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The Titanic Disaster

This editorial was published in the Yiddish-language Forward on April 16, 1912.

The heart bleeds for the hundreds of Titanic disaster victims. The civilized world is united in its mourning. One’s first impression and what floods the reader from the news reporting is that human emotion of sympathy.

The Titanic, however, was the last word, civilization’s greatest strength, in the guise of a ship. We passionately recognize that feeling of compassion, and acknowledge the suffering, and there is also sadness for civilization’s downward spiral through this example of powerlessness. The omnipotent, magnificent ship is but a splinter.

Like a glorious bride, the Titanic left on her maiden journey. With heartfelt greetings, smiles and wonder, she was showered with good-luck wishes from all.

But her wedding march was her funeral procession.

The Titanic demonstrated the awesome power harnessed by mankind today. She wasn’t just the mightiest ship in the world with a vast array of amenities. She also embodied the greatest scientific advances in technology. All manner of the latest capabilities and strengths invented to support a ship in distress were available on board.

When the Titanic sailed proudly on the ocean, humankind’s most inspiring contemporary ideas were under way, too.

Her name was well suited. In Greek mythology, Titans were the most powerful of the gods. She was the greatest titan of the era, sailing with her awesome, triumphant carriage.

And so then — nature must show that even the most colossal of humankind’s creations, even in this great era, is inconsequential to her. With a mocking laugh, she threw a punch at the proud titan and the giant among sea mammoths fell dead.

No civilized human being ever expects we will vanquish the multifaceted power of nature, no matter our marvelous inventions. Over earthquakes, hurricanes and floods, man is powerless. Eventually, one supposes, we’ll be able to provide some support against natural disasters. But nature will always engender unconquerable dangers.

There is no absolute protection from dying.

Yet this doesn’t imply that humankind’s advancements are worthless. They remain wondrous and awe inspiring.

Everyone will face death at some point. Yet civilization has managed to stave off dying from diseases, having eradicated close to 90 % of them. Many scientific advances likewise can’t entirely protect humanity from nature, yet these accomplishments are still breathtaking.

And it’s also to humankind’s credit that this type of occurrence no longer anticipates the same reactions.

A collision similarly occurred with the Titanic’s sister-ship, the Olympic, sailed by the same Captain (Edward J.) Smith. The accident also occurred, as did the Titanic’s, on its maiden voyage. Again, it was a first attempt, with many new developments and inventions in the art of ship sailing.

If this had taken place 100 years ago, everybody would have determined that these superlative creations were ungodly. And then no one would have wanted to travel on these ships — not with that company, nor with that captain. Today, it’s seen as a mere coincidence that it’s the Titanic, that it’s a maiden voyage, that the captain is Smith, and that the firm is the White Star Line. Even the superstitious will likely soon forget the image of a ship like the Titanic. And still more massive ships will soon sail proudly on the ocean, carrying millions of people and holding aloft the boundless spirit of light and progress, wreathed in its victory over helplessness and doom.

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