Suhren’s memoirs, Teddy Suhren, Ace of Aces: Memoirs of a U-boat Rebel, stands as a very interesting, but all too short, German submariner’s reminiscences of the Second World War. Suhren’s real first name is Reinhard. His nickname Teddy comes from his days in basic training, when his comrades noticed that he marched like a teddy bear. And so, the name stuck. The officer in charge of his training remarked to Suhren later in the war that he succeeded in training many thousands of young men, but Suhren was the one recruit in whom he did not succeed! Despite his lack of polish, Suhren excelled in his U-boat training, became one of Admiral Karl Dönitz’s best U-boat captains, and was promoted out of the boats to be a section commander in Narvik, Norway during 1942.
Suhren’s promotion occurred just when the Battle of the Atlantic turned against the U-boats. For this reason, Peter Cremer’s U-boat Commander is a much more compelling memoir: in warfare which claimed the lives of 75% of German submariners, Cremer became one of only two captains made in 1942 to survive the war. Cremer’s memoirs also contain far more detail about the difficulties posed by Allied destroyers and anti-submarine planes and the progress in U-boat technology.
For a long time now, I have been acquainted with the essays of Michel de Montaigne. In college, one of my professors, the learned and affable Justin A. Jackson of Hillsdale College, included a few of this man’s essays in the second semester of the Great Books prerequisite. Professor Jackson considered him to be the first truly modern author–if memory serves me right. (If memory has played me false, I tender my apologies to the astute professor.) The reason was Montaigne’s preoccupation with the self or rather himself, which created essays of a highly personal nature. Rather than establish himself as an authority, he writes these essays merely to put forth his subjective opinion.
Yet, Montaigne’s ability to adduce an unlimited amount of examples upon the subject of the essay astounds the reader. He has a mastery of the writers of Classical antiquity and a thorough knowledge of Medieval and Renaissance history in particular. In this regard, reading him is very similar to reading the works of St. Francis de Sales, who can allude to many anecdotes and scenes in history to explain spiritual truths better. Both men have the effect of making me wish that I had spent more time reading and less playing video games. It must have been a great help to Montaigne to have had his father teach him Latin as his first language rather than French! I rather wonder what effect it might have on a child to have Cicero, Virgil, and Julius Caesar as more accessible than the Berenstain Bears or similar children’s literature!