Senseless Sensibilities: The Unsinkable Truth
There are two sides to Titanic that I find the most fascinating – the historical and the legacy. Yet the deeper one delves into Titanic’s story the void that forms between the mindset of 1912 and our judgement of that logic today, viewed and continually reviewed from the ever widening security of passing years. The dilution of the original mindset grows ever more apparent. With a centenary passed since her loss our knowledge of the Titanic disaster is destined to be lost by a new historical reality which we falsely believed we already know.
Today, society’s default preconceptions of Titanic, founded on its unanimous dismissal of 1912 logic, has distorted our understanding of the mindset that created, managed and governed this greatest milestone of shipbuilding. That fact I am referring to it as “great” will even be scoffed by some. The resulting legacy is one of utmost failure and farce. For me, the real triumph of Titanic – which I keenly advocate hallmarked the pinnacle of marine engineering – is now lost to a false, and at best, selective memory, come about through the moralising of newspapermen and the ethics of post-event hindsight. I talk here of the preconceptions with which I know even I harboured before unearthing the forgotten truth and to some surprise discovered also the great competence of management behind Titanic.
Titanic’s iconic four funnelled silhouette is familiar to all and sundry the world over. Awareness of her is without equal, as so is her generous goading of irony. This, the largest, grandest and ‘unsinkable’ ship, this in its maiden voyage was dramatically destroyed by the very element she was built to overcome – nature. Fame for the one-time maritime wonder transformed Titanic within a single evening to the metaphor for unmitigated disaster, failure and catastrophe; her achievements overshadowed. Reduced to parody a nation, at the height of empire and engineering prowess, which after producing the greatest ship ever to be placed upon the ocean, belligerently hexed its greatest vessel by proclaiming her ‘unsinkable’.
Through society’s genetic desire to find blame behind practically everything, rather than celebrating its successes, one of seafaring’s greatest creations, is today largely recalled only in metaphor with which to accredit the antonym of success: we all know what is meant by ‘a titanic disaster’ and the futility of arranging its deckchairs. Yet in truth Titanic was the antithesis of failure, and we should not be so rash to accuse Edwardian seafaring or safety, even the maintenance of regulatory management, of falling asleep at the helm regards to the safeguarding of Titanic. Deposited instead in the bin of moral wisdom and hindsight, the mindset behind Titanic has been supplanted by five breaches in historical fact:
- The recklessness of her aged captain, Edward Smith, speeding his ship on through the deadly ice field come hell or glory, urged on by the line’s bumbling chairman.
- The operator’s inexcusable and callous rejection of their designer’s pleas to increase Titanic’s already insufficient quota of lifeboats not by only double but triple.
- Malpractice at the Board of Trade, who through their bureaucratic impotence to adequately regulate the supply of lifeboats on the larger ships of the day, left safety law outmoded and unchanged for almost 20 years hitherto Titanic.
- Conspiracy of whitewash through government investigation. The establishment’s dogged refusal to deflect culpability from its maintenance of safety law.
- The sheer arrogance that precipitated and convinced an entire society to the belief Titanic was shipping’s realisation of invulnerability.
But what if the above has been imbibed into modern psyche unjustly? Will we rewrite our euphemisms which we belie the futility of foolhardy endeavour; “rearranging the deckchairs”, or the catastrophic collapse by enterprise; “down like the Titanic”. Whilst we believe we know fully the every decision that seemingly invited disaster to Titanic – because we today are all so very clever, – decades of misconception obscures the discovery of the opposite and fascinating truth.
All Things to All People