At 11:40 GMT, one hundred years ago to this day, RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic. Two hours and forty minutes later, the ship some claimed as “unsinkable” sank, resulting in the deaths of over 1500 men, women and children.
It is impossible to overstate the effect the sinking of the Titanic had upon society. Some will note the Titanic marking the end of the “build it bigger” phase of the industrial age. Some will note the deaths of men worth billions of dollars. Some will note the discrepancy between the number and percentage of passengers traveling in first class rescued versus those in second and third class.
No matter what one cares to focus upon, the sinking of the RMS Titanic is a seminal moment in history.
It is a moment from which liberals should learn, but will not.
To illustrate, we need only to examine the views and actions of society now, and compare them to the views and actions of society in 1912.
First, as we noted in our discussion on Sandra Fluke, the Titanic pushed back the women’s suffrage movement by at least a decade. When it came to filling the lifeboats on the Titanic, the rule was “women and children first.” Men – husbands, fathers and brothers – stayed back until there were no more women or children at the lifeboat loading station. Then, and only then, did men enter the boats.
The reason was simple: in the age of the Titanic, society protected, guarded and uplifted women and children.
Wheyan Deaver of the Washington Times describes the actions of millionaire Charles Guggenheim and his valet George Giglio on April 14, 1912:
At some point as the nightmare unfolded before him, it dawned on Guggenheim that he was going to die. It was beyond his grasp to save himself, but still within his power to meet death on his terms, with dignity intact.
So, after helping others get off Titanic, Guggenheim and Giglio went back to their stateroom and changed into their finest evening wear. Someone saw them walking toward the grand staircase. Guggenheim remarked, “We’ve dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.”
A survivor was given a message to relay from Guggenheim: “Tell my wife, if it should happen that my secretary and I both go down, tell her I played the game out straight to the end. No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward.”
The last time anyone saw Guggenheim and his valet, they were sitting in the staircase, smoking cigars. Both perished, their bodies never identified.
This type of deference to women and children is reflected in the percentages of those saved. Seventy-two percent of woman and children from the Titanic were saved. Only 19% of the men passengers were amongst the saved.
Similar statistics exist for the men and women crew of RMS Titanic. Ninety-one percent of female crew members survived, compared to 21% of the male crew.
In the hundred years since the Titanic disaster, we have seen liberals attack the traditional roles of women, as well as attack those women who have chosen the traditional role of a stay at home mom. How that change affected society manifested itself during the grounding and capsizing earlier this year of the Costa Concordia, an Italian.
Edwin Gurd and his wife, Liz, were on the Costa Concordia when it sank. Gurd told the BBC, “The thing that struck me was the fact that a lot of the men were trying to force their way onto the lifeboats in front of people who obviously needed to get off earlier…There were women and children who needed to get off but there were men pushing against the barrier trying to get on board.” Other passengers tell a similar story. Panic reigned as men pushed aside women standing between them and the lifeboats.
How did “women and children first” become the rule of the sea? It was because society viewed women and children as worth protecting. Honoring women as a matter of everyday custom led men to give preference to women when it came to life-and-death crisis.
Why did “women and children first” on the Titanic give way to “every man for himself” on the Costa Concordia? Because we no longer value protecting womanhood, at least not like we once did. In stark contrast to modern gender theories, the Apostle Peter wrote, “Ye husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life; to the end that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).
That shift and dynamic can be laid directly at the feet of liberals who have tried their best to take religion out of society, and continually have said that when women are honored and held in high esteem by men, they are somehow seen as “lesser people.”
Gee, thanks liberals.
The other lesson can be learned from the number of lifeboats on the Titanic.
The Titanic had 20 lifeboats that could carry 1,178 people. The problem was, of course, that the Titanic carried 2,214 people on her maiden voyage. Even if all of the Titanic’s lifeboats were filled to capacity, 1,036 people would be guaranteed to die.
How could this have occured? How could a sea going vessel have no provisions for saving all people on board if the boat sank? When the Titanic was first designed, the design had enough lifeboats for over 4,000 passengers. So why the change?
Several theories have been proposed.
Chris Berg, writing for the Wall Street Journal, gives the answer:
Yet the historian Simon Schama appears to have received his knowledge of this issue from the Cameron film, writing in Newsweek recently that “Chillingly, the shortage of lifeboats was due to shipboard aesthetics.” (Mr. Schama also sees the Titanic as a metaphor, this time for “global capitalism” hitting the Lehman Brothers iceberg.)
This claim—that the White Star Line chose aesthetics over lives—hinges on a crucial conversation between Alexander Carlisle, the managing director of the shipyard where Titanic was built, and his customer Bruce Ismay, head of White Star Line, in 1910.
Carlisle proposed that White Star equip its ships with 48 lifeboats—in retrospect, more than enough to save all passengers and crew. Yet after a few minutes discussion, Ismay and other senior managers rejected the proposal. The Titanic historian Daniel Allen Butler (author of “Unsinkable”) says Carlisle’s idea was rejected “on the grounds of expense.”
But that’s not true. In the Board of Trade’s post-accident inquiry, Carlisle was very clear as to why White Star declined to install extra lifeboats: The firm wanted to see whether regulators required it. As Carlisle told the inquiry, “I was authorized then to go ahead and get out full plans and designs, so that if the Board of Trade did call upon us to fit anything more we would have no extra trouble or extra expense.”
So the issue was not cost, per se, or aesthetics, but whether the regulator felt it necessary to increase the lifeboat requirements for White Star’s new, larger, class of ship.
This undercuts the convenient morality tale about safety being sacrificed for commercial success that sneaks into most accounts of the Titanic disaster.
In other words, the Titanic did not sail with fewer lifeboats than needed due to the “look” of the ship, or the costs of adding the extra lifeboats. In fact, the davits from which the extra lifeboats could have been carried were installed on the ship.
No, the real reason is government regulation.
The responsibility for lifeboats came “entirely practically under the Board of Trade,” as Carlisle described the industry’s thinking at the time. Nobody seriously thought to second-guess the board’s judgment.
This is a distressingly common problem. Governments find it easy to implement regulations but tedious to maintain existing ones—politicians gain little political benefit from updating old laws, only from introducing new laws.
And regulated entities tend to comply with the specifics of the regulations, not with the goal of the regulations themselves. All too often, once government takes over, what was private risk management becomes regulatory compliance.
Despite liberal protestations crying for more regulations within the last century, the fact of the matter is that too often the regulations do not add to safety, or benefit the public. Yet that hasn’t stopped the left, including the President, from wanting more regulations on every industry possible.
A little more modern day tale may make the point. A few years ago we were riding a bicycle on property controlled by the Air Force. We we pulled over by the police and told we needed a helmet to ride on the base. We had actually researched the law and found the law required that a certain type of helmet was to be worn on a federal reservation. The only problem was the type of helmet was no longer available. The regulation required the helmet to be ANSI III certified. At the time we were stopped, the ANSI IV standard was in place, and the two were not compatible. When I told the police this, we were told we needed a helmet to comply with the law. When informed it was impossible to comply, the police told us to shut up and asked if we wanted to be arrested. We learned two things from the encounter. First, the cops didn’t understand the law they were enforcing and secondly, the law hadn’t changed to reflect the standards of the new, safer helmets. All that mattered was the appearance of compliance with the law.
Which is what happened on the Titanic. Compliance with the Board of Trade regulations gave an appearance of safety, when in fact they doomed over a thousand people to their deaths before the Titanic even sailed.
Berg sums it up:
At the accident’s core is this reality: British regulators assumed responsibility for lifeboat numbers and then botched that responsibility. With a close reading of the evidence, it is hard not to see the Titanic disaster as a tragic example of government failure.
In the one hundred years the Titanic has laid on the ocean’s floor, we have seen more reliance on government regulations to give an appearance of safety. Today the call continually goes out for more government control in the lives of people, and in the running of corporations. At the same time, we have seen an increase in the degradation of the treatment of women in society that once held them in high esteem. We have seen sacrifice become greed. We have seen “what can I do to save others?” become “why aren’t people helping me?” or “the government will protect me.”
One ship. One disaster.
And a couple of lessons liberals will continue to ignore.