U-117 (1921). From the Wikimedia Commons.Americans’ willful ignorance of their own history — especially those episodes that don’t fit into a snug narrative of never-ending progress, triumph and righteousness — is the subject for another discussion. (The author includes himself among the ignorant, by the way.) The point of raising the issue here is to note the shock that accompanied the terrorist attacks of 9/11, as if the contiguous 48 states hadn’t been attacked by a foreign enemy since the days of Dolley Madison.

However, despite the best efforts of the United States Government to cover it up, World War I was waged off the shores of Cape Cod in mid-1918, as at least three German U-boats — the U-117, the U-151 and the U-156 — played havoc with the fishing fleet. In one single day, 10 August 1918, the U-117 sank nine swordfish schooners on Georges Bank.

Josef Berger’s 1941 book, In Great Waters: The Story of the Portuguese Fishermen (pages 236-258) lands hardest on the government, whose chief contribution to the battle seems to have been the issuance of press releases assuring the fishermen that the U-boat problem was minimal and under control, and then silencing any news of the sinkings that were in fact being carried out while the United States Navy stood by helplessly. ¶ Updated 2013-02-28

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