"Surely such a vessel could never sink." ~ Elizabeth Shutes, first class passenger of the Royal Mail Ship Titanic.
Tomorrow will be April 14, 2010. Ninety eight years ago on April 14, 1912, the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic. Nearly 5,000 artifacts have been recovered from the wreck since Robert Ballard discovered it after his lesser-known agreement with the US Navy: That they would fund his Deep Submergence Laboratory and Argo technology to survey the sunken US nuclear submarine Scorpio, and if he had any time leftover after that survey, he could search for the Titanic on the Navy's dime. Which of course, they did. On Sept 1, 1985, at 1:05 a.m. the night shift spotted one of the 29 boilers that powered Titanic on their monitors. They'd found it.
I was a junior in high school when this happened, and I remember having a feeling of disbelief about it. The Titanic was a legend, a mystery. And now it was real. I remember reading and re-reading the issue of National Geographic that was published shortly afterward with all of the photos and story. I remember naively wanting to go exploring inside the boat (Which of course is impossible: It's 12,500 ft to the bottom.) And of course later came Cameron's movie, which I loved for the portrayal of the sinking itself.
And now 25 years after discovery, I have 4 and 6 yr old boys that want to know about it. They brought home a book about it from the school library. And they know much of the story very well now. They learned about the "Car-thay-pia" (Carpathia), and the bulk heads, and the rivets in the hull, and everything. I am the bedtime book reader and night prayer parent in our family, so we laid on the bed and read the book. And as little boys are prone to do, they barraged me with the most innocent and, at the same time, the most poignant questions:
"Daddy, why were they driving the boat so fast?"
"Daddy, why were they driving the boat in the dark?"
"Daddy, why didn't they have a big light to look ahead?"
And then I came to the part about 'Women and children first.' And that's when their questions really started to become heartbreaking.
"Why didn't they put enough life boats on the Titanic for all the people?"
"And why did the Daddy's all have to stay behind?"
"What happened to all of them?"
In their simple 4 and 6 yr old worlds, the concept of all the daddy's having to stay behind just didn't make any sense. And I was at a total loss for an answer. It took me until the following day to come up with an answer that they could understand. So my rhetorical question is this: If my 4 and 6 yr old boys can see the bad decision making that lead to the sinking, why couldn't Capt. Edward J. Smith? Or naval architect Thomas Andrews? Or the White Star Line?
Reading that book and having that conversation with my boys that night made the Titanic become more than just a history book story to be marveled at. It turned it into a real-world tragedy about parents and children. And that's probably the way it should be.