Friends of Padre Steve’s World,A couple of days ago I wrote about the sinking of the Titanic. The story transcends time in many ways, but in particular I think because it was the beginning of the end of an era. Over the past couple of weeks I have re-read Walter Lord’s classic narrative of the Titanic disaster, A Night to Remember and his later work The Night Lives On.
Tonight I watched the film version of A Night to Remember for the first time since I was a child when saw it on television. I think now, looking back over time that A Night to Remember which was filmed in 1958 is the best film involving the subject despite not having the spectacular special effects of James Cameron’s masterpiece Titanic, and its lack of major film stars was the better picture from a human and emotional point of view.
I remember reading Walter Lord’s book A Night to Remember in 7th grade at Stockton Junior High School. When I read the book I didn’t realize that it was of genre known as narrative history, That method of history is an especially effective method of communicating these kinds of tumultuous events. Lord would prove a master of the genre, writing captivating books about Pearl Harbor (Day of Infamy) , Dunkirk, the Battle of Midway (Incredible Victory), and the desegregation of Ol’e Miss, (A Time to Stand).
The method focuses on weaving the stories of participants in the event into a story that catches the imagination of the reader. I like the method and hopefully my yet to be published books about the struggle for civil rights, the American Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg it will be shown again. Walter Lord was a master of it and his works which are incredibly accurate from a historical point of view also convey the human dram of history as few other authors have done.
The senior surviving officer of Titanic, Second Officer Herbert Lightoller who was portrayed by Kenneth More was later as a civilian master of a private boat took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk, and was portrayed in the 2017 film of that name by English actor Mark Rylance.
One of the most striking thinks about the story of Titanic is the inequity between the classes of passengers. Third Class passengers, or those booked in “Steerage” paid 12 Pounds for the trip but had little in the way of amenities and when the ship sank, many of whom were forcibly kept from going to the boat deck and escaping death. That being said there were truly noble people among the First Class passengers who would forfeit their lives that others could live. Honestly I could not see many people today, regardless of being rich or poor who would willingly go down with the ship like Isidor and Ida Strauss, Benjamin Guggenheim, and John Jacob Astor as well as many others who either remained at their posts or station in life; the good, the bad, and yes the ugly.
But then there were men like the director of the White Star Line, Bruce Ismay who snuck into a boat to escape death only to live in shame the rest of his life. Ismay succeeded in reducing the amount of life boats to the bare minimum required for a steamer less and a quarter her size and despite not being a mariner himself used his leverage as the director of the line to ignore those regulations.
I wonder how many men today, like Ismay, who like others of his day skirted safety regulations and advances in technology to increase their own profits. But then in an age where an American President presides over an administration that is rolling back safety, health, and environmental regulations for the sake of profit.
But that is another question for another day.
So anyway, until tomorrow,