April 11, 2012
With the Centennial of the Titanic upon us, there is intense interest in almost every aspect of the great ships sinking. When theHollywood blockbuster came out in 1997, it was the first movie ever to gross $1 billion. Millions of people have their impressions of that event shaped by the powerful propaganda of James Cameron. Too bad.
Mark Steyn said it well in denouncing the lies of the movie.
[Cameron] traduced the memory of honorable men: In my book, I cite First Officer William Murdoch. In real life, he threw deckchairs to passengers drowning in the water to give them something to cling to, and then he went down with the ship the dull, decent thing, all very British, with no fuss. In Camerons movie, Murdoch takes a bribe and murders a third-class passenger. The director subsequently apologized to the First Officers hometown in Scotland and offered 5,000 toward a memorial, which converted into Hollywood dollars equals rather less than what Cameron and his family paid for dinner after the Oscars.
Some years back, when my wife and I visitedIreland, we stayed in an eleventh century castle that had been restored as a hotel. I swam daily in the hotel pool. I was alone. I had the eeriest feeling that I had been there before. But Id never set foot on the Emerald Isle.
Only when I spied the life ring on the wall did I realize why it all looked so familiar. Inspired no doubt by the movies success, the hotel designers had put RMS Titanic on the life ring and modeled the swimming pool after the one on the doomed liner. Id seen it in books.
Ever since the Titanic went down on that moonless night of April 14-15, 1912, there have been controversies about her fate. Recently, National Geographic speculated about a Super Moon that may have caused an unusual confluence of the tides. And this could have caused more icebergs than usual.
Of the writing of many books about Titanic there is no end. Whether the ships orchestra played Nearer My God to Thee as she slipped beneath the waves or, as some reliable witnesses record, they played Autumn is a subject of conjecture. The miracle is that those brave men played.
Contrast the devotion to duty and the stern self-discipline of the ships crew as they met their death with the wreck of the Medusa. In 1816, this French ship had foundered off the coast of Senegal. Florence Williams wrote in the New York Times what happened then.
After just a few minutes at sea, an officer in the governors lifeboat lowered a hatchet and cut the rope that joined it to the raft. The other lifeboats pulled away in what Miles calls a cowardly evacuation. The raft was on its own, provisioned with only a few caskets of wine and some soggy biscuits. The men and one woman on board entered one of those mind-numbing episodes of human depravity, madness, fear and brutality that show what the human species is really capable of. The second night, a rabble of combustible professional killers went on a rampage. By dawn, 60 people were dead and only one barrel of wine remained. In short order, more murder, suicide, sickness, famine and cannibalism ensued. After 12 days, they sighted the French ship Argus on the horizon, only to watch it disappear. Remarkably, it reappeared two hours later because of a change in the wind. Of the original 147 people aboard, only 15 were left.
The horror of the worst shipwreck of the 19th century was captured by French romantic painter Theodore Gericault in his Raft of the Medusa. Writers typically attribute the Medusa tragedy to political divisions, class struggles and ethnic antagonisms.
Might we see the two events instead as reflections of what people most deeply believe? The men of the Titanic has been schooled in aBritain where men were taught the code of women and children first. That is what it was to be a man. The code was strongly influenced by the Evangelical Christianity that blossomed in Victorian England and shaped its mores.
Francehad been convulsed for a generation before the wreck of the Medusa. Her revolutionary ideals of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite had degenerated into tyranny and mass murder. Is it any wonder that men trained up in such a society, when they are threatened with imminent death, respond with Sauve qui peut every man for himself?
American men were once held to the Titanic standard. Increasingly, we are being dumbed down to the level of the Medusa. I recall being ordered to go through The Lifeboat Exercise. This so-called Values Clarification course has been offered in thousands of American schools, universities and businesses. Its an invitation to join the Medusa men and rationalize your choices. Oddly, the infamous Lifeboat Exercise was imposed on me in the Coast Guard. Coasties are arguably the last people on earth who should be drilled in such Values Scarification.
Winston Churchill wrote in 1912 that Britons had every reason to be proud of their conduct on that night to remember. Churchill was right. The men of the Titanic deserve honor and gratitude. The Titanic Mens Memorial in Washington, D.C. is part of the respect that we owe their memory. And let us all thank Doug Philips and the Christian Mens and Boys Titanic Society.
They are keeping alive the Titanic credo: Women and Children First!
Senior Fellow Robert Morrison made a 1973 iceberg patrol in the Coast Guard. Leslie Morrison, his father, thirty years earlier survived the U-boat sinking of his ship.