An Honorable German
Charles McCain’s maiden voyage as a novelist follows a young German naval officer, Max Brekendorf, through his varied assignments in the Second World War. Young Max begins the conflict as a well-trained and highly professional officer on the celebrated “pocket battleship” Admiral Graf Spee. Overwhelmed by an instinctive dislike for his British enemy, Max is astonished at the benign treatment accorded British POWs by the ship’s captain, Hans Langsdorff. Max is marooned in pro-German Argentina when the Graf Spee is scuttled in the face of Royal Navy strength. He signs on as an officer on a merchant ship commerce raider and, after the vessel is sunk, returns to Germany. Reunited with his beloved Mareth, Max begins to see a different Germany as the Nazis persecution of his father and others slowly begins to remove the blinders from his eyes. The author does a serviceable job in portraying the idealistic and patriotic Max as a “good German” confronted with the challenging knowledge that a moral patriot finds when he is serving an evil cause. He continues to answer his country’s call as a submarine commander in the elite U-boat service but his idealism will not permit him to carry on in the manner expected by the Nazis surrounding him.
Max’s basic humanity triumphs when he refuses to leave torpedoed civilian survivors in the water. After rescuing the terrified civilians, Max calmly waits for Allied warships to come to his aid. The helpless civilians are indeed rescued but Max’s U-boat is sunk and he ends up in a POW camp in Mississippi. At this point, Max’s war enters a less believable realm as he escapes, is recaptured, and then sent to a second camp in New Mexico, and escapes again to join Mareth in Mexico.