RANGER AGAINST WAR: The Ship of State <

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Ship of State

--Ladies shoes from Titanic,
looking very much like mine today

Loudly the bell in the old tower rings
Bidding us list to the warning it brings

sailor, take care - sailor, take care

Danger is near thee, beware, beware, beware

--Asleep in the Deep
, Lamb and Petrie
(part of the White Star song book)

A cold dark night, a sea of ice,

A ship out on the ocean,

All fitted out by man's device,

She rode in perfect motion

--Just as the Ship Went Down,

Lessing /Adler

Great Titanic struck an iceberg,

people had to run and pray

God moves, moves, God moves, ah,

and the people had to run and pray

--God Moves On the Water,

Blind Willie Johnson


Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, and this remembrance gives us pause to reflect on maritime history over the last century (knowing the Titanic was not a U.S. ship).

In 1912, the U.S. was still an inner-focused nation. It had a former President who received the Nobel Peace Prize for stopping a war without getting involved in anything but negotiations; it was a time of deliberation before jumping into any shoot-em-up that caught our fancy.

Though the Spanish-American War was an outward war of imperial outreach, the U.S. was just cutting it's teeth before later becoming an explosive force of bombastic democracy. Our Great White Fleet circumnavigated the earth, in wait for the day it might project its power. Admiral Mahan was America's strategic thinker, and we, like other superpowers, were focused upon naval power.

The Titanic was the logical civilian outgrowth of the fascination with Dreadnaught battleships. The concept of unsinkable ships was gaining hold in the military and the world believed that the Titanic was unsinkable. (Sister ship the Lusitania disproved the idea that even torpedoes could not sink these ships.) Though they were engineering marvels, they would sink like a crowbar once compromised.

--The U.S.A.?

The U.S. today is like the Titanic. We think we are too big to sink, and think our technology will save us from slow-moving icebergs. We think our steel-plating will protect us, but steel is brittle frangible and unrepairable after assault.

The forces of nature reduce men's efforts to ruin, as we humbly witness the results of tornadoes, typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and every other natural occurrence on this anything-but complacent planet. We add the icing to the cake with pollution, war and every other man-made corruption.

Not only do we think the ship is unsinkable, we also believe we should live sumptuously and extravagantly, if we are not steerage passengers. We trust the crew will win speed records while keeping us safe, little realizing the goals are opposed.

One theory of this sinking was that the Titanic lacked a proper sized rudder, making it unable to maneuver sharply to avoid obstacles. This failure was probably a result of hubris, if the builders thought the boat couldn't sink anyway. The ship was not driving defensively, and was outrunning its headlamps.

The boat was beyond the crew's control, and the passengers were at their mercy. The ship was dead upon impact, but she was doomed from her Irish departure. The lethal blow was not imagined, so it was ignored.

The Titanic has some corollaries to our ship of state. At least with the Titanic, the captain took full responsibility and went down with his ship. We don't think our leaders will demonstrate such selflessness and dignity.

The buck stopped there.

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