If there had been no iceberg in its path 98 years ago, we likely would hardly even remember the name Titanic. But there was, and we do. Some of us maybe think of it more than others, but it’s forever in our history as the ship that couldn’t sink, but tragically did. It’s seems rather perverse in a way that we remember, even immortalize certain tragedies the way we do.
Perhaps they serve as symbols for our hubris, a reminder of history we don’t want to repeat. But it seems in our nature to keep on pushing the limits, pushing Mother Nature. And we keep thinking we will be the exception, the ones capable of domination. So perhaps then, we should remember Titanic even more than we do. It was the height of human arrogance in many ways to think a ship could be built that could not sink. No one can ever foresee every possible contingency.
The White Star Line produced a publicity brochure in 1910 for their twin ships Olympic and Titanic. In it they stated, “…these two wonderful vessels are designed to be unsinkable.” Designed to be, not were. But the common belief at the time was, as a deck hand is reputed to have said when asked if the ship was indeed unsinkable, “God himself could not sink this ship!” So famous now is that quote, that James Cameron used it in his version of Titanic.
All the what ifs, all the things that went wrong at the precisely wrong moments. If binoculars had been in the crow’s nest as they should have. If the ship had turned away without trying to reverse first so the rudder would have been more effective. Or if they had hit the iceberg head on instead of scraping along side. If the iron rivets had been more pure. If the water tight compartments had been sealed on top. If the ship hadn’t been going so fast trying to break a time record as reported. If there had been enough lifeboats on board for everyone. If those they had, had been fully filled.
If the ocean hadn’t been such a ‘flat calm’ that night so waves could have been seen breaking at the bottom of the berg. If ice warnings hadn’t been ignored in favour of sending out personal passenger messages. If the Californian hadn’t shut down their wireless for the night. If the Carpathia had been closer. On it goes. So many ifs, as there so often are whenever something goes dreadfully wrong. If even one of those ifs could have been removed, how different April 14th 1912 might have been.
If only we really could learn from history, realize that none of us are “King of the World.” And retain that knowledge permanently. But time goes by, and our hubris comes back. And that cycle repeats; we will be the exception this time. This time will be different.