Titanic 2017

New York Times Front Page 16 April 1912
Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

In April 1912 the unthinkable happened: Titanic sank taking over 1500 lives to the cold North Atlantic. People were stunned. With the headline Titanic Sunk blazing across newspapers around the globe, it made people wonder what had happened to a ship that defined an age of progress. For those with family, either passengers or crew, it was even more dire. Did my husband live? What happened to that family down the road that decided to go to America for a new life?

In the aftermath two investigations would seek to answer the question of what happened. A short concise statement is that Titanic collided with an iceberg that punctured the hull in many places causing water to enter the forward compartments causing her to founder and sink. Yet the investigations showed all kinds of things that were not right: out of date government regulations about lifeboats, the lack of manning wireless communications during all ship watches, the inattention given to numerous ice warnings, the lack of binoculars for the lookouts and much more. Captain Rostron of Carpathia would be labeled a hero for racing to the scene and retrieving the survivors. Captain Lord of California would come under criticism for his indifference to rockets being seen and failing to investigate.

The world of 1912 was a world on a precipice. Ominous clouds were already gathering over Europe. Titanic represented perhaps the pinnacle of the dying Edwardian age. It had everything that a person of means wanted: a comfortable way to cross the Atlantic in style. Down below was the other side, immigrants desperate to leave home and find a new life in the United States. And sadly many of those third class (or steerage as they were called)would perish.  Titanic sinking left a mark on many that something was wrong and would be confirmed when war broke out in 1914. And that war would cut a wide swath in the upper classes that would have lasting effects.

The lessons of Titanic are many. The most important of all is to never become complacent nor think you are so clever as to be divine. It is a lesson that is sometimes forgotten resulting in tragedies like the Challenger explosion. Sometimes Greek mythology delivers warnings about complacency. Icarus forgot his wings were made of wax when he flew up to the sun resulting in his death. And saying Titanic was practically unsinkable comes pretty darn close as well.

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