Let’s all admit: everyone is wise to an event, after the event. “My failures have been errors in judgment, not of intent,” lamented Ulysses S. Grant when reflecting on his career, and like he, if we could go back in time and put right some of the decisions we have made during our lives, I doubt anyone would resist to exploit such opportunity.
hindsight (hahynd-sahyt) — noun
Perfect understanding of an event after it has happened; – a term usually used with sarcasm in response to criticism of one’s decision, implying that the critic is unfairly judging the wisdom of the decision in light of information that was not available when the decision was made.
So here, taking a look at the sinking of the Titanic, which let’s face it, is plagued by hindsight we take a look at 5 great errors which hindsight has coloured the historical fact.
- Speeding through ice: that Captain Edward Smith was not only unjust but wholly reckless to sally the Titanic apace through an ice field he knew was present. Here hindsight has forgotten the designated shipping lanes that reduced collision with craft, and to limit the lane’s exposure to ice in winter, they were moved further south for half the year. With 1912 experiencing colder than normal conditions, however, icebergs continued well into the winter position of the lane’s southerly revised extent.
- Ismay’s rejection of his designer’s pleas to increase quota of lifeboats: a callous dismissal of Alexander Carlisle’s proposals to increase the Titanic’s lifeboat quota, not only by double but triple. Again, improved safety in shipping had not only seen the introduction of sea lanes but wireless radio too and improved internal subdivision. Lifeboats were becoming less and less relied upon to save lives, the technological Edwardian preferring more modern alternatives to cheat disaster.
- The Board of Trade: permitting regulations governing the supply of lifeboats to remain unaltered since 1894 even in the appearance of rapidly expanding ships sizes outpacing the scope of these regulations. The improving record of safety mirrored the shipping companies own improvements in the subdivision of their vessels, an improvement government did not dare to buck through imposing a possibly restrictive regime.
- Passenger apathy to escape: with almost 500 seats remaining unfilled the disaster showcased altruism at its best, but why did so many cede their own salvation from a ship suffering a mid-ocean collision. An open lifeboat, cold evening, a superior compartmented ship, and no obvious sign of damage, the choice not to abandon the Titanic, the largest in the world, was overwhelming.
- The ‘unsinkable’ ship: that infamous label the press publicly lavished her and her owners silently endorsed. Fifteen bulkheads, all sealed watertight by the simple activation of a switch high above the bulkhead doors from the bridge itself. Able to survive with four compartments breached the worst-case scenario at the time – collision – was deemed conquerable through this configuration.
We all believe we know the Titanic disaster, but if our own judgments are obscured by the lack of understanding of the judgments of then, we may be fooled by what we think we know.
White Star Line: still part of the DNA