would be impossible to start out on a large scale—and, since the union owes a responsibility to all its present members, starting on a small scale and expanding would be very difficult to manage.

So my plan also has two objections (at least). Yer pays yer money and takes yer cherce!

POEM ON LOOKOUT

Far off upon the sparkling sea
(An ocean lies ’tween you and me.)
I watch—it is my daily chore—
(While you wait on a distant shore.)
For ships or subs or planes on high,
(I wish that you could with me fly.)
But nothing happens, all is well.
(Remember when your name was Drell?)

And as I watch I dream of you
(The sky is clear, the ocean blue,)
And long to hasten to your side
(There’s naught in sight. The view is wide.)
To be with you, and feel your kiss.
(No planes above, or else I miss.)
That day will come. I hope it’s soon.
(My watch is o’er, for ‘tis now noon.)