Friday, September 28, 2012

The Forgotten Sister

Remember the HMHS Britannic?  If not I'm not surprised, very few people have even heard of her.  She was the slightly larger sister to the Titanic, a name which is familiar to most, especially after the film by James Cameron.  The third ship in the White Star line, the Olympic, had a long career, but the Britannic was sunk in its first year of service -- not quite as spectacularly short as the Titanic's, but still quite short.

Why then is one a tragedy of epic proportions and the other a minor footnote in the annals of World War I?  Because every single person was able to get off the Britannic.  Now, 30 unfortunate souls in 2 lifeboats did die when their crafts were caught in the propellers, but there were 1036 survivors.  They had redesigned the craft so that there were more than enough lifeboats for everyone: 48 lifeboats capable of carrying 75 people each, or 3600 total.  They even designed it so that all the lifeboats could be launched from one side of the ship, in case the ship was leaning to one side.

What was the real difference?  What made the sinking of the Titanic a tragedy and not merely an accident was the faith that it was "unsinkable".  Once the shipbuilders realized that their design could sink, it wasn't too hard to make the ship survivable.  They did also add a double hull, a standard in still in use today, but while they work great for icebergs and rocks, torpedoes and mines pretty much ignore them.

This blog is not about history, however, and this is not just an interesting anecdote.  We stand at the same juncture, and this time billions of lives are at stake, not thousands.  Others will tell you we face a dark future ahead, and to be honest, that is likely to be true.  But all that really stands in our way is our faith that our civilization cannot collapse.  We still have the capability to make a smooth transition, but it requires people to stop thinking we can keep going as we have.

We all can make the Long Ascent if we choose to.


  1. I don't think anyone thought the Titanic was unsinkable in warlike sense. It is not as if she was armored. So the HMHS Britannic going down from either a mine or torpedo is pretty much the normal course of events when you send a ship into a warzone.

    I don't think the Titanic was thought to be completely unsinkable. But the combination of events, lead to an unusually high number of casualties. And more important, there were enough upper class survivors that their various stories got told, and having star power, people paid attention.

    1. Russell, your comments are one of the things I love about blogging; they are so appropriate! Similarly to the sinkability of Titanic, I'm sure everyone recognizes that if the Russians or the Chinese decided to bomb us with nuclear weapons, that would be pretty much the end of American civilization. But that in itself is unthinkable, just as the idea that the waters of the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean would become a war zone just a few years after the Titanic sank.

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